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Episode 73: Tan vs. Tanto, What's the Difference?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the words tan and tanto? Look no further, because today's episode will finally give you answers! And then, for our Cultural Tip, we'll begin looking at Ecuador!


What are They?

At the most basic, tan is an adverb (un adverbio) and can mean "so", "such", or "as", as in:

-Es tan alto como Juan. He is as tall as Juan.

-Esa flor es tan bonita como una joya. That flower is as pretty as a jewel.

-Estaba tan confundida que ni siquiera podía recordar su nombre. She was so confused that she couldn't even remember her name.

-Estaban tan tristes que decidieron irse a casa. They were so sad that they decided to go home.

-Él es tan torpe. He is such a klutz.

On the other hand, tanto is an adjective (un adjetivo) and can mean "so much", "so many", "so long", or "as much as", as in:

-¡Nunca he comido tanto! I have never eaten so much!

-¡Durmió tanto que estaba empezando a preocuparme! He slept so long that I was beginning to get worried!

-Tiene tantos perros en su casa que parece un refugio de animales. He has so many dogs in his house that it looks like an animal shelter.

-Tengo tanta esperanza como tú. I have as much hope as you do.

-Tienen tantas flores como Amy. They have as many flowers as Amy does.

Because tan is an adverb, it doesn't change based on the words around it; it is always just tan. But tanto must match the plurality and gender of the noun it modifies, so it can be tanto, tanta, tantos, and tantas. That being said, tanto at times doesn't actually change its form. But we'll get to that in a second.

Another way to remember the differences is that tan, in general, talks about the quality or characteristics of something, whereas tanto quantifies it. (A trick to remember this is that tanto has an "ant", just like in quantify, and not in quality. I have tanto ants that are tan small! ;) It's a little ridiculous, but hey, if it helps you, who cares?)

How do You Use Them?

There are three main ways that you use both tan and tanto:

  1. To make a comparison between two similar things,

  2. To reach a conclusion on something's qualities, whether as a statement or to intensify it,

  3. To ask questions.

1. Comparing Two Similar Things

When you are comparing two similar things, the sentence structure looks like this: tan/tanto + thing + como.... So for tan, it'll be tan + adjective/adverb + como and would be like saying fast as... or smart as....

Some example sentences:

-Él es tan rápido como yo. He is as fast as me.

-Ella es tan buena como Anita. She is as good as Anita.

-Tienes tan poca experiencia como mi sobrino. You have as little experience as my nephew.

And for tanto, it'll be tanto + noun + como, which is like saying many dogs as... or much hope as....

Some example sentences:

-Laura tiene tantos gatos como Robert. Laura has as many cats as Robert.

-Tienes tanta experiencia como mi prima. You have as much experience as my cousin.

-¡Pedro come tanta comida como Julio! Pedro eats as much food as Julio!

Or you could have verb + tanto + como, which is like saying ...they hate opera as much as... or can't eat as much as.... But pay attention - when used this way, tanto does not change. It is always tanto.

Some example sentences:

-¡Nadie corre tanto como Mateo! Nobody runs as much as Mateo!

-Ella ama el español tanto como yo. She loves Spanish as much as I do.

-Ellos dibujan tanto como tú. They draw as much as you do.

2. To Make Statements

If you want to make statements about something that either are conclusions or a bit dramatic (you know, to intensify the statement, like "I have so much money I don't know what to do with it!"), you can also use tan or tanto. The general structure for this type of sentence is tan/tanto + thing + que + conclusion/statement.

So for tan, you would use tan + adjective/adverb + que + conclusion/statement, and it would be like saying so happy that we did x..... or so smart that he did y....

Some example sentences:

-Ella es tan inteligente que el resto de la clase parece tonto en comparación. She is so smart that the rest of the class seems dumb in comparison.

-Él es tan malo que odio jugar con él. He is so mean that I hate playing with him.

-Eran tan amables que todos en el vecindario los amaban. They were so kind that everyone in the neighborhood loved them.

And for tanto, you would use verb + tanto + que + conclusion/statement or tanto + noun + que + conclusion/statement, such as ...slept so long that x happened... or much homework that y....

Some example sentences:

-Tenían tanto frío que sus narices parecían azules. They were so cold that their noses looked blue. *(Remember, in Spanish you say "I have cold", or "I have hunger", which is why you use "tanto" for these phrases instead of "tan". In fact, according to Real Fast Spanish, the phrase in Spanish for "I could eat a horse" is "podría comerme un elefante". I love it!)

-Tiene tanto dinero que usa billetes de un dólar como pañuelos. He has so much money that he uses dollar bills as tissues.

-Tiene tanta paciencia que sus alumnos la llaman Madre Teresa. She has so much patience that her students call her Mother Teresa.

-Comimos tanto que tuvimos que rodar a casa. We ate so much that we had to roll home. *(Because "tanto" is referencing a verb here, it does not change form.)

-Me reí tanto que me salió leche por la nariz. I laughed so hard that milk came out my nose.

3. To Ask Questions

If you want to ask questions about the characteristics or quantities of something, you can also use tan or tanto. The form it takes is ¿Qué + tan/tanto + thing....?

So for tan, you would use the structure ¿Qué + tan + adjective/adverb...?

Some example sentences:

-¿Qué tan lento eres? How slow are you?

-¿Sabes qué lejos está la catedral de la escuela? Do you know how far the cathedral is from the school?

-¿Qué tan difícil es aprender chino? How hard is it to learn Chinese?

For tanto, you would use either ¿Qué + tanto + verb....? or ¿Qué + tanto + noun + verb....? Note that with these structures, tanto does not change its form.

Some example sentences:

-¿Qué tanto compraste? How much did you buy?

-¿Qué tanto comiste? How much did you eat?

-¿Qué tanto libros tienes? How many books do you have?

A Few More Uses for Tanto

While the previous sections highlighted how to use both tan and tanto, tanto has a few more cool uses. For instance, it can be used to say that two people or things do the same thing, like ...both John and Max do Y... or ...running as much as exercising can be.... The sentence structure tends to be tanto + noun + como + noun.... When used in this way, tanto does not change form.

Some example sentences:

-Tanto a Jamie como a Lora les encanta el brócoli. Both Jamie and Lora love broccoli. (*And also note how the personal a is used here!)

-Tanto Max como Ralph juegan al fútbol. Both Max and Ralph play soccer.

-Creo que el pensamiento crítico es tanto un deporte como correr. I think critical thinking is as much a sport as running.

Tanto can also be used for approximations (since it focuses on quantifying things, after all!). When used this way, tanto highlights the speaker's meaning that the suggested number is an estimate, not the actual number. In this usage, tanto does change form, although from what I've seen it only changes gender; it is always plural!

Some example sentences:

-Tiene veinte y tantos años. He is twenty-something.

-Había unas 100 y tantas personas en la película anoche. There were about 100 people at the movie last night.

That's enough grammar for now! Obviously, that is not a conclusive list, but let's go ahead to our cultural tip - our first one - on Ecuador!

Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!


Cultural Tip: Ecuador

Country Facts

Name: Republica del Ecuador, or the Republic of Ecuador

Size: According to the World Factbook, Ecuador is just a bit smaller than the state of Nevada.

Location: Located in South America, Ecuador is south of Colombia, north and west of Peru, and it touches the Pacific Ocean.

Government Type: Presidential republic. The current president is President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza as of May 2021. He is both head of government and the chief of state. Interestingly, both the president and the vice president are elected by popular vote for 4-year terms, just like in Guatemala. The legislative branch consists of a unicameral National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), with a total of 137 seats with members serving 4-year terms. Of these, 116 are directly elected via single-seat constituencies, and for the rest, let me quote the World Factbook. 15 are "directly elected in a single nationwide constituency by proportional representation vote, and 6 directly elected in multi-seat constituencies for Ecuadorians living abroad by simple majority vote." So even Ecuadorians living abroad still have a powerful say in their government? It sounds a bit odd, and complicated! Lastly, the judicial branch has two important courts. There is the National Court of Justice (Corte Nacional de Justicia), which has 21 judges, including a chief justice, who are elected by not by Congress or the President but instead by an independent body called the Judicial Council. This group has 9 members who are law professionals and they elect judges for only one term of 9 years. There is also the Constitutional Court (Corte Constitucional), which has 8 judges and the court president. They also are appointed by an independent body (again, made up of 6 law professionals) for 4-year terms.

Capital City: Quito

Religion: As of 2020, it is mainly Roman Catholic at 68.8%, with Evangelical Christian at 15.4%.

Official Language: Spanish is the country's official language, but there are other indigenous languages, like Quechua, which can be used officially depending on the situation/area.

Currency: USD (as of 2001)

Brief History

Ecuador used to be a part of the Incan Empire, until the Spanish came in the 16th century. After that, Quito became a key position in the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717. The countries of this Viceroyalty, a.k.a. Venezuela, Quito, and Colombia (known then as New Granada) gained their independence from Spain in 1819. Then in 1822 they formed a new federation called Gran Colombia. Yet Quito left this and became the Republic of the Equator, or Republica de Ecuador in 1830. Since then, the country has had numerous wars with neighbors, including Peru, and has lost land as a consequence. It has had 20 new constitutions since gaining independence, and politically is not super stable.



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