Spanish VS English: 11 Surprising Differences Between Spanish and English
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Spanish VS English: 11 Surprising Differences Between Spanish and English

David Datny

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One of the fun things about learning another language is the way it forces you to look at things differently. This is particularly true if you’re an English speaker learning Spanish.

Just because you memorize a bunch of vocabulary and grammar doesn’t necessarily mean you can speak the language — far from it!

No matter how far along you are in your journey to becoming bilingual, you’re bound to constantly discover differences between English and Spanish that will leave you scratching your head. Keep reading to find out what some of the most interesting ones are!

Differences Between the Spanish and English Languages That Every Spanish Learner Needs to Know


1. The Spanish week has 8 days

OK, the week technically still only has 7 days in it, but when Spanish speakers talk about something happening a week from now they say “en ocho dias,” or “in eight days.”

This is definitely a hard one to understand for English speakers, but the easiest way to explain it is that basically you count “today” as the 8th day in Spanish.

You can take it one step further and say “cada ocho dias” when you’re talking about something happening every week.

2. A billion is 1,000 millions in Spanish

Sticking with the math theme, here’s another fun one. In English speaking countries, we grow up learning that 1 billion is a 1 with 9 zeros after it: 1,000,000,000.

Well, in Spanish you say “mil millones” for the same number, which literally means “one thousand millions.”

To make it even more confusing, the word for billion, “billón,” is still used in Spanish, except it means what we refer to as a trillion. We could go on, but you get the idea…

3. There are fewer words in Spanish

Have you ever wondered how many words are in the Spanish language? Using the dictionary of the Royal Academy of Spanish as an official guideline, there are about 93,000 Spanish words.

Of course, that doesn’t include all the regional variations of the language, each of which have tons of different colloquialisms that aren’t “official” Spanish words.

The English language, on the other hand, has more than 170,000 words currently in use.

You might find it surprising that there are actually more words in English. Sometimes it can feel like Spanish has way more, since there are just so many different ways certain Spanish words can be written (we’re looking at you, verbs). And don’t get us started on how different Spanish is across Latin America...

4. Spanish nouns have a gender

Whether you took Spanish in high school or you’re teaching yourself Spanish, you probably already knew this one. But it’s much more complicated than just the noun itself ending in “o” (for masculine) or “a” (for feminine).

The gender of the noun actually affects different parts of the sentence structure in Spanish. You have to use different forms of “the” depending on whether the subject is masculine or feminine: “el” or “la,” respectively.

You also have to modify other parts of the sentence, such as adjectives, depending on what gender the subject is.

As to the question of who decided that apples are feminine and shoes are masculine, we’ll probably never know.

Spanish vs English: Graffiti that says Mas Amor Por Favor
Photo by 1983 (steal my _ _ art) / Unsplash

5. There’s an extra letter in the Spanish alphabet

The only difference between the English and Spanish alphabet is that there are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. The culprit is an N with a squiggly accent line called a “tilde” over it: “Ñ.”

The “eñe,” as it’s known in Spanish, naturally comes right after the N in the alphabet. You’ll even find a separate key for it on Spanish keyboards (which have a completely different layout than their English counterparts, by the way).

How does this mysterious extra N sound, you ask? Well, think of how you say the word “piñata,” which is probably the most common Spanish word we’ve adopted in English that uses the letter eñe.”

6. Saying “I don’t want nothing” is grammatically correct in Spanish

Another one of the biggest differences between English and Spanish is the way you express negatives in Spanish.

In English, we have to mix affirmative and negative words to make negative statements. Take the following sentences as examples: “I don’t want anything” and “there is nothing.”

In Spanish, “no quiero nada,” or “no hay nada” are the correct translations of the same negative statements. The words “no” and “nada” are both negatives, so the literal translations back to English would be “I don’t want nothing” and “there is not nothing.”

Of course, you know that using a double negative is not grammatically correct in English, but it’s the proper way to express negatives in Spanish.

7. Spanish uses upside-down question marks and exclamation marks

If you’ve ever read a Spanish textbook or piece of literature, you probably noticed that questions and exclamations start with an upside down question mark or exclamation mark — in addition to the right-side-up ones at the end of the sentence!

For example, the question “how are you?” would look like “¿como estás?” Weird, right? Or is it ¿right?

It’s less common to see the upside-down punctuation marks these days because people don’t normally use them when texting or in digital communications, but it’s still technically correct to use them in formal written Spanish.

8. Adjectives come after nouns in Spanish

This is a subtle but important difference between Spanish and English. When you’re describing a characteristic of a subject, you always place the adjective after the noun.

For example, instead of saying “black dog” you would say “perro negro,” which literally translates to “dog black.

There is, however, an exception to the rule. When the adjective is used to describe an innate quality of something, you put it before the noun.

For example, if you’re talking about your old house, i.e. where you used to live, you would say “mi vieja casa,” since you’re not talking about the actual age of the house. That house is always going to be your old house, regardless of when it was built.

Spanish vs English: Teacher writes Spanish sentences on blackboard
Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo / Unsplash

9. The Spanish word for “from” means so much more

The word “de” in Spanish can be used in various ways to mean “of,” “by,” “with,” “in,”“than,” “at,” “about,” “out,” and “off”. It’s such a versatile little two-letter word!

Here are just a few examples of “de” in action:

● Soy de los estados unidos: I’m from the United States

● Me gusta trabajar de noche: I like to work in the night

● Estaba gritando de dolor: I was yelling with pain

10. In Spanish, you often use the verb for “to have” to express feelings

In English, when we have feelings, we say we “are” those things. If you’re hungry or cold, you would say “I am hungry” or “I am cold.

In Spanish, you say you “have” those things, using the verb “tener.” If you’re hungry, you would say “tengo hambre,” literally meaning “I have hunger.” If you’re cold, you would say “tengo frío” or “I have cold.”

The verb “tener” is also used to express age. So, instead of saying “I’m 30,” you would say “tengo 30 años,” or “I have 30 years.”

11. There are two verbs for “to be” in Spanish

As if it wasn’t confusing enough learning Spanish, right? Luckily, it’s pretty easy to learn the difference between the two verbs.

The first verb for “to be,” “ser,” is used to describe more permanent qualities. For example, if you’re telling someone that you’re Canadian, you would translate “I am Canadian” to “soy canadiense,” because your nationality is never going to change.

The second Spanish verb for “to be” is “estar.” This one is used to describe more temporary qualities, such as emotions. For instance, if you want to say you’re excited, you would say “estoy emocionado.”

We said it was easy to learn how to use both verbs for “to be”, but there are some cases where you could use either, depending on the meaning you want to get across. But we don’t want to spoil the fun of learning Spanish too much...

Are You Clear on the Differences Between English and Spanish Yet?

Clear as mud, right? We’ve really just hit the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to all the differences between the Spanish and English languages, and there’s no single answer to the question: what is the difference between English and Spanish?

They share some similarities, for sure, but they are two completely different languages with their own rules (and exceptions to those rules). Spanish speakers often find it just as confusing learning English as English speakers find learning Spanish!

Ultimately, how fast you can learn Spanish comes down to your methods, dedication, and personal learning style. The cool thing is that once you start really catching on to Spanish, you’ll probably start understanding English in ways you never did before!