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Common Goofs: 5 Spanish Word Pairs That Sound Alike

written by: Bright Hub Education Writer • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 1/24/2013

Do you know the difference between miles and millas, libre and libra? Can you tell the verbs creer, crear and criar apart at a glance? Reinforce your ability to avoid common Spanish mistakes with these quick tips for telling similar Spanish words apart.

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    Miles vs. Millas

    Once of the most common mistakes in Spanish is assuming that if a Spanish word is spelled the same as an English word, they must mean the same thing. Sometimes this is true, but every once in a while you stumble across Spanish words that sound the same or look the same as an English word, but have vastly different meanings in each language. Such is the case with miles, which in Spanish means "millions". The fact that the Spanish translation of miles, millas, is very close in both spelling and pronunciation makes things even more confusing.

    Tips for keeping them straight:

    • Millas is longer than miles, so it must measure a long distance.
    • Visualize a paved road stretching into the distance. Written over and over on the road, in big letters, is the word millas. This visual helps reinforce the idea of distance or measuring distance.
    • Break miles down into its component parts: Mil, which means million, and the -es plural suffix. Mil-es. Once you learn to look at it this way, it doesn't look so much like the English word miles any longer; and when pronounced correctly, it doesn't sound much like miles, either.
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    Libre vs. Libra

    Another common mistake for Spanish learners is assuming that one little letter won't make much difference--especially vowels. But pronouncing each vowel clearly is one of the keys to discerning between Spanish words that sound the same, so it's little surprise that glibly switching vowels around can lead to misunderstandings. Consider the following:

    "I look forward to the day when our people can be pound."

    "I weigh 150 frees."

    What's wrong with these sentences? Two very similar Spanish words, libre and libra, have been switched. How much difference can one little letter make? You be the judge.

    Tips for keeping them straight:

    • Libra, the Zodiac sign represented by a set of scales, is rendered identically in both Spanish and English. Holding that image of a set of scales in your mind makes it easy to remember that libra has to do with weight.
    • Need another visual for libre? Check out the cover image of Jack Black in Nacho Libre. Free. Libre. Enough said.

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    Creer, Crear and Criar

    Here are a few more of the most common mistakes in Spanish vocabulary: Three verbs that are spelled very similarly and sound almost exactly alike, especially if you're still getting used to the language.

    Creer: Most Spanish learners will encounter this verb--literally, "to believe"--early on in the course of their learning. Whether you're religious or not, you may have some success connecting this word with an image of the church or iglesia, a place where "to believe" is of critical importance.

    Crear: This word is close to both creer and criar in more than spelling. Meaning, literally, "to create," it's a critical component of both bringing up young and most belief systems. Because it's so very close in spelling to the English word create, most find it fairly easy to remember crear. Just swap the -r at the end for -te and you're right back to create. If you need a strong mental image to connect it with, try that of a potter working at the potting wheel. After all, what do artists do? They create.

    Criar: Criar means literally to breed or bring up. Nos criaron is "They brought us up..." As it happens, the word cria--the young of any animal--is closely related. Once you link the idea of cria with a cute seal pup, it doesn't take much to remember that criar refers to bringing that pup up or raising it. The same word can be applied to humans; the image of the seal is just so much easier to commit to memory and recall.

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