Test your Spanish spelling

How good is your Spanish spelling? Do you know the difference between cegar and segar? Rosa and roza? Bazo and vaso? How about Bibiana and Viviana? (That last one still befuddles me as well.) This test, which has been all the rage on the internet these past few weeks, will help you see if you’re a Spanish spelling diva or if your ortografía could use some work. Or is it, hortografía? Hmm. While I ponder that, take the test–it’s short, snappy, and well-designed. If you never took the Spanish vocabulary test I shared a few months ago, be sure to take that one as well.


There are 41 questions, and I’m happy and relieved to say that I got 41 out of 41 when I took it last week. Most were a piece of cake, but there were a few where I had to think about it for a second. Something important to keep in mind for when you come back and tell us your score: unless you get a perfect score, your number will not be your score out of 41 but rather how far you got. Because it’s game over with just one mistake; yes, the test is a little unforgiving. Since I didn’t know that it worked that way, I was a little unforgiving as well when someone close to me told me that they got a 2. 2? 0-2? Out of 41? My heart went out to them. This person’s texts and Facebook chats with me have their fair share (wow, what a nightmare spelling their fair share must be for a non-native English speaker!) of spelling mistakes, but I’d always chalked them up to smartphone typos and stupid Autocorrect. It’s not like I expect the whole world to be part of the literati or a fellow language nerd. But, a mere 2? I couldn’t help but look a bit askance at the relationship. Then they tried again the next time we saw each other, and I got to see firsthand how the music stops with your first misstep (they made it to 13 this time). Whew!

Spanish spelling is a breeze compared to English spelling. Why do you think spelling bees don’t exist in Spanish? To spell perfectly in English is a feat (I can’t–I regularly look words up); to spell perfectly in Spanish seems like it should be a given. So says this impertinent gringa. However, I know some Spanish speakers who are voracious readers and tremendous intellectuals, and I still occasionally catch things like asares or has todo lo posible in their writings. So, I understand that it’s not as easy as I might paint it to be. I and many other language learners largely learned Spanish through reading: my first contact with most words (and certainly the big ones) was in written form. More than sounds, words are emblazoned on my brain as images, unalterable units composed of a certain string of letters. But if I were a native Spanish speaker, my first contact and acquaintance with most words would be orally/aurally. And, in that case, I could totally understand perpetually being unsure of a certain spelling that is much more alive to you as a sound than as an image (After all, how many times must I look up calendar, cemetery, chandelier, etc.? And if you’ve never misspelled the word nuisance, perhaps now is the time to take one step forward.), or simply typing with your fingers and mind more closely connected to your ears, before your eyes get a chance to jump in and revise. I recognize that in this one instance, I might have a slight advantage over the native Spanish speaker.

It’s so difficult for me to misspell in Spanish that we can say that the times that I’ve done it have been practically nil. However, I confess that I once wrote princeza to an ex-lover, and I never lived it down. I don’t know what came over me. It’s also recently been brought to my attention that I use losa and loza incorrectly. I’m yet to do anything about it, though.

Take the test, and then come back and tell us what your score was. And, if applicable, what word was your undoing. Also, what words in Spanish regularly get you? Thinking about it, I realize that once in a blue moon I misspell words that are similar to English words when I’ve never seen the Spanish word in its written form. For example, while taking notes in class the other day, I wrote intrínsico. A classmate who glanced at my computer screen informed me that the word in Spanish is intrínseco. Ahh. I don’t recall ever having seen it written before, and I didn’t catch the slight difference between the English and Spanish forms when the professor said it. I also find it so easy to want to say or write asasinar and not asesinar. As I move into a more oral realm of Spanish, speaking as much as or even more than I read, I wonder if my spelling in Spanish will worsen? When I reach the point where I have to pause to puzzle over valla or vaya, callo or cayo, or hola or ola, maybe then I’ll know that I’ve truly arrived.


15 responses to “Test your Spanish spelling

  1. I was amazed at how many times I had to correct students’ spelling in Spanish when I taught over there – I guess it was for the reasons you mention above (and certainly a lot of the English teaching there was very oral). They always learnt though: nothing more embarrassing than having your Spanish spelling corrected by the inglés!


    • Well, it is certainly not a culture of readers. And when you haven’t seen a word over and over and over, you’re likely to get it wrong. Believe me, I’m not one to excuse poor spelling! There’s not really an excuse… but, I do try to be understanding. There are many poor spellers in English as well, but it feels like there aren’t as many. Anybody can make a typo (totally understandable), anybody can accidentally misspell a word in the moment (though you actually do know how it’s really spelled), and then there are people who truly just don’t know. It’s sad- if you don’t know how to spell, you probably don’t know a lot of other things either (because you’re not reading and regularly absorbing new information and ideas).


    • Also, I just had a thought! Maybe spelling isn’t taught or emphasized in Spanish-speaking schools precisely because the spelling is generally so easy and thus taken for granted? For the most part, you just write something like it sounds, and things are written as they sound. Oh… except for a few little exceptions! But all it takes is one exception, one misspelled word, and, BAM, you’re a bad speller.

      Whereas there is a huge emphasis placed on spelling and memorization in English-speaking schools, precisely because spelling is so hard in English. So we take it more seriously and make an effort (because we have to).

      And in the end, you have English speakers who generally spell correctly, and many, many Spanish speakers who don’t. (Though tons who do!)

      Or maybe it just catches our attention more precisely because Spanish spelling is comparatively so easy, so it just boggles our mind to see people making mistakes? (When they were dealt a much easier hand in the spelling lottery!) Or maybe we just notice because it’s our second language? Or because *we* don’t make those mistakes?

      But, yeah, in the end I put it all down to the lack of reading. C’mon people, read! A book a month, a book a year, even … you can do it.


  2. I got trapped by Haz/has on 2nd question! 2nd try was until the 41st.
    I have to say that being a native french speaker, it helps me a lot with spanish spelling.


    • It helps you because they’re similar, or it helps because it’s so easy in comparison? I know that France has a televised (or is it radio?) spelling bee that’s legendary!

      Yes, haz/has does make you have to slow down and think for a second.


  3. I think that the quality of the spelling declined dramatically when someone had the great idea of doing away with ortografía as a requirement in elementary and high school. The social media has exposed how big this problem is because people now write whatever is their mind (or is it their minds?) and make it public. Reading the newspaper is embarrassing, especially the electronic editions (they are much better in English). On top of that, many people have an arrogant attitude to deal with their deficiency (you understood, right? is their answer).

    I found the test easy so it became a game of speed. That is, until I found an expression that I didn’t know (I guess I should have known it). Instead of pausing and making a logical choice, I went fast and picked the wrong answer at question 31: huso horario. Uso horario didn’t seem so bad but it was wrong. If I had just thought for 5 seconds I would have had a better chance. When I saw the word huso two things came to mind: a loom and the mitotic spindle of the cells (huso mitótico). With a little pause, the image of the mitotic spindle would have brought the idea of the earth and the meridians, leading to huso as the answer.

    I retook it and got 41, but this felt like cheating since many (most?) of the words were the same as in the first trial.


    • I really feel that the newspapers should hire me to proofread them, because I have eyes like a hawk. My Spanish spelling is flawless (modestia aparte- but I have many other flaws!) and nothing gets by me. Everything seems to get by them, on the other hand.

      If I hadn’t happened to have learned huso horario a few years back (reading), I certainly would have missed that one as well. The dictionary says that in Colombia, huso is also colloquially used to mean kneecap? My dad took the test and also missed this one. I bet it was a lot of otherwise perfect spellers’ downfall!


      • I don’t think the newspapers there know what an editor is. It’s not just the spelling, it is also the grammar and the style. However, you would have a field day with the local Spanish language newspapers. The writers of the web edition of El Tiempo seem like worthy candidates to the Nobel prize by comparison.

        I never heard of huso for kneecap. We just say rótula. Maybe there are people that never heard of rótula. I am going to start taking an informal poll among native Spanish speakers and see how many heard of huso horario. Sounds rebuscado to me.


        • Do you mean local as in NYC?

          OK, on pins and needles about the poll :) I always love it when people conduct informal polls!


          • Yes, local as in NYC. You can find many flavors of that around.

            I am afraid that my very small poll is limited to South Americans, and I am including myself in it. A Peruvian never heard of huso horario. An Argentinian said that he surely had heard of it, and that the expression was in fact used in the country. The final one, a Chilean, said that he remembered something about it from (grade?) school, and added that it had something to do with the change in the local time during the year (what we call daylight savings time). So, if you include me, it is a 2-2 score. As you can infer, I learned in the process that they change the time in Chile. I didn’t ask about it in Argentina, but I figure they do. I know they don’t change it in Colombia and assume they don’t change it in Perú. Maybe there is a correlation? Another interesting thing I learned is that in China they have a single time zone for the whole country because they were not able to agree on a way of implementing different time zones, and if you look at the huso horario, China spans 5 different time zones (compared to 4 for the USA).


            • Interesting! I know Venezuela has a funky time-change thing just to stick it to the man (read, the U.S.), and that Spain has considered changing its time zone back to what it used to be to improve productivity.

              I need to memorize spindle = huso. You know, for all those times in the course of my day when I need to translate spindle :)


  4. Hi. Even though I haven’t written much in Spanish in several years I’ve decided to take the test. I got to item 13 where I was defeated by “huso” vs “uso”. I have to say I’ve never heard of “huso” before, though. The items before that one were rather banal and even with my rusty and deteriorating Spanish I was able to figure out the difference in seconds. I’ll try and re-take the test. I wonder if it gives you a new set of questions every time or at least reshuffles the previously used ones?

    As for typos in Spanish I think the ones I’ve seen most were of the “v” vs “b” type (e.g *estubieron). I still remember someone correcting my Lang8 entry using the form with “b”. lol
    And English is a nightmare in terms of spelling of course, being so un-phonetic. The most grotesque misspeling I’ve seen so far is probably “cereal killer”. lol


  5. Quick update: 2nd attempt has ended in perfect score! 41/41! (this time I remembered about “huso” ;) ). I made half-blind guesses in some cases, though, not being entirely certain of one word and not being familiar with the other. I still have enough (mostly passive) Spanish with me to be able to make associations, though. English, Italian and bits of French helped me too, I guess.


    • Excellent! Another Vocabat success story!!! Haha, I know the blog doesn’t really have anything to do with it. But you never would have known about the test and gone on to succeed in it if not for VB, so… ;)


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