Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish: 4 major grammar differences

Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish: 4 major grammar differences

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated August 17, 2023

Language learners don’t usually look forward to studying grammar. I know when I began to study Spanish grammar in grade school it was complicated, detailed and less than exciting. Spanish grammar is especially difficult because there are two general schools: Latin American Spanish vs Spain Spanish, which of course, differ in use. Grammar is important though. Your ability to use the right grammar, especially if you learn Spanish at home or take online Spanish lessons, affects your real-life Spanish interactions. Grammar is where native speakers separate people who speak properly from people who make messy mistakes.

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1. Latin American vocabulary

The first major difference between Latin American vs Spain Spanish grammar is vocabulary. We covered some of these differences on the Lingoda blog before. In our post Most important words in Latin American Spanish vs. Spain Spanish we talked about common expressions, money, and restaurant vocabulary. The best way to get familiar with Latin American Spanish vocabulary is to watch films from Latin America. Check out our list of Best Spanish movies to learn Spanish as a starting place. 

2. Latin American phonology

Phonology is defined as the system of contrasting relationships among spoken sounds that make up the fundamental components of a language. Basically, phonology is pronunciation. Spanish phonology addresses how things are pronounced in Latin American vs. Spain Spanish. 

The main thing that comes to mind with Latin American phonology is the lack of a “lisp”. In Latin American grammar, the pronunciation of the letter “z” is exactly the same as the letter s and even the letter c in some cases. When “z” is always pronounced with an English /s/ sound it’s called seseo. Latin American phonology has seseo as a main feature. 

3. Word choice in Latin American Spanish

Part of vocabulary that merges with grammatical conjugations is word choice for the pronoun ‘you’ in Spanish. There are five words in Spanish that mean ‘you’. A few of them are specific to Latin American usage. Here is a short explanation.

We all know that is common for singular, informal ‘you’ in Spain. In a few Latin American countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and some regional dialects in Central America, the formal or informal, singular ‘you’ is vos. For example, my Costa Rican friend uses vos to speak to me and we have an informal, close relationship.

We also know that vosotros is the correct way to refer to the plural, informal ‘you’ in Spain. In Latin America, vosotros is never used. Instead, Latin American grammar dictates that we use ustedes for both formal and informal, plural ‘you’.

4. Latin American tenses 

When it comes to tenses, like learning the subjunctive tense, for example, Latin American and Spain Spanish don’t have major differences. In the UK where students typically study Spain Spanish and the US where students study Latin American Spanish, learning the tenses is the same. There is one minor difference in usage when it comes to the future tense, which we should mention. Using the trick ir a + verbo infinitivo tends to be common in peninsular Spanish so avoid this trick if you are going for a more Latin American sound.

Navigating the differences between Latin American vs. Spain Spanish

Whether you are preparing to study abroad in Latin America or studying for a Spanish exam, getting a solid grasp of Latin American Spanish grammar will help you. The fun of grammar study may not be obvious at first, but when you start to speak with fluency the fun part kicks in. Learners at the intermediate level are in that magical stage where the foundation is there and they start to self-correct when something “sounds wrong”. Tune your ear to proper Latin American grammar by listening to the NPR podcast from our post about podcasts in Spanish. Have you reached the point where you can hear your Spanish grammar mistakes yet?

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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