In our Spanish classes we spend some time exploring the differences between words that look alike or sound alike. In fact, these words are used in very specific, and separate, ways. When students practice their Spanish conversation skills, recognizing and understanding the differences between these words increases their comprehension level. Let’s clarify the finer points that separate these words.
Here are five examples of similar, but definitely different, word pairs that may have puzzled you in the past.
abril a month of the year
abrir to open (a verb)
cuarto fourth, or room
cuatro the number four
nada he/she swims (3rd person singular of the verb to swim – nadar)
cocina the kitchen
cocina he or she cooks (3rd person singular of the verb to cook – cocinar)
trabajo the job
trabajo I work (1st person of the verb to work – trabajar)
You probably noticed that some pairs are spelled exactly alike, or that only a single letter in a word changes its meaning. Sometimes it is the context of the sentence that tells you which word is the correct one. Understanding these often confused word usages is not the same as memorizing idiomatic expressions; by learning them you are attuning your eyes and ears to actual meaning differentiations. This is how you become truly bilingual.
If you have any troubling word pairs that you want to tell us about, send it to our comments section. Meanwhile, we’ll be back soon with more of these “Frequently Misunderstood Words.”