A mongrel would beat a toy poodle in a grammar-fight

The thing about learning Spanish is that they have a whole different approach to grammar.

I don’t mean just different grammar, I mean a different attitude to grammar.

It’s not like you can just say anything, get it more or less ballpark right, mess up a few verb endings, and expect them to piece together the meaning from the scattergun of poorly pronounced clues I might throw out.

They need it pretty tight, pretty correct.

Not 100%, but knocking at 100%’s door.

You’ve got to get your verbs and other sentence shrapnel all in a line and singing from the same songsheet.

If you start chucking in the wrong tense and you’ll be met with puzzled looks.

Where English is a cheeky mongrel and therefore more quick-witted and agile, Spanish is toy-poodle pedigree, more beautiful perhaps, but take it out of its natural habitat and it looks as silly as a … er … toy poodle.

The subjunctive is where this contrast comes most sharply to a fine point.

Lazy old anglophones can’t even be bothered to use the English subjunctive most of the time.

If I was you …” they’ll opine, as if there were nowt wrong with that.

It’s “were” for goodness sake.

“If I were you”.

It’s a different tense.

“If I was you” makes no sense – “was” is the past tense.

What do you mean if you was me?  What are you on about?

Of course because it’s sprightly mongrel English, I can fully understand it (I was only pretending not to understand it above), despite its wrongness.

And it is wrong.

The use of the wrong tense doesn’t even slightly detract from the meaning.

In Spanish, the same error, oft made by subjunctive-clumsy Brits such as I, would leave the Spanish reeling in confusion. They are remarkably skilled at wielding their own language, despite its rigidity and complexity, but remarkably unable to make sense of it when it’s not right.

Another example of lazy English would be “he is older than me” when they mean “he is older than I (am)”.

In this example, they both mean the same thing, but consider the following “he likes her more than me” and “he likes her more than I (do)”.  Now there’s a contrast: does he like her more than he likes me, or does he like her more than I like her?

Get it right, people, it’s not hard.


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