Lesson #273: Mistakes Spanish Speakers tend to make in English (Part 2)

Welcome to the last section of our Lessons on common mistakes learners of English make (and Part 2 of Lesson #273).

With the help of Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), we are analysing the main mistakes that Spanish students make when learning English.



‘This’, ‘These’, ‘That’, ‘Those’

Being very common words in English, please make sure you pronounce these distinctly and understand their different meanings.

✍️ Practice the ‘e’ and ‘i’ sounds as clearly as you can. I once heard a good tip on how to pronounce these correctly: to pronounce the ‘e’ in ‘these’ you need to smile a bit🙂, whereas with the ‘i’ in ‘this’ you don’t smile at all. 😐

When something is singular and also close at hand, we use ‘this’ to describe it. ✏️

When something is plural and close at hand, we use ‘these’. ✏️

When something is singular and at a distance, we use ‘that’ to describe it. ✏️

When something is plural and at a distance, we use ‘those’ to describe them. ✏️

In the following quote below, we see how Rachel is remembering the kind things that her unmarried aunts used to do – visit the poor, nurse the sick, bring food and clothes to needy people – and because these memories are inside her mind (as near as can be), she uses the word ‘these’ to describe them.

📗 ‘… she saw all these things like grains of sand falling, falling through innumerable days, making an atmosphere and building up a solid mass, a background.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) (emphasis mine)

What a poetic description of how our memories can create an atmosphere!

📝 #12 ‘SINCE’ vs ‘FOR’

✍️ ‘Since’ describes time from a specific point to the present: ✒️ ‘I have been writing my diary daily since January 1st this year.’

✍️ On the other hand, ‘for’ emphasises a duration of time: ✒️ ‘I have been writing my diary daily for a year now.’

📗 ‘It appeared that Helen was going back into the past, choosing her words deliberately, comparing Theresa with the people she had known since Theresa died.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) (emphasis mine)

Note how ‘since Theresa died’ refers back to a datable event (an event that has a date, a specific time).

📗 ‘For two days they had a perfect rest from their old emotions.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) (emphasis mine)

📝 #13 POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVES – ‘YOUR’, HIS’, ‘HER’, ‘ITS’, and ‘THEIR’ (English) vs ‘SU’ (Spanish)

✍️ Possessive adjectives in English have a distinctive gender and number: your (plural), his (masculine singular), her (feminine singular), its (neutral singular), their (plural).

📗 ‘The description of Hirst’s way of life interested Rachel so much that she almost forgot her private grudge against him, and her respect revived.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) (emphases mine)


✍️ We also use personal adjectives (with gender!) when talking of the different parts of a person’s body (not ‘the’ as in Spanish: ‘I brush the hair’):

📗 ‘As Miss Allan read her book, Susan Warrington was brushing her hair.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphases mine)

📗 ‘“The view will be wonderful,” Hewet assured them, turning round in his saddle and smiling encouragement. Rachel caught his eye and smiled too.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphases mine)


📝 #15 ‘FUN’ vs ‘FUNNY’

This is something that French and Italian speakers struggle with as well. ✍️ ‘Funny’ means ‘gracioso’, while ‘fun’ is ‘divertido’.

📗 “Oh, what fun!” he cried. “What am I sitting on? Is this your room? How jolly!”

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)

📗 ‘Rachel laughed, too, as indeed she had laughed ever since she could remember, without thinking it funny, but because she admired her father.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)

📝 #16 ‘LIBRARY’ vs ‘LIBRERÍA’ (a bookshop/bookstore)

✍️ A ‘library’ in English is an institution that lends books to its readers. In the past, whenever you would borrow a book from a library, they would keep track of it by sticking a slip of paper (a thin piece of paper) inside the book with its due ‘return date’ on it.

📗 ‘The writing-table, however, was piled with manuscript, and a table was drawn out to stand by the armchair on which were two separate heaps of dark library books, in which there were many slips of paper sticking out at different degrees of thickness.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)

✍️ On the other hand, a ‘librería’ in Spanish should be translated as a 🇬🇧 ‘bookshop’ (UK English) or a 🇺🇲 ‘bookstore’ (US English) – a place where books are sold.

📝 #17 ‘APPROVE’ vs ‘APROBAR’ (Spanish: ‘to pass an exam, etc.’)

✍️ ‘To approve [of someone or something]’ in English is to officially agree or accept something as good and satisfactory.

On the other hand, ‘aprobar’ in Spanish means ‘to pass [an exam, etc.]’ in English, so it shouldn’t be confused with ‘approve’! ⚠️

📗 ‘I’m afraid your husband won’t approve of me,’ said Mr Dalloway aside, to Mrs Ambrose.

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphases mine)

In this sentence, Mr Dalloway (another passenger on the ship) thinks that Mrs Ambrose’s husband won’t like him when they eventually meet each other.

#18 ‘EMBARRASSED’ vs ‘EMBARAZADA’ (Spanish: ‘pregnant’)

‘Embarrassed’ does not mean ‘pregnant’! ❌

✍️ ‘Pregnant’ means ‘carrying a child’, ‘expecting a child’.

💡 Sometimes we say ‘expecting’: e.g. ‘Monica is expecting’ means that she is pregnant, and generally sounds more polite and refined than simply saying ‘Monica is pregnant’.

In this passage below, Woolf describes the new freedom and comfort that Rachel and her new friend find in their friendship together (it is the opposite of embarrassment):

📗 ‘They would talk of such questions among books, or out in the sun, or sitting in the shade of a tree undisturbed. They were no longer embarrassed … they were not afraid of each other …’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)

📝 #19 ‘MISS’ vs ‘LOSE’

In English, you might miss the bus, but you never lose it. ✍️ ‘To lose’ means that something is lost from your sight or possession.

✍️ ‘To miss’ something is to want something that has escaped from you or has left you for a while (but there is still a possibility that you can be reunited with it).

Here Mr Ridley Ambrose misses his wife not being with him among all the crowd of travellers:

📗 ‘Ridley heaved a deep sigh. He was genuinely sorry for everyone, but at the same time he missed Helen considerably …’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)

At another point of the story, Helen Ambrose is having a chat with the young man Hewet. Her opinion of him is that he is the kind of person who ‘always loses things’, which he corrects saying he sometimes ‘mislays’ things (just places something in the wrong place, but doesn’t lose them).

📗 ‘ “I should think you were always losing things,” Helen remarked, looking at him meditatively.

“I don’t lose things,” said Hewet. “I mislay them.” ’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphases mine)

📝 #20 ‘MOLEST’ vs ‘BOTHER’

⚠️ The word ‘molest’ in English has a stronger sense than the Spanish ‘molestar’, which means ‘to bother’ in English. Instead, ‘to molest’ in English is closer in meaning to the Spanish ‘acosar’. ❗

✍️ We use ‘bother’ to mean

  1. to irritate or make uncomfortable (the sense of ‘bother’ in the first quote below) or
  2. to more actively disturb someone (the sense of ‘bother’ in the second quote).

📗 ‘An unusual feeling had been bothering him all the evening and forbidding him to settle into any one train of thought.’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)

📗 “And Sinclair got hold of me this afternoon and began bothering me to give an answer …”

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (emphasis mine)


✍️ ‘To name’ means to ‘give an official name to a person or pet (or even a familiar object like a car)’.

✍️ On the other hand, ‘to call’ can have several meanings.

We use it to describe the action of addressing and attracting someone’s attention: ✒️ ‘I was walking down the street when someone called my name/called out to me.’

We also use it to describe making a phone call to someone: ✒️ ‘Have you called the doctor yet?’

But in relation to names, we only really use ‘call’ as ✒️ a term or name to refer to someone.

For example, Rachel (the main character in the novel) lives with her unmarried aunts. 👉Their names are Lucy Vinrace and Eleanor Vinrace. 👉 However, she calls them ‘Aunt Lucy’ and ‘Aunt Eleanor’.

📗 ‘ “Aunt Lucy,” she volunteered, “I don’t like the smell of broom; it reminds me of funerals.” ’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

📗 ‘She could only say with her slight stammer, “Are you f-f-fond of Aunt Eleanor, Aunt Lucy?” to which her aunt replied, with her nervous hen-like twitter of a laugh, “My dear child, what questions you do ask!” ’

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

And so we reach the end of our five-part series on common mistakes in English! 😅

Did you recognise anything here (or in another Lesson in our series) that you struggle with? Have you understood fully how to overcome those issues?

Remember that I am always happy to answer a question you may have or to schedule a lesson with you online to work on anything you are struggling with (and it doesn’t need to be related to literature)! You can get in touch via my contact form here. 📝

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)