Talking about age – The perils of translating directly from Spanish.
When talking about age, there are a number of common errors students make whether they have an A2 or a B2 level. As we will see, the main reason for these mistakes is translating directly from Spanish into English.
Let’s start by giving examples of common incorrect sentences. Have you ever said any of these?
have20 years. With16 years old, I used to play in my high school’s football team.
- I will probably still have the same job when I
As you can see I have crossed out (tachado) several words. Why? Let’s explain these common mistakes when talking about age one by one.
Mistake number 1
‘They have 20 years’
In this sentence there are two errors:
In Spanish we use the verb ‘tener‘ to talk about age ‘Tengo 32 años’. However, in English, the correct verb is the verb To Be. We say ‘I am 32 years old’ or ‘They were 20 at the time’ and not ‘I
have 32 years old’ or ‘They had 20 at the time’.
Secondly, we can either say ‘They are 20 years old‘ or ‘They are 20‘ but it is incorrect to use only ‘years’, like in the example:‘They are 20 years‘. Years is a noun (sustantivo, nombre) and cannot describe anything without the help of the adjective ‘old’, so the sentence is incomplete.
✅ She is 20.
✅ They are 20 years old.
❌ We are 20 years.
Mistake number 2
With 16 years old, I used to play in my high school’s football team.
When talking about age the correct preposition is ‘AT’:
✅ ‘At 16 years old, I used to play in my high school’s football team.’.
Students use ‘with’ because in Spanish we use ‘con’: ‘Con 16 años…’
There are other alternatives we can use:
✅ At the age of 14 he was crowned champion at a local tennis tournament.
✅ When I was 7 years old, my parents took me to Disneyland.
Mistake number 3
I will probably still have the same job when I
will be 40.
This is a common grammar mistake. We can use ‘will’ after ‘when’ in questions, such as ‘When will you arrive home?’. However, in a time clause like the one in the example, ‘will’, cannot be used after ‘when’.
In these type of sentences, which in Spanish would be translated as ‘Cuando tenga’ (‘Cuando tenga 40 años’), we need to use the Present Simple after ‘will’.
The Present Simple of the verb To Be is ‘am’, ‘is’ or ‘are’ and therefore to talk about age in the future we will say:
✅ When I am 18, I will go to university. (Cuando tenga 18 años, iré a la universidad).
✅ She will start school when she is 4 years old. (Ella empezará en la escuela cuando tenga 4 años).
❌ They will start going on holiday without their parents when they
will be 18.
Please note that if we do not use ‘when’ the use of will is possible when talking about age.
✅ Next Tuesday she will be 40. (Ella cumplirá 40 el próximo jueves).
I hope this post will help you not to make these mistakes any longer when talking about age in English. If you have any questions or doubts, please leave a comment and I will answer them.