If you're new to learning Spanish, you're at the beginning of an exciting journey! It's also normal for learners to feel overwhelmed by how much there is to know when it comes to Spanish—especially for verbs 🙈 Making mistakes is a normal and necessary part of the learning process, and you're not alone!
There are some mistakes that learners of all languages make, while other errors are specific to Spanish learners. Your Duolingo course tracks your mistakes to help you learn from them: You'll see them again at the end of a lesson, you'll review that topic more in personalized practice. If you make one of the most common Spanish mistakes, you might also see a quick tip to jog your memory, and if you subscribe to Max, you can get an explanation of how it works any time you’re unsure.
Here's what our Duolingo data shows are the most frequent mistakes made by English speakers learning Spanish!
Top 5 mistakes Spanish learners make:
- Spanish nouns: gender mismatch
- Spanish word order: nouns
- Spanish prepositions: por vs. para
- Spanish verbs: tener
- Spanish verbs: conjugation
1. Spanish nouns: gender mismatch
In Spanish, all nouns are either masculine or feminine—even things that aren't human! Words associated with the noun, including words for "the" (el for masculine and la for feminine) and adjectives, have to match the gender of the noun they describe:
|With a masculine noun||With a feminine noun|
|El libro es pequeño.
The book is small.
|La casa es pequeña.
The house is small.
|Quiero el carro rojo.
I want the red car.
|Quiero la manzana roja.
I want the red apple.
|Pedro es alto.
Pedro is tall.
|María es alta.
María is tall.
It's very common for learners—especially those whose language doesn't have this sort of grammatical gender—to struggle not just with the gender of the noun but also with matching gender across all the necessary words. Luckily, there are a several helpful patterns learners can use to memorize and use the gender of nouns in Spanish:
- Most nouns ending in -o are masculine
- Most nouns ending in -a are feminine
- Nouns ending in -ción and -sión are feminine
- You can find more patterns here!
2. Spanish word order: nouns
Words aren't the only place Spanish learners find differences: Spanish word order is often unlike English! In English, we put adjectives before the noun they describe (a black cat), but in Spanish the adjective goes after the noun (un gato negro). There are some adjectives that can be used before a noun, often with a slightly different meaning, but the most useful word order formula for new Spanish learners is noun + adjective.
There's another common word order error related to nouns. In expressions with 2 nouns, like tomato salad, the main noun comes first, followed by de (meaning "of" or "from"), and then the other noun: ensalada de tomate. This is just a different way of making compounds! In English, we stick the nouns together, but in Spanish you need de and a different order:
- libro de cuentos (storybook, literally "book of stories")
- película de terror (horror movie, literally "movie of terror")
- ropa de algodón (cotton clothing, literally "clothing of cotton")
3. Spanish prepositions: por vs. para
Another frequent error that Spanish learners make is remembering the difference between por and para. These prepositions both have many uses and translations in English, and they can both mean "for"—so it's easy for learners to forget which Spanish "for" to use! There's a handy way to remember their different uses.
The most common error we found in our Duolingo data is when describing duration. This is one of the uses of por!
|Por for duration||Translation|
|Vamos a la playa por 2 semanas.||We're going to the beach for 2 weeks.|
|Viví en Guatemala por muchos años.||I lived in Guatemala for many years.|
|Voy a estudiar por 3 horas antes del examen.||I'm going to study for 3 hours before the exam.|
4. Spanish verbs: tener
Learners also have some difficulty with the verb tener. It literally means "to have," but like the prepositions por and para, this verb has a lot of uses and a lot of different translations in English! It's also used in a lot of phrases that learners will simply need to memorize.
One of these uses—and one of the most common tener mistakes that English learners make—is to express age. To say how old someone or something is, in Spanish you'll literally say how many years they "have":
|Tener to express age||Translation|
|Mi hermana tiene 20 años.||My sister is 20 years old.|
|Tenía 12 años cuando leí el libro.||I was 12 years old when I read the book.|
|¿Cuántos años tienes?||How old are you?|
5. Spanish verbs: conjugation
It's also very common for new Spanish learners to struggle with verb conjugation. In Spanish, you'll always need to change the ending of the verb to match who is doing the action… so you'll be changing those endings a lot. You'll need to know the grammatical person of the subject (the person doing the action), and that will help you use the correct ending.
Here is the basic pattern for regular verbs in the present tense. Note that Spanish has 3 categories of verbs, based on their different endings, but there are many similarities in their conjugation patterns!
|Subject||-ar verbs||-er verbs||-ir verbs|
Here you can see how the verb ending is different depending on the subject of the verb:
- Yo hablo español, pero ella habla inglés. (I speak Spanish, but she speaks English.)
- Tú comes muy rápido, pero nosotros comemos muy despacio. (You eat very quickly, but we eat very slowly.)
- Teresa y José viven en Nueva York, pero Miguel vive en Canadá. (Teresa and José live in New York, but Miguel lives in Canada.)
That's not all: Spanish verbs have different endings for future tense, 2 different past tenses, and several other forms we're not used to thinking about in English! Verb conjugations are definitely one of the most difficult parts of learning Spanish, for learners of all language backgrounds and proficiency levels, so focus on just a few forms at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed!
Make no mistake…
…these errors are a natural part of the language learning process, and every mistake brings you one step closer to your goals. Keep practicing, embrace the challenges, and soon enough, you'll be speaking Spanish with confidence. ¡Adelante!