Writing in Spanish: The Step-by-step Guide to Writing Like a 21st-century Cervantes
Do you want to improve your Spanish writing skills and get even closer to fluency?
If you want to make Cervantes blush with your mastery of Spanish writing, you have come to the right place.
This step-by-step guide will give you the tools to write practically anything in Spanish, and show you why writing is not only important, but also fun and easy.
- Spanish Writing for Beginners
- How to Write in Spanish
- How to write letters in Spanish
- How to write an email in Spanish
- How to write an essay in Spanish
- Texting in Spanish
- Spanish creative writing
- Journaling in Spanish
- Other types of Spanish writing
- How to Type in Spanish
- Key Spanish Writing Rules
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Spanish Writing for Beginners
Many beginner learners of Spanish have a tendency to ignore writing at the beginning of their language journey.
Writing is one of the four major language skills (together with speaking, listening and reading), and it is equally important to practice it if you want to reach fluency.
There are several reasons why a beginner should start practicing writing in Spanish from the very beginning:
- Writing helps you improve other language skills. When you write, you are using words (vocabulary), patterns and rules (grammar). Additionally, you are producing Spanish that you can later use in your Spanish conversations.
- Writing helps you remember. You will remember a word or a grammar rule more easily if you write it. Lots of words and constructions repeat themselves, so it will be hard to forget them.
- Writing boosts your spelling. You cannot see words when you talk, but when you read, all you see is precisely that. By practicing Spanish writing, you will become more familiar with words you normally use and will learn how to spell them correctly from the start.
- Writing can be cathartic. You might not be the greatest writer in the world (yet!), but journaling in Spanish will provide you with a safe space where you can pour out your feelings and emotions.
- Writing in Spanish is fun. Learning Spanish in general is fun. Writing in a foreign language will make your brain work harder. You will probably come up with ideas and sentences you would never say in your native language. So what? Just write them down and laugh at them! Your journey to fluency should be a fun ride if you want it to be successful.
All these reasons are great, but how does a beginner who has just started learning Spanish begin to write without getting overwhelmed?
That is, start by writing simple words. This will allow you to learn how to spell some basic vocabulary you will use often.
Write down fixed expressions like gracias (thank you) or buenos días (good morning). These expressions are used every day in every possible context, so they will come in handy.
Next, start using your basic vocabulary to create full simple sentences like:
Yo soy español. (I am Spanish.)
Mi mamá come pan. (My mum eats bread.)
El perro es grande. (The dog is big.)
We all started this way, even in our mother languages. You will be building sentences up as you learn more Spanish, so do not worry about this for the time being.
The first sentences you write should only include basic vocabulary, simple sentence patterns and just one or two tenses at most (preferably, the presente simple).
The more grammar rules and new vocabulary you learn, the longer and more elaborate sentences you will write.
A key concept in writing is practice.
Writing in Spanish is not something you learn once and you are done. You need to practice, and you need to do it often.
Fortunately, there are many available resources you can use to get your daily Spanish writing dose:
- Books and workbooks
- Courses and MOOCs
In the meantime, let’s have a look at how to deal with different types of writing in Spanish.
How to Write in Spanish
As you advance in your language learning journey, you will probably have to start writing different kinds of texts.
Spanish, just as the majority of languages out there, has its own rules for different types of writing.
The following sections will teach you everything you need to know to get started.
How to write letters in Spanish
The first thing you need to do before starting to write a letter is to decide whether it has to be formal or informal.
This will have an impact not only on the body of the letter, but also (and especially) on the way you start and finish writing it.
There are a couple of well-established rules you should bear in mind when writing a letter in Spanish:
- Querido/a (Dear) is only used in informal letters, while Estimado/a (Dear) is the preferred form in formal ones.
- You normally use just the first name of the person you are writing to if the letter is informal (Querido Julián), but Señor (Mr.), Señora (Mrs.) or Señorita (Miss) and a surname if the letter is formal (Estimado Sr. González).
- Use tú (informal you) in the body of informal letters, but usted/ustedes (formal you singular/plural) in formal ones.
- When closing a letter, you can send Besos y abrazos (Hugs and kisses) in casual letters, but never in formal ones. Use Saludos (Regards) in semi-formal letters, and Cordialmente/Atentamente (Yours sincerely) in formal ones.
How to write an email in Spanish
Knowing how to write an email in Spanish is a skill you are going to need sooner or later, because email communication, especially in a professional environment, is something most of us have to on a daily basis.
The majority of the rules we had for writing letters also apply here.
You should make sure to use the right opening and closing in your email, and that the overall tone and the vocabulary used are appropriate to the situation.
When writing an email, especially a formal one, you will normally have to include four sections: greeting, reason for writing, body of the email and closing.
Here is a very brief example of an informal email John wrote to his friend Joanne:
Reason for writing
Te escribo para preguntar si irás mañana al cumpleaños de Sonia.
(I’m writing to ask if you’ll be going to Sonia’s birthday tomorrow.)
Me encantaría verte. ¡Hace tanto tiempo que no te veo! Madre mía, creo que la última vez que nos encontramos fue para Navidad. ¿Te acuerdas?
(I would love to see you. I haven’t seen you in ages! Good Lord, I think the last time we run into each other was on Christmas. Do you remember?)
How to write an essay in Spanish
Starting to write essays in Spanish is possibly one of the most challenging tasks for beginner learners.
Going from simple sentences to several paragraphs requires a lot of practice, but there are tons of fixed expressions that can be used in order to make this process easier.
Depending on the type of essay you need to write, you will have to cover one or more of the following points:
Giving your opinion
This is very common in essays, especially the ones included in official Spanish exams. Make sure you use expressions that help you introduce your personal opinions, such as en mi opinión (in my opinion), me parece que (it seems to me that) or creo que (I believe that).
Agreeing and disagreeing
Another very common type of essay is the one where you are given a sentence or quotation and you have to agree or disagree with it. Useful expressions here can be estoy de acuerdo (I agree), no estoy de acuerdo (I disagree) and es falso que (it is false that).
Backing your claims
If you say that something is false or that you know for a fact something is true, you should back your claims with some evidence. Try to introduce words and expressions such as según (according to), demostrar (to demonstrate) and la fuente (the source).
A conclusion normally summarizes the main topics of the essay and answers any questions and hypotheses that were posed in the introduction. When writing your conclusion, use expressions like en conclusión (in conclusion), por esta razón (for this reason) and en resumen (in summary).
Texting in Spanish
Texting in any language has its own separate set of rules.
For instance, depending on the recipient of the message, two texts can look completely different even if they include the exact same information:
Xq tki. (Because I have to go.) This is very informal, sent to a friend.
Porque tengo que irme. (Because I have to go.) This is sent in a much more formal situation, normally to someone with whom we do not have a very close relationship.
As you can see from the first example, there are a lot of abbreviations and slang words you can use while texting in Spanish, much like you would do in English.
It would be impossible to mention all of them here, but if you learn their most common traits, you will be able to text in Spanish like a pro:
- Letters are omitted. The most common feature you will see is the omission of vowels and consonants.
- For example: xa — para (for), gnl — genial (great)
- The letters q and c normally become k.
- For example: One of the most common examples is the expression tkm — te quiero mucho (I love you so much)
- There are some established abbreviations you will need to learn by heart. Sometimes you will only be given one letter, so knowing what it means in the world of Spanish texting will come in handy.
- For example: b — bien (good), q — que/qué (that/what)
- Numbers and symbols can also be used. Just as in English, if a number comes close to the pronunciation of a part of a word, some letters will be replaced by numbers.
- salu2 — saludos (regards), 100pre — siempre (always)
- Watch out for acronyms. Spanish normally uses their own versions of well-known acronyms. These acronyms are often similar to the international ones or can be understood from the context, but sometimes they will be completely different.
- For example: NATO — OTAN, World Health Organization / WHO – Organización Mundial de la Salud / OMS
Spanish creative writing
Creative writing is basically any kind of writing that is not professional, academic or journalistic.
Since this definition is so broad, there are also many types of writing that can fall into this category, the most common ones being poetry, novels, scripts, short stories, fairy tales and screenplays, among others.
Creative writing can be an amazing way to improve your Spanish language skills.
It forces you to think, be creative, ask questions and find answers for them. Your brain will be working hard while you write creatively, and the fact that you will be using vocabulary and grammar rules you have previously studied will make you remember them easier.
The ideal scenario for a learner of Spanish who wants to give creative writing a go would be having a native Spanish speaker that can read what the learner is writing and give detailed feedback (spelling and grammar errors and overall writing skills that could be improved).
Unfortunately, this is quite difficult to find, so the second-best option is to find resources that will help the learner get some Spanish writing practice (such as writing apps, creative writing websites, textbooks that teach writing, writing prompts, etc.).
Regardless of the way you choose to practice your creative writing skills, remember rule number one of every good writer: You have to read much more than you write!
Journaling in Spanish
Journaling is basically putting our thoughts and emotions into words.
It is a practice that helps many people cope with anxiety, depression or just their daily life and problems, and it becomes a safe space where the writer creates their own rules.
Since there are no established rules, journaling can be a good way of practicing writing in Spanish without stress. No one except you will have access to your journal (unless you want to), so it does not matter if you make spelling mistakes or write grammatically incorrect sentences as long as you are doing it in Spanish.
If you feel that writing a journal in Spanish can be challenging, try to break your thoughts down into smaller thoughts.
There are many topics you can write about that will allow you to practice your Spanish writing skills in an undemanding way:
- Your bucket list.
- Your dreams.
- Things you are thankful for.
- Reasons for learning Spanish.
- Things that motivate you.
- Things that make you sad.
- Your goals for this week/month/year.
- Your fears.
- Your favorite places/people and why.
The list goes on and on. Write about the topics you want, whenever you want and however you want. Just remember to do it on a daily basis to be able to enjoy all the benefits journaling in Spanish can bring to you, both mentally and linguistically speaking.
Other types of Spanish writing
There are many more types of Spanish writing, and each of them has its own intrinsic characteristics and rules.
Mentioning all of them would be impossible here, so here you have a selection of a few of them:
Recipes have a very easy structure: a list of ingredients and steps to cook the dish. You can start practicing writing recipes in Spanish by using the infinitive when you give the instructions (Pelar las patatas — To peel the potatoes), and move on to the imperative mood when you study the Spanish imperativo (Pela las patatas — Peel the potatoes).
Even though we normally buy ready-made cards, adding a few words of our own could be a very nice finishing touch. If you are giving a birthday card, remember to include some wishes like ¡Feliz cumpleaños! (Happy birthday!) or ¡Te deseo mucha felicidad! (I wish you lots of happiness!). If you want to give a Valentine’s Day card, try to make it even more personal by creating a romantic card in Spanish yourself. Do not forget to express your feelings with phrases like:
- Mi amor (My love)
- Mi cariño (My sweetheart)
- Te amo (I love you)
Notes can be written to say thank you, to ask for a favor or to remind someone to do something. They tend to be very short and to the point, including only information that is absolutely necessary. For this reason, many notes only include one or two words:
- ¡Gracias! (Thanks!)
- Para ti. (For you.)
- ¿Me echas una mano? (Will you help me?)
- Te quiero. (I love you.)
- Que aproveche. (Enjoy your meal.)
- Compra leche. (Buy some milk.)
How to Type in Spanish
Spanish and English keyboards are different.
Because of that, typing in Spanish can be a challenge for the first few times.
There are several ways in which you can type in Spanish on your device:
- You can install a keyboard on your device.
- You can use Alt codes (Windows) and Opt codes (Macs).
- You can use online tools such as TypeIt.
If you take a look at a Spanish keyboard, you will notice some letters, characters and symbols have changed, moved or disappeared.
Let’s have a look at these changes.
Main differences between English and Spanish keyboards
Once you have your device ready to type in Spanish, you will notice some things are… different.
There are enough differences between a Spanish and an English keyboard to write a whole book, so I will only mention the three most important ones:
Spanish vowels can have an accent mark (á, é, í, ó, ú). In order to type it, your first have to type the accent key on your keyboard (‘) and then the vowel you want to add the accent mark to.
Another letter with a mark is the Spanish letter ñ. In this case, you only have to press the (:) key, because Spanish keyboards have their own ñ key. The last mark you will need in Spanish is the diéresis (¨). In order to type it, press Shift + the (‘) key. Then type u or i.
Question and exclamation marks
One of the first interesting facts we learn about the Spanish language is that it has opening question and exclamation marks.
In order to type the opening question mark, press Shift and (=). The closing question mark can be typed by pressing Shift and (-). As for the exclamation marks, the opening one is very easy: just press the (=) key. The closing one can be typed by pressing Shift + 1, like on your normal keyboard.
Another change you will notice when typing in Spanish is the series of symbols you get by pressing Shift + numbers 2 to 0. Your keyboard probably has the sequence @#$%^&*(), while the Spanish keyboard will give you “·$%&/()=.
There are other differences between both keyboards, like the position of hyphens, dashes, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, stops and commas, among others.
In the beginning, all these differences can be a little bit overwhelming, and you will probably type the wrong symbol or letter because your brain will want to do it automatically in your normal keyboard layout.
As with everything, practicing Spanish typing will be the key (no pun intended) to get you used to the new layout. There are even Spanish typing games where you can practice all you want until you feel fully comfortable using the Spanish keyboard.
Key Spanish Writing Rules
Every language has a set of writing rules that decide how a piece of written or typed text looks like.
Even though some rules seem to be almost universal (like the first letter of a sentence being capital), others vary from language to language.
If you want to be the next Cervantes, you should get acquainted with the main Spanish writing rules and the major differences between writing in English and writing in Spanish.
Below are a few of them.
Spelling is probably the most important feature to consider when writing in any language.
We need to know how to write a word correctly so that the reader understands us.
Spanish spelling is definitely easier than English spelling since we normally write and pronounce the words in the exact same way, i.e. each sound normally corresponds to a single letter and vice versa.
However, there are a couple of spelling “situations” that can give you a bit of a headache if you do not pay attention:
- The letter h has no sound. Regardless of its position in a word, it will always be soundless (zanahoria — carrot, hoguera — bonfire, hueso — bone). This letter changes the sound of the letter c when they go together (chaleco— vest, coche — car, noche — night), and even though it has no sound, it can change the meaning of a word (ola— wave, hola — hello).
- There are some couples of letters that can be confusing. It would be impossible for you to learn every word containing these pairs, so the best you can do is check a dictionary in case of doubt. The letters that normally cause problems to learners of Spanish are b/v, r/rr, g/j, ll/y and the “triplets” c/k/q and c/s/z.
- Spanish uses accent marks. Accent marks may be small, but they are very important. If a word has an accent mark in Spanish, do not ignore it, because accent marks can easily change the pronunciation and meaning of words (tráfico— traffic, trafico — I smuggle, traficó — he smuggled).
If you want to improve your Spanish spelling skills, you can try some Spanish spelling games. They will make the learning process much more enjoyable, and the topic more accessible to you.
Another option is the online language learning program FluentU—its quizzes are useful for practicing your spelling with questions where you need to type your answers.
The platform has authentic Spanish videos like movie clips and new segments that come with expert-written subtitles, so you get used to seeing the correct spelling of Spanish words. Save any word as a flashcard directly from the subtitles for a chance to practice it at your own pace.
Additionally, you may want to install a Spanish spell checker. This way you can be sure the majority of spelling errors you make while writing in Spanish will be detected and corrected.
Capitalization rules in Spanish
Spanish and English share many capitalization rules, but they also have some key differences.
Learning Spanish capitalization is actually pretty straightforward. You just have to remember the words that are not capitalized in Spanish.
For instance, Spanish does not capitalize, among others:
- Days of the week
- Religions and their adjectives
- Social and political movements
- The pronoun yo (I) unless it is the first word in a sentence
- Book titles (except for the first word)
- Movie titles (except for the first word)
- Personal titles (except when they are the first word in a sentence)
Punctuation is another area where English and Spanish share a lot of features.
However, there are some Spanish punctuation rules that may be surprising for learners of Spanish.
These are the main ones (some of them have already been mentioned):
- Spanish has an opening question mark and an opening exclamation mark (¿,¡).
- Spanish does not capitalize the first word after a colon.
- Spanish uses the colon in the opening of letters. While English uses a comma (Dear Mrs. Petunia,), Spanish uses a colon (Estimada señora Petunia:).
- In Spanish, there is no Oxford comma at all. The last two items of a list will always be joined with a conjunction like y (and) or o (or).
- Spanish and English write out numbers differently. In Spanish, you use a period to separate groups of thousands (e.g. 1450 or 1,450 would be 1.450 in Spanish). Spanish uses the comma as the decimal separator (so 1.5 would be 1,5 in Spanish).
- Spanish normally leaves commas, periods and other punctuation marks outside the quotation marks. (English: “I love you.” vs. Spanish “Te quiero”.).
- Dialogue formatting is very different in Spanish. If you decide to write dialogues in Spanish, find a good Spanish dialogue resource first, because there are a couple of big differences in the way English and Spanish format their dialogues. The biggest difference is possibly the fact that Spanish uses a dash to open a dialogue (instead of quotation marks) and to enclose the dialogue tag (instead of commas). For example:
- English: “I love him,” she said, “I always have.”
- Spanish: –Lo amo –dijo ella–. Siempre lo he amado.
Spanish sentence structure
Sentence structure refers to the internal organization of a language, i.e. the order we have to put elements in a sentence so that it is grammatically correct.
Many learners of Spanish think that since both Spanish and English follow the general pattern S + V + O (Subject + Verb + Object), both languages build sentences in the exact same way.
This is true sometimes, as in the following two examples:
Marta está bebiendo café. (S + V + O)
Marta is drinking coffee. (S + V + O)
Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and learners of Spanish should take into account a couple of Spanish sentence structure rules if they want to come up with correct sentences, even if they are trying to produce basic Spanish sentences:
- In Spanish, you can omit the subject. If you know who you are talking or writing about, you do not need to mention that person (Tengo hambre — I am hungry). This is possible because verbs in Spanish have a different ending for each grammatical person.
- Adjectives come after the noun in Spanish. There are a few exceptions with a change in meaning, but overall, adjectives always come after the noun (la camisa blanca — the white shirt).
- Nouns and adjectives have to agree in Spanish. When you write a sentence in Spanish, you have to take a look at the nouns. Every determiner, quantifier, adjective and adverb that refers to a noun must have the same gender and number (el perro negro — the black dog, all words masculine and singular in Spanish; las tazas rojas — the red cups, all words feminine and plural in Spanish).
- Negation is very simple in Spanish. The majority of sentences become negative in Spanish by adding no in front of the main verb. No other changes are normally needed. You can also make negations in Spanish by using negative adverbs like nunca (never) and nadie (no one).
Abbreviations can be used in both formal and informal contexts, and even though they tend to work similarly across languages, there are a couple of things you should know about Spanish abbreviations and how to use them when writing in Spanish:
- Even though personal titles are not capitalized when written in full, their abbreviations are capitalized. For example:
- señor — Sr. / Mister
- señora — Sra. / Mrs.
- doctor — Dr. / Doctor
- There are some abbreviations that appear very frequently in Spanish correspondence. For instance:
- usted — Vd. / formal you
- se ruega contestación — S.R.C. / RSVP
- Ordinal numbers are gendered. They are adjectives, so they take on the gender of the noun they are referring to. Because of this, their abbreviations are also marked for gender (1º/1ª, 2º/2ª…).
- Spanish abbreviations can have a plural form. Normally, abbreviations add -s to form their plural (página — pág. / page, páginas — págs. / pages). If the abbreviation has only one letter, they normally double it (página — p. / page, páginas — pp. / pages).
To the surprise of many learners of Spanish, the USA also has an abbreviation that has double letters because it is in the plural (Estados Unidos — EE. UU.).
- Some acronyms do not accept the plural ending -s. They will still take the plural determiner if necessary (los CD — the CDs). Oddly enough, you have to pronounce the final -s when reading/pronouncing them (los ce-dés — the cee dees).
- There are some international abbreviations and acronyms that have their own version in Spanish. Examples of this are:
- la UE — la Unión Europea / the EU (European Union)
- la ONU — la Organización de Naciones Unidas / the UN (United Nations)
- Spanish people use a lot of abbreviations when texting. (Have a look at the section on Texting in Spanish for more info.)
Other differences between English and Spanish writing rules
Although less important, there are some differences between English and Spanish you should take into account when writing in Spanish:
- We write dates differently. In Spanish, the order of writing the date is always day/month/year. So, while an American might read the date 02/07/2018 as February the 7th 2018, for a Spanish-speaking person it would be July the 2nd 2018.
- We use different measurement systems. This is something to bear in mind not only while writing, but when using Spanish in general. Not everybody knows what inches, feet, pounds or miles are (especially in Spain). Spanish-speaking countries use the metric system, so we have centimeters, meters, kilograms, kilometers, etc.
I know this is a lot of information to digest, but the good news is that you now have everything you need to know about writing in Spanish in one single place.
Writing in Spanish is one of those skills that tend to be overlooked by beginners.
However, writing is one of the four major language skills, so it is advisable to start practicing it as soon as possible.
Thanks to writing, you will improve not only your vocabulary and grammar, but also your reading, speaking and listening skills.
So take a pencil and a piece of paper (or run that word processor you normally use) and start writing in Spanish right away.
Stay curious, my friends and, as always, happy writing!