Spanish Language Characteristics

Before starting any translation project, it’s helpful to be aware of the key characteristics of the Spanish language. Below, Trusted Translations details some of the elements that could affect your Spanish translations.

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Linguistic Fundamentals

The Spanish language uses the Latin alphabet, with a few special letters: vowels with an acute accent (á, é, í, ó, ú), u with an umlaut (ü), and an n with a tilde (ñ). This spelling system, thanks to a substantial number of historic reforms, is almost perfectly “phonetic”—that is, pronounced largely as it appears written, with few hidden or silent letters—and is therefore easier to learn than many other languages.

However, Spanish does have some notable sounds that separate it from English. The trilled ‘r’, in particular, is somewhat complex to reproduce. The letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ are often pronounced almost indistinguishably, while the letter ‘h’ is silent.

Pronunciation will also vary widely across regional dialects of Spanish. For example, while the double ‘ll’ is pronounced like an English ‘y’ in the majority of Spanish dialects, in Argentina and Uruguay, many speakers pronounce it as more of a ‘zh’ sound (like the s in English measure).


Spanish language punctuation is close, but by no means identical, to English. There are a few significant differences that can trip up inexperienced translators.

For example, in Spanish, exclamation and interrogative sentences are preceded by inverted question and exclamation marks, such as: ¿Habla usted inglés? (Do you speak English?) or ¡Qué lástima! (What a pity!). In a Spanish dialogue, a change in speakers is indicated by a dash (-), while in English, each speaker’s remark is placed in a new paragraph. Similarly, especially in Spain, Spanish may use angular brackets (« and ») where English would use double quotation marks (“”) to represent speech.

Grammatical Differences

Spanish, unlike English, is an inflected language. This means Spanish words change their form or ending to signify their meaning within a sentence, such as whether a verb is in first person or third person, singular or plural, and so on.

Spanish also has grammatical gender; all nouns are either “masculine” or “feminine,” a designation that is often completely unrelated to the actual meaning of the word (e.g., el vestido, dress, is masculine). This will affect the adjectives and articles used with the noun, whereas English simply uses the same articles across the board (a/an, the, etc.).


The level of formality is a crucial feature of any Spanish translation. For example, deference and politeness is often expressed by the use of the 3rd person usted instead of the more informal second person tú.  

That said, the expression of formality can also change across countries and dialects. In countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, El Salvador, and more, vos is used extensively in place of tú, including in advertising and the press. This underscores the importance of working with a translator that is fluent in your target-market’s norms.

Did You Know?
Spanish has several punctuation differences from English, such as inverted question marks.
Did You Know?
The Spanish language has several special characters, such as an "n" with a tilde (ñ).
Did You Know?
Ñ is the only Spanish character originating from the Spaniards and is not found in Latin.
Did You Know?
The expression of formality in Spanish can vary widely based on the specific country or region.
Did You Know?
Did You Know?

Ser vs. Estar

A common obstacle in Spanish translation is encountering concepts for which English uses one word, but which have two or more forms of expression in Spanish, depending on the context.

For instance, many beginning speakers find themselves confused by ser and estar, two verbs that denote the concept of “to be.” Ser is used for permanent states, like one’s name; estar is used to describe temporary things and to indicate transition, like where someone is standing. Similarly, English “for” can translate in Spanish as either por or para, depending on distinctions in meaning.


The Spanish language contains various formatting issues that may have a direct effect on your translation. For example, titles in Spanish require the capitalization of only the first letter of the title’s first word. In English, the first letter of almost every word is normally capitalized. When using numbers in Spanish, periods replace commas and vice versa.

Errors in formatting could lead to significant confusion and even financial liability. Trusted Translations will walk you through all of these differences to ensure that you are comfortable with every aspect of your Spanish translation.

English to Spanish Text Expansion

One of the most notable differences when translating into Spanish is that, as a general rule, text translated from English to Spanish will have about 20% more words. Due to Spanish’s linguistic rules, it often takes more words to say the same thing in Spanish.

The increased amount of text can cause problems in design formatting, since more words need to fit in the same design. At Trusted Translations, our desktop publishers are experts in handling text expansion; they will work with your team to ensure that the integrity of your original design is maintained while preserving your message.

Naturally, the other major problem posed by text expansion is price. If you work with translation companies that charge by target word, text expansion could increase your costs by 20%.

At Trusted Translations, however, we price our projects based on the source word count rather than on the target word count. This will allow you to see the final cost of your translation at the beginning of the translation project and will ultimately save you money.

As an industry leader, Trusted Translations is ready to be your one-stop shop for Spanish language and translation services. Reach out to us today to learn how we can meet your Spanish translation needs.