COMMON ENGLISH MISTAKES
of Native Spanish Speakers
The slideshows in this series are not meant to be comprehensive,
but rather are starting points for further study by intermediate level
students of English as a second language (ESL). They may also be
useful for teachers.
This presentation focuses on common and persistent English
mistakes made by native Spanish speakers.
NATIVE LANGUAGE INTERFERENCE
Most of the errors you will see in this short presentation are due to native
language interference. This comes about because:
The student probably learned with the grammar-translation method
The structure in English is alien to the structure in Spanish, setting up
a classic negative learning situation.
Intensive drilling of the correct form, every day at first and then a periodic
surprise progress check, is required to correct these very tenacious
errors. Peter Mangiaracina
MISUSE OF “HAVE”
wrong: I haven't a pen.
right: I don't have a pen.
This mistake comes either from the correct idiomatic phrase "I haven't got
a pen," or some teacher in a Spanish school got hold of a 50- year-old
English grammar book in which "I haven't the time," and such things were
taught. In any case, it is not often used now. Better to use the structure of
the present tense which requires doesn't/don't in a negative sentence.
Have is not an auxiliary in the present tense. Have and has are auxiliaries
in the present perfect only. Peter Mangiaracina
“PEOPLE” IS NOT A SINGULAR NOUN
wrong: The people is very angry at the tax increase.
right: People are very angry at the tax increase.
Students translate "people" which is plural in English (people=persons) as
"gente" which is singular in Spanish. The fact that "people" is an irregular
plural (without an "s") doesn't help matters.
wrong: The people use a lot of credit cards.
right: People use a lot of credit cards.
The definite article is not used when speaking generally. If you are speaking
about a specific people (The people of the North, The people in the next
room), then the definite article is necessary. Plurals in English do not have
an indefinite article.
“WHICH” AND “WHAT”
“Which” and “What” are not always interchangeable. A general rule is, if the
choice is in front of you, use “which”:
I have two kinds of beer, Budweiser and Coors. Which one do you want?
If the choice is more abstract, use “what”:
What kind of beer do you like?
USE OF “WANT”
wrong: I want that you open the door.
right: I want you to open the door.
In Spanish, Quiero que abras la puerta, “que” subordinates the clause. In
English we use an infinitive phrase. I would like you to… is the same.
MODALS DON’T TAKE INFINITIVES
wrong: I must to leave. It is getting late.
right: I must leave. It is getting late.
True modal auxiliaries like can, might, could, should, would and must
never take infinitives. They use the simple form of the verb, no
“AGREE” IS A VERB
wrong: I am agree with you.
right: I agree with you.
Agree is a verb in English. It does not need an auxiliary. The confusion
again comes from translation “Estoy de acuerdo contigo.”
wrong: I can see you, but it depends of my time.
right: I can see you, but it depends on my time.
There are more prepositions in English than in Spanish. The tendency is to
directly translate a preposition, and many times this creates confusion.
“CALL” AND “ASK”
wrong: I will call to my mother and ask to her if she is
right: I will call my mother and ask her if she is coming.
Still more preposition problems. This one is also a direct translation. Some
verbs need “to” in English (speak to, listen to) but many do not.
wrong: He said me hello.
right: He said hello (to me)
The object of the verb “say” is what is said, not the person to whom it was
said. Most of the time it is not even necessary to indicate to whom it was
wrong: He told to me a story.
right: He told me a story / He told a story to me.
This is a different verb from “say”. The direct object here is story and the
indirect object is me. Having two objects means that the verb “tell” can be
used in two different ways, as shown above.
wrong: Tomorrow comes my friend
right: My friend will come tomorrow (or is coming tomorrow)
Often, when a student starts a sentence with a prepositional phrase or an
adverb of time, the tendency is to follow that with a verb. An English
sentence must start with a subject.
wrong: I enjoyed with the museum yesterday.
right: I enjoyed the museum yesterday.
Yet another example of direct translation and the havoc it causes. In
Spanish it is “desfrutar con,” but in English we do not use a preposition.
FUN AND FUNNY
wrong: The party last night was very funny.
right: The party last night was a lot of fun.
“Funny” means that it made you laugh, ha ha! Jokes are funny, but parties
are usually “fun,” meaning you had a good time.
wrong: That house is the more big (or bigger) on the block
right: That house is the biggest on the block
I won’t get into a discussion about comparatives and superlatives here,
but “the” is mostly used with an adjective with “-est” ending or “most,” for
example, the biggest, the most beautiful.
ASSIST AND ATTEND
wrong: I can’t assist your class today.
right: I can’t attend your class today.
The word “assist” in English means to help (ayudar). The word “attend”
means to be at some event (asistir).
DOT, POINT, PERIOD
In American English…
dot for web addresses.
point for math.
period for the end of sentences. (The British use “full stop”)
I could continue, but I believe I have hit some of the major problems
here. As I said, many of these mistakes are due to native language
interference; only practice will eradicate them.
Errors with prepositions are very frequent because there are more in
English than Spanish, and are also key in forming phrasal verbs in
A bit of advice: When you learn new words and phrases, resist the
urge to translate. If you are an intermediate student, buy an English-
English dictionary and leave your translation dictionary at home.