M Before P and B

Lesson 198. Grammar
Caption 26
Difficulty Difficulty
Caption 15
Difficulty Difficulty
A basic Spanish spelling rule: whenever you hear a nasal sound (m or n) before a p or b, you have to write m. For example, the first time you hear the word sombrero (hat), you might not be sure if you heard an m or an n sound before the b, but the rule tells us it has to be spelled with an m.

Un sombrero. -Listones. Mire qué listones más bonitos para que se haga unos moños.
A hat.
-Ribbons. Look at what beautiful ribbons so that one can make some [hair] buns.
Caption 8: El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 6

This rule must be applied without exception. When a word that ends in an n is combined with a word that begins with a p or b to form a compound word like cien+piesciempiés (centipede) the n becomes an m. Some other examples of this are en+pollo (chicken) → empollar (to sit on eggs, to hatch), en+bala
(bundle) embalar (to pack) and en+belesa (the belesa is a narcotic plant) → embelesar (to captivate).  

Vamos a empollar veinte criaturas.
Let's hatch twenty children.
Caption 15: Calle 13 - Tango del pecado

Take note, this rule doesn’t apply to v, despite the fact that native Spanish speakers often conflate it with b. In fact, in Spanish, it is also a rule that you should always write n before v.

La gente no me parecía... no me parecía el tipo de gente con el que yo me quería involucrar.
The people didn't seem to... they didn't seem to be the kind of people I wanted to get involved with.
Caption 56: Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 2

This rule is very useful when trying to figure out the proper way to spell certain Spanish words, especially considering that it is not uncommon to hear native speakers replace the m sound with an n sound. Listen to our Nicaraguan friend, Doña Coco:

Y hay mucho cristia'... este... católicos también.
And there's a lot of Christia'... I mean... Catholics also.
Caption 26: Doña Coco - Música

Does it not sound like she might be saying tanbién, with an n, instead of también (also) with an m?

If you keep an ear out you are just as likely to hear anbiente for ambiente (environment) and inportante in place of importante (important). But remember, always write an m (not an n) before a p or a b, and an n (not an m) before a v.

Se me olvida, I forgot!

Lesson 193. Grammar

Se me ha olvidado quién soy yo
I have forgotten who I am
Caption 2: Cienfue - Medio Alcohólico Melancólico

As English speakers, we might be wondering why “I have forgotten,” in the caption above, isn’t using the first person (yo or "I") conjugation of haber, as in [yo] he olvidado... 

In fact, Cienfue could have sung precisely that, which would be the most “English-like” way of expressing his thought:

[yo] he olvidado quién soy yo
I have forgotten who I am

Another alternative would be the
pronominal (think “reflexive”) form, olvidarse:

[yo] me he olvidado de quién soy yo
I have forgotten who I am

Note that the pronominal option requires a “de” after olvidado. The reason for this is that olvidarse, like most pronominal verbs, does not take a direct object, while olvidar is “transitive”—meaning it does (and must) take a direct object. Native speakers often just “know” this instinctively.

Cienfue doesn’t opt for either of these, rather going with what, to English speakers, will be the most “foreign” (though commonplace in Spanish) construction, olvidársele. Olvidársele is what is known as the "impersonal" (or “terciopersonal,” third person) construction of olvidarse

In contrast to what we are accustomed to in English, the subject of the sentence is the thing forgotten, while the person doing the forgetting is expressed as an indirect object (signified by the le appended to olvidarse). Something "gets forgotten" (
passive voice) "by someone."

So, when Cienfue sings,

Se me ha olvidado quién soy yo

the subject of the sentence is “quién soy yo” (who I am) and the indirect object is “me” (me).

Cienfue is most literally saying:
“ ‘Who I am’ has been forgotten by me”

Most Spanish speakers, even if pressed, will find precious little (if any) difference in meaning amongst the three possible constructions. There are definitely regional as well as personal preferences.

It can also be argued that there are nuanced differences in emphasis. For example, the “impersonal” form places the least “blame” on the person doing the forgetting. This type of verb construction has even been called
sin culpa (without blame), and it’s not the first time we’ve encountered it

in our discussions.

What if you want to simply say “I forgot.”? (e.g. in response to Por qué no fuiste a trabajar? Why didn’t you go to work?)

Olvidé. INCORRECT (requires a direct object.)
Lo olvidé. (I forgot.) (direct object pronoun lo refers to “work”)
Me olvidé. (I forgot)
Se me olvidó. (I forgot.)

Let’s cap this off with a few more examples of each possible olvidar constructions: transitive (the most “English-like”, and perhaps least common), pronominal (looks like “reflexive”) and impersonal:

You forget that I am the boss?
¿Olvidas que yo soy el jefe?
¿Te olvidas de que yo soy el jefe?
¿Se te olvida que yo soy el jefe?

Maria forgot to pick up her cat.
Maria olvidó recoger su gato.
Maria se olvidó de recoger su gato.
A Maria se le olvidó recoger su gato.

Jorge forgot his money.
Jorge olvidó el dinero.
Jorge se olvidó del dinero.

[In some cases, like this one, the pronominal form alters the meaning slightly. “Jorge forgot about the money,” or even “Jorge kissed the money goodbye.”]

A Jorge se le olvidó el dinero.

Now is a good time to catch up on (or review) these related lessons:

Accidental Grammar
Caer Bien: To Like It
Gustar: To Like, to Please, to Taste
“Le” in Verbs Like Gusta

When "s" sounds like "h"

Lesson 192. Grammar
Caption 21,27,29
Difficulty Difficulty

Yabla Spanish viewer Donnie (dryanespanol) wrote and asked:

In "Fiesta en Miami," - Antonio pronounces the "h" when he says "hace." I have always been told this is a cardinal sin. Please explain.

That's a good question! Does the Canary Islander Antonio Polegre really pronounce the "h" in "hace"? Well, we took a listen and it SEEMS like he does! What is going on? 

One of the first things we notice is that, in caption 21, when Antonio says hice mis amigos ("I made my friends"), we do NOT hear any "h" sound in hice. So why would Antonio pronounce hice correctly but not hace? We also notice that he didn't pronounce the final s in mis nor in amigos -- a common enough practice in many regions, and, oddly enough, perhaps a telling clue.

Antonio uses hace four times in the video (twice in caption 27 and twice in caption 29), each time as part the two word combination nos hace; and each time it really does sound like he is pronouncing the "h" in hace.

We did a little research to see if perhaps "Canarian" Spanish makes an exception to the "never pronounce the 'h'" rule. We don't find such an exception, but we do find another characteristic of Canarian Spanish echoed in a number of places, such as wikipedia:

/s/ debuccalization. As is the case with many varieties of Spanish, /s/ debuccalized to [h] in coda position.

Obviously not written for the layman! A little more research tells us that "debuccalization" is a linguistics term that describes a sound being "reduced" to an "h sound" (e.g. the "h" in "high"), and that the "coda" position is the final position in a syllable, after the vowel. 

So, if Antonio is "debuccalizing" the final "s" in nos, which produces an "h sound," then perhaps what we are hearing is not the "h" in hace but rather the "debuccalized /s/" (i.e. "h sound") at the end of "nos"! Could it be?

Let's look at caption 29:

y al final yo considero que todo nos une, todo nos hace... todo nos hace ser humanos 
and, in the end, I consider that everything unites us, everything makes us... everything makes us human 
caption 29 - Fiesta en Miami - Antonio

It's not as strong, but we think we can also MAYBE hear an "h sound" in nos une, almost coming out as 'no [h]une," and if that's true it supports the debuccalization theory. 

Further, he does not pronounce the "h" in humanos (just as he doesn't the one in hice)-- so clearly it's not the case that he is in the habit of pronouncing every "h" that starts a Spanish word.

A Dominican friend of ours tells us that not only does Antonio's pronunciation of "nos hace" sound perfectly natural to him, but that he can think of many similar "debuccalization" examples in Dominican speech. In fact, he thought that Antonio's Spanish sounds more like that of the Caribbean than (what he considers) that of Spain. This makes sense, because linguists tells us that early Canarian settlers in the region had a great amount of influence in what we know now as "Caribbean Spanish." 

No wonder Antonio feels right at home in Miami!

Spanish speakers in many regions are known for (in one way or another) reducing, softening, or "aspirating" their s's (or, as many frustrated learners would say, "dropping them" entirely). In fact, one of our resident experts, a guru of Spanish (though his students in Mexico City call him "professor"), told us that Antonio "is aspirating the s in nos, which could sound as if he were pronouncing the h in hace to someone who is not a native Spanish speaker." 

We came across a "Voices en Español" podcast which discusses the "aspirated s," as well as some other Spanish consonant sounds that are a challenge to English speakers. Have a listen!

Apenas —hardly, just only, and about to happen

Lesson 190. Grammar
If you are at all familiar with the Spanish word apenas, the meaning that probably first comes to mind is "hardly" or "barely," as we find in the interview with Pablo Echarri:

...pasó apenas un año o una cosa así, y...
...hardly a year or so passed, and...
Caption 11, Biografía: Pablo Echarri - Part 1
Apenas can also mean "just," as in "only." You may have picked this up when watching Shakira's latest tantalizing video, "Loba."

La vida me ha dado un hambre voraz y tú apenas me das caramelos
Life has given me a voracious hunger and you just give me candy
Caption 10, Shakira: Loba

Our recent interview with illustrator Antonio Vargas brings us another use of apenas you might be less familiar with:

Este restaurante todavía no existe; apenas se va a hacer.
This restaurant doesn't exist yet; it is about to be built.
Caption 2, Antonio Vargas: Artista - Ilustración - Part 1

When placed before a future tense phrase, apenas often conveys the message that the action is just about to happen, or is on the verge of happening.

Arturo Vega, the famous Ramones' lighting and logo designer, uses apenas this same way when he predicts the rise in popularity of Latin American rock bands.
Yo creo que apenas va a empezar. 
I believe it's just about to start.
Caption 13, Arturo Vega: Entrevista - Part 5

Keep your eyes and ears open for still more interesting uses of apenas. We will, too, and bring them to you in future lessons.

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