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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why do I need "el" when making a list?

After a looooong time, here is a new post!

One of my students asked why the following question was marked wrong by the textbook's online component,

Los tres idiomas que se hablan en Bolivia son _______, ________ y ________.

His answer was,

Los tres idiomas que se hablan en Bolivia son español, aimará y quechua.

The names of the languages are correct, but the grammar, according to the online workbook, i wrong. Why?

This is my answer.

Here the definite article is needed because this an identification of nouns; in this case languages.

It is the equivalent of this in English,

The thee languages spoken in Bolivia are the Spanish language, the aimará language, and the quechua language.

The key is "Los" at the beginning of the sentence. This means that those are THE three languages and there are no more than three. If instead of "Los tres idiomas" we had "Tres idiomas...." then we would be able to just name the languages without the article. It would also imply that there are more languages that Bolivians speak. So, consider this:

Los tres idiomas que se hablan en Bolivia son el español, el aimará y el quechua.
Tres idiomas que se hablan en Bolivia son español, aimará y quechua.

The two sentences mean basically the same when you translate them into English. However, from a grammatical point of view, they are different. The first one means that only three language are spoken in Bolivia, while the second one means that three of the languages are Spanish, Aimará, and Quechua, and there are more than three. The reason why el, la, los, las (the) are definite articles is that they make the nouns more important and not part of a simple list, but the list of something.

I hope this helps. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I tend to confuse FUI and FUE. Any suggestions?

Part I: writing fui and fue 

I have not written any entries on this blog for a while. A long while--sorry. This doesn't mean that I have not received questions from students, former students, and friends. One of the most common questions is the title of this post. Fui and Fue are very similar and confusing for English speakers. Let me know if the following explanation helps you remember how to write these words.


Fui and fue, or fue and fui, are different and similar. They’re both forms of the verbs "ser" (to be) and "ir" (to go) in the simple past tense. This is the complete conjugation: 

singular: yo fui, tú fuiste, usted fue, él fue, ella fue
plural: nosotros fuimos, vosotros fuisteis, ustedes fueron, ellos fueron, ellas fueron 

One of the problems is that “i” and “e” may have the same sound in English, but the sound is different in Spanish. Remember, 

 fui = sounds like foo-ee

…with emphasis on “ee;” in fact, in the past, the word “fui” had a written accent over the “i:” fuí. 

fue = sounds like foo-eh …with emphasis on “eh.” 

Think that the “i” on “fui” is the same as “I” (yo) and the “e” on “fue” is the “e” of “él” and “ella.” 

Yo fui
I was / I went

 usted fue,  él fue, ella fue
you (formal) were/went, he were/went, she were/went

 Perhaps the best way to remember the difference between fui and fue is that "I" (yo" goes with "i" (fui), and other people go with "e" (fue), or that all the singular, Spanish pronouns that have an "e" somewhere, goo "fue." This is not a rule, but it may help you to write "fue" and "fui" correctly.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is "Hasta la vista" a common phrase in Spanish?

The short answer: yes, and no.

“Hasta la vista” means “see you later,” “good-bye.” It literally translates as “until the view,” in other words, “until the next time I see you.” This phrase is common in textbooks, similar to the phrase “así, así.” Frankly, I have never said “hasta la vista” without mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger. I do not remember saying “hasta la vista” to any of my friends or family members. I am from Mexico. Perhaps in other places people use it often. Again, I never use it.

The long answer: yes and no.

Wikipedia in English has entry for “Hasta la vista, baby” (,_baby), and it explains how this is a worldwide catchphrase. When you read the same entry in Spanish, there is a note about the differences between the Latin American and Spanish (Iberian) versions. According to this article, the subtitles of the  Latin American version of the Terminator 2 ( )movie reads “Hasta la vista, baby,” while the subtitles for moviegoers in Spain say “Sayonara, baby.” (,_baby)

If you don’t want to sound like Arnold in Terminator 2, then you may use any of the following phrases:

Hasta luego
Hasta pronto
Hasta mañana
Nos vemos

There are more ways to say “bye” in Spanish, by the way. But five is a good list for any student taking elementary and intermediate classes.

Now, the real problem with Arnold’s Terminator 2 is not “Hasta la vista, baby,” but rather “no problemo,” which should be “no hay problema” instead. But that’s an issue for another entry.

Hasta luego. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is it ‘las clases de español’ or ‘las clases de españoles’?

The easy answer

The answer to this question depends on what you want to say in English. If you mean to say, “the classes of Spaniards” as in the types of Spaniards, then “las clases de españoles” is the best translation.

However, if you want to say “Spanish classes,” as in the classes you’re taking at school, then “las clases de español” is the correct translation.

The short explanation

One of the problems here is that whenever we have a preposition, the gender and number agreement is not necessary anymore.  In this case, “de” is a preposition. Here are a few other examples:

El traje de baño = bathing suit
Los trajes de baño = bathing suits

La hora de oficina = office hour
Las horas de oficina = office hours

El libro de ejercicios = workbook
Los libros de ejercicios = workbooks

El día de la bandera = flag day
Los días de la bandera = flag days

La noche de brujas = Halloween
Las noches de brujas = Halloweens (every Halloween)

The long explanation

Yes, prepositions break the harmony, somehow. In this case, the preposition “de” is linking two nouns. Imagine that when you say, “la clase de español” you are saying, “the class of Spanish.” The “de” may also mean a type or kind of, made of, even intended for. Now, let us see the same examples:

El traje de baño = bathing suit
The suit of/intended for bathing

Las horas de oficina = office hours
The hours of office

El libro de ejercicios = workbook
The (type of) book for execises
Los días de la bandera = flag days
The days for the flag

La noche de brujas = Halloween
The night for/of the witches

I hope it helps.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hacer + tiempo, Or some time ago

Hace casi un año que no escribo en este blog.

It has been almost a year that I don't write on this blog. (Or, I wrote on this blog almost a year ago)

There are more ways to translate the sentence above, but the idea is the same: something happened X-time ago. The idiomatic expression in Spanish is expressed with the verb "hacer." Imagine that Father Time "makes" the time pass and that's why we say "hace." Of course it's not the original idea for this use of hacer, but that may help you to remember. My first translation of "Hace casi un año..." is "It has been almost a year" because it is closer to the idea of "hace." Yes, in English we use the compound present tense to express what in Spanish is the simple present tense, but don't get lost thinking about that too much. "Hacer + an expression of time" can be used in the present, past, and future.

Something to remember:
  • Hacer is conjugated in the third person, singular, just like "ella" and "él": hace (presente), hacía (imperfecto or copretérito), hizo (pretéterito), hará (futuro).
  • Some expressions of time that you may use: un año, un mes, un día, un siglo (century), una hora, un minuto; unos años, dos años, unos días, dos días, unos siglos, dos siglos, unas horas, dos horas, unos minutos, dos minutos, una semana, unas semanas, dos semanas, tres semanas, tres años, etc.
  • "Hacer" may be in one verbal tense, but the rest of the sentence may be in a different tense.
  • When we use this expression, the emphasis is on the time that has happened, therefore it frequently goes at the beginning of the phrase. In this case, we need "que" to connect the idea of time to a complete sentence--this means, that the sentence has subject, verb, and complement.
  • When the expression of time is used at the end of the phrase, then we don't need "que."
  • "Since X-time ago" or "For X-time" translate as "desde hacer + an expression of time."
  • To ask a question, we use "¿Cuánto tiempo hace...?" or "¿Cuánto hace que...?" in the present tense.

Here are a few ways to use "hacer + tiempo" 

Hacer in the Present Tense: 
Hace dos años que fui a Costa Rica. (I went to Costa Rica two years ago.)
Fui a Costa Rica hace dos años.
¿Cuántos años hace que estudias español? (For how long have you been studying Spanish?

¿Cuánto hace que vives en Richmond? (How long has it been since you live in Richmond? or For how long have you lived in Richmond?)
Vivo en Richmond desde hace tres años. ( I have lived in Richmond for three years, or I have lived in Richmond since three years ago.)
Desde hace tres años vivo en Richmond.

Hacer in the Preterite Tense:
Ayer hizo un año que nació mi sobrino. (My nephew was born a year ago yesterday.)
¿Cuánto tiempo hizo la semana pasada que se construyó esta casa? (How long has it been since this house was built? or How long ago was this house built?)
La semana pasada hizo un siglo que se construyó esta casa. (This week was built a century ago last week.)

Hacer in the Imperfect (copretérito or imperfect preterite) Tense:
Ese día hacía dos años que ellos se habían casado. (That day, it had been two years since they got married.)
Hicimos una fiesta anoche porque hacía un mes que compramos la casa. (We had a party last night because we bought our house a month ago, or We had a party last night to celebrate that we bought our house a month ago.)
¿Cuánto tiempo hacía que había venido tu abuela? (How long had it been since your grandmother came?)
Hacía tres semanas que había venido mi abuela.   (It was three weeks ago yesterday that my grandmother came, or my My grandmother came three weeks ago yesterday.)

Hacer in the Future Tense:
Mañana hará cinco años que visité Barcelona. (Tomorrow will be five days that visited Barcelona.)
El próximo año hará cuatro siglos que se fundó esta ciudad. (Next year, it will be four centuries that this city was founded.)
¿Cuánto tiempo hará mañana que vino el huracán? (How long will it be tomorrow that the hurricane came?)

An advanced Spanish note

What is the difference between the following two sentences?
Hace un año que no escribía en este blog.
Hacía un año que no escribía en este blog.

Both mean the same: It has been a year since I wrote on this blog, or I didn't write on this blog for a year. But the emphasis is different and the use of one or the other depends on the speaker's preferences. The first sentence sounds more like a completed comment, while if I hear the second one I expect a longer story.

If you look at the posts history of this blog, the phrase from the beginning is true: Hace un año que no escribía en este blog.

These are just a few examples. I hope it helps.

Monday, June 6, 2011

¡Qué! vs ¡Que!

Why do I need to write an accent on “¡qué!”? And why sometimes I don't need it?

The word “que” is a high frequent used term in Spanish. “Que” is a relative pronoun, an interjection, a conjunction, and an adverb. The ones we have here are both part of interjections, however both have different meanings. Let's see why.

¡Qué! Is usually an interjection that can be used in expressions that may be close to statements. Note that I have included literal translations when possible, just to help you understand the sentences better.


¡Qué bonito! = How pretty! [literally] - It's pretty!
¡Qué colores tan vivos! = How vivid are the colors! [kind of literally] - The colors are so vivid!
¡Qué viva la música! = How vivid is the music! [literally] - The music is so vivid! Or The music is so alive!

By the way, remember that “que” may mean “how” instead of “what.”

There is an idiomatic expression, “ser vivo,” that means to be smart and at the same time to take advantage of someone else. On the phrase,

¡Qué vivo eres, Antonio!

the meaning depends a lot on the intonation of the speaker and the context where it is used. For example, it can mean, “You are so smart, Antonio!” But, most of the time, this type of phrase translates as “You're so slick, Antonio!”
Sometimes, ¡Qué! is more of a question, but a question we ask when we are surprised, happy, or mad. Here are a few examples:

¡Qué tal, Armida! = How are you, Armida?! Or What's up, Armida?!
¡Qué onda, Esteban! = What's up, Esteban?!
¡Qué cuentas, amigo! = What do you tell, my friend? [literally] or What's new, my friend?!
¡Qué le hiciste a mi coche, Ema! = What did you do to my car, Ema?

The ¡que! [without accent] is actually an incomplete phrase. Quite often, Spanish speakers do not mention the independent clause [first part of the phrase], but they will say “que” and the dependent clause. For example,

--¿Qué dices, mi amor? = What do you say, my love? [literal] or What are you saying, my love?
--¡Que te amo! = (I'm saying) That I love you!

--¡(Quiero) Que me dejes en paz! = I want you to leave me alone!
--¡(Espero/Te deseo) Que te diviertas! = (I hope/I wish you) Have fun!
--¡(Espero/Te deseo) Que tengas un buen fin de semana! = (I hope/I wish you) Have a great weekend!

The last three phrases on the previous batch have subjunctive, but most of the time we imply the subjunctive, similar to English when we say, “Have a nice day!” The difference is that in Spanish we need the “que.” By the way, this “que” is a conjunction—like “and” in English or “y” in Spanish—because it is linking two sentences.

After Spain won a soccer match against England, I wrote on Facebook the following phrase,

“¡Qué viva España!”

Everybody was so happy that none of my friends cared about the accent over the “e.” Or maybe, nobody really cared about it. Or perhaps they thought that whatever I—the Spanish teacher—writes must be correct. What my Facebook friends understood was,

Long live Spain! [¡Que viva España!]

But what I wrote, ¡Qué viva España!, was a little bit different,

How smart/slick is Spain!
How vivid is Spain!
How alive is Spain!

In any case, all of these three phrases were valid in the context.

If this helps, write a comment, please. Que tengas un buen día.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Voy a ir al gimnasio" vs. "voy al gimnasio"

Ir + a + infinitivo (infinitive) and Ir + a + lugar (place)

What is the difference between “voy a ir al gimnasio” and “voy al gimnasio”?

Voy a ir al gimnasio. = I am going to go to the gym.

The idea here is that I will go to the gym in the near future. Remember that “infinitive” is a verb that is not conjugated—like cantar (to sing), beber (to drink), escribir (to write).
In contrast,

Voy al gimnasio. = I go to the gym.

In the second sentence, the idea is that I USUALLY go to the gym, or that I always go to the gym. This is a general statement about going to the gym, which can be followed by “ahora” (now), “siempre” (always), or any other information about time, how you get there, if you go with somebody else, etc.

The first sentence, “Voy a ir al gimansio,” follows the structure ir + a + infinitivo (infinitive). With this structure we may talk about what we're going to do in the near future. It's a way of talking about the future, but using present tense. For some reason, in everyday life this periphrastic future is used more frequently than the formal future tense.