PCC Logo

Jill Nicholson 11/23/2005 Comparison/Contrast
Spanish and English

Most students say Spanish is an easy language and English is a difficult language to learn. This may or may not be true, but they are certainly very different languages. Some of the biggest differences between Spanish and English are spelling, grammar and vocabulary.

English is famous for strange spelling. Even native speakers regularly encounter new words or names they don’t know how to spell. It is even worse is when you add pronunciation to the mix. English spelling does not look like the pronunciation. Look at these words: Barry, berry, bury; or good, food, flood. What about dough, through, enough, bough, cough? Not a lot of logic there. On the other hand, Spanish spelling is phonetic. That means every letter represents one sound—always. There are very, very few surprises or exceptions as in English. It is logical and consistent. If you hear a word, you know how to spell it, and if you see a word, you know how to pronounce it.

Spanish and English also have very different grammar. Spanish has masculine and feminine, for example, but English uses no gender, except for personal pronouns he, she, his, her and hers. In Spanish, you need to know if a noun is masculine or feminine, and any article or adjective must agree in gender. A feminine example is “La Isla Bonita” (a popular song by Madonna: The Pretty Island) and a masculine example is El Burrito Loco (The Crazy Burrito, a popular fast food restaurant in Portland). Notice also that in the English, the adjective comes before the noun. In Spanish, it follows. In addition, verbs are very different. English has three forms for the present of the verb to be: am, is, are; two forms of other simple present affirmative verbs: do, does, work, works; and only one form in the past tense: did, went. However, Spanish verbs must agree with the subject, which means many different forms in every tense. For example, work/works in Spanish is trabajo, trabajas, trabaja, trabajan, or trabajamos. “Worked” is trabaje, trabajabas, trabajó, trabajaron, or trabajamos. One more difference in grammar is how to say “you”. There is only one way in English, but many in Spanish. There is a different form for familiar (tú) and formal (Ud.). These are singular forms, but there are also plural forms (vosotros and Uds.) This makes English look simple!

For vocabulary, English is probably more difficult because it has more words. The English language, throughout its history has mixed with many different languages and borrowed their words. Spanish, for the most part, has remained a purer language. Most Spanish words are Spanish. Many English words are not English! For example, if you are describing a king in English, he could be a kingly, royal, regal and sovereign monarch. There are usually many different words for the same thing in English because we have the original Old English word (king) but also a Latin word (regal) maybe a French word (royal). Sometimes there are multiple words from Latin (sovereign). English also borrowed words from Spanish: cargo, embargo; Arabic: zero, nadir, sofa; and Russian: sputnik, perestroika and Bolshevik. Spanish has a rich vocabulary, too, but the vast majority of its words come from Latin, from which Spanish originated. If you look at complete, unabridged dictionaries, the English will have many more entries than the Spanish.

Whether you are learning Spanish or English, you will notice many things that are different. English has more difficult spelling and punctuation, but Spanish probably has more complicated grammar. Don’t let that stop you! They are both very important languages in the world today, and you should be very happy if you can speak and read them both. Good Luck! ˇBuena Suerte!

Top of Page