Learning the Spanish Language — Project Day 30

Tener and Tener que

Today's verb exercises focused on 'tener que' — 'to have to'. But the translation that I did from English tended to alternate between the possessive or idiomatic uses and obligatory use cases — so I also got an unplanned recap on the former. Which was an excellent thing for embedding previous learning.

Coincidentally, tener also featured as the model regular verb in the 'Language Transfer' audio exercises that I did on the imperfect tense — providing further opportunities to embed a range of use cases.

To Be and to Go — Imperfect Irregularities

The Spanish imperfect tense is pretty regular. But the few verbs that have irregular imperfect forms are interesting.

Ser vs. estar — are always worth revisiting for English speakers. But in this case, my interest was tweaked by the comparison between the imperfect forms of these Spanish verbs and their Italian equivalents — essere and stare.

In both cases, the differences are slight. Ser and essere share the same er- stem in the imperfect, with small adjustments for the language-specific endings, e.g. era vs. ero for 'I', éramos vs. eravamo for 'we', eran vs. erano for 'they'. A similar pattern applies to estar and stare — if you temporally put aside the 'e' prefix in Spanish, they share the same stem (sta-) and the endings mostly differ by Spanish having a 'b' where Italian has a 'v'.

Ir — Modern romance languages have a tricky relationship to the English verb 'to go'. They often mix and match different latin verbs or latin verb stems (all-, and-, va-, ir-) in annoyingly different ways. Spanish takes the 'r' off the end of the infinitive (ir) and attaches 'regular' -ar like endings to form the the imperfect — e.g, iba, ibas, iba, ibamos, ibais, iban.

Trivial observation — 'ire' forms appear in more tenses of western romance languages (for 'to go'). More in French than Italian. More in Spanish and Portuguese than French.

Word Order in Sentences

Incidentally, the reflexive form of 'llamar' was used as the 'model' for imperfect -ar verbs in the 'Language Transfer' module I did today — providing another opportunity to grapple with the differences between English and Spanish over word order and directionality in sentences.

Quedar vs. Tener — Left Imperfectly

Even more usefully, on that front, one of the LT translations required me to put the following into Spanish — "I used to have four (of them), but now have none". And I'll admit, I was completely floored by the second clause.

The suggested solution was — "pero no me queda" or "pero no me quedan". Which was a very clever move by Mihalis Eleftheriou. Because it forced me to recognise a few features of English that were previously non-obvious:

  1. 'Now have' connotes 'have left'
  2. 'Have left' conotes 'what remains'
  3. If what remains is nothing — it's the opposite of 'having'

So the quedar is the appropriate verb and tener is not.

Possessive pronouns in regular comparisons

I did a set of exercises on this from Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions by Dorothy Richmond. Pleasingly, I got 100% of the main clause and sub-clause pronoun forms correct. Unfortunately, I got the gender agreement wrong on two of them — through pure inattention to detail.

Additionally, I completely forgot to put the -es ending on 'elegantes'. I'm pretty sure that was down to the same sloppiness, rather than really negative language transfer from English — a reminder of my bias towards understanding the logic and the system over scrutinising atomic detail.

On balance, I think it's an acceptable bias to have, but one that must be kept in check, i.e. moderated by the knowledge that cumulative errors of detail can amount to systemic failure.

Incidentally, my system-bias explains why I can read and write computer programs, but will never be 'a programmer'. I'm just not anywhere on the right 'spectrum'.

Possessive pronouns in irregular comparisons

Another exercise set from Dorothy Richmond's book.

One substantial error, where anxiety about the subject being signalled as 'plural, formal' led me to incorrectly identify the article number and the owner of the second item in the comparison. A bad error, but not really a cognitive one.

The only other error I made was was of detail (i.e. attention). I had parentes, when I should have had abuelos.

Lessons — pay attention, and don't panic!

P.Perfect, Preterite, Progressive P. — Sentence Work

A useful reminder to listen to real sentences, rather than rely on dictionaries to construct sentences from scratch. 'Acabamos de terminar' means "we've just finished", but 'acabar' means 'to finish' and 'terminar' means 'to finish'.

I suppose that "to finish to finish" does give the sense of being positioned somewhere near the finishing line, but it doesn't actually give the full sense of 'having just finished'.

Some other striking idioms:

  • No me vendría mal un poco más de tiempo para mí.
  • Me caería de perlas un poco más de tiempo libre.
  • ¿No deberíamos todos?

Verbs with Implicit Prepositions


  • buscar — look for
  • caerse — fall down
  • cortar — cut off/out
  • huir — flee/run from/away
  • mirar — look at
  • preferir — prefer to
  • sacar — take out

Verbs do a lot more work in romance languages than they do in English. Which may be why speakers of those languages are often keen to tell me how much more precise their idiom is than English.

If my command of their language is good enough to explain wthout giving offence, I point out the English verbs don't need to be so narrowly defined, because our grammar is flexible enough to give the same verb vast numbers of distinct and very precise meanings by combination with prefixes, suffixes, adverbs, and prepositions — as well as by varying sentence structure and word order.

Oh! and by the way, we've got a vastly bigger vocabulary to draw distinctions from, including more actual verbs, and including a goodly proportion of their bijou verbs.

If I'm feeling particularly disgruntled by their condescension, I might add that many L2 English speakers from L1 romance language backgrounds are comparatively poor at using the facilities which English grammar provides for repurposing verbs — and that this is compounded by learning U.S. Business English, from which proper adverbs have virtually disappeared and within which prepositions are routinely abused.

  • Think different than — U.S. Busines English
  • Think differently from/to/about/with, etc. — English

The U.S. habit of linking the word 'different' inextricably with the word 'than' looks like it may come from speakers whose first language has a habit of embedding prepositions inside verbs, more frequently than English does.

After that little rant, I have to report that I ran out of time to complete Dorothy Richmond's exercises on verbs with implicit prepositions. And that wasn't merely because of my poor scheduling today.

After attempting the first few questions, I quickly realised that I had no idea how to answer them. I've not yet had time to investigate the possible reasons for that, or time to figure out how to answer the questions themselves. Initial suspicions about the potential cause of my problem:

  1. Poor explanation of the topic in the book
  2. Poor explanation/wording of the questions
  3. My stupidity
  4. My tiredness

Hopefully, we'll find out tomorrow.



  • Faster than average start
  • High motivation
  • Bright sunny day


  • Late start
  • Motivation != urgency — distractions allowed too much latitude
  • Slow progress — pushed ride into the dark
  • Continued slow progress — resulted in no ride at all

Learning Tasks Checklist

Task M T W T F S S
Word/phrase aural+oral
Sentence aural+oral
Socratic aural+oral
Verb exercises
Pronoun exercises
Preposition exercises
Physical exercise
Non-subbed video
Subbed video
Research lang. learning
List 'issues'
Prepare materials

Contact Davie Fisher

By form

By Phone

+44 (0)113 234 4611

By email


By snail mail

Flat 3 15 South Parade Leeds LS1 5PQ United Kingdom