Spanish Language Guide

Colorful buildings with the word Spanish in foreground.

Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world. It is spoken by over 548 million speakers, 474.7 million of which are native speakers. It is the official language of 20 countries — 18 in America, one in Europe and one in Africa — as well as the territory of Puerto Rico. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S., with over 59.6 million speakers. It is often referred to as “Castellano,” because its origins date back to the language of the Castilian Kingdom in medieval Spain. However, the language became known as Spanish around the year 1500.

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Spanish is part of the Indo-European language family. More specifically, of the Romance branch, which includes the languages that evolved from Latin, such as Italian, French, Portuguese, and Catalan.

Spanish has over 93,000 words that showcase the diverse origins of the language — from its Latin roots to the influence of various Indigenous languages, picking up words along the way from other languages like Greek, Arabic, and German. This diversity is also seen in the many dialects of the language, with two main branches: Peninsular (Spain) and Latin American Spanish. Within these branches, dozens of local dialects with distinct pronunciation and vocabulary items reflect the diversity of culture and geography within the Spanish speaking world. Despite the differences, all dialects of Spanish are mutually intelligible.

Spanish is one of the most useful languages to learn due to the wide variety of places where it is spoken. Many Spanish speaking countries have a wide range of activities that appeal to tourists, and individuals living in the United States will find Spanish speakers in nearly every city and town across the country. Furthermore, Spanish also boasts a rich literary tradition as well as a booming movie and television industry, so there is no shortage of content to explore. So if you’re already learning Spanish or thinking about starting, this guide will help orient you as you navigate your journey alongside this beautiful language.

Table of Contents

What is the history of the Spanish language?

The history of Spanish can be roughly divided in the following historical eras.

  • Pre-Roman languages (3rd c. BCE - 2nd c. BCE)
  • Late Latin (2nd c. CE - 8th c. CE)
  • Hispano-Romance (8th c. CE - 15th c. CE)

    ⤷ The group of languages spoken in the Iberian Peninsula predecessors of Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician, and others.

  • Modern Spanish (15th c. CE - present day)

The history of the Spanish language began in 218 BC, when troops from the Roman Empire made their way into what is now northeastern Spain. These troops were speakers of what is known as “Vulgar Latin,” which was the Latin spoken by the common people, as opposed to the Classical or Late Latin used in the church and government. As they made their way through the Iberian Peninsula, they established Latin as the lingua franca, or the common means of communication among the people that spoke the different local languages such as: Iberian, Celtiberian (a Celtic language), Lusitanian, Tartessian, Greek, Phoenician, and Basque (aka Euskara). During the initial period of Roman expansion, Vulgar Latin coexisted with the other languages native to the Iberian Peninsula, but eventually, dialects of Vulgar Latin replaced these languages, with the one notable exception of Euskara, which is still spoken in the Basque region of Spain today.

Nearly 600 years later, Roman power had waned on the Iberian peninsula, which was now populated primarily by individuals of Germanic origin. In 476 the Visigoths, another Germanic group, made their way into what is now France and the Iberian Peninsula. Although they spoke Latin, they also spoke an East Germanic language, which ended up contributing words to modern Spanish, such as “guerra” (war) from “werra” and “ganso” (goose) from “gans.” Although the Visigoths were in control of the Peninsula for three centuries, Latin became the language of their elite, which weakened the use of their Germanic language and reinforced the use of Latin by the common people. 

In 711, a Muslim army made its way from northern Africa into the southern Iberian Peninsula by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Within a decade, they had established control of the majority of the Iberian peninsula, ending Visigoth rule. Generally referred to as Moors, the new Arabic speaking residents of the peninsula established what is known as Al-Andaluz, which refers to the Iberian territory dominated by the Muslims. Here they coexisted with the Latin based Hispano-Romance speakers of the time, giving rise to a language called Mozarabic — a mix of Arabic and the different Romance varieties of the region. Mozarabic became the common language of the people of Al-Andaluz, which resulted in significant influence of Arabic on the languages of the Peninsula. Modern Spanish still uses over 850 words of Arabic origin. One of the most notable characteristics of this influence are the words beginning with “a-” or “al-,” which is the equivalent of “the” in Arabic. In many cases, these words merged with the following noun into single words, which resulted in Spanish words such as: Al kaaddi alcalde (mayor),  Al qutunalgodón (cotton), and Ar ruzzarroz (rice).

“Image by: Alexandre Vigo released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license”

Although the Moors occupied the majority of the Peninsula, the displaced Christian Kingdoms were still in control of the northernmost territories. In 722, they began what is called the “Reconquista,” a campaign to recover the lands they had lost. The beginning of the Reconquista roughly coincided with the appearance of the “Glosas Emilianenses,” or a series of notes written in a Hispano-Romance that can be thought of as the first written record of something resembling modern Spanish. As the Christian armies moved south and established new kingdoms, the Hispano-Romance languages thrived the Peninsula: Galician in the Western regions, Castilian (Kingdom of Castilla), Leones (Kingdom of León) and Aragonese (Kingdom of Aragon) in the central regions, and Catalan in the East. Of particular note, the Castilian language became widespread during this period, and was heavily promoted by the powerful King Alfonso X in the 13th century as the language of culture, law, and politics. His efforts to promote the language resulted in the first efforts to establish a standardized writing system, thus providing the foundations for the Spanish language. Two hundred years later, an alliance of marriage between Isabel of Castilla and Ferdinan of Aragon consolidated the power of the Christian Kingdoms. Granada, the last stronghold of muslim power, was captured in 1492, ending a conflict that had lasted more than five centuries.

This marks a historic year for the Spanish language in more ways than one. Not only did the Catholic King and Queen retake control of the Iberian Peninsula and provide funding for Chistopher Columbus to embark upon his journey to the Americas, but 1492 also marks when the Spanish language began to be fully codified. Elio de Antonio de Nebrija published the grammar of the Castilian language “Arte de la lengua Castellana,” dedicated to Queen Isabel, as well as the second (but most influential) Spanish dictionary “Diccionario latino-español.” Notably, the title of Nebrija’s dictionary used the term “español” (Spanish), not “Castilian,” like his previously written grammar. Furthermore, in his dedication to the Queen, he notes the importance of language in governance, suggesting that his works would prove useful to the Spanish as they sought to expand their empire to non-Spanish speaking peoples. This occurred in short order, as Christopher Columbus and his expedition arrived in the Caribbean that very same year. This event would go on to shape the evolution of Spanish over the next five centuries.

The Spanish first arrived to the island of Hispaniola — what today is considered to be Haiti and the Dominican Republic — where they made contact with the Taino people. Spanish, and later other languages, borrowed many words from the Taino language to describe things native to the Americas, including words like canoa (canoe), huracán (hurricane), iguana (iguana), and maíz (maize). As the process of colonization continued, the Spaniards gained control over the political capitals of the Aztec (speakers of Nahuatl)  and Incan empires (speakers of Quechua) — where they established the capitals of the Spanish Viceroyalties in the Americas in modern day Mexico City and Lima. As the Spanish encountered the local people, who spoke many different Indigenous languages, they learned new words to describe new concepts — mainly plants and animals — native to the Americas. These words were also integrated into Spanish as borrowings, but they were typically adapted to make them easier for Spanish speakers to pronounce. For instance, the Nahuatl word xitomatl (pronounced “shitomatl”) was adapted to fit the Spanish sounds as jitomate (tomato).

Over the next 500 years, Spanish existed together with many Indigenous languages, both during the colonial period, and in the new nations that formed as the colonies won their independence from Spain. To this day, hundreds of Indigenous languages are still spoken throughout Spanish speaking Latin America, with most of their speakers being at least partially bilingual with Spanish. Through this contact, the American languages continued to influence the local varieties of Spanish. Notably, Nahuatl and Quechua, two of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages, lent hundreds of “americanisms” of Indigenous origin in the standard varieties of Spanish, many of which were adopted by other languages as well.
  • From Nahuatl: aguacate avocado, cacahuate peanut, chocolate chocolate, jitomate tomato, chicle chewing gum, coyote coyote
  • From Quechua: alpaca alpaca, cancha (originally “open space,” currently “tennis court”), papa potato, coca coca leaf, puma puma
  • From Guaraní: jaguar jaguar, tapioca tapioca, tiburón shark, zarigüeya possum
  • From Mayan: cenote sinkhole, cigarro cigar

Which alphabet does Spanish use?

Spanish uses the Latin script. The Spanish alphabet has 27 letters, 26 of which it shares with English, plus the unique character “ñ”. All letters have an uppercase and a lowercase form.

  • Although they are not part of the alphabet, Spanish also uses three digraphs, or combinations of two letters to create a new sound.
    • ch – same as English “ch”

Example: chico boy

    • ll – as in the “y” in yellow

Example: llave key

    • rr – rolled “r”
Example: carro car
  • Spanish also uses diacritics (aka accents) on vowels to mark the prominent sound in the word if it breaks the normal stress pattern of words. Spanish uses only the acute accent (´): á, é, í, ó, ú.











  • Spanish uses the umlaut (¨) on top of the letter “u” to mark a non-silent “u” in the syllables “gue” and “gui.”

What are the basic rules of Spanish Grammar?

The basic rules of Spanish grammar are related to the gender of nouns, adjectives, and noun-adjacent words, in addition to how verbs are conjugated and how sentences are formed. Here are eight basic rules of Spanish grammar. 

  • All nouns have a grammatical gender. In Spanish there are two genders: masculine (el libro, the book) and feminine (la casa, the house). The gender of nouns can be identified by the noun’s ending or the gender of the article.
    • The noun’s ending can indicate its gender (most of the time, but there are exceptions)
      • Nouns ending in –o are masculine

libro book, castillo castle

      • Nouns ending in –a are feminine
casa house, planta plant
      • For nouns ending in a different vowel or a consonant,  you cannot determine its gender by ending.

el cine (masc.) cinema

la noche (fem.) night

el avión (masc.) airplane

la canción (fem.) song
  • Verbs have a different ending depending on the subject of the sentence. For example, “I eat” is yo como, but “we eat” is nosotros comemos; these are called conjugations.
  • Subject pronouns (yo, I; tú, you; él, he; ella, she; nosotros, nosotras, we; etc. ) are usually omitted.
Corrimos el maratón de 5 kilómetros.
We ran the 5k marathon.
Estudié toda la noche.
I studied all night.
  • To make a sentence negative, simply place the word “no” in front of the verb. There’s no need for helping words like “do” or “does.”
    No tenemos tarea hoy.
    We don’t have homework today.
  • Spanish has two verbs that mean “to be”: ser and estar. They are not interchangeable!
    1. User ser for time, identifying people or things, events, describing permanent qualities.
  • Spanish has two verbs that mean “to be”: ser and estar. They are not interchangeable!
    1. User ser for time, identifying people or things, events, describing permanent qualities.
Son las cinco.
It is five o’clock.
Yo soy Paco.
I am Paco.
Esto es un teléfono inteligente.
This is a smart phone.
El concierto es en el auditorio.
The concert is in the auditorium.
Juan Carlos es un gruñón.

Juan Carlos is a grump.

    1. User estar for location and describing temporary qualities.
Estoy en la oficina
I am in the office.
Estamos muy cansados.
We are very tired
  • Spanish has subjectverbobject word order, similar to English.
El niño pateó la pelota.
The boy kicked the ball.

… but unlike English, Spanish is much more flexible!

Mi jefe llamó muy enojado.
Llamó mi jefe muy enojado.
Muy enojado llamó mi jefe.
My boss called very angry.

What are the Spanish pronouns?

The Spanish subject pronouns are the following.



tú, vos

you (familiar)


you (formal)





nosotros, nosotras


vosotros, vosotras

you – plural (only used in Spain)


you – plural

ellos, ellas


Spanish has different types of pronouns just like English. Pronouns are substituted for nouns, often to avoid unnecessary repetition, or refer to unknown people or things. Depending on the function of the noun in a sentence, a different type of pronoun is used. Spanish has the following types of pronouns:

  • Subject pronouns – replace a noun in the subject position
María estudia mucho.

Ella estudia mucho.
Mary studies a lot.

She studies a lot.
  • Object pronouns – replace a noun in either the direct object position or indirect object position.

Isela compra flores. 

Isela buys flowers.

Isela las compra.

Isela buys them.
    • Indirect object pronouns: me, te, le, nos, os, les (to me, to you, to him, to her, to us, to them)

Isela le compra flores.

Isela buys flowers for her/him.
  • Reflexive pronouns – refer to both the subject and the object.
    Nosotros nos despertamos tarde los domingos.
    ⤷ we ⤶
    We wake up late on Sundays.
Esa es tuya y esta es mía.
That one is yours and this one is mine.

Estos no son mis zapatos.
These are not my shoes

  • Relative pronouns – replace a noun when linking two sentences that share a common noun.

1) Me gustó la película
I liked the movie.


2) (tú) Me recomendaste la película. You recommended me the movie. 
Me gustó mucho la película que me recomendaste.
I really liked the movie that you recommended.

Alguien tocó la puerta.
Someone knocked on the door.

¿Quién habrá sido?
Who could it be?

What are the verb tenses in Spanish?

Spanish verbs are divided in three simple tenses: past, present, and future.

  • Past tense
    There are two main past tenses in Spanish:
    • The preterite – is used for completed events and actions in the past.
Ayer dormí diez horas seguidas.
Yesterday I slept ten hours straight.
    • The imperfect – is used for description, habitual or ongoing actions in the past.

Mientras dormía mi hermano veía la televisión.
While I was sleeping my brother was watching tv.

Mi perro duerme mientras yo cocino.
My dog sleeps while I cook.
Tendré vacaciones en cuanto tenga dinero.
I will go on vacation as soon as I have money.
Verbs in Spanish take a different ending depending on “who/what” is doing the action (aka the subject), the tense (past, present, future), and mood (see below) of the verb. For example, the verb “to sing” is cantar and its conjugations in the present tense are:
yo canto I sing nosotros cantamos we sing
tú cantas you sing
usted canta you-formal sing
vosotros cantais (Spain) you (all) sing
ustedes cantan (Latin America)
él/ ella canta he/she singsellos/ ellas cantan they sing

Spanish also has compound tenses. They are formed with the auxiliary haber (to have) plus a past participle:

Hoy hemos comido demasiado.
Today we have eaten too much.
Habíamos ido a la tienda antes de que llegaras.
We had gone to the store before you arrived.

Habremos cenado antes de salir.
We will have eaten before leaving.

Spanish has four moods. Each of these moods also have different tenses.

  • Indicative

Santiago es la capital de Chile.

Santiago is the capital of Chile.

Rocio trajo arroz con leche.

Rocio brought rice pudding.

¿Adónde ibas?

Where were you going?

The indicative has the following tenses: n b 

(haber + past participle)
  • Present
  • Preterite
  • Imperfect
  • Future
  • Present perfect (haber in the present)
  • Past perfect (haber in the imperfect)
  • Future perfect (haber in the future)
  • Subjunctive
    The subjunctive is very common in Spanish. It is used to express wishes, desires, doubts, and possibilities.

It is usually found in the second part of a sentence after the word “que”:

Quiero que vayas a la tienda.
I want you to go to the store.

No creo que sepan la respuesta.
I don’t think they know the answer.

After the word si (if) in hypothetical sentences that express unreal situations:

Si tuviéramos un millón de dólares, viajaríamos por todo el mundo.
If we had a million dollars, we would travel the world.

Or after the wish expression “ojalá”:

Ojalá estuviera de vacaciones.

I wish I were on vacation.

The subjunctive has four tenses:present, imperfect, present perfect, and past perfect.


e.g. (yo) llegue       

that I arrive


e.g.(yo) llegara or llegase  

that I arrived

    • Present perfect (haber in the present subjunctive)
      e.g. (yo) haya llegado                            that I have arrived
    • Past perfect or pluperfect (haber in the imperfect subjunctive)
      e.g.  (yo) hubiera or hubiese llegado   that I had arrived
  • Conditional
    The conditional is used for conditions in hypothetical sentences or to express wishes or desires.
    Nos gustaría tener una casa en la playa.
    We would like to have a beach house.

The conditional has two tenses: present conditional (e.g. compraría I would buy)
and past conditional (e.g. habría comprado I would have bought).

  • Imperative
    The imperative is used for commands, suggestions, and advice; it is only used in the present tense:

Pásame la sal.

Pass me the salt.

No hables tan fuerte.

Don’t speak so loud.

What are the most common words in the Spanish Language?

The most common words in Spanish are de (of, from), la (the – feminine, singular), que (that), el (the – masculine, singular), en (in, at).

What are some of the most common verbs in Spanish?

The five most common verbs in Spanish are ser (to be), haber (to have), estar (to be), poder (to be able to), and tener (to have).

Verbs in Spanish can be regular (they follow a regular pattern) or irregular (they have irregularities in the stem of the verb or/and ending). The following verbs are the most commonly used in Spanish.

Infinitive endingRegularIrregular
-arpasarto passestarto be
llevarto takedarto give
quedarto remain/be leftcomenzarto begin
hablarto speakjugarto play
dejarto leavecontarto count
llamarto callpensarto think
-erdebermust/ to oweserto be
comerto eathaberto have
correrto runpoderto be able
beberto drinkhacerto do
venderto selltenerto have
aprenderto learnverto see
-irvivirto livedecirto say
escribirto writeirto go
recibirto receivepedirto ask for
abrirto openvenirto come
subirto go upsentirto feel
descubrirto discoverdormirto sleep

What are some of the most common adjectives in Spanish?

The most common adjectives in Spanish are descriptive adjectives — words like good, bad, big, small, blue, red. In Spanish, adjectives are mostly placed after the noun. Adjectives in Spanish match the gender (feminine or masculine) and number (singular or plural) of the noun they modify.
For example:
la casa roja the red door
los zapatos caros the expensive shoes

The most common descriptive adjectives are:

⤷TIP If the adjective ends in -o then it has a feminine equivalent ending in -a, but if the adjective ends in  -e or a consonant, then the same word is used for both masculine and feminine.

Spanish also has other types of adjectives such as possessive adjectives (mi, my; tu, your; su, his/her; nuestro, our; vuestro, your) and demonstrative adjectives (este, this; ese, that; aquel, that over there). They are always placed before the noun.

Nuestras amigas son de Barcelona.    Our (female) friends are from Barcelona.

Este teléfono no es mío.                        This phone isn’t mine.

What are some of the most common adverbs in Spanish?

Adverbs describe verbs or modify adjectives or other adverbs such as “well” or “quickly.”
In Spanish, adverbs that describe how something is done have the ending “-mente” equivalent to English “-ly.”

Example: lentamente     slowly

But, there are also other adverbs that refer to time, place, or quantity.

The most common adverbs in Spanish are:

  • Adverbs of place:
    • aquí here
    • allí/ ahí there
    • allá         over there
    • cerca near
    • lejos far
    • dentro inside
    • fuera outside
    • arriba above
    • abajo below
  • Adverbs of time:
    • ahora now
    • luego later
    • antes before
    • después after
    • entonces then
    • pronto soon
  • Adverbs of manner:
    • bien well
    • mal wrong
    • rápido fast
    • despacio slowly
  • Adverbs of quantity:
    • muy very
    • más more
    • menos less
    • poco a little
    • mucho a lot
    • suficiente enough
    • bastante quite
    • demasiado too much

⤷TIP If an adverb describes a verb, place the adverb after the verb:
Ayer comimos mucho. Yesterday we ate a lot.
If the adverb modifies an adjective or another adverb place the modifying adverb in front:
La bolsa de piel es bastante cara. The leather bag is quite expensive.
El caracol camina muy lentamente. The snail walks very slowly.

What are the numbers in Spanish?

Here are the numbers from 0 to 19 in Spanish, as well as the multiples of ten and one hundred.


What are the words for family members in Spanish?

Family members in Spanish are referred to based on the gender of the person, similar to most English terms for family members.

madre, mamámother, mompadre, papáfather, dad
esposawifeesposo, maridohusband
Unlike English, Spanish uses the masculine plural term for collective family members, for example: parents → padres, siblings → hermanos (both males and females or all males), tíos (aunts and uncles or all uncles), and so on. The term for “relatives” is parientes.

What words can you use to talk about time in Spanish?

Some common words to talk about time in Spanish are horas (hours), minutos (minutes), and segundos (seconds).

Time of day words in Spanish:
  • la mañana morning
  • la tarde afternoon/evening
  • la noche night
  • el mediodía noon
  • la medianoche midnight
  • la madrugada early morning/dawn
Spanish words for time of the week:
  • hoy today
  • ayer yesterday
  • antier day before yesterday
  • mañana tomorrow
  • pasado mañana day after tomorrow
  • día day
  • semana week
  • día de la semana week day
  • el fin de semana the weekend

Days of the week in Spanish


⤷TIP Days of the week in Spanish are not capitalized

Months in Spanish


⤷TIP Months in Spanish are not capitalized

Seasons in Spanish

la primavera springel otoño fall
el verano summerel invierno winter

What do you need to know about Spanish Literature?

Spanish boasts a particularly rich literary tradition that spans nine centuries, three continents, and a wide variety of literary styles. Familiarizing yourself with these works can help you learn a lot about the Spanish language and culture. Starting at the beginning, the medieval El cantar del mio Cid is widely regarded as one of the earliest Spanish texts, preserved in codices written in the Castilian Hispano-Romance some time during the 12th century. This epic poem lauds the exploits of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, a warlord made famous by his role in the “Reconquista” of the Iberian Peninsula.

Later, during the Golden Age of Spanish literature, Baroque authors such as Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz produced some of the most famous literary works of all time. Of particular note, Cervantes’ Don Quixote is sometimes referred to as the first modern novel, and is widely considered to be one of the most important books of all time. Lope de Vega was an extremely prolific poet and playwright, composing more than a thousand plays during his lifetime, with over 400 being preserved in libraries today. In the Americas, Sor Juan Inés de la Cruz was by far the most influential author of her time. A child prodigy who was unable to receive an education due to the fact she was a woman, Sor Juana became a nun in order to pursue a life of study and writing. She is perhaps most famous for her poetry, and is regarded by some to be one of the earliest feminists, with poems like Hombres Necios that explicitly called out the hypocrisy of men in their treatment of women.

Later, as the American colonies began to win their independence, the Baroque aesthetic gave way to the enlightenment and later the famous romantic Spanish authors during the 19th century. The majority of the romantics were peninsular authors, and the themes of their work embraced the emotional connection of humans with the natural world. Authors in this category include Spanish author Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, and the Galician poet Rosalia de Castro. Social criticism through satire was also common during this period, such as Jose de Larra’s famous Venga usted mañana, a short story that criticized what the author perceived as a tendency for laziness and procrastination in Spanish society at the time.

The end of the 19th century and beyond developed an increasingly rich literary tradition in the Americas, with Latin American authors rising to prominence as some of the most well known and regarded Spanish language authors. Rubén Darío and José Matí, from Nicaragua and Cuba respectively, are particularly notable poets and essayists that emerged from the Latin American Modernism movement, and were some of the earliest Latin American authors to earn a level of international fame. Rubén Darío is perhaps best known for his high aesthetic poetry such as Azul, whereas Martí was prone to intense social criticism and was instrumental in Cuba winning its independence from Spain. Later, the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges rose to prominence, who was particularly famous for his philosophical short stories, like those found in his collection Ficciones. During the 1960s, the “Latin American Boom” was a period in which many Latin American authors rose to fame, among them Mario Vargas Llosa, author of La ciudad y los perros and Julio Cortázar, author of Rayuela. Perhaps the most famous “boom” author is Gabriel García Márquez, whose novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” solidified the genre of magical realism in the international community. Moving towards the current time, there are a wide variety of Spanish language authors of note, with many works focused on political and social criticisms, as well as testimonials from underrepresented groups, like Rigoberta Manchú’s account of her experience as an Indigenous woman in Guatemala, “I, Rigoberta Manchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala.”

What are some of the most famous books written in Spanish?

The following are the most famous books written in Spanish.

  • Don Quixote – El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (1605, 1615) by Miguel de Cervantes
    The story of a low nobel who fancies himself a knight, this masterpiece of satire examines and criticizes European art and society and is widely considered to be one of the greatest novels of all time.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude – Cien Años de Soledad  (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez
    This text tells the story of three generations of the Buendía family in rural Colombia in the style of magical realism, a genre made famous by this book.
  • The House of the Spirits – La casa de los espíritus (1982) by Isabel Allende
    Inspired by the tradition of Cien Años de Soledad, this story uses magical realism to tell the story of the political and social upheaval in post colonial Chile through the Trueba family.
  • Like Water for Chocolate – Como agua para chocolate (1989) by Laura Esquivel
    Another text that uses magical realism to bring Latin American history alive, this book tells the story of the Mexican revolution through Tita, the youngest of three sisters who expresses her emotions through her cooking, which has magical effects on those who eat it.
  • Hopscotch – Rayuela (1963) by Julio Cortázar
    This experimental novel includes 155 characters, describing the bohemian lifestyle led by South American artists, writers, and other interesting individuals both abroad in Europe and in Argentina. 
  • The Aleph – El Aleph (1945)  by Jorge Luís Borges
    This famous short story engages in a discussion of metaphysics centered around an Aleph, which is a point in space that includes all other points in space.

What are some of the most famous Spanish poems?

The following are the most famous Spanish poems.

  • Poem 20 – Poema XX (1924) by Pablo Neruda
    This famous poem appears in Neruda’s famous collection “20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” telling the story of lost love and the poetry it inspires
  • Portrait – Retrato (1906) by Antonio Machado
    This poem is a self portrait that describes the poet as he sees himself throughout his life: his childhood in Andalusia, his relationship with women and beauty, and his poetry and identity as a poet.
  • Simple Verses – Versos Sencillos (1891) by José Martí
    This collection by the Cuban poet is most famous for the poem “Yo soy un hombre sincero” (I’m an honest man), a patriotic poem about the Cuban people that was adapted into the folk song “Guantanamera.”
  • A philosophical Satire – Las Redondillas (1689) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
    One of the first feminists, Sor Juana’s Redondillas point out how many societal ills are caused by men, perhaps best highlighted in her poem Hombres Necios (You foolish men).
  • The Song of my Lord – El cantar de mio cid (written around the year 1140) anonymous author
    The oldest preserved Spanish (Castilian) poem, this epic tells the story of the exploits of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, legendary general in the wars of the Reconquest during the 11th century.

What are some myths and legends in Spanish-speaking countries?

The most famous myths and legends in the Spanish-speaking countries often convey themes related to supernatural beings, often scary or wicked, who appear to individuals in order to give them a life lesson. The following myths are not suited for children. 

  • La llorona – The Weeping Woman (Mexico and Central America)
    This legend of uncertain origin has many versions. It tells the tale of a woman who drowned her children, and comes out at night to look for them, regretfully weeping “¡Ay mis hijos!” (Oh my children!)
  • Los amantes de Teruel – The Lovers of Teruel (Spain)
    This is the story of forbidden love between Isabel, the daughter of a wealthy man, and Juan Diego de Marcilla, whose family fell on hard times and became poor. In order to win her hand in marriage, Juan Diego went to make his fortune as a soldier in the war of Reconquest. After five years, he returned with a massive fortune to find Isabel, who had been married by her father to another man that very day. That night Juan Diego snuck into their room to ask her for a kiss. When refused, he died. Later, at his funeral, Isabel kissed Juan Diego’s body and fell dead across him. This legend is loosely based on a true story, and the tomb of the lovers is now a tourist attraction at the church of San Pedro in Teruel.
  • La Ciguapa (Dominican Republic)
    The ciguapas are magical nocturnal beings that are said to bring death to those who see them. They are female, with long dark hair and backwards facing feet and are said to lure men to follow them into the mountains and forests, hypnotizing them with chirping noises. They appear beautiful to some, but are repulsive to others, nonetheless one should not look into their eyes to avoid being bewitched.  
  • El sombrerón – A man with a big hat (Guatemala)
    This short man with a big hat is said to come out at night with four mules and a guitar on his back looking to seduce young women with long hair and big eyes. It is said that he roams the streets at night, and when he finds a girl that he likes, he braids her hair, serenades her, and puts soil on her plates or in her food. It is said that the only way to break his spell is by cutting one’s hair. Those who fall under his spell eventually die if not cured. This legend encourages young girls to follow cultural norms.
  • La Cegua (Central America)
    Is a mythical character who looks like a beautiful woman from behind, but has the face of a horse or sometimes a skull. She often is found bathing, or waiting at night by the side of a solitary road, and can take the appearance of a lover or mother when seen from afar. However, when her victim approaches, she turns into a monster with a decaying horse face, and her victims are said to die from fright. La Cegua is considered to be a warning to unfaithful men and drunkards.  

Where is Spanish spoken today?

Spanish is spoken in twenty countries (18 in Latin America, as well as in Spain and Equatorial Guinea) as an official language. Unofficially, Spanish is also spoken in the United States (about 53 million speakers), Morocco (7 million speakers), Brazil (6.7 million), and many other countries around the world.

How much of the world’s population speak Spanish?

About eight percent of the world’s population speaks Spanish — approximately 572 million speakers, 477 million of whom are native speakers. It is the fourth most spoken language in the world after English, Mandarin, and Hindi, and it is the second most spoken language in the United States after English.

What are the Spanish-speaking countries?

Spanish is the official language (or one of the official languages) in 20 countries and in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The countries are ranked based on the number of speakers from largest to smallest.

  • Mexico
  • Colombia
  • Argentina
  • Spain
  • Venezuela
  • Peru
  • Chile
  • Ecuador
  • Cuba
  • Guatemala
  • Bolivia
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Paraguay
  • Costa Rica
  • Puerto Rico
  • Uruguay
  • Panama
  • Equatorial Guinea

What are the different Spanish varieties around the world?

Spanish has many varieties that can be grouped based on geographical area and linguistic similarity. The two main branches and sub-branches of Spanish are:

  • Latinamerican Spanish
    • Caribbean dialects (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, coastal Venezuela)
    • Mexican and Central American dialects (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras)
    • Andean dialects (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia)
    • Southern cone dialects (Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile)
    • Varieties spoken in the United States: Mexican American (southwestern states), Cuban American (Florida), Puerto Rican and Dominican (New York)
  • Peninsular Spanish
    • North-Central dialect (central and northern Spain)
    • Andalusian dialect (southern Spain)
    • Canary Island dialect

It’s important to note that there is wide variation within these sub branches, as well as dozens of contact varieties with other languages. For instance, in Paraguay many people speak a mix of Guaraní and Spanish called Jopará.

While vocabulary and accents can vary considerably, the grammar of Spanish is mostly the same across dialects, making them mutually intelligible. Nevertheless, there are some notable grammatical differences. Here is a brief summary overview. 

  • Vosotros vs. ustedes
    The biggest difference you will find between Peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish is the different pronouns and verb conjugations for second person plural (you). As in “You (all) went to the concert.”

In this situation, Latin American varieties use the pronoun “ustedes” with the same verb conjugations used for “ellos/ellas (they). In Spain, most dialects use the pronoun “vosotros/as” as well as conjugations specific to this form:

Ustedes fueron al concierto.
Vosotros fuisteis al concierto.
You (all) went to the concert.
Ustedes lavan y nosotros secamos.
Vosotros lavais y nosotros secamos.
You (all) wash and we dry.
  • vs. vos
    Another pronoun with notable regional differences is “you” singular informal. “” is used in Spain, Mexico, the Andean, and Caribbean varieties, whereas “vos” is used in Central America, parts of Colombia and Venezuela, and in the Southern Cone.
    and vos share the same verb conjugations except in the present tense (indicative and subjunctive) and the imperative. Let’s compare:
hablas mucho.
Vos hablás mucho.
You talk too much.
Ven acá.
Ve acá.
Come here.
  • Omission of subject pronouns Most varieties of Spanish omit the subject pronouns, however the Caribbean varieties tend to use them more often than other varieties.