Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Art of the Contraction: When to Combine Words

The Art of the Contraction When to Combine Words

Grammar and grammar rules can be complicated, even in our own native languages. For native English speakers who wish to learn Spanish, or any other language, understanding and remembering a new grammar structure can be daunting. Luckily, there are some grammar structures that are even easier to understand than their English counterparts. An example of one such grammar rule is contractions.

What are Contractions in Spanish?

The word contraction, to contract, literally means to squeeze something together, and grammatically it refers to when two words which normally stand alone, are pushed together to form one word. The English language is full of contractions that we use regularly, and the average English speaker probably doesn’t even realize how often he or she might use them in daily speech. An Examples of an often used contraction in English is “it’s”, which is when “it” and “is” are combined to form one word. English contractions are formed by taking two stand-alone words, pushing them together, and separating them with an apostrophe. The same goes for “don’t”, which is a combination of “does” and “not”, there is also “I’d”, “you’d”, “isn’t” and so on and so on. As you can see, contractions are very popular in the English language, and this is a major hurdle for non-English speakers attempting to learn the language. This is particularly true as many English contractions are considered optional, and used more frequently in the vernacular rather than the formal. Luckily, for those of us wishing to learn Spanish, the use of contractions in Spanish is far simpler.

The Spanish language employs only two contractions, and constructing them is a very simple task. The two contractions used in the Spanish language are “del” and “al”. We can see already that an obvious difference between English and Spanish is that Spanish does not rely on an apostrophe to create contractions whereas English does.

Both contractions are employed when the masculine singular definite article – “el” (meaning “the”) is placed after the preposition “a” (meaning “to” or “at”), or the preposition “de”, (meaning “from”). The structure is as follows: “del” (de + el) and “al” (a + el). In both of these cases the placement of two vowels back-to-back require that one vowel be dropped, and in both cases that vowel is the extra “e”.

Errors in forming contractions are more often made when writing, as verbally pronouncing these two words subsequently will generally speaking automatically cancel out one of the vowels, unless you are speaking very slowly and deliberately, which native Spanish speakers do not often do. Since it is not something that you often need to pay attention to while speaking, it is an area where many mistakes are made when writing.

Spanish Contractions in Use

As previously mentioned, when speaking aloud it is natural to drop one of the vowels due to the way Spanish pronunciation works, particularly in the case where “a” and “el/la” meet. Imagine saying “Ella va al  tienda” (she goes to the store) and trying to pronounce “a + la” separately. We can easily see how saying “Ella va a la tienda” is much more easily pronounced.

When we are referring to the preposition “de”,meaning “of”, things get slightly more complicated. In English, ownership is expressed by adding an apostrophe and an “s”, but the same is not so in Spanish. Take for example the phrase “The boy’s dog”, which in Spanish is “el perro del niño”, where in the contraction works just as you would expect. However, if we take the phrase “the girl’s dog”, “el perro de la niña”, we notice that is does not require a contraction. As mentioned above, contractions are only required wherein a masculine singular definite article is in play, “el”. The same goes for the sentence “the employees of the stores”, “los empleados de las tiendas”, wherein we are referring to many stores (tiendas). We can see here that a contraction is also not required, because in addition to being masculine, it must also be a singular definite article.

Where Mistakes are Made with Spanish Contractions

As with most grammar rules, there are of course exceptions and variations to every rule. One of the most important exceptions to consider is the following. If the masculine singular definite article “El” is part of a proper name or title, then a contraction is not made. For example, if someone is introducing themselves as being from El Salvador, they would say “Soy de El Salvador”, and not “Soy Del Salvador”, the latter being incorrect since the El in this case forms part of the proper country name of “El Salvador”.

It is also important to pay particular attention to the difference between “el” and “él”. In English we don’t make use of accents other than the occasional borrowed word or proper name (such as “Beyoncé”, for example) and as such English speakers attempting to learn other languages such as Spanish can fall into the trap of ignoring or downplaying the importance of accents.

In Spanish, an accent is used to signify where the stress is placed when pronouncing a word. Many words in Spanish will still make sense to a native Spanish speaking reader if the accent is left off, although it will see as incorrect and poor grammar. There are, however, many words in Spanish that change meaning completely depending on if they are spelled with an accent or without. For example, “como”, meaning “like” and “cómo”, meaning “how”, “papa” which means “potato, or “papá” which means “dad”, or “si” which means “if”, and “sí” which means “yes”. Another one of these words is “el”, which becomes a completely different word with a completely different meaning when an accent is added: “‘él”. This difference is particularly important to watch out for when deciding if a contraction is in order, as only the accentless “el” needs a contraction.

A very common mistake that non-native Spanish speakers will make is to place a contraction where one is not needed. For example, saying “este teléfono es de él” (this phone is his) might seem like it should take a contraction, but if we look closer we can see the “el”  in this case is actually “él”, and thus is referring to “him” and not “the”. We can see here the importance of paying close attention to the use of accents to avoid placing a contraction where one is not needed, for example “dile a él que venga” (meaning tell him to come) should not be accidentally written as “dile al que venga”, which is not only grammatically incorrect, but nonsensical as well.

Despite the fact that constructing and knowing when to use contractions in Spanish is relatively easy, you can see that there are still many opportunities for errors to be made. If you or your business have texts that need to be translated from English into Spanish, you can see how important it is to employ professionals. All of our staff at Spanish with Style are certified Spanish language experts, and trained in Spanish language translation and copy editing. Spanish with Style guarantees that your message is being translated clearly, concisely, and professionally. Leaving your translation needs up to the professionals takes the guesswork out of the process, and you can be confident that well trained Spanish language experts will ensure all accents are correctly placed, and that contractions are used properly – with no mix ups between “el” and “él”.

Present Progressive: Ongoing Tasks and Exceptions to the Rules

Present Progressive

There are several ways to speak in the present tense in Spanish, but one of the most common ways is by using the present progressive tense. The same tense is used commonly in English as well, and it is used to describe an action that is ongoing, or has not yet been completed. In short, this is the difference between saying “I run” and “I am running”. The latter implies that the action has not yet been completed, and is still happening.

Luckily the present progressive is used in a similar way in both English and Spanish, and as such is easily understood by English speakers looking to learn Spanish. The present progressive tense is both used in similar situations as well as constructed in a similar manner in both languages.

There is one small exception to the similarities, which is that in English, the present progressive can be used to describe something that is happening in the near future in addition to describing an ongoing action. For example, if some asks “what are you doing tonight” an appropriate answer in English would be “I am studying with Bob”. In Spanish, this is not the case, and this verb tense is only used to describe actions that are currently ongoing.

In this article we will discuss how to construct present progressive phrases in Spanish using the verb estar and present participle, how to identify the correct verb stem to use, and the many irregular verbs to watch out for.

Using Present Progressive Tense in Spanish

Constructing a phrase in present progressive is relatively simple, but requires the conjugation and use of two verbs. Firstly, the present progressive uses the “estar”, which translates directly to English as “to be”. “To be” is the same verb used to form present progressive in English. In short, to form present progressive just follow this format: To be (estar) + Verb in present participle form.

The first step in using the present progressive tense correctly is to be able to correctly conjugate the verb estar. The appropriate conjugations for estar are as follows:

Yo Estoy (I am)

Tu Estás (You are)

El/Ella Está (He / She is)

Nosotros Estamos (We are)

Vos/Vosotros Estáis (Informal you are) **

Ellos/Ellas Están (They are)

** Vosotros is rarely used in Latin American Spanish, and is more common among Spanish speakers from Spain.

The second part of using the present progressive tense in Spanish is adding the present participle to the properly conjugated form of estar. What is the present participle? Well, in English these are the verbs that end in “-ing”, such as “writing” or “driving”, which gets added to “I am” to make the present progressive phrase “I am writing” or “you are driving” in English. In Spanish, if the unconjugated verb ends in –ar, then the present participle form adds -ando to the verb stem, and if the verb ends in -er or -ir, then -iendo is added.

For example, if I wanted to say “I am eating”, the verb comer (to eat), ending in an -er, becomes comiendo, “estoy comiendo” (I am eating). If I wanted to say “You are speaking”, the verb hablar (to speak), ending in -ar becomes hablando, “estas hablando” (you are speaking). Both estar and the present participle verbs must be present to be correct, for example, comiendo is not correct on its own.

To sum up:

(To eat) Comer – er + iendo = comiendo

(To speak) hablar – ar + ando = hablando

(To live) vivir – ir + iendo = viviendo

Identifying the Correct Verb Stem

Identifying the appropriate verb stem on which to add the “-iendo” or “-ando” ending is in theory very simple. The basic rule is to simply drop the -ar, -er or -ir and add -iendo or -ando. For example, cerrar (to close) becomes cerr-ando, perder (to lose) becomes perdiendo and escribir (to write) becomes escrib-iendo.

Verbs ending in -ir function slightly differently when attempting to identify the correct way to conjugate a verb tense. When attempting to conjugate verbs that end in “-ir”, it is important to note that an O in the verb stem will become U, and an E will become I. Verbs that end in -ir but with neither O nor E in the verb stem follow the same structure as regular verbs ending in -er and -ar.

For example:

(To laugh) Reir → Riendo, here the first “e” changes to an “i” in the conjugated format.

(To sleep) Dormir → Durmiendo, in this instance the first “o” changes to a “u” in this case.

(To write) Escribir Escribiendo, this verb follows the same structure of -er and -ar verbs as there is no O or E in the verb stem.

Other Exceptions and Irregularities to Present Progressive Rules

Present Progressive sounds relatively simple to use when you look at the rules previously laid out, and it is, for the most part. The problem lies in the exceptions to these rules, and this is where the majority of mistakes are made. For example, there are situations where a “y” is added in order to maintain the agreement between orthography and pronunciation. Here are some examples:

(To read) leer → leyendo,

(To bring) traer → trayendo

(To influence) influir → influyendo

Additionally, there are some verbs that, while they end in -er, follow the verb stem change rules of -ir verbs. Most notable, the verb poder (I can, or I am able) becomes pudiendo, where the O → U.

As you can see, there are many opportunities to make mistakes when trying to communicate even simple, present tense messages. This is why it is of the utmost importance that businesses use a professional Spanish translation and copy editing service for any translating needs, even if you or someone you know thinks it’s a simple, easily translatable sentence. Spanish with Style hires only fully qualified translation professionals who can guarantee your message is being translated clearly, concisely and correctly. If you are looking to reach across language boundaries to spread your message, leave the translation up to the Spanish language experts.

Spanish Superlatives

Spanish Superlatives

Many native English speakers may not know what a superlative is in English, let alone in Spanish, and the word ‘superlative’ is not one often used outside of a linguistic context. Rest assured, superlatives are incredibly simple, in both English as well as Spanish.

What are superlatives?

In both English as well as Spanish, there are three basic ways of comparing items. These three ways are as follows:

  • Equality
  • Inequality
  • Superlative

For example, a comparison of equality would be “this pizza is as good as hers”, while a comparison of inequality would be “this pizza is better than hers”. The third way is called a superlative, meaning that the item, in this case pizza, is either the most or the least of something. In English we would say “this pizza is the best”, or “this pizza is the worst”, meaning that it fits squarely on one end of the spectrum.

In English, we construct superlatives in a relatively simple way, for example, worst or best, or by adding an “est” to the end of an adjective- hottest, coldest, longest, shortest.

Using superlatives in Spanish

Constructing superlatives in Spanish is slightly more complicated than in English, and there are three basic ways of constructing them.

The first is by using “más (adjective) de” or “menos (adjective) de”, which roughly translates as “most of” and “least of”. For example: Mi hermana es la más hermosa de nuestra familia (My sister is the most beautiful in our family) or Mi papa es el menos tranquilo de nuestra familia (My father is the least calm in our family).

The basic way to think about this way of using superlatives in Spanish is as follows:

el/la (the) + menos/mas (less/more) + adjective + de (of)

The second way to construct a superlative when you are using single word comparisons, such as “peor” (worst) or “mejor” (best). In these cases you do not need to use “más” or “menos”. For example, Ella es la mayor (she is the oldest) or El es el menor (he is the youngest)

The basic way to think about this way of using superlatives in Spanish is as follows:

el/la (the) + adjective + de (of)

The third way of constructing a superlative in Spanish is by simply adding “ísimo” or “íssima” to the end of an adjective as well as certain adverbs. For example, you could say Eso vino es buenísimo” which directly translates to this wine is “super” or “extremely” or “very” good, but in Spanish really means “the best”. You can do this with most adjectives, for example, “pequeño” (small) becomes “pequenisimo” (smallest), or “agradecido” (grateful) becomes “agradecidisimo” (most grateful).

As you can see, with so many ways to express something as simple as a superlative, it can be very easy for those who are not experts in the Spanish language to make mistakes. This is why it’s so important to use professional translation and copy editing services such as Spanish with Style. This ensures your documents are being translated professionally and accurately, and that your message is being construed clearly.

7 Tricks for Pluralizing Spanish Nouns Correctly

7 Tricks for Pluralizing Spanish Nouns Correctly

Spanish is quickly becoming one of the most commonly spoken languages, both globally and within the United States of America. As this new wave of popularity continues, many people are beginning to learn Spanish, and having to use it in their daily work life or personal life. One of the most common pitfalls of learning a new language is assuming certain grammatical structures function the same way as they do in English.

When learning Spanish, it is important to realize that rules governing things such as pluralizing nouns are far more complicated, and abide by many more grammatical rules than in English. For example, in English when a noun shifts from being singular to being plural, in English we would simply add an ”s”. For example: “one book” becomes “two books”. Simply adding an “s” to nouns in Spanish works sometimes, for instance “one book”, “un libro” and “two books”, “dos libros”.  However, depending on the noun, pluralizing it can be as complicated as adding an “e”, dropping accents, and even changing letters altogether.

To help you sort through the potentially complicated grammar rules when it comes to plural forms of nouns in the Spanish language, here are 7 tricks to help you ensure you are using the correct plural form of any Spanish noun.

  1. Nouns that end in vowels need an “S”

This one is the easiest rule to remember, as it works in a similar way to how plural forms of nouns are constructed in English. If a noun ends in any vowel, “a”, “e”, “i”, “o” or “u”, then simply adding an “s” to the end of the word will suffice. For example, “un gato” (a cat) becomes “dos gatos” (two cats), and “un manzana“ (one apple) becomes “dos manzanas“ (two apples).

  1. Nouns that don’t end in vowels become plural by adding an “es”

Now that we’ve covered words that end in vowels, what about words that don’t end in vowels? Simple, words that end in consonants need to gain not only an “s” but an “e” as well, ending in “es”. For example, “el árbol” (the tree) becomes “los árboles” (the trees).

It may seem that as we’ve covered nouns ending in both consonants and vowels that we’ve covered everything. This is not the case, and there are a few other rule to look out for.

  1. For nouns that end in “ión”, lose the accent on the ó, and gain “es”

Words that end in “ión” don’t follow quite the same rules as other nouns that just end in consonants. In this case, you would still add the “es”, but you would also drop the accent on the “ó”. For example, “Ostión” (oyster) becomes “Ostiones” (oysters).

  1. When nouns end in “z”, the “z” becomes “c”, and “es” is added

Another exception to simply adding an “es” to nouns ending in consonants is when there is a “z” involved. In this case, the “z” is dropped completely, and is replaced by a “c”, at which time the “es” can be added. For example, “nariz” (nose) becomes “narices” (noses).

  1. Nouns that end in “s” or “x” with an unstressed last syllable, the article and not the noun needs to be changed to the plural

When a noun ends in “s” or “x”, the word remains unchanged, and only the article changes to demonstrate the noun should be plural. The most notable example of these are the days of the week, “el lunes” “el martes” “el miércoles” “el jueves” and “el viernes” become “los lunes” “los martes” “los miércoles” “los jueves” and “los viernes” respectively, while both Saturday and Sunday, “sabado” and “domingo” follow the rules for nouns that end in vowels, “los sabados” and “los domingos”.

One more aspect to consider in addition to the endings of nouns, is the noun’s gender. This can be confusing to many English speakers hoping to learn Spanish, as the English language does not classify nouns by gender. This brings us to our next trick to using the correct plural form of nouns in the Spanish language:

  1. Nouns must agree with gender as well as number of articles

Gender is an important factor to take into consideration when using the plural form of any noun, as it must agree with the article in both gender and number. There are several different articles used in Spanish depending on whether we are referring to something in the plural, singular, or if the noun is masculine or feminine.

While in English we simply utilize the article “the” for definite articles and “a” or “an” for indefinite articles, Spanish employs “el” (singular, masculine), “los” (plural, masculine), “la” (singular, feminine) and “las” (plural, feminine) for definite articles and “un” (singular, masculine), “unos” (plural, masculine), “una” (singular, feminine) and “unas” (plural, feminine) for indefinite articles. This may seem complicated, but consider as a general rule feminine nouns often end in “a” and masculine nouns often end in ”o”. Keep that in mind and you’re off to a good start!

  1. When referring to more than one gender, opt for the masculine plural form of a noun.

The final factor to consider is if you are discussing a group of mixed gendered nouns. For example, if you are discussing your nieces and nephews, “sobrinas” and “sobrinos”, you would default to the masculine gender. For example, if you were to say “the nieces and nephews”, you would instead say “los sobrinos”.

As you can see, the seemingly simple act of changing a noun from the singular to the plural is guided by a fairly complex set of guidelines, and there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. This is why it is so important to use a professional spanish language translation and copy editing service such as Spanish with Style for any translation needs. Our staff are highly trained Spanish language experts who will ensure your texts are translated accurately and professionally, guaranteeing that your message is being delivered in the way in which it was intended.