Could You Carry on a Conversation in Spanish?

Torrance Grey

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About This Quiz

Did you know that more than 400 million people worldwide speak Spanish? That makes it the second-most spoken language on the planet, behind only Chinese. Spanish speakers can be found on nearly every continent, with the largest number in South America, followed by North America and Europe. Spanish is the official language of 21 nations. 

Of course, there are a lot of regional variations in Spanish -- in fact, in Spain you'll sometimes hear the language called "Castellano," not "Espanol," so proud are the people of Spain about their brand of Spanish, Castilian Spanish. And with regional differences in what words and phrases mean, there's plenty of opportunity to make a faux pas -- so stick to the basics, while you keep your ears open and learn what means what. (As with English, there are plenty of innocent-seeming words that have come to have sexual meanings!) 

But don't be too worried -- it almost never gives offense when you try to communicate with people in their own language, even when you stumble. Remember, too, that English and Spanish are closely related -- both of them are descended from Latin, just like Italian and French. 

With all that in mind, we've put together this quiz on some of the basics you'll need to get along in a conversation with a Spanish speaker. Do you know "bien" from "bueno," or "tardes" from "noches?" Settle in and prove it with our quiz!

Which of these is a casual telephone greeting in Spanish?

"Bueno," the Spanish word for "good," is a common way to answer the phone, especially in Mexico. "Diga!" or "si?" are used in other countries.

In Spanish, what makes the difference between using "tu" or "usted" for "you"?

"Usted" is formal, and "tu" is familiar, so any of the above choices might come into play. Fun fact: English used to have a familiar "you" as well -- it was "thou," and was related to the French and Spanish "tu."

What does "De nada" mean?

"De nada" doesn't sound much like the English "You're welcome." Think of it like our phrase, "Think nothing of it."

How do you say the key phrase, "I'm sorry"?

Don't be thrown off by the lack of the word "Yo," meaning "I." That pronoun is built into the noun "siento." "Lo siento" means "I regret it."

Who would be most likely to ask you, "Como estas?"

A good friend would care how you're doing and use the "tu" form in asking. The other three would use "usted," or wouldn't ask at all. (We're looking at you, bus driver man!)

How do you say "Good afternoon" in Spanish?

Is "tardes" related to the English word "tardy"? We're not sure ... the latter derives from the Latin word "tardus," for slow. Some afternoons certainly do seem to drag!

Finish the sequence: "Buenos dias," "Buenas tardes," and "Buenas ______."

"Buenas Noches" is Spanish for "Good night." Idiomatically, all these phrases are plural, even though you're only referring to the day/afternoon/night in question.

What does "conmigo" mean?

"Conmigo" is one of Spanish's compound words. "Con" is "with" and "mi" represents "me," like it sounds. But don't be fooled: "go" is not a cognate and does NOT mean "go."

A friend tells you "Calmate!" What does she want you to do?

"Calmate!" is Spanish for "calm down" or "relax." It uses the informal "te" suffix. If you don't know someone well enough to use the familiar form, you might want to be more diplomatic about telling them to calm down.

You probably know that "bueno" means "good." But how you do say "well"?

The adverb form of good is "bien" in Spanish. Though like English speakers, Spanish speakers sometimes mix them up, informally. It's probably not the end of the world to say you're doing "bueno."

If an older person calls you "mijo," what does that mean?

This is an affection contraction of "mi" and "hijo," so literally, "my son." So it's likely one of your parents is calling you this -- though possibly an elder who is very fond of you would do so as well.

Which of these is the Spanish term for "dear" or "darling"?

The verb "querer," or "to want," also carries the sense of "to love." So "querido" or "querida" is "dear," or more specifically, "beloved."

If someone says they are "asi-asi," how are they doing?

Both English and Spanish use "reduplicative" terms to express a middling state of happiness. Perhaps that's because it has a "half-and-half" sound: a little good, a little bad.

If you're discussing "deportes" with someone, what are you talking about?

Despite the similarity in spelling, "deportes" don't have anything to do with being deported. They're sports.

A Mexican of your acquaintance is passionate about "futbol." What does he love?

You might have known this, but to most of the world, soccer is "football." "Futbol" is the Spanish spelling.

What does "soy" mean in Spanish?

In Spanish, there are two forms of "to be": "ser" and "estar." The former is for long-term states of being, and its first-person present-tense form is "soy," meaning, "I am."

What does "usted" mean?

Spanish has a formal and a famiilar "you," like French and other languages do. "Usted" is that form.

A new friend asks if you have a "mascota." What is she asking about?

It sounds like the cute character that represents a school or team, doesn't it? But "mascota" also means pet.

Which would least likely be someone's "mascota"?

The other three are a cat, a dog, and a bird. But "una vaca" is a cow, generally considered livestock, not a pet.

What is the best way to ask a stranger his/her name?

If you picked "Como te llamas?" let us explain why that's not a good idea. Technically, it's correct, but if you don't know someone's name, you clearly aren't on a footing to be using the familiar form. To be polite, use the "usted" form, unless you're an adult meeting a child.

If someone asks after the health of your "hermanos," who are they asking about?

In Spanish, masculine nouns can stand for both masculine and feminine when gender is mixed or unknown. (It's not unlike using "he" instead of "he or she" in English). So "hermanos" can mean either "brothers" or "siblings."

Someone asking "De donde?" is casually asking _______.

This is short for "De donde es usted?" or "De donde eres?" At a party where people are relaxed (read: a bit drunk), you might hear this shortened version.

You would introduce your boyfriend as your " ______."

In Spanish, a significant other is a "novio/novia," as if they are perpetually new. (We know some people who trade in a boyfriend of girlfriend as soon as the novelty wears off ... but that's a story for another time!)

If a new friend likes "peliculas," what do they enjoy?

"Peliculas" are movies. The term for television is easier to remember: It's "television."

If you like traveling, you would probably say, "__________ viajar."

Here's how it works: "Gustar" is the common word used, but it means "to please," not "to like." So you're saying "Travel pleases me," not "I like travel." (It's honestly not as formal as it sounds translated!)

On the phone, your roommate's mother asks, "Esta Marilu?" What is she asking?

In Spanish, "estar" is the form of "to be" that's used for temporary or changeable conditions. So "Esta ______" can mean "Are they there?" (If your roommate's mother had asked, "Es Marilu?" she'd be asking, "Does Marilu exist?" -- a question better asked of the physicist Schrodinger than a roommate).

Which of the following is NOT a day of the week?

"Enero" is January. If you want to get together with someone "en Enero," you'll have to nail things down a bit more.

You want to say a particular woman is gorgeous. Which is the strongest word to get that across?

Adjectives and their connotations may vary from country to country, but generally "linda" is the strongest of the three terms for "beautiful." ("Gracia" is a noun, though, meaning "grace" or "good feeling.")

If someone is "enamorada," what is she?

"Enamorada" is a cognate of the English word "enamored." But in English, we don't use it to describe the classic hearts-and-flowers condition. Instead, we use it to describe a strong like, interest or passion: "He's enamored of Hemingway these days."

If someone is "embarazada," what is she?

Don't make this mistake, novice Spanish speakers! "Ay, estoy embarazada!" means, "Oh geez, I'm pregnant!" Strictly comic if you're a guy, but a potential source of gossip if you're a woman!

Which word means "always" in Spanish?

This is very similar to the Latin "semper." That word, in turn, is probably familiar to you from the military slogans "Semper fidelis" and "Semper paratus."

When introducing someone, you should say, "Dejame ______ mi amiga Laurel."

In Spanish, you do not "introduce" someone, you "present" them. "Introducir" is often used for "penetrate (sexually)", and is a faux pas to use in place of "presentar."

If you are in search of "exito," what do you want?

"Exito" is a false cognate with English. It means "success," not "exit." The latter is a "salida."

You want to offer a drink to a friend who abstains from alcohol. What fits the bill?

Tamarind juice is the only one you'd offer someone to a non-drinker. (It's not common in the U.S., but very popular in Latin America.) The others are beer, gin and wine, respectively.

How do you say "How do you say ...?" (Is there an echo in here?)

Literally translated, "Como se dice ...?" means "How is said ...?" It's very useful in conversations with Spanish speakers who know enough English to help you learn.

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