Notes from Spanish Step by Step by Charles Berlitz

These are the notes I took while reading the book, Spanish Step by Step by Charles Berlitz

When to use the written accent (‘)

The written accent is used principally to show that the normal rules of stress have been changed. The normal rules are that if a word ends in a vowel or n or s it is stressed on the syllable before the last. If it ends with any other letter it is stressed on the last syllable.

Another reason for accents is to differentiate between words which are spelled the same but have different meanings.
el – the; él – he
este – this; éste – this one

In addition, accents are used over interrogative pronouns and prepositions:
quien – who; ¿quién? – who?
donde – where; ¿dónde? – where?

On being introduced

Encantado, a polite way of acknowledging an introduction, literally means “enchanted.” If you are a man you say encantado and if you are a woman you say encantada. In case you forget which form to use you can always say mucho gusto – “much pleasure” – which is the same for both masculine and feminine.

¿Habla Ud. español?

The definite article is more frequently used in Spanish than in English. While it is correct to say ¿Habla Ud español? “Do you speak Spanish?,” when the language is more specifically assessed the article is customary; Él hable muy mal el ingles. “He speaks English very badly.”

Spanish courtesy

A sus órdenes – “at your orders” is a very polite way of acknowledging thanks. It is often used by men when introduced, in place of the more usual mucho gusto. You will find, in general, that Spanish tends to emphasize courtesy and politeness. Even the pronoun yo (“I”) is written with a small y while usted (“you”) is written with a capital U.

Ordinal Numbers

First – primero
Second – segundo
Third – tercero
Fourth – cuarto
Fifth – quinto
Sixth – sexto
Seventh – séptimo
Eigth – octavo
Ninth – noveno
Tenth – décimo

After the half hour

For telling time after the half hour you will also hear para (“for”) used as well as menos, such as:
veinte para las ocho – twenty to eight
diez para las ocho – ten to eight

Requests and Orders

An easy way to give a command is to use sirvase followed by the infinitive of the verb:
Sirvase no esperar aquí – Please don’t wait here

A choice for “here” and “there”

You will notice that there are several words for “here” and “there”. Aquí and acá both mean “here”; allí and allá both mean “there”; ahí also means “there,” but closer to the speaker.

The personal a

When a person is the object of a verb an a must precede it.

Hombre – “Man”

¡Hombre! Literally “man!” is used so much as an interjection to mean “Really!,” “Well, now,” “Look!,” “One moment!” and other things that it can be considered part of the spoken idiom and not slang.

Y becomes “e”, “o” becomes “u”

Y – “and” changes to e for phonetic reasons when the following word begins with i or h (as the h is always silent). Also, o – “or” changes to u when the word following begins with an o, as in siete u ocho – “seven or eight.”

Plural of family names

A family name is made plural by making its article plural; no ‘s’ is added to the name itself. e.g., Los Simpson.

“Pero” and “sino”

In most cases “but” is pero, but when a negative idea is contrasted with an affirmative (the negative must be first), the conjunction is sino.
Ella no es su esposa sino su secretaria. – She is not his wife but his secretary.


While beber is the word for “to drink,” it is more polite, especially when tendering invitations, to use tomar – “to take.”
¿Qué toma Ud.? – What will you have to drink?


Tan means “so” or “as” but is also used with que to make the “what a…” more effective. ¡Qué día tan bello! – What a beautiful day.

Position of pronoun objects

Pronoun objects generally come in front of the verb except in the affirmative imperative when they must follow and are attached to it. As far as the negative imperative is concerned, they precede the verb as usual.
¡Hagalo! – Do it!
¡No lo haga! – Don’t do it!

Pues, así

Pues and así are two words that constantly occur in Spanish conversation. Pues means “well,” “then,” “indeed,” or “let me see,” and can be used as an expression of hesitation while considering a reply. Así means “like this,” “like that,” “this way,” “that way,” “so” or “thus.”

“Qué” as an exclamation

Certain exclamations such as this one, ¡Qué lástima! (what a shame!) are so frequently used that you should learn them by heart. Others include:
¡Qué pena! – What a shame!
¡Qué chistoso! – How funny!
¡Qué raro! – How unusual!
¡Qué bien! – How fine!
¡Qué interesante! – How interesting!
¡Qué amable! – How kind!
¡Qué sabroso! – How good! (especially for food)
¡Qué barbaridad! – How awful!
¡Qué bonito! – How pretty!


Conmigo (“with me”) has the –go ending for euphonic reasons. Consigo is the corresponding form for con él, con ella, or con Ud., but it must concern the action of the same person to whom it refers:
Lleve esto consigo – Take this with you.
Voy con Ud. – I’m going with you.

Lo with a adjective

Lo and an adjective can best be translated as though they are followed by “thing” or “aspect.”
Lo importante – The important thing
Lo chistoso – The funny thing
Lo raro – The unusual thing
Lo más chistoso – The funniest (thing)
Lo más raro – The most unusual (thing)
Lo más raro del caso – The most unusual aspect of the affair

“Want” or “would like”

Quisiera (“would like”) is a special form of querer – the imperfect subjunctive. This tense will be introduced in a later step, but it is useful to learn this one form here which can be used for yo, Ud., él, and ella because it is so common in everyday speech. In Spanish as in English, it is more polite to say “I would like” than “I want.”
¿Qué quiere? – What do you want?
¿Qué quisiera? – What would you like?

In the latter case, adding Ud. at the end would make the construction even more polite.

Reflexive and passive

The reflexive and passive have the same form, literally translated no se pueden llevar is “not able to wear themselves.”

The –ero suffix

When a noun ends in –ero it often indicates the person who performs an action or sells something. The first part of the word gives you the key to what it is.
Cartero – mail carrier
Verdulero – vegetable seller
Cochero – driver
Tendero – shopkeeper
Carnicero – butcher
Panadero – baker
Ranchero – rancher, farmer
Zapatero – shoemaker
Camarero – waiter
Basurero – garbage man
Marinero – sailor
Pistolero – gunman

No es molestia

“To bother (oneself)” or “to take the trouble” is expressed by the reflexive verb molestarse. Sometimes you will hear the noun molestia used:
No se moleste – Don’t bother (yourself)
Al contrario, no es molestia – On the contrary, it’s no bother.

“Tu” the familiar “you”

, the familiar form for “you,” is the pronoun used in informal speech, and implies a certain degree of intimacy. The present tense of the verb used with is formed by adding –s to the form for Ud., él, and ella. The affirmative imperative or command form for is generally the same as the regular form for Ud.:
¡Estudia! – Study!
¡Aprende! – Learn!
¡Escribe! – Write!

The object form of is te, and the possessive is tu, without and accent to avoid confusion with the subject . Following a preposition the familiar form is ti, and, when combined with con, it becomes contigo.

“Tu” – with negative command

A negative command for does not use the imperative form which you saw above, but switches back to the regular formal command, while adding an –s for .
No comas. – Don’t eat.

“Quedar” and “quedarse”

Quedarse is a reflexive verb meaning “to remain” or “to stay.” In its non-reflexive form quedar is used for “to be” and can substitute for either ser or estar when referring to location.

¡Que se divierta!

The reflexive verb divertirse means “to amuse oneself” or “to have a good time.” When you wish someone a good time, say: ¡Que se divierta! Or, if there are several persons: ¡Que se diviertan!

Verbs following de

Verbs following de are in the infinitive and are translated by the present participle.
después de salir – after leaving
antes de salir – before leaving


Encontrar (“to find”) and conocer (“to know”) both mean “to meet.” Encontrar means “to meet” in the sense of meeting someone one already knows while conocer means “to meet” in the sense of being introduced.

Darse cuenta

Darse cuenta de – “to realize” is a frequently used idiom.
¿Se da Ud. cuenta de la hora que es? – Do you realize what time it is?

“Could” & “might”

Just as the present tense of poder means “can” or “may,” the conditional means “could” or “might.” There is no special word for “might.”

En la calle

Está en la calle literally means “She is in the street,” and is a colloquial way of saying someone is not home.

“Ought” and “should”

You will remember that deber means “must,” but in its conditional form it means “ought” or “should” in the sense of obligation:
Debería ver esa pelicul.a – You should see that movie.
De versa debería irme ahora. – I really ought to go now.

El Imperfecto

The imperfect is equivalent to the English “used to” in the sense of a continued action in the past whether or not “used to” is specifically used. For instance, to say you were living somewhere for a period of time, use the imperfect, as this was a continued action. The imperfect is also used for something that was going on at a certain time.
Cantaba – I was singing | I used to sing
Bailaba – You were dancing | You used to dance
Vivían – They were living | They used to live

And a repeated action in the past, such as:
Nuestro maestro nos decía, “Más vale pájaro en la mano que cien volando.” – Our teacher used to tell us, “(A) bird in the hand is worth more than a hundred flying.”

The imperfect is also used to tell stories or memories. It is also used for a continued action interrupted by a finished action. Another important use of the imperfect is to set the descriptive stage for something that was going on when something else happened.
Yo le dije que no gustaba tener que contester el teléfono cuando dormía – I told him that I didn’t like to have to answer the phone when I was sleeping.

“Al” and the infinitive

The contraction al used with the infinitive of the verb can be translated as “when”


Imaginarse and figurarse both mean “to imagine” and they are often used in the exclamations ¡Imagínese! And ¡Figúrese!, meaning “Just imagine!”


Solo without an accent means “alone,” but sólo with an accent means “just” or “only.”

A long name: an easy tense

The pluscuamperfecto (past perfect) has a name almost longer than the time it takes to explain how to use it, which is quite simple. It is equivalent to the English constructions “had gone,” “had seen,” “had heard,” “had come,” etc. and is formed with the imperfect of haber plus the participle of the verb.

An action that will have happened

The past participle is used with the future of haber to form the future perfect. Here are the five forms with recibir (“to receive”), corresponding to the concept “will have received”:
habré recibido, habrás recibido, habrá recibido, habremos recibido, habrán recibido.


The three names: Fulano, Mengano, and Zutano are the Spanish version of “Tom, Dick and Harry.” When a person’s name is unknown, Fulano is generally used, as in the English expression “What’s his name”

El subjuntivo

The reason the subjunctive is important in Spanish is because you must use it in expressions such as “I want you to come,” which must be expressed by “I want that you come.” In fact, anything that you want, desire, or wish another person to do is put in the subjunctive.

The key word of the subjunctive is que. It is like a sign saying that the following verb must be in the subjunctive, that is; after expressions of wishing, doubt, emotion, uncertainty, and after certain conjunctions.

When the subjunctive is used without a main verb – with the third person – it has the sense of “let . . . !”
¡Que se vaya! – “Let him leave!”

A further use of the subjunctive is when you are looking for something that you haven’t yet found.
Busco a una muchacha que sepa cuidar niños – I’m looking for a girl who knows how to take care of children.

The subjunctive is also used with expressions asking for permission.
¿Está bien que yo fume? – Is it alright if I smoke?
¿Permite Ud. que que tome una foto? – Will you permit me to take a photo?

And, the subjunctive is used with expressions of an indefinite amount of time.
Cuando vaya a Madrid verá cosas muy bellas – When you go to Madrid you will see very beautiful things.
El día que regrese, llámeme – The day you return, call me.

The imperfect subjunctive

The subjunctive mood has an imperfect tense. This means that when the verb that introduces the subjunctive is in a past tense, the subjunctive must also be in the past (the imperfect) tense. Compare:
Su padre no quiere que él fume. – His father doesn’t want him to smoke.
Su padre no quería que él fumara. – His father didn’t want him to smoke.

The subjunctive imperfect tense uses the same base as the regular past tense, and adds either –ase or –ara for the 1st conjugation and –iese or –iera for the 2nd and 3rd conjugations.


When you say “if you were in my place” or “if I were you”, you are supposing something that isn’t true. For this sort of condition, you must use the imperfect subjunctive for one clause, the one with “if”, and the conditional with the other clause of the supposition.

Suppositions that never happened

An even more pronounced supposition concerns wondering about how things would have been if something else had happened or never happened. In a case like this, the past conditional – simply the imperfect subjunctive of haber with the past participle – is used in the “if” clause and the past conditional – the conditional of haber with the past particple, in the other clause.
Si la Reina Isabel no le hubiera ayudado a Colón ¿quién habría descubierto el Nuevo Mundo? – If Queen Isabella had not helped Columbus, who would have discovered the New World?

The infinitive with the perfect

Here is an example of the infinitive with the past participle. Compare:
Es un placer hacerlo – it’s a pleasure to do it.
Es un placer haberlo hecho – it’s a pleasure to have done it.


Vosotros is frequently shortened to vos and as such is used in literature, even referring to one person, as a very polite form of Ud. Besides in books, you will probably hear vosotros used in public addresses, as a special mark of honor to the listeners. Vosotros is really the plural of the familiar form and is used as such especially in Spain.


Remember that most adjectives become adverbs by adding –mente to the feminine form:
exacto (exact) – exactamente (exactly)


Usted is a shortened form of su merced, meaning “your grace.”

Selected Vocabulary and Phrases

  • ¡Qué broma! – What a joke!
  • ¿Qué quiere decir? – What do you mean? (or) What does it mean?
  • yo mismo – myself (e.g., Puedo cambiar la rueda yo mismo – I can change the tire myself)
  • siquiera – even
  • dentro de – within (e.g., dentro de una semana – within a week)
  • ¿Cuánto cobraría hasta el aeropuerto? – How much would you charge as far as the airport?
  • ¿No prodría hacerme un precio un poco mejor? – Couldn’t you make me a little better price?
  • ¿Tomaría quince pesos? – Would you take 15 pesos?
  • A eso de las ocho – at about eight o’clock
  • ¿Tendría la bondad de llamar más tarde? – Would you be kind enough to call later?
  • tener lugar – take place
  • sentido – direction (e.g., las chicas solían pasear alrededor la plaza en un sentido – the girls would walk around the square in one direction)
  • quedar parado – remain standing
  • repetidas veces – repeatedly
  • rumbo – direction (cambiar de rumbo – to change direction)
  • desde entonces – since then
  • sonó el telephone – the telephone rang
  • ese idiota de Gómez – that idiot Gómez
  • Está Ud. en su casa – you’re in your (own) home (a courtesy for guests to your home)
  • Buen mozo – handsome
  • Darse mucho que hacer – to give (someone) a lot of trouble
  • Travieso – mischievous
  • Al saber la cocinera que Pablo venía preparó – when the cook learned that Pablo was coming she prepared…
  • Me enteré de muchas cosas acerca de ti – I learned many things about you
  • de repente – suddenly
  • puesto que – since
  • me apena que… – I’m sorry that
  • no es para tanto – you’re making too much of it
  • No hay “pero” que valga – there are no “buts” about it
  • flojo – lazy
  • Quiero hacer lo que me dé la gana – I want to do what I feel like doing
  • alcanzar – to catch up with, to reach, achieve
  • premio – prize
  • mudarse – to move (e.g., house)
  • lo primero – the first (thing); en segundo lugar – in the second place
  • la vida les sería más fácil – life would be easier for them (note les and implicit “for”)
  • ¡Qué chasco! – What a disappointment!
  • menos mal – it’s just as well
  • pero de todos modos – but anyway
  • Muy señor mío | Muy señor nuestro – (My|Our) dear sir (greeting in business letters)
  • a la mayor brevedad possible – as soon as possible
  • oreja vs. oído – oreja is the outer ear and oído is the inner ear we hear with
  • obra maestra – masterpiece (obra – work, piece of work)
  • temor – fear
  • en cuanto a – as for …
  • hoy día – these days, nowadays
  • brindar – to offer; to drink a toast
  • fuente – source
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