The good news this month about the pronunciation of the letter M, is that it is exactly the same as in English and I should now say that there isn’t anything else to say about it, but if you read my articles regularly you will know that cannot possibly be true!

An interesting fact is that Spanish words never end in the letter M, and I have noticed that the Spanish have great difficulty closing their mouths on a consonant at the ends of words. The common consonant ends in Spanish are N, S, R, L, Z, and D, none of which require the closing of lips. That is why names that end in M in English, end in N in Spanish – for example Abraham is Abrahan and Miriam is Mirian. This affects the way Spanish people pronounce English, which has a lot of lip-closing at the ends of words. I’m teaching some beginners English classes to Spanish people at the moment, and I can tell you it’s a devil of a job to get them to say “I’m from …”, as they tend to say “I’ng frong …”

Let’s get straight on with our usual abundance of similar words in Spanish and English beginning with the letter M. Our first one is maduro (mature). This word also means “ripe” as in fruit, so is a useful one to use at the market. Mágico (magic); notice that the emphasis on the word falls on the first syllable or beat, as indicated by the accent. Malicia (malice); this also rhymes with the name Alicia (Alice), but I really don’t think there’s any connection! Mecánico (mechanic).; this is the chap you need to mend your car, although the word also means “mechanical” and the place we call the “garage” is the taller mecánico, literally the “mechanical workshop”. Medicina (medicine); we also often hear the word medicamento for medication. Memoria (memory); there is a controversial new law in Spain called La ley de Memoria Histórica, which is intended to honour of those who suffered in the Civil War on the losing side.

There are plenty more similar words like these, for example: micrófono (microphone), mineral (mineral), moderno (modern), moderar (moderate), mental (mental) monumento (monument).

Here are three composite words starting with “multi” meaning “many” – multinacional, (multinational), multicultural (multicultural), and multimedia (multimedia).

An “estranged cousin” beginning with the letter M is the Spanish word miserable, which means wretched or mean and does not mean “miserable” in the English sense of unhappy. Unhappy in Spanish is triste or infeliz. Another false friend is the Spanish word motorist, which means “motorbike rider” and not “car motorist”, which is conductor. Also there is the word mascota which means “pet” in the sense of a domestic animal. The other way of saying mascota is simply animal doméstico. This means that if a Spanish person makes the mistake of asking you “Have you got any mascots?” he or she does not think you look like a member of the boy scouts or that you walk round with a goat on a chain.

An everyday word in Spanish beginning the M is mano, and this leads me to a favourite subject of mine which is the making up of word families. Mano means “hand” and we will hear it in a multitude (another similar word – multitud!) of familiar contexts. For example a parent saying to a child before crossing the road Dame la mano, “Give me your hand”. However, that base word mano is used to build up many other related words. We have manual meaning “manual” as in manual labour – work done with the hands. Then there is maniobra meaning “manoeuvre”, again referring to manual dexterity and not primarily car manoeuvres! Similarly the verb manipular translates literally as “manipulate”, but whereas in English we tend to use this in a more psychological context, in Spanish is primarily refers to working with the hands. Another verb manejar means “to handle”, but is related to our English word “manage” which generally is not a manual process! In fact it is an interest question in itself to ask why so many root words about hands have taken on so many non-manual meanings in English!

There is another interesting family word beginning with M, based on the Spanish verb mover meaning “to move”. This brings into play a sound relationship in Spanish which is the connection between the vowel “o” and the dual vowel sound “ue”. Those of you who have studied verb changes will have learnt about this relationship already, but it exists in many more cases that just verbs. For example muebles meaning “furniture” has the same root, so we could translate it as “movables” – things that can be moved. Therefore the fixtures and fittings in a house are called inmuebles things that cannot be moved. From this we get the word for a furniture shop mobiliaria, and therefore the word for an estate agent, which is the rather forbidding inmobiliaria, often unpronounceable even to those non-Spaniards who exercise the profession! Word families are most revealing about meanings of words and also they give us a great way of extending our vocabulary. Spanish is a most logical language in this respect. We can very often guess at the meanings of words by looking at their roots and we might even dare to have a go at inventing a related word. Even when we’re wrong we have a good chance of being understood!

Finally to our saying containing an M word:

Al que madruga, Dios le ayuda, which literally means “God helps him who gets up early”, or as we would say: “The early bird catches the worm.” I say this to my teenage children on a regular basis but it has no effect whatsoever!

Jane Cronin, Spanish classes and talks. Tel: 968 18 32 58