Grammar “Mistakes” Spaniards Make

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What? Mario makes mistakes?

We all make mistakes from time to time. For example, do you know how to properly use lay and lie? It’s confusing because lay is the past tense of lay and laid is the past tense of laid. Confused yet? Most people do it “wrong,” and I put wrong in quotation marks because I don’t believe in labeling a person’s way of speaking as wrong or right. Dialects and pidgins aren’t wrong, and grammar snobs are just that: snobs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love speaking well and even learning about grammar, but since I got a bit more educated, I’ve tried to stop being annoying about “correct” and “incorrect” grammar. (Related: hypercorrection and prescriptive poppycock.)

In Spanish, I am always on the hunt for unknown-to-me phrases/words as well as mistakes. Sometimes I find what I think is a mistake in the newspaper, but I’m not sure whether it actually is. So I ask—who else?—Mario. He almost always knows, but sometimes I mistake a find stumps him. This usually means it’s an error that’s become ingrained in people’s daily speech. I find these linguistics quirks fascinating. So if you do too, please read on to see if you’ve heard these “mistakes” when speaking to Spaniards or reading in Spanish.

Mario would like to note that he helped me with this, and so if you’re a Spaniard reading this, I’m not saying you speak “wrong” in any way, just that I find linguistic curiosities fascinating.

  • “Dile a mis padres” / “Le dije [a Sergio y Víctor] que …”—I love this one. Mario does it all the time. But so does everyone else I know: Mario’s family and friends, teachers I work with, and people on the street. It’s technically wrong; it should be “Diles a mis padres” and “Les dije [a Sergio y Víctor] que …” but it’s usually said like I wrote above. Listen for this one!
  • “Nada de esto hubiera sucedido si él no hubiera hecho lo que hizo.”—This one too is quite common. Of course, the correct way to say it is “Nada de esto habría sucedido si él no hubiera hecho lo que hizo.” It’s said both ways. I’m not sure if there’s a difference in connotation or if it’s simply a way of expressing oneself in a different way.
  • “Fijaros bien” / “Estaros quietos”—I hear the vosotros form a lot, as I work in classrooms where the teachers are always addressing groups of children, so I get the chance to listen and see if they say “fijaros” instead of the correct form “fijaos” or “estaros” instead of the correct form “estaos.” I suppose this comes about because “fijaos” and “estaos” sound a bit odd and are a bit more difficult to pronounce, but I’m no expert.
  • “Hablastes con ella?”—This definitely isn’t as widespread as the above-mentioned examples, but it does happen, although I think people are more aware of the fact that it’s an error. It should, of course, be “¿Hablaste con ella?” The Cervantes Virtual Center speaks of this, citing as a grave error that has even begun to invade the written word. (Oh the horror!) I do love that they call it a “vulgarismo,” a vulgarism.
  • “Sal para fuera” “Sube arriba” / “Baja abajo—These are not errors in such, but rather redundancies. Of course, in English there are many examples of this phenomenon: “free gift,” “end result,” “future plans,” and “safe haven,” just to name a few. We’re taught in composition classes to eliminate redundancies in order to smarten up our writing.

I tried my best not to include obvious ones that most educated people know are incorrect, like the confusion of “b” and “v,” “laísmo” (even though “leísmo” is accepted), saying “habían” when it should be “había,” etc.

Have you noticed any other “mistakes” that native speakers make?

29 thoughts on “Grammar “Mistakes” Spaniards Make

  1. I love this post! Lo de ‘hubiera’ always always always baffled me, and I really distinctly remember googling ‘hablastes’ one day trying to figure out why my friends kept saying that to me but not correcting me if I said ‘hablaste’ and coming to an explanation going into the “so I says to him…” thing in English.

      1. Hi Shana! I’m glad you see what I mean. Things are going well. I don’t live in the center center (I live in Arganzuela), so it’s a bit more of an effort to get out there and do things but I’m trying! I like my school, the kids are great, so that’s a step up from my last job as an auxiliar.

        How are things in the US?

  2. Interesting. Some people make the same redundacies in Portuguese “Sair pra fora”, “Entrar pra dentro”. These are said by undecucated people.

  3. Yay for language posts :) I think it’s really interesting because all of these phenomena, except ‘fijaros’ for obvious reasons, are commonly documented (by grammarians disguised as lingusits) here in Puerto Rico as being Caribbean phenomena (because Colombians and Spaniards are too cool to make these mistakes, duh), but yet here is a clear example of proving that wrong. I also heard a lot of these from Spaniards as well.

    In Galicia, a lot of people say “estes niños” instead of “estos” because that’s how it is in gallego. Here in Puerto Rico (and in other parts of the Caribbean and Canarias), something that’s really common are preposition+pronoun+infinitive expressions such as “antes de yo nacer” or “para yo saber”.

    The -s at the end of -aste or -iste makes sense when you think about it; in every other tense, the 2nd person plural ends in -s (hablas, hablabas, hablarás, hablarías, etc.), except in the preterite. I always wonder why this was, I’m going to ask a teacher who specializes in gramática historica del español to see if they know…. It’s funny though, since in PR the final -s gets aspirated or elided, you don’t really notice it spoken, but when texting, facebook, etc. they add the -s (“comistes?”)

    Ahh language, a never-ending source of entertainment!

    1. Interesting about the “estes niños” thing! I love learning things like that. I’ve never heard anyone say things like you mentioned in the Caribbean — “antes de yo nacer,” hmmmm.

      Also, that’s a really interesting reason for why people say “hablastes.” I agree, for me at least it is also so much fun!

  4. I hate grammar mistakes, I’m sorry but I am a grammar snob!! I can’t stand Spanish people saying that “my” Spanish is not as pure as theirs because I’m from the South and then they say things like “hubiera – hubiera”!!!! My stomach hurts everytime I hear this. “le/les” mistakes are so common, I even get it wrong when speaking quickly (could be one of the reasons? changing the number of people you refer to in the middle of the conversation?). anyway, I love grammar!! hahaha

  5. Well, I think that to stop all the grammar snobbery we all have to agree that making fun of others’ speech, especially accentuated speech, is wrong! I love grammar too, and I love linguistics, so studying a language is double the fun (or double the trouble)!

  6. I think the redundancies are amusing. Just yesterday I heard on tv something about a dangerous weapon. The other character asked what use there would be for a nondangerous one.

  7. Fascinating! I love stuff like this, this is just my thing. I tweeted this post, I think my followers will love it (since I’m focused on learning/teaching the Spanish language).

    I’d love to see more posts from you about the Spanish language…maybe you could talk Mario into writing something?

    On a related note, something else I’ve noticed is that certain Spaniards love calling the differing aspects of Latin American dialects of Spanish “wrong”. I personally find this quite arrogant and annoying, it would be like if we called the British English term for apartment, “flat”, wrong or if they called our differing pronunciation of various words “wrong”. It’s not wrong, it’s just a different dialect. I’ve even had Spaniards try to “correct” the way that I pronounce the “y” and “ll”–I pronounce it the typically Latin American way, that is “jay” (e.g. llegar would be pronounced “jay-gar”), whereas they pronounce it with a “y” sound (e.g. “llegar” would be “yay-gar”), how ridiculous. Again, this would be like us telling a British person that their accent is simply “wrong”.


    1. I guess the jay-gar thing is Latin American, but not all countries do it — mainly just the Rioplantense-speaking ones, right? I mean, Mexicans say yay-gar like Spaniards.

      And Spaniards love calling any dialect that’s not theirs wrong, don’t worry. My husband’s family speaks (pretty) pure Castilian Spanish, so to them leísmo, although technically wrong, is right. Laísmo, however, is an abomination. :) And if these mistakes I mentioned were only made by, say, Extremadurans, they’d lament that. But since *they *do it, it’s okay. Hahah! Don’t take offense.

      I usually get Mario to help, and he did write a post once (, but he’s so busy with his new job that it might be impossible, sadly.

      1. Hmmm, I think you might be thinking of the Argentinean accent where they pronounce the “ll” and “y” as a sort of “ch” or “sh” sound, like “shay-gar” (llegar). No, most of the rest of Latin America (including Mexico, or at least parts of it I believe) pronounces the “ll” and “y” with a “jay” sound.

        I actually had to look up “loísmo”, I’d never heard of it before (probably because it’s exclusive to Spain), maybe when I screw up and use “lo/la” when I should use “le” I can say it’s “loísmo” now and therefore not totally “incorrect”, jaja!

        Yeah, that’s right, he’s a full-time lawyer now. Yup, and since he’s an associate they’re going to be just killing him with hours, at least that’s how it works in the U.S. Best of luck with that.


  8. YES. that’s how i feel about this post. a total yes. the hubiera – hubiera thing GETS ON MY TITS. i’ve talked about it with various spaniards and some say it’s technically not an error… don’t know if i believe them.

    i’m not bothered by le- or laismo (for me it’s another one of those “oh you silly spaniards, how cute are you” things) but i’ve had people “correct” me on it — wrongly. no.way. someone almost got punched that day.

    1. Hahaha, it is technically an error. They are INCORRECT. But it’s said. Just like some ingrained English errors. Eventually those errors become the “correct” way to say the things. It’s just silly langugae, huh!

  9. It’s good that you point that out especially to English speakers who are learning Spanish (or any other language for that matter). Once in a while I am told by a native speaker that I speak Spanish better than some natives. WHAT?? Well, if you are talking about less educated people, it’s true. I can read, write and speak Spanish and I still make mistakes, but I get corrected less and less often. Sometimes native speakers apologize to me that they don’t know how to spell something – in Spanish! And I hear a lot of what my professors in Spain used to refer to as “vulgarismos” or bastardizations of Spanish language. Regionally you will hear differences too. Once a friend sent me a satirical dictionary for speakers of Spanish in Granada, “granainos”. It was funny and I picked up on some of it, some of it made no sense to me. But I could hear some of them commonly used on the street, not just slangy words and phrases but ways of conjugating verbs and pronunciations, shortening of phrases. It’s like what we do here in Ohio. Professor friends and highly educated people I know from Spain sometimes talk so formally or so “correctly” it’s equally hard for me to understand them. Living there is a huge advantage, grammatically correct or incorrect, the way you will talk will come second nature.

  10. This is great, and also makes me realize I have much to learn…One of my favorite hypercorrections I have heard in Spain is bacalado. Because if mercao is really mercado, then bacalao must be bacalado, right? I find mistakes like this endearing. Language is only human, after all. And like you mention in your reply above, many common “mistakes” eventually become rules.

    1. Ansley, because you wrote your comment 2 years ago i know that you’ll not see my reply……surely there are more chances for me to win the pools than you reading my reply :-)

      let me say that “bacalao” is totally correct, whereas “bacalado” is incorrect and only used by posh people…you know why? as you mentioned, words like “mercado” who end in -ado tend to be pronounced by many people -ao which is a terrible mistake….so that is why some people who still think that “bacalao” is a mistake they then change it to “bacalado” with their heads high, and you know what? they end up looking posh and idiot.

    2. well idiot is not the right word, i am sorry..i mean they think they are correct and looking down on people who pronounce it “bacalao” as if they were smarter or more intelligent.

  11. Um… Shouldn’t the correct form of the third one be “fijados” and “estados”, or is there some rule that drops that D to avoid confusion with the past participle? So “estados unidos” could translate to “Pay attention, united ones!”

    The big one around Cantabria is using the “le” suffix for direct objects (where it should be “lo” or “la”). e.g. “Mira que almohada más suave, tócale!” or “Dámele!” I never noticed it until my wife pointed it out and now I hear it daily.

    The biggest one that irks me that seems prevalent across all of Spain is misusing the imperfect indicative where the imperfect subjunctive is required. e.g. “Si lo hubiera sabido, no había hecho eso.” Sometimes I can’t help but mumble “hubiese!”, but they never seem to care.

    1. Apparently not (,articleId-23979.html and “If a verb is reflexive and the pronoun os is attached, the – d is dropped.” But that would be funny!

      I’ve not heard that “-le” suffix used for inanimate objects ’round these parts. It sounds so strange to me! But I suppose it’s like anything in language — you get used to it. I’ve gotten so used to hearing “Le quiero” that “Lo quiero” sounds weird.

      And oh man! I forgot about that one. Yes, I just started really noticing that this year. It bugs me because it causes me some confusion from time to time.

      1. Excellent. Thanks for that. I don’t do much Spanish writing, and that D is barely heard the way I would’ve incorrectly said the command. I bet it is dropped to avoid confusion with the past participle, then. Good stuff. Gracias!

    2. Im not sure what youre talking about in the last bit with hubiera and hubiese. The part thats wrong is the había, which needs to be habría, a condicional instead of imperfecto. Hubiera or hubiese are both correct.

      1. It’s wrong to say “Hubiera/hubiese ido si hubiera/hubiese sabido.” I know those are the same. It should be “Habría ido si hubiese/hubiera sabido.”

  12. i’ve seen this blog post thanks to the new one about the 5 mistakes still made…even if it is several years old i shall say that i’ve never heard a single person say “diles a mis padres”…the only time that i hear “diles” is when it is followed by “que” as in for example “diles que apaguen las luces” (tell them to switch the lights off), but when it is followed by “a” i say and hear “dile” so even if i am making a mistake i prefer “dile a mis padres”.

    as for “hablastes con ella” and “fijaros”…well such mistakes happen across the country, in fac i didn’t even know they were mistakes.

    “sal para fuera” sounds too long so i say “sal pa’fuera”, “sube arriba” sounds odd so i prefer “sube pa’rriba” as my mum used to shout when we were out and she would ask us to go upstairs to the flat…”baja abajo” also sounds odd so i hear “baja pa’bajo”..i know that i am making mistakes so people should not speak this way…i only mention it.

    there are many other mistakes us natives make, but it would take a year to show them.

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