Hi I'm learning Spanish as my foriegn language. But sometimes I don't understand how things work in this language. How do we know where to put accents marks since it can be anywhere? Is there a...

Hi I'm learning Spanish as my foriegn language. But sometimes I don't understand how things work in this language. How do we know where to put accents marks since it can be anywhere? Is there a rule for it?

Can we conjugate more than 1 verb in a sentence? Some examples would be En la class de español, no puedes comer, hablar demasiado, y no escuchar. Cuando nosotros no entendimos algo entonces pedir preguntas. Do we conjugate the rest of the verbs or we don't?

Sometimes there are words with the same meaning but use in different ways like ser and ester, saber and conocer, en and sobre. When do we know to use which word?    


Asked on by Angie A.

1 Answer

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One of the elements in the Spanish language that is so beautiful is its ability to embrace lexical ambiguity.  The Spanish language speaks to the idea that language is, by its nature, imprecise.  Language can never fully describe in a totalizing fashion.  For example, the idea of "I don't like it" in Spanish is translated to "No me gusta," which literally means, "It is not pleasing to me."  There is a linguistic vagueness that enhances the meaning and reach of the language.  The drawback,of course, is in the position you find yourself because learning a language that has a penchant for lexical ambiguity makes something difficult even more challenging.

Although it might not seem that way, there are some rules that governs the language.  While accents might be randomly placed, and some actually do place them anywhere, a set of rules was passed in the early 1950s that governed how accents in the language are to be placed:

In words with more than one syllable, only one can be stressed.  If a word ends in a vowel, "n," or "s," the stress is usually on the next to the last syllable.  If not, the stress is on the last syllable.  

The stress is where the accent is placed. For example, the word "aqui" has an accent over the "i."   It receives the accent here because it ends in a vowel ("i") and that is where the emphasis is placed.  In another example, the word "tia" receives an accent the "i" because the first syllable where "ti" is located receives the stress and thus, the accent.

The lexical ambiguity also extends to usage of language in Spanish.  For example, ser and estar both mean "to be," but their uses are different.  Both describe conditions of being in the world, but when describing a condition that is temporal, or something that can be easily changed, the verb "estar" is used. For example, in "Estoy enfermo" the verb "estar" is used because being sick is a condition that can easily changed.  However, in the sentence "Soy de Guatemala," "I am from Guatemala" is a condition that is not likely to change. As a result, the verb "ser" is used to describe a condition of being that is reflective of permanence.   In the use of en and sobre, it becomes a bit more challenging.  Both are prepositions.  Sobre literally means "on top of."  Yet, "en" is much more open in terms of interpretations. It means in or within, and more people use "en" than "sobre."  In terms of saber and conocer, both mean to know or to understand a condition of being. However, I think that there is a difference in the context of usage.  For example, when one is speaking regarding people or places, conocer is used:  "Conozco a Maria" or "Roberto conoce las calles de Madrid."  In these instances, conocer is used to indicate knowledge and understanding, or familiarity, of people and places.  When discussing the knowledge and understanding of information, saber is used.  For example, "Yo se todo la leccion" or "Elena sabe las instrucciones."  In these instances, saber, or the ability to know, is understood in terms of information or skills.  When it comes to verb conjugation, you would conjugate all of the verbs in the sentence because you are explaining different verbs of action that the subject is undertaking.  The first verb and those that follow would be conjugated because the infinitive does not indicate who the subject or the "doer" of the action.