April 29, 2010 | Spanish

Grammar vs. Sugar, and Grammar Wins

I must like grammar even more than I thought.

Yesterday I woke up too early, 5:30 a.m., and found myself lying in bed trying to remember how to say “she” in Italian. Not a good sign for my Italian. I did finally come up with the word (lei), but it required some cycling through a bunch of other pronouns first. 

My Italian is fleeing.

After this pronoun fiasco, I gave up on trying to sleep and worked for a couple of hours before finally going back to bed around 8:00.

Once awake again, I spent a healthy chunk of my day on Spanish grammar. It was also a coffee-shop kind of day. I studied at Café Margot, happily enjoying my seat next to a man and woman who were speaking Spanish to each other. Then in the late afternoon I met a friend of mine—a member of my running team and a fellow grammar geek—downtown at an espresso bar. We discussed racing and subjunctive. Good stuff!

FIKA: A Pretty Good Place to Talk Grammar

In my grammar book, I’m noticing that all the examples of imperative (i.e., commands) are punctuated with exclamation points, just as in Italian. I don’t remember that from my Spanish-learning past. Exclamation points are not mandatory for Spanish imperative, are they? Must research this.

The vosotros verb conjugations continue to amaze me. It’s like learning a new language. I am guessing texts I read in my high school literature classes did not include a lot of Spanish Spanish, because the forms seem either barely familiar or not familiar at all. For example: ¡Volad! for “Fly!” Or ¡No trabajéis! for “Don’t work!”

I need to figure out the difference, if there is one, between juego and partido, which mean “game.” Same for “pen.” I always learned pluma, but in Pimsleur and I think elsewhere this month I have repeatedly come across bolígrafo. I believe the differences are based on pen type and the speaker’s origin. I had no idea.

I am also perplexed about the word for “bedroom.” I really don’t remember dormitorio or habitación. I have some vague memory of cuarto de dormir—or am I just making that up?

The Late-Afternoon Scene Downtown

One thing that I constantly get wrong, and knew I was constantly getting wrong, even before April 1 arrived and this Spanish review began: poco versus poquito. The number of errors I make on this one point alone is an argument for getting out of verb-only grammar books as soon as possible and into something more comprehensive.

In the meantime, however: I am amused by a translation exercise in my current grammar book involving a first-person narrator’s obsession with her friend Catarina’s famous apple tart. Although I remain largely unmoved by apple tarts, I do have ice cream issues. Last night from around 8:00 to 10:15, I really, really wanted peanut butter brittle ice cream.

Now, once I start thinking ice cream, it’s usually all over for me. I might as well just give in, walk over to Fairway, buy some Häagen-Dazs, and eat it. I can defer the inevitable for a few hours, but it is in the end generally not evitable.

Last night, though, I stayed home and kept working. Love of grammar actually trumped love of ice cream.

I am in shock.

Comments (2)

Kris L. • Posted on Wed, August 21, 2013 - 1:40 pm EST

Ellen, can you please tell me where that coffee shop “Fika” is?  My niece recently spent a semester in Sweden as an Erasmus student (I think she has to be quatrolingual -German [native tongue], English [fluent], French [fluent] and Swedish [fluent if not nearly so!] and only 20!!!!), and the word I am most familiar with in her blogs is Fika!  So I would love to tell her about this place when she comes next to NY!


Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, August 21, 2013 - 2:09 pm EST

They have multiple locations in Manhattan. Here’s their website:

The one I went to, at 66 Pearl, was badly flooded during Hurricane Sandy and I guess didn’t reopen until this past spring! Here’s a story on it:

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