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A Student Grammar of Spanish

A Student Grammar of Spanish is a concise introduction to Spanish grammar, designed for
English-speaking undergraduates. Assuming no prior knowledge of grammatical termi-
nology, it explains each aspect of Spanish grammar in clear and simple terms, provides
a wealth of glossed examples to illustrate them, and helps students to put their learning
into practice through a range of fun and engaging exercises.
Clearly organized into thirty units, each covering a different aspect of the grammar, the
book functions both as an essential reference guide and as a comprehensive workbook.
Individual topics can be looked up via a user-friendly cross-referencing system, and
concise de¬nitions are provided in a useful glossary of grammatical terms. The exercises,
which include paired and group activities, are suitable for both classroom use and self-
study. Each unit is split into two levels, basic and intermediate, making this grammar the
perfect accompaniment to any ¬rst- or second-year undergraduate course.

Ronald E. Batchelor has now retired from the University of Nottingham, where he taught
French and Spanish for forty years. He has also held teaching posts at the universities
of Besan¸ on, France, and Valencia, Spain. He has published ten books, including Using
Spanish: A Guide to Contemporary Usage (with Chris Pountain), Using Spanish Synonyms, Using
Spanish Vocabulary, Using French and Using French Synonyms (all published by Cambridge
University Press).
A Student Grammar of

cam™ʀɪdɢe uɴɪveʀsɪtʏ pʀess
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge c™2 2ʀu, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521670777

© Ronald E. Batchelor 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2006

ɪs™ɴ-13 978-0-511-13964-2 eBook (EBL)
ɪs™ɴ-10 0-511-13964-0 eBook (EBL)

ɪs™ɴ-13 978-0-521-67077-7 paperback
ɪs™ɴ-10 0-521-67077-2 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of uʀʟs
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
Contents (Indice de materias)

Preface page vii
Acknowledgments x
Glossary of grammatical terms xi
Note on the text xix
Short bibliography xx

1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation
(Alfabeto, ortograf´a y pronunciacion)
± 1
2 De¬nite and inde¬nite articles and gender
of nouns (Art´culos de¬nidos e inde¬nidos y genero de
sustantivos) 10
3 Number (El plural) 32
4 Verbs (Los verbos) 40
5 Perfect tense and pluperfect tense (El [preterito]
perfecto y el pluscuamperfecto / antecopreterito [M]) 46
6 Future tense and future perfect tense (El tiempo futuro y el
futuro perfecto) 53
7 Imperfect tense (El tiempo imperfecto/copreterito [M]) 58
8 Preterit tense or past de¬nite (El preterito
inde¬nido / preterito perfecto simple) 63
9 Conditional tense (El tiempo condicional) 71
10 Progressive tense or gerund (El tiempo progresivo
o el gerundio) 75
11 The imperative mood (El modo imperativo) 81
12 Irregular verbs (Los verbos irregulares) 89
13 Ser and estar (Ser y estar) 97


14 Transitive and intransitive verbs, and
re¬‚exive verbs (Los verbos transitivos e intransitivos, y los verbos
re¬‚exivos) 107
15 Impersonal verbs (Los verbos impersonales) 119
16 Subjunctive (El subjuntivo) 129
17 Personal pronouns (Los pronombres personales) 154
18 Possessive adjectives and pronouns, relative
and interrogative pronouns (Los adjetivos y pronombres
posesivos, los pronombres relativos e interrogativos) 166
19 Inde¬nite pronouns (Los pronombres inde¬nidos) 176
20 Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns (Los
adjetivos y pronombres demostrativos) 183
21 Adjectives (Los adjetivos) 189
22 Personal or distinctive a (La preposicion a con
el complemento directo) 198
23 Prepositions (Las preposiciones) 205
24 Prepositions por and para (Las preposiciones por y
para) 220
25 Adverbs (Los adverbios) 227
26 Interrogative and negative sentences (Las frases
interrogativas y negativas) 238
27 Numbers and measurements. Time and
dimensions (Los numeros y las medidas. El tiempo [duracion = la
´ ´
hora] y las dimensiones) 246
28 Comparatives and superlatives (Los comparativos y
superlativos) 261
29 Word order (El orden de las palabras) 269
30 Augmentatives and diminutives (Los aumentativos
y diminutivos) 278

Model answers / Soluciones y modelos 285
Index of grammar and vocabulary 319
Subjunctive index 329


According to the very latest estimates (2004), Spanish is the native tongue of well over
350 million people, 100 million of whom live in Mexico and 24 million in the USA. It
is therefore a major world language, the fourth largest in terms of speakers. Its study
thus offers all students a meaningful and attractive prospect of establishing contact with
a very wide range of Spanish speakers coming from numerous countries. Any student
of Spanish will bene¬t, both personally and culturally, from communication with such a
vast array of people bound together by a common language. Spanish as a mother tongue
unites countries as far apart as New York or London are from Pekin, but distance does not
necessarily entail intractable difference. Surprising as it may seem, it is often as easy for
an English-speaking student of Spanish to understand the Spanish of Mexico, Argentina,
Colombia, Peru or Ecuador as it is for an English or American person to understand the
language of some parts of Scotland, for instance, or for a Spanish speaker to understand
the language of some regions of Andaluc´a. ±
Any learner of Spanish will need, certainly in the early stages of contact with the lan-
guage, a grammar book which assists her/him through the initial maze. Such a volume
needs to appeal both to the beginner and to the student who has acquired some basic
knowledge. The present book is designed precisely to cater for these differing needs,
while bearing in mind the North American reader and his/her British counterpart. Fur-
thermore, it must aim to include both Iberian Spanish and the Spanish of the Americas.
This balancing act is not as delicate as it may ¬rst appear. Long experience has taught
the present author that there is much more in the ¬eld of Spanish grammar that brings
Spanish speakers together than separates them, while the differences between the English
of the United Kingdom and of the United States need not be exaggerated.
This book on Spanish grammar has therefore a general appeal which deals with
most aspects of the grammar in a straightforward and uncomplicated way. It treats the
grammatical structures of Spanish as expressed in Spain and Mexico. Mexico is taken as
a model for the whole of Spanish America, since to attempt a comprehensive coverage
of all Spanish America would serve little purpose, especially since the grammar, as apart
from vocabulary, of Spanish differs little from one country to another. Mexican Spanish
is one of the standard variants, partly due to the exportation of movies and telenovelas (soap
operas), while it is unquestionably the most prevalent variety found in the South West of
the United States. M indicates that the word or structure is speci¬cally Mexican while it
may be con¬dently assumed that, where M does not appear, usage is Iberian but will be
understood and even used in Mexico, as well as in most of the other Spanish-speaking
countries in the Americas. A simple illustration of a Mexican alternative may be seen in


some of the headings to exercises where to ¬ll in blank spaces is translated as rellenar los
blancos for Iberian Spanish and llenar los espacios for Mexican Spanish.
This volume covers all major grammatical points of Spanish in a user-friendly and
direct way, and recognizes that humor is part of the learning process. You™ll learn much
more if you study with a smile, while Mexicans lead the way in the ¬eld of humor. The
present author learnt a lot from Cantin¬‚as, the Mexican comedian.
All the points are presented in an easily accessible way, and are reinforced, at every
phase and after each level, by exercises, while suggested solutions to these exercises can
be found at the end of the book. Some exercises are short, some much longer, and some
involve the student in role play, a well-tried method for developing linguistic skills, and in
games such as puzzles. A fun element is central to the concept and genesis of the book.
There are paired or group exercises in both levels of nearly every unit. They encourage
you to use and speak Spanish. You™ll be surprised how much progress you make by
insisting on speaking the language. It is dif¬cult to suggest the amount of time needed for
these particular exercises since the author does not want to be prescriptive. Often, a time
of ¬ve minutes is suggested for preparing yourself for the exercise but teachers/instructors
have their constraints.
All the exercises in level 1 have instructions in English. To re¬‚ect the more advanced
work in level 2, the instructions are in Spanish.
Naturally enough, the exercises are more demanding and challenging in the second
level than in the ¬rst. But the key is there to help you out. Of course, use the key wisely.
Don™t take a peek at the answers until you have really tried to deal with the exercise in
Examples are often presented in the feminine form. The text avoids sexist bias and
reaches out to females and males alike. The treatment of each grammatical area follows a
very clear pattern. Basic points are covered, logically, at the beginning, and are separated
off from the more advanced grammatical features. The book is thus divided into two levels
by an image where the climbing of stairs representing letters suggests more progressive
It should be emphasized that the present work is a self-help book, and does not
require the constant presence of, or reference to, a teacher. Furthermore, constant cross-
referencing should help the student to gain a clear and more rounded picture of all the
grammatical points.
American English takes precedence over British English. American spelling is preferred
to its English counterpart but this should present no problem whatever to the non-
American learner. Where there could be lexical misinterpretation, both American and
British terms appear side by side.
The book contains a “Glossary of grammatical terms” which will help you understand
any semi-technical grammatical expressions you may have dif¬culty with. Use this glos-
sary regularly to familiarize yourself with the terms used in the text. It is so much easier
to come to grips with the grammar of a foreign language if you gain some insight into
the way that even the English language functions.
The text also has a comprehensive index designed to direct you to any particular point
of grammar or vocabulary you wish to consult.
The book is up-to-date. For instance, you will come across a section on the problems
of gender now that females are working in ¬elds once inaccessible to them. Compound
nouns, once unusual in Spanish, except for just a few, are springing up like mushrooms,
and the text pays serious attention to them.


The word “grammar” often has a daunting resonance, but it is by making your way
through the intricate web of grammatical structures and conquering the foreign way
in which Spanish speakers express themselves, that you will not only derive intellectual
satisfaction from your achievements but also emotional enjoyment from what is, in the
¬nal analysis, the desire to establish a permanent and worthwhile association with a
dominant world culture.


I am deeply indebted to Dr. J. P´ rez Larracilla, Mexican colleague and friend, for his
sure and indigenous knowledge of Mexican Spanish and his permanent willingness to
offer me advice and information whenever needed.
The book has also greatly bene¬ted from the myriad comments and suggestions of my
colleague Dr. Tim McGovern.
Let us not forget all the Spanish speakers who have patiently and accurately responded
over the years to a continual bombardment of questions.
However hard I try, and I have tried numerous times, I cannot produce a perfect
text. But help is always at hand in the form of my copy-editor, Leigh Mueller, who has
performed her customary and exemplary trick of ironing out all my inconsistencies and
improving on the presentation of the work.

Glossary of grammatical terms

Sign written over a letter, often a V O W E L , at least in
´ ˜
Spanish, e.g. caf´ , corrio (ran), Espana (here over a consonant,
see T I L D E ), averigue (may check) (see D I E R E S I S ). A C C E N T
is often confused with S T R E S S . See S T R E S S
A word that describes a N O U N . It agrees with the noun it
quali¬es, e.g. una casa hermosa, nubes grises, un chico alto (a
lovely house, grey clouds, a tall boy)
A D J E C T I VE, An A D J E C T I V E that points to something, e.g.
este hombre, esa mujer, aquella casa, aquellas calles (this
man, that woman, that house, those streets)
A word or group of words that modify a V E R B , A D J E C T I V E
or another ADVERB, e.g. Puedo hacerlo facilmente (I can do it
easily), Este pan es muy bueno (This bread is very good)
The person or thing performing the action indicated by the
V E R B , e.g. El gato atac´ al perro (The cat attacked the dog).
Here the agent is the cat, as in the following example:
El perro fue atacado por el gato (The dog was attacked by
the cat)
There are three kinds of A G R E E M E N T in Spanish.
1. A G R E E M E N T in number. A D J E C T I V E S , V E R B S and
A R T I C L E S agree with the N O U N S and P R O N O U N S they
relate to, e.g. La chica lista hace sus deberes. 2. Gender
A G R E E M E N T . A D J E C T I V E S agree with the NOUN they
qualify, e.g. un chico alto, una chica guapa 3. A G R E E M E N T of
T E N S E . A correspondence of T E N S E S is often, but not
always, required in Spanish, e.g. Yo quer´a que mi hermano me
ayudara (I wanted my brother to help me), Le he dicho
que ir´ (I have told him/her that I will go), Le dije que
ir´a (I told her/him I would go) (see “G U I D A N C E O N
V E R B S ”)
A word or P H R A S E to which a P R O N O U N refers. The
word or P H R A S E always precedes the P R O N O U N , e.g. The
boy who lives down the road is a genius. Boy is the
A N T E C E D E N T of who. When the A N T E C E D E N T is
unclear or indeterminate, the following V E R B is very often
in the S U B J U N C T I V E M O O D

Glossary of grammatical terms

Shortening of some A D J E C T I V E S when they
immediately precede a N O U N , e.g. un buen (from
bueno) caf´ (good coffee), un mal (from malo) vino
(bad wine)
Two words placed side by side, so that the second
word modi¬es the ¬rst, e.g. Madrid, capital de
Espa˜ a. It may be said that capital is in
A P P O S I T I O N to Madrid
A R T I C L E, D E F I N I T E Word which, when placed in front of a N O U N ,
determines it by giving it G E N D E R and N U M B E R ,
e.g. el padre, la madre, los padres, las madres. English
equivalent is the easier, all-purpose the
A R T I C L E, I N D E F I N I T E Determines a N O U N when placed in front of it, but
less precise than the D E F I N I T E A R T I C L E , e.g. un
coche, una mesa, unos coches, unas mesas. The
English equivalent is a and some
Letters added to the end of a word to indicate an
increase in size, or an unpleasant or frightening
appearance, e.g. casona (large, stately house),
picacho (large, towering peak), casucha (ugly,
unpleasant house, hovel)
Words forming part of a sentence, containing a
C L A U S E, M A I N A C L A U S E that can stand alone as a sentence, e.g.
Baj´ las escaleras (I went down the stairs)
C L A U S E, S U B O RD I N AT E A C L A U S E in a sentence that depends on a M A I N
C L A U S E to make sense, e.g. Fui al mercado antes de que
llegara mi hermano (I went to the market before my
brother arrived). Fui al mercado is the M A I N
C L A U S E while antes de que llegara mi
hermano is the S U B O R D I N A T E C L A U S E
Applies to A D J E C T I V E S and A D V E R B S that are
modi¬ed to convey greater or lesser intensity, e.g.
mejor, peor, menos/mas listo (better, worse,
less/more intelligent)
Word, P H R A S E , or C L A U S E that completes the
meaning of a sentence: a genius is the complement
of She is a genius. He would be early is the
complement of I hoped he would be early
Model followed by V E R B forms. There are three
regular C O N J U G A T I O N S in Spanish: hablar,
comer, vivir. Unfortunately, for us foreigners, there
are numerous I R R E G U L A R V E R B S which include
I R R E G U L A R V E R B S can confuse Spanish
speakers, especially children, so we are not

Glossary of grammatical terms

Any word or group of words, but not a R E L A T I V E
P R O N O U N , that connects words or P H R A S E S , e.g.
Tom´ el primer plato y el segundo, pero no el postre (I had
the ¬rst course and the second but not the dessert)
A speech sound or letter other than a V O W E L , e.g.
b, c, d
Orthographical sign placed above u > u in the ¨
S Y L L A B L E S gui and gue. This produces a
pronunciation of two S Y L L A B L E S of two distinct
V O W E L sounds where normally you have a
D I P H T H O N G , e.g. ciguena
Letters added to the end of a word to indicate the
meaning of “small.” It often conveys an affectionate
tone. The Mexicans are fond of D I M I N U T I V E S ,
even more than the Spaniards, e.g. golpecito (tap,
small blow), mesilla (small, bed-side table)
A V O W E L sound, occupying a single S Y L L A B L E ,
and containing up to two V O W E L S , e.g. aire,
What distinguishes N O U N S as well as
P R O N O U N S . All N O U N S and P R O N O U N S have a
G E N D E R , not just male and female human beings
and animals, e.g. el chico (the boy), la chica (the
girl), el sol (the sun), la luna (the moon), lo/le veo
(I see him), la veo (I see her). A G R E E M E N T must
be made between the N O U N and A D J E C T I V E or
P A S T P A R T I C I P L E , except when used to form
the P E R F E C T T E N S E S , with haber)
Words that express an exclamation and denote any
strong emotion, e.g. ¡Dios m´o!, ¡H´jole! (M)
± ±
(Jeez!, Wow!, Gee!)
Language that uses a ¬gure of speech, e.g. Luch´ o
como un leon (She fought like a lion), izar la
bandera de la libertad (to raise the standard of
A word used to name a person, thing or concept.
N O U N S can be concrete (hombre [man], coche
[car]) or abstract (alegr´a [joy], malestar
A N U M B E R which enables us to count Uno, dos,
N U M B E R, C A R D I N A L
tres . . .
A N U M B E R indicating order in which things
N U M B E R, O R D I N A L
appear. Primero, segundo, tercero . . . (First,
second, third . . .)
“ A” Used before a direct object that is a well-known
person or pet animal, e.g. Vi a Juana / a tu perro (I
saw Juana / your dog). Causes great awkwardness

Glossary of grammatical terms

to Spanish speakers for they frequently think
that it involves an indirect object as in (Le)
Doy el libro a Juan (I give the book to
A meaningful group of words in a sentence,
that does not contain a ¬nite V E R B , e.g. en el
jard´n (in the yard/garden), por la calle
(down the street). Don™t be confused by the
Spanish frase which means both sentence and
or S Y L L A B L E S attached to the
front of a word, e.g. antirracista,
A word that usually comes before a N O U N .
It expresses the relation of things to each
other in respect of time and place, e.g. con
mi amigo, Voy a M´xico, a las seis, en la mesa,
sobre la silla, bajo el arbol, Viene de
P R O N O U N that indicates something. Este es
bueno, aqu´ lla es mala (This one is good, that
one is bad). The written A C C E N T is not
necessary but careful writers prefer it
PRONOUN, INTERROGATIVE P R O N O U N involving a Q U E S T I O N , e.g.
¿Qui´ n ha ganado el premio? (Who has won the
prize?). Other I N T E R R O G A T I V E
P R O N O U N S are ¿cual? (which?), ¿qu´ ? e
(what?), ¿cuyo? (whose?), ¿cuanto? (how
PRONOUN, PERSONAL A word that replaces a N O U N . There are two
kinds of P E R S O N A L P R O N O U N S , subject,
and direct and indirect object P R O N O U N S ,
e.g. Yo, tu, el, ella, Ud., nosotros/as,
vosotros/as, Uds. (I, you, he, etc.) are
subject P R O N O U N S . Me, te, lo/le, la, nos,
os, los/les and las (me, you, him, her, it, us,
you, them) are direct object PRONOUNS while,
me, te, le, nos, os, les (to me, you, him, her,
it, us, you, them) are indirect object
P R O N O U N S . E.g. Yo la veo (I see her/it), yo
os/los (M) veo (I see you), Yo le doy el coche (I
give him/her/you the car)
PRONOUN, POSSESSIVE A P R O N O U N indicating possession, e.g. el
m´o / la m´a, el tuyo / la tuya, el suyo /
± ±
la suya, el nuestro / la nuestra, el
vuestro / la vuestra, el suyo / la suya
(mine, yours, etc.). ¿D´nde est´ la m´a?
o a ±
(Where™s mine?)

Glossary of grammatical terms

Links a relative CLAUSE to what precedes it, e.g. Vi al chico
que vino ayer (I saw the boy who came yesterday). Other
relative pronouns are el que, quien, el cual
QUESTION, DIRECT A sentence asking a straight Q U E S T I O N , e.g. ¿Adonde
vas? (Where are you going?)
QUESTION, INDIRECT Q U E S T I O N included in a S U B O R D I N A T E C L A U S E ,
e.g. Me pregunt´ adonde iba (She asked me where I was
Pronunciation of the Spanish z and c before e/i as if they
were an s as in soft. The c is pronounced as the th in thick
is pronounced, but only by a relatively small number of
people, in central and northern Spain. The whole of
Spanish America and Andaluc´a are characterized by the
SINGULAR/PLURAL A SINGULAR refers to one object while a
P L U R A L N O U N refers to more than one, e.g. el arbol / los
arboles (the tree / the trees)
Root form of a word, e.g. compr is the stem of the V E R B
comprar or the N O U N S compra and comprador
STRESS/STRESSED The S Y L L A B L E of a word spoken most loudly or
most forcibly. S T R E S S is crucial to meaning in both
Spanish and English. Compare hablo (I speak) with
hablo (he spoke), and both invalids in The invalid had an
invalid ticket. Not to be confused with A C C E N T
S Y L L A B L E or S Y L L A B L E S attached to the end of a
word. These are often A U G M E N T A T I V E S and
D I M I N U T I V E S , e.g. hombron, jardincito, mesilla
Applies to A D J E C T I V E S and A D V E R B S that are
modi¬ed to the greatest or least intensity, e.g. Es la
mejor/peor estudiante (She is the best/worst student)
A combination or set of units of sound. It always contains
a V O W E L . Voy contains one S Y L L A B L E . Iba contains
two S Y L L A B L E S and ±bamos contains three
The orthographic sign over the n > n that changes the
sound. The n of pino has the English sound n as in
˜ ˜
pine, while the n of nino has the English sound ni as in
pinion. Most Spanish speakers refer to the n as a T I L D E ,
although, strictly speaking, the T I L D E is the sign over the
n. T I L D E also refers to any written A C C E N T over a
V O W E L , e.g. romp´ (I broke), gan´ (she/he/you won)
± o
Three V O W E L S forming a single S Y L L A B L E . Contains
two weak V O W E L S (i, u) and one strong (a, e, o), e.g.
cambiais, apreci´ is
The sounds of a language that are not classi¬ed as
C O N S O N A N T S , and which, in the case of Spanish, can
form a S Y L L A B L E . Spanish has ¬ve V O W E L S : a, e, i, o,

Glossary of grammatical terms

Guidance on verbs
Correspondence between masculine and feminine
N O U N S and part of the V E R B , and between the
P L U R A L of N O U N S and correct form of the V E R B , e.g.
Est´ sentada (She is sitting down), Los chicos juegan en la
calle (The boys are playing in the street)
An A U X I L I A R Y V E R B which helps to form a
C O M P O U N D T E N S E or precedes an I N F I N I T I V E . In
the sentence He le´do el libro, He is the A U X I L I A R Y
V E R B . In the sentence Voy a ver una pel´cula, Voy is the
made up of the verb haber and a P A S T
P A R T I C I P L E , e.g. He/hab´a/habr´a [etc.] andado/
± ±
Includes a condition and a result, e.g. Si me das el dinero,
comprar´ el pan (If you give me the money, I™ll buy the
bread), Si me hubieras dado el dinero, (yo) hubiera/
habr´a comprado el pan (If you had given me the
money, I would have bought the bread)
CONTINUOUS/ A compound V E R B made up of the V E R B estar (to be)
and a P R E S E N T P A R T I C I P L E , e.g. Estoy leyendo el
libro (I am reading the book), Estaba preparando la
comida (I was preparing the meal). Ir is sometimes used in
this way, e.g. Va amaneciendo (It™s starting to get light),
El camino iba bajando (The path kept going down)
The form of a V E R B which is not the I N F I N I T I V E , e.g.
corre/corriendo (he runs/running), leo/leyendo
(I read/reading), hablamos/hablando (we speak/
T E N S E that refers to a future event that will have
happened before a given moment, e.g. Habremos
llegado antes de que salga (We will have arrived before she
T E N S E referring to the future, e.g. Ir´ (I™ll go)
Spanish V E R B form ending in -ando, -iendo, -yendo,
like -ing in English, e.g. andando (walking), corriendo
(running), yendo (going), leyendo (reading)
Present T E N S E used to invest a description or narration
with a greater vividness: Yo caminaba tranquilamente en el
bosque, y ¡f´jate! veo a mi gran amigo que me dice que . . . (I was
wandering through the wood when “ imagine it! “ I
see/saw my great friend who tells/told me that . . .)
Part of the V E R B which conveys a command, e.g.
¡habla! (speak!), ¡vete! (go away!), ¡come! (eat!)
T E N S E indicating a continuous or repeated action in the
past, e.g. Yo jugaba (al) f´ tbol (I used to play / was
playing / would play / played football)

Glossary of grammatical terms

Part of a V E R B which does not change, and which you
always ¬nd in dictionaries, e.g. vivir (to live), andar
(to walk), ver (to see)
A V E R B that does not have a direct object or
C O M P L E M E N T . Ir (to go) and venir (to come) are
I N T R A N S I T I V E V E R B S . See T R A N S I T I V E
A V E R B that does not conform to a pattern. Very
troublesome for foreign learners and Spanish-speaking
children. Ir and ser are such V E R B S . Interestingly
and understandably enough, small Spanish children
try to “regularize” I R R E G U L A R V E R B S , as often
happens in English. No examples given here!
MOOD, INDICATIVE Part of a V E R B which makes a clear statement, e.g.
Esta listo (He™s ready), Me gusta el chocolate (I like
MOOD, SUBJUNCTIVE Part of a V E R B which indicates emotion, pleasure,
fear, uncertainty, doubt. It is usually used in a
S U B O R D I N A T E C L A U S E , but not always. Has
nearly disappeared in English (e.g., It is possible he be
right), but very common in all T E N S E S in Spanish and
Italian, becoming less common in French where the
imperfect S U B J U N C T I V E is very infrequent. E.g. Es
posible que tenga raz´n (It™s possible she is/be right), Era
imposible que tuviera raz´n (It was impossible that she
was right)
T E N S E made up of the P R E T E R I T of haber and a
P A S T P A R T I C I P L E , e.g. Cuando hubo llegado,
fuimos juntos al . . . (When she had arrived, we went . . .
together). This T E N S E is only used in elevated
language, novels, etc. The T E N S E in common
discourse is the P L U P E R F E C T
Part of the V E R B which, in conjunction with the
V E R B haber, makes up the P E R F E C T T E N S E , e.g. he
andado/hablado (I have walked/spoken)
C O M P O U N D T E N S E made up of haber and P A S T
P A R T I C I P L E , e.g. He visto (I have seen). Much less
used in Spanish America, where it is replaced by the
P R E T E R I T . See “Verbs,” Unit 5
T E N S E formed by I M P E R F E C T of haber (hab´a) ±
and the P A S T P A R T I C I P L E , e.g. cuando hab´amos ±
hablado (when we had spoken)
Name given to the part of the V E R B ending in -ing in
English and in -ando and -iendo in Spanish, e.g.
hablando (speaking), comiendo (eating)
Simple past T E N S E . Refers to a speci¬c or completed
action in the past. Almost entirely replaces the past
perfect in Spanish America (see “Verbs,” Unit 5),

Glossary of grammatical terms

e.g. fui (I went/was), habl´ (I spoke), llegaron (they
arrived). British English spelling P R E T E R I T E
A V E R B that is conjugated in all its forms with the
P R O N O U N S me, te, se, nos, os. This means that
the subject and the re¬‚exive P R O N O U N are the
same person, e.g. Yo me veo en el espejo (I see myself
in the mirror), Me rasuro (M ) / me afeito con la
m´ quina (I shave with the electric razor)
RADICAL/STEM A V E R B that is R E G U L A R in its endings but does
not ¬t an obvious pattern so that Spaniards call
them I R R E G U L A R . These verbs are “irregular”
because the stressed V O W E L changes in certain
parts of the V E R B , e.g. querer “ quiero, quieres, quiere,
queremos, quer´is, quieren / contar “ cuento, cuentas,
cuenta, contamos, cont´ is, cuentan. Can cause dif¬culty,
especially in the imperfect S U B J U N C T I V E . It could
be legitimately argued that these V E R B S are not
I R R E G U L A R since they do conform to a speci¬c
pattern. The English description R A D I C A L /
S T E M C H A N G I N G is much more helpful than
I R R E G U L A R . See “Irregular verbs,” Unit 12
A V E R B conveying an action done by a person or
thing to himself/itself, e.g. Me lavo (I wash
(myself)), El sol se esconde detr´ s de las nubes (The
sun hides behind the clouds). The English does not
have a R E F L E X I V E form in the second case but it is
necessary in Spanish. Otherwise, you would be
wondering what the sun was hiding. There are
many V E R B S that behave both non-re¬‚exively and
re¬‚exively in Spanish
A V E R B that conforms to a pattern. Very reassuring
for foreign learners, and Spanish-speaking children.
Hablar, comer and vivir are R E G U L A R V E R B S .
Part of the V E R B which indicates the moment when
an action or thought takes place, e.g. nado is the
present T E N S E of the V E R B nadar. Nadaba is the
I M P E R F E C T T E N S E of the V E R B nadar
A V E R B that takes a direct object, e.g. Veo la puerta
(I see the door). See I N T R A N S I T I V E
VO I C E, A C T I VE / P A S S I VE The A C T I V E V O I C E relates to the subject of the
sentence performing the action. The sentence The
boy broke the window is in the A C T I V E V O I C E ,
whereas The window was broken by the boy is in the
P A S S I V E V O I C E . A V E R B in the A C T I V E V O I C E
can be T R A N S I T I V E or I N T R A N S I T I V E but a
V E R B in the P A S S I V E V O I C E can only be

Note on the text

Most translations of either whole sentences, phrases or individual words are given when
it is felt that they are necessary for an accurate understanding of the grammar under
consideration. However, in quite a few cases, for example, inteligencia, a translation is
not given, whereas celo (zeal) would be.

JPR Jorge P´ rez Larracilla
M Mexican (Spanish)

Short bibliography

If you wish to progress beyond the con¬nes of this basic volume, you will ¬nd the following

Alarcos Llorach, Emilio, Gram´ tica de la lengua espa˜ ola, Real Academia Espa˜ ola,
a n n
Madrid: Espasa, 2003 (Very comprehensive but for Spanish speakers, and not
presented in tabular form so ¬nding what you want can be time consuming.)
Butt, J., Spanish Grammar, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
Butt and Benjamin, A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, London: Arnold, 2001
(Very comprehensive and for the most advanced students among you.)
Katt´ n-Ibarra and Pountain, Modern Spanish Grammar, London: Routledge, 1997
Maqueo, Ana Mar´a, Espa˜ ol para extranjeros (3 volumes), M´ xico: Limusa, Noriega
± e
Editores, 2002 (Excellent work but very diffuse, presented from a Mexican point of
view, and in this sense very useful, notably for North American speakers of English.)

Verb forms
Kendris, 501 Spanish Verbs, New York: Barron™s Educational Series, 2000
Rosario Hollis, Mar´a, Spanish Verbs, Teach Yourself Books, London: Hodder and
Stoughton, 1994
Note. The present book does not include all the verb tables, for reasons of space. It is
recommended that you acquire one of these two above.

Batchelor, R. and Pountain, C., Using Spanish, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1994; 2nd edition, 2005 (This book has a concise section on Spanish grammar but
also includes numerous chapters on vocabulary and the way the language is used.
This includes register, or levels of language.)

The Oxford Spanish Dictionary, Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2000
(Excellent coverage of Spanish American, but you need to be a little wary since
Spanish American is so diffuse.)

Short bibliography

Spanish English English Spanish Dictionary, Glasgow: Harper Collins, 2001 (Every bit as
good as the dictionary above.)
Simon and Schuster Spanish“English English“Spanish Dictionary, New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1998 (Again, as good as the two above.)
Larousse Gran Diccionario, Espa˜ ol“Franc´s Fran¸ais“Espagnol, Barcelona: Larousse, 2002
n e c
(Very good dictionary but not so comprehensive as the three above. However, it is
extremely helpful for those of you who are aspiring to two languages or more.)
Of all the monolingual dictionaries, the author has found the following particularly useful:
Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Espa˜ ola, Salamanca: Santillana, 1996.
This limited bibliographical section would not be complete without reference to a truly
splendid work by Manuel Seco, Diccionario de DUDAS y di¬cultades de la lengua espa˜ ola (10th
edition), Madrid: Espasa, 2002 (1st edition, 1961). This volume carries you well beyond
dictionary information, and has served the present author for almost forty years, who
refers to it frequently, even and often to assist Spanish speakers in clarifying uncertainties
in their own language. Furthermore, it is not an indigestible book, and is therefore
accessible to many of you who will have worked through this current volume.

Unit 1 (Unidad 1)
Alphabet, spelling and
pronunciation (Alfabeto, ortograf´a
y pronunciacion)

The Royal Spanish Academy, founded in 1713, by the Duque d™Escalona, aims to preserve and
improve the Spanish language. The Grammar (see bibliography) and Dictionary (Diccionario de la
Lengua Espanola, 2 vols., 22nd edn., Madrid: Espasa Calpe) published by it are the standards of the
language, but this only applies to Spain. It can no longer legislate for the Spanish of the Americas
which has a lexical richness and diversity which can be initially confusing and certainly challenging.
But fear not, for compensation is at hand, the grammar of the various countries concerned is
comfortingly uniform and we must be grateful for this “ and this includes the author. We must also
be grateful to the Real Academia for helping to keep the language relatively stable.

Level 1
1.1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation (Alfabeto, ortograf´a y pronunciacion)
1.2 Stress (El acento tonico)

1.1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation
As with the grammar, Spanish pronunciation is happily uniform, with the consequence
that once you have conquered the sounds, you are not enmeshed in the mire associated
with, for example, the innumerable and irreducible irregularities of English pronun-
ciation. Furthermore, the spelling system of the Spanish language is really quite easy
compared to English. Aim for a perfect accent and real ¬‚uency. This will not only help
you immeasurably in your communication with Spanish speakers but also allow you to
appreciate more the written word, especially literature which is its highest expression.

Letters with pronunciation indicators (Letras con indicadores de pronunciacion)
(See level 2, where all the comments below, notably on consonants, are considerably developed.)
la a (English ah), la b(e)(English bay), la b(e) grande (M), la c(e), ch(e), d(e) (English th as in
either, those), e (like English a in take), (e)f(e), g(e) (when before e and i, as in English horse but
more guttural; when before a, o and u, hard as in gate or goat), h (hache), i (like English ee
as in seek), j (jota) (as in English horse but more guttural), k(a), (e)l(e), (e)ll(e), (e)m(e), (e)n(e),
(e)˜ (e), o (like English o as in hope), p(e), q (cu), r (e)r(e), (e)rr(e) doble, doble r (e)rr(e) (M),
(e)s(e), t(e), u (like English oo as in food), (u)v(e), la b(e) chica (M), w (uve doble), doble uve
(M), x (equis) (qui sounds like the English ki), y (i griega) (when a vowel is equivalent to i),
z (zeta/zeda)


i All letters are feminine
May´ scula f. capital letter
Min´ scula f. small letter
La hache = h
As isolated letters, r and rr are the same sound, which explains the use of doble for rr
Before e and i the Iberian c sounds like the English th as in thick, while before a, o
and u it sounds like the English c in cut. In all Spanish America and much of
southern Spain, the c before i and e sounds like the English ss.
The Iberian z sounds like the English th as in thick but in all Spanish America and
much of Southern Spain it sounds like the English ss
The x in M´ xico is pronounced as a jota
viii e
The n with the tilde is nearly always referred to as la e˜ e
x Great importance is attached to the vowels in Spanish. Their sounds are full and
clear, while those of the consonants can be obscure and even be suppressed.

1.2 Stress
In Spanish, as in English, in words of two or more syllables, one is pronounced more
forcibly than the others. This forcible utterance is called stress. In writing, it appears
thus: a, ´, ´, o, u. As it would be laborious, unnecessary and even confusing to place an
accent-mark over every written word, words are grouped into classes. Words coming into
these classes do not need the written accent, and only the exceptions require it. Here are
some of the basic rules governing the use of stress and the written accent. The rest will
appear in level 2.
i The greater part of words ending in a vowel are stressed (but not in writing) on the
penultimate (next to last) syllable: pero (but), perro (dog), lleva (he/she takes), carro
(M)/coche (car), casa (house), bomba (bomb/pump), libro (book)
ii The greater part of words ending in n or s are stressed (but not in writing) on the
penultimate: toman (they take, you take), margen (margin/edge), imagen
(image/picture), volumen, martes (Tuesday), crisis
iii The greater part of words ending in other consonants than n or s (including all
in¬nitives) are stressed (but not in writing) on the last syllable: esperar (to hope / wait
for), decir (to say), al¬ler (pin), peral (pear tree), perejil (parsley, and extraordinarily the
name of a rock, a Spanish possession a few hundred yards off the Moroccan coast),
altivez (haughtiness), majestad (majesty), magnitud
iv All exceptions to these rules require a written accent over the accented syllable: caf´ e
(coffee/caf´ ), ped´s (you ask), rev´s (setback), encontr´ (she/he met/found), c´sped (lawn),
± e o e
m´ rmol (marble), angel, dif´cil (dif¬cult), f´ cil (easy)
a ´ ± a
v All words stressed on a syllable previous to the penultimate require an accent mark:
m´ sico (musician), h´roe (hero), r´gimen (regime), l´nea (line), d´ bamos (we used to give),
u e e ± a
crep´ sculo (twilight), atm´sfera, gram´ tica (grammar)
u o a
vi There is a clear choice on two words: oceano/oc´ano, periodo/per´odo
e ±
Exercises Level 1
i Pronunciation drill (ejercicio de pronunciacion)
Read aloud all the letters of the following sentences which are very common proverbs
or expressions. It is best if you can ¬nd a Spanish speaker or a teacher of Spanish to

1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation

help you with these sounds, at least initially. The proverbs are uncomplicated so you
can easily work out their meaning and ¬nd a proper English equivalent from the rough
Empezar la casa por el tejado “ To begin (building) the house with the roof
Quien mala cama hace, en ella yace “ He who makes a bad bed lies on it
Poderoso caballero es Don Dinero “ Powerful gentleman is Mr. Cash
M´ s vale p´ jaro en mano que cien volando “ Better a bird in your hand than a hundred
a a
nadar como un pez “ to swim like a ¬sh
dormir como un tronco “ to sleep like a log
ii Put in, where necessary, all the accents in the following passage. Also answer the
questions on the passage:

Viajando a traves de la ciudad de Mexico
La ciudad de Mexico es una de las mas grandes del mundo, y como en toda gran ciudad, el
transporte es muy diverso, y ofrece muchas opciones para viajar de un lugar a otro. Se puede
viajar en automovil, taxi, colectivo, camion, bicicleta, y trolebus. La mayoria de la poblacion
hace uso del transporte publico. Los vehiculos mas utilizados de manera privada son los
automoviles y los taxis.

a Is there a written accent if you put opciones in the singular?
b Is there a written accent on ciudad if you put it in the plural?
c Is there a written accent on lugar (correctly spelt here?), camion (correctly spelt here?),
trolebus (correctly spelt here?) and poblacion (correctly spelt here?) if you put them in
the plural?

Level 2
2.1 Diphthongs and triphthongs (Diptongos y triptongos)
2.2 Consonants (Consonantes)
2.3 Elision in speech (Elision/Sinalefa)
2.4 Rules governing the use of written accents (Reglas que determinan los acentos
2.5 Spelling traps (Trampas de ortograf´a)
2.6 Orthographical changes with y and o (Cambios ortograf´cos con y y o)

2.1 Diphthongs and triphthongs
(Spelling these two words is just one example of how much easier Spanish spelling is than its
English counterpart.)

We should pay particular attention to this subject, as its understanding is necessary for a
grasp of the laws of the written accent.
i Spanish diphthongs and triphthongs are indivisible combinations of vowels
pronounced as single syllables, laying the stress on the more sonorous syllables, and
passing rapidly over the weaker or less sonorous. If both vowels are weak (i and u),
the stress falls on the last of the two, as: ruido (noise), viuda (widow)
ii The gradual scale of the sonority or strength of the vowels is as follows: a, o, e, i, u,
A, o, e are called strong vowels, while i and u are weak vowels


iii Diphthongs cannot be formed from the strong vowels alone, but are a combination
of a strong and weak vowel, or of i and u combined. When two strong vowels
combine, each is considered as a separate vowel: real (real/royal), a´reo, h´roe, oasis
e e
iv Triphthongs are composed of one strong vowel between two weak ones
v In brief, a Spanish diphthong consists of a vowel preceded or followed by either i or
u. In a triphthong, one of the latter two is on each side of the strong vowel
vi Examples of diphthongs “ ia: Asia, Santiago; ai: aire, caigo (I fall), fraile (monk); ie:
miente ((s)he lies), piedra (stone), tiempo; ei: reina (queen), veinte, pleito (lawsuit), treinta;
io: maniobra (maneuver), patriota, piocha (pickax), violento; oi: oigo (I hear), boina (beret);
ua: cuanto, guante (glove), fragua (forge); au: pausa, cautela (prudence); ue: fuego (¬re),
puente (bridge), muestra (sample); eu: feudo (¬efdom), Europa, neutro; uo: cuota (quota),
continuo; iu: triunfo (triumph), oriundo (originating); ui: buitre (vulture), ruido (noise),
fuiste (you were/went), Luisa
vii Examples of triphthongs “ iai: cambi´ is (you change), vari´ is (you vary); iei: apreci´is
a a e
(that you should appreciate), irradi´is (that you should radiate), contagi´is (that you
e e
should infect); uai: mengu´ is (you diminish), averigu´ is (you check out); uei: amortig¨ ´is
a a ue
(that you should deaden), santig¨ ´is (that you should bless)
viii Since a diphthong or triphthong is, in pronunciation, treated as a single syllable, it
requires a written accent as with a single vowel.
ix In diphthongs containing a strong vowel, and in triphthongs, the accent mark
belongs over the strong vowel; when placed over the weak one, the diphthong or
triphthong disappears to become two syllables. Thus in causa and C´ ucasa, au is a a
diphthong, but not in sa´ co (willow tree); iai in vari´ is is a triphthong but not in
u a
tem´ais. As we shall see later, in Spanish America, e.g. Mexico, triphthongs hardly
exist, since the second person plural (vosotros/os/vosotras/as) is replaced by Uds. A lot
easier, and certainly for Mexicans who ¬nd triphthongs quaint, rebarbative or just
plain dif¬cult to pronounce, with the result that the present author can become a
¬gure of fun.
x If a syllable requiring a written accent contains a diphthong or a triphthong, the
accent must be placed over the strong vowel; hu´sped (guest), despu´s, estudi´ is, oiganos
e e a´
(listen to us). In the case of a diphthong, if both vowels are weak, the spoken accent
falls on the second vowel. No written accent occurs here: circuito, ruido, he huido
(I have ¬‚ed).
xi Whenever the weak vowel of a triphthong or diphthong is stressed, or the ¬rst
vowel when both are weak, the written accent is placed over the said vowel, to
show that there is no diphthong or triphthong: ata´ d (casket, cof¬n), pa´s
u ±
(country), incre´ble, ra´z (root), poes´a, d´a, le´a ((s)he was reading), ba´ l (trunk), para´so
± ± ±±± u ±
xii A mute h between two vowels does not prevent a diphthong. The written accent is
accordingly placed: barah´ nda (ruckus, bedlam), ah´nco (earnestness), ah´to (full,
u ± ±
stuffed), b´ ho (owl), proh´ben (they forbid), reh´ so (I refuse), retah´la (string, series), vah´do
u ± u ± ±
(dizzy spell)

2.2 Consonants
i F, k, l, m, n and p have at all times the same value in Spanish as in English: fama,
kilo, comer, madre, entre, padre

1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation

ii B and v have the same sound as in English, depending on where they are in the
word. When they are in an initial position, the b of burro is the same as the b of but,
and the same goes for the v in vaca. However, when b and v are within a word and
especially between two vowels, the lips are pressed lightly together, creating a kind
of lisp: haber, saber, lavar, cavar (to dig)
iii C has two sounds. Before e and i, it is pronounced like th in thin: centro, encima, cielo.
In all other cases, it has the sound of k: encanto (charm), cura (priest), cruz (cross),
esclavo (slave)
iv However, in nearly all southern Spain and the whole of Spanish America, the
pronunciation of c before e and i, as with z in all cases, is that of c as in city or center:
Centro = sentro, encima = ensima, cielo = sielo, caza = casa (room for confusion here!),
zapato = sapato, durazno = durasno (M). For Spanish American speakers of Spanish,
the th sound of c and z is generally regarded as pedantic, affected and even
archaic, harking back to colonial times
v Ch is pronounced like ch in church: muchacha, chica, chava (M) (girl), ch´vere (M)e
vi D never has the decided English sound of d, but has a tinge of the sound of th in
then: ciudad, dar, desde, doler, hablado, pegado. In many parts of Spain, when d occurs
between two vowels, and especially in past participles of the -ado type, the d can
disappear completely in the spoken language. Thus, hablado (spoken) ends up as
hablao, pasmado (amazed) as pasmao, pegado (hit) as pegao. The practice is frowned
upon by purists, and is not characteristic of Spanish America where, as we shall
see in the section on verbs, the perfect tense he hablado (I have spoken) is largely
replaced by the preterite habl´ (I spoke). Mexicans, for instance, ¬nd it odd and
even illiterate.
vii G has two sounds. Before e and i, it has the sound of a strongly aspirated h. In all
other cases it sounds like g in go: gesti´n (procedure), gente, giro (turn), gimnasio, garage
(M) (second g as in American English), gusto (pleasure)
viii In order to obtain the hard g of gusto before e and i, a u is inserted. In this case, the
u is silent: guiar (to guide), guisar (to cook), enseguida, pegue (that he hits), agregue (that
she should add). But if the u is retained as an independent sound, a diaresis is
placed over it (i.e. u) “ ling¨ ista, ag¨ ero (omen), desag¨ e (drain, wastepipe) “ but here
¨ u u u
it has a swallowed sound as in agua
ix H has a slight trace of aspiration before ue: hueco (hollow), huevo (egg)
x J has in all cases the same sound as g has before e and i: juicio (judgment), jerga
(slang), jugar (play), enjambre (swarm)
xi Ll had until recently the sound of the letters lli as in the English million. But such a
sound is considered pedantic by most Spanish speakers, and this includes all
Spanish America, so that we end up with a double y, rather like the y in your but
slightly elongated: gallego (Galician [in northern Spain]), llamar, llorar, lluvia,
xii N presents no problem for an English speaker
xiii N has the sound of the letters ni, as in pinion: ni˜ o, se˜ or, oto˜ o
nn n
xiv Q occurs only before ue and ui, and sounds like k, the following u being always
silent: tanque (M = gas tank in car), quebrar (to break), parroquia (parish)
xv R has a roll, and a more marked roll (like a double rr) at the beginning of words:
regla, parar, mirar, enredar (to confuse), cortar. If you have a Scottish accent, you will
have no problem at all. When an initial r is preceded by an s, as in los rayos (rays) /


los rollos (rolls), the s often disappears so that we end up with lo- rayos/rollos, and this
is not only restricted to the untutored classes
S sounds like ss as in hiss. No real problem here, except for the immediately
preceding comment
T is softer than the English t, and is pronounced with the tongue touching the
palate more gently: tratar (to treat), pato (duck), total
V. See b
W. An import found in, for example, W´ gner = V´ gner, W´ shington = V´ shington
a a a a
X requires considerable comment, notably for Mexico. In Spain, the sound is of x
as in axle; exacto, exigir (to demand). However, when it precedes a c it frequently ends
up as an s: excelente = escelente, exceso = esceso. Condemned by purists, it is in general
practice, although formal speech would require excelente. In Mexico, the x has
three pronunciations. The ¬rst is as in Spain, i.e. between two vowels: taxi, m´ ximo,a
laxitud. The second is like a jota, as in M´xico, Oaxaca (city and state). The jota sound
of the x over¬‚ows onto words like xenofobia. There is confusion whether the x of this
word should be pronounced as an English x or a jota. One for the quiz program.
Informed opinion is that this initial x should be pronounced as the English x. The
third pronunciation is like an s. This pronunciation occurs not infrequently,
especially with names of Aztec origin. Thus we have: Xochitl, Xochimilco (district in
the south of Mexico City). Finally, the x of words like excelente and explicar,
preceding a consonant, is like the English x, and not like an s, as in Spain.
Y has the same value as in English and, for z, see point iv above

2.3 Elision in speech
i When a vowel at the end of one word immediately precedes a vowel at the
beginning of the next word, the two vowels run together in speech. A mute h does
not change this feature: si es as´, cuesta un peso,
otro a˜ o, su hacienda/hilo
ii This also applies to three words: Fue a Europa, sali´ a Espa˜ a
o n
iii When the two vowels are the same, one is always lost in rapid speech: la ayuda =
l™ayuda, para agradecerle = par™agradecerle. Note the very common, colloquial Mexican
expression for many: hasta pa™aventar pa™arriba (hasta para aventar para arriba)

2.4 Rules governing the use of written accents
When one or more pronouns are added to any part of a verb so as to shift the accented
syllable to the antepenultimate (two before the last one), or still farther from the end, the
accent is marked: para com´rmelo (for me to eat it all up), para consegu´rtelo (to get it for you),
e ±
d´ ndoselos (giving them to her/him/them, you).
When two Spanish words are combined, each retains its original accent, whether
written or not. This is especially common with adverbs: cort´smente (written accent on the
¬rst e and stress on the ¬rst two e™s), naturalmente (stress on second a and ¬rst e of mente),
correctamente (stress on the ¬rst two e™s), ferrocarril (stress on e and i).
Where there are two monosyllables of identical form, the more emphatic one is dis-
tinguished by a written accent:

1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation

d´, give (subjunctive of dar)
e de, of, from t´, tea
e te, you
´l, he, him
e el, the t´ , you
u tu, your
m´, me
± mi, my ¡v´!, go!
e ve, sees (present of ver)
m´ s, more
a mas, but (imperative of ir)
s´, I know, be (imperative of ser)
e se, one™s self
s´, yes, one™s self
± si, if
Note also: aun (even), aun (still), and solo (alone), s´lo (only)
Aun los m´ s torpes lo entienden = Even the dumbest understand it
A´ n no ha venido tu pap´ = Your father still hasn™t come
u a
Est´ solo/a = (S)he™s alone
Tiene s´lo cinco a˜ os = She™s only ¬ve
o n
To distinguish between the interrogative or exclamatory and the relative use of pronouns
and adverbs, a written accent is placed on the ¬rst two. Frequently, Spanish speakers,
even very literate ones, fail to observe this rule, so you could be in good company if you
fail here too:
o como ¿cu´ l? which?
a cual which
how? as, if
¿cu´ ndo?
a cuando ¿cu´ nto? how much?
a cuanto as much
when? when
o donde ¿qu´?
e que
where? where what? which, that
e quien
who? who, whom

¿C´mo puede hacerlo?
o Como no puede hacerlo ahora, ser´
mejor esta tarde
¿Cu´ ndo vienes?
a Viene cuando puede
¿D´nde est´ el chico?
o a S´ donde est´
e a
¿Qui´n lo ha hecho?
e Yo s´ quien lo ha hecho
¿Cu´ l de los dos viene?
a Yo s´ cual de los dos viene
¿Cu´ nto cuesta?
a Te doy todo cuanto quieras
¿Qu´ has dicho/dijiste?
e Me dice que regresa ma˜ ana

A problem can arise, even for Spanish speakers, when the question is indirect, or a
question is implied, as in:
Le pregunt´ cu´ ndo volver´a = I asked her/him when (s)he would come back
ea ±
¿Por qu´ me preguntas d´nde est´ la chava (M)? Why do you ask me where the girl is?
e o a
Notice also the upside-down question mark at the beginning of the sentence. The same
happens with an exclamation mark/point: ¡H´jole! (M), ¡Jol´n! (both = “Jeez! Heavens
± ±

2.5 Spelling traps
Here are just a few Spanish words that have a near, and therefore misleading, spelling
equivalent in English. There are many more. This small list serves to point out that you
should be wary of skating over words without paying detailed attention to them:


atormentar, cacao, centinela (sentry), complice (accomplice), conmemorar, dignatario
(dignitary), ejemplo, extasis, femenismo, feminino, fisonom´a, hipocres´a, independiente,
± ±
inmediato, inmigrante, inmunitario, inventorio, literario, literatura, profec´a, quimioterapia,
radiactividad, responsabilidad, sicomoro, tarifa, tenis, vainilla

2.6 Orthographical changes with y and o
For the sake of avoiding the concurrence of two like sounds, y (and) is changed to e when
the following word begins with i or hi. This also happens with o (or) which becomes u
before initial o or ho.
espa˜ ol e ingl´s
n e Spanish and English
padre e hijo father and son
Mar´a e Isabel
± Mary and Elizabeth/Isabel
plata u oro silver or gold
vida u honor life or honor
siete u ocho seven or eight
However, when a diphthong is involved, y does not change.
madera y hierro wood and iron
´l y yo
e he and I/me
lim´n y hielo
o lemon and ice
Note: There are almost no double consonants, except ll and rr.

Exercises Level 2
i Lee el siguiente parrafo en voz alta y en clase, e indica el uso de la sinalefa. Al escribir
las palabras, pon un , o sea subrayando el espacio entre las palabras apropiadas o
dentro de una palabra:

A trav´ s de su historia, los Estados Unidos se han caracterizado como un gran crisol etnico. Esto
e ´
quiere decir que, aunque la poblaci´ n est´ constituida de muchos grupos de personas de distinto
o a
origen, existe no obstante un pueblo norteamericano. Tradicionalmente, los inmigrantes se han
asimilado a la cultura norteamericana despu´ s de una o dos generaciones. Debido a la insistencia
de los padres, los hijos han hablado en ingl´ s y, gradualmente, han adoptado las nuevas
costumbres de la patria adoptiva.

ii Ejercicio de lectura. Lee las siguientes frases en voz alta y en clase con un acento o
mexicano o espanol:˜

Hace un aire muy fuerte Cierra la puerta Veracruz es un puerto de
It™s windy Close the door Veracruz is a sea port
El charro cruza el R´o Bravo
± ¿Cu´ l es la causa del
a Se oye un ruido en la
accidente? rec´ mara (M)

1 Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation

The horseman crosses the R´o Grande
± What is the cause of the You can hear a noise in the
accident? bedroom
Mi vecina es viuda desde hace Es necesario que cambi´ is e No creo que apreci´ is el
dos a˜ os
n de coche (this 2nd pl form valor de este libro (this
not in M) 2nd pl form not in M)
My neighbor has been a widow for It is necessary you change cars I don™t think you appreciate the
two years value of this book
Es imposible poner una vaca en El charro rasguea la
una baca (confusion here? ) guitarra
It™s impossible to put a cow on a roof The horseman strums the
rack guitar
iii Intenta pronunciar estos trabalenguas (tongue twisters) que no tienen sentido:

Un tigre, dos tigres, tres tigres triscan trigo en un trigal
A tiger, two tigers, three tigers chew wheat in a wheat ¬eld
Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en tres tristes trastos sentados en un trigal
Three sad tigers swallowed wheat on three sad pieces of trash sitting in a wheat ¬eld
Un tubo tir´ un tubo y otro tubo lo detuvo. Hay tubos que tienen tubos pero este tubo
no tuvo tubo
A tube threw a tube and another tube stopped it. There are tubes which have tubes but this tube did not
have a tube
Aqu´ tienes otro trabalenguas que te permite practicar la doble rr (M) / rr doble. ¡Y
tiene sentido!
Detr´ s de un carro corr´a un burro. (Puedes adivinar el sentido de esta frase)
a ±
iv Aqu´ tienes un pequeno trozo mexicano. Pon los acentos y la puntuacion en su lugar
± ˜ ´
correcto. Puntos, comas, y mayusculas han sido insertados para ayudarte.

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