Five common mistakes you really don’t want to make in Spanish

Learning a new language is fraught with difficulties, not least overcoming the fear of getting your wires crossed and making a blunder that could easily confuse, offend or provoke unbridled laughter.

Five common mistakes you really don't want to make in Spanish
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

At some point in your quest to learn Spanish, it is quite likely that you will put your foot in it and make the kind of error that will leave those around you either scratching their heads, or clutching their sides as they try to control the laughter.

You can avoid at least five mortifying moments by taking note of these common mistakes as told to Tash Aleksy a Spanish teacher at Spanglishcity

Be warned – they wouldn’t be funny if they weren’t a little rude.



Lorraine loves wine and one of the first words she made sure to learn was vino. Vino tinto, vino blanco, you name it, she drank it. The problem came when her new Spanish friends invited her over for dinner. “¿Tienes un sacachochos?” she confidently asked in order to open the bottle of Rioja.

Her friends fell about the place laughing, as chocho is a slightly vulgar term for a part of the female body that has nothing to do with drinking wine. Nowadays, she is always careful to pronounce sacacorchos correctly.


Photo by Caterina Berger on Unsplash

Who hasn’t made this mistake? By now, you should know that there is a difference between the letter ‘n’ and the letter ‘ñ’ in Spanish. I’ve lost count of the amount of students I’ve taught that gleefully tell me they have 20+ anuses rather than years of age. Remember with age, the Spanish use the verb tener rather than ser. It’s a lot less shocking to the general public when you say “tengo 65 años” (I’m 65 years old) than when you say “tengo 65 anos.” (I have 65 anuses).


In the age of heightened health awareness, we all want to consume products that are as close to their natural state as possible – without added sugar, E-numbers or preservatives. The next time you want to ask a waiter or shop assistant whether a food item contains these ill-advised ingredients, don’t say “¿Tiene preservativos?” like a close friend of mine did. Right before he found out that preservativos are actually condoms. Luckily, the waitress took it well and informed him that preservatives are actually aditivos in Spanish. And no, she didn’t have any.


Photo by Andrea Seiler on Unsplash

A low-key trip to IKEA turned out to be a somewhat memorable event for another student of mine. She’d recently arrived and wanted to add a feminine touch to her new apartment. Which is the total opposite to what she actually asked for. “¿Dónde están los cojones?” is what came out in place of “¿Dónde están los cojines?” You can ask your Spanish friends what went wrong here. Just make sure they are close friends.


Photo by Syed Hussaini on Unsplash

You can use the expression “Me das un/una ____,” when you want to ask somebody to give you something. You know – a moment of their time, their telephone number or when you’re at the dinner table and the glasses are just out of reach. Greg knew that vaso was glass, but what let him down on this occasion was his pronunciation. “¿Me das un beso?” he asked his new flatmate, pronouncing vaso like bay-so. After a moment, she realised he needed a glass and passed him one without any of the others noticing, mitigating his embarrassment. Not long after this, she explained it to him. It was the start of a beautiful romance and they are still together today. ¡No hay mal que por bien no venga! (Every cloud has a silver lining)

This article has been contributed by Tash Aleksy, Spanish teacher at, online classes and events for the English-speaking population living in Spain or thinking about making a move to Spain


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Incendio’

You’re probably familiar with this word but do you know how it’s different from ‘fuego’ (the Spanish word for fire)?

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Incendio'

The word fuego is probably one of the first words that Spanish language learners learn. 

It’s the most general word to refer to fire, as in the product of combustion.

It can be used when asking someone for a lighter (¿tienes fuego?), or the fire that burns on a bonfire or a campfire (el fuego de la hoguera), the flames of a fire (las llamas del fuego) and even in the sense of gunshots when someone shouts ‘hold your fire! (¡Alto el fuego!).

And it’s also the first word people will exclaim if a fire breaks out – ¡Fuego! (Fire!).

But when a fire is out of control, Spanish speakers rarely use the word fuego to describe this conflagration (yes, that’s a formal way of referring to an extensive fire in English). 

Instead they will call it un incendio (a fire) or el incendio (the fire). If it’s a wildfire or forest fire, they call it un incendio forestal.

That’s not to say you can’t use el fuego to refer to the fire in the general sense, but technically speaking if it’s a fire that’s broken out in a building or a forest fire that’s raging you should use the word incendio.  

There’s also the verb incendiar, to burn down or set fire to, in the active sense of someone choosing to burn something which sees the flames spread. You can also say prender fuego.

Or in the passive sense, as in a forest catching fire, incendiarse.

An example of the word ‘incendio’ in the Spanish press, with the headline reading “Spain’s fires leave two dead and more than 30,000 hectares destroyed”.


Un incendio forestal en Barcelona ha arrasado miles de hectáreas de bosque.

A wildfire in Barcelona has destroyed thousands of hectares of forest. 

Los bomberos intentaron apagar el fuego en un edificio de la Gran Vía pero al final el incendio se cobró tres vidas.

The firefighters tried to extinguish a fire in a building on Gran Vía but in the end the blaze claimed three lives. 

Es un pirómano, ha incendiado un hermoso bosque porque le gusta ver cómo las cosas arden. 

He’s a pyromaniac, he set fire to a beautiful forest because he likes to see things burn.