Lezioni spagnolo


Tantos: Points

Tantos para allí para la sota.
"Points over there for the jack."

[Caption 18, La Brisca > En la Calle]


Spanish learners quickly pick up the word tanto in its widely used sense of "so much" or "so many." In this meaning the word is used both as an adjective, tanto dinero (so much money), and adverb, no deberías apostar tanto (you shouldn't gamble so much).

However un tanto is also "a point," and tantos can mean "points," as in points in a game or a competition. In our video example the speaker is referring to points in a card game.

El jugador marcó dos tantos y su equipo ganó el partido.
"The player scored two points and his team won the match."

Este equipo tiene dos tantos a su favor.
"This team is up by two points."

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Animarse: Would you dare?

¿Se animará Sebastián Estebanez a comer cucarachas?
"Will Sebastian Estebanez dare to eat cockroaches?"

[Caption 1, Factor Fobia > Cucarachas > part 2]


In Argentina, the reflexive verb animarse is frequently used to mean "to dare," as we see throughout our Factor Fobia series.

¿Se animará o no se animará Sebastián Estebanez?
"Will Sebastian Estebanez dare or not dare?"

[Caption 19, Factor Fobia > Cucarachas > part 2]

Animarse a más
Dare for more
(Pepsi slogan)

¿Te animás a saltar desde el puente?
Do you dare jump from the bridge?

Some parts of the Spanish speaking world are less likely to use animarse when they want to speak of "daring", but would more likely be using another reflexive verb,

For example Marley could have equally well have said:

¿Se atreverá Sebastián Estebanez a comer cucarachas?
Will Sebastian Estebanez dare to eat cockroaches?

Here's an interesting headline we
¿Se atreverá alguien a comprar Youtube?
Will someone dare to buy Youtube?

(The answer to that is now clear.)


Another use of animarse found throughout most of the the Spanish-speaking world is in the sense of infusing oneself with ánimo (spirit, life, energy). This can mean cheering oneself up or gaining courage/motivation.

¡Animate! Vamos a la fiesta.
Cheer up! Let's go to the party.

Al final me animé
a lanzarme al agua helada.
In the end I got up the courage to jump into the freezing water.

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Poder Soñar: Dream About

...vestía la ropa con la que tú sólo puedes soñar
"...she wore clothes that you can only dream about"

[Caption 10, La Mala Rodríguez > La niña]


In caption 10 of María's song La Niña we are told that the protagonist  wore clothes con la que tú sólo puedes soñar, "that you can only dream about." Soñar is the infinitive "to dream" and of course is related  to the word for dreams themselves, sueños. The tilde (~) over the n tells us that this n is pronounced with the "palatal nasal sound" or [ny], like what we hear when we say the English word "canyon" (which is, appropriately, cañón in Spanish). Soñar, therefore, is pronounced [sonyar].

Being a rapper and therefore a poet, it's no surprise that a few lines later she ends another line with a very similar looking infinitive.

...tu teléfono no deja de sonar
"...your phone doesn't stop ringing"

[Caption 13,
La Mala Rodríguez > La niña]

By dropping the ~ over the n in soñar we get sonar, which means "to sound" and also, as in this case means "to ring." Because there is no tilde over the n, the word is pronounced with the standard [n] sound we are used to in English. As so often happens, in this case the infinitive sonar is best translated into English using the present participle ("ing") form of the verb, which gives us "ringing."



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Trato: Deal

Tengo un trato, lo mío pa' mi saco...
I have a deal, what's mine is mine...

[Caption 3, La Mala Rodríguez > Interview]


In her rap, María Rodríguez tells us Tengo un trato, "I have a deal," and lo mío pa' mi saco, which literally means "mine for my bag," but which is a figurative way to say "what's mine is mine."

¡Es un trato hecho! Te paso a buscar a las ocho.
"It´s a done deal! I'll pick you up at eight."

Hagamos un trato: tú vas a la reunión y yo cuido a los chicos.
"Let´s make a deal: you'll go to the meeting and I´ll look after the children."

As in English, a deal, un trato, is related to but not exactly the same as un contrato, a contract, which usually implies a more formal, legal agreement, usually written.

We can informally make a deal, un trato, but whenever we are talking about more serious and legal matters, we´ll use
contrato, contract.



El abogado está redactando el contrato de mantenimiento.
"The lawyer is drawing up the maintenance contract."

El contrato que firmé me obliga a trabajar dos sábados al mes.
"The contract that I signed requires me to work two saturdays a month.

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Tras: After

Y tras la pausa, vamos a ver si se anima Sebastián Estebanez...
"And after the break, we'll see if Sebastian Estebanez dares..."

[Caption 47, Factor Fobia > Cucarachas > Part 1]


The word tras can be used to mean "after" in terms of the timing of a sequence of events.

Tras hablar con su padre, Ana dijo que no volvería a la casa.
"After speaking with her father, Ana said she would never return home."

Note that tras can also operate as a preposition used to indicate "behind."

Tu hermano está tras la puerta.
"Your brother is behind the door."

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Atrás: Ago, Backwards

In the program Factor Fobia, Marley uses two words that are very similar sounding, atrás and tras.

Hace unos meses atrás, me he ido a China
"Several months ago, I went to China"

[Caption 23, Factor Fobia > Cucarachas > Part 1]

As is evident, atrás can be used to indicate "ago," as in time past.

Muchos años atrás, él fue general.
"Many years ago, he was a general."

La última vez que nos vimos habrá sido unos seis años atrás.
"Last time we met may have been some six years ago."



Of course, atrás is also commonly used to indicate "backwards" or "towards the back."

Ella fue atrás.
"She went backwards."

Vaya hacia atrás, por favor.
"Go backwards, please.

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Llevar y Pasar: Spending time and time spent

Llevo ocho años en Estados Unidos.

"I've spent eight years in the United States."

[Caption 10, Maestra en Madrid > Nuria y amigo]


As we've mentioned, the verb llevar is used not only for "to carry," but also to speak about a duration of time.

Llevar is often used to imply that an action continues (or will continue in the future). In this case, Nuria tells us that she has spent eight years living in the USA (and she will continue to do so).

We might be tempted to translate the present tense conjugation llevo by also using the present tense in English -- "I spend" or "I am spending" -- but, to retain the same meaning as the Spanish, we use the present perfect, "I have spent..."

Llevo cinco horas viendo la televisión.

"I've spent five hours watching television."

("I've been watching television for five hours.")

Ana lleva cinco días estudiando español para su próximo examen.

"Ana has spent five days studying spanish for her next exam (and she continues studying).

Shortly thereafter Nuria informs us:

pero pasé casi diez años en Madrid haciendo mis estudios...

"but I spent nearly ten years in Madrid doing my studies..."

[Caption 12, Maestra en Madrid > Nuria y amigo]


The verb pasar, like llevar, can take on the meaning "to spend (time)", but pasar gives us the impression that the action is completed and does not continue. Nuria spent nearly ten years in Madrid, but she is no longer living there full time.

Ana pasó cinco días estudiando español.

"Ana spent five days studying spanish (and then she stopped)."

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Trucos: Useful tricks

Strolling down the historic streets of Burgos, Carlos and María Angeles (who goes by Angeles) tell us about their local nightspots. Pubs, they say, manage to circumvent local laws and keep customers through the night -- until about 8 AM -- by briefly closing and then opening again. Angeles explains:

Sí, son trucos. Pequeños truquitos de la picaresca española....
"Yes, they are tricks. Little tricks of the Spaniard craftiness...."

[Caption 54, Burgos - Caminando]

Trucos are "tricks." And, as we've explained before (scroll down), the ending -ito is diminutive, so truquitos are "little tricks." Saying pequeños truquitos is merely repetitive, for effect. It emphasizes that we're talking about "little, harmless tricks." Also: note that truquitos is spelled here with a 'qu' to preserve the hard 'c' sound in Spanish (like 'k' in English).



A related word in the quote above is the adjective picaresca, which means "rascally" or "picaresque" in the literary sense. Remember, picaresque literature was founded in Spain, "flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and continues to influence modern literature," according to Wikipedia's entry (in English) on the subject. The genre usually features the adventures of a roguish hero (un pícaro), living by his wits. You might note that Angeles -a Spanish history fan herself- utters the term picaresca with a giggle and a knowing appreciation of the form.

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Dolobu: Playing "al vesre"

To introduce this popular song, singer Marciano Cantero of Argentina's Los Enanitos Verdes ("The green dwarfs") shares the story of an encounter in Denver:

Me acerqué, así como haciéndome el dolobu.
I came closer, pretending to be a fool.
[Caption 11, Los Enanitos Verdes > Luz de Día]


¿Dolobu? Try to find that word in a formal dictionary. You can't. That's because dolobu is an inverted slang form of the slang word boludo -- which we wrote about some weeks back. For Argentines like Marciano and many of his fans, boludo ("jerk" or "fool") is such a popular taunt that they have little trouble recognizing dolobu as a scrambled version of it.

There's a term for this sort of scrambling slang in Spanish: Al vesre--which is al reves ("in reverse") in al vesre. Got that? Think of it as a form of Pig Latin.

As a general rule, scrambling syllables a la al vesre will shade a word with more negative connotations than its original meaning. For example, while boludo may be a friendly greeting between friends (as we noted in this space previously), dolobu is more often a straight-up insult. Here are some more examples:

Hotel ("hotel") becomes telo (with the silent "h" dropped to preserve its pronunciation) when it's a seedy, rent-by-the-hour, love motel.

A sifón ("siphon") becomes a fonsi to describe the sort of hooked nose reminiscent of a siphon

The already vulgar verb cagar ("to shit") becomes garcar (with an "r" added to keep it recognizably a verb in the infinitive), with roughly the same crude meaning.


There are countless other examples. For further discussions of al vesre slang, see these web pages:

Wikipedia > Vesre (in Spanish)

Wikilibros > Diccionario de Vesre
(in Spanish)

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Se trata: What it's about

This week we also offer the eighth installment of De Consumidor a Persona ("From Consumer to Person"), from Spain, a probing look at tough environmental questions. In this clip, we hear:


...[S]e trata de vincular la misma actividad...

...[I]t is about linking the same activity...

[Caption 21, De Consumidor a Persona > Part 8]

We've discussed the versatile verb tratar ("to treat" or "to attempt to") in this space before. But we didn't yet touch on the common construction tratarse de [algo] ("to be about [something]"), which is seen in the phrase above.

Here's a common question:

¿De que se trata?

"What is it about?"

And one possible answer:

Yabla Spanish se trata de gente interesante.

"Yabla Spanish is about interesting people."


Got that? Have a look at an interesting discussion of the phrase, found here.

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Farandulera: A Party Girl

When quizzed further on the subject of diversión ("having fun"), the highly educated Patricia uses more colloquial and informal terms, as appropriate. After reventones, another one that caught our eye was farandulera -- as in:

Y yo realmente soy muy poca así... farandulera
"And actually, I am not really that way... a party girl"

[Caption 6, Patricia Marti > Diversión y Ejercicio']


According to our Yabla dictionary, a farandulera is formally "a trickster, a person who plays tricks" or "a rogue, crook, swindler or cheat." It comes from the noun farándula, which traditionally means "the theater world." But note that in common usage in Latin America, la farándula is more like a group of people who are always out late at night, dancing and having fun. Latino paparazzi may follow la farándula to supply photos for magazines such as ¡Hola! and Caras (roughly equivalent to the US's People or Us Weekly). Many LatAm newspapers and websites have sections devoted to farándula (such as MSN Latino).

So, Patricia tells our cameras not to bother following her like some paparazzi. She's not una farandulera ("a party girl").

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Reventón: A big blowout!

Venezuelan Patricia Martí tells us about her home town of Coro, compared to other parts of the world:

Así como en otros países, que hay muchas discotecas y reventones y fiestas... aquí hay poco...

The way in other countries there are many discotheques and big blowouts and parties... here there are few...

[Captions 4-5, Patricia Marti > Diversión y Ejercicio]


Look up reventones -- plural of reventón -- and you'll see it's "a flat tire" or "a blowout." As you can see, Patricia uses the word in a looser sense to mean a sort of big social event, which, in English, we might also call a blowout.

To further build up your vocab, note that reventón is a noun related to the verb reventar, which means "to burst." The verb form can also be used in formal and informal speech. For example, to be formal:

Reventó un caño.

"A pipe burst."

And, in a looser, more figurative sense:

Su padre reventaba de orgullo.

"Her father was bursting with pride."

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—ote, —ota, and encajar: Too big to fit?

We learn many things in the sixth installment of actress Natalia Oreiro's biography. One is that she's not a Tom Cruise- or Winona Ryder-sized wee thing. She's tall -- for an actress. And that was actually a worry at first, her friend Rosa tells us. Here's a snippet of the interview:

Le dijeron… que era como muy grandote y no encajaba

They told her... that she was like too huge and would not fit

[Captions 9-10, Natalia Oreiro > Biografía > 6]


Rosa has a colorful way of speaking. The first of the two words we highlight above --grandote-- is formed from the adjective grande ("big, large") and the augmentative suffix -ote, which amplifies the meaning of grande, making our best translation "huge." Adding -ote or -ota "often adds a note of contempt to the idea of bigness," according to The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice (published by Passport Books).

Note that augmentative suffixes can be applied to pretty much any noun or adjective. Some augmented words merit their own dictionary entries, especially if they take on a special meaning, while others don't. For example, consulting a few sources, we found entries for:

ojotes (root word: ojos, "eyes"): "bulging eyes, goggle eyes"

palabrota (root word: palabra, "word"): "swear word, dirty word"

animalote (root word: animal, "animal"): "big animal; gross, ignorant person"

In Spanish, augmentative suffixes are not quite as popular as diminutive ones (-ito, -ita, -cito, -cita), but you will hear them peppering the language for emphasis. (For some more on diminutives, review our previous discussion of poquitito some weeks back. To learn more about suffixes in general, About.com has a helpful list.)


Moving on to the second word we highlighted above: It's encajaba, from the verb encajar. It, too, is a compound word, formed from the prefix en- ("in") and root word caja ("box"). The verb encajar means "to fit." It can suggest a physical fit (e.g., pieces of a puzzle fitting together), or a more thematic one (e.g., a transfer student fitting in to his new school). Rosa is using the second sense of the word, when she describes the fears that her friend wouldn't fit in to the acting world in Buenos Aires.

For more on compound words in Spanish, see: About.com's Colorful Combinations.

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Por, Para: Forever complications

The title of this week's new music video is the common phrase Para Siempre, meaning "forever." Take a look at how the phrase is used in the lyrics:

Puedo esperar para siempre
"I can wait forever"

Puedo durar para siempre
"I can last forever"

Quiero vivir para siempre
"I want to live forever"

Tiene que ser para siempre
"It has to be forever"
[Captions 6, 8, 14 and 16, Zurdok > Para Siempre]


Para here means "for." Para + an expression of time will indicate a point in time for which something is intended--or, a deadline. In the examples above, our singer is intending something to go on forever. Here are two less poetic examples of para in action:

Tengo tarea para mañana.
"I have homework for tomorrow."

Tengo que terminar este informe para la semana que viene.
"I have to finish this report for next week."

But astute listeners will catch that there's another way to say "for" in Spanish, also used in this song. Look at this line of our featured song:

O por toda una eternidad
"Or for all eternity"

[Caption 4, Zurdok > Para Siempre]

You see, por + an expression of time usually indicates the duration of something. For example:

Él trabajó por tres horas
"He worked for three hours"


Por la semana que viene, vamos a tener clases en el edificio viejo porque acá hay una reunión.
"(Just) for next week, we are having classes in the old building because there is a meeting here."
The difference is subtle when we're talking about the intention "forever" (para siempre) vs. the duration "forever" (por siempre). It's no wonder por and para take a lot of practice to get right for non-native Spanish speakers. But here's a hint to help you along: The phrase 'para siempre' is much more common than 'por siempre' in romantic song lyrics and on Valentine's cards. And even native Spanish speakers debate the por / para divide, as on this webpage.


So, if you want to tell someone that "it has to be forever"--and you want to sound like a native Spanish speaker in the process-- remember this catchy tune to remind you to say "tiene que ser para siempre."

(Final note: We've touched on por and para before, specifically looking at what happens when each is paired with the infinitive of a verb.)





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Nomás: Not only or no more?

How might a new airport affect the families living off the farming land of Atenco, Mexico? Listen to the interviews in this documentary for some strongly held opinions.

In the introduction, a listener might think they're hearing double:

Y no nomás el estado de México...

"And not only the state of Mexico..."

[Caption 6 ¡Tierra, Sí! > Atenco > 1]


No nomás ("not only") is not to be confused with no, no más ("no, no more"). In Mexico and parts of Central America, nomás as a single word can mean solamente or sólo (in English: "only"). It's distinguished from the two words 'no más' by their context.

But note that
'no nomás' probably sounds a little odd to someone from Spain, who would say "No sólo el estado de México," instead. (Loyal readers may recall we
previously discussed why sólo takes an accent mark when it means "only.")

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Ya: That's it, enough already!

... y ya

"... and that's it"

[Caption 28, Patricia Martí > Perspectiva Política > 1


In Spanish, ya is an adverb that packs a lot of meanings. It most commonly means "already" and "now." In informal, everyday speech, it's best understood in the context. For example, in a busy café, a waiter might ask you and your friend:

¿Ya pidieron?

"Did you all order already?"

No, no tenemos la carta todavía

"No, we don't have the menu yet"

Ya se la traigo

"I'll bring it to you now"

Note that fellow adverb todavía means "yet" or "still" But getting back to ya, here are two phrases you're sure to come across often:

Ya es la hora = "It's time [already/now ]."

Ya está = "It's here [already/now]."

Our interview subject ends the interview with a shrug and a "y ya," which is her way of telling us "enough already," or "that's it."

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Anoche: Last Night

In the music video A Casa by Javier Garcia, take a look at two lines of the catchy refrain:

Anoche fue muy fuerte...
Last night was very tough...
[Captions 7, 19, 23, 27 Javier Garcia > A Casa]

La noche fue muy fuerte...
The night was very tough...
[Captions 11, 31, 41 Javier Garcia > A Casa]


Note that anoche means "last night." Some non-native Spanish speakers think they should say 'la noche pasada,' but that would be akin to saying "the day before today" when you mean simply "yesterday" in English. So listen closely to distinguish 'la noche' -meaning, more generically, "the night"- from 'anoche' -meaning "last night"- as in this week's featured song.

Here are some more useful Spanish terms for the past:

Ayer = "Yesterday"
Anteayer = "The day before yesterday"

You'll note ante means "before," and so anteayer is really just a contraction of "[the day] before yesterday." Following the logic, can you guess what anteanoche means? Yup, "the night before last." (Isn't it convenient to have one Spanish word when in English we require four?)

Moving from days to weeks and years, the rules change a little. You see, there's no single word that means "last week." Instead, you have to say: '
la semana pasada.' And to say "last year," use el año pasado. But there is a word that means "yesteryear": It's antaño. Like "yesteryear" in English, antaño in Spanish refers to "times past"--not necessarily last year.

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Llevar: Shades of time

Meanwhile, in New York City, we catch up with Skampida's Gustavo and David on camera. They tell us what they've been up to:

llevamos cuatro meses in New York City...

we've been in New York City for four months"

[Caption 5, Skampida > Gustavo y David]

llevamos ocho años tocando...

"we've been playing for eight years..."

[Caption 10, Skampida > Gustavo y David]


You probaby know that the verb llevar means "to carry." But it has many other shades of meaning, one of which indicates the passage of time. Here are a couple more examples of llevar in this context:


¿Cuánto tiempo llevas aquí?

"How long have you been here?"


Llevo seis horas esperando

"I've been waiting six hours"

Note that you could substitute "haber estado," as in "to have been," to arrive at approximately the same meaning as llevar.

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