They say that in Spanish you have to pronounce all the letters. Yes, that’s certainly true, except for the ‘h’, which –we all know– is silent. Well, it happens that this fact may lead some Spanish learners –and even some native Speakers– down a wrong path, especially when they’re writing.
Spelling vs. Sound
Let’s take a look at this two words that sound exactly the same, but their spelling, meaning and use are completely different: echo and hecho.
Echo is the first person singular for the verb echar, which means to throw, so echo would mean: I throw. To be honest, echar has a lot of meanings other than to throw, among they stand to pour, to kick out, to put on, and the meanings keep going. La Real Academia Española has listed 48 different ways of use it. But, let’s keep it simple with to throw and this example:
–Siempre echo la basura en la papelera.
–I always throw the garbage in the bin.
Hecho, on the other hand, could be a noun meaning: fact, or it could be the past participle of the verb hacer, i.e. to do (or to make) meaning: done (or made, and why not? It could mean ready as well). And this implies, of course, that it could be used as an adjective, therefore you should be ready for all the gender and number agreement.
–Es un hecho que no llegaré a tiempo.
–It’s a fact that I won’t make it on time. (noun – masculine singular)
–Mi trabajo está hecho.
–My job is done. (participle – masculine singular)
–Mi tarea está hecha.
–My homework is done. (participle – feminine singular)
It’s a matter of fact
So, for hecho we have the noun hecho (fact) and its plural hechos (facts). And for the verb hacer (to do or to make) there are the participle and the adjective: hecho (done) for the masculine singular form and its plural: hechos (done). Add to this participle and adjective the feminine singular form: hecha (done), and don’t forget its plural: hechas (done). Don’t worry, we’ll make this clearer for you.
But what about echo?
We already said that echo is a verb, right? And as so it should be conjugated like this (for the present):
yo echo / I throw
tú echas / you throw
él echa / he throws
nosotros echamos / we throw
ustedes echan / you throw
ellos echan / they throw
Did you see what just happened? Good job! The forms echo, echas, echa could be easily confused with hecho, hechas, hecha, respectively. And there is where people get confused. But don’t worry, it only occurs with those three forms of echar.
Let’s clean this mess up
1. We have the noun hecho, which is masculine and could be singular or plural, but this plural is not in dispute as we just said:
–El hecho es que no tenemos dinero.
–The fact is that we don’t have any money.
–Los hechos hablan por sí solos.
–Facts speak for themselves.
2. We have the past participle of hacer: hecho (to do or to make), from which we form the perfect tense:
–¿Qué has hecho al respecto?
–What have you done about it?
–No he hecho nada todavía.
–I haven’t done anything yet.
3. On the other hand, we also have the first singular person of echar, i.e. echo:
–Nunca echo sal a la comida.
–I never throw salt on the food.
4. Then we have the second person singular of echar: echas:
–Siempre echas tu ropa sucia sobre la cama.
–You always throw your dirty clothes on the bed.
…and the third person singular, which is the same as the imperative, echa:
–Él echa monedas en la fuente.
–He throws coins into the fountain.
–Echa más agua, por favor.
–Pour more water, please.
5. And finally we have the participles in their roles as adjectives:
–Mi cama no está hecha.
–My bed is not done.
–Solo como tortas hechas por mi madre.
–I only eat cakes made by my mother.
Just be careful
If you’re thinking of facts or of something that has been done or needs to be done, don’t forget that silent ‘h’ for hecho. But if you want to use another expression within the 48 different meanings of echo, forget all about the ‘h’ and say:
–Te echo de menos.
–I miss you.