Common Grammar Errors Made by Spanish Students of English
The most straightforward definition of grammar is:
A set of actual or presumed prescriptive notions about correct use of a language. Oxford English Dictionary
I especially like the phrase, “presumed prescriptive notions “ in that sentence because it really fits…if the language in question is English. There are grammar rules to English, but even native English speakers regularly disregard them and are prone to make some common grammar errors. If your aim as an ESL student is to improve your English fluency, your first line of attack should be to learn the English grammar rules that most differ from those of your native language—in other words, the differences that cause obvious speaking errors.
The Top 4 Grammar Errors of Spanish ESL Students
Spanish ESL students fall prey to 4 major grammar errors: 1. subject omission, 2. gender confusion, 3. subject/verb agreement, and 4. verb/tense.
1. Subject Omission
Spanish ESL students will mistakenly omit the subject of an English language sentence because subject/object pronouns in the Spanish language are often unnecessary—the verb form tells you who is referred to in the sentence.
Spanish ESL students will directly translate English language sentences resulting in subject omission errors.
__ Is always a good idea. instead of It is always a good idea.
__ Is my brother. instead of He is my brother.
Where __ going? instead of Where are you going?
Remember that a subject is always necessary in English…at least until you’re an English language ninja.
2. Gender Confusion
Spanish uses one word— “su” for the words his, her, its, their, and your. English possessives have a gender distinction, his/her, but Spanish students of English very often make grammar errors confusing these 2 words.
Lisa has his bus pass. instead of Lisa has her bus pass.
Subject pronouns and the possessive adjective need to agree in gender or you are communicating something other than what you mean to say.
Third person singular nouns and pronouns also pose gender confusion problems for Spanish ESL students.
A student may say of a tall male classmate—“She is tall.” This is an error not an insult, one born most likely, of the fact that the verb form does so much of the heavy lifting in Spanish.
Another way students confuse gender when speaking English involves a generic bias to use the masculine as a subject pronoun. When recounting a story about their roommate’s girlfriend they may default to “he”—“he lives in a sorority.”
Lastly, because Spanish nouns have a gender– el plantano = banana, la manzana = apple –Spanish ESL students can use “his” or “her”when referring to objects in English language sentences.
The house is dirty, clean her now. instead of The house is dirty, clean it now.
3. Subject/Verb Agreement
In English, you use a singular verb with a singular subject
Maria is coming to class.
and a plural verb with a plural subject
People are coming to class.
and bonus—present tense verbs add an “s” or “es” to show agreement with a third person singular noun
She likes the class.
Spanish ESL students make subject/verb agreement errors such as:
My sister study English.
She like study English
They was in she class.
Everybody know that class.
The subject/verb grammar errors are some of the hardest to conquer. Try looking online for subject/verb agreement exercises, and get apps like duolingo, Memrise, or Babbel. Make studying English subject/verb agreement something you focus on for 30 minutes a day, everyday.
Both English and Spanish have past, present, future, conditional and progressive verb tenses but they don’t mirror one another when it comes to use.
The most glaring errors occur with the English present perfect tense, and the simple past tense.
The present perfect tense talks about something that happened in the past that relates to the present with no exact time expressed. You use 2 verbs—the main verb have/has + the past participle, and an auxiliary verb.
I have known him since last year. but Spanish ESL students will often say— I know him since last year.
The past simple talks about an action or event completed in the past. You use it when you are saying when something happened, either the specific or undefined point in time or the frequency, i.e. always, often, seldom…
I visited her yesterday. But Spanish ESL students will often say—I visit her yesterday.
Spanish students of English have an advantage over many other ESL students since both languages share a subject + verb + object sentence structure, but grammar errors do occur in the unshared territory. Spanish ESL students often attempt to impose their native language rules on English resulting in grammar errors that are the bane of ESL teachers everywhere. Focus on improving your grasp of these 4 English grammar rules and you’ll kick those cliché errors in no time!