LANGUAGE POINTS COLLECTED TOGETHER – UPDATED January 2nd, 2015
A number of people have asked for all the Language Points to be drawn together into one reference document, as when they have gone to look something up they have had to scroll through endless posts looking for it. So here they are. I think I’ve captured them all. I’ll leave it pinned to the top menu of “Favourite Posts” so it’s easy to find. Hope that’s useful! I have also added links back to the original posts.
In English we use the gerund (“-ing” form) after “thank you for”, as in “Thank you for calling me” and “Thank you for sending it to him”. But in Spanish we use the infinitive, so it’s “Gracias por llamarme” and “Gracias por enviarselo.”
I need to remember to use estuve to say I was somewhere in the past, rather than yo estaba which is the continuous tense. Why can’t I remember estuve? Is it because it’s irregular? Estuve en Marbella la semana pasada. I was in Marbella last week. Estuvimos en el bar hasta muy tarde. We were in the bar until very late
We’re taught that adjectives go after the noun in Spanish, and of course that’s usually true – except when it doesn’t! Adjectives that describe size or quantity often go before the noun, as in gran hermano (big brother) and so do “first /second” as in la primera planta or el segundo plato. But the other time the adjectives goes first is for emphasis or when there’s a strong emotion, such as esta aislada ciudad (this isolated city), or un resonante exito (a resounding success) or in an epithet such as malditos Yanquis (damn Yankees!).
Why accents are so important, even from the very beginning …..
Mi papá tiene 47 años = My father is 47 years old.
Mi papa tiene 47 anos = My potato has 47 anuses.
And some teachers tell you accents don’t matter? Pffffff.
Well, not so much a language learning point, more the answer to the question we’ve all been asking ourselves …. Just how is “Paco” any sort of short form of Francisco? Well there IS logic behind this, after all! Saint Francis of Assisi was the father of the Franciscan order of monks. Within that order his name was written as Pater Comunitatis – father of the community. “Paco” comes from the first syllable of each word. Simples!
So many “false friends”! I get confused between sensible and sensitive – I’m a bit sensitive, or I’m a bit emotional, is “Estoy un poco sensible”. But if I DO want to say that I’m sensible, or rational, it’s “Soy una persona sensata.” The first is “estoy” because it’s a temporary state of being, whereas in the second it is a fundamental characteristic so it is “soy”.
And note the male/female endings here … even though I’m female it is still “un poco” in the first example, and in the second “sensata” remains the same for men because “una persona” is female, even if you’re not! Hope that makes sense 🙂
“Already” and “yet” give me grief, and Jose my intercambio partner has been drilling me on them. “Already” is not so hard – Ya se ha ido – he has already gone. Ya hemos empezado – we have already started. Ya he pedido – I have already asked, or I’ve already ordered (that’s particularly good in cafes, when a second waiter comes to ask what you want).
But “yet” …. that changes depending if it is positive or negative. Ya lo has limpiado? Have you cleaned it yet? Si, ya lo he limpiado. Yes, I have cleaned it already. No, no lo he limpiado aún. No, I haven’t cleaned it yet. Aún no lo he leido. I haven’t read it yet.
Volver – to return. Buying a return train ticket – ida y vuelta. But used much more frequently about “doing something again”. Ha vuelto a escribir de nuevo. He/she has started to write again. Hemos vuelto a hacer deporte. We are back to playing sport. Has vuelto a recuperar tu vida. You are recovering your life anew. Phrases including this need quite “free” translation – as in these three examples, you can use any English phrase that sounds right and means coming back to something or doing it again.
I have many bad habits. But the one that Juanmi at http://www.axalingua.com/ is currently trying to drum out of me is that I seem to avoid the reflexive verbs. I keep asking “¿Es posible andar aquí?”Is it possible to walk here? Or “¿Está permitido andar aquí?” Is it permitted to walk here? Those are both sort of OK but not what a Spanish person would say. I should be asking “¿Se puede andar aquí?”Can one walk here? Similarly I keep saying “XYZ está usado …”XYZ is used. When I should say “se usa …”. Examples – “Se usa para cocinar” and “Se usa en la cocina”. It’s used for cooking. It’s used in the kitchen. Useful phrases for the ferretería (ironmongers).
I’m struggling this week. My teacher, Juan-Mi, is pushing me on those verbs that talk about your emotions and your abilities. I’m OK with “Me da miedo”(it frightens me, or literally “it gives me fear”), but cannot work out why sometimes it needs to be “Se me da mal cocinar”for example. “I’m rubbish at cooking”, or literally “Cooking gives it bad to me” or something like that! I suppose I just have to learn it, but I know I learn better when I can see a glimmer of logic, and this one has me stumped. Anyone got any tips for me on this?
65 – Sorting Se me da mal cocinar …
Well, between a few of us we seem to have cracked the problem of “Se me da mal cocinar”. I may not explain this very well, but it seems that we need the “Se” in this construction because the thing that goes badly is a verb. To cook. OR … a noun that is acting as a replacement for a verb eg “Se me da mal la cocina”does not mean the kitchen is bad for me, but cooking. It’s when it is some sort of activity. Similarly, “Se me dan mal las matematicas”is using the noun for maths, but as a replacement for the activity of DOING maths.
So as far as I can see, the “Se”is because it is sort of a reflexive verb ….. IT ( the cooking or the maths) is giving it bad to me. “Se me da mal cocinar” or “Se me da mal la cocina”.
Not sure how clear that is as an explanation, but it had helped me get it clearer in my head. And now I have a bit of a reason for why it is the way it is, I can set that aside and just try and remember to use it!
Along the same lines as my recent problem with “Se me da mal hablar en publico”(I am no good at public-speaking), I am also struggling with “Me cuesta ….” (literally it costs me, but meaning I find it difficult or I struggle with it). “Me cuesta entender este verbo.” (I’m struggling to understand this verb!). “Te cuestan las matemáticas?” Are mathematics hard for you?”
“Me cuesta leer un libro en español, aunque me resulta fácil leerlo en ingles.” “I struggle to read a book in Spanish, although I find it easy to read it in English.” I managed to get the exercise on this that Juan-Mi had set me excruciatingly wrong. Fortunately the language school is closed for August so I have a few weeks to get it right (along with the mountain of homework he has set me).
A “made phrase” or “una frase hecha” that it might be safer to avoid – but worth understanding for when you hear it! “Ajo y agua” literally means ‘garlic and water’ in Spanish, but it is actually a contraction of ”A JOderse Y AGUAntarse”, which can be taken to mean something like this: “You <ahem> messed up big-time, and now you have to deal with it.” Stronger words may be imagined!
Rafael: “La engañé a mi novia con otra. Pero ella se enteró y me abandonó.” “I cheated on my girlfriend with another. But she found out and she left me.”
Juan: “Ajo y agua.”
I’m behind with my homework. Fortunately my intercambio meetings continue through August so Jose is my “Profe #1” this month. I got really confused between sitting and feeling. Quite different, but in the “I” form, the same.
Sentir – to feel; Sentar – to sit.
No problem in the second or third person – “Te sientes feliz?” Do you feel happy? “Te sientas allí?” Are you sitting there? “El se siente feliz.” He feels happy. “El se sienta aqui”He is sitting here. Plurals are fine too. No it’s the first person singular (me) that throws the untranslatable cat amongst the proverbial pigeons!
“Me siento aqui?” May I sit here? “Me siento feliz.” I feel happy.
I guess I’ll just have to hope the two meanings don’t coincide in some inconvenient juxtaposition – something about “Could I feel happy sitting here, do you think???”
Part of my homework before my next lesson is to list some famous titles from English literature, and translate them into Spanish. Of course it was tempting to go for “Jane Eyre”, “David Copperfield” and “1984″ but I don’t think I’d have got away with it. A few I could cheat on, looking in a bookshop for the official Spanish translation. Browsing, I spotted one that didn’t seem quite right. “Cincuenta Sombras de Grey”it said (OK I know I’m stretching the word “literature” here). Well I take issue with that as a translation, on at least two counts. The surname HAS to be translated to “Gris” as it HAS to be a colour as well as a person, or the fifty shades don’t make sense. And indeed it is important that the colour is grey (gris) because shades of grey is quite evocative, indicating complexity but also a darkness, an absence of colour. But my bigger problem is the use of the word “sombras“. Yes, shade, of a kind, or shadows. But the double-meaning inherent in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is lost. It means nuances, variations, inconsistencies ….. it means “shades” in all the myriad meanings of that word! In Spanish, different shades of paint colours are matices, the plural of matiz. But Spanish friends explained that wouldn’t work. So maybe the translator is right, perhaps sombras is the best word. But it loses the double-meaning, and leaves me frustrated.
This homework is making me think! Any suggestions on how to improve “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Or any other good or bad book-title translations I could use?
Staying on the health theme, it has always interested me that in Spanish we refer to the parts of our bodies not as MY head or MY fingers, but THE head and THE fingers. So that the English “My head hurts” becomes “Me duele la cabeza”(the head is hurting me). My intercambio partner looked puzzled when I asked why this is, and pointed out that it was unlikely that anyone else’s head would be hurting me, so to say “my” head was both unnecessary and (to Spanish ears) rather ego-centric. And this is the main reason for mentioning it here – it’s one of the things they laugh at us for! We sound very self-obsessed when we say “Me duele mi cabeza”so it’s worth trying to get this one right.
Some friends were chatting about “frases hechas” (“made phrases”, or what we would call “sayings”) and one Spanish man explained that “un acento cerrado, a cal y canto” which I had written about a few weeks ago in “Can’t Be Translated”, is even more complicated than I’d thought. “Un acento cerrado, a cal y canto” translates as “A closed accent, bolted and barred”, meaning a very thick or strong accent. But in fact “a cal y canto”means something more like “belt and braces”, or doubly-sure. And that makes sense in the “bolted and barred” translation. A younger Spaniard had heard the phrase but didn’t understand it, as the words literally mean “lime and stone”, and when the first man was explaining it was something to do with painting a surface, then finishing it off or smoothing it down, I couldn’t follow the detail. But it certainly seems as though “belt and braces” is a good translation!
I did my first Spanish lessons at an Adult Education course held in Shaftesbury School. Now I’m pretty sure that things like “this” and “that” would have been learned in Year One. So I guess I must have missed a week somewhere along the line. Because how could it have taken me until now to get “ese”, “eso”and “esa”right?
If you’re anything like me, the “o” masculine ending and the “a” feminine ending are pretty well stuck into the old brain. And yes we know about the exceptions such as “un día”, “el agua”etc. But I was gob-smacked when Jose corrected me in our inter-cambio session when I said “eso libro” – that book. “No” he said, “ese libro – porqué es masculino.” “Si, por supuesto” I replied – “el libro, eso libro”. “No”he insisted, “el libro – ese libro”. “Ese”is the masculine form of “that” – despite all logic! And we only use “eso”when the object is unknown. For example if someone is holding a box, we might ask “¿Que es eso?”because we don’t know if the thing in the box is masculine or feminine.
Year One basics. And I didn’t know that. Oh and it goes for “éste”,“ésta”and “ésto”too.
There is a great word in Spanish – enchufe. I first read about it in the wonderful book “In the Garlic” by Theresa O’Shea and Valerie Collins – everybody’s guide to unraveling the complexities of Spain
http://inthegarlic.com/in-the-garlic-book/ Look up enchufe in the dictionary and you are told it is a plug of the electric variety. But here’s the excerpt from “In the Garlic” (which in Spanish means “In the Know”) ….:
“Plug, to plug in, and one of the keys to grasping the mechanics of Spanish life. An enchufe is not only a lump of pronged plastic needed to start up your computer /toaster/television, it also comes in the shape of a life-size, strategically situated human being. This flesh-and-blood enchufe may work high up in the place where you have applied for a job. He or she may know a specialist you need to see. Or be on the board of governors of a select school. If your enchufe is high up enough, you may be able to jump the queue where it matters. Grossly unfair, of course, but no-one ever looks a gift plug in the prongs.”
In English we use the “…ing” ending much more than they do in Spanish. Shame, really, because it’s one of those Spanish constructions that it quite easy to remember, once I had twigged that the N in iNg corresponded to the N in hablaNdo and comieNdo etc.
We would say “Did you have difficulty findING a place to live?” whereas in Spanish it is“¿Tuviste dificultad para encontrar un lugar para vivir?” using the infinitive. Or in English “It was a waste of time readING that book” but in Spanish “Fue una perdida de tiempo leer ese libro”. Another example – “There’s no point havING a car if you never use it” translates as “No tiene sentido tener un coche si no lo usas nunca.” Finally – “It’s no good askING Tom” becomes “No sirve nada pedirselo a Tom.”
So in Spanish we need to remember to use the infinitive much more instead of the …ing ending. Oh and this is just as hard for Spanish people! Despite speaking English at a pretty high level, my intercambio friend Jose sometimes slips up and would say “It was a waste of time to read that book” or “Did you have difficulties to find a place to live?” When he makes a small error like that, it helps me to understand that if I get the same thing wrong, I will be understood but the person listening will just trip up slightly thinking it didn’t sound right, and might miss the sense of what I’m trying to say.
Friends are now beginning to “bully” me about the finer points of Spanish pronunciation. This week on two separate occasions I was given a sentence to practice. Evil, both of them!
El perro de San Roque no tiene rabo, porque Juan Ramón Rodriguez se lo ha cortado. The dog of San Roque doesn’t have a tail, because Juan Ramón Rodriguez cut it off.
La lluvia en Sevilla es una pura maravilla. The rain in Seville is a pure wonder.
Clearly, the actual translation is irrelevant – it’s the rolling of the rrrrr, the depth of the lllll, and the softening of the v to a b that they are testing. I must remember to keep the car window shut when I’m sitting at the traffic-lights by the Rosaleda stadium practicing at the top of my voice!
Back in post number 69 “The Many Faces of Feria”, the language point was about the difficulty of translating book titles, especially those with double-meanings.https://tamaraessexspanishblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/69-the-many-faces-of-feria/
One which my profe hadn’t realised HAD a double-meaning was “The Importance of Being Earnest”. The official Spanish translation gives up entirely on attempting to include the aspects of seriousness, of “earnestness” and simply goes for “La Importancia de Llamarse Ernesto”, or “The Importance of Being Called Ernest”. Shame, but there was nothing they could do!
I think my favourite translation was “Gone With the Wind”, which frankly is made even more evocative in “Lo Que el Viento Se Llevó”, or “That Which the Wind has Carried Away” – love it!
T H White’s tale of King Arthur has the wonderful title “The Once and Future King”, which I had translated in a rather pedestrian manner as “El Rey Pasado y Futuro”. Much more poetic is the correct translation “El Rey que Fue y Será” – “The King who Was and Who Will Be”.
Any other good titles? Does anyone fancy having a stab at translating Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”?
Just as in English, the verb “to make” can also be used when something MAKES you feel a certain way, or MAKES something happen. For example “Me hace contenta” – it makes me happy. “Le hizo rico” – it made him rich. In this construction we usually use the third person singular as it is something external or abstract that is making me, her, or us feel a certain way. “Nos hace sentir triste” – it makes us feel sad.
80 – Helping Your Spanish friends
If you’re helping a Spanish-speaker with their English in return for their help with your Spanish, you’re probably hitting the same pronunciation problems I am with Jose and Paco. Top problem was their pronunciation of the letter Y at the start of yellow, young and youth. Get them to say the Spanish word for ice – hielo – and although it doesn’t begin with a Y, the sound at the start is the same sound they need to begin yellow, young and youth with. Get them to say “hielo hielo y- y- y- y- young youth yellow”, which should shift them from starting those words with a J sound.
81 – Lowering the Ts and the Ds
I’m often accused of lowering the tone! But for once, it’s what I’m MEANT to do! My Spanish friends are trying to get me to lower my tone when I pronounce a T or a D in Spanish. And at the same time, I’m trying to get them to raise their tone when they pronounce the same letters in English.
Trying to get Spanish people to pronounce “He looks like he doesn’t want to be here” or “That cat sat on that mat” helped highlight for me, how MY Spanish pronunciation needs to change.
In English we pronounce the T in “The cat sat on the mat” as a very light, high note. In Spanish it is much lower. It’s as though the English T is played on a child’s glockenspiel – you know, the ones with the metal keys. A high, light, ringing sound. The Spanish T is played on a xylophone, a duller, wooden sound. The tongue is up against the teeth, almost through them.
The English D is only a bit lower than our T sound, but in Spanish we need to take it right down low so we hear it in our bellies. Maybe the English one is the top string on a cello, and the Spanish one is a double bass?
They make me repeat that long sentence with all the rolling rrrrrrs (about el perro de San Roque who doesn’t have a tail), but it’s the last bit I need to work on … “Se ha cortado”. Cortado is a GREAT word to practise. Even if you don’t like your coffee quite that dark! It’s got that rolled rrr in the middle, followed by a nice dull T with the tongue up against the teeth, and then a really low D. There is MUCH less difference between a T and a D in Spanish.
So I drove back from Torre del Mar one sunny November evening bellowing “Se ha corTaDo” … “Se ha corTaDo” … “Se ha corTaDo”. Go on – try it!
I learned two lovely phrases recently.
“Estaba en una nube” – I was in a cloud, meaning I was in awe of somebody or something, or just floating in a general cloud of delight.
“Se me pasó el tiempo volando” – the time flew by.
Good phrases for me, as they pretty much define how things are going!
83 – Subjunctivitis!
So it comes when there is a second verb after a “parent” verb, such as “I hope that you want it” or “I suggest that we go now” or “I want that you eat that cheese” (we would say “I want you to eat that cheese”).
Espero que lo QUIERAS. Sugiero que nos VAYAMOS. Quiero que COMAS ese queso.
And the construction is simply to “change track” so the A verbs (hablar etc) use the E (Espero que yo HABLE bastante bien). And the E and I verbs (comer, vivir etc) use the A (Yo dudo que ella VIVAS aqui. Espero que nos VEAMOS pronto).
Phew! Not so hard after all. Lots of other uses of it and constructions of it, but it’s a good start.
I got it wrong last week. I called the subjunctive a tense. Both here and on Eye on Spain a reader corrected me. The subjunctive is a mood, not a tense. They were right, I was wrong. And it’s hard to say you’re wrong. No really, it actually IS hard to say you’re wrong – at least in Spanish.
It’s a strange verb – equivocar. Me equivoco constantamente – I’m always making mistakes. Se equivoca – he’s wrong, he’s mistaken, he got it wrong. Me equivoqué – I was wrong, I got it wrong, I made a mistake (past tense). Yo estaba equivocada – I was wrong. Me he equivocada – I’ve made a mistake. ¡No, estás equivocado! – no, you’re wrong (or you made a mistake). In Spanish there’s no clear linguistic difference between being mistaken, and being outright wrong – those shades are done with the context and the tone of voice.
85 – Describing your region
My intercambio friend had to write a paragraph in English about the area in which he lives. After I’d checked it for grammar (which was, as always, almost impeccable) he made me translate it into Spanish. He’s well ahead of me on grammar so there were some difficult phrases. But I loved it, as there were some really beautiful-sounding sections. I especially liked En invierno llueve poco, y aunque llueva, después los cielos aclaran y el sol brilla denuevo. In winter it doesn’t rain much, and even when it does rain, afterwards the skies clear and the sun shines again. Nice bit of subjunctive in there … “… even when it rains …”. Es casi tan agradable como el paraíso. It’s almost as lovely as paradise. Very true, Jose, very true.
Please excuse this. I use the language point in the blog to pin down something I am struggling with. I find that trying to explain it, sets it more firmly in my brain. And this week I’m trying to get to grips with ECHAR. Echar de menos, echar en falta – why two things that mean the same? Ah well.
Voy a echarle de menos. Voy a echarla en falta. I’m going to miss him/her. Voy a echar de menos estos días cuando vuelva al trabajo. I’m going to miss these days when I return to work. Te echo mucho de menos. I miss you greatly. Echo en falta tu compañia. I miss your company. Vas a echarle de menos. You’re going to miss him.
Thank you. That’ll help. It’s a jolly odd construction though, isn’t it?
87 – Happy New Anus!
Felices fiestas y un prospero año nuevo! Please don’t forget that tilde over the n (ie the ñ) in año. Nobody wants to be wished a prosperous new anus.
90 – More subjunctivitis
Back at my village’s language school www.axalingua.com we are struggling along with more of the subjunctive. No me gusta que ellos fumen. I don’t like it that they smoke. Me irrita que no me llamen. It irritates me that they don’t call me. Me molesta que aún no tengas. It annoys me that you still don’t have it. Me preocupa que sepan todo. It worries me that they know everything.
As long as I hang onto the fact that QUE triggers the subjunctive I’m alright. But I suspect it’s going to get a whole lot more complicated.
91- Porra not Porro
A food-related reminder of the importance of ending words with the right O or A. Along with eight friends over from Cumbria I went on a Ruta de Tapas withwww.tapasinmalaga.com (a fabulous evening). The first bar on the tour served the most delicious garlic potatoes, squid, and their own recipe for porra, which is a tomato-based garlicky dip with breadcrumbs, red pepper and olive oil, served cold. Similar to salmorejowhich is more common in la Provincia de Córdoba and doesn’t have the peppers (folks will argue about those definitions but that’s what several chef friends told me, anyway!). Anyway, one of the women absolutely loved it, and when the waiter came round to see if everything was alright she loudly asked for another large portion of porro. The waiter’s face was a picture, as that small matter of an o at the end instead of an a meant that she had asked for a large marijuana joint!
93 – ….and Other Mistakes
Last month I mentioned a friend who had accidentally ordered a joint of marijuana in a tapas bar by asking for “porro” instead of “porra”. And many a woman has been embarrassed in the butcher’s by asking for “polla” instead of “pollo” when she honestly did just want chicken (one local woman who thought she had asked the butcher if he had a really BIG chicken for six people to eat hasn’t been back into that shop since …).
Wrongly imagining myself above such silly errors I reduced the painter and his son to giggles last week. I had been away overnight when they had finished painting my doors and windows and putting up new mosquito screens upstairs and downstairs, so they returned the following week to be paid and to check everything was satisfactory. “Si, ésta bien. Solo faltan los tres mosqueteros.” Pepe’s son dropped a biro and hid his giggles as he pretended to search for it. Pepe smothered his grin and looked quizzically at me. I had just said “Yes it’s all fine, we’re just missing the Three Musketeers!”
Pah. Mosqueteros / Mosquiteras. Near enough, you’d think! Sigh. These wretched noun endings! Anyway, I clarified that I did not expect Athos, Porthos and Aramis to jump through the open windows, but that I would like the three downstairs net screens replaced to prevent ingress by musketeers AND mosquitos. Las tres mosquiteras. So Pepe will pop back next week with those. I wonder if he’ll come dressed as D’Artagnan?
94 – Una Casa Poco Luminosa
We had to do an exam this week. But it was for homework, so not exactly under exam conditions! It wasn’t too bad, though I don’t know how it went as it’s been handed in for marking. But there was one that really stumped me for a while. It was about the use of“poco”. And that difficult “poco” or “poca” thing. Simple enough if poco is being used directly as an adjective – es un poco caro para mi – it’s a bit expensive for me. Estuvo en la playa con poca ropa – she was on the beach with few clothes on. But it’s when poco is being used as a determiner …. as in “No quiero una casa poco luminosa” – I don’t want a house less bright. I don’t remember why, but I do remember learning that in that example we use poco, even though everything is screaming that it ought to be poca – to agree with casa and luminosa.
Well after much agonising I ticked POCO. I’ll find out next week if it was right or wrong. In the meantime, are there any English teachers able to confirm what part of speech that is, and any Spanish teachers able to explain why it should be poco?
95 – Conditionals
This week Jose and I have been working more on the conditional perfect, or second conditionals. At the same time we are working on pronunciation and fluidity. “Sherlock Holmes is the only person who would have known who stole the diamonds.” Sherlock Holmes es la unica persona que habría sabido quien robó los diamantes. “Would you (plural) have gone to the beach if it weren’t raining?” ¿Habríais ido a la playa si no lloviera? The “if” in the dependent clause triggers the imperfect subjunctive (sigh), with the other big clue being the use of “were” rather than “was”.
Normal (or “first”) conditionals just take the indicative – “I would have xxx but yyy happened”, or “He would have aaa except that bbb happened.” So look out for “if” which changes it – eg If I had known, I wouldn’t have come. Si hubiera sabido, no habría venido. It doesn’t matter which bit comes first – No habría venido si hubiera sabido.
96 – Resolving “Una Casa Poco Luminosa”
Another mystery unravelled! Juanmi had done some research, and had returned with the definitive answer as to why the phrase “…. una casa poco luminosa …” uses POCOrather than POCA.
The prize for working it out when I posed the question below blog post 94 – Priceless,goes to Steve Doerr. He spotted first that the word POCO was functioning as an adverb qualifying the adjective “luminosa”, and that adverbs are invariable so do not change their endings to match the noun or the adjective. In the same way, but less controversial and therefore a good example, I would say “Me gusta mucho ésta casa.” In that phrase, both I and the house are female, but MUCHO remains invariable as it is an adverb qualifying the verb gustar. So if we can accept that, we can also accept the POCO example.
98 – Yet More Subjunctivitis
Oh we are struggling. Some of us to the point of refusing ever to use the subjunctive! But we had a breakthrough this week. We’re still trying to make hypotheses, and we struggle with the degrees of uncertainty that trigger the subjunctive rather than the indicative. Juanmi has done his best, jumping from the left (definitely yes) to the right (definitely no) and then hovering in the middle, the uncertain area, where the subjunctive is used. The problem has been that our text book says that we use “Probablemente …” with the indicative, but “Es probable que ….” with the subjunctive. Whereas to us the degree of uncertainty seems the same. But this morning a lightbulb came on (or went off – our language is confusing too!). The “que” of course triggers the subjunctive. OK, but why does “Posiblemente …” use the indicative? It generally implies a fair degree of doubt. It’s all in the tone, says Juanmi. But then he looked sheepish and went to get another textbook. The truth finally emerged. Our textbook lists a hard and fast rule that after“Posiblemente …” you use the indicative. But this OTHER textbook says you can use the indicative OR the subjunctive after “posiblemente”!!! So it depends on our own perception of the degree of doubt, rather than being a hard and fast rule! Phew. Suddenly it all seemed a bit more manageable. A bit more possible. Por lo menos, posiblemente. “Posiblemente, vaya a usar el subjuntivo ésta semana.”
99 – I have eaten, I have lived …
Odd isn’t it, how sometimes something just doesn’t mean the same thing in a foreign language? One of the things I am often asked as an extranjera is how long I have lived in Spain. If I were to answer in English, I would of course say “I have lived here for almost two years.” So, having learned my present perfect tense, I respond in Spanish “He vivido aqui casi dos años.”
But that’s wrong. In Spanish that implies I have lived here before but I don’t any more. For example it WOULD be correct to answer the question “Have you ever been to Australia?” with the reply “Si, he vivido allí tres años” – yes, I have lived there for three years. But I don’t now.
Because the present perfect is, in fact, a past tense. He comido la manzana – I have eaten the apple, and I have finished eating the apple – the apple is no more. He aparcado el coche – I have parked the car. I am not parking it now, it is parked and now I am here (in a bar) with you, telling you I have parked it.
OK that sort of makes sense. Certainly “I have lived here” is the only time I would try to use that tense for something that is still happening, so it figures that it is wrong. The truth is that it is the English that is wrong!
So the correct reply to “How long have you lived here?” needs to be – “Llevo viviendo aqui casi dos años.” or “Vivo aquí desde hace casi dos años.”
Tiempos pasados. Past tenses. Problems about when to use the imperfect and when to use the preterite.
Turns out that to say “I was walking on the beach” you wouldn’t put walking into the imperfect – Yo andaba por la playa – because that would mean that you used to walk regularly on the beach but you don’t any more. We have to say Estaba andando por la playa, putting the ESTAR part into the imperfect, not the ANDAR part. OK, I can do that.
The imperfect is used when the action is interrupted and there’s more to say (for example, I was cooking the meal when the phone rang), or when something was being done regularly in the past (for example, as children we used to walk to school).
I did get into trouble with this. I told a chef friend that I liked eating the food he cooked …. Me gustaba tu comida. He looked a bit offended, and pointed out that this implied that I used to like his cooking but I don’t any more! I should have said Me gustó tu comida, using the preterite (or simple past).
It’s jolly subtle, this language we’re learning. “Cómo están tus hijos?” How are the kids? But in a shop, “Cómo están las gambas?” is not an enquiry after the health of the prawns (which, let’s face it, is probably not great), but an enquiry after their quality. Used in markets, for instance, for products that vary in quality such as fruit and vegetables. And “A cómo están las gambas?” is an enquiry after their price, again used in markets where the price varies depending on the season or the day’s catch.
Buying a car from a neighbour? Important difference between “Es nuevo” – it’s new, and “Está nuevo” – it’s like new (but it’s not).
I have been trying (and failing) to find a good equivalent to “I’m looking forward to it.” When you’ve made an arrangement to see someone, and you want to emphasise that you’re glad, but without going over the top. But it really doesn’t seem to exist in Spanish. Ask Google Translate or Tradukka etc and they either get too literal and think you want to say that you WILL see something in the future tense, or they offer “Tengo ganas de verte”, which is best not to use for a friend or a colleague. Some translators offer “He ansiado a verte” but that’s a bit OTT as well. In the end several Spanish friends said I just had to settle for “Nos vemos” which seems to me to be a bit factual, and doesn’t indicate that I’m, well, looking forward to seeing someone. Seems a little impersonal. Any better suggestions?
My neighbour has an enormous family. Her sons and daughters and their wives and husbands and countless children fill our tiny street at fiesta times, impossible to tell them all apart. But many are useful – Manolo and Antonio are excellent plumbers and electricians, and Lorenzo is a very skilled builder. So when a friend was seeking an architect, it occurred to me that there might be one in Rafaella’s brood. I stopped her husband outside yesterday and asked him if amongst his many children he had an architect. “No” he replied. “Mi hijo es perrito” … at least that’s what I thought he said. Bit rude, I thought, to say his son is a little dog. He repeated it several times. I thanked him, confirmed that definitely none of his children were architects, and wandered off. Checking in the dictionary later it turns out he was saying “Mi hijo es perito” with just the one r (not rolled so much as the double r) which is a useful word for an expert, a loss-adjuster, an expert witness, or a skilled person. But not for an architect, which not surprisingly is“arquitecto”.
Lemons – limones
Lemon tree – limonero
Oranges – naranjas
Orange tree – naranjo
This last is important as the famous square in the centre of Marbella is actually calledPlaza de los Naranjos (the square of the orange trees) but is mis-pronounced and mis-written by a majority of non-Spanish folks who assume it is the Plaza de las Naranjas. The pretty tiled street-names DO correctly say los Naranjos but to little effect!
A few World Cup language points? Oh why not ….
Goalkeeper – portero
Coach – entrenador
Players – jugadores
Forward – delantero
Defender – defensa
Goal line – linea de fondo
Out of play – fuera de banda
Corner – esquina (they sometimes also say “corner”!)
Goal kick – saque de puerta
Throw-in – saque de banda
Goalpost – poste
Top bar – larguero
Offside – fuera de juego
Foul – falta
To blow the whistle – pitar
To win – ganar
To lose – perder
To draw – empatar
Injury time – tiempo extra
Extra time – prórroga
Yellow card / red card – tarjeta amarilla / roja
Make a change / substitution – hacer un cambio
Still learning conditionals in class, we have been practising giving advice. For some reason we were discussing the parents of a wayward teenager.
Deberían ponerle limites – They should set limits for him.
Les recomiendo que le pongan limites – I recommend to them that they set limits for him.
Si fuera yo, le pondría limites – If it were me, I would set limits for him.
Debes ponerle limites – You should set limits for him (this is much stronger).
“If it were not that we need to learn our conditionals, they would become boring ….”
If you’re beginning to learn the conditionals, it’s well worth looking up a poem usually attributed to Jorge Luis Borges, called “Instantes” (Moments). The whole thing is beautifully written and entirely in conditionals! It’s looking back over his life, setting out what he would have done differently.
We were set a task to write something along the same lines, about what we would have done differently in our lives. Here is a part of mine, with lots of would’ve and could’ve … and with the English translation afterwards:
Si pudiera vivir de nuevo, yo no cambiaría mucho. Trabajaría menos, y pasaría más tiempo con mi madre, porque nunca sabría cuánto tiempo nos ha de quedar. Jugaríamos más Scrabble juntas.
Si volviera comenzar mi vida nuevamente, no cambiaría mucho, porque todos mis errores y todas mis elecciones me han hecho ser la que soy.
Solo cambiaría una cosa más. Me encanta mi vida en España, y si la hubiera descubierto antes, me habría mudado más temprano.
If I were able to live my life again, I wouldn’t change much. I would work less, and spend more time with my mother, because you never know how much time you have remaining. We would play more Scrabble together.
If I could go back and start my life anew, I wouldn’t change much, because all my mistakes and all my choices have made me who I am.
I would change only one thing more. I love my life in Spain, and if I had discovered it sooner, I would have moved here earlier.
Saying things are pointless, not worth it etc.
No sirve de nada / De nada sirve – It’s no use, it’s no good.
No sirve de nada preocuparse en ello – It’s no use worrying about it.
De nada sirve persuadirme – It’s no good trying to persuade me.
No tiene sentido tener un coche si nunca lo usas – It’s makes no sense to have a car if you never use it.
Vivo solo un paseo de aquí y por tanto no merece la pena coger un taxi – I only live a short way from here so it’s not worth getting a taxi.
No merecía la pena ir a la cama / irse a la cama / irnos a la cama – It wasn’t worth going to bed.
When is a female not a female? A sticky question in Spanish. The answer is …. When you give something to her! Or say something to her.
I saw her – La vi.
I gave her a present – Le di un regalo.
I told her what time it would start – Le dije a que hora lo comenzaría.
So she remains a female person (la) when we do something direct such as seeing her (she is the “direct object pronoun”, if you like the grammatical terms!). But she becomes neutral (le) when we do something TO her such as giving something to her, telling her something, or buying something for her (she is the indirect object pronoun).
It helps to remember that if you say “to her” then she becomes “le”, but we sometimes miss it out, as in telling her something (though technically we are telling it TO her).
Oh and then of course it can be necessary to clarify to whom you gave the present, so we have to add “A ella le di el regalo.”
Oh dear. More “false friends”. Wouldn’t you think that “Por cierto” would translate to “For certain” … ie “Of course!” ??? Sigh. No it doesn’t. In fact it means “By the way”. A very useful phrase, but completely counter-intuitive.
To say “Of course” we can either say “Por supuesto”, or “Desde luego”. Odd, that second one, because it would literally translate to “From later” which makes no sense at all. I complained about this to Jose, who (with great restraint and total justification) pointed out to me that the English phrase “Of course” really makes no sense at all too, and certainly shouldn’t mean what it does!
I suppose he’s right (desde luego).
Subtle differences in past conditionals –
Si hubieran escuchado la radio esta mañana, sabrían que podría llover esta tarde, ¿verdad? – If they had listened to the radio this morning, they would know that it may rain this afternoon, wouldn’t they?
This SEEMS to me to be more commonly-used in Spain. Though more natural to me (translating from English instead of thinking directly in Spanish) would be to say:
Si hubieran escuchado la radio esta mañana, habrían sabido que podría llover esta tarde, ¿verdad? – If they had listened to the radio this morning, they would have known that it may rain this afternoon, wouldn’t they?
Jose has given me a copy of a long list of really complex sentences. Piling the verbs on. Gulp.
Last week, he said that he didn’t remember having spent anything on books or paper, but you think he was telling a lie, don’t you?
La semana pasada, dijo que no se acordaba de haber gastado nada en libros o en papel, pero tú crees que mentía, ¿verdad?
Diana’s sister told him that there were so many people in the bar that she had taken twenty minutes to pay for the drinks and another five to make the calls.
La hermana de Diana le dijo que había tanta gente en el bar que había tardado veinte minutos en pagar las bebidas y otros cinco en hacer las llamadas.
They look frightening but are very helpful for stringing verbs together and for saying aloud in the car on the way to the beach!
Another multi-layered sentence, following on from last week:
El último fin de semana que pasamos en Sevilla no hubiera sido tan cansado si no hubiera hecho tanto calor y no hubiera habido tanta gente en el hotel, ¿verdad?
The last weekend we spent in Seville wouldn’t have been so tiring if it hadn’t been so hot and there hand’t been so many people in the hotel, would it?
A sentence like this is good for memorising and saying aloud over and over in the car to really get the construction into your head.
I’m trying to get my head around “falta”. Easy enough when the waiter comes over during your meal to check if we have everything we need – “¿Falta algo?” Is anything missing? But then there is “Hace falta …” which seems to mean the opposite, well sometimes. “Hace falta ….” means “you have to”, a bit like “tiene que” but less personal.
So we can imagine the following conversation …
“¿Falta algo para la paella?”
“Si, falta un pimiento rojo.”
“Vale, hace falta comprar uno.”
“Have we got everything for the paella?”
“No, we are missing a red pepper.”
“Right, you have to buy one then.”
This is a great example of just having to go with the flow. A direct word-by-word translation of that conversation would render it ridiculous.
“Anything is missing for the paella?”
“Yes, a red pepper is missing.”
“Right, it makes missing to buy one.”
And for months, whenever I heard “hace falta” my English brain tried to grapple with the concept of “hace” (it does, or it makes) and “falta” (missing), together meaning that you have to do something. Finally, with the help of my unofficial language guides, I have been persuaded to allow my English brain to close down, and simply accept that translating doesn’t work. You have to hear it, and you have to say it, without translating. “Hace faltaescucharlo, y hace falta decirlo, sin traducirlo.”
Now it’s all about practicing for the exam next month. It’s annoying – I can argue confidently about the Scottish referendum or about Catalunyan independence. But it turns out I can’t describe a photograph as required in the B1 exam. They require that I describe people’s hair and style of dress (which has never come up in day-to-day conversation), and I need to be able to identify what can be seen in the top right of a photo. Pointing is apparently not acceptable.
So JuanMi has drilled me in the parts of a photo –
En el primer plano – in the foreground
En segundo plano – I suppose the second layer back!
En la parte superior – in the upper part
En la parte inferior – in the lower part
En la esquina superior derecha – in the upper right hand corner
En el centro – in the middle
En el fondo – in the background
This is all followed by lots of “se puede ver” – one can see; “podemos observar” – we can observe; “me parece que” – it seems to me that; and “A primera vista a mi me parece que la foto representa …” – At first sight it seems to me that the photo shows …”
I wonder if, after the exam, I will ever use these phrases again? “La plume de ma tante”springs to mind. Tell me, has anyone ever mentioned their aunt’s pen in France? Or described someone with curly hair in the top right corner of a photograph in Spain?
121 – What Might They Be Doing?
Right, so last week I learned how to describe what I could see in the different areas of a photo. During the week I have singularly failed to put this useful new skill into practice.
This week’s task is to go on to describe what I think the people in the photo might be doing. Inevitably the photo will leave this slightly unclear, so we get to use all those phrases about uncertainty. And what does uncertainty trigger? Yes, the good old subjunctive (no groaning, please).
Firstly I will be expected to mention a few things about which I have a reasonable degree of certainty, which do NOT use the subjunctive.
To differentiate, I always call to mind JuanMi’s brilliant lesson in which he jumped to the right-hand corner of the classroom (la esquina derecha) to say we definitely think something IS so, then to the left-hand corner (la esquina izquierda) if we think it definitely ISN’T so, and then hovered in the middle (en el centro) for when we aren’t sure enough to bet a euro on it. That’s where the subjunctive is.
(I wrote up JuanMi’s lesson in “A Bad Case of Subjunctivitis”)
So I have to start with:
A mi me parece que estan hablando – It seems to me they are talking (reasonable certainty).
Probablemente ella le esta mostrando algo – Probably she is showing him something (reasonable certainty).
Then I have to start guessing at the detail:
Puede que esten hablando sobre un email – It could be that they are talking about an email (subjunctive).
Quizás hayan recibido una foto graciosa – Perhaps they have received a funny photo (subjunctive).
Lots of new words learned this week:
Bellota – acorn, but so much more important than just a word, it becomes the mark of the best quality ham and other pork products made from acorn-fed pigs.
Dehesa – untranslatable as it doesn’t exist in English!
Trompo – spinning top (doesn’t come up VERY often in conversation!).
Mazamorra cordobesa – a white, garlicky cold soup (like salmorejo or porra but without the tomatoes).
O lo que sea – or whatever. Nice simple phrase, showing off the subjunctive (must work it into my exam, somehow!). Used at the end of a list, such as “Ella trabaja como medico, o terapeuta, o lo que sea.”
Firming up lots of conditionals in my mind, as I’m still cramming for the exam which is now THIS MONTH! If I won the lottery, what would I do?
Celebraríamos el premio con mis amigos en un buen restaurante y pagaría todo.
Daría un gran parte del dinero a los pobres.
Viajaría por el mundo.
Compraría regalos para mi familia y todos mis amigos.
It’s a useful practice exercise, and one that is easy to do in the car or while out walking, as the list is almost endless!
124 – Speaking without hesitation!
The exam is next week. I’m practising with old exam papers, and doing alright in the written and comprehension tests, but struggling a bit with the listening and the oral. So I’m having a couple of lessons at Escuela Cervantes in Málaga which is good practice. All the teachers there have experiences as DELE examiners so it’s ideal.
The problem is having to talk about an unknown topic, while remembering to insert a good few conditionals and subjunctives, plus using past and future tenses. Sigh.
Try it! Talk aloud for four minutes on a topic. I’ve had to ramble …. I mean TALK …. about:
- A famous person you’d like to meet and why;
- What country you might like to live in and why;
- The house of your dreams;
- Your work, what you enjoy about it and what you don’t;
- Your style of dressing (!!!);
- Whether you live a healthy lifestyle or not;
- Environmental issues in your home country and what you should do;
- Mass media;
- How you use your free time.
Jose has helped me to practice some core phrases that I try to work into every theme, which is a great trick – but he is very strict and says I need more practise before the exam. Oh dear.
This is exam week, and I’m trying to get over the block that hits me when confronted with a topic to speak about! I learned a lovely phrase to produce when struck dumb … “Tengo la cabeza a las tres y cuarto!” It means that I’ve gone blank and can come up with nothing (should come in handy!).
It’s the teeny little words I trip up on.
“La ropa se seca AL sol” is correct, not “en el sol”. Very English – to dry IN the sun, but wrong in Spanish.
“Es más grande QUE mi casa” is correct, not “DE mi casa”.
Remembering to change Y to E before a vowel, as in “cerca de una sauna E una pastelería”.
“Tuve mucha suerte EN encontrarlo” is correct, not A encontrarlo.
“Te deseo toda la suerte DEL mundo” is correct, not EN EL mundo.
“Mi primer día EN MI escuela” is correct, not A MI escuela.
No rules for these, unfortunately – they just need learning!
All the guidelines, and all the teachers, had made it clear that several conditionals and a couple of subjunctives needed to be “forced” into all parts of the exam in order to achieve the B1 level. I know I use subjunctives, genuinely without thinking, in many settings. “Espero que nos veamos pronto”, “Si, cuando quieras”, “Pues, dime cuando sepas” and loads more normal everyday phrases. And I made absolutely sure I had produced them a dozen times in the exam.
All well and good. Until the FINAL line on the FINAL part of the oral exam. The “casual chat” about the examiner house-sitting for me. I’d told her that IF it were to become very sunny the plants WOULD need watering (whoop whoop third conditional!) and that she could eat what was in the fridge. The closing line should have been easy. “When I get back, could you leave me a litre of milk?”. When I get back. That uses “cuando” in the future. That’s subjunctive. I can do that.
“Cuando ….. ummm. Cuando regreso ….. no, lo siento. Cuando ….. errrrr, cuando regresaré. No, no es el futuro, lo siento. Cuando ….. un momentito por favor. Puedo hacerlo. Cuando ….. cuando regresa ….. ¡Uy! Vale, el verbo es regresar. ¡Vaya! Yo lo tengo. Cuando regrese …. ¡¡¡CUANDO REGRESE!!!” Fortunately she was laughing with me, and she kindly let me struggle through until I got there. I sneaked a look at Ramón (who didn’t exist). He was laughing too. And I think he’d put his pen down.
127 – HOW we speak a foreign language …
I’ve been noticing something about HOW people speak a learned language. There’s a habit amongst some native English-speakers, of speaking Spanish as though they are acting, or “wearing” the Spanish language as some sort of external layer. By “acting”, I mean that they appear to be acutely aware of speaking Spanish, and I have noticed this even amongst people with quite good grammar and vocabulary. Also, many folks in Spanish lessons, mid-sentence while speaking Spanish, pause and begin to comment in English about their thought processes. “Oh hang on, I’ll get it in a minute” etc. For absolute beginners both these habits are natural, but in my opinion, both function as blocks to improvement.
It seems to me that to let go of the “awareness” and simply speak, even with mistakes, would be a big step towards sounding more fluid and natural. The constant reverting back to English, in lessons or in conversations with Spanish people, in my view subconsciously reinforces that the English language is their default position, and to some degree blocks progression. My teacher confirmed that, for example, my rambling search for the correct subjunctive form of a verb (in the oral exam) was perfectly acceptable because I rambled in Spanish, even though it took me five attempts to find the correct construction! However had I even once slipped in a “oh no, sorry, that’s not right” in ENGLISH it would have led to significant points being deducted or straight failure.
Through chatting in Spanish on Facebook I’ve been picking up more of the written shortcuts that are used, such as xk or xq for “por qué?” or “porque” (why?” and “because”), and xo for “pero” (but). xo needs to be used carefully, because x o x o means “besos y ‘brazos” or hugs & kisses. xa means “para” (for) and not surprisingly pf means “por favor”.
“Es que” (It’s that ….”) gets abbreviated and run together to become “Esk”.
So I’m getting to grips with reading Facebook posts along the lines of “Buenas, chic@s! Esk me voy xa ver laluz, no? Vengaaa xk es una pura maravilla xo no el viernes x la tarde pf x o x o”
“Noche de Paz” is sung to the tune of “Silent Night”, though the words are not a translation of the English nor of the original German, more a free composition along the same theme ….. (is Spanish the ONLY language that has a decent word to rhyme with “Jesus”?):
Noche de paz, noche de amor, Todo duerme en derredor,
Entre los astros que esparcen su luz,
Bella anunciando al niñito Jesús,
Brilla la estrella de paz, brilla la estrella de paz.
Noche de paz, noche de amor, ved que bella resplandor,
Luz en el rostro del niño Jesús,
En el pesebre de mundo la luz,
Astro de eterno fulgor, astro de eterno fulgor.
Noche de paz, noche de amor, oye humilde el fiel pastor,
Como celestes que aclaman salud,
Gracias y glorias en gran plenitud,
Por nuestro buen redentor, por nuestro buen redentor.
Perfect!! Thank you so much for your efforts. This is very useful for me. Best regards, Chris
Fantastic idea. Brilliant for a newcomer to Spain like me. I look forward to speaking Spanish well enough to use even half of these points! Don’t want to make more work for you, but it could be so worthwhile to have the points linked to the original post so readers can check out any discussion that followed in the comments. If it helps, know that once you have learnt all these points then French would be a doddle – so many similarities!
Thanks Georgia 🙂 As to the linking, it would be a BIT of a pain to insert a click-through link to each, though perhaps that’s a project for a rainy day! However the numbers of each language point are the numbers of the blog post, so you can find it that way. And yes quite often there are more comments relating to the language point than to the actual blog!
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Brilliant blog Tamara. You might find this interesting. I sat in a couple of English language classes with a Spanish friend. The teacher was a young, trendy Spanish girl (which made me think that it wasn’t an antiquated expression) and was talking about holidays and travel. One she translated was “to look forward to” and the translation she gave was “esperar con ilusión.”
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Hi Tamara – regarding una casa poco luminosa (94), the simplest explanation is that when it’s ‘un poco’ – it means ‘a little bit’, eg. when you say, ‘estoy un poco cansada’. Your example is slightly different in that its translation would be something more like ‘a house with little natural light’ – here it’s an adverb modifying an adjective (luminosa) and it doesn’t change.
This example, which I found online, illustrates the difference perfectly: No tengo ni un poco de paciencia. I don’t have even a little (bit) of patience. Contrast that with “Tengo poca paciencia”. IN the latter example it’s an adjective and needs to correspond with the noun it’s describing. Todo claro? 😉
Thanks! Yes, that’s what I explained in blog #96 language point! We got there in the end jeje.
I tried to answer on your blog, but it wouldn’t let me!
Anyway, this is what I wanted to say:
Whoops! Or should I say ‘jajajajaja’? 😉 I read through all your points and must have missed that one, weirdly! SO enjoying your blog. BTW I’m a close friend of Liz Simmons, who worked with you years ago, apparently! Cx