5 Mistakes in Spanish That Even Advanced Students Make (Part 1)

mistakes in spanish

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Once you are at a more advanced level of Spanish, there is very little that is stopping you from reaching the promised land of fluency.

For the most part, being at an “advanced” level is fantastic – since you can have fluid conversations, express your thoughts clearly, and are likely be complemented by native speakers who already consider you fluent.

Yet there’s probably to be a couple of things that you still need to fine tune.

In this post, I want to cover five of the most common mistakes in Spanish that I see students all the way from beginner to advanced making.

(ps, we wrote about beginner Spanish mistakes here and intermediate mistakes here (part 1) and here (part 2))

1) Incorrectly Using The Imperative Mood

As you probably know by now, we use the imperative mood exclusively for giving an order or command to someone.

What separates this from the other two Spanish moods (indicative and subjunctive) is that fact that the imperative does not use tenses. 

When you think about this for a second, it makes perfect sense.

Because an order or command will refer the exact moment in which it is said. Even if you order or command something to be done in the future, the command is issued and received at that moment in time.

Two mistakes that I often see are 1) students confusing the infinitive with the imperative and 2) not placing object pronouns in the correct place.

To avoid the 1st mistake, all you need to do is remember that the imperative is never used with an infinitive verb.

Let’s look at some incorrect and correct uses of the imperative.

  • Write to me when you arrive – Escribirme cuando llegues (incorrect)
  • Write to me when you arrive – Escríbeme cuando llegues (correct)
  • Say it now!  – Decirlo ahora (incorrect)
  • Say it now! –  iDilo ahora! (correct)

To avoid the 2nd mistake, you need to be aware that the position of pronouns will depend on whether the sentence is affirmative or negative.

  • For affirmative commands, object pronouns and reflexive pronouns are attached at the end of the conjugation.
  • For negative commands, object pronouns and reflexive pronouns precede the conjugation.

For example, the below sentence is affirmative:

  • Give it to me – Démelo (if there are both a direct and indirect object, the indirect object comes first)

To express negation, we also need to change the mood to the subjunctive, and use the following formula: no + the present subjunctive conjugation.

For example:

  • Do not speak – No hables
  • Do not go – No vayas

And now, with pronouns:

  • Do not drink it – No lo beban
  • Do not watch it – No lo veas
  • Do not tell him – No le digas!

(For a more in-depth explanation of the imperative mood, read this post)

2) Simple Future – Memorize The Irregulars Verbs!

Most students recognize the simple future tense as an easy Spanish tense to master.

Let’s refresh our minds and review how to conjugate regular AR/IR/ER verbs in the simple future tense.

Subject Ending Example: Trabajar (to work) English Equivalent
Yo trabajaré I will work
-ás trabajarás you will work
Él/ella/usted trabajará he/she/you will work
Nosotros/nosotras -emos trabajaremos we will work
Ellos/ellas/ustedes -án trabajarán they/you will work

For example:

  • The rock band will play live tomorrow – La banda de rock tocará en vivo mañana
  • It seems that it will rain –  Parece que lloverá
  • Will you watch the new season of Game of Thrones? – ¿Verás la nueva temporada de Juego de Tronos?
  •  We will travel to Valencia next month – Viajaremos a Valencia el mes que viene

As you can see, all regular verbs (AR, ER & IR) are conjugated the same way.

Easy.

It’s dealing with irregular verbs in the simple future tense that tends to cause problems for some students.

Let’s do a quick recap of these verbs so that you avoid these mistakes.

Remember that irregular verbs in the simple future tense use endings that are regular, but their stems (roots) change.

All you need to do is memorize the irregular stems, and then add the regular simple future tense endings.

Below are the 12 most commonly used irregular verbs.

Irregular Verb Yo Él/ella/usted Nosotros/

nosotras

Ellos/ellas/

ustedes

Caber cabré cabrás cabrá cabremos cabrán
Poner pondré pondrás pondrá pondremos pondrán
Decir diré dirás dirá diremos dirán
Haber habré habrás habrá habremos habrán
Salir saldré saldrás saldrá saldremos saldrán
Hacer haré harás hará haremos harán
Poder podré podrás podrá podremos podrán
Tener tendré tendrás tendrá tendremos tendrán
Querer querré querrás querrá querremos querrán
Valer valdré valdrás valdrá valdremos valdrán
Saber sabré sabrás sabrá sabremos sabrán
Venir vendré vendrás vendrá vendremos vendrán

(ps, we wrote a detailed explanation of other Spanish future tenses here).

3) Not Using The Verb “Soler” Correctly

Soler is a verb which can be translated as to usually do or to be accustomed to in the present tense, or used to in the past tense.

When conjugated in the simple present or imperfect past tense, it’s always followed by another verb in the infinitive.

Let’s see an example of this:

  • On vacations I usually go to Margarita Island – Suelo ir a la isla de Margarita en vacaciones
  • When I was a kid I used to go to Margarita Island – Cuando era niño solía ir a la Isla de Margarita

(side note: although technically this verb can be used in simple past, present subjunctive and imperfect subjunctive conjugation, it’s not common. In fact,  as a native Spanish speaker, I have never used these forms before).

One last thing to mention – Soler does not exist in the Future or in the Conditional Tenses.

That puts the verb in a category of verbs that are not fully conjugated, known as “defective verbs. Other examples of defective verbs in Spanish include: llover (to rain), and amanecer (to dawn).

So just remember, native speakers only use Soler in the simple present and past imperfect tenses, while the other tenses are less important and only found in old literature and poetry.

(For more a more comprehensive guide on the verb Soler, read here)

4) Simple Past Tense vs Imperfect Past Tense

This one can easily catch you out – whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced student.

Let’s start by clarifying the imperfect past tense in Spanish, which tends to be used:

To describe a past state

  • Rubén loved football –  A Rubén le encantaba el fútbol

To emphasize the process or habitual repetition of an action

  • He trained with team every Tuesday and Thursday – Entrenaba con su equipo cada martes y jueves

To express one past action interrupted by another

  • While he was training with his team he got injured the ankle – Mientras entrenaba con su equipo se lesionó el tobillo

Let’s see some scenarios where simple past is used:

To talk about finished actions on a very specific moment

  • Alberto ran when he saw the dog coming towards him – Alberto corrió cuando vio al perro corriendo hacia él

To mention actions that happened just once

  • I bought a car last week – Compré un carro la semana pasada

To mention actions that happened several times with a specific timeframe

  • Last summer I went to the beach twice – El verano pasado fui a la playa 2 veces

Now that seems pretty straight forward.

A quick and easy way to think about both tenses is:

  • Past Imperfect refers to an ongoing or regularly recurring past actions
  • Past Simple refers to specific past actions, or a sequence of actions in the past.

Over time, you will naturally be able to distinguish both tenses.

For now, let’s look at more scenarios where both are used

Past Imperfect Example Past Simple Example
Repeated or continuous actions in the past.

The repetition/regularity is emphasized.

The ladies would always chat in the mornings

La señoras siempre charlaban en las mañanas

A completed action in the past.

The frequency of the action is unimportant.

My family and I went to Los Roques in 2010

Mi familia y yo fuimos a Los Roques en el 2010

Simultaneously occurring actions in the past. While we watched television, my mom prepared dinner

Mientras veíamos televisión, mi mamá preparaba la cena

Sequentially occurring actions in the past – ie. completed actions that happened in sequence.   We met a tour guide who helped us get to the city

Conocimos a un guía turístico que nos ayudó a llegar a la ciudad

An ongoing action in the past, interrupted by a new action. I was sleeping when my mum called me

Yo estaba durmiendo, cuando mi mamá me llamó

To state the beginning or the end of an action. It began to snow at eight in the morning

Comenzó a nevar a las 8 de la mañana

A description of situations, people, landscapes, weather, etc. in the past Her sister used to be a cheerful and outgoing kid

Su hermana solía ser una niña alegre y extrovertida

Used for actions that were repeated a specific number of times, or occurred during a specific period of time. We lived there for four years

Vivimos allí por cuatro años

5) Ignoring The Progressive Future Tense.

I don’t want to nitpick, as this one is more of a bad habit than a mistake.

While we encourage beginners to use the voy a hack to easily speak about actions in the future, it’s important to also know how to use the progressive future tense when required.

This tense is used to emphasize an action that will be in progress at a certain point in the future.

Just like its counterparts (past progressive and present progressive), the conjugation for this tense is easy to remember:

Just use the following formula:

  • subject + verb “estar” future conjugation + verb (gerund).
Subject Verb “estar” English Equivalent
Yo Estaré I will be
Estarás You will
Él/ella Estará He/She/It will be
Nosotros/nosotras Estaremos We will be
Ellos/ellas Estarán They will be
Ustedes Estarán You (plural) will be

For example:

  • If you need something, I’ll be reading in the garden – Si necesitas algo, estaré leyendo en el jardín
  • Tomorrow, we will be walking in Barcelona – Mañana, estaremos caminando en Barcelona
  • He will be working when you arrive – Estará trabajando cuando llegues

And that wraps up five of the most common mistakes that even advanced students make.

Now, let’s see how well you understood the concepts we covered.

Exercises

Complete the following exercises to test your understanding of the five most common mistakes that advanced Spanish students make.

(scroll below for answers)

1. Complete the chart using Imperative Mode: affirmative and negative.

Infinitivo – Pronoun Affirmative Imperative Negative Imperative
Correr – Tú
Hablar – Usted
Dormir – Ustedes
Aprender – Ellos
Cantar – Nosotros

2. Choose the correct conjugation in the Simple Future Tense for the following sentences.

Mañana ___ al cine con mis amigos

  • Iré
  • Fui
  • Voy
  • Habré ido

La semana que viene mi mamá ___ un nuevo auto

  • Había comprado
  • Compraba
  • Comprará
  • Compró

Mi hermana ___ a Colombia el año que viene por trabajo

  • Viajó
  • Ha viajado
  • Viajaba
  • Viajará

Ustedes ___ la prueba de conducir esta tarde

  • Tomarán
  • Tomaban
  • Toman
  • Tomaron

¿ ___ conmigo a la fiesta de graduación?

  • Vamos
  • Irás
  • Fuimos
  • Íbamos

 3. Transform the sentences into the form: Used to.

  • Yo suelo ir a misa los domingos
  • Ellos suelen jugar baseball todos los fines de semana
  • Karla suele comprar zapatos cada quincena
  • Mi familia y yo solemos ir de paseo a la montaña cada mes
  • Ustedes son los estudiantes que suelen decir malas palabras en clase
  • Mi perro suele jugar conmigo desde que era cachorro

 4. Conjugate the verbs using the correct Past Imperfect form.

  • Cuando (ser) ___ niño (comer) ___ muchas frutas. Ahora no me gustan
  • Los actores (firmar) ___ autógrafos después de cada función
  • La casa de mi familia (ser) ___ muy bonita. (Tener) ____ 5 cuartos, dos baños y una cocina enorme
  • Mi hermana (estar) ____ limpiando el cuarto mientras yo (cocinar) ____ una lasagna
  • La esposa de Luís siempre (llegar) ____ muy tarde a su trabajo después que su carro se averió

5. Fill the blanks with the correct conjugation in the Progressive Future tense.

  • Nosotros (estar) ____ (dormir) ____ a medianoche
  • A las 6 de la tarde yo (estar) _____ (conducir) _____ desde mi trabajo hasta mi casa
  • Luis no (estar) ____ (jugar) ____ toda la tarde
  • Ellas (estar) ____ (bailar) _____ todo el dia en la discoteca
  • Lucia (estar) _____ (trabajar) ____ durante todo el viernes, porque tiene muchas cosas pendientes por hacer
  • ¿(comer – tú) ____ toda la tarde? Porque no queda mucha comida en el refrigerador

Answers

1. Complete the chart using Imperative Mode: affirmative and negative.

Infinitivo – Pronoun Affirmative Imperative Negative Imperative
Correr – Tú ¡Corre! ¡No corras!
Hablar – Usted ¡Hable! ¡No hable!
Dormir – Ustedes ¡Duerman! ¡No duerman!
Aprender – Ellos ¡Aprendan! ¡No aprendan!
Cantar – Nosotros ¡Cantemos! ¡No cantemos!

 2. Choose the correct conjugation in the Simple Future Tense for the following sentences.

  • Mañana iré al cine con mis amigos
  • La semana que viene mi mamá comprará un nuevo auto
  • Mi hermana viajará a Colombia el año que viene por trabajo
  • Ustedes tomarán la prueba de conducir esta tarde
  • ¿Irás conmigo a la fiesta de graduación?

 3. Transform the sentences into the form: used to.

  • Yo solía ir a misa los domingos
  • Ellos solían jugar baseball todos los fines de semana
  • Karla solía comprar zapatos cada quincena
  • Mi familia y yo solíamos ir de paseo a la montaña cada mes
  • Ustedes son los estudiantes que solían decir malas palabras en clase
  • Mi perro solía jugar conmigo desde que era cachorro

 4. Conjugate the verbs using the correct Past Imperfect form.

  • Cuando era niño comía muchas frutas. Ahora no me gustan
  • Los actores firmaban autógrafos después de cada función
  • La casa de mi familia era muy bonita. Tenía 5 cuartos, dos baños y una cocina enorme
  • Mi hermana estaba limpiando el cuarto mientras yo cocinaba lasagna
  • La esposa de Luís siempre llegaba muy tarde a su trabajo después que su carro se averió

 5. Fill the blanks with the correct conjugation in the Progressive Future tense.

  • Nosotros estaremos durmiendo hasta la medianoche
  • A las 6 de la tarde yo estaré conduciendo desde el trabajo hasta mi casa
  • Luis no estará jugando toda la tarde
  • Ellas estarán bailando la noche entera en la fiesta
  • Lucía estará trabajando durante todo el viernes, porque tiene muchas cosas pendientes por hacer
  • ¿Estarás comiendo toda la tarde? Porque no queda mucha comida en el refrigerador
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