The 10 most common Spanish grammar mistakes French speakers make

Thought grammar was a mere detail in your language learning process? We’re here to deliver some bad news: you’ve got it all wrong.

And yet Spanish grammar, as beautiful and mysterious as it may be, gives learners a run for their money in terms of pure frustration. Sadly, the French users of our online Spanish course Hotel Borbollón are no exception to the rule.

Gymglish has carefully selected the 10 most common Spanish grammar mistakes our French-speaking users have made over the past year. We’re not here to point fingers.*

1) Indirect object pronouns

Indirect object pronouns are used to replace a person that has already been mentioned in order to avoid repetition. It answers the questions ‘to whom?’ or ‘for whom?’.

Nacho pide un taxi a Ana Nacho le pide un taxi. Nacho gets a cab for Ana Nacho gets her a cab.

Hablé con ellas ayer Les hablé ayer. I talked to them (a group of women) yesterday I talked to them yesterday.

SingularPlural
1ª personaUsted me respondeTú nos respondes
2ª personaElla te respondeÉl os responde
3ª personaEllas le respondenEllas les responden

Note: The indirect object pronoun is generally placed in front of the verb. This can change in sentences which contain an auxiliary and main verb. In imperative sentences the indirect object goes after the verb.

Le escribo. I write to him

Le voy a escribir / Voy a escribirle. I’m going to write to him

Escríbele. Write (to) him.

Read more about Indirect object pronouns here.

2) The pretérito indefinido (simple past tense) of regular verbs ending in -ar

The pretérito indefinido (simple past tense) is used for actions that started and ended in the past.

La semana pasada trabajé mucho. I worked a lot last week.

Verbs ending in -ar such as hablar (to talk), caminar (to walk), and comenzar (to begin) are conjugated as follows:

Hablar

Yo hablé
Tú hablaste
Él/ella/usted habló
Nosotros/as hablamos
Vosotros/as hablasteis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes hablaron

Ayer hablé con mi hijo. I spoke to my son yesterday.

Ana bailó toda la noche. Ana danced all night.

Cenaron juntos el mes pasado. They had dinner together last month.

Note: the pretérito indefinido is often used with ayer (yesterday), anoche (last night), el otro día (the other day), and la semana pasada (last week).

Anoche cenamos verduras. We had vegetables for dinner last night.

More on this grammar rule here.

3) Regular imperative of pronominal verbs

Reminder: the imperative is used for orders, instructions, advice and direct requests.

Lava los platos. Wash the dishes. 

To conjugate a pronominal verb (amarse/to love each other, conocerse/to know each other, etc.), we add the relevant pronoun to form a single word:

Lavarse
(tú) lávate
(usted) lávese
(nosotros/as) lavémonos
(vosotros/as) lavaos
(ustedes) lávense

Meterse
(tú) métete
(usted) métase
(nosotros/as) metámonos
(vosotros/as) meteos
(ustedes) métanse

Reunirse
(tú) reúnete
(usted) reúnanse
(nosotros/as) reunámonos
(vosotros/as) reuníos
(ustedes)reúnanse

¡Lávate los dientes! Brush your teeth!

¡Reunámonos! Let’s meet up!

When we form a single word there are some changes:

  • We add an accent in most forms.

Prepara la cena prepárate para la cena. Prepare dinner get yourself ready for dinner.

  • With nosotros/as, we remove the –s of the verb ending (-emos, -amos) and add -nos.

Nosotros lavemos  lavémonos las manos. We wash let’s wash our hands.

  • With vosotros/as, we remove the –d of the verb ending ( –ad, -ed)  and add -os.

Vosotros despertad despertaos You, wake up wake up

More on the regular imperative of pronominal verbs.

4) The use of the subjunctive after cuando

We use cuando (when) with the subjunctive tense to express future actions. It can be formed in two ways:

  • Cuando + subjunctive + future tense:

Cuando llegue a la estación te llamaré When I get to the station, I’ll call you.

Cuando esté en el hotel hablaré con Ana. When I’m at the hotel, I’ll talk to Ana.

  • Cuando + subjunctive + imperative:

Cuando vayas a la estación, llámame. When you go to the station, call me. ir, subj. presente

Cuando vengas a Madrid, ven a casa. When you come to Madrid, drop by my place.

Learn more about this grammar rule here.

5) The pretérito indefinido of regular verbs ending in -er and -ir

The pretérito indefinido (simple past tense) is used with actions that started and ended in the past.

El año pasado corrí una maratón en Madrid. Last year I ran a marathon in Madrid.

Verbs ending in -er, such as comer (to eat), leer (to read) or saber (to know), and in -ir, such as vivir (to live), subir (to climb) or abrir (to open), are conjugated like this:

Comer

Yo comí
Tú comiste
Él/ella/usted comió
Nosotros/as comimos
Vosotros/as comisteis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes comieron

Vivir

Yo viví
Tú viviste
Él/ella/usted vivió
Nosotros/as vivimos
Vosotros/as vivisteis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes vivieron

Anoche comimos en el restaurante de Carolina. Last night we ate at Carolina’s restaurant.

Ana vivió en Buenos Aires durante muchos años. Ana lived in Buenos Aires for many years.

Note: some verbs, such as ver (to see), have a regular conjugation in the simple past, apart from the fact that they have no tilde (accent):

Vi una película muy buena. I saw a very good film.

Read more on the pretérito indefinido of regular verbs ending in -er and -ir.

6) The verbs colgar, rogar and jugar in the imperative

The verbs colgar (to hang, to hang up), rogar (to beg, to plead) and jugar (to play) change their initial vowel to ‑ue‑ in the imperative mood, and add a ‑u‑ after the ‑g‑:

Colgar Cuelgue To hang Hang!

Rogar Ruegue To beg Beg!

Jugar Juegue To play Play!

These are their full imperative conjugations:

Colgar

(tú) cuelga
(usted) cuelgue
(nosotros/as) colguemos
(vosotros/as) colgad
(ustedes) cuelguen

Rogar

(tú) ruega
(usted) ruegue
(nosotros/as) roguemos
(vosotros/as) rogad
(ustedes) rueguen

Jugar

(tú) juega
(usted) juegue
(nosotros/as) juguemos
(vosotros/as) jugad
(ustedes) jueguen

Cuelgue el cuadro en la pared. Hang the painting on the wall.

No me ruegues, por favor. Don’t beg me, please.

No jueguen allí. Don’t play there.

Learn more about this grammar rule here.

7) Possessive adjectives

SingularPlural
YoMi libroMis libros
Tu padreTus padres
Él/Ella/UstedSu primoSus primos
Nosotros/asnuestro/a hijo/anuestros/as hijos/as
Vosotros/asvuestro/a hermano/avuestros/as hermanos/as
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes
su camisasus camisas

¿Cuándo vienes a mi casa? When are you coming to my house?

Nuestros padres viven en Nicaragua. Our parents live in Nicaragua.

Vuestras hermanas son muy inteligentes. Your sisters are very smart.

El perro se comió tus zapatos. The dog ate your shoes.

Going further with possessive adjectives here.

8) Using personal pronouns

In general, personal pronouns are not used in Spanish because the verb endings usually tell you who the subject is:

—¿Vienes a cenar mañana? —Sí, claro que vengo. -Are you coming to dinner tomorrow? -Yes, of course I’m coming.

They are, however, used in the following situations:

  • When there are multiple subjects, which can lead to some confusion:

Ustedes son chilenos y ellos son mexicanos. You are Chilean, and they are Mexican.

  • To emphasize or direct attention to the subject:

 tienes la culpa. You are to blame

  • In questions or answers that seek to identify a subject:

—¿Quién está ahí? —Soy yo. -Who’s there? -It’s me.

  • In comparisons, after que:

Carolina es más alta que yo. Carolina is taller than me.

  • In front of mismo (to form reflexive pronouns like “myself”, “yourself”, etc), también (too/also), tampoco (neither/either):

ella también le gusta viajar. She likes to travel, too.

More on using personal pronouns here

9) Direct object pronouns

SingularPlural
1ª personaUstedes me conocenNosotros nos conocemos
2ª personaElla te conoceÉl os conoce
3ª personaTú lo conoces (♂)Tú la conoces (♀)Yo los conozco (♂)Yo las conozco (♀)

Note: The direct object pronoun is generally placed in front of the verb. This can change in sentences which contain an auxiliary and main verb. In imperative sentences the direct object goes after the verb.

La llamo. I call her.

La voy a llamar / Voy a llamarla. I’m going to call her.

Llámala. Call her.

Going further with direct object pronouns here.

10) The position of direct and indirect object pronouns

Indirect object pronouns and direct object pronouns are placed:

  • For the most part, in front of the verb.

Le doy unas llaves (a Betty). I’m giving her some keys (to Betty).

Los tengo en el bolso (los cigarrillos). I have them in my bag (the cigarettes).

  • After the verb: in the affirmative imperative form.

Dale unas flores (a Carolina). Give her some flowers (to Carolina).

Míralos (a ellos). Look at them (Ana and Teo).

  • Before or after the verb: 

In sentences that contain an auxiliary verb and a main verb.

Las voy a dejar en la nevera. Voy a dejarlas en la nevera (las cervezas). I’m going to leave them in the fridge (the beers).

In the construction estar (to be) + a gerund (verb ending in ‑ndo), which expresses actions currently taking place:

Nacho le está dando unas llaves. / Nacho está dándole unas llaves (a Magda). Nacho is giving her some keys (to Magda).

Estoy viéndolo. / Lo estoy viendo (a Nacho).  I’m looking at him (Nacho).

Note: In sentences with several object pronouns, the indirect object pronoun is placed before the direct object pronoun:

Magda te da las maletas. Magda te las da.  Magda is giving you the suitcases Magda is giving them to you.

More on this grammar rule here.

Has this list fulfilled its job of confusing and delighting you at the same time? Improve your Spanish further and try Hotel Borbollón, our online Spanish lessons today!

*Anonymous data collected from our users regarding our Spanish course Hotel Borbollón in 2020.



Related articles:

Leave a Reply