Un poco de gramatica español (A little Spanish Grammer)

November 14, 2008

Un poco de gramatica español  (A little Spanish Grammer)

Accent marks in Spanish are very important. They show which syllables to stress in pronunciation and they even can change the meaning of the word like el (the) and él (he).   

In addition to accent marks, Spanish sometimes uses umlauts, the two little dots over some letters.

Words like güero (blond, fair skinned) and those squiggly lines over the letter “n”, called tildes, in words like mañana which changes the sound to a more nasal “n” sound.

Leaving out these marks can totally change the meaning of a word. 

For example, the word año (year).  Eliminate the tilde, and you’ve got ano (anus) which could cause embarrassment.

Why does Spanish use the upside down question marks that come before a question?  In Spanish, questions have two punctuation marks: an inverted question mark at the beginning and a regular one at the end. 

Sometimes, the first question mark doesn’t come at the very beginning: “Vas a casa, ¿verdad?” (“You’re going home, right?”)  The same rules apply to exclamation points, the first of which is also inverted.

If you’re accustomed to reading Spanish-language newspapers, you’ve probably come across some unusual abbreviations, such as the use of EE. UU. for Estados Unidos (United States).  Ever wondered what the extra “E” and “U” mean?  In Spanish abbreviations, letters are doubled if the abbreviated words are in the plural form.  So instead of simply writing E.U. – which sometimes papers do in headlines to save space – the correct abbreviation is actually EE. UU.  In contrast, Unión Europea (European Union), which is singular, is abbrevirated U.E.


Learning a little Spanish will pay big dividends.

Here an important rule to know since as gringos we deal with dates in Spanish quite a lot on the expiration dates of our immigration papers, car insurance papers etc.

American English puts the month first, then the day, followed by a comma and the year (example:  August 21, 1993), Spanish puts the day first and then the month, which is not capitalized, and doesn’t use commas:  21 de agosto de 1993.  Similarly, days of the week are also lowercase in Spanish: lunes, martes, etc.

This is the same when they just the numbers too. For example 9/11/02 is not September 11, 2002 …but November 9, 2002 .

Less important, but good to know points:

Spanish also uses decimal points where English uses commas, and vice versa:

English:  19,706    6.4%

Spanish: 19.706    6,4 %

In the above example, you may have noticed that the second Spanish entry has a space between the number and the percentage sign; in English there is no space.

When writing letters or emails in Spanish, a colon (dos puntos) is used, instead of a comma, after the salutation:

English:  Hi John,

Spanish:  Hola Juan:

Due to the proximity of the USA to Mexico Mexican Spanish is beginning to be influenced by the punctuation of English and so you may see Spanish written here and there in Mexico with USA punctuation.


Punctuation between the two languages, and knowing them will help you understand important distinctions and may even save you from making embarrassing or costly mistakes like misinterpreting when you car insurance or FM3 expires because you misread the date.


So, ¡pay attention! 

Do you want 26 hours of free top notch Spanish Instruction  that won’t put you to sleep ?

  • John

    I have seen percentage signs with a space and without on Spanish language websites and in newspapers. I even saw them without a space on websites from Spain. Why the discrepancy? Is it just that like English speakers, there are just rampant misuses of grammar? Help!

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