Avoid these common mistakes in Spanish

Avoid these common mistakes in Spanish

These are the most recurrent mistakes students make. Specially in beginner and intermediate level, but there are a a couple points that even advanced students get wrong sometimes.

Hopefully, this will help you keep an eye on them ;)

To "have" years, thirst, etc

The most common example of this is when you want to say how old you are:
Tengo treinta años - I'm 30 (Literally, I have 30 years).

We use the verb "tener" which means "to have" instead of the verb "to be".

Be careful because there are more examples like these:

Tengo frío - I'm cold
Tengo calor - I'm hot
Tengo hambre - I'm hungry
Tengo sed - I'm thirsty
Tengo miedo - I'm scared
Tengo sueño - I'm sleepy
Tengo razón- I'm right/correct
Tengo cuidado - I'm careful
Tengo prisa- I'm in a hurry
Tengo suerte -I'm lucky
Tengo ganas (de + infinitive) - I want + to do
Ex: Tengo ganas de ir al cine - I want to go to the cinema.

Por / para

Check this explanation, that includes an infographic and a task for practice, and you'll learn when to use each and avoid mistakes like this:

"Thanks for everything":
Wrong: Gracias para todo
Right: Gracias por todo ("because of" everything)

A / Para

Let's see what type of mistakes I'm talking about:

"I go to school":
Right: Voy a la escuela
Wrong: Voy para la escuela

or see the difference between:

Vamos a estudiar - We're going to study (Future)
Vamos para estudiar - We're going (there) in order to study (Purpose)

We can use both in this situation:

El tren va a Madrid / El tren va para Madrid - The train goes to Madrid (destination).

Also, it has to do with pronominal verbs:

Quiero ayudar a mi Madre- I want to help my mother.
This is one example of "pronominal" verb, which means the verb needs a preposition after.

This grid on pronominal verbs is helpful to see what preposition each verb needs. You can download it and use in your writings.

Sometimes only happens when you introduce a person, it's what's called "the personal a":

¿Ves esa mancha? - Do you see that stain?
Veo a mi hermana todos los días- I see my sister every day.

Falsos amigos

Don't forget those famous false friends! I'm not talking about that person who keeps talking behind your back, I'm talking about those words whose meaning is not what it seems!

Download this list on false friends in Spanish. That should keep them at bay!

Ser / estar

This is one of the biggest questions and one that we never stop learning about.
Using one or another can change the meaning slightly:

Soy serio - I am a serious person
Estoy serio - I am serious now, temporally

or it can change it a lot:

Soy aburrido - I am boring
Estoy aburrido -I am bored

This post on ser and estar will teach you how to know when to use each.
Do the practice at the end to see how well you undestood the explanation!

Capital letters

...or lack of!
These are the things we don't use capital letter with:

  • Months
  • Nationalities
  • Religions
  • Days of the week
  • Seasons
  • Languages

Also, on a title (of a book, movie, etc...) we only use capital letter in the first word:
Ex: La bella y la bestia - Beauty and the Beast.

We still use capital letter at the beginning of proper nouns such as names of people and places (countries, cities, rivers, mountains, etc).

Bien / bueno

Bien means well. You do something well:

Ex: Dormí bien ayer - I slept well yesterday.

Bueno/a means good. Something is bad or is good, as a quality:

Este café es muy bueno - This coffee is very good.
Ella es buena profesora - She's a good teacher.

Same with mal (badly) and malo/a (bad, quality).

Disclaimer: Sometimes you'll see "bueno/a" or "malo/a" before the noun instead of after. This is because it's a subjective attribute, an opinion.
When that happens, the masculine form changes:

Bueno becomes buen.
Ex: Es un buen café - It's a good coffee.

Malo becomes mal.
Es Es un mal café - It's a bad coffee.

I like running / to run

Is it "Me gusta correr" or "me gusta corriendo"? Can I use both?

You can only use the second one when it expresses that the action is happening at an specific time.
When it only refers to the action or the "fact of doing something" you'll use the infinitive.

Read this post on gerund vs infinitive in Spanish to master this concept.

Anything = nothing

The word we use for anything and nothing is the same: nada

Therefore, when we say "No sé nada" it means literally "I don't know nothing" although we would translate it as "I don't know anything" in English.

Preterite / imperfect

Last but not least, this is more of an intermediate level's problem, but an important one!
In this video I explain how to use each
Do the translations included to practice and let me know how it goes!

¡FIN! The end!

If you have any question, you're more than welcome to ask in the comments below :)

¡Hasta pronto!