Introduction to Spanish Grammar

The Spanish language evolved from Vulgar Latin and was brought to Iberian Peninsula in 218 B.C.. Languages that are unrelated to Latin were spoken on the peninsula before Spanish. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era, the most important influences came from neighboring Romance languages. About 75% of modern Spanish vocabulary derived from Latin. Ancient Greek and Arabic also have a significant influence on Spanish vocabulary. The Spanish languages has taken vocabulary from other languages, especially the Romance languages such as French, Italian, Sardinian, etc.

How to Master 3 Tricky Spanish Word Pairs

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Spanish grammar and typology share many features with other Romance language. But, Spanish was the first of the European vernacular to have a grammar treatise. As an inflected language, Spanish verbs are marked for tense, aspect, mood, and number. The nouns are marked for number and make up a two-gender system. Pronouns are inflected for person, number, gender (including a residual neuter), and case, even the Spanish pronominal system is a simplification of the Latin system.

Differences between Peninsular and American Spanish are not too significant; thus, those who have learned the dialect of one area will have no problem using formal speech in the other. However, the pronunciation varies, as well as grammar and vocabulary.

Word Pairs That Often Confuse People When Learning Spanish Grammar

1. What’s the rule of thumb for when to use “por” vs “para"?

In any language, Spanish in this case, grammar, especially prepositions, can be confusing and seem to have no logic to them. A lot of the times, you just have to keep practicing them over and over until it’s stuck in your brain. They get easier and easier throughout the time. Below is a list of the main uses of por vs para to help you master the differences between these two prepositions.

A. Understand Cause vs. Effect

One tip to understanding when to use por and when to use para is knowing which one is associated with a cause and which is associated with an effect. Por is usually used when talking about the reason why - the cause - for you to do something. And, it’s translated to ‘on behalf of’ in English.

Marco no puede trabajar hoy. Trabajo por el/ Marco can’t work today. I’m working for (on behalf of) him.

Para is used when the sentence is dealing with the effect and the purpose of the situation. The English phrase ‘in order to’ is usually associated with this preposition.

Esta agua no es para beber./ This water is not for drinking.

B. Differentiatie Travel vs. Destination

Por and para can also be used to talk about travel and destination. An easy way to remember when to use them is that por usually refers to travel or motion through a place or location. And, para refers to the destination of a journey.

Salimos por la puerta./ We left through the door.

Mañana salgo para Madrid./ Tomorrow I am leaving for Madrid.

C. Know Duration vs. Deadline

Por and para are also used when talking about time. Por is used when talking about duration. It’s used to describe how long it takes to accomplish something or how long it takes to get to somewhere. On the other hand, para is used when talking about a deadline for an action.

Me quede en casa por tres dias./ I stayed at home for three days.

Tengo que terminar esto para las ocho./ I need to finish this by eight o’clock.


2. What’s the difference between ser and estar?

Like por and para, learning the differences between ser and estar can often be challenging when learning Spanish grammar. They are both translated into “to be” in English, which makes it trickier to distinguish the differences between them two. ¡Animo, amigos! The table below is going to help you better understand when to use ser and when to use estar.

Ser is used to talk about permanent attributes or identity while estar is used to describe temporary states (conditions) or locations.

Descriptions: essential qualities of a person or thing Soy alta y morena./ I am tall and dark-skinned.
Bob es inglés./ Bob is English.
Occupations & hobbies Ellos son estudiantes./ They are students.
Characterstics: personality descriptions Amalia es inteligente./ Amalia is intelligent.
Time: days, dates, years, etc... Ahora es la una./ Right now it is one o'clock.
Origin: the place a person/ thing is from or the material something is made of Celia es de España./ Celia is from Spain.
Relationships: family, friendship, etc... Marcos es mi novio./ Marcos is my boyfriend.
Position: the Physical position or posture a person or thing is in Mi abuela está sentada./ My grandmother is seated.
Location: it can be permanently, temporarily or conceptually El baño está a la derecha de la sala./ The bathroom is to the right of the living room
Actions: describing ongoing actions Estoy lavando los platos sucios./ I am washing the dirty dishes.
Conditions: both physical and mental Estoy tan cansada esta mañana./ I am so tired this morning.
Emotions: how a person is feeling at a certain moment Estoy tan contenta./ I am so happy.

3. In Spanish, what’s the difference between volver and regresar?

Compared to the previous pairs, volver and regresar are somehow less complicated. It’s also easier to tell them apart. Volver and regresar are translated into “to return” in English. However, they are not interchangeable under some circumstances. All you need is to keep these few points in mind to avoid making mistakes when deciding which verb to use.

  • To go back/ return to a place or location: Both volver and regresar work. They are synonyms and interchangeable verbs in this situation.

Regresé a casa./ I came back home.
Volví a casa./ I came back home.

  • To return, take back, or give back: In this case, you should use another verb - devolver. Regresar also works here, but devolver is more common for context like this.

Como no le gustaron los zapatos, los devolvió./ Since he didn't like the shoes, he returned them.
Mañana regresaré el libro a la biblioteca./ I will take the book back to the library tomorrow.

  • To resume, start again, or begin again: This is when vovler is being used in the sentence.

Tengo que volver a estudiar./ I have to study again.
Se volvió rojo./ It turned red.

Differences Between Peninsular and Latin American Spanish


Which type of Spanish should I learn? Will I be able to understand people in Spain if I learn Latin American Spanish, and vice versa? These are two frequently asked questions by people who are interested in learning Spanish. Peninsular and Latin American Spanish are pretty much mutually intelligible with some minor differences. Below is a list to explain the differences.

1. Lexical (Vocabulary) Differences

One of the significant differences between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish is that different words can be used to describe the same object or the same word has one meaning in Spain but a completely different meaning in Latin America. Below are some examples of how different words are being said in Spain and Latin America. Spanish in Latin America has been influenced by the native languages of indigenous Americans. Nahuatl and Quechua, and Taino have the most significant impact.

English Castilian Spanish Latin American Spanish
Car Coche Carro o automóvil
Computer Ordenador computadora
Potato Patata Papa
To take (transportation) Coger Tomar

2. Differences in Grammar

A. Use of Vosotros

Castilian Spanish speakers use second-person plural form of vosotros when addressing a group of family or friends. And, the formal form of third-person plural - ustedes is used when addressing the elders. However, vosotros is not used at all in Latin America. Speakers of Latin American Spanish use ustedes in situations where Peninsular Spanish speakers would opt for the use of vosotros.

B. Voseo

Normally, tú is an informal form of you while usted is the formal way to say you. But, this is only correct in Spain, Mexico, Caribbean Islands, etc… Vos replaces as informal you in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Costa Rica. In other countries like Chile and Venezuela, people use both vos and tú. Last, some people in Colombia and Costa Rica use usted with their friends even their pets.

3. Pronunciation (Distinción, El Ceseo & El Seseo)

Distinción is one of the standard characteristics of Peninsular Spanish. This is when the letter c (when it comes before i or e)and the letter z pronounced as th/θ/. And, the sound /s/ is pronounced as the s in see. Distinción is the phonological characteristic of people in northern and central Spain.

However, most Castilian Spanish speakers tend to pronounce the letter C (that comes before i and e) as a th /θ/ sound. The letter Z is also pronounced as a th /θ/ sound despite its position. This is called el ceceo. On the other hand, el seseo is the phonological characteristic of Latin American Spanish as well as the Canary Islands and portions of southern Spain. It is used to describe when C, S, and Z are pronounced as s /s/. For example, the word gracias is pronounced /ˈɡɾa.sjas/ in Latin America, parts of southern Spain and the Canary Islands. However, it is pronounced /ˈɡɾa.θjas/ in Spain.

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Now that you have a better understanding of the main differences between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish, does it make it easier for you to choose which one to learn?



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