If you are learning Spanish, it’s very likely that you already heard that Ser vs. Estar and Por vs. Para are two of the most common mistakes new speaker make. While those are among the most common and difficult for people learning Spanish, we compiled a list of 21 below. As you are getting familiar with new rules, structures and Spanish vocabulary, it’s best to become aware of these before you form the wrong habits in Spanish conversation.
1. Saying your age
It’s very common that when we are learning a new language, we try to use the structures we are familiar with. However, this won’t always work. One good example of this situation is saying your age in Spanish. When talking about age, many English speakers, use the verb Ser instead of Tener.
Ella es 19 años is not the answer you want to give in Spanish. Probably, Ella tiene 19 años doesn’t make much sense in your language, but it does in Spanish.
2. Talking in Past: is it Preterite or Imperfect?
For many new Spanish speakers, the past tenses in Spanish, especially the preterite and imperfect, can be a real headache. Although they might look very similar to you, choosing one or another will impact the meaning of your sentence:
Ellos estudiaron anoche They studied yesterday
Ellos estudiaban todos los días They studied every day
In Spanish, we use Pretérito to describe an action that occurred in a very precise time. And we use Imperfecto when we are describing how things were back in the past or when narrating a story. If you are still struggling with Imperfecto and Pretérito, in this article we show you when and how to use the Imperfect Tense in Spanish.
3. Talking about Likes and Dislikes
There’s no doubt that Me gusta and similiar verbs, can be really confusing. When using verbs like this, many new Spanish speakers make two mistakes:
Mixing the conjugation
|I like dogs||Me gustas los perros||Me gustan los perros|
|She likes running and eating||Le gustan correr y comer||Le gusta correr y comer|
|You like the dog||Te gustas el perro||Te gusta el perro|
Remember that when talking about likes and interests you just have 2 options:
Me gusta + [Singular Object/Infinitive verb]
Me gustan + [Plural Objects]
Confusing the indirect pronouns for the third person (She/He)
Unfortunately, in Spanish, we have different types of pronouns and since they all look the same, it’s very easy to confuse them. When talking about likes and dislikes, it’s very common that people say something like Se gusta el perro. Keep in mind that Me gusta work with the following pronouns:
|Me gusta |
4. Tricky Masculine and Feminine Words
Probably one of the most annoying things for English speakers is to find out that in Spanish we indicate if a person or an object is masculine or feminine. And even though if you have general rules to do this, the problem is that a word that ends with an o, e, or isn’t always going to be masculine. And words that end with a, z, -ión aren’t always going to be feminine.
Odd Masculines Nouns
Odd Feminine Nouns
5. Using Reflexive Verbs
These types of verbs can be tricky for many new Spanish speakers for two reasons. The first is because they incorporate the use of pronouns and second, it requires you to form sentences differently. In many cases, you can find translate your thoughts from English to Spanish in a word by word manner to form a sentence and can still expect others to understand you. However, you can’t do this with reflexive verbs.
Reflexive verbs express that somebody did something and that same person received the action. One of the most common mistakes in Spanish is to confuse Reflexive verbs with normal verbs.
|I wash my dog||Yo me baño a mi perro. ||Yo baño a mi perro|
|You shower in the morning.||Tú bañas en la mañana||Tú te bañas en la mañana|
Although in English the translation might be the same, in Spanish ‘Tú bañas en la mañana’ is incomplete. To whom are you showering in the mornings? It could be anyone, but not you.
Take Note: You use reflexive verbs to describe your daily routine, your changes in mood, space or marital status. Here is a guide on reflexive verbs that is going to help you to understand this topic.
6. Makes sense: ‘Hace Sentido’?
Although it might seem logical to you, in Spanish we don’t say hace sentido. There is no doubt that translating the expression word by word would be convenient, but unfortunately, we can’t do that. So, if you are looking to say ‘make sense’ in Spanish, then, you need to say tiene sentido.
There’s a small chance that you have heard some Spanish speakers using hace sentido, however, the expression is not accepted. So try to avoid it.
Creo que tiene sentido I think it makes sense
7. To remember: ‘Me Recuerdo’ ‘Recuerdo’ or ‘Me Acuerdo’
Many new Spanish speakers assume that Recuerdo, Me recuerdo and Me acuerdo are direct translations for ‘to remember’. And for the most part, they are. Recordar and Acordarse mean to remember. But the form Me recuerdo (recordarse) doesn’t exist in Spanish unless you are saying something like: “I remember myself singing that song”. That’s a weird sentence, right? In Spanish, it is too.
So, remember (recuerda) if you want to express that you remember something or someone, you would say:
|Me acuerdo de ella||I remember her|
|Recuerdo esa canción||I remember that song|
8. To realize: ‘Darse Cuenta’ vs ‘Realizar’
This common Spanish mistake is caused because of the English verb ‘to realize’ and how it sounds very similar to realizar. Usually, similar-sounding words can help us deduce some Spanish words’ meanings, sometimes it will totally mislead us. This is the case with realizar.
Realizar is a formal way to say ‘to do’, ‘to make’, or ‘to carry out’. So if you want to express to realize, you need to use Darse cuenta. Keep in mind that Darse cuenta is a reflexive verb.
Me doy cuenta de eso ahora I realize that now
Realizo mis actividades todos los días I do my chores every day
9. Saying that you are hot: Caliente vs Calor
This one is one of the most common Spanish vocabulary mistakes that a lot of new Spanish learners make. The problem is that both words are the direct translation for the English word ‘hot’. However, they have a slight difference in meaning.
Caliente expresses a high temperature and, generally speaking, we use it when talking about the weather.
Calor is more related to a bodily sensation.
The mistake occurs when people use Caliente to express that they are hot due to the weather and they say either ‘Soy caliente’ or ‘Estoy caliente’ which means aroused. Don’t forget that if you are talking about how you feel because of the weather, the correct form is:
|Tengo calor||I’m hot|
As mentioned before, you could use Caliente if talking about the weather. Although you can’t use caliente to talk about your a bodily sensation, you can use calor to describe the weather. However, in this context, you wouldn’t be the subject of the sentence.
|Hoy está muy caliente||Today is too hot|
|Hoy hace mucho calor||Today is too hot|
10. Saying there: Hay, Ahí o Ay?
Believe it or not, many native Spanish speakers also make this mistake. After all, the sound and the spelling of these words are very similar. But we can’t say the same about their meaning. So you have to learn when to use each one of them.
Hay is the form of the verb ‘Haber’ and it expresses that something ‘exists’. It’s commonly used for the word ‘there’.
Hay sillas en el salón There are chairs in the room
There is a mouse under the couch Hay un ratón abajo del sillón
Ahí is the direct translation of ‘there’. It’s a word that we use to indicate a place or location.
|Pon tu ropa ahí||Put your clothes there|
Ay is a Spanish exclamation that expresses emotions such as pain, surprise, and shock.
¡Ay! Me quemé la mano Ouch! I burnt my hand
Here is an article where I explain more in-depth the difference between these Spanish words.
11. Asistir or Atender
So if you wanted to say that you always attend your class or something else, which Spanish verb would you use? Asistir or Atender? You see the problem, right? This common mistake happens very often and, again, we can blame the similarity in spelling between the English and the Spanish verbs.
Asistir is the Spanish verb for ‘to attend’ and Atender means ‘to take after’ and it’s also a formal way to say ‘to deal with’. Usually, many English speakers use it incorrectly like:
No atendí a clases I didn’t take after my class
As you can see, the meaning is very different and might create confusion when talking to another person. So use these words in their correct context:
No asistí a clases I didn’t attend my classes
Atendí a mis invitados I looked after my guests
11. Frequency vs. Time: Tiempo or Vez
Many Spanish mistakes arise from a very simple thing: we have multiple Spanish words for just one English word. A good example is the word ‘time’. While in English, you just have this word, in Spanish you would need to choose between Tiempo or Vez, depending on what you want to say.
Vez expresses the frequency, the number of times you did something. The most common Spanish mistake is that new speakers forget to use this word. So when they end up using the wrong one, saying something like:
Vi esa película tres tiempos I saw that movie three times
The phrase might sound right to them, however, the correct thing to say is:
Vi esa película tres veces I saw that movie three times
¿Cuántas veces has visto esa película? How many times have you seen that movie?
Tiempo is also the direct translation of time. However, we use it to talk about periods of time.
En ese tiempo no veían televisión In that time people didn’t watch Tv
¿Cuánto tiempo nos queda? How much time do we have left?
12. To Ask: Pedir o Preguntar
In this case, many non-native Spanish speakers tend to use Preguntar for most situations. Unlike other Spanish mistakes we’ve discussed, this isn’t an awkward mistake, but it’s still best to know when to use each verb to improve your fluency.
We only use Preguntar when asking for information about a situation or a person.
Me preguntó sobre la tarea She asked me about the homework
Juan me preguntó por ti Juan asked me about you
¿Te puedo preguntar algo? Can I ask you something?
So with that said, what would you use if you want to ask for help, a favor, a service or an object? That’s right: Pedir.
¿Te puedo pedir algo? Can I ask you something?
Te pedí que me ayudaras I asked you to help me
13. I like you: Me Gustas vs. Me Caes Bien
We already established that the verb me gusta is one of the most complicated Spanish terms because of the irregularity in how you use the verb. And sometimes Spanish learners seem to forget that when saying ‘I like you’ in Spanish, we have two different verbs depending on the context or the intention.
Although in English you could use ‘I like you’ with both a friend or a date, in Spanish we cannot use the same term. Actually, it might turn into a very awkward situation for both you and the other person.
When saying ‘I like you’ to a friend, you must use me caes bien and if you are saying ‘I like you’ in a date or with romantic intentions you should use me gustas. I wrote this article Me gustas vs Me caes bien, to make sure you can be clear about your emotions with friends and acquaintances or romantic intentions with a crush you have.
14. To Bring: Llevar vs Traer
These two Spanish verbs are really confusing for both beginners and advanced Spanish learners because they both mean ‘to bring’. However, there is a distinct difference.
Llevar is used for ‘to take’ or ‘to carry’. And traer is ‘to bring’.
To be able to choose the correct verb, you need to pay attention to the following.
We use Llevar when we are carrying or taking something/someone to another place. It applies to go from one place to another. As for Traer, we use it when we are bringing something/someone to the place we already are.
So for example, if your friend is throwing a party at his house and you are bringing the beers, you would say:
|Yo llevo las cervezas||I’ll bring the beer|
Since you don’t live there, you have to move to get to his house. Not the same story if you go to the store to bring beers to your house.
|Yo traigo las cervezas||I’ll bring beers|
15. Excited: Excitado vs Emocionado
A common Spanish mistake that you’ll want to avoid at all costs is using Excitado instead of Emocionado.
Since in English you say ‘I’m excited…’ when expressing that you feel enthusiastic about something, it might seem logical to you to use the Spanish adjective Excitado. The problem is that, in Spanish, Excitado only expresses sexual arousal. So as you can see, you wouldn’t use it in many contexts. But if you are talking about being enthusiastic about something, then, Emocionado is the adjective you need.
Estoy emocionada por este trabajo I’m excited about this work
16. To be: Ser vs Haber
Learning Spanish means learning verbs that sometimes you won’t have in English. This is the case of Haber and since it expresses that something exists, English speakers might confuse it with Ser.
Hay algunas sillas por allá There are some chairs over there
Las sillas son pequeñas e incómodas The chairs are small and uncomfortable
Notice from the examples above that Haber is used to make people aware of the chairs and Ser is used to describe those chairs.
17. To look: ‘Buscar’ or ‘Mirar’?
In English, the verb ‘to look’ is very rich in meanings, so you can use it in many situations. However, that doesn’t happen in Spanish. Relying on translation, many new Spanish speakers tend to use Mirar when actually trying to say Buscar.
Estoy buscando mis zapatos I’m looking for my shoes
This word by word translation doesn’t work in Spanish. If you are talking to native Spanish speakers that don’t speak English, it very likely that they won’t know that you are talking about. Mirar is ‘to look’, while Buscar is used for ‘to look for‘.
Mira, ahí venden zapatos Look, they sell shoes over there
Estoy buscando mis zapatos I’m looking for my shoes
18. Misplacing the Pronouns
In addition to dealing with different pronouns, Spanish new-comers also need to learn their correct position in the sentence. Otherwise, they might sound like a Spanish Yoda. When placing Spanish pronouns keep in mind that following rules:
- Imperative: the pronouns go after the verb. And if having more than 1 pronoun, the indirect pronoun goes first.
“Give it to me” ←→ “Dámelo”
- Sentences with auxiliary verbs: the indirect can go either before the first verb or after the last verb.
Quiero comprarlo/Lo quiero comprar I want to buy it
- Normal tenses (present, past, future,etc…): the pronouns go before the verb.
|Las compramos||We bought them|
19. To tell: Contar vs Decir
This is another example of common Spanish vocabulary mistakes. Although Contar and Decir are the direct translation of ‘to tell’, these verbs are not interchangeable.
Contar is close to narrate or relate. And Decir is used when repeating somebody else’s words or when demanding (not asking) for information.
Cuéntame sobre tu cita So, tell me about your date!
¡Dime lo que hiciste ahora mismo! Tell me what happened right now!
As you can see, there’s a slight difference between these verbs. If you still don’t see it very well, I wrote this on the difference between decir and contar to help you understand when and how to use each one of them.
20. Estar vs Ser
Estar and Ser are one of the most common mistakes non-native Spanish speakers make. Even if you don’t see the difference very clear, native speakers do and with the wrong article, you are likely to go through a very awkward moment.
Él está bueno He is hot
Él es bueno He is a good person
Keep in mind that when talking about a person Ser is used to describe physical appearance and personality. Thus, Estar describes temporal characteristics. That guy is hot now while he’s young, but is he going to look the same in a few years? Probably not. Although ‘Estar’ and ‘Ser’ may seem challenging, I wrote this article to help you understand better when to use ‘estar’.
Take Note: We never say ‘Es bien’. Bien only works with Estar. Since for some Spanish learners ‘bien’ and ‘bueno’ are very confusing, I wrote this article to make sure you don’t confuse bien, bueno and buen anymore!
21. For and To: Por vs Para
The por vs. para learning challenge is probably one of the most complicated topics Spanish learners have to deal with. Although there are many rules when using these Spanish prepositions, many people make two main mistakes: using Por before an infinitive verb and confusing cause/reason with purpose.
In the following example your birthday is the reason that encouraged me to buy that cake:
Te compré un pastel por tu cumpleaños I bought you a cake for your birthday
But the meaning could change if using Para. If using para instead of por, we are talking about a purpose. What’s the purpose? To have a cake on your birthday.
Compré un pastel para tu cumpleaños I bought a cake for your birthday
Now that you know the most common Spanish mistakes that new speakers make, you will be able to avoid them. So keep these common mistakes in mind as you continue to learn and don’t stop improving your Spanish! 🙂