Posted by: janecronin | January 21, 2017


It’s time to look at a favourite verb of mine – “leer” meaning “to read”.  The biggest problem for most English speakers with this verb is its pronunciation.  As you know, the letter “e” has a single, simple sound, and the fact that in “leer” there are two of them together does not alter this fact.  Unlike in English where vowel sounds vary, sometimes according to where they appear, sometimes because they are next to other vowels and sometimes for no apparent reason at all, in Spanish we can completely rely on the consistency of vowel pronunciation.  The word “leer” consists of two syllables “le” and “er” and whilst the two “e” sounds do run together when spoken at speed, they do not alter.  Therefore, the Spanish word “leer” should never sound like the English word “leer” which has an entirely different connotation.

The conjugation of “leer” is surprisingly regular throughout all its forms.  It just has a small spelling adjustment in the past tenses forms “leyó” (he or she read) and “leyeron” (they read)  – that is “read” as it rhymes with the word “red” – and also “leyendo” (reading) which doesn’t rhyme with the name of town!  In these three cases, the letter “i” is replaced by the letter “y” for reasons of spelling conformity.

From the verb “leer” we get a series of other words, some of which are interestingly related to words in English.  First of all, the word for “reader” is “lector” (masculine) and “lectora” (feminine).  This may remind us of our word “lectern” from which the Bible is read in a church.  The activity of reading is “lectura”, and “me gusta la lectura” is an alternative to “me gusta leer” and means exactly the same thing (I like reading).  Similar words in English are “lecture” and “lecturer” which interestingly are also called “readers” at higher levels in universities.  Again, the word “lección” is part of the same word family and is translated as “lesson” in English.  The word “legible” which is the same in Spanish and English has the synonym “readable” in English and likewise “ilegible”, which simply doubles the “l” to make “illegible” in English, means the same as “unreadable”, both of which words derive from “leer”.

These connections exist because part of the English language derives from Latin, which is the parent language of Spanish.  The basic word “read” comes from an Old English root, but all the more religious and academic versions of this activity are directly inherited from Latin, and therefore closely connected to their Spanish equivalents.  This connection exists because for about 300 years after 1066, Britain was ruled by a French speaking elite class and Latin was used in church,  and of course French is also a Latin based language. One of the advantages of this is that we can often recognise the meanings of Spanish words because they connect in our minds with a certain register of English vocabulary.


  1. Leer – unfortunately, you haven’t told us how to pronounce it!

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