Spanish Sentence Structure and Word Order 


Differences Between English and Spanish Sentence Structure

We will consider some of the differences that distinguish Spanish sentence structure and word order from sentence construction and word order in English. Awareness of these differences will enable translators to avoid embarrassing mistakes while working on a Spanish translation.

In the first place, the word order and Spanish sentence structure is dissimilar from that of English sentences. In a Spanish sentence the verb comes before the subject, and the sentence takes the following form: object + verb + subject. On the contrary, in an English sentence, the verb comes after the subject. The English declarative sentence generally uses the following word order: subject + verb + object. Thus, the Spanish translation of the English sentence ‘It is true but my father does not believe it´ will read as ‘Es verdad pero no lo cree mi padre.

In the second place, the word order in a Spanish sentence structure is more flexible than the word order in an English sentence. The flexibility in word order enables the Spanish to shift the emphasis from one syntactical element to another without too many hiccups.

In a Spanish sentence structure a noun direct object cannot come before a subject because of the possibility of confusion between the two. In a Spanish sentence the preposition ‘a´ is used before the object in order to distinguish it from the subject. Thus, the Spanish translation of the English sentence ‘Legend conquers history´ will read as ‘La leyenda vence a la historia´.

Difference in Use of Verbs

In this unit we will study the way(s) in which the use of verbs and the use of the ‘no´ differ between English and Spanish. In a Spanish sentence, the verb ‘to do´ cannot be used as an auxiliary or helping verb. If the original English expression uses some form of ‘do´, as in the construction of questions, its Spanish translation will have only a single form of the verb. Thus the Spanish translation of the English question ‘Do you want to leave now´ will read as ‘Quieres salir ahora´.

In a Spanish sentence, no word is allowed to come between the auxiliary verb ‘haber´ and the past participle of the main verb in the compound tense. In an English sentence, however, adverbs are frequently interposed between the auxiliary verb and the main verb. Thus, while in English it would be correct to say ‘They have already arrived´, its Spanish translation would be ‘Ya han llegado´.

The negative ‘no´ always comes before the verb in a Spanish sentence structure but before the word it is qualifying in the English sentence. The English expression ‘That is not important´ must be translated into Spanish as ‘Eso no es importante´ and not as ‘Eso es no importante´.

In order to alter the meaning of their sentences or to change the object of emphasis, Spanish-speaking people usually rely on the placement of the words ‘algo´ and ‘un ensayo´. Hence, the Spanish translation of the English expression “I have something to do´ will read as ‘Tengo algo que hacer´. On the other hand, the Spanish translation of the English expression ‘I have to do something´ (as in compelled to do something) will be rendered as ‘Tengo que hacer algo´. Translators can eliminate many of these errors by opting for true meaning translation rather than literal or word-for-word translation.



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