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TIP #129 - This tip was sent on the week: 25th - 31th Mar, 2007


English-Spanish Differences That Can Be Generalized - Part I


This tip applies to the following programs:

• ESI Professional

When making a comparative analysis of Spanish and English grammars, it is advisable to remember that, first and foremost, these two languages stem from a common ancestor --Indo-European--  which, according to scientific hypotheses, may have been spoken around 3000 B.C. Consequently, Spanish and English resemble each other much more than, for example, Spanish and any Amerindian language (like Quechua), Spanish and Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese, or even Russian –even though the latter also stems from Indo-European.


Now then, within the great Indo-European family, the civilizations involved spread out through diverse geographical zones and ended up being departmentalized or ramified, like the Germanic languages (i.e. English) on one hand, and the Romance languages (i.e. Spanish) on the other. This is how some generalizable differences stepped into the limelight, as follows:

  •   Syntaxis: the sequence of words in a phrase or statement is generally less flexible in English. In other words, a change in the order of words will have more repercussion in English than in Spanish. For example: Has she arrived yet? vs. ¿Ya llegó?/ ¿Llegó ya?/ ¿Ya llegó ella?/ ¿Ella llegó ya?/ ¿Ella ya llegó?/ ¿Ya ella llegó?
  •    Auxiliary Verbs. Where Spanish tends more to use inflections in verb structures, English uses auxiliary verbs; for example: Will his brother come? vs. ¿Vendrá el hermano? Likewise, English will use auxiliary verbs also in brief answers (such as: -Would you like one?  -Yes, I would, in which case Spanish will resort to a simple ‘’).
  •    The existence of grammatical gender, agreement and inflections. Spanish has more complex systems for correlating these categories than English, for example: Trabajo en varias escuelas y en los institutos tecnológicos que mencioné, where you find agreement between the article, noun and adjective. On the contrary, English expresses it as I work in several schools and in the technological institutes I mentioned .

In view of the above, we can stress the differences influencing Spanish speakers learning English even more. For example, the fact that Spanish has two verbs that act out the role of the verb be causes trouble for English speakers learning Spanish, but no problems at all for Spanish speakers learning English. On the other hand, the fact that English has two verbs for the verb hacer (‘make’ and ‘do’), does in fact cause trouble for Spanish speakers learning English. Some differences that can be noted are:

  •    The verb-subject sequence used in the affirmative in Spanish (Llegó mi tío) vs. the subject-verb sequence in English (My uncle arrived).
  •    The omission of pronouns as subject in Spanish (Es muy interesante), which is not permissible in English (It’s interesting).
  •    The use of a before a direct object involving a person (Vi a Juan), which has no equivalent in English (I saw Juan).
  •    The noun-adjective sequence in Spanish and its agreement in number (dos libros azules de gramática inglesa) vs. the adjective-noun sequence in English which does not need numerical agreement (two blue English Grammar books).
  •    The adverb-object sequence in Spanish (Hablas bien el inglés) vs. the object-adverb sequence in English (You speak English well).
  •    The “double negative” in Spanish (No hice nada) vs. the more complex options in English, nothing/not-anything (I did nothing/ I didn’t do anything, but never “I didn’t do nothing”).
  •    Expressions using tener in Spanish (tener sed/ miedo/ frío/ X años) are constructed using be in English: be thirsty/ be scared/ be cold/ be X years old).

To be continued next week


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