Lezioni spagnolo


Lessons for topic Grammar

Apenas —Hardly, Just Only, and About to Happen

If you are at all familiar with the Spanish word apenas, the meaning that probably first comes to mind is "hardly" or "barely," as we find in the interview with Pablo Echarri:



Pasó apenas un año o una cosa así, y...

Hardly a year or so passed, and...

Caption 15, Biografía - Pablo Echarri

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Apenas can also mean "just," as in "only." You may have picked this up when watching Shakira's latest tantalizing video, "Loba."

La vida me ha dado un hambre voraz y tú apenas me das caramelos

Life has given me a voracious hunger and you just give me candy

Caption 11, Shakira - Loba

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Our recent interview with illustrator Antonio Vargas brings us another use of apenas you might be less familiar with:

Este restaurante todavía no existe; apenas se va a hacer.

This restaurant doesn't exist yet; it is about to be built.

Caption 3, Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustración

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When placed before a future tense phrase, apenas often conveys the message that the action is just about to happen, or is on the verge of happening.

Arturo Vega, the famous Ramones' lighting and logo designer, uses apenas this same way when he predicts the rise in popularity of Latin American rock bands.

Yo creo que apenas va a empezar.

I believe it's just about to start.

Caption 17, Arturo Vega - Entrevista

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Keep your eyes and ears open for still more interesting uses of apenas. We will, too, and bring them to you in future lessons.


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Le in "verbs like gustar"; Le in leísmo

Le encanta el poder y le atrapa la noche

She loves power and the night ensnares her

Caption 6, Chayanne - Lola

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The Spanish verb encantar literally means "to enchant" or "to delight greatly," so when Chayanne sings "le encanta el poder," he means to say that "power enchants her" or "power delights her." In English we would simply say "she loves power." If this looks a lot like the way we use gustar (to please) when we want to say someone "likes" something, that's because encantar belongs to a family of verbs known as "verbs like gustar." These verbs always take an indirect object pronoun, usually to refer to the person who in the English version would be the subject, and in this example the "le" is the indirect object pronoun (her), referring to "Lola."

Atrapar/"to trap; to ensnare" is NOT a "verb like gustar," but Chayanne, in the interest of lyrical flow, seems to be doing his best to set it up like one. First, notice he is putting the subject la noche/"the night," after the verb atrapa/"ensnares" (a bit unusual, but not incorrect). Secondly, he is referring to Lola using the indirect object pronoun "le," but in this case it is really acting as a direct object pronoun. You can tell because it answers the question "what?" about the verb ("The night ensnares 'what?' It ensnares her") rather than the question "to whom?" or "for whom?" which would call for an indirect object pronoun.

Note that, unlike indirect object pronouns, the direct object pronouns in Spanish DO have gender distinctions, "lo" for him and "la" for her. Chayanne could have expressed the same sentiment by putting the subject before the verb and using the proper direct object pronoun, making it clearer for most Spanish learners:

La noche la atrapa.
The night ensnares her.

Strictly speaking, "le" is not to be used as a direct object at all, but Chayanne, like a great many of his fellow Spanish speakers, IS using "le" as a direct object. The phenomenon of using the indirect object pronoun "le" (or its plural "les") where you technically should have used a direct object pronoun is known as "leísmo," and its use varies by region. It is common enough that it is not always heard as "wrong" by a great many Spanish speakers, and there are even a few cases where "le" is seen, even by the strictest grammar mavens, as an acceptable alternate to the "proper" direct object pronouns.

These "acceptable" cases of leísmo usually involve the substitution of "le" for the masculine direct object "lo," but Chayanne is substituting "le" for the feminine direct object "la"—which, while not entirely unknown in colloquial Spanish, is usually not considered "acceptable" by those with learned opinions on such matters (such as the RAE).



Further reading:

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Calle 13 loves to mix English into their lyrics, which no doubt is pretty natural for them with all the exchange between their homeland of Puerto Rico and the predominately English speaking mainland United States. But Spanish natives often pronounce English words a bit differently than native speakers. Oddly enough, some of these differences can clue us into an interesting facet of the Spanish language. Listen to the way Hato Rey (aka "Residente") raps the English word "starter" in this line:



Préndete, sácale chispas al "starter"

Turn on, get sparks from the starter

Caption 6, Calle 13 - Atrévete-te-te

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Do you notice he says something like "estarter"?

He also does similar when he sings:


Que tú eres callejera, "street fighter"

You're a woman of the streets, a street fighter

Caption 9, Calle 13 - Atrévete-te-te

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He pronounces the English word "street" as "estreet."

Spanish speakers seem to have trouble saying some English words that start with "s," adding an "e" sound to the beginning? But why would it be? Especially when Hato seems to be able to say "sippy" without turning it into "esippy":


Mira, nena, ¿quieres un "sippy"?

Look, babe, would you like a sippy [a little sip]?

Caption 41, Calle 13 - Atrévete-te-te

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If Hato has no trouble with "sippy," why does he say "estreet" and "estarter" instead of "street" and "starter?" Furthermore, there are plenty of Spanish words that start with an unadulterated "s" sound that we hear him pronounce clearly throughout the song: "sácale," "sudor," "salte," "sacúdete," "seria," and so on. He seems to have no problem with those.

You may have already started to notice a pattern! While many Spanish words start with the letter "s" and an accompanying "s" sound, they almost always follow this leading "s" with a vowel. It's when the first "s" in an English word is followed by consonant (s + consonant) that Spanish speakers feel compelled to precede an English word with an "e" sound. Why? Because almost no Spanish words
that start with an "s" are followed by a consonant. 


Spanish words that have an "s+consonant" near the beginning pretty much all start with an "e" as the first letter. Certainly you noticed that the language is "español" and not "spañol"? Or that the country from whence it all came is España (not Spaña)? Looking again to Calle 13 for clues, we hear:

Destápate, quítate el esmalte

Show yourself, remove your nail polish

Caption 3, Calle 13 - Atrévete-te-te

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In the word "esmalte" (nail polish), there is an "s+consonant" near the beginning of the word, but, in line with norms of Spanish, it is preceded by an "e."

Modern life causes "stress" in English speakers but Spanish speakers experience "estrés." Why? It's because when this English word made its way into Spanish, it conformed to a typical Spanish pattern.  Likewise, when a shop that sells long bread rolls filled with meats and toppings opens up on Old San Juan, Residente and his buddies will no doubt be happy to grab "sandwiches" (or "saandweeches") at "Subway" (or "SOOBway"). The beginning "s" sounds in "subway" and in "sandwich" are no problem, because they are followed by vowels: "u" and "a", respectively --  a pattern Spanish speakers are well accustomed to. ¿Sí o no? -¡Supongo que sí!

Keep an ear open for Spanish words that begin with an "s" and with an "es." Does the theory fit? We hope so, or it will be an


Side note: On the other side of the coin, the "es + consonant" phenomenon runs so deep in Spanish-language phonetics, and so many English "s" words have a corresponding similar Spanish "es" word, that Spanish speakers learning English sometimes mistakenly that think that "es + consonant" is only a Spanish-language thing. This will lead them to say specially for especially, state for estate, and streme for extreme, thinking that the "e"s are a hangover from their Spanish pronunciation. You just have to remember Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy, the Cuban immigrant musician and bandleader who was always ready to admonish Lucille Ball's character with "Lucy! You've got some splainin' to do!"

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The Imperfect Tense in Spanish: Setting the Scene

Let's stop by the kitchen of the Di Carlo mansion, setting of preparations for the big gala in Muñeca Brava. The maids are very excited. They want to get a detailed description of how Mili looked as she made her Cinderella-like debut. Notice that Socorrito uses the imperfect tense of both ver (to look) and bajar (to go down, to lower, to descend) when she asks:


...Contame, contame, ¿cómo se la veía cuando bajaba de la escalera?

...Tell me, tell me, how did she look as she was walking down the stairs?

Caption 1, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta

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If you've ever heard anything at all about the imperfect tense, it's that it applies to past actions that are not completed or that are ongoing. We see that quite clearly above in the case of bajaba; Mili "was walking down," an action that was ongoing at the time. However, another rule of the imperfect, one less bandied about, also comes into play here: the imperfect is employed when describing two or more simultaneous past actions. Socorrito wants to know how Mili "looked" (using the imperfect veía) as (at the same point in time) she was going down the stairs. 

With her usual enthusiasm, Mariposa definitely puts them in the moment when she answers:


Socorrito, ¡no sabe lo que era! Parecía una princesa.

Socorrito, you can't imagine! She looked like a princess.

Caption 2, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta

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There is yet another well-documented use of the imperfect that we can cite here: its use to "set the scene" or provide background information, especially at the beginning of a larger story. She uses the imperfect era (from ser, to be) when she says ¡no sabe lo que era! which literally translates to "you don't know how it was!" And she employs parecía (she looked like), which is an imperfect conjugation of parecer (to appear as/to look like/to seem like). Mariposa is setting the stage for the fairy tale taking place in the ballroom, and doing so in much the same way one would recite an actual fairy tale (which is no surprise if you remember that Muñeca Brava is a retelling of the Cinderella story).

The start of your average ghost tale or mystery story makes a good illustration of using the imperfect to paint a background picture:

Era una noche oscura y tormentosa, llovía y unos pájaros cantaban a lo lejos.
It was a dark and stormy night. It was raining and a few birds were singing from a distance.


[Note that in Spanish one can also use the past continuous tense, for example estaba lloviendo (it was raining) or estaban cantando (they were singing)—but it would not likely be used by native speakers when setting a scene or providing a backdrop. We'll look at the past continuous, aka past progressive, in a different lesson.]

More well-known to the average student of Spanish is the use of the imperfect to refer to a habitual or repeated action in the past. We saw an example of this in an earlier episode of Muñeca Brava when Milena says to Louise:


Sí, antes nos veíamos siempre.

Yes, we always used to see each other.

Caption 68, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta

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 And David Bisbal tells us about what used to (regularly) happen to him and his band while touring.

Y muchas veces la gente se confundía.

And several times people would get confused.

Caption 40, David Bisbal - Haciendo Premonición Live

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The other simple past tense in Spanish (called "simple" because its conjugations are only one word long) is known as preterite and is used for past actions that are completed and non-habitual. We find an example in a recent music video from The Krayolas:


Cuando yo la vi por primera vez me enamoré en un dos por tres

When I saw her for the first time I fell in love with her instantly

Captions 1-2, The Krayolas - Little Fox

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The singer uses the preterite vi (saw) instead of the imperfect veía (was seeing/used to see) because he is talking about a specific, completed instance of laying eyes on someone.


Read more interesting things about the imperfect on the 123TeachMe site and be sure to visit Spaleon to master the imperfect conjugation of all verbs.


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"mandar + infinitivo" vs. "mandar a + infinitivo"

Dime por favor quién me mandó quererte.

Tell me, please, who told me to love you [why should I love you?].

Caption 1, Romeo y Julieta - Episodio 59

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Romeo wants to know who in the world asked him to love Julieta: Dime, por favor, quién me mandó quererte.  "Tell me, please, who told me to love you." It's a rhetorical question. Nobody asked him to love her, so why should he?

Perhaps you are familiar with the verb mandar, meaning "to send." Many Spanish learners (and even many native speakers) are likely to be tempted to translate quién me mandó quererte as "who sent me to love you." But there is another meaning of mandar, which is "to order" or "to tell" (someone to do something), and this is the meaning that Spanish grammarians inform us comes into play when the construction is mandar + infinitive.

A Pedro lo mandé traer un litro de leche.
I told Pedro to bring a liter of milk.

If Romeo had wanted to say "Tell me who sent me to love you," he would have had to put an a before the infinitive, Dime quién me mandó a quererte. The construction mandar a + infinitive means "to send" (someone to do something).

A Pedro lo mandé a traer un litro de leche.
I sent Pedro to bring [back] a liter of milk.


Since the meanings are so close, it is only natural that in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world people use mandar and mandar + a indistinctly. In other words, they no longer differentiate between the two. Something similar is happening with deber and deber + de, remember? But it is a good idea to learn the rule while understanding that it doesn't always hold up. Like many other things having to do with rules and life!

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Deber / Deber De + Infinitive

When it’s over, it’s over. It’s like in Aleks Syntek’s song "Intocable" (“Untouchable”), where the poor guy was dumped and ends up consoling himself by singing:


Si en el juego del amor ahora soy el perdedor debo salir adelante

If in the game of love now I'm the loser I must move on

Captions 4-6, Aleks Syntek - Intocable

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In Spanish, when we want to express an obligation or a responsibility, we use the verb deber, properly conjugated of course, followed by the infinitive of the verb denoting the action that we must carry out.


Debo hacer mi tarea.
I must do my homework.

Debiste haberme avisado.
You should have warned me OR you should have told me in advance.

"Deber + infinitive" vs. "tener que + infinitive"


"Deber + infinitive" tends to imply a sense of *internal* obligation, whereas "tener que + infinitive," which is extremely common and very close in meaning, tends to convey a sense of *external* obligation.


Emilio debe levantar su ropa sucia.
Emilio should pick up his dirty clothes. (For his own good and that of the household.)


Emilio tiene que levantar su ropa sucia.
Emilio must/has to pick up his dirty clothes. (Or his mother will ground him.)

So any time you want to express a sense of responsibility or obligation, especially one that stems of an internal sense of duty, just conjugate the verb deber and then add the infinitive of the action verb.

Sé que no será fácil pero debo confesarle la verdad.

I know it won't be easy but I must confess the truth.


"Deber de + infinitive"


But hold on there for a minute! A little later in the song, Syntek changes the syntax around considerably by singing:


Debes confundida estar

You must be confused

Caption 13, Aleks Syntek - Intocable

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Actually two things are happening simultaneously, so you should be patient and bear with us! (¡Debes ser paciente y aguantarnos!)

First of all, the syntax. Normally, one would say, sing or write:


Debes estar confundida. 
You must be confused.

He turned the sentence on its head so this line Debes confundida estar would rhyme with the next one:


Terminar por terminar
To break up for the sake of breaking up


The second thing here is a finer point of Spanish grammar. When one wants to give the listener or reader the idea of probability, one also uses the verb deber, but before the infinitive, one should also include the preposition de. Technically, this is what Aleks Syntek should have sung:

Confundida debes de estar.
You must be [probably are] confused.

Denisse Guerrero makes the opposite error (adding "de" where she should have left it out) when she sings "Lo siento, niño, debo de partir" (I'm sorry, boy, I must leave) in line 27 of the Belanova video "Niño":


Lo siento, niño, debo de partir

I'm sorry, boy, I must leave

Caption 27, Belanova - Niño

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Strictly speaking, she should have simply sung "debo partir" (I must leave). But we are not out to pick on pop stars*!


A confusing matter

Many native speakers, both in Spain and Latin America, are not consciously aware of this difference and tend to sweep it under the rug, which is unfortunate because there is a huge difference between responsibility or obligation, and probability.

Check out these two sentences, which mean two different things:

Aleks Syntek debió de entender la diferencia.
Aleks Syntek probably understood the difference. (That is the most likely scenario.)


Aleks Syntek debió entender la diferencia.
Aleks Syntek should have understood the difference. (Because it was his obligation or responsibility.)

See what we mean? Let’s chalk it up to the poor girl’s unfortunate decision to leave him, when debió quedarse con él (“she should have stayed with him”). But there’s no accounting for taste.

*At least one pop diva wasn't daydreaming during her grammar lessons. Natalia Oreiro, as eloquent as she is lovely, correctly uses "deber de + infinitive" when she says:


Más que sentirme mal yo, imagínate cómo se deben de sentir ellos.

More than feeling badly myself, imagine how they must feel.

Captions 40-41, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

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That's it for today. We hope you find this lesson useful and we invite you to send us your comments and suggestions.

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¿Qué "quien" lleva tilde?

Let's drop in on our two lovely tourists, Juliana and Paola, enjoying their summer holiday in Spain:


Eh... y bueno, ahora estamos con Karla, con quien iremos a caminar y a pasear un rato.

Eh... and well, now we're with Karla, with whom we're going to stroll and walk around for a while.

Captions 20-21, Sevilla, España - Porteñas paseando

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Quien (who/whom) does not take an accent (a tilde) over the e when it is acting in its role of relative pronoun, as is the case here. Relative pronouns "relate" to a nearby noun or pronoun. In this case, quien relates to "Karla," "with whom" the girls are going to go for a stroll.
Fui ayer a la feria con tu prima, quien me dijo que está en embarazo.
Yesterday I went to the fair with your cousin, who told me that she's pregnant.

Once again, quien is clearly acting as a relative pronoun, referring to "your cousin,"
and so is written with no accent over the e.

So what about cases where the sentence contains no noun or pronoun to which quien refers?

Quite often, this is a sign that an accent is needed. The most common case is when quién takes on the role of "interrogative pronoun," which, as the name implies, involves a question, as when the powerful and beautiful Julieta Venegas ponders:


¿Quién nos dice que la vida nos dará el tiempo necesario?

Who says that life will give us the necessary time?

Caption 3, Julieta Venegas - El Presente

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And quién is utilized in indirect questions as well, as Juliana, back in Sevilla, demonstrates for us:


No sé quién irá a ver este video...

I don't know who will watch this video...

Caption 13, Sevilla, España - Porteñas paseando

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How would we treat quién if Julia were to have made her statement positive?


Yo sé quién irá a ver este video...
I know who will watch this video...


As it turns out, an accent is still required, even though most English speakers would not consider this an indirect question. You might look at this as a case where an indirect question is present, but it is being answered. The highly respected María Moliner dictionary calls this type of usage aclaratoria (explanatory). Note that there is still no noun or pronoun present to which quién is referring, so it is not behaving as a relative pronoun.

Like other interrogative pronouns, quién also retains the tilde when used in exclamatory way. (You will notice that these "quién" exclamations don't translate to English literally.)


¡Quién pudiera tener tus ojos!
If I only had your eyes!

¡Quién te escuchara todas las bobadas que estás diciendo!
If only the rest of the world could hear all the stupid things you are saying!


So, are there cases where quien doesn't relate to a nearby noun or pronoun, but still doesn't take an accent? Yes, when the "who" refers to some non-specific person, and so is taking on the role of "indefinite pronoun."


Quien mucho habla, no tiene nada que decir.
The person/a person who speaks a lot has nothing to say.


In this same vein, the phrase como quien means "like a person who" or "like someone who," sometimes best translated into English with "as if he/she [were someone he/she is not]":


Él contestó el interrogatorio como quien nunca hubiera conocido a la víctima.
He answered the interrogation like someone who (as if he [was someone who]) never had met the victim.



And, in another "indefinite" role, quien can also be used in place of nadie que (nobody that / nobody who) in phrases like this one:


No hay quien me detenga.
There is not anybody who can stop me. / There is nobody who can stop me.
[In English we can't have the double negative]

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The Age of Reason — PART 1 (tener + razón = to be right)

Poor Mili! She's caught between scheming Ivo and his grandmother, who have cooked up a plan to turn her from un desastre into a more refined woman. When Mili protests to the grandmother, she takes Ivo's side:



Mi nieto tiene razón. Vos sos una muchacha en estado... digamos... casi salvaje.

My grandson is right. You're a girl in a state that is... let's say... almost savage.

Captions 76-77, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 6

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Por primera vez, la mariposa tiene razón.

For the first time, the butterfly is right.

Caption 12, Muñeca Brava - 9 - Engaños - Part 5

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While tiene razón literally means "has reason," it is best translated as "is right."

Here's another example of tener + razón

Juan tenía razón, necesitábamos mejores atacantes.
Juan was right, we needed better forwards [soccer].

Sometimes you will see tener + la razón. The meaning is the same: "to be right."

En lo que respecta a mi casa, mi esposa cree que siempre tiene la razón.
As far as my house goes, my wife believes that she is always right.

But what if you literally want to say "he has reason," as in this example?

He has reason to believe Annie will get an A.
(perhaps she is smart, she got an A last semester, the teacher likes her, etc.)

In this case we want to employ either the phrase "tener razones para" or "tener motivos para":

Él tiene razones para creer que Annie va a sacar un A.
He has reason to believe that Annie is going to get an A.

Él tiene motivos para creer Annie va a sacar un A.
He has reason to believe that Annie is going to get an A.

Also, as we touched upon in a previous lesson, "tener por qué" also means "to have reason," but you will find it used mostly in the negative sense:

Él no tiene por qué creer que Annie va a sacar un A.
He has no reason to believe that Annie is going to get an A.


No tengo por qué quejarme.

I have no reason to complain.


No tengo por qué contarte mis secretos.

I have no reason to tell you my secrets.


No tienes por qué preocuparte.

You have no reason to worry.


On rare occasions, you will come across "tener por qué" used in the positive sense:

Ellos tienen por qué luchar.
They have reason to struggle.

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Emphasis in Spanish

"¡Órale, arriba, epa, epa, arriba, ándale!"


Sound familiar? Yes, it's the fastest mouse in all Mexico -- Speedy Gonzales! -- and he stars in A.B. Quintanilla's music video. But instead of racing around rescuing people, Speedy is tending to a broken heart in this fun video. Listen in:


Él nunca le teme a nada pero esta vez lloró

He is never afraid of anything but this time he did cry

Captions 12-13, A. B. Quintanilla - Speedy Gonzalez

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Poor Speedy! It takes a lot to make this brave mouse cry. In fact, Speedy's fans might not believe their fearless hero would actually shed tears, so the song adds an emphatic "" to get the point across. With "" placed in front of the verb "lloró", the sentence means "...he DID cry" (with the stress on the verb) or "... he did indeed cry." Believe it or not: He did.

As you know, "" with an accent over the "i" means "yes," as in the affirmative answer to a question. But "" is also widely used in Spanish to add emphasis to an assertion. In English, we make affirmations with "indeed," the auxiliary verb "do" and/or by stressing the verb.

Let's look at some examples to clarify.
Yo sí estoy trabajando en el proyecto final.
I AM working on the final project.
Carlos sí puede tocar la armónica.
Carlos can indeed play the harmonica.
A Nancy sí le gusta Miguel.
Nancy DOES like Miguel.

Note that the emphatic "" appears just before the verb in these affirmative statements in Spanish. In the English equivalents, we might stress the verb -- as indicated in all caps above.

For more examples of the emphatic at work, we turn to our friends in Mexico City. Yes,
Amigos D.F. are back, talking about kidnappings. Listen in:

.. puesha habido mucha inseguridad...
... well, there HAS been a lot of insecurity...

...O sea, como que hay interés de parte de las autoridades
... I mean, it's like there IS interest from the authorities


Yo tengo la esperanza que se reduzc'... se reduzcan este tipo de eventos, ¿no?

I DO have the hope that these kinds of events will be red'... will be reduced, right?

Caption 57, Amigos D.F. - El secuestrar

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When you listen to native Spanish speakers make affirmations -- like the ones above -- note that there's no stress placed on the verbs themselves. It's a rookie mistake for Spanish students to say something like "Yo sí TENGO la esperanza..." when native speakers would simply let the "" make the emphasis for them.

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Another interesting phrase to tumble from Landa Henríquez's lips is:


La mujer a los cuarenta, ya sabes está requete buena

A woman in her forties, you know she's very very hot

Caption 41, Landa Henríquez - Mujer Cuarenta

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"Estar buena" is "to be hot," as in sexually attractive. It's got little to do with the temperature on those sweltering Caribbean nights. (Meanwhile, the sand might be hot under foot, but you'd use "estar caliente" to describe that.) But what's "requete"? According to the authoritative Diccionario de la Lengua Española (by the Real Academia Española), "requete-," "rete-" or "re-" are prefixes that intensify the meaning of what follows -- like "very" in English, or "muy" in Spanish.



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-ero, -ista - Working with Suffixes

Abre el baúl, mueve la candela... -Slow... Señor Maquinitero.

Open the trunk, move the candle... -Slow... Mister Mix Master.

Captions 7-8, ChocQuibTown Interview - Eso es lo que hay

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In our exclusive interview with ChocQuibTown, we meet the band, including its leader ("líder"), bass player ("bajista"), and a guy named Slow, who describes himself as Señor Maquinitero. Señor what?? After watching Slow busy at work on turntables, with equalizers and computer cords all around, it makes sense to conclude that he's calling himself something close to "Mister Mix Master," as we translated in the captions. You see, una máquina is "a machine." The diminutive maquinita is "a little machine" or "a video game." Finally, the suffix "-ero" can be added to a noun to create a new word that describes somebody who works with that noun. Here are a few examples:


Yo iba a ser jugador de Millonarios o, en su defecto, ingeniero constructor de puentes.

I was going to be a Millonarios (soccer) player or if that falls through, a bridge building engineer.

Captions 30-31, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 3 - Part 6

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Aprendió todos los oficios: vaquero, mayoral, domador de potros.

He learned all the trades: cowboy, shepherd, horse-breaker.

Caption 18, Europa Abierta - Jassin Daudi - Con arte

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zapato (shoe) + -ero = zapatero (cobbler or shoe salesman)
vaca (cow) + -ero = vaquero (cowboy)
ingeniería (engineering) + -ero = ingeniero (engineer)

rap (as in rap music) + -ero = rapero (rapper, rap artist)

Knowing your suffixes helps decode words that you might not find in your dictionaries -- like maquinitero or rapero. But note that Spanish has more than one suffix for professionals or tradespeople. For example, a standard Spanish dictionary lists someone who works with machines (e.g. to fabricate parts) as un maquinista ("a machinist"). Some more:

bajo (bass) + -ista = bajista (bass player)
batería (drums) + -ista = baterista
taxi (taxi) + -ista = taxista (taxi driver)


Eh... toco... toco tarola... Batería, baterista. -baterista de Banda Pioneros.

Um... I play... I play the snare drum... Drums, drummer. -the drummer of Banda Pioneros.

Captions 4-5, Banda Pioneros - ¡Conócelos!

 Play Caption


A few nouns can have either -ero or -ista added to them to form new words, like the all important fútbol (soccer). Note that the definitions are slightly different:

Futbolero = soccer supporter
Futbolista = soccer player

But don't make sweeping generalizations about -ero vs -ista from the sporty example above. For example, a professional "bookseller" is a "librero" while a "book lover" or "book worm" is "amante de los libros," "un bibliófilo" or "ratón de biblioteca." Knowing the suffixes can help you along, but some memorization is required to get the details right (as in English).


Finally, we want to clarify: You might have noticed that the suffix -ista always ends in a, regardless of the gender of the person who's being described. With words like futbolista and taxista, you must rely on the articles to get the gender across. For example:

La futbolista = the female soccer player
Un taxista = a male taxi driver

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Ni - Not Even

Michael Stuart sings about a few things he either did not or cannot do. Listen in:


No te había ni conocido

I hadn't even met you

Caption 8, Michael Stuart - Me Siento Vivo

 Play Caption


No me puedo ni imaginar

I can't even imagine

Caption 19, Michael Stuart - Me Siento Vivo

 Play Caption


In both cases, we translated ni as "even," which may confuse some students who think first of ni as "nor," "or" or "neither" first and foremost. (For example: No tengo tiempo ni dinero para viajar, or, No tengo ni tiempo ni dinero para viajar translates as "I don't have the time nor the money to travel").

But the ni we hear in Michael Stuart's song is a ni as in ni siquiera that means "not even."

In the case of Michael Stuart's lyrics, we translate ni as "even" instead of "not even" because English doesn't do no double negative the way Spanish does. (Sorry! A lame attempt to illustrate our grammatical point.) If it did, we'd translate caption 19 from our song as "I can't not even imagine."

When there is only one (single) negative, the substitution of ni for no in a sentence not only changes the meaning from "not" to something more along the lines of "not even," but it tends to make the statement a bit more emphatic as well.


  • Desde que choqué, no manejo.
  • Since I crashed, I do not drive.


  • Desde que choqué, ni manejo.
  • Since I crashed, I don't [even] drive [at all].


To a native speaker, the second statement has an implied meaning along the lines of "It's not like I drive more carefully now, I don't even drive at all!" or "I don't even think about driving!"


  • Todos los días ella pasa frente a mí y ni me saluda.
  • Every day she passes in front of me and does not even say hello.


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Commands: Dos and Don'ts

¡No llores! ("Don't cry!") is a useful command to know -- especially if you're the parent of a small child or a serial heartbreaker. It's also the title of a featured song by singer Gloria Estefan.


Did you know that negative, informal commands are formed differently than affirmative ones? You see, once you add a no, informal commands require the form of the present subjunctive to be grammatically correct. That means an -ar verb like llorar ("to cry") takes the second-person subjunctive ending -es to become no llores as a negative command.

To help you learn this grammar rule through repetition, just listen to the opening of this song:


No llores, no llores, no llores, no llores...

Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry...

Caption 1, Gloria Estefan - No Llores

 Play Caption


Got that? If the singer wanted tears to fall, she might have ordered, "llora, llora, llora, llora..." ("cry, cry, cry, cry...").

Now let's look at a line of the song with a little more vocal variety:


No te preocupes, deja el llanto y escucha mi canto que dice así...

Don't worry, leave your crying and listen to my singing that goes like this...

Caption 29, Gloria Estefan - No Llores

 Play Caption


In this one line, we have three -ar verbs -- preocupar(se), dejar and escuchar -- in command forms. Did you notice that no te preocupes ("don't worry") takes the -es ending while the two positive commands -- deja ("stop") and escucha ("listen") -- simply end with "-a"? In the affirmative, informal commands tend to look like the third-person indicative, with some exceptions, for example:


Decir as a command is "di" -- as heard in caption 15 of this same song -- and hacer is "haz" -- as heard in caption 6. You can review informal command forms hereand/or here.

Note that the verb "dejar" can mean "to leave, to quit, to cease, to stop." So, Déjame en paz!" means "Leave me alone!" (or, more literally, "Leave me in peace!"). "Dejar de" + an infinitive means "to stop [doing something]." Here's part of the song that illustrates:


No llores... -Deja de llorar, deja de llorar, deja de llorar

Don't cry... -Stop crying, stop crying, stop crying

Caption 10, Gloria Estefan - No Llores

 Play Caption



And again:


Deja de sufrir y suelta los temores

Stop suffering and let go of the fears

Caption 12, Gloria Estefan - No Llores

 Play Caption


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Dieciocho motivos pa' dejarte

Catorce consejos pa' olvidar

Quinientas razones para odiarte

Saco la cuenta, y a sumar...

Captions 1-4, Ricardo Arjona - Quien



Dejar(te), olvidar, odiar(te), sumar...
Songs sung in Spanish seem to contain a lot of verbs in the infinitive. Maybe that's because infinitives are so easy to rhyme -- since all end in either -ar, -er or -ir. But we digress. Among the new content on
Yabla Spanish, there's a song by Guatemalan Ricardo Arjona. In it, we heard so many infinitives that we pored over the grammar rules to make sure we struck the right note in our translations. Below we'll highlight some of what we found along the way.

First, let's look at the translation of the first four lines of Arjona's song:


Dieciocho motivos pa' dejarte

Catorce consejos pa' olvidar

Quinientas razones para odiarte

Saco la cuenta, y a sumar...

Eighteen reasons to leave you

Fourteen tips to forget

Five hundred reasons to hate you

I do the math and I add...

Captions 1-4, Ricardo Arjona - Quien

 Play Caption


What do all the infinitives in bold have in common? OK, they are all -ar verbs. But what else? They are all preceded by a preposition -- specifically, para ("for, in order to") in the first three lines, and then "a" ("to"), above. As a rule, only the infinitive may follow prepositions in Spanish.

We've discussed the use of prepositions para and por (both meaning "for") before infinitives in
a past newsletter, if you'd like to review. (Loyal readers: Remember Chayenne's song "Por amor, por amar"?). With that concept already covered, let's move to the fourth line of our excerpt above.

"Saco la cuenta, y a sumar...?" What does a + infinitive mean? A ver ("Let's see") is the most famous example. You hear it all the time -- sometimes just to buy time in spoken Spanish. You also might h
ear ¡A bailar! ("Let's dance!") to get people going on the dance floor, or ¡A volar! ("Let's fly!") at a graduation ceremony. It's one of the many ways to express a command in Spanish.

The a + infinitive construction in our new song by Arjona gave us a little pause, because translating
a sumar as "let's add" sounded a little funny in English... But if you realize the singer is, in a sense, urging himself to crunch the numbers, the meaning falls into place.

Later in the song, we hear this line, twice:


Saco la cuenta y a restar...

I do the math and I subtract...

Caption 28, Ricardo Arjona - Quien

 Play Caption


As you've probably noted, for the English captions in these lines, we ended up choosing to keep the subject -- "I" -- throughout the sentence. But students who understand that a sumar and a restar are commands issued by the singer to urge himself on will have a better understanding of what the lyrics intend to communicate.


Can you find some more lyrics by Ricardo Arjona that use the preposition + infinitive construction? Here are a couple lines we were humming:


Dejaste minas en la casa

con objetivos de matar

You left mines in the house

with the objective of killing

Captions 33-34, Ricardo Arjona - Quien

 Play Caption


[Want a refresher on the other uses of the infinitives?

ThoughtCo has some nice explanations of infinitives in Spanish here]

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Se + Verb: De-emphasizing the Subject

From a kitchen in Puerto Escondido (Oaxaca, México), we learn in Spanish about making refried beans -- two useful lessons wrapped up in one video. Note that we're not just talking about refried beans and rice: These onion-y beans can be served with bread, tortillas, cheese, scrambled eggs, sausage, nothing, everything... the sky's the limit. In sum, we hear, as a general rule:


Bueno es una... se puede variar con todo lo que... lo que se le antoje.

Well it's a... you can vary it with everything that... that you wish.

Captions 29-30, Desayuno Puerto Escondido - Frijoles Refritos

 Play Caption



Those of you following the subtitles word for word may wonder why we chose to translate se puede as "you can." Here, "you" is really an impersonal, general subject; it could also be translated as "one can." You see, in Spanish, the construction se + a verb in the third person (singular or plural) is commonly used to deemphasize the subject. Here are a few examples:

Se habla español aquí
"Spanish is spoken here"

Se come bien en esta cuidad

" People eat well in this city"

¿Cómo se dice "Formula One" en español?
"How do you say "Formula One" in Spanish?"

As you can see in the above examples, the "se + verb" construction can be translated into English in a few ways: (1) With a passive construction; (2) using "people" or "one" as the unspecified subject; or (3) using "you" as the subject, but in an impersonal, generalized sense. The third choice -- "you" -- seemed like the most appropriate translation for our refried bean recipe.


Native English speakers, if they directly mirror the English passive voice, can come up with unnatural Spanish phrases. Instead they need to accustom themselves to the Pasiva con "se."

"Cars are repaired in two days."
Los autos son reparados en dos días. [Not natural in Spanish]
Se reparan autos en dos días. [Natural in Spanish]

"This bill is being discussed in the Congress."
Este proyecto de ley está siendo tratado en el Congreso.
[Not natural]
Este proyecto de ley se está tratando en el congreso. [Natural]

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Dicho: Better Said and Done

Just a few moments later in the Oreiro interview, Natalia Oreiro's father corrects himself with the phrase mejor dicho, which can be translated as "better said" or "rather." Note that dicho ("said") is the past participle of the irregular verb decir ("to say").


Es lo que te dije anteriormente, es ver a la gente, cómo...

It's what I told you previously, it's seeing the people, how...

Mejor dicho, ver a Natalia... cómo le llega a las personas ¿no?

Rather, seeing Natalia... how she reaches people, right?

Captions 80-83, Biografía Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

 Play Caption


We also hear dicho in our interview with the co-founder of Tu Rock es Votar Armando David. Armando says dicho y hecho ("said and done").


Y dicho y hecho, eso generó toda una controversia durante muchos meses en donde...

And said and done, that generated a whole controversy during many months in which...

Captions 67-68, Tu Rock es Votar - Armando

 Play Caption



Looking around at other dicho sayings, we found the catchy:

Del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho.
From the saying to the deed, there's a big distance.
(or "Easier said than done.")

By the way, another definition for dicho actually is "saying," as we noted previously in this space.

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Veintiún: Don't Stress--It's Called "Apocope"

One of the very first things a student of Spanish or any language learns is how to count. So, what comes after veinte (twenty)? Veintiuno! (Twenty-one!) Simple, right? So listen to this young man from Mexico introduce himself in front of the video camera:


Hola, ¿cómo están? Mi nombre es David del Valle. Tengo veintiún años y soy estudiante de negocios internacionales.

Hi, how are you? My name is David del Valle. I'm twenty-one years old and I'm a student of international business.

Captions 1-2, Amigos D.F. - Consejos para la calle

 Play Caption


So where did the "o" at the end of veintiuno go? As it turns out, "veintiuno" is on a short list of Spanish words that lose their last, unstressed syllable when they come before certain nouns. [To get technical, we're talking about "apocope," (apócope in Spanish) defined as "the loss of one or more sounds or letters at the end of a word" (Merriam-Webster).]


Remember, when nothing follows the number 21, every syllable is pronounced:

¿Cuántos años tiene David?

How old is David?

But when 21 is followed by a masculine noun or feminine noun that begins with a stressed "a" or a stressed "ha" sound -- it loses that final "o" and an accent mark is added to keep the stress on the "ú." For example:

David tiene veintiún años.
David is twenty-one years old.

El pobrecito tiene veintiún granos.
The poor kid has twenty-one pimples.

La caja tiene veintiún hachas.
The box has twenty-one axes.

When 21 is followed by a feminine noun that does not begin with a stressed "a" or "ha" sound, the final "o" in veintiuno becomes an "a," giving us veintiuna, for example veintiuna chicas (twenty-one girls) or veintiuna sillas (twenty-one chairs).

El libro tiene veintiuna páginas.
The book has twenty-one pages.

[Note: It is not at all uncommon to hear this rule as it pertains to feminine nouns being "broken" by native Spanish speakers. For example, the Spanish pop group "21 Japonesas" (21 Japanese Girls) is often called "Veintiún Japonesas" by broadcasters, much to the dismay of language watchdogs.]


The number "one" ("uno") and any other number that ends with "one" follows the same pattern, so it's "ochenta y unowithout a noun following the number, but ochenta y un años or ochenta y una reglas ("eighty-one rules"). [Note that no accent mark is needed for the u in un since there could be no confusion regarding which syllable to stress in the one syllable word.]

Other common words that drop endings before certain nouns include "ciento -> cien" ("100"), "bueno -> buen" ("good"), and "santo -> san" ("saint"). There is a more extensive list of apocopes in Spanish

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Lo: The Neuter Gender

Did you wonder why it's "lo mismo" and not "el mismo" or "la misma" in our examples above? The answer is that "lo" is the neuter article in Spanish and it is used to stand in for an abstract idea, concept, category or quality--in other words, something that's not a concrete object or person. One way to translate it is as "thing" -- but sometimes there's no easy translation.


Here are some more phrases that take "lo" before an adjective:

lo bueno = "the good part, what's good"
lo fácil = "the easy part, what's easy"
lo important es que... = "the important thing is that..."

lo mío = "(that which is) mine"
lo nuestro = "(that which is) ours"
lo más = "the most"
-- as in LoMásTv, of course!

Let's look at the refrain once more (with "lo" as our focus):


No es lo mismo una sospecha que saberlo de verdad

A suspicion isn't the same [thing] as knowing it for sure

No es saberlo de verdad lo mismo que una sospecha

Knowing it for sure isn't the same [thing] as a suspicion

Captions 7-8, Circo - La sospecha

 Play Caption


Now, you've noted that "lo" is standing in for something unknown in this song -- something that's neither masculine nor feminine per se. When "lo" appears before an adjective or adverb, it's easy to recognize as neuter. But, to complicate matters, "lo" can also be a masculine direct object -- as in, "Lo vi" ("I saw him"). The only way to straighten out whether "lo" is a masculine or neuter object in a sentence is via the context.

In our Circo song lyrics, the second "lo" (-- "saberlo") also stands in for something undefined. As the direct object of a verb, lo works in a similar way in these common phrases:

Lo siento = "Sorry" (or, literally, "I feel it")
No lo sabía = "I didn't know [it]"
No quiero saberlo = "I don't want to know [it]"

For more on the neuter, see

 > Spanish language > The neuter gender in Spanish


When we premiered the spacy music video Bienvenido by Sizu Yantra several months ago, we received this letter:

If someone had asked me to translate "if you find the world sickly" I might have come up with "si el mundo tú encuentras enfermizo"... could someone explain why the "lo" is in there? --DonJorge, San Mateo, CA


Si al mundo lo encuentras enfermizo, delirante y brutal...

If you find the world sickly, delirious and brutal...

Caption 2, SiZu Yantra - Bienvenido

 Play Caption


When lo is not busy working as a neuter article (e.g. lo importante, "the important thing/what's important"), or as an "undefined" neuter direct object (e.g. No puedo creerlo, "I can't believe it"), lo can also be found serving duty as the masculine singular direct object pronoun, just as la does as the feminine singular direct object pronoun.

¿Dónde encontraste el perro?
Lo encontré en la calle.

Where did you find the dog?
I found it on the street.

¿Desde cuándo has querido a María?
Siempre la he querido.

Since when have you loved Maria?
I have always loved her.

¿Quien rompió la mesa?
Juan la rompío.

Who broke the table?
Juan broke it.

As you can see, when we mention the direct object by name (e.g., el perro), it comes after the verb. When we replace it, the direct object pronoun (such as lo, or la) comes before the verb.

However, it is permissible in Spanish to mention your direct object by name AND put it before the verb, but if you do this you must include both the object and its pronoun. When we do this we provide more emphasis to the direct object, as Sizu Yantra emphasizes "el mundo" in the example above.



Al perro lo encontré en la calle.
I found the dog in the street.

La mesa la rompió Juan.
Juan broke the table.

Now's a good time to go back and take another listen to Bienvenido by Sizu Yantra! (it's in the "Music Videos" section).


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