This is a new series of articles about the Spanish language based around the alphabet. The idea is simple, but hopefully there will be something new in it for everybody, whether you know some Spanish or none at all.
Firstly we will look at the sound of each letter, then some useful words which begin with the letter and finally we will find a saying or two also connected to our chosen letter.
As you know the letter A is called a vowel, which means it is an uninterrupted sound emitted from the throat. If I asked you to say what the A sound is in English, you would probably either say A as in SAY, or A as in CAT. You probably wouldn’t include A as in WHAT, CAR, ALL, ANY or MEDICAL.
The Spanish language doesn’t have any of these strange sound and spelling problems. The letter A has one sound only, and although I can’t write down the sound here, once you’ve heard it once, you’ve got it for ever. To give you an idea how to make the A sound, open your mouth nice and wide (almost as if you were saying “aaah” for the doctor, but not quite), but then cut that long “aaah” shorter to “ah”. You should end up with a sound that is not so far back and clipped as our A as in CAT, but about the same length!
Now let’s look at some words beginning with this letter. Did you know that languages belong to families? Well they do, and Spanish and English both belong to the same extended family called Indo-European. In fact we are quite close cousins, as we have Latin as a common ancestor. This means that there are thousands of words in both languages that are practically identical.
Here are a few of them that begin with the letter A: absolutamente (absolutely), abundante (abundant), absurdo (absurd), adulto (adult), agente, (agent), agresivo (aggressive), agricultura (agriculture), aire (air), ambición (ambition), animal (animal). Occasionally some of these relatives part company and mean something different in each language. The Spanish word asistir looks as though it means “assist”, but it doesn’t; it means to “attend”. I suppose we could call these words “estranged cousins”. Most people call them by another term which is “false friends”, but I think I like my description better!
Apart from words with similar roots and estranged cousins, there are many common everyday words in Spanish beginning with A. I have chosen just one or two of each letter that I think are particularly useful or interesting.
A – for “now” which is “ahora”. This word contains the word for “time” or “hour” which is “hora”, so it literally means “at the time”.
“ahorra” comes from the verb “ahorrar” which means “to save” as in saving money. You might even see “¡ahorra ahora!” which means “save now!” The difference between the two words lies in the doubling of the letter R – a topic we will talk about another time.
Here is a Spanish saying beginning with the letter A “Agua pasada no mueve molino”. This means literally: “Water that’s already passed doesn’t move the mill” and it means the same as the English saying “It’s no use crying over spilt milk!” In other words, what’s in the past is gone and forgotten, so let’s look forward to all the new things in our lives!