5 things you need to understand about Spanish Grammar

Learning a new language, especially Spanish, is always a good idea - just look at the advantages it entails. However, some of you may know how much of an headache it can be. Grammar, right? Not easy most of the time, and although Spanish is not considered to be a very difficult language to learn, it definitely has its own particularities. So, here are 5 key things you need to understand about Spanish grammar.


1- The difference between “por” and “para”.

Given that each term can be translated as “for”, this is one of the most common mistakes among students who are learning Spanish grammar. Nonetheless, it is actually pretty easy to understand the difference between the two. In short, you use “por” to explain the cause/reason of something and “para” to refer to the purpose of something.

Examples: La mujer murió por falta de comida. (The woman died for (because of) lack of food.)

El vaso es para agua. (The glass is for water.)

Still confused? Check our Maider’s lesson about por and para:

 2- The Subjunctive

There are exactly three verb moods in Spanish grammar and the subjunctive is one of them. It is rarely used in the English language, which explains why it can be so hard for English speakers to grasp it. Use the subjunctive mood to express desires, doubts and possibilities (that is, uncertainty and subjectivity). The Indicative is used to express certainty instead. Read more about conjugating the Subjunctive.

Example: Yo dudo que usted vaya a Portugal en diciembre. (I doubt that you are going to Portugal in December.)

3- The difference between “ser” and “estar”

This can be a tricky one for Eglish speakers! Although “ser” and “estar” can both be translated as “to be”, there is a huge difference between the two verbs. “Ser” refers to permanent attributes and “estar” to temporary ones.

Take the sentence “Alberto is gorgeous”, for example. It can be translated as “Alberto es lindo” and “Alberto está lindo”. “Alberto es lindo” means that he is gorgeous (always, not only in one occasion). On the other hand, “Alberto está lindo” implies that he looks gorgeous right now.

4- The difference between “pretérito indefinido” and “pretérito imperfecto”.

There are several past tenses in spanish grammar, but the ones learners misuse the most are “preterito perfecto/indefinido” and “preterito imperfecto”.  

Pretérito Perfecto is used to:

  • express completed actions, e.g.:  Yo terminé de estudiar ayer. (I finished studying yesterday.)
  • sequentially occurring actions, e.g: Yo hice ejercicio mientras ella estuvo fuera. (I did exercise while she was out.)
  • a new action in the past that interrupts an already occurring action, e.g.: Mientras yo dormía, soñé con la playa. (While I was sleeping, I dreamt about the beach.)

Pretérito Imperfecto is used to:

  • express repeated actions, e.g.: Yo estudiaba todos los días. (I studied every day)
  • simultaneously occurring actions and ongoing actions (in the past), e.g: Mientras caminábamos, vimos Sara. (While we walked, we saw Sara.)

Now compare how a sentence can change completely depending on which tense you use:

Pretérito Imperfecto -  “Nosotros corríamos todos los días.” (We used to run everyday.)

Pretérito Indefinido -  “Nosotros corrimos todos los días.” (We ran everyday.)

5- Every word has a gender!

Generally, there is no distinction between masculine and feminine in English grammar. However, that is not the case when it comes to Spanish grammar. Here, all nouns are either masculine or feminine.

For instance, “el gato” and “la gata” can both be translated as simply “the cat”, but if you want to be specific, the translation should be “the male cat” and “the female cat”, respectively. If you look at the beginning of each sentence, you will notice the definite articles “el”, which is masculine, and “la”, which is feminine, and both mean “the”. The ending of a noun or adjective also varies (again, el gato and la gata).

Nouns that end in -o are usually masculine and those that end in -a are usually feminine, but there are exceptions. For example, you would probably say that “aroma” is feminine and “disco” is masculine, but in fact it is the other way around. “Aroma” goes with the definite article “el”, which stands for masculine, and “disco” goes with “la”, which is feminine. You can learn more tips to figure out the Spanish gender here.

These are the 5 main things to keep in mind if you decide to take on the challenge of learning la gramática española (the spanish grammar). It is not the hardest thing in the world!  As a matter of fact, it can be the easiest if you put your mind to it.

While there are some crucial differences between English and Spanish, if you pay close attention to those differences and actually manage to really understand them, Spanish grammar is going to be a piece of cake. And of course, you can always count on our teachers and tutors to help. ¡Buena suerte!

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