Learning Spanish grammar is a difficult task that even some native speakers find hard to master. But it’s not impossible, and by taking language classes you can crack the secret to fluent Spanish! Here are the essentials you need to know about Spanish grammar.
How to Pronounce the Alphabet in Spanish
As a beginner, you must start at the very beginning: the alphabet! Luckily for us English speakers, the Spanish alphabet is nearly exactly the same as our own. History of the Spanish alphabet Spanish is a romantic language and is derived from Latin, inherited from ancient Rome. Until 1993, the alphabet consisted of the following 29 Spanish letters: a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z. In 2010 the phonemes ch and ll disappeared under a reform instigated by the Royal Academy of the Spanish language. Now the only difference with our own English alphabet is then tilde (ñ).
Specificities of the Spanish Alphabet
There are 6 vowels in the Spanish alphabet: a, e, i, o, u and y. Each letter refers to a specific Spanish pronunciation that is important to learn by heart to be able to spell and pronounce words in Spanish. When learning to speak Spanish, it is often difficult to pronounce the letters "r", "g", "j" and "z", simply because these letters refer to non-existent sounds in the English language. You must learn to distinguish the sound of the rolled "r" from the jota, the "j". For example, the words “ratón” and “jirafa” in Spanish are among the most difficult words to pronounce for an Anglophone. The letter "g" also brings its fair share of difficulties: if placed before an "a", it is pronounced like the g in "got" but in front of an "e" or an "i", it is pronounced more like an "h" in the word “hot” except ‘raspier’ coming from the bottom of the throat. To continue progressing in Spanish we would recommend:
- Taking private lessons with a Superprof tutor,
- Taking a trip to Spain to do an immersive language course
It’s up to you find the best way to learn but learning to correctly pronounce Spanish words will give you a good basis to then enrich your vocabulary and improve your grammar skills.
Mastering the Spanish Accent
The accent in Spanish can take some work but when you’ve got it you’ll sound perfectly fluent! The challenge of Spanish lies in mastering the Spanish accent and what is called the grammatical or diacritical accent.
Emphasising a Syllable
Knowing which syllable to put emphasis on is essential in learning Spanish pronunciation. Get it wrong and the word will sound completely different. It is a question of insisting on a syllable, as a musician marks the tempo at the moment of playing the tonic, the third, the fifth or the seventh. Three main rules prevail:
- If the word ends with a vowel or the consonants "n" and "s", then the emphasis will be placed on the penultimate syllable (cerveza, bebida, camino, barrio, barrios, etc.).
- If the word ends either with a vowel or with other consonants than "n" and "s" and does not include a written accent, the emphasis is put on the last syllable (cantar, caminar, ordenador, autoridad, facultad, nivel, papel, etc.).
What about words ending with "ión" (attención, sección, acción, emoción, evaluación, liberación, lección, capitalización, etc.)? These are irregularities of accentuation because if they end with an "n", you accentuate the penultimate syllable, but the presence of the accent on the ó shifts it to the last syllable. Finally, some words must be accentuated on the third syllable, that which precedes the penultimate one: sílaba (syllable), bolígrafo (pen), párajo (bird), paréntesis (parenthesis).
The Grammatical Accent
Here are the three functions of this form of accentuation:
- To dissociate the demonstrative adjectives from the demonstrative pronouns,
- Indicate the exclamatory and interrogative forms of certain adverbs
- Differentiate the grammatical nature of some homonyms.
Some words of Spanish vocabulary have the same pronunciation, the same spelling, but not the same meaning: homophones and homonyms sometimes take a written accent on a letter to distinguish them. For example, solo, an adjective and sólo as an adverb. Or, tu and tú: the first is a possessive adjective and the second is a personal pronoun. Mastering these accents is important as they can completely change the meaning of a sentence. To perfect the Spanish accent, we recommend immersing yourself in Hispanic culture: Spanish or Latin literature, Spanish and South American music, Spanish-language programs.
Spanish Diphthongs and Triphthongs
Manage to read and pronounce Spanish without getting tongue-tied? Bravo! But now we must move on to another subtlety of Spanish grammar: diphthongs and triphthongs. Before you move onto this, you must know your verb conjugation tables by heart. As a reminder: Spanish has ‘weak’ vowels: I and U and ‘strong’ vowels A, E and O. Diphthong is when a weak vowel is alongside a strong vowel, or when two weak vowels are together. This softens the pronunciation: for example, for the irregular verb to poder (power) in the infinitive, we conjugate puedo, puedes, puede, podemos, podéis, pueden. The diphthong is then applied to the first person, second person and third person of the singular as well as to the third person of the plural, in accordance with the rules of Spanish conjugation. The most common diphthongs are: • "ei" or "ey", • "ui" or "uy", • "ie", as in "pienso", (I think), • "io", as in "cielo", (sky), • "ue", as in "cuesta" or "puedo" ("I can", of the verb poder). The Spanish diphthong modifies the pronunciation of a word; it serves to soften the sound of a word in front of strong vowels. Triphthong is the combination of three vowels in the same syllable: A strong vowel in between two weak vowels. "a", "e" and "o" are strong vowels. They never form Spanish diphthongs together. They may form diphthongs and triphthongs only in combination with "I" and "U."
Forming a Sentence in Spanish
Once you’ve got the accent and the different vowel sounds then it’s time to work on constructing sentences in Spanish. The Spanish language follows the same rules as other romantic languages: SVO, subject, verb, object. To master this order and the build up your vocabulary to form flowing sentences, there’s no secret; you just have to keep practising. This will test your verb conjugation knowledge. Make sure you know how to conjugate at least the most common verbs in the following tenses: present, simple future, perfect, preterite, present subjunctive, imperfect conjunctive, conditional, imperative. To form a sentence you must learn the right order of words, where to place the adjective and how to conjugate the verb. It’s also worthwhile learning important comparison words like más (more) and menos (less). As a general rule, comparisons of superiority or inferiority go before the adjective. But all other adjectives go after the noun and must agree with the gender and/or whether the noun is singular or plural. You would write for example "el párajo guapo" (the beautiful bird) or "Elena es una mujer muy guapa" (Elena is a very beautiful woman). So to say: "Elena es una mujer muy guapa y es más alta que Maria, su amiga." (Elena is a very beautiful woman, and is taller than her friend Marie). Notice that ‘guapa’ comes after ‘mujer’ and ‘más goes before the adjective ‘alta’. See, who said the Spanish language was difficult? The final step before forming more complicated sentences is to review: • Spanish conjugation tables, • Irregular verbs, • Endings of all the common verbs, • Tense agreements. Our final tips for improvement: take grammar lessons, read to build up vocabulary, repeat exercises, listen to videos and podcasts online and plan a trip to Spain or Latin America to put it all into action Finally, take lessons with one of our Spanish language tutors on Superprof!