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Gissela Tomasello

80 Useful Spanish Words and Phrases for Every Beginner

Learning Spanish online, through personalized lessons, is one of the most practical methods for picking up the language effectively.

Spanish is the second largest language in the United States. Many students are looking for different ways to learn it than simply traditional methods. They’re in luck - learning Spanish online, or through personalized lessons, is one of the most practical methods for picking up the language.

First-time students of Spanish seem to be interested in a simple question: how to learn Spanish faster. One way to begin is by learning basic Spanish phrases and words. As a beginner, you’re likely interested in learning easy phrases to introduce yourself, ask questions, order food, or travel.

To begin, though, it’s essential to understand basics about how to speak and write in Spanish. For that, let’s first look at general information on Spanish pronunciation, accents and accent marks, and some Spanish grammar rules.

Pronunciation

Generally, in a word in Spanish, each vowel and each consonant are pronounced.

Their pronunciation varies according to some Spanish dialects. In Spain, for example, the consonant c is pronounced like” th” of thanks. That pronunciation occurs when the consonant c is accompanied by the vowels “e” and “i.”

However, the same consonant is pronounced as “s” in Latin America. Also, the z is pronounced like “th” of thief in Spain. But the same consonant is pronounced like “s” in Latin American.

The consonant ll is pronounced like the y as in yellow in most countries of Latin America, but in Argentina and Uruguay is pronounced like the sound “sh” of the word shoe in English. Other sounds are pronounced differently than in English. The consonant “h” is silent, so it is never uttered. The “j” is pronounced similar to the “h” in hello. The “ñ” is stronger than an n and sounds closer to a “ny” sound.

The “r” is a soft vibration, and the “rr” is a rough vibration using the tongue.

Last but not least, the “q” (like in queso) is pronounced like the “c” of “cat.” The “u” following the “q” is always silent. So, the word que, which means “what” in English, is pronounced keh.

One best way to learn Spanish is by practicing these sounds. You will feel more comfortable using them regularly, and your pronunciation will be refined.

Accents on syllables

Accents are important to stress words correctly. For example, the word intelligent in English is stressed in the syllable “te.” In contrast, the word in Spanish inteligente is emphasized in the syllable “gen.”

Another example is the word ac-ti-vi-ty. In English, it is stressed on the second syllable “ti.” In contrast, actividad (activity) in Spanish is emphasized in the last syllable: ac-ti vi-dad.

A good number of words in Spanish have stronger stress in one syllable. There are other words, though, that don’t have stress in any syllable. Most of them are monosyllables like articles el, la, los, las (the) and possessives mi, su, tu, sus (my, your, his, hers).

Spanish accent marks

In Spanish, accent marks are essential. More often, an accent (or lack of it) completely changes the meaning of a word.

A good example is llamo (present tense for “I call”) and llamó (preterite tense for “he/she called”).

Spanish uses three types of accent marks: the dieresis (ü), the virgulilla (ñ), and the acute accent (é).

Dieresis

The dieresis (ü) is used on top of the vowel “u” after the letter “g” in certain words to request that the “u” must be pronounced.

An example: cigüeña (stork).

Virgulilla

The virgulilla (ñ) is only used on top of the letter “n”. When we see a word with a virgulilla it suggests to pronounce the n more strongly. The sound is like a “ny” sound.

Some examples: año (year), niño, (boy), and baño (bathroom).

Acute accent

The acute accent is the most common accent mark in the Spanish language. It can appear above all five vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú. At most, it appears once per word.

Generally, an acute accent is used to denote word stress.

For example, the word canción (song) has a sharp emphasis on the vowel “ó”. This suggests stressing more on the last syllable of can-ción.

Most words in Spanish have an accent, but not all words have acute accents. Just remember: when you see a word with an acute accent, the stress will be stronger in that syllable.

Some Spanish grammar rules

Verbs in Spanish conjugate differently according to personal pronouns and tenses.

For example, the verb “to have” is tener. In the present tense, it conjugates as yo tengo (I have), but it conjugates as tú tienes for “you have”.

Nouns in Spanish have gender - they are either feminine or masculine. Consequently, they must be used with articles and adjectives that match their gender.

When nouns become plural, the articles and adjectives also adapt to the sentence accordingly. For example, la mesa roja, or “the red table”. Mesa is feminine, so the article la is used, and the color rojo is adjusted to feminine (replacing an “a” with an “o” at the end).

Here’s another example. The phrase los restaurantes nuevos means “the new restaurants”. Restaurantes is a masculine word and, in this case, is plural. The article los is adjusting to the noun being masculine and plural. Also, the letter “s” is added at the end of the adjective nuevos to match the noun restaurantes.

Useful Spanish words and phrases

Now that you’ve got a better comprehension of how to speak and read in the language, we will look at some easy to learn and important words and phrases in Spanish.

Greetings

The most popular Spanish greetings are hola and adiós. They are used to say “hello” and “goodbye”.

Hola is generally used between friends, family, and people you already know. In a more formal setting, like in the airport, or with someone you’ve just met, other greetings are more appropriate, like buenos días (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon), or buenas noches (good evening).

  • Hola- “Hello”
  • Buenos Días – Good morning
  • Buenas Tardes – Good afternoon
  • Buenas Noches – Good evening
  • Adiós – Goodbye, bye
  • Chao – Goodbye, bye
  • Hasta mañana – See you tomorrow
  • Nos vemos – See you

Introducing yourself and starting a conversation

¿Cómo te llamas? or ¿Cuál es tu nombre? are questions used to ask “what is your name?” To reply, you can say me llamo (literally “I am called”), or mi nombre es (my name is).

If you are in a formal setting or speaking with someone you just met for the first time, the questions change slightly to ¿Como se llama? or ¿Cuál es su nombre?

¿Cómo estás? is used to ask “how are you?” in an informal setting. ¿Cómo está? without the “s” is used in formal settings and with people you don’t know.

There is also ¿Qué onda? or ¿Qué cuentas? They mean “what’s up?” and “what’s new?”. Both are used in casual and informal situations, only with close friends and family.

¿Qué tal? is a very general Spanish greeting. You can use it with everyone regardless of their age and how well you know them. It works just like ¿Cómo estás? This could be helpful when travelling, meeting new people or even in your first Spanish tutoring class.

Here are some ways to greet someone and introduce yourself in Spanish:

  • ¿Cómo te llamas? – What is your name? (informal)
  • ¿Cómo se llama? – What is your name? (formal)
  • ¿Cuál es tu nombre? What is your name? (informal)
  • ¿Cuál es su nombre? What is your name? (formal)
  • Mi nombre es - My name is
  • o me llamo – My name is (literally, I am called)
  • Yo soy – I am
  • ¿De dónde eres? - Where are you from? (informal)
  • ¿De dónde es usted? - Where are you from? (formal)
  • Mucho gusto - Nice to meet you
  • Igualmente - the same
  • ¿Cuántos años tienes? - How old are you? (Informal)
  • ¿Cuántos años tiene? - How old are you? (formal)
  • Yo tengo X años - I am X years old
  • ¿Qué onda? - What’s up? (informal situations)
  • ¿Qué cuentas? - What’s new? (informal situations)
  • ¿Qué tal? - How are you?
  • ¿Cómo estás? - How are you? (Informal)
  • ¿Cómo está? - How are you? (Formal)
  • ¿Bien y tú? - Fine and you? (informal)
  • ¿Bien y usted? - Fine, and you? (formal
  • Cuídate - Take care (informal)
  • Cuídese - Take care (formal)
  • Tú también - You too (informal)
  • Usted también – You too (formal)

Being polite

Gracias is the most popular way to say “thank you” in Spanish. It works in any setting. There are other variations as well, like muchas gracias and muchísimas gracias. Both mean “thank you very much.”

Por favor is used to say “please” and de nada to say “you’re welcome.”

  • Gracias - Thank you
  • Muchas gracias - Thank you very much
  • Muchísimas gracias -Thank you very much
  • Por favor - please
  • De nada - Your welcome
  • Es un placer - It is a pleasure
  • Con mucho gusto - It is a pleasure

Asking around for help

If you ever encounter a problem when you are on a trip, getting information, or shopping, the following phrases should be helpful. Since you are going to talk to strangers, then keeping the grammar in formal mode is advisable.

  • ¿Puede ayudarme, por favor? - Can you help me, please?
  • ¿Habla inglés? – Do you speak English?
  • ¿Cuánto es? or Cuánto cuesta? - How much is it?
  • ¿Dónde está? – Where is?
  • ¿Qué hora es, por favor? or ¿Qué hora tiene por favor? – What time is it, please?
  • ¿Hay un banco cerca? - Is there a bank nearby?
  • ¿Cómo llego al aeropuerto? - How do I get to the airport?
  • ¿Cómo llego al museo? - How do I get to the museum?

Asking questions

When learning the Spanish language, knowing the first words to start formulating questions will help you organize your sentences. ¿Qué? is the most popular term for “what?”. You might use it to ask about anything in general.

¿Cuál? is also used for que but mainly means “which”, as it suggests picking one of a group.

¿Por qué? spelled separated is “why”, and porque spelled together is “because”.

  • ¿Qué? – What?
  • ¿Cuál? – What? which?
  • ¿Cómo? – How?
  • ¿Por qué? – Why?
  • Porque - Because
  • ¿Qué es esto? - What is this?

Making polite commands and small requests

Whether you are traveling, ordering food, meeting new people, or in your first Spanish lesson, these phrases will help you make small requests.

  • Tengo una pregunta - I have a question
  • ¿Cómo se dice? – How do you say…?
  • ¿Qué es…? – What is…?
  • Repita por favor – Repeat, please
  • No entiendo – I don’t understand
  • No sé – I don’t know
  • ¿Puedo ir al baño, por favor? – Can I go to the restroom, please?
  • Explique otra vez, por favor – Explain again, please
  • Hable más despacio por favor - Speak slower, please
  • Llame un taxi, por favor - Call a cab, please
  • Necesito ayuda, por favor – I need help, please

Apologizing

Disculpe means “excuse me” when you want to ask a question to a stranger, as in, “¿Disculpe, dónde está el banco? which means, “Excuse me, where is the bank?” It also means “excuse me” if you are giving forewarning: Disculpe, voy a pasar (excuse me, I am passing through).

Perdón is used to say “I am sorry” if you bump into someone. Lo siento does mean “I am sorry”, but is usually used to say, “I am sorry for you.”

  • Disculpe - Excuse me
  • Perdón, perdóneme – Excuse me, I am sorry (if you bump into someone)
  • Disculpe, disculpeme – Excuse me (giving forewarning)
  • Lo siento or lo lamento - I am sorry, or I am sorry for you (for expressing sympathy)

Ordering food in Spanish

Quiero literally means “I want”, but unlike English, quiero is polite in Spanish; me gustaría is the literal translation of “I would like.”

However, you don’t really use it when ordering food.

If you are ordering something to drink for yourself, you’ll say, “Quiero un vaso de agua, por favor* (I want a glass of water, please).” Adding the word por favor (please) at the end will express politeness.

If you are with a group of people and you would like to order for each of you, then para mí (for me) can be used to order for yourself, para él (to order for a male), para ella (to order for a female). For example, *“Para mí, un jugo de naranja, para él una cerveza y para ella un café con leche,” literally translated means, “For me, orange juice, for him a beer, and for her, a latte.”

When asking for a glass of wine, we say quiero una copa de vino. Vaso is generally the word for “glass”, but copa is used only when drinking wine. Red wine is vino tinto and not vino rojo.” White wine is *vino blanco.

When asking for the check is la cuenta, por favor. Instead of saying “I would like the check please”, we just go straight to “the check, please”.

Here are more useful words that will help you practice Spanish when ordering food.

  • Quiero - I want, I would like
  • Quiero un jugo de naranja, por favor – I want orange juice, please
  • Quiero un café (con leche), por favor – I want a latte, please
  • Quiero una cerveza, por favor - I want a beer, please
  • Quiero una copa de vino, por favor - I want a glass of wine, please
  • Quiero una copa de vino tinto, por favor – I want a glass of red wine, please
  • Quiero una copa de vino blanco, por favor – I want a glass of white wine, please.
  • Quiero tacos de carne, por favor – I want beef tacos, please
  • ¿Tienes mantequilla? – Do you have butter?
  • La cuenta por favor – The check, please
  • ¿Cuánto es? – How much is it?

Expanding your Spanish language learning

With the right knowledge of Spanish grammar basics, accent marks, and this personal phrasebook, you’re ready to tackle learning Spanish. If you are interested in becoming fluent, or just want to try out a beautiful and interesting language, work with a Spanish tutor to maximize the effectiveness of your study.