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Native Spanish Speakers Make Mistakes Too

But They're Not the Same Ones Foreigners Make

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From the forum: "Do native Spanish speakers make as many grammatical mistakes in everyday Spanish as Americans do in everyday English? I am American and I make grammatical mistakes all the time unknowingly, but they still get the point across."

Unless you're an incessant stickler for grammatical details, chances are you make dozens of errors each day in the way you use English. And if you're like many native speakers of English, you might not notice until you're told that a sentence such as "each of them brought their pencils" is enough to make some grammarians grit their teeth.

Since language errors are so common in English, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Spanish speakers make their share of mistakes too when speaking their language. They generally aren't the same mistakes you're likely to make when speaking Spanish as a second language, but they are probably every bit as common in Spanish as they are in English.

Following is a list of some of the most common errors made by native speakers; some of them are so common they have names to refer to them. (Because there isn't unanimous agreement in all cases about what is proper, examples given are referred to as nonstandard Spanish rather than as "wrong." Some linguists argue that there's no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to grammar, only differences in how various word usages are perceived.) Until you are so comfortable with the language that you have reached fluency and can use a style of speech appropriate for your situation, you are probably best off avoiding these usages — although they are accepted by many speakers, especially in informal contexts, they might be viewed as uneducated by some.

Dequeísmo — In some areas, the use of de que where que will do has become so common that it is on the verge of being considered a regional variant, but in other areas it is strongly looked down on as being the mark of an inadequate education.

  • Nonstandard: Creo de que el presidente es mentiroso.
  • Standard: Creo que el presidente es mentiroso. (I believe the president is a liar.)
Loísmo and laísmo Le is the "correct" pronoun to use as the indirect object meaning "him" or "her." However, lo is sometimes used for the male indirect object, especially in parts of Latin America, and la for the female indirect object, especially in parts of Spain.
  • Nonstandard: La escribí una carta. No lo escribí.
  • Standard: Le escribí una carta a ella. No le escribí a él. (I wrote her a letter. I did not write to him.)
Le for les — Where doing so doesn't create ambiguity, especially where the indirect object is explicitly stated, it is common to use le as a plural indirect object rather than les.
  • Nonstandard: Voy a enseñarle a mis hijos como leer.
  • Standard: Voy a enseñarles a mis hijos como leer. (I will teach my children how to read.)
QuesuismoCuyo is often the Spanish equivalent of the adjective "whose," but it is used infrequently in speech. One popular alternative frowned on by grammarians is the use of que su.
  • Nonstandard: Conocí a una persona que su perro estaba muy enfermo.
  • Standard: Conocí a una persona cuyo perro estaba muy enfermo. (I met a person whose dog was very sick.)
Plural use of existential haber — In the present tense, there is little confusion in the use of haber in a sentence such as "hay una casa" ("there is one house") and "hay tres casas" ("there are three houses"). In other tenses, the rule is the same — the singular conjugated form of haber is used for both singular and plural subjects. In most of Latin America and the Catalan-speaking parts of Spain, however, plural forms are often heard and are sometimes considered a regional variant.
  • Nonstandard: Habían tres casas.
  • Standard: Había tres casas. (There were three houses.)
Misuse of the gerund — The Spanish gerund (the verb form ending in -ando or -endo, generally the equivalent of the English verb form ending in "-ing") should, according to the grammarians, generally be used to refer to another verb, not to nouns as can be done in English. However, it appears to be increasingly common, especially in journalese, to use gerunds to anchor adjectival phrases.
  • Nonstandard: No conozco al hombre viviendo con mi hija.
  • Standard: No conozco al hombre que vive con mi hija. (I don't know the man living with my daughter.)
Orthographic mistakes — Since Spanish is one of the most phonetic languages, it's tempting to think that mistakes in spelling would be unusual. However, while the pronunciation of most words can almost always be deduced from the spelling (the main exceptions are words of foreign origin), the reverse isn't always true. Native speakers frequently mix up the identically pronounced b and the v, for example, and occasionally add a silent h where it doesn't belong. It also isn't unusual for native speakers to get confused on the use of orthographic accents (that is, they may confuse que and qué, which are pronounced identically).

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