Translating from Spanish Castilian to Catalan

Translators come across common mistakes when translating from Spanish Castilian to Catalan. As Spanish Castilian and Catalan are closely related languages, the differences between them are easily overlooked. This is most common when it comes to grammar and the use of prepositions, pronouns, and expressions. Translators must be aware of the misuse of Catalan grammar structures and syntax in order to produce an accurate translation.

We are used to hearing improper uses of prepositions and pronouns in the colloquial use of Catalan and, as most of them are a product of the Castilian influence, we may repeat those mistakes when Spanish is the source language.

Castilian and Catalan Pronouns en and hi

If the correct use of pronoms febles, or weak pronouns, is a challenge for Spanish-Catalan bilinguals, the pronouns en and hi demand even more attention. As Spanish does not have an equivalent for the Catalan en and hi, the first common mistake is the omission of these pronouns. For instance:


Spanish: Ahora voy, espérame cinco minutos y llego.

Catalan (omission of the pronoun): Ara vaig, espera’m cinc minuts i arrivo.

Catalan (correct use of the pronoun): Ara hi vaig, espera’m cinc minuts i arrivo.


Spanish: —¿Tienes un paquete de harina para prestarme? —No tengo, se me acabó ayer.

Catalan (omission of the pronoun): —Tens un paquet de farina per deixar-me? —No tinc, se’m va acabar ahir.

Catalan (correct use of the pronoun): —Tens un paquet de farina per deixar-me? —No en tinc, se’m va acabar ahir.

In the case of the pronoun en, there are other common mistakes, like falling into pleonasm by using the pronoun when the element that it should replace is in the same sentence. For example, “Volia pujar al metro però ja n’hi havia massa gent is incorrect because there is no need to use the pronoun if gent, which is the element it replaces, is in the same sentence.

Mixing up Mateix with Propi, and Using Mateix as a Pronoun

The use of the Catalan adjective propi is not the same as propio in Spanish. Let’s use the following sentence as an example:

Spanish: El propio director de la fundación negó los hechos.

Catalan (incorrect): El propi director de la fundació va negar els fets.

Catalan (correct): El director mateix de la fundació va negar els fets.

In Spanish, propio serves as a way of emphasizing that the director himself denied the facts. This function cannot be performed by propi in Catalan, which could only be correct if it designated that something belongs to someone while not emphasizing on the something.

Regarding the use of mateix as a pronoun, it’s easy to see why it’s incorrect, since mateix can be omitted from the sentence without affecting the overall meaning. For example, if in “Ha anat al metget a fer-se una anàlisi, el resultat del mateix el sabrà la setmana que vé we simply omit mateix, the sentence will still be correct: “Ha anat al metget a fer-se una anàlisi, el resultat el sabrà la setmana que vé.”

The Use of the Preposition A to Introduce a Direct Object

Verbs which require a direct object (DO) are often confused with those that require and indirect object (IO). To add further confusion, some verbs that need a direct object in Spanish may require an indirect object in Catalan, and vice versa. These differences are many, and I will mention the most common mistake below.

A direct object cannot be introduced by the preposition a, unless it is a subject (a person or a group of people). Then, DO particles like tots, ningú and tothom must be introduced by a:

La situació política ens afecta a tots.

Això no afecta a ningú.

Això afecta a tothom.

DOs that are objects, and not people, should not be introduced by a:

L’incendi afecta el transit, els cotxes no poden passar pel carrer.

Introducing an Expression Regarding Time with Al

The use of al (preposition a + article el) to introduce an expression regarding time is incorrect and is the result of the Castilian influence. In Catalan, the preposition we would use instead is en.

Spanish: Al terminar la clase vamos a tomar un café.

Catalan (incorrect): Al acabar la classe anirem a prendre un cafè.

Catalan (correct): En acabar la classe anirem a prendre un cafè.

In conclusion, Catalan is a language full of particularities, as all languages are. Because of the unfortunate history of the Catalan language in Spain, and because it is spoken in such a specific region of the world, it is still on its way to becoming fully normalized. A good first step is to respect and use the language correctly — a must for every linguist.