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all about spanish
Click on any of the terms below to get a full explanation of that topic.
•  Background
•  Some Vocabulary
•  Accent Mark Interlude
•  A Little More Vocabulary
•  Spanish Alphabet
•  Pronunciation
•  Cognates
•  Capitalization
•  Number Vocabulary
•  Numbers 1 to 10
•  Gender
•  Conversation Vocabulary
•  Less Formal Greetings
•  Sample Conversation
•  Why Are the Question Marks
Upside-Down?
•  Do You Have the Time?
•  Fraction of an Hour
•  What's the Weather Like?
•  Weather Vocabulary
•  Expressing the Weather
•  Conclusion

Introduction

Hola! Bienvenidos! Welcome to Standard Deviants Spanish. We're going to give you everything you need to start speaking Español—that's how you say "Spanish" in Spanish. We'll start out slow, with things like the alphabet and the numbers from zero to ninety-nine, have fun with greetings and goodbyes, and finish up with learning how to tell the time and talk about the weather.

Along the way, we'll review some useful but quirky vocabulary. Like zapato. And pingüino. But what else would you expect from the Standard Deviants? Let's get started.

Background

Spanish is spoken by just about a bazillion people around the world. Okay, bazillion isn't the official number, but Spanish is spoken by a lot of people—over 250,000,000. How many people is that? Well, take all your friends, your family, your pet iguana, everyone in your town, and a couple hundred million people, and that's how many people speak Spanish. Think of all the people you'll be able to talk to if you learn Spanish.

Spanish, like Italian and French, is a Romance language. These languages are derived from Latin, the ancient language of Rome. That's why they're called "Roman"ce languages. Since Romance languages like Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian have the same Latin roots, many of the words in these languages are similar to each other.

Today, Spanish is the major language spoken in Spain and in 18 countries throughout Latin America, including: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

So now you know where to visit once you're fluent in Spanish. First, you need to know how to speak it. And with that in mind…

Some Vocabulary

Here are some vocabulary words that will help you out later on.

Cena is the Spanish word for "dinner."

Pelo means "hair."

Muy means "very," and bonito means "pretty." So muy bonito means "very pretty."

Cine means "movie theater."

Idiota means "idiot."

Ojo means "eye."

Trucha means "trout," and estúpida means "stupid." Trucha estúpida means "stupid trout." So if you ever start a cereal company with a trout as a mascot, you can make a series of commercials where kids chide it, " Trucha estúpida! Trout Charms are for kids!"

Ciudad means "city."

Calle means "street." Don't play in the calle. You might get run over by a coche. Coche means "car." Carro is another Spanish word that means "car."

Gracias means "thank you." Gato means cat, and regalo means "gift." If you get a gato as a regalo, say gracias, even if you're allergic to gatos.

Guitarra means "guitar."

A pingüino is a "penguin."

A cigüeña is a "stork."

Amarillo is the word for the color yellow.

Año means "year."

Niño means "little boy."

Uña means "fingernail."

Quinto means "fifth," like the fifth person in line.

Queso is "cheese." Mmmm, cheese.

Querido means "beloved." O querido queso, why do you cost $4.99 a pound?

Ferrocarril means "railway" or "train," and rápido means "fast."

A shoe is called a zapato in Spanish.

Azúcar is "sugar," and tetera means "teapot."

Accent Mark Interlude

You'll notice that some of these words have accents over them. Accent marks are as important as the letters, so make sure you memorize where the accent goes. Okay, back to vocabulary.

A Little More Vocabulary

Cocos are "coconuts."

Justicia humana means "human justice."

An aguacate is an "avocado."

Siete is the number seven. We'll go over more numbers later.

And no más means "no more."

Spanish Alphabet

There are 27 letters in the modern Spanish alphabet. Yeah, you read right, 27. There's an extra letter in Spanish that we don't use in English. It's the letter "ñ," and we'll tell you more about it later. There used to be a few letters in the Spanish alphabet that were never in the English alphabet.

These letters are now combinations of letters that, until recently, were considered letters in their own right. Although they are no longer technically listed with the alphabet, they still show up in a lot of Spanish words, so learn to pronounce them. For simplicity's sake, we'll refer to them here as single letters.

Two of the most common combinations are "ch" and "ll". "Ch" is pronounced just like in the English words "chortle" and "chuckle." "Ll" is pronounced like a "y" in English.

Pronunciation

Spanish is an easy language to pronounce. Each letter usually corresponds to only one sound. Once you learn how to pronounce each letter, you'll have Spanish pronunciation pretty much licked. It's really much easier than English, where vowels and some consonants can make several possible sounds. For example, there are a number of ways you can pronounce the vowel "a" in English.

In Spanish, the vowel "a" has only one flat sound—ah—like in the name María. It works the same way for the other vowels in Spanish. There's only one way to pronounce each of them.

Here's how to pronounce the rest of the vowels in Spanish. Make sure you close your mouth quickly without drawing out the vowel sound like you do in English.

"E" is pronounced like a long "a" in English. Examples: la cena, un eructo.

"I" is pronounced like a long "e" in English. Examples: el cine, una idiota.

"O" is pronounced like a long "o" in English. Examples: un ojo, un ojo morado.

"U" is pronounced sort of like two o's together in English. Examples: una trucha, una trucha estúpida, un eructo.

 Cognates

Now let's talk about cognates. Cognates are words from two different languages that are spelled alike and have similar or identical meanings. There are quite a few Spanish and English words that are cognates. Cognates are great because they're easy to remember. They're also handy for pointing out the differences in pronunciation between the Spanish version of the word and the English version of the word.

For example, the word "patio" means the same thing and is spelled the same way in both Spanish and English. The pronunciations, though, are different.

It works the same way for some other words and names that are common to both languages—only the pronunciation differs. A few other cognates are rosa, televisión, and problema.

Capitalization

When you're writing in Spanish, the names of the days of the week and the names of the months are written with lower case letters. You also don't capitalize the pronoun yo, which means "I," unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. In English, we capitalize proper adjectives such as the word "American" in the phrase "the American way." In Spanish, you don't capitalize proper adjectives unless they are part of a proper name.

All proper names are capitalized, including people's names. People's titles, however, are not capitalized in Spanish as they are in English. So President Lincoln is el presidente Lincoln in Spanish. For book titles, you only capitalize the first word of the title—that is, unless the title contains a proper name. As we said, you always capitalize proper names. Now, there are only a couple of things to remember about accents.

Accents indicate one of two things: either the word has an irregular stress pattern, or the word can have two different meanings, depending on whether or not it has the accent. Accents are part of the spellings of words, so make sure you memorize them.

Number Vocabulary

Assuming you already know how to count, learning the numbers in Spanish is really just learning vocabulary. Here's the other vocabulary you'll need to know in this section.

Puntos means points.

A duck is called a pato. Quack.

And lawyers are called abogados.

Dentists are dentistas.

Plants are called plantas. Plantas need agua (water) to live.

You put toast in a tostador, and drink tea out of a taza (cup).

In Spanish, apples are called manzanas.

Writers are called escritores. An escritor wrote this sentence.

And trees are called árboles. Timber!

 Numbers 1 to 10

Speaking of timber, let's learn the numbers 1 to 10.

Cero. Cero puntos. (0)

Uno. Un pato. (1)

Dos. Dos abogados. (2)

Tres. Tres dentistas. (3)

Cuatro. Cuatro plantas. (4)

Cinco. Cinco tostadores. (5)

Seis. Seis tazas. (6)

Siete. Siete naranjas. (7)

Ocho. Ocho manzanas. (8)

Nueve. Nueve escritores. (9)

Diez. Diez árboles. (10)

Gender

There are a few things you should keep in mind about gender in Spanish. For instance, if you're using the number "one" with a noun, like "one duck," you have to use the correct form of the word "one" to match the gender of your noun.

How can you tell the gender of a noun? For now, just consider this: if a noun ends in "o," it's usually considered masculine, and if it ends in "a," it's probably considered feminine. Keep in mind there are exceptions to this guideline.

Okay, so here's the deal with gender and the number one. When you're just counting, like 1, 2, 3, and so on, you say uno for "one." Uno, dos, tres, and so on.

But when you use the number "one" along with a noun, like "one duck," you have to make the number match in gender with the noun it's paired with. For now, remember that you can tell pato is a masculine noun because it ends in "o."

Now, you may think that the masculine form of the number uno is "uno" since it ends in "o." That's not the case. I'm sure you noticed that in our example, "one duck," we said un pato—not uno pato.

When you want to use the number "one" with a masculine noun such as pato, drop the "o" and just say "un." Un pato.

When you use the number "one" with a feminine noun—a noun that ends in "a"—use the form una. Una, which also has an "a" on the end, matches the feminine gender of your noun.

For example, the noun mesa, which is feminine, ends in "a." To say "one table," say una mesa. To say "one ant," say una hormiga. It's very simple, really. Just make the "a"s match.

So, essentially, there are three ways to say the number one—uno, un, and una—and you have to pick the right one depending on what form you need.

Now, here are the numbers 11 to 20.

once. (11)

doce. (12)

trece. (13)

catorce. (14)

quince. (15)

dieciseis. (16)

diecisiete. (17)

dieciocho. (18)

diecinueve. (19)

veinte. (20)

To learn the numbers between 20 and 99, you really just have to learn the multiples of 10—you know, 20, 30, 40, and so on. The numbers in between work pretty much like they do in English—you just tack on the single-digit number.

For example, in English, we say "twenty-one." In Spanish, you say veintiuno. Twenty-two is veintidos. Twenty-three is veintitres. Twenty-four is veinticuatro, and the numbers go on like that until you get to thirty.

The Spanish word for "thirty" is treinta. Numbers after twenty change a bit. "Thirty-one" is treinta y uno, not treintauno. Skipping a bit, "thirty-eight" is treinta y ocho, and "thirty-nine" is treinta y nueve.

The "y" between the multiple of ten and the single digit means "and." So sesenta y dos means 60 and 2, or 62.

diez. (10)

veinte. (20)

veintiuno. (21)

treinta. (30)

treinta y uno. (31)

cuarenta. (40)

cincuenta. (50)

sesenta. (60)

setenta. (70)

ochenta. (80)

noventa. (90)

Conversation

If you're going to speak to people in Spanish, you have to know how to say pleasantries like we do in English.

These pleasantries are just something you have to say—in any language. You can't just run up to a Spanish-speaker and say: "Quit speaking your moonman language and tell me where I can find a snow cone! Snow cone!"

No. You have to be polite and genteel. You have to say: "Good afternoon. How are you? I'm fine, thank you. Do you, by any chance, know where I might find some flavored snow for my loved ones?"

Except you have to learn how to say all that in Spanish. We'll go over some simpler stuff for now. We're going to start off with greeting and saying goodbye to people in Spanish.

But first, here are a few additional words you need to know. In this vocabulary section, we're also going to give you a few phrases. These commonly used phrases are useful. For now, you can just memorize these phrases like vocabulary words. As you learn more Spanish, you'll learn how they work grammatically.

Conversation Vocabulary

Clase means "class."

¿ A dónde vas? means "Where are you going?"

Historia is the Spanish word for "history."

También means "also."

Tengo prisa means "I'm in a rush," and nos vemos means "see you later."

Está bien is the Spanish version of "okay," or "okee dokee" depending on your personal preference.

¿Qué haces hoy? means "What are you doing today?"

And Qué sorpresa! means "What a surprise!"

To say "good morning," say, "buenos días."

To say "good afternoon," say "buenas tardes."

And "good night" is buenas noches.

Less Formal Greetings

Here are some of the less formal greetings. You're more likely to use these with friends and family.

To say "Hi," say "Hola!"

There are a couple of different ways to say "how are you," and a couple of different answers to the question.

For example, you can say "¿ Cómo estás?" and your neighbor might answer: "Bien gracias. ¿ Y tú?" which means: "Fine thank you. And you?"

Another, even less formal way to ask "how are you" is
"¿ Qué tal?"

To which your friend might answer: "No muy bien. ¿ Y tú?" which means: "Not very well. And you?"

If you see your friend on her way to calculus class, you might ask her, "¿ Cómo te va?" which means "How is it going?" Since she's not a big fan of calculus, she might answer, "Así, así," which means "so so."

And, finally, when you're standing at your doorway, trying to say goodnight to your friend so you can go to sleep, you might say "Adiós," which means "good-bye."

Your friend responds, "Hasta luego," which means, "until later." Then he realizes he hasn't shown off all his vocabulary, so he says, "Ciao" which, like adiós, means "good-bye." You say "Adios" again and close the door before he can say anything else.

 Sample Conversation

Here's two people making small talk. See if you can understand their conversation.

Margarita: "Buenos días, Roberto."

Roberto: "Buenos días, Margarita. ¿ Cómo estás?"

Margarita: "Muy bien, gracias. ¿ Y tú? "

Roberto: "Así, así."

Margarita: "¿ A dónde vas?"

Roberto is thinking, "It's none of your stinking business where I'm going, Margarita." But in the spirit of politeness, he smiles and answers:

Roberto: "A mi clase de historia."

Margarita: "Yo también voy a clase."

Roberto is very bored with this conversation. Notice how he deftly gives Margarita a polite brush-off.

Roberto: "Bueno, tengo prisa. Nos vemos."

Margarita: "Está bien, hasta luego."

And Roberto is out of there.

Why Are the Question Marks Upside-Down?

By this point, you've probably noticed that questions in Spanish have an upside-down question mark at the beginning of the question and a regular question mark at the end.

The additional upside-down question mark at the beginning of a question is one of the conventions in Spanish. For example, if you write an email to your friend, asking "¿ Qué haces hoy?" ("What are you doing today?") you'd put the upside-down question mark at the beginning of your question as well as the regular one at the end.

Exclamation points also fit this rule. Periods don't. Periods work the same way in Spanish as they do in English. (Note: Some scholars believe periods are written upside-down in Spanish, but you can't tell, because periods are so tiny.)

Do You Have the Time?

Now that we've got you talking, we're going to give you some things to talk about. And what could be better to talk about than the time of day and the weather?

There are only three vocabulary words in this section in addition to the stuff we'll teach you about telling time.

Camarero means "waiter." A waitress is called a camarera — just replace the "o" at the end with an "a."

The word for the month of March is marzo, and the word for September is septiembre. Remember, months aren't capitalized in Spanish.

Okay, let's learn how to tell time! To ask the time, say
"¿Qué hora es?" Check out this conversation:

Customer: "Camarero, por favor, ¿qué hora es?"

Waiter: "Es la una."

Customer: "Gracias."

When we say the time in Spanish, we use the verb ser. We won't go into detail about all the forms of the verb ser right now. We'll just teach you the two forms you'll need to tell the time: es, which is the third person singular form of ser, and son, which is the third person plural. So to say "It's one o'clock," we say, "Es la una."

Usually when you're telling time, you'll use son las to express the time. The only time you'll use the singular forms es and la is when you're talking about a time between twelve-thirty and one-thirty. Why? In Spanish, you use the number "one" to tell time in this period. All the numbers besides "one" are plural, so you use the third person plural form of ser for these numbers, which is son.

"¿ Qué hora es?"

"Son las cuatro."

"Son las once."

"Son las seis."

Time is one of those situations where the literal translation from Spanish to English sounds odd. "Son las seis" translates roughly to "It's the six." That sounds odd to English speakers, but think of how funny "o'clock" sounds to Spanish speakers. It's all what you get used to.

Fraction of an Hour

When you want to talk about a fraction of an hour, there are a couple of ways you can do it.

To say, "It's a quarter after eleven," say "Son las once y cuarto." Son las once y cuarto means, "It's eleven and a quarter." Cuarto means "quarter." Don't confuse it with cuatro, which looks and sounds similar, but means "four."

Another way you can say "It's a quarter after eleven" is "Son las once y quince," which means it's eleven-fifteen.

On the half hour you can say, "Son las once y media," which means, "It's eleven and a half." Media means "half." It's kind of like when we say, "It's half past eleven." Or you can say, "Son las once y treinta," which means, "It's eleven-thirty."

Now, what if it's exactly twenty-two minutes after six? You'd say, "Son las seis y veintidos." To express the time between the top of the hour and half past the hour, just say the hour and add on the appropriate number of minutes after the hour.

If you want to say a time that's after the half hour, you say the upcoming hour and use the word menos, which means "minus," to show how many minutes it is before the upcoming hour. This might sound confusing, so let's go through an example.

To say "It's seven fifty" in Spanish, say "Son las ocho menos diez." That means it's eight o'clock minus ten minutes. It means the same thing as saying it's ten minutes before eight, or seven-fifty.

Can you get what this one means? "Es la una y veinticinco."

The answer is one twenty-five. Una is 1, and veinticinco is 25. Try this one: "Son las dos menos veinticinco."

The answer? One thirty-five. (2:00 - :25 = 1:35)

What's the Weather Like?

Very good—you can tell the time. But the time won't get you very far if you need to make small talk. That's where talking about the weather comes in.

If you ever find yourself waiting in a doctor's office or an elevator with a Spanish speaker, you'll need to know how to talk about the weather. Why? Because all humans, regardless of language or place of origin, are genetically programmed to talk about the weather when they have nothing else in common to talk about.

Okay, we're kidding, but it's useful to know how to talk about the weather anyway. But you know what's first…more vocabulary!

Weather Vocabulary

The Spanish word for "weather" is tiempo, and the word for "climate" is clima. You can tell that tiempo is a masculine word, because it ends in "o." Clima ends in "a," so it's feminine, right?

Wrong! Clima is an exception, a freak, a Quasimodo of a word. Clima is masculine even though it ends in "a." Memorize this, because clima comes up a lot when you're talking about the weather. Now for a tormenta of vocabulary.

Tormenta means "storm." Hielo means "ice," and niebla means "fog." Niebla gruesa means "thick fog."

Granizo is hail. Mucho means "much" or "a lot."

That's it for the vocabulary. Let's move on to how to express the weather.

Expressing the Weather

When you want to say, "It's cold," "It's hot," "It's sunny," or "It's windy," use the word hace plus the weather condition. We'll explain.

To say "It's cold," say "Hace frío." Here we go with the funny translation thing again. It literally means "It makes cold," but don't get hung up on that—just learn it. To say, "It's hot," say "Hace calor." "It's sunny" is Hace sol, and "It's windy" is Hace viento.

To say "It's raining," "It's cloudy," or "It's hailing," you use the verb está, the third person singular form of estar, plus the weather condition. This construction is easy because it's very similar to English.

To say "It's raining," say "Está lloviendo."

To say "It's hailing," say "Está granizando."

The verb "to snow" is nevar. To say, "It's snowing," say "Está nevando."

In Spanish, "degrees" are called grados. You can express temperature in grados Fahrenheit using the Fahrenheit scale like we do in the United States, or you can express temperature in grados centigrados, which are "degrees Celsius." Remember, most of the world uses the Celsius scale. We just like to be different here in the U.S.

Here are a few sentences using our weather words. Can you figure out what they mean?

La tormenta es muy mala. Está lloviendo mucho.

The storm is very bad. It is raining a lot.

Está nevando. Hay hielo en las calles.

It is snowing. There is ice in the streets.

Conclusion

Well, that's it for this edition of Standard Deviants Spanish. We learned about the alphabet, pronunciation, numbers, accents, and even a little conversation. And most importantly, the next time you find yourself in a Spanish-speaking country, you'll know how to point out the pingüinos.

Now that you've read All About Spanish, test your knowledge with our Sample Test.

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