Conozco Mexico. - I’ve been to Mexico.
As a Spanish learner, you probably feel confused every time you come across certain words that seem designed to make learning the language harder. For example, words that are pronounced the same, but mean completely different things or words that are related in terms of meaning, yet are used in very different situations. Don’t feel embarrassed, though. These confusing Spanish words can even trip up native speakers and the most advanced learners.
As a rule of thumb, always double-check every new word you learn before you try it out in conversation. Remember, in Spanish, just as in English, there are words that you will stumble over. Although not comprehensive, this list contains some of the most commonly confused Spanish words and tips on how to use them correctly.
Conocer is a very useful Spanish verb. It means “to meet” or “to know” depending on the context. The most common meaning of conocer in any context is to know someone personally. It can also be used to talk about meeting someone for the first time, and to show that you have been to a certain place in the past or have some knowledge about it.
Conozco a tus padres. - I know your parents.
Rachel conoce a tu profesora de inglés. - Rachel knows your English teacher.
Tip: when used to talk about having an acquaintance with someone, conocer will always be followed by the preposition a and a direct object (a person).
Conozco México. - I’ve been to Mexico.
Mi hermano conoce un buen restaurante en esa ciudad. - My brother knows a good restaurant in that city.
To confuse matters, saber can also be translated as ‘‘to know,’’ in the sense that it means knowing information. Also, saber is used to talk about learned abilities such as ‘‘to drive’’ or ‘‘to speak a foreign language.’’
¿Sabes cuántos años tengo? - Do you know how old I am?
¿Tu hermana sabe hablar alemán? - Can your sister speak German?
Tip: saber is often accompanied by question words such as qué, quién, dónde, cuántos, among others.
These are probably some of the most troublesome words to remember for both native Spanish speakers and Spanish students. The problem stems from the fact that all three words are pronounced pretty much in the same way.
Allá is an adverb of place. It means ‘‘there.’’
Mis llaves están allá. - My keys are there.
Tip: it is always accented.
Haya is a verb. According to Real Academia Española (RAE) it can be the first- or third-person singular of haber in the subjunctive mood.
No creo que haya pasado el examen. - I don’t think he passed the test.
Tip: it is usually found in perfect tenses.
Halla is another verb. It is a form of the verb ‘‘to find’’ in either the third person in the indicative mood or the second person in the imperative one.
Halla la respuesta correcta. - Find the right answer.
Tip: always written with a double L.
This tricky word pair is also a pain in the neck of many Spanish-speaking people around the world as it is pronounced in the same way but has a very different meaning.
Cazar is translated as ‘‘to hunt.’’
Le gusta cazar venados. -- He likes to hunt deer.
Tip: always written with a Z.
Casar, meaning “to marry,” is often used as a reflexive verb (casarse). These are two words you don’t want to mix up!
María se va a casar el mes que viene. -- María is going to get married next month.
Yo no quiero casarme. -- I don’t want to get married.
These two words are difficult because the difference between them is very subtle.
Para is a preposition. It is often used to indicate purpose. It also means “in order to,” “for the benefit of,” or “in the direction of.”
Este regalo es para ti. - This gift is for you. (the benefit of)
Voy para México. - I am heading to Mexico.
Tip: it is often used with destinations, recipients, deadlines, and goals.
Por is also a preposition. This one denotes movement. It can be translated as ‘‘through’’, ‘‘around’’, ‘‘along’’, ‘‘by’’, ‘‘about.’’ Also, por can be used to talk about the cause of something.
Caminé por las calles de Italia. - I walked through the streets of Italy.
Hice esto por ti. - I did this for you. (cause)
Tip: it is used with travel, communication, duration, and motivation.
The problem with this word for Spanish learners is that it looks similar to the English adjective embarrassed, but embarazada actually means pregnant.
Ella está embarazada - She is pregnant
Tip: avergonzado is the Spanish word you want when you feel embarrassed.
Should you write it with a “c” or an “s”? That is always the question.
Coser means ‘‘to sew.’’
Ella ama coser. - she loves sewing.
Cocer means ‘‘to boil’’ or ‘‘to cook.’’
Necesitas cocer el pollo. - You need to boil the chicken.
Tip: remember that the cooking-related verb is written with a “c” and the sewing verb is written with an “s.”
Haz is the imperative form of hacer ‘‘to do.’’
¡Haz tu tarea! - do your homework!
Has is the second person tú form of the helping verb haber.
¿Has encontrado el libro? - Have you found the book?
Tip: has with “s” is always followed by a past participle.
Writing these two words can be a nightmare. In Latin America, they are pronounced the same.
Ves is a conjugated form of the verb ver ‘‘to see.’’
¿Ves eso? - Do you see that?
Vez is a noun that refers to time.
He ido a Francia una vez. - I’ve been to France once.
Tip: if you are using a verb, always write it with an “s.”