SPAN-L111 — Spanish I — How to write

How to write a composition for my class

In writing your composition, think of all the vocabulary we have learned as Lego building blocks, and think of all the grammar constructions we have learned as various ways of stacking those blocks together. Build the finest composition you can using the blocks and construction methods at your disposal. Be wary of pulling more than a handful of new, un-learned blocks from the dictionary, and be very cautious in trying to stack blocks together in un-examined ways. You don't want it to all fall down on top of you! It is perfectly fine to let your content be dictated by your current level of vocabulary and grammar. For in-class speaking I generally encourage you to push the envelope, take risks, and try new things, but for an out-of-class composition I want to see mastery of current skills, not groping for new ones.

Before turning in your composition read it over several times in detail: for every adjective find the noun it modifies (the noun it describes) and make sure it agrees in number and gender with that noun. For every verb, find the subject and make sure it agrees. This should eliminate many of the errors I see on compositions.

For example: “Adriana tiene tres llaves amarillas.” “Amarillas” is a adjective meaning “yellow.” What is it describing? What is yellow? The keys — las llaves. “Llaves” is a feminine noun, and here it is plural, so the ending on “amarillas” is required to also be feminine plural, which it is. (Note that sometimes there will be many words between the adjective and the noun it modifies… the adjective might even be in a different sentence.) The verb in our sentence is “tiene” from the verb tener — to have. Who has the keys? Adriana has them. She is the subject of the verb, and we are talking about her, not to her, so we need the third person singular form of the verb, the “el/ella/Ud.” form: “tiene.”

You may either write your composition by hand in an easily-legible style, or you may prepare it on a computer. Whichever you choose, you must double-space your composition.This is very important: it gives me space to write comments. Be sure to either type or write on by hand all accent marks, tildes, etc. For instructions on how to make these characters on your computer, see below.

If available, the use of Spanish-language computer spell-checking is often helpful in finding typos that your relatively untrained eye might not see. Of course, such a program will not find spelling mistakes which are themselves a legitimate word; this includes some mistakes involving accent mark placement.

Making Accents and Special Characters

If you are using the Macintosh operating system, making the characters you need is very simple and is the same on all versions of the operating system and in all applications. On PC things are a lot more complex and there are a great variety of approaches, including toggling between two or more keyboard layouts. I will let you research and find the method that works best for you. But it is important to use all needed accent marks; reading a text without them is very distracting, and at times ambiguous and confusing.

on Macintosh:
(with any application, any version of the OS)
to make press then press
á option + e a
é option + e e
í option + e i
ó option + e o
ú option + e u
ñ option + n n
ü option + u u
¡ option + !
¿ option + shift + ?

Understanding my comments on your compositions

Most corrections should be immediately clear. I may cross something out and write something else above it. I may put a box around a word or group of words and use an arrow to indicate where those words should go. Sometimes I draw a caret (arrowhead shape) to indicate where you need to insert something missing. A squiggly line under a passage means I can’t tell what you’re trying to say, so I can’t correct it. Mistakes that I circle are things I expect you to already know. I work hard to give useful comments and corrections on your compositions, but if there are many errors per sentence it can be difficult to find and indicate them all. If you have any questions about what a correction means, or can’t figure out how to fix something, please come see me!

Abbreviations I use in correcting your compositions
abbreviation meaning
S/E. Ser and estar. You have picked the wrong verb.
P/I. Preterit and imperfect. You have picked the wrong one, or, if the verb is not in either of these forms, it needs to be in one of them.
S/I. Error with subjunctive and indicative.
M/F. Masculine / Feminine. This could be a lack of agreement between the noun and its adjective, or incorrectly guessing the gender of a noun.
Prep. Preposition. You need a preposition (or a different preposition) here. Prepositions are words like: a, de, en, con, por, para, etc. .
S/E. Ser and estar. You have picked the wrong verb.
Agr. Agreement error. This could be noun-adjective agreement or verb-subject agreement.
Ort. Error de ortografía — Spelling error; this could be as simple as a missing or misplaced accent mark, or failing to observe the stem-changing patterns of a verb.
Vocab. Error de vocabulario. You have picked the wrong word.
Form. Error in the form. You may have picked the wrong verb tense, or it may be an adjective that has a special form in certain situations, such as primero becoming primer before a masculine singular noun.
Syntax. Problems with word order or sentence or phrase construction.
M. [Mayúscula / minúscula] Error with upper or lower case.