In any language a subtle change in pronunciation or spelling can completely change the meaning of a word. Confusing word pairs in Spanish is so common. Even English is famously difficult when it comes to pronouncing words for students learning it as a foreign language.
Many native English speakers don’t realise how unusual some of the spelling and pronunciation of their words can seem to non native speakers.
Think of place names like Leicester or Worcester as well as confusing word pairs like lose or loose, complement or compliment, there or their and bear or bare.
Unfortunately, English is not unique when it comes to confusing spelling and confusing words pairs almost every language will have certain words where the spelling and the sounds made don’t make much sense on the surface and even the slightest mistake can change the meaning behind the word your saying.
Spanish has the added confusion of using accents or “tilde” on certain letters which can change the emphasis of a certain letter which may change the word entirely.
Luckily, Your Teacher At Home is here to help give you a head start by showing you some of the most common confusing word pairings in Spanish and how they change depending on spelling or accent.
A small accent changes the word Papa for the Pope into Papá the friendly and informal way to say dad in Spanish. The children in most families will say Papá so be sure to use the emphasis on the last á to distinguish the word.
Locals in Spain May also use papa as a short version for patata or potato. For example “papas bravas”
Unless you want your orange juice to come with octopus inside be mindful of how in Spanish the masculine and feminine endings of words change the whole word entirely.
These confusing Spanish word pairings are often difficult for many people learning vocabulary. The first and last vowel of an otherwise similar word structure can change the word to entirely unrelated translations. It’s also worth noting that many Spanish speakers won’t pronounce the H at the start of the word making it sounds like “tengo ambre” I am hungry.
Año – year
This can be a dangerous mistake to make if you forget to pronounce the ñ. “Feliz ano nuevo” would not be an appropriate thing to say on New Year’s Eve and will cause you to get strange looks.
Many people will get tired of being married but a simple letters difference in Spanish changes the word again. Here an N changes “estoy cansado” I’m tired from “Estoy Casado” I am married.
Be careful with this distinction especially when trying to be nice about someone’s hair. A compliment can become a weird thing to say if you Pronounce this confusing word pairing wrong. Remember in Spanish often the a (as in caballo) is pronouncing like eye, Sky or pie in English and the e (as in cabello) is similar to hay, say, way.
This simple change would be beneficial to an older sibling who thinks they’re the best child in the family but not to you learning Spanish and confusing word pairings in Spanish.
“Mi hermano mayor” – my older brother
“Mi hermano mejor”- my better brother
Many English speakers pronounce the j and the y the same in second languages. Such as the word “Ja” meaning yes in German. It’s important to remember the Spanish J takes the sound similar to the English H than a softer Y sound of many languages.
Not all confusing Spanish word pairings can cause funny responses if you get them the wrong way around. Many words as we’ve seen above have similar spelling but different meanings but often in Spanish we also have words with similar meanings but totally different spelling.
Here we’ll show three common confusing word pairings in Spanish that many people struggle with when learning Spanish.
Be sure to research these further as you’ll hear them used very often.
Ver- to see
Mirar- to look at/ to watch
These to verbs relate to using eyesight or viewing something visually.
Mirar often is used in a way we use to stare at or observe something in English.
Be careful as the use is slightly different in English. Mirar means to watch but in Spanish ver is used for television.
In Spanish Ver becomes Veo “I see” veo la tele or estoy viendo la tele.
These differences improve with practice so be sure to study further the context Ver and Mirar are used.
Conocer- to know
Saber- to know
Spanish has different words for the same thing in a different context.
Conocer literally means “to know” but is often used in Spanish to mean “to meet” so you know someone when you meet them.
¿Le conoces? – Do you know him?
Yo la conocí en un taxi- I met her in a taxi
Saber is often used to refer to a detail or piece of information you’re aware of “learned information”.
No sabe bailar – he doesn’t know how to dance
Conocer is often used to express familiarity with something.
This difference takes time to understand so be sure to practice until you become familiar with the difference.
Our final confusing word pair in Spanish is
Intentar- to try
Probar- to try
Intentar is used in Spanish to show an attempt to do something. In English we say “to try to speak Spanish”
Estoy intentando mejorar mi español- I’m trying to improve my spanish.
Whereas probar is used more often showing trying something new. This is often used in the context of food
Quires probar mi pizza- do you want to try my pizza.
In Spain dressing rooms are called probadores in shops as it’s a room you “try” on new clothes.
These confusing Spanish word pairings can be difficult to grasp at first but are helpful to show that Spanish is a language where the pronunciation of words and their context is very important.
To avoid confusing and sometimes embarrassing mistakes be sure to focus on the context of words as well as their pronunciation and remember to practice as much as you can.
Some hints and tips of improving your spoken Spanish are in a previous blog.