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.
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.
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.
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 qutun → algodón (cotton), and Ar ruzz → arroz (rice).
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).
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”
- 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
- For nouns ending in a different vowel or a consonant, you cannot determine its gender by ending.
el cine (masc.) cinema
el avión (masc.) airplane
- Most words that accompany nouns (articles and adjectives) have to match the gender and number of the noun. For example, la casa roja, the red door; estos libros pesados, these heavy books.
- Descriptive adjectives are usually placed after the noun.
Llevaba un vestido largo y azul.
She was wearing a long blue dress.
- 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.
- 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.
Juan Carlos is a grump.
- User estar for location and describing temporary qualities.
- Spanish has subject – verb – object word order, similar to English.
… but unlike English, Spanish is much more flexible!
Llamó mi jefe muy enojado.
Muy enojado llamó mi jefe.
What are the Spanish pronouns?
The Spanish subject pronouns are the following.
you – plural (only used in Spain)
you – plural
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
Ella estudia mucho.
She studies a lot.
- Object pronouns – replace a noun in either the direct object position or indirect object position.
- Direct object pronouns: me, te, lo, la, nos, os, los, las (me, you, him, her, us, them)
Isela compra flores.
Isela buys flowers.
Isela las compra.
- 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.
- Reflexive pronouns – refer to both the subject and the object.
Nosotros nos despertamos tarde los domingos.
⤷ we ⤶
We wake up late on Sundays.
- Possessive pronouns – are used instead of a noun that shows possession or ownership
That one is yours and this one is mine.
- Demonstrative pronouns – are used for identifying objects, people, or ideas in space and time.
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.
I really liked the movie that you recommended.
- Indefinite pronouns – refer to unspecified people, places, or things.
Alguien tocó la puerta.
Someone knocked on the door.
- Interrogative pronouns– are used for asking questions.
¿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.
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.
My dog sleeps while I cook.
I will go on vacation as soon as I have money.
|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 sings||ellos/ ellas cantan they sing|
Spanish also has compound tenses. They are formed with the auxiliary haber (to have) plus a past participle:
- Present perfect (haber in the present tense)
Today we have eaten too much.
- Past perfect (haber in the imperfect tense)
We had gone to the store before you arrived.
- Future perfect (haber in the future tense)
Habremos cenado antes de salir.
We will have eaten before leaving.
Spanish has four moods. Each of these moods also have different tenses.
Santiago es la capital de Chile.
Rocio trajo arroz con leche.
Rocio brought rice pudding.
Where were you going?
The indicative has the following tenses: n b
(haber + past participle)
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.
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
- Present perfect (haber in the present subjunctive)
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).
The imperative is used for commands, suggestions, and advice; it is only used in the present tense:
Pásame la sal.
No hables tan fuerte.
What are the most common words in the Spanish Language?
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.
|-ar||pasar||to pass||estar||to be|
|llevar||to take||dar||to give|
|quedar||to remain/be left||comenzar||to begin|
|hablar||to speak||jugar||to play|
|dejar||to leave||contar||to count|
|llamar||to call||pensar||to think|
|-er||deber||must/ to owe||ser||to be|
|comer||to eat||haber||to have|
|correr||to run||poder||to be able|
|beber||to drink||hacer||to do|
|vender||to sell||tener||to have|
|aprender||to learn||ver||to see|
|-ir||vivir||to live||decir||to say|
|escribir||to write||ir||to go|
|recibir||to receive||pedir||to ask for|
|abrir||to open||venir||to come|
|subir||to go up||sentir||to feel|
|descubrir||to discover||dormir||to 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.
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, mamá||mother, mom||padre, papá||father, dad|
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).
- la mañana morning
- la tarde afternoon/evening
- la noche night
- el mediodía noon
- la medianoche midnight
- la madrugada early morning/dawn
- 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 spring||el otoño fall|
|el verano summer||el 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.
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Costa Rica
- Puerto Rico
- 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:
- Tú vs. vos
Another pronoun with notable regional differences is “you” singular informal. “Tú” 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.
Tú and vos share the same verb conjugations except in the present tense (indicative and subjunctive) and the imperative. Let’s compare:
- 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.
- Object pronouns Object pronouns show lots of variation in the Spanish speaking world. A notable dialectal difference is the non-standard use of the direct object pronouns lo (him/it) and la (her/ it), often replaced by the gender neutral pronoun le. For example:
- Present perfect vs. preterite
The preterite tense is used to talk about complete actions in the past, however, in Spain this tense can be replaced by the present perfect when referring to the near past. For example:
In terms of different Spanish accents, or how people sound, there are many notable differences between the dialects, oftentimes to the extent that the origin of the speaker can be easily determined by a trained ear.
- The most noticeable difference between Peninsular Spanish and Latinamerican Spanish is the use of the “th” sound (as in “throw”) in Spain for the sequences “za, zo, zu” and “ce, ci”. In Latin America these sequences would be pronounced with an “s” sound (as in “silent”).
| Spain Latin America|
zapato (shoe) → “thapato” “sapato”
cielo (sky) → “thielo” “sielo”
- In the Southern Cone varieties, the “y” or “ll” before a vowel is pronounced like the “sh” in “show” or the “s” in “vision,” whereas in the rest of the regions it is pronounced as the “y” in “yellow.”
| Southern Cone Other varieties|
llamo (I call) → “shamo” “yamo”
cielo (sky) → “sho” “yo”
- A common distinction between Spanish dialects is the pronunciation versus the omission/aspiration of “s” at the end of words or syllables. The s-less dialects are common in the Caribbean, parts of central America and Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and the Andalusian varieties in Southern Spain. For example,
| s varieties s-less varieties|
hasta las dos omitted→ a_ta la_ do_
until two aspirated→ ahta lah doh
What are the benefits of learning Spanish?
Learning Spanish has many benefits — it makes travel easier and more rewarding, it opens the door to world famous movies, music, books, and TV shows, and helps you do business in more than 20 countries. As the largest minority language in the USA, many English speakers seek to learn Spanish to better communicate with a growing segment of the population for both business and recreation. As an added bonus, learning a new language can have many cognitive benefits such as delaying cognitive decay such as Alhzeimer’s Disease or even improving memory function! Find out more of the benefits of learning Spanish below.
Is Spanish important for business?
Spanish is very important for business both in Europe and throughout the Americas — including in the US! In the United States, 18 percent of the workforce is Hispanic, and it is one of the fastest growing population groups, currently with 53 million speakers. By 2030, the US Labor Bureau projects that this number will rise to 20 percent, meaning that one in five workers will be of Hispanic origin. Worldwide, Spanish speakers are one of the fastest growing linguistic groups, increasing by over 70 percent over the last thirty years to represent 7.5 percent of the world population. Therefore, knowing Spanish will help businesses reach a growing customer base, no matter where you live.
Is Spanish important for travel?
Yes, Spanish is very important for travel. Spanish is the official language of over 20 countries, many of which are popular destinations for both business travel and tourism. Latin America boasts incredible cultural diversity, with influences from dozens of Indigenous American, European, and African cultures. It also spans a wide range of geographies, with everything from tropical beaches and jungle to high alpine zones with towering mountain ranges. Travelers visit Latin America for a wide variety of reasons, and there is literally something here for everyone: colonial cities brimming with museums and churches, a rich culinary tradition that includes everything from street food and market stalls to Michelin starred restaurants, and endless opportunity for outdoor adventures like Scuba diving, river rafting, and mountain climbing.
Likewise, Spain offers a rich cultural heritage that reflects the history of the Iberian peninsula, and offers world famous restaurants, museums, and architecture. Spain is also an outdoor mecca for trekkers wanting to follow the famous Camino de Santiago, or climb some of the most difficult rock climbing routes in the world!
But do you really need to know Spanish to travel in the Spanish speaking world? It’s true that in heavily trafficked tourist areas, there will be some people that speak English. However, once off the beaten track, it may be hard to communicate without at least some survival Spanish. Knowing how to ask for and understand directions, order food, and converse with the locals will make for a smoother experience, and may even lead to finding some hidden gems that most tourists miss! In general, the better you are at the local language, the more rewarding your experience will be. Even if you are a beginner, don’t worry, most Spanish speakers will appreciate any effort you make to communicate, so don’t hesitate, and do your best!
What are the most similar languages to Spanish?
The most similar languages to Spanish are those languages that also derived from Latin, aka the Romance languages. However, due to the expansion and evolution of Latin across the European territories, the Romance languages evolved differently and were also influenced by other languages in the different regions. Because of this, Spanish is most similar to Portuguese, Catalán, and Italian, and less similar to French and Romanian (heavy Slavic influence).
The following list shows the percentage of shared vocabulary between Spanish and the most spoken Romance languages:
- Portuguese – 89%
- Catalan – 85%
- Italian – 82%
- French – 75%
- Romanian – 71%
What are the differences between Portuguese and Spanish?
Portuguese and Spanish are both part of the Romance languages and, furthermore, belong to the Ibero-Romance branch. This means that they are closer to each other, compared to the other Romance languages. They have similar histories and share 89 percent of their vocabulary. Spanish is known to be fairly easy to understand by Portuguese speakers. Here are the main differences:
- Future subjunctive tense Spanish once had a tense for the future subjunctive (e.g. hablare “that I will speak”), which has been replaced by the present subjunctive, and only a few remnants exist in very formal language. However, Portuguese continues to use this tense for actions that are likely to happen, but haven’t happened yet.
When they travel to Brazil, they will speak other languages.
- Personal infinitive A unique characteristic of Portuguese is that you can “conjugate” infinitives by adding a person suffix. In Spanish, this is not possible.
|Portuguese → É bom você arrumar o quarto. It's good that you tidy the room.|
⤷ personal infinitive
Spanish → Es bueno que arregles el cuarto.
⤷ conjugated verb
- Prepositions contract with articles and demonstrative adjectives
In Spanish, there are only two possible contractions between a preposition and an article. These are a + el = al (to the) and de + el = del (of the). However, in Portuguese you can contract many prepositions with both definite and indefinite articles, but also with demonstrative adjectives. For example:
- em +o (the-masculine) = no (in the)
- por +a (the-feminine) = pela (for the)
- para +un (a-masculine) = prum (to a)
- de +este (this) = deste (from/of this)
- a +aquele (that one) = àquele (to that one)
- Use of ter as the auxiliary for compound tenses
Both Spanish and Portuguese have two verbs for “to have”: tener / ter and haber / haver.
For perfect tenses Spanish only uses the auxiliary haber; whereas Portuguese typically can use both verbs. However, in Brazilian Portuguese ter is the preferred auxiliary verb.
I have studied a lot.
What are the differences between French and Spanish?
Spanish and French are both part of the Romance family. Although they have many similarities in terms of grammar and vocabulary, they differ in some notable aspects. For example:
- Partitive articles
French has a set of partitive articles (du, de la, des) that are used in front of undetermined quantities and uncountable nouns or nouns that cannot be counted like “water” or “music.” Before uncountable nouns, Spanish does not need an article.
I eat pasta but not rice.
- Adverbial pronouns “y” and “en”
French uses the pronoun “y” to substitute a place meaning “there.” In Spanish, such pronoun does not exist. So instead, an adverb or a prepositional phrase is used.
I go to Paris. I go there.
Peter has two sisters. He has two (of them.)
- Two auxiliaries for compound tenses
For compound tenses like the present perfect, Spanish uses the auxiliary “haber” (to have). Whereas, French uses auxiliary “être” (to be) or “avoir” (to have) depending on the type of verb.
French → J’ai fini mes devoirs. Je suis parti tôt.
Spanish → He acabado mi tarea. He salido temprano.
I have finished my homework.I have left early.
- Use of subject pronouns
In French it is obligatory to use subject pronouns, whereas in Spanish they are usually omitted.
I want to sleep.
(nosotros) Fuimos a la tienda.
We went to the store.
What are the differences between Italian and Spanish?
Italian and Spanish have more similarities than differences, because they are both derived from Latin and they share 82 percent of their vocabulary. However, there are some important differences. Let’s go over them!
- Plurals with vowels
In Spanish, plurals are mostly formed by adding an -s or -es to nouns and adjectives. In Italian, plurals are formed by changing the final vowel of the word to a different vowel.
la casa→ le case
la casa→ las casas
In fact, Spanish words can end in both vowels and consonants, whereas most Italian words end in a vowel.
- The use of the simple past
Both Italian and Spanish have a simple past and a compound past. In Spanish, the simple past is called the preterite and it’s used for completed actions in the past. The compound past is called the present perfect and it’s used for actions that continue into the present. In Italian, the equivalent tenses are the passato remoto and the passato prossimo. However, currently the passato remoto is only used to talk about events that happened a long time ago and the passato prossimo is the “default” tense to talk about the past. Basically, where Italian uses the passato prossimo, Spanish uses the preterite.
- Two auxiliaries for compound tenses
For compound tenses like the present perfect, Spanish uses the auxiliary “haber” (to have). Whereas, Italian uses auxiliary “essere” (to be) or “avere” (to have) depending on the type of verb.
- Adverbial pronouns “ci” and “ne”
Italian uses the pronoun “ci” to substitute a place meaning “there.” In Spanish nothing like this exists, so instead, an adverb, a prepositional phrase, or nothing is used.
I’m going to Rome tomorrow. I’m going there tomorrow.
Italian uses the pronoun “ne” to substitute a quantity. In Spanish no pronoun is needed in this situation.
What are the differences between English and Spanish?
English and Spanish belong to the Indo-European language family. However, as mentioned above, Spanish belongs to the Romance language family and English belongs to the Germanic language family. So, rather than being sisters (like the Romance languages), they are actually distant cousins. Because English has been heavily influenced by French, and French is sister to Spanish (plus both have lots of words from Greek), English and Spanish actually have many similarities in their vocabulary called cognates. For example:
problema = problem música = music economía = economy
Spanish and English share about 30 to 40 percent of their vocabulary, but be aware, they also have false cognates!
⤷TIP About 90 percent of the shared vocabulary are true cognates, so be careful with the remaining 10 percent.
Now let’s move on to some grammatical differences between English and Spanish.
- Lack of gender in nouns, articles, and adjectives
Nouns in Spanish have one of two genders: masculine or feminine. Furthermore, noun-adjacent words have to agree with the noun they go with. English does not have gender for inanimate nouns and also does not require agreement between nouns and adjacent words like articles and adjectives.
Spanish → Las corbatas de mi padre son muy caras.
English → My father’s ties are very expensive.
- Obligatory use of the subject pronouns
Because Spanish has different endings to show the person/thing doing the action, subject pronouns aren’t really necessary. However, in English, subject pronouns are needed in order to know who is doing the action.
Spanish → Salimos de la casa muy temprano.
⤷ending for “we”
¿A qué hora llegaste?
⤷ending for “we”
English → We left the house really early.
- Possessive ‘s
In English, to talk about ownership or relationship we simply put an ‘s on the noun referring to the “owner.” In Spanish, instead, you have to use the preposition de followed by the “owner.”
Spanish → el teléfono de Andrea
English → Andrea’s phone
So there you have it! This concludes our handy guide about the Spanish Language. Make sure to check out all the articles and resources on individual Spanish grammar topics (they include activities and handy tables for free!). And, if you’re ready to join the adventure, why not check out the Mango app – we have specific courses on Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish. Start speaking Spanish today!
Penny, R. (2002). A history of the Spanish language. Cambridge University Press.
Eberhard, David M., Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2022. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Twenty-fifth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
Voseo is a very interesting style of speaking and it’s by no means cut and dry. There are speakers that mix “voseo” and “tuteo” (the use of tú); that means that some speakers might use the pronoun “vos” with a verb in the tú form, or vice versa, the pronoun tú with a verb in the “vos” form. For example:
¿Vos quieres venir conmigo? ¿Tú querés venir conmigo?
↳tú form ↳vos form
Do you want to come with me?
In Chile, for example, it’s considered rude to use the pronoun vos with the verb in vos form (aka standard voseo), so the familiar way to address someone is by using the pronoun “tú” with a verb in the vos form – in the Chilean form: tú querei (you want). Interesting, isn’t it?
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