Exceptions (Ripley’s Words)

Spanish has an international organization, the Asociación de Academias, that works for keeping the unity of language and update the dictionary, the grammar, and the spelling rules. Its scholars don´t come out with any changes, they just listen how people speak and make proposals based on that. Nonetheless, there are always words and expressions that evade the general norm. This blog post is about those exceptions, always within the norm,

Idos, iros, and ios

What is the imperative form of “ir” (to go)? “Ve” (tú) and “id” (vosotros). The latter only in Spain. Simple so far. The problem appears when trying to put the pronoun “os” after “id.” The rule says that the “d” goes away , e.g., ¡Pone(d)os los disfraces y veni(d)os a la fiesta! (You guys, put your costumes on and come to the party!)

When you apply that rule with the word “id” (you guys go) the result just doesn´t sound right: “ios,” and consequently nobody says that. Again, the grammar rules can be anything but artificial. If Spanish speakers don´t say something, no academies can impose it. So, what´s the solution? Few people say idos, but that doesn´t sound right either, more people say iros. So, the Asociación de Academias includes “iros” as an exception and makes an interesting recommendation: use another verb, “marchar” (to go).

So, ¡marchaos! (no, not you!)

The only word that can be pronounced but not written

As you know the ele (L) and double ele (LL) sound different in Spanish, e.g. lama, llama (flame). Spanish has just a few words that duplicate the consonant sounds like innato /in-na-to/ or obvio /ob-bio/. The problem comes when that consonant is the ele… The good news is that there is only one word that has that problem. It is the word that appears when combining sal (“go!,” the imperative form of “to go”) with “le” or “les.” (him/her or them), then you have “salle“, which doesn´t sound /sal-le/.

Fortunately the expression sal-le like in “sal-le al encuentro” (bump into him) is very infrequent too.

Are you thinking what I am thinking? Many people have had long and happy lives and never encountered that expression, salle.

México or Méjico

Both are correct. When the Spanish Academy decided to standardize the symbol for the sound “h” in English (“j” in Spanish), the Mexican opposed as this new rule would change the name of their own country. So the scholars decided to make an exception with certain names of places, as a result, those words can be written with “x” or “j.”

This is the case of the words like México/Méjico, Oaxaca/Oajaca, Texas/Tejas.

The recommendation is to write “x” if you live in places where they have the tradition of using the “x,” Central America an México, of course.

Oceano/océano, el radio/la radio

Not only the spelling of names have options. There are words in Spanish that are pronounced differently by the speakers and their spelling reflects those differences. This is the case of the word “oceano” that can be pronounced océano too.

Similarly, in options, it happens with a few words that have two genders, like the word radio (the radio), which is feminine in Spain, la radio, and masculine in México, el radio. A curious case is mar (sea), that can be masculine or feminine, el mar/ la mar, but the distribution of each of both is not geographical. Fishermen, sailors, and poets, all over the world, prefer la mar.

Jiménez, Giménez, Ximénez

The scholar, poet, and Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez claimed that the syllables “ge,” “gi” should be written with “j”, “je,” “ji,” and make Spanish spelling simpler. He used to write his works that way (not only his last name). This battle continues, nonetheless, names always escaped to that rule and they can have their own spelling. Giménez could be found written as Jiménez or Ximénez.

Another example of the random spelling of names is the last name Feijóo, which should have no accent mark, but the holders of this last name write it that way. Needless to say that foreign origin names don´t need to be Hispanized and can have any spelling, for example “John” or “Hans.” (instead of Yon or Jans). A different case is that of the names of places, which can be Hispanized or not, e.g., La Coruña/A Coruña, Gerona/Girona, Pekín/ Beijing. So, you decide.

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