Por Nick Potter

In  this series we look at real-life examples of the most common mistakes in English by native Spanish lawyers. These and lots more invaluable tips are available in a new e-book/paperback, here: 50 English Tips for Spanish Professionals.

some, certain

Some mistakes are easy to correct. Others, however, need a little more thought, like certain words in Spanish that can be translated in subtly different ways.

What’s the difference between alguno and algunos?

Some may think that algunos just means some; others might know better.

Question: Which ONE of A – E below is correct?

A The restructuring agreement must comply with some formal requirements to be sanctioned
B Please find attached the English versions of the applications (without including some appendices because of their size)
C Some of these agreements entitle the Company to receive some services such as maintenance of its equipment
D Britain’s damaged banks cut off funds to some companies and charged higher interest rates to others
E The courts published a guidance note, based on that judgement, supporting the view that under some circumstances the moratorium can be extended to dissenting financial creditors

 

Before you read the answer, remember:

Algunas/algunos can be translated as some or certain.

What’s the difference?

The difference is subtle, but important in terms of the message you send.

We use some to refer to something vague and unspecific:

  • I bought some CDs
  • In some of the agreements entered into by the Company, this has not been granted
  • There are lots of reasons why some countries are much less developed than others

Things are vague and unspecific because they are unknown or because they don’t need to be specified.

We use certain to refer to something specific, but not stated:

  • Certain CDs won’t play on this machine [It is specific CDs that won’t play, but you’re not going to list them]
  • Certain conditions precedent must be satisfied before certain parts of the agreement come into force [the conditions and parts of the agreement are specific]
  • “Certain countries are only worried about their own borders,” the prime minister told reporters in Paris. [The PM was referring to specific countries but did not name them, for diplomatic reasons]

In its use, then, certain is similar to determinados or ciertos.

What’s the problem?

Sometimes, using the vague “some” instead of the specific “certain” gives the impression that you don’t know something that you really should know.

  • This memorandum provides practical guidance in relation to some matters relating to the JVs [this is vague – the matters are specific so say “certain matters”]
  • In some circumstances, additional terms and conditions may apply [again, this is vague but actually the circumstances are specific – so say “certain circumstances”]

Now compare these two sentences:

  • A intends to acquire some of B’s assets
  • A intends to acquire certain of B’s assets

Both are grammatically correct – but send a very different message.

The first sentence is vague. Which assets A will acquire is not known or relevant.

The second sentence is specific. Which assets A will acquire is known, just not stated.

Choosing between some and certain is choosing between vagueness and being specific.

So:

The correct sentence is D. All the others are vague and unspecific (“some”) when they should be specific, just not stated (“certain”).

A The restructuring agreement must comply with some certain formal requirements to be sanctioned
B Please find attached the English versions of the applications (without including some certain appendices because of their size)
C Some* of these agreements entitle the Company to receive some certain services such as maintenance of its equipment [*The sentence can start with some or certain, depending on whether you want to be vague or specific. However, the services ARE specific]
D Britain’s damaged banks cut off funds to some companies and charged higher interest rates to others [CORRECT]
E The courts published a guidance note, based on that judgement, supporting the view that under some certain circumstances the moratorium can be extended to dissenting financial creditors