B or V?

¡Hola a todos!

Hope you are doing well. This week, I’m going to talk about an orthography and pronunciation topic: B and V in Spanish.

Pronunciation

I’ll start with the pronunciation, because is one of the things that drive my students crazy, specially beginners. Why so? Because other languages, such as French or English, make the difference between /b/ and /v/ sound; but this is not what happens in Spanish, according to the RAE (Real Academia Española):

«No existe en español diferencia alguna en la pronunciación de las letras b y v. Las dos representan hoy el sonido bilabial sonoro /b/.»

If you visit the RAE website, you will verify that there’s no difference between B and V, as both are pronounced /b/.

But, why do we have the two letters if we only have one sound? Because of tradition. In Latin, both sounds were differenced, so Spanish kept both graphics in order to stick to Latin.

The RAE explains that there was a time when a difference was made in Spanish between /b/ and /v/, as an influence of English and French, for example, for these languages do distinguish both sounds. Furthermore, some people from Catalonia, Valencia or some places in America may pronounce /v/ due to the influence of the Amerindian or regional languages.

But since 1911, “the Academy explicitly quitted recommending this distinction”, so the pronunciation of B and V in Spanish is absolutely the same: /b/.

Orthography

Many of my students like jokes and they tell me: “If they are pronounced the same, then I can write everything using only B or V, right?”. The answer is, definitely, NO. Spanish has orthography rules, and these rules are important; also, if you write certain words with B instead of V, for example, they might mean different things.

You can see the general rules for B and V on the attached pictures to this post.

And about those words whose meaning could change depending on the spelling, I give you some of them here, but there are a lot!

 

  • Baca ≠ Vaca

This is the most common one, I think. When we, Spanish natives, are at school learning how to write and face this two letters, teachers usually write La vaca está en la baca, which means “the cow is on the roof rack”.

 

  • Barón ≠ Varón

Barón is a baron, a title of nobility; but if you write it with V, you will be talking about a regular man, as varón means “male”.

 

  • Baya ≠ Vaya

Baya is easy, it’s a berry. But vaya can mean different things: it can be an interjection or the verb ir (to go): present subjunctive 1st person singular, present subjunctive 3rd person singular or imperative 3rd person singular.

You can remember the difference with the sentence ¡Vaya baya he encontrado!

 

  • Bello ≠ Vello

Something bello (masculine adjective) is something beautiful. A vello is a thin hair, like the one in the arms, or the bloom in a fruit. You can usually listen vello facial referring to the facial hair.

But remember, it is only for the thin hair; the hair in the head is called pelo, melena or cabellera.

 

  • Botar ≠ Votar

These two verbs are absolutely different: botar means “to bounce” and votar means “to vote”! Of course, all their forms when conjugating must maintain the B or V. It’s not the same to say votamos / botamos, and we must make the difference.

 

  • Grabar ≠ Gravar

Another example like the previous one: grabar means “to record” or “to engrave”, but gravar means “to levy”.

 

  • Sabia ≠ Savia

Sabia is an adjective to describe a wise woman (a wise man would be sabio), while savia is the sap, a “liquid transported by the conductive tissue of plants”.

 

  • Bienes ≠ Vienes

Bienes are goods, the patrimony a person or a company owns; vienes is present 2nd person singular for venir (to come; you come).

 

  • Cabo ≠ Cavo

Cabo is, among others, a cape, and also the ending part of some objects; cavo is present 1st person singular for cavar (to dig; I dig).

But, warning! Cabo is NOT present 1st person singular for caber (to fit); this form is yo quepo, as it’s an irregular verb for the 1st person.

 

  • Hierba ≠ Hierva

Hierba is the grass; hierva is present subjunctive 1st or 3rd person singular for hervir (to boil).

 

  • Tubo ≠ Tuvo

Tubo is a tube, a pipe; tuvo is simple perfect past 3rd person singular for tener (to have; he had).

 

Do you know other pair of words whose pronunciation is the same but their meaning is completely different? Write them below!

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¡Hasta la próxima!

Demonstratives and proximity adverbs in Spanish

¡Hola a todos!

Today, I’m writing about a grammar topic: demonstrative articles and some adverbs related to them.

I know grammar might be very boring for some students, but it’s a very important part when learning a language! So, I’ll try it to be short and easy-going. ¿Preparados? 🙂

 

Demonstrative articles in Spanish.

First of all, we must explain what a demonstrative article is. They are words that go with a noun, and they must agree with it. That is, if the noun is masculine and singular, the article must be masculine and singular as well.

  1. What are the demonstrative articles in Spanish?

 

  1. When should I use “este”, “ese” or “aquel”?

In Spanish, these articles are equivalent to this and that in English; but there’s a difference: English has two demonstratives, Spanish has three. This is because Spanish makes a deeper difference than English, and splits that in two. Let’s see why:

  • Este, esta -> this

Este coche es rojo. (This car is red)

  • Ese, esa -> that

Ese coche es verde. (That car is green; the car is a bit far, middle distance)

  • Aquel, aquella -> that

Aquel coche es negro. (That car is black; the car is far away)

As you can see, the difference among “ese” and “aquel” is the distance between the subject and the object. If it’s a middle distance, we use “ese”; if it’s very far, we use “aquel”.

  1. Can demonstrative articles in Spanish measure time?

Yes, they can… somehow. We often use them with words related to time: day, week, morning… For example:

  • Este fin de semana voy a la playa.
  • Ese día lo pasé muy bien.
  • Aquella semana estudié mucho.

If we use “este”, we are talking about a time that hasn’t occurred yet, that is, future. In the example, this (next) weekend I’m going to the beach.

On the opposite, if we use “ese” or “aquel”, we talk about a past experience, as shown in the previous examples: That (past) day; that (past) week.

  1. Can demonstrative articles in Spanish go after the noun?

Yes, but you must be careful. When we use the structure noun + demonstrative, we might want to be colloquial or pejorative.

For example, instead of saying “ese día lo pasé muy bien” as we said before, we could say “el día ese lo pasé muy bien”. It is an informal way, not disrespectful at all. But it could also be pejorative if we say “el día ese fue un asco”.

How to know if it’s informal or pejorative? Basically, about intonation and context. If  you’re talking about something good, then it would be informal; if you’re angry or disappointed, then it will turn pejorative.

 

Adverbs: aquí, ahí, allí, acá, allá

So these are some adverbs I like to teach related to the demonstrative articles, because they are also about distance in the same way.

“Aquí” and “acá” means the same, here. The difference is about use: personally, I always use “aquí”, and “acá” is more used in Latin-American countries (I’m Spanish, so if some Latin-American is reading me and I’m wrong, please let me know!).

About how to say there, we’re in the same situation than we were with that. “Ahí” is a middle-distance adverb, and “allí” is a long-distance adverb. And “allá” is used as well in Latin-America.

Note that the spelling is very important for “ahí”; if you change the “h” position, it will mean something different, as you can see in this orthography post.

Hope I’ve been clear with this. If you have any question, don’t doubt about asking!

If you liked it, share it! And if you want, remember you can book a free trial lesson to learn Spanish online with me!

¡Hasta la próxima! 😊

Spanish idioms with cats! – Aquí hay gato encerrado

Hello everyone!

I would like to show you today some idioms. Last time, I talked about Spanish Idioms with Spanish Cities, but now I’m going to talk about idioms with one of my favorite animals: the cat.

Cats have been adored since ancient times; Egyptians and people from China and India loved him, and even some gods in the ancient Egypt were made up of cats, like Bastet, goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt.

Nowadays, some people all over the world, including Spain, think that black cats are a symbol of bad luck, as they are linked to witches and horror stories, like The Black Cat, by Edgar Allan Poe.

But this is not a blog about cats (I should reconsider to create one about animals, I think), so here we go with the cats’ expressions I collected in Spanish!

  • Aquí hay gato encerrado.

We use this expression when we mean that something is fishy.

For example: somebody you don’t get along with invites you to his birthday party, with an evil smile at his face; then you think “aquí hay gato encerrado”.

What’s the origin of this idiom? Well, we must go back to sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was typical to use the word “gato” referring to the rucksack where the money was kept. To avoid robberies, some people hid the sack behind the clothes, so the thieves created a code to express they found somebody with a hidden bag. This code was “gato encerrado” (enclosed cat).

  • Llevarse como el perro y el gato

“To get along like dog and cat”. This one is very easy to guess, and it means to get like dogs and cats, that is, bad.

It has no other origin that the real relationship between dogs and cats in real life, although there are many homes where dogs and cats are best friends forever! But to understand this idiom, we must stick to the classic bad relation among these animals.

As an example, we can think about two siblings who fight every day, and I’m sure a Spanish mum would say “¡se llevan como el perro y el gato!”.

  • Buscarle tres pies al gato

You literally look for three cat’s feet when you are complicating your life or looking for trouble.

For example, you saw somebody doing something wrong and you try that person to tell you by herself, but she starts giving you bad excuses. At the moment you get tired of those excuses, you say: “deja de buscarle tres pies al gato, te vi ayer”.

But, why three feet instead of five, which would be the logical? I mean, 99% of the cats have four feet, so it makes more sense looking for the fifth foot, which is an extra. Indeed, originally that was the expression: “buscarle cinco pies al gato”. Well, it is said that this is due to Miguel de Cervantes, the illustrious writer mostly known by his work Don Quijote de la Mancha, who is said that modified the expression to use it on his work. Some people say it was a mistake, some other people say he did it deliberately to add an irony note to the text. The only true fact is that the expression changed since then.

  • Tener más vidas que un gato

Why do we say that somebody would have more lives than a cat? Nobody has more than one life, then, why? We must go back in time to understand this.

As I said before, cats were considered gods in the Ancient Egypt, but later on, Catholics prosecuted cats because they thought cats were a Devil’s symbol. As a result of this swinging of the cat’s superstitions, along with cats’ ability to came out unhurt of a high fall, the myth of cats’ resurrection was created. In Spain, we also say that cats’ have seven lives (“siete vidas tiene un gato”). Not five nor eight, but seven!

So, for example, we will say that somebody has “más vidas que un gato” when, after a car accident, the person is completely or almost uninjured. And it may even not be the first time!

  • El gato escaldado, del agua fría huye

We use this expression to talk about somebody who runs away from a situation that once hurt him. Literally meaning “a scalded cat runs away from cold water”, it could be translated as “once bitten, twice shy”.

We don’t need to think too much about its origin, as it is an action-reaction fact: you trust in something, you get hurt, you don’t trust in that anymore. For example, a kid at school is told to go to the gym because a teacher wants to talk to him, but once there he finds the big guys who want to humiliate him. That kid will never trust those guys again, and even other boys who have something in common, so that kid will became the cat who runs away from cold water.

  • De noche, todos los gatos son pardos

This expression would be literally translated as “at night, all cats are grey-brown”, but it basically means that everything looks the same in the dark.

It is used to talk about people who are about doing bad businesses, like committing a crime or cheating on someone, and they do it at night so they won’t be recognized by the victim.

For example, think about a couple with two kids. Everyone is supposed to be sleeping, but the dad wants to drink water, so he heads to the kitchen. But he sees a kid running to the bedroom and finds the evidence: a chocolate paper on the kitchen table! With sunlight, he might have known who was the kid who ate the chocolate, but as it was dark, he doesn’t know either it was one or the other boy. So, he will say to his wife “¡No lo vi! De noche, todos los gatos son pardos”.

  • Dar gato por liebre

This idiom has its origin in ancient times, when it was said that some innkeepers served cat meat instead of rabbit or mutton as offered. This was also said about people selling hare pies at the street markets. Customers complained about it because they were supposed to pay for hare or mutton meat, but they got cooked cat instead.

So, when we “give a cat instead of a hare”, we are conning somebody by giving a lower quality article than expected. For example, if you go to a second-hand shop to buy a new phone but don’t really know about the features that you need, the person in charge will try to convince you that the worst phone is the best one for you. Then you get home and you proudly show it to your brother, and he laughs at you because you got a really bad phone for an extremely high price, so he says to you “te han dado gato por liebre”.

  • Haber cuatro gatos

Els Quatre Gats was a hostel located in Barcelona built by the end of the nineteenth century. It was usually frequented by some of the most important Modernism figures. Unfortunately, they used to be few people, so the place had to close seven years later.

But seven years were enough to settle down a new idiom in our language. As the place used to be almost empty, people associated the four cats to an empty place, and nowadays we say “hay cuatro gatos” when there is hardly anyone somewhere.

For example, you go to a pub that usually is full of people, but today you can see that is almost empty, so you say “hay cuatro gatos, vámonos de aquí”.

From gods to demons in different cultures, if we consider them a language resource, cats are so versatile! Of course, they are way much more than a resource; personally I love cats, but you can’t deny they give place to many issues in language and history!

I hope you liked it! If so, please share it and tell me if you know other idioms with cats, both in Spanish or your own language. 😊

¡Hasta la próxima!

False friends (English – Spanish)

Hello again!

If you ask me about something tricky when learning Spanish, I’ll definitely say that the trickiest thing when learning every language are the false friends (falsos amigos). And I think this is very important, because you may think that the other person understood you, but maybe what you just said makes no sense.

And I’m not only talking about beginners or self-learners, but also about professionals. I like reading so much, and sometimes I find sentences with no sense because of the false friends, and it drives me crazy!

So today I’m going to give you some false friends (compared to English) and explain you what word would be the correct one for every one of them.

 

English word: ACTUALLY -> Spanish meaning: realmente

Spanish word: ACTUALMENTE -> English meaning: nowadays

 

English word: ATTEND -> Spanish meaning: asistir

Spanish word: ATENDER -> English meaning: to pay attention

 

English word: CARPET -> Spanish meaning: alfombra

Spanish word: CARPETA -> English meaning: folder

 

English word: ROPE -> Spanish meaning: cuerda

Spanish word: ROPA -> English meaning: clothes

 

English word: EXIT -> Spanish meaning: salida

Spanish word: ÉXITO -> English meaning: success

 

English word: EMBARRASED -> Spanish meaning: avergonzado

Spanish word: EMBARAZADA -> English meaning: pregnant

 

These are some of the most frequent mistakes my students use to make. But as I told before, is not only a beginner’s matter: professionals also make mistakes.

As an anecdote, I will tell you that I was reading a very famous book in Spanish some months ago (I don’t want to say the name of the book, respect, you know) and I got shocked when reading a paragraph. There was a sentence saying “muy embarazado”. Can you find the mistake? Yes! “Embarazado” means pregnant, so you can’t be very pregnant; you are pregnant or you are not, but it isn’t something you can measure. And there’s something more: “embarazado” is a male adjective… Boys don’t (usually) get pregnant, so it was so weird for me because it doesn’t make sense!

And that’s an example of why it’s important to know the false friends.

If you liked it, please share it! And remember that you can book online lessons to learn Spanish online! 😉 

See you next time!