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Puerto Rican Spanish: Grammatically Correct, Yet Oh-So-Wrong

If you study Spanish long enough, you will get exposed to Spanish from countries all around the world. I remember taking a high-level Spanish literature class in college with several native speakers. There were students from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Argentina, Perú, Spain, and Ecuador. Every time we got into a heated argument about how to properly translate a phrase, or which word meant what where, or how to pronounce a certain word, the debate would get quite intense. The problem was always the same: every country thinks they speak the best Spanish. There was, however, one exception. One native speaker would get her papers back with twice as much red as any of the non-natives speakers. She always gracefully stepped down from any grammar debate. Can you guess which country she was from?

Yep, Puerto Rico

puerto rican flag

I admired this woman’s ability to openly admit that Puerto Rico has the worst grammar of all of the Spanish speaking countries. Surely she could understand Spanish better than any of the non-native speakers, but when it came to cold-cut grammar, we had her beat.

Pedro and I occasionally share a laugh over the fact that he has a Masters in English, which is my native language, and I have a Bachelors in Spanish, which is his native language. His spoken Spanish beats mine, but I understand the rules of the grammar much better than he does. I may pride myself on my English grammar as well, but, in the end, he could still throughly kick my ass in an English grammar debate.

But Puerto Rican Grammar isn’t always as bad as it seems

Pedro occasionally gets mad at me for teasing him too much about Puerto Rican grammar. Although it is often home-country pride that makes him snap, he’s not always wrong. A textbook may admonish certain words and conjugations, and Google Translate may remain at a loss, but I think “incorrect” can be a bit harsh at times. Perhaps “creative” would be a better term. 

Grammatically correct, but oh-so-wrong

To prove my point, I’d like to take a look at 3 different Puerto Rican-isms: Friquear, Janguear, and Soquear.

The spelling may not give their meanings away, but their pronunciations do. Try to say them outloud: Free-kay-ar, Han-gay-ar, and So-kay-ar. Can you guess the meanings yet?

Freak out, hang out, and to suck

Yes, seriously. I’d like to clarify that “soquear” is not to be used as in, “to suck on a straw,” it actually means “to suck” as in “this movie totally sucks.”

Horrible, yes. Incorrect? Not quite

You see, what makes these words more creative than incorrect is that they follow the rules of Spanish grammar.

Friquear is an AR verb. So if I wanted to say “I freaked out” I would just say “Friqueé.” If I wanted to say, “you are freaking out” I would say “Tú estás frequeando.” It’s that simple.

Similarly, “We hang out” would be “Jangueamos” and “That sucks” would be “Eso soquea.”

So who is to say that Puerto Rican Spanish is wrong?

It may hurt me to hear and even begin to use these bastardizations of Spanish and English, but I have to respect that these made-up terms at least follow the rules of grammar!

10 Responses to Puerto Rican Spanish: Grammatically Correct, Yet Oh-So-Wrong

  • Rob says:

    Most of the time native speakers, of any language, get away with bad grammar because we get used to it and know what they mean really (or should that be really mean?). Being grammatically correct is important but not worth worrying about.

  • Juan says:

    You don’t know what are you talking about… Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Perú and Ecuador & Even Spain are horrible in their grammar & pronunciation… But you of course know it all, and dare to say who’s country is best so typical of your culture & rude mentality. Who cares what your opinion is of the latin culture which clearly you are not part of, for someone from England you probably speak horrible English do they post it in places such as this? Im glad you Find Puerto Rico is the worst grammar speaking Country so here’s an advice stay the hell away from it with your bachelors degree & Old Lady Scholar American Opinions.

    • reasek says:

      It is so clear to me that you did not even read the article, because if you had, you would see that I actually applaud Puerto Rico for using “Creative conjugation” and that I don’t believe any one country could possibly have the “best Spanish.” I now LIVE in Puerto Rico, and I enjoy learning new words and language styles every day.

  • Ted Febo says:

    Puerto Rico does not have the worst grammar, what you mentioned here is slang. I don’t plan on offending anyone, but trust me your article is just a biased opinion with a little makeup. That’s probably what these other people said to you. If you live in Puerto Rico now, than pay close attention.

    • reasek says:

      Yes, of course what I mention here is slang, but what I was highlighting is that Puerto Ricans actually applied proper grammar to slang words, which I found pretty interesting and impressive from a linguistic perspective. As for Puerto Rico having the worst grammar, that’s obviously an opinion, because no one country can have the worst grammar anymore than another can have the best. I live in Puerto Rico and I am a part of a family full of people with Masters and Doctorates, and they agree with me, that overall, Puerto Ricans are not as interested in being formal and grammatically correct. It’s not to say they aren’t intelligent. Like I said, almost every Puerto Rican I’ve worked with when it comes to written Spanish has at least been working towards a Masters degree. Knowing the rules of grammar and applying them are two very different things.

  • Ozzie says:

    It’s obvious Puerto Ricans have the worst grammar. I was raised in N.Y. and most Ricans Spanish is terrible BTW the island is a territory of the U.S. not a country so they are American and only 20% speak English. So no English nor spanish and you’re right they don’t care about being formal nor correct. Yes I have been traveling all over Puerto Rico for the past 7 years.

    • reasek says:

      Nuyoricans and Puerto Ricans are actually different in many ways. Judging the island’s Spanish by people who were born and/or raised in New York doesn’t make sense. I would never say that Puerto Ricans speak Spanish terribly, as you said yourself, for most people on the island it’s their native language. While you are correct in saying that Puerto Rico is a territory, I still believe it deserves the distinction as its own country. They do get to send their own team under the Puerto Rican flag to the Olympics. It’s a very weird situation. I wrote this article to talk about some of the oddities in Puerto Rican Spanish and also point out some of the more creative conjugations, not to bash an entire country’s Spanish speaking skills.

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