This guide aims to provide basic guidelines for writing good Spanish and covers general conventions, some differences between Spanish and English, and a few common mistakes that should be avoided.
Varieties of Spanish
As in English, there are many varieties or registers of Spanish, from the very formal style of official documents to the trendy insider slang of internet blogs. It is important to be aware of this and to choose the level of language appropriate to the context in which you are writing. As a general rule, the language used in essays, articles, and reports tends to be rather more formal in Spanish than it is in English. But the essential thing is to make sure that you use the language in such a way as to convey what you want to say as clearly and readably as possible. When in doubt as to spelling, register, or usage, always take the time to consult a dictionary.
Unless marked otherwise, the words, examples, and idioms in this dictionary belong to standard Spanish, which is universally understood and whose level of language is appropriate to most situations, whether written or spoken. It is the Spanish that you will find used in business, the media, and most printed matter.
Formal and literary language
As with English, formal Spanish constitutes a relatively restricted sub-group of the language. Careful writers of English generally tend to avoid over-using formal and literary terms as they can sound pompous and even unintentionally humorous. An English-speaker reading an official letter or a memo written in Spanish will often find the tone very formal. However, this tendency towards formal usage is slowly being superseded by a more straightforward style, except in specific areas such as Law. It is advisable for language learners to aim for simplicity and directness in the way they write.
Spanish is rich in informal terms and turns of phrase that are used in almost every area of everyday life. Non-Spanish-speaking people living and working in a Spanish-speaking country are generally widely exposed to informal language through contact with their native contemporaries, friends or colleagues. This is a situation to be wary of as newcomers to the culture will not have the natural sensitivity of a native speaker when it comes to knowing what type of vocabulary to use when and where. This can easily cause offence. It is a good idea to be aware of this (a foreigner offends more easily than a native speaker) and certainly to refrain entirely from using informal Spanish when writing essays, reports, memos, etc. Conversely Spanish journalists often strive not to repeat words used in their reporting. This means that quite formal vocabulary finds its way into newspapers, with the risk that the non-native reader may assume from the context that the words are less formal than they actually are. Some examples of formal words to avoid are:
|formal Spanish||neutral Spanish|
|descender la montaña||bajar la montaña|
Tone: personal versus impersonal
In articles, reports, and memos the tone should be as impersonal as possible. In academic articles it is still more common to find the first person plural pronoun nosotros used in Spanish, even when only one person is writing. A single individual writing a report on a situation in Spanish will, however, use I.
In English, the passive is often used to convey information in an objective way. The passive is much less widely used in Spanish and it is good practice to avoid it. Remember to use: the impersonal pronoununo, as in cuando uno examina las cifras de cerca, and to use the relexive form of the verb with -se, as in cuando se examinan las cifras de cerca. Both sentences mean, “when the figures are examined closely”; the first being less formal than the second.
Spanish punctuation conventions do not differ greatly from English. You may encounter an older style of quotation marks, «…», although nowadays the use of “…” is more frequent. Single quotation marks, ‘…’, are not used in Spanish.
Some words are capitalized in English which are not in Spanish: names of days and months (enero, mayo, jueves, sábado), names and adjectives of languages or indicating nationality (español, inglés, italiano), and titles, even foreign ones (el duque de Alba, lord Lucan, sir Michael Rafferty). Note that the abbreviations ‘Sr., Sra’, ‘D. and Dña.’ are capitalized, whereas when written in full ‘señor, señora’ and ‘don, doña’ are not. You will often see the names of the days of the week and the months printed with capitals but that is not grammatically correct.
Spanish tends to use parentheses (…) rather than dashes – … – , especially at the end of a sentence.
Writing essays and reports in Spanish
Reports, essays, dissertations, etc. are usually less tightly structured in Spanish than in English, but you should give an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. Less attention than in English is paid, for example, to the structure of paragraphs; you will often find paragraphs that seem long or that do not keep to one main idea. However, Spanish readers welcome precision and conciseness in writing, so aim to write short paragraphs and sentences. Write your paragraphs bearing in mind that ideally they should develop a single idea. It is also good to think of the first and last sentences in a paragraph as the introduction and conclusion, respectively, and to try to link one paragraph with the next. A simple and readable structure and expression are especially necessary in a business context.
Before you start writing, it is advisable to sketch out a plan of what you are going to say. Establish what the main ideas are, and distribute them in an order that makes sense to you; then start writing a paragraph for each. It is a good idea to leave writing the conclusion, and especially the introduction, till after you have finished writing the body of your essay. Be very careful not to state your conclusion in the first paragraph.
A few tips
- Do all your writing, including the plan and as far as possible your thinking, in Spanish. Working from English will land you in trouble very quickly.
- Formulate your title, which should be simple and direct in order to engage the interest of your reader or listener.
- Draw up your plan and develop your ideas and observations before beginning to write or key in any text.
- Avoid long sentences as far as possible and equally avoid unnecessary ‘sentence-fillers’ such as ‘visto lo visto’, ‘huelga decir’, ‘como es sabido’, ‘hacer hincapié en’, ‘al fin y al cabo’, etc. They may sound very Spanish, but are ultimately empty phrases. English speakers of Spanish have particular problems with the correct use of ser and estar, por and para. Look these words up in the dictionary as well as the grammatical note at be, for help in getting ser and estar right. Do not rely on guesswork as the incorrect use of ser and estar can convey a different meaning to the one you intended.
- Avoid unnecessary use of adjectives and adverbs. Make sure that you frequently establish links between the various stages of your report. For hints on how to do this, see also Useful expressions for variety under General advice on writing.
Re-read your report carefully several times. Edit out superfluous matter, particularly in the introduction, which must be clear and to the point and constructed so as to engage immediately the attention of your reader. Check carefully that the links in your argument are clearly and explicitly stated.
- Watch out for the kind of mistakes it is easy to make; for example, remember that gente is singular and therefore its verb is also singular. Remember that Spanish generally uses an article (el, un) with percentages: una subida/bajada de un 20%; el 15% de los consumidores. Check that adjectives agree with their nouns and that words like problema, sistema, programa are treated as masculine nouns.
Drawing up the agenda for a meeting
The word agenda in English is used to refer to two distinctly different things: the list of topics for discussion/resolution that is circulated at a meeting, in Spanish el orden del día, and the rather more complex document circulated in advance of the meeting to those invited to attend. In Spanish, this information is usually contained in a document called la circular – but note that the document sent around after a meeting in order to communicate the decisions which have been taken is also a circular. There is no fixed format but in general you will head the document: Reunión de… followed by the title of the department or group concerned. The orden del día is usually the first item after that. Here is a list of terms you may find useful for the agenda, in the order in which they may appear, though this is not fixed:
|fecha (de la reunión)||date (of the meeting)|
|hora de comienzo/finalización||start/end time|
|organizada por||organized by|
|teléfono (abbr. tel.)||telephone number|
|secretario de actas||minutes secretary|
|circular enviada a||circulation (for information)|
|asunto de la reunión||purpose of the meeting|
|orden del día||agenda|
|solicitados a||to be supplied by|
|para el||for the (date required)|
|documentos adjuntos||documents attached|
|otros asuntos or temas||AOB (any other business)|
Writing the minutes of a meeting (las actas)
Conventions here are very similar to those in English. In brief, the minutes:
- follow the order of the agenda
- are impersonal and objective
- record suggestions with the name of the person responsible
- record decisions and where appropriate the action required (la actuación) and the person responsible for taking action (el/la responsable) accompanied by the date required by (para el…).
- record relevant remarks made in the final discussion of otros asuntos.
See more from Grammar
In order to do well on the AP Spanish exam’sfree-response section, you must be able to write a persuasive essay based on three Spanish-language sources.
Are you up to the task?
After years of elementary, middle and high school Spanish, the time has come—you’re getting ready to tackle the AP Spanish exam.
You can conjugate any irregular verb you see. You’ve got conditionals down pat. And your vocabulary is out of this world.
But can you form a coherent argument… in Spanish?
Here we’ve put together a list of 40 vocabulary words that will come in handy for making and supporting arguments in your AP Spanish essays, and in any other piece of Spanish writing!
What’s the AP Spanish Free-response Section Like?
The free-response section of the exam is meant to test your ability to communicate with others in spoken and written Spanish.
There are two essays in the free-response section. The interpersonal essay asks you to respond to an email. The presentational essay tests how well you can draw information from Spanish-language sources, form an argument and write formally. This second essay is a little less straightforward, so we’ll walk you through it here.
So, how does it work?
The presentational essay is based on three sources. Two of them are written sources and one is an audio source.
These sources can be just about anything: Advertisements, articles, infographics, letters, maps, interviews, radio programs, podcasts and conversations are just some examples of the types of sources you may encounter.
You’ll have about 55 minutes to complete this particular essay. First, you’ll have six minutes to read the prompt and the two written sources, and then you’ll hear the audio source twice. Finally, you’ll have 40 minutes to plan and write your essay.
The essay is graded on the basis of Spanish language skills like reading, listening, writing and grammar—but it’s also based on your general ability to analyze the sources and make a strong, coherent argument.
How to Prepare for the Free-response Section
In many ways, preparing for the free-response section is the same as preparing for the rest of the AP exam.
It involves studying grammar and vocabulary, and it also means immersing yourself in the Spanish language as much as possible. The more exposure you have to Spanish-language sources leading up to the exam day, the easier it’ll be for you to understand and analyze the three sources you encounter in the presentational essay task.
Seeking out native Spanish sources is easy, and FluentU has got you covered. Here, you can find info on great news outlets, podcasts, YouTube channels and blogs—all in Spanish. Even following some Spanish Twitter feeds or listening to Spanish music can be a great way to work a little language practice into your day.
There are also some targeted ways to practice for the free-response section.
- Do practice exams and read sample essays.The College Board has posted the full AP exams from the last several years. Try to read the sources and write the essay in the allotted 55 minutes. When you’re done, go back and slowly revise your essay for errors in grammar, spelling and logic. After that, you can also check out the grading rubric provided by the College Board and several sample persuasive essays. Try to compare your essay against the rubric and the samples to see how you can improve your writing.
- Practice summarizing and analyzing Spanish-language sources. Remember all those great resources listed above? Well, it’s not enough to just read or listen to them. The whole point of the presentational essay is to measure your ability to summarize, synthesize and argue. So, after you read or listen to a Spanish-language source, take five minutes to summarize it—on paper. Identify the main argument, and then make a bulleted list of important points. Finally, write a few sentences summarizing your personal opinion.
- Learn targeted vocabulary for talking about opinions and arguments. Is there anything more frustrating than knowing exactly what you want to say, but not having the vocabulary to say it? This article lists many crucial vocabulary words for expressing and supporting opinions in persuasive essays. Using these words and phrases will make your writing flow more smoothly—and they’ll allow you to argue with more credibility and style.
40 Persuasive Vocabulary Words for Writing Strong AP Spanish Essays
Agreeing and Disagreeing
Estoy de acuerdo/No estoy de acuerdo — I agree/I disagree
Estoy de acuerdo con lo que dice el autor. (I agree with what the author says.)
No estoy de acuerdo con la idea principal de la fuente número dos. (I disagree with the main idea of source number two.)
En mi opinión — In my opinion
En mi opinión, los jóvenes deberían comer más sano. (In my opinion, young people should eat healthier.)
La verdad es— The truth is
La verdad es que todavía hay mucha desigualdad en los Estados Unidos. (The truth is there is still a lot of inequality in the United States.)
Es verdad — It’s true
Es verdad que las redes sociales pueden ser peligrosas. (It’s true that social media can be dangerous.)
Es falso—It’s false
Hay gente que dice que las redes sociales son peligrosas, pero esto es falso. (There are people who say that social media is dangerous, but this is false.)
Me parece/No me parece—It seems to me/It doesn’t seem to me
Me parece bien que los niños asistan a colegios bilingües. (I think it’s a good idea that children attend bilingual schools.)
No me parece bien que los niños asistan a colegios bilingües. (I don’t think it’s a good idea that children attend bilingual schools.)
Remember that since me parece implies an opinion or emotion, you must conjugate the verb in the subjunctive tense.
(Yo) pienso que—I think that
Yo pienso que no hay nada más importante que la familia. (I think that there is nothing more important than family.)
(Yo) creo que — I believe that
Yo creo que todos los adolescentes deberían aprender a tocar un instrumento. (I believe that all adolescents should learn to play an instrument.)
Stating an Opinion
The following phrases all have the same structure: Es + adjective + que.
This structure is similar to the English “It’s [adjective] that…” and is great for expressing and supporting opinions in a strong and confident manner. Here are some phrases that are especially useful when making and defending claims in a persuasive essay:
Es evidente que—It’s evident that
Es claro que—It’s clear that
Es cierto que —It’s certain that
Es obvio que— It’s obvious that
Es importante que — It’s important that
Es necesario que— It’s necessary that
Es probable que—It’s probable that
Es dudoso que — It’s doubtful that
For some of these phrases, the verb following the word que must be conjugated in the indicative, while others require the subjunctive. A good rule of thumb is that when implying that something is certain, use the indicative. When expressing doubt or expressing some other emotion, use the subjunctive.
On this list, evidente, claro, cierto and obvio use indicative verbs, and importante, necesario, probable and dudoso use subjunctive verbs.
Es cierto que nuestro clima está cambiando. (It is certain that our climate is changing.)
Es importante que la gente sepa hablar más de un idioma. (It’s important that people know how to speak more than one language.)
Supporting an Opinion
These words will help you refer to your three sources, which contain information that will help you support your argument. This section also contains transition words to connect one part of your argument to the next.
Según— According to
Según el autor… (according to the author…)
La fuente —The source
Según la fuente numero 1… (According to source number one…)
El tema—The theme/topic
Esto es un tema muy importante. (This is a very important topic.)
La fuente muestra la importancia de la diversidad. (The source shows the importance of diversity.)
Remember, mostrar is an o-ue stem-changing verb—pay attention to conjugation!
La tabla demuestra que muchos jóvenes en España juegan al fútbol. (The table demonstrates that many youths in Spain play football.)
Demostrar is also an o-ue stem changing verb. Luckily for you, it follows the exact same conjugation rules as mostrar!
La tabla indica que hay muchas familias pobres en ese barrio. (The table indicates that there are many poor families in that neighborhood.)
Estos datos apoyan la idea de que el clima está cambiando. (This data supports the idea that the climate is changing)
Por otra parte— On the other hand
Es importante que la economía crezca, pero por otra parte, tenemos que cuidar el medio ambiente. (It’s important that the economy grows, but on the other hand, we have to care for the environment.)
Por lo cual—For this reason/That’s why/Which is why
This phrase is used in the middle of a sentence to connect ideas.
La Amazonía tiene un alto nivel de biodiversidad, por lo cual la conservación de esta región debe ser una prioridad. (The Amazon has a high level of biodiversity, which is why the conservation of this region must be a priority.)
Además — Additionally
This word is usually seen at the beginning of a sentence, and it’s useful for transitioning from one idea or argument to another.
Además, es evidente que la tecnología nos ayuda mucho. (Additionally, it’s evident that technology helps us a lot.)
This is another good transition word. In your essay, you may want to present an alternate argument and then explain why you disagree with it. Sin embargo is very helpful for this.
Obviamente, estudiar es muy importante. Sin embargo, es necesario que los adolescentes tengan tiempo para jugar con sus amigos. (Obviously, studying is very important. However, it’s necessary that teenagers have time to play with their friends.)
En comparación —In comparison
En comparación, la fuente número 2 indica que hay más obesidad en Estados Unidos que en España. (In comparison, source number 2 indicates that there is more obesity in the United States than in Spain.)
Al igual que —Just like
Al igual que en los años 40, hoy en día hay mucha gente que no quiere ayudar a los refugiados de guerra. (Just like in the 40s, today there are many people who don’t want to help war refugees.)
Tanto ________ como ________ — _________ as well as ___________
Fill in this phrase with two nouns to emphasize that you’re talking equally about two different things.
Tanto chicos como chicas deberían aprender a cocinar, limpiar, coser y cuidar a los bebés. (Boys as well as girls ought to learn how to cook, clean, sew and care for babies.)
Remember that Spanish has two translations for the English word “but.” The word sino is like the English phrase “but rather,” used to introduce an alternative.
Leer no es una pérdida de tiempo, sino una manera de aprender y de conocer otras culturas. (Reading isn’t a waste of time, but rather a way to learn and understand other cultures.)
Sin duda— Without a doubt
Sin duda, el cambio climático es el problema más grave que enfrenta nuestra planeta. (Without a doubt, climate change is the most serious problem that our planet faces.)
Aunque— Even though/Although
Aunque is followed by an indicative verb when the outcome is known, but a subjunctive verb when the outcome is speculative.
Aunque cuesta mucho dinero, tenemos que buscar una solución. (Even though it costs a lot of money, we have to search for a solution.)
Aunque cueste mucho dinero, tenemos que buscar una solución. (Even though it may cost a lot of money, we have to search for a solution.)
Concluding Your Essay
In your final paragraph, you’ll want to provide a summary of your main argument and your main supporting points. You can use the following helpful phrases:
En conclusión—In conclusion
En resumen—In summary
En conclusión,/En resumen,/En fin, las tres fuentes muestran que la contaminación del aire es un problema muy grave para todo el mundo. (In summary, the three sources show that air pollution is a very serious problem for the whole world.)
After summarizing your essay, you’ll want to re-state your main argument in a succinct, strongly-worded sentence. Start with these phrases:
Por estas razones—For these reasons
Por eso — That is why
Entonces — So
Por estas razones,/Por eso,/Así que/Entonces, afirmo que los adolescentes no deberían usar las redes sociales. (For these reasons, I affirm that teenagers should not use social media.)
Learn and study these words—they’ll help you express yourself more fluidly in your AP Spanish essays.
But, of course, learning vocabulary is just one way to prepare for the free-response section.
Remember to expose yourself to as many Spanish-language sources as you can before test day, and don’t forget to think critically about those sources as you read them!
With practice, writing strong essays for the AP Spanish exam will be a breeze.
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