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Number of native speakers

about 450 million

Official language in

Mexico (110 million), Colombia (47 million), Spain (46 million), Argentina (40 million), Peru (28 million), Venezuela (27 million), Chile (17 million), Guatemala, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Honduras, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panamá, Uruguay, Equatorial Guinea, Western Sahara, EU

Minority language in

United States, Belize, Andorra, Gibraltar, Israel

Language of diaspora

United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, Morocco, Israel, Italy, Algeria

27 letters
Grammatical cases
Language code
es, spa
Linguistic typology
inflectional , pro-drop , SVO
Language family
Indo-European, Romance
Number of dialects
several hundred dialects (European: Northern Peninsular, Central-Southern Peninsular, Southern Peninsular, Canarian; American: Mexican, Caribbean, Andean-Pacific, Río de la Plata, Chilean, Central American)

Longest word

chemistry, Cyclopentanoperhydrophenanthrene

Curious word or sentence

a town in Mexico, word used as a tongue twister


Spanish (español), also called Castilian (castellano), is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region in Spain. Like other Romance languages, it evolved from spoken Latin, after the arrival of the Romans in the Iberian Peninsula (218 B.C.). The colonization of America, initiated in the XVI century, caused Spanish to spread across large areas of both American continents. After gaining their independence, the new American countries started the process of linguistic unification.

Approximately 450 million people speak Spanish as a native language, making it second most spoken language after Mandarin Chinese in terms of its number of native speakers. 60 million people speak Spanish as a second language and 20 million students learn it as a foreign language. It is the third most frequently used language on the Internet (with 182 million users). Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and is also used as an official language by the European Union, Mercosur, FIFA and many more international organizations.


  • Before 3rd century B.C.

    Pre-Roman influence

  • 3rd century B.C. – 1st century A.D.

    Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula, Latin overtakes pre-Roman languages

  • 409 – 711

    Migration period – Visigoth influence

  • 711

    Moorish invasion – Arabic influence

  • 722

    Beginning of Reconquista

  • 13th century

    Alfons X of Castile – initiation of the use of Castilian language extensively (fundation of Toledo School of Translators)

  • 10 – 14th century

    Medieval Spanish

  • 12 – 14th century

    Language of lyric poets

  • 1492

    End of Reconquista

  • 1492

    publication of Grammatica by Antonio de Nebrija – the first book to focus on the structure of a Western European language besides Latin

  • 1208

    First university in Spain (Universidad de Palencia)

  • 15 – 17th century

    Early Modern Spanish (classical Spanish)

    marked by a series of phonological and grammatical changes that transformed Old Spanish into Modern Spanish

  • 15 – 17th century

    Discoveries, language of trade and missionaries, expansion of the language across the Spanish Empire (influence of native American languages)

Linguistic evolution in Iberian Peninsula

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Like its Romance sister languages, Spanish has undergone a number of systematic sound changes during its evolution from Latin. It sometimes introduced diphthongs, and interestingly the initial clusters PL-, CL-, FL- turned into palatal /ʎ/, written ll e.g.: plorarellorar.

Writing system and pronunciation

The Spanish language uses the Latin alphabet with one additional consonant ñ, which represents a palatal nasal. The five vowels can take the acute acent.

  • a
  • á
  • b
  • c
  • d
  • e
  • é
  • f
  • g
  • h
  • i
  • í
  • j
  • k
  • l
  • m
  • n
  • ñ
  • o
  • ó
  • p
  • q
  • r
  • s
  • t
  • u
  • ú
  • ü
  • v
  • w
  • x
  • y
  • z

There are 5 digraphs (pairs of characters used together to represent a single sound): ch, ll, rr, gu and qu.


Most interestingly there is a crucial and systematic difference between the indicative and subjunctive moods. While the indicative refers to real, or apparently real events, the subjunctive is used to express doubt or uncertainty about hypothetical situations.

  • Llegaré aunque mi coche no funciona.
    I will arrive even though my car isn't running. (ind).
    (the speaker knows their car isn't running)
  • Llegaré aunque mi coche no funcione.
    I will arrive even if my car isn't running (sub.)
    (the speaker isn't sure if the car will run or not)
  • Quizás lo pueden hacer.
    Maybe they can do it.
    (the speaker knows they can but doesn't know if they will)
  • Quizás lo puedan hacer.
    Maybe they can do it.
    (the speaker isn't sure if they can)

Noun phrase inflection:

Male Female
the black cat the round table
Singular el gato negro la mesa redonda
Plural los gatos negros las mesas redondas

Verb phrase inflection:

Spanish has 3 regular conjugations (-ar, -er, and -ir), e.g. hablar (talk), comer (eat) and dormir (sleep), as well as several dozen irregular verbs or verb groups. A semi-irregular feature is a vowel shift between root-stressed and endings-stressed forms.

Root-stressed Ending-stressed
I want/love
we want/love
I sleep
we sleep

Inflection paradigm for –ER verbs

Singular Plural
1st person 2nd person 3rd person 1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Present como comes come comemos coméis comen
Imperfect comía comías comía comíamos comíais comían
Preterite comi comiste comió comimos comisteis comieron
Future comeré comerás comerá comeremos comeréis comerán
Present coma comas coma comamos comáis coman
Imperfect comiera / comiese comieras / comieses comiera / comiese comiéramos / comiésemos comierais / comieseis comieran / comiesen
Future comiere comieres comiere comiéremos comieres comieren
Conditional comería comerías comería comeríamos comeríais comerían
Imperative come coma comamos comed coman

In addition, the following compound tenses can be formed with the auxiliary haber, with examples in the first person singular:

Indicative Subjunctive
Compound perfect preterite he comido haya comido
Compound pluperfect había comido hubiera comido/hubiese comido
Future perfect habré comido hubiere comido
Compound conditional habría comido -

Word formation and lexicon

About 60% of the Spanish lexicon consists of words derived from Latin, about 10% comes from Greek, 10% from Gothic, 10% from Arabic and 10% from other languages (such as Germanic, Basque, Iberic, Catalan, Maya, Nahuatl, Quechua, Aymara and others).

Arabic words in Spanish

Arabic influence on the Spanish language is significant due to the Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula between 711 and 1492. These words are often recognizable from the initial 'al-' (the Arabic definite article).

  • aceituna
  • albornoz
  • alboroto
    riot, joy
  • alcalde
  • enchufar
    to plug in
  • naranja

American native languages influence

While discovering new lands, the Spanish conquerers lacked vocabulary when confronted with American nature, so names of thousands of animals, plants and places were borrowed from Amerindian languages. Some of these words are used only in restricted areas of the Spanish-speaking world, but others have become internationally known (for example chocolate, tequila or puma).

Spanish words of Nahuatl origin

Documented Nahuatl words in the Spanish language (mostly spoken in Mexico and Mesoamerica) include an extensive list of words that represent animals, plants, fruit and vegetables, foods and beverages, and domestic utensils.

Many of these words end with the suffix "-tl" in Nahuatl. This word ending, difficult to pronounce for Spanish speakers, evolved in Spanish into a "-te" ending (e.g. axolotl = ajolote).

  • chapulín
  • guajalote
  • ocelote
  • cacao
  • chile
    chilli pepper
  • tomate
  • chocolate
  • tequila
  • papalote

Quechua words in Spanish

  • pampa
  • llama
  • cancha
    playing field / pitch
  • puma
  • cóndor
  • coca
  • guano


The regional variants of the Spanish language are different from one another, more so in pronunciation and vocabulary than grammar. The greatest differences can be found between European Spanish (also called Peninsular Spanish) and Latin-American Spanish, but differences also occur within Spain and Spanish America.

Thematic words

Funny or odd traditional proverbs and idioms

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