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The Spanish Verb Quemar: Don't Get Burned!

Are you familiar with the Spanish verb quemar and its reflexive counterpart quemarse? Although a common translation for both of these verbs is "to burn," they have many additional, nuanced translations, including some idiomatic ones, which today's lesson will explore.

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Quemar vs. Quemarse

In some cases, distinguishing between a verb and its reflexive form is a bit challenging. Most simply put, the verb quemar often means "to burn" in the sense of a subject "burning" on object, for example, when something has the ability "to burn" other things due to its high temperature or something or someone "burns" something else, as in the example: Yo espero no quemar la torta (I hope not to burn the cake). Let's take a look at some additional examples:

 

me encanta, eh... usar salvia que incluso tengo en mi... en mi jardín. La quemo y con eso recorro mi casa

I love to, um... use sage that I even have in my... in my garden. I burn it, and I go around the house with it,

Captions 31-33, Tatiana y su cocina Sus ingredientes "mágicos"

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Mili, quemá esa camisa por favor; que desaparezca;

Mili, burn that shirt please; it should disappear;

Caption 10, Muñeca Brava 46 Recuperación - Part 1

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In contrast, the reflexive form, quemarse, refers to an action that happens on its own or within itself and, thus, frequently describes someone or something "burning itself" or "getting burned":

 

No es nada, señora. -¿Cómo no me voy a preocupar si te quemaste? -¡Ay pero qué tonta!

It's nothing, ma'am. -How am I not going to be worried if you burned yourself? -Oh, but how foolish [I am]!

Captions 22-23, Yago 8 Descubrimiento - Part 4

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Note that an alternative translation for te quemaste in this sentence could be, "you got burned." Let's look at an additional example:

 

Este es el color, aproxi'... es como marrón dorado pero no muy oscuro porque si no, se quema la arepa.

This is the color, approx'... it's like golden brown, but not very dark because, otherwise, the arepa gets burned.

Captions 40-41, Dany Arepas - Part 2

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While se quema la arepa could also be expressed with the phrase "the arepa burns," the important thing is that, with the reflexive form, the process is happening by or to itself rather than with a subject performing the action on some object.

 

Non-Physical Meanings of the Verb Quemar

Like the English verb "to burn," the Spanish verb quemar also has meanings that extend beyond the literal meaning of physical burning. Let's take a look:

 

En... Y en las noches, eh, siento que, que todo el brazo me quema.

At... And at night, um, I feel that, that my whole arm burns.

Caption 13, Los médicos explican El tratamiento de las fracturas - Part 1

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Siento dentro de mí ese sentimiento Que es grande, profundo y me quema por dentro. Yo sé que es amor

I feel inside me that feeling That's big, deep, and it burns me inside. I know it's love

Captions 25-26, Alberto Barros Mano a mano

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So, we see that, like the word "burn" in English, the Spanish verb quemar can extend to intense physical and emotional sensations, which is why both the Spanish and English versions often appear in music and literature. 

 

Just like in English, the Spanish verb quemar can also mean "to work off," as in "to burn calories," etc.:

 

También ayuda a quemar grasas

It also helps to burn fat.

Caption 35, Cleer Hobbies

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And finally, as we can refer to "burning," or recording, a CD in English, we could also quemar un compact in Spanish. 

 

Alternative Translations for the Verb Quemarse

So, what about quemarse? In certain contexts, the Spanish verb quemarse can also mean to "burn down," in the sense of getting destroyed by fire. Let's take a look:

 

Y hace unos veinticinco años se quemó todo este edificio. 

And about twenty-five years ago this whole building burned down.

Caption 5, Yago 12 Fianza - Part 8

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In other cases, quemarse can mean "to burn out" or "blow" (as in a fuse), as in ceasing to work due to excessive friction or heat:

 

Se me quemó una lamparita... 

A light bulb burned out on me...

Caption 77, Verano Eterno Fiesta Grande - Part 10

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Yet another possible translation for quemarse in some contexts is "to go up in smoke," in the sense of catching fire:

 

porque cuando se escapan sueltan chispas que provocan que se queme la instalación eléctrica, y puede provocar un incendio. 

because when they get loose they give off sparks that make the electrical system go up in smoke, and it can cause a fire.

Captions 52-54, Club de las ideas La motivación

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So, as always, context is key to understanding the meaning of the verb quemarse since its meanings can vary. 
 

When Quemarse Doesn't Mean "To Burn"

If someone exclaims, "¡Te quemaste!" to you after a day at the beach, you might assume they are conveying to you that you've gotten a sunburn, and, in some countries, that might be true. However, this very same expression is utilized in other countries, like Argentina, to tell someone they got a suntan. We see this usage in the following clip, where the speaker refers to herself as quemada, which literally means "burnt":

 

A mí me encanta estar quemada pero este sol me recalienta la cabeza,

I love being tan, but this sun is overheating my head,

Caption 22, Muñeca Brava 30 Revelaciones - Part 10

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Then, in the following passage, the verb quemarse has been translated as "to grill" since it refers to the manner in which this fish is cooked, rather than it actually burning:

 

Es más higiénica y se quema el pescado pero no se cae la caña.

It's more hygienic, and the fish grills, but the cane doesn't fall.

Caption 16, Málaga La tradición de los espetos

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In some cases involving cooking, the English verb "to char" could be another possible translation. 

 

Quemarse as an Idiomatic Expression

We'll conclude this lesson by mentioning an idiomatic use of the verbs quemarse, which, in some cases, is a rough equivalent of the English "to blow it" or "screw up." For example:

 

Ahí te quemaste, hermano.

 That's where you screwed up, brother.

 

Me quemé en el examen de astronomia. 

I blew it on the astronomy test. 

 

Let's take a look at a similar example from the Yabla video library:

 

Hablando de quemar, cómo me quemé con Andrea, mi vida, por favor.

Speaking of burning, I really burned my bridges with Andrea, my dear, please.

Caption 28, Muñeca Brava 30 Revelaciones - Part 10

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As the speaker is referring to making a mistake with a particular person during an argument, the English expression "to burn one's bridges" adequately conveys this idea in this context. Interestingly, another manner of saying this in Spanish is quemar las naves (literally "to burn one's boats").

 

We hope you've enjoyed this lesson, which mentions just some of the many uses of the Spanish verbs quemar and quemarse. Can you think of more? Don't hesitate to let us know with your suggestions and comments

 

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