In Part I of this lesson we learned how to use singular direct and indirect pronouns to substitute direct and indirect objects. We will now continue with the plural forms.
For your reference, here's a table showing how the direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are identical except for the third-person singular and plural (him, her, it, them, formal you), and the second-person plural (you) forms:
You can clearly see that nos (us) is the first-person plural form of both the direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish. It follows that the pronoun nos (us) is used to substitute a direct object. Remember that we need a transitive verb in order to have a direct object. Here's a good example:
Y del cielo van cayendo cristales, nos lavan
And from the sky, crystals start falling, they wash us
Caption 9, Aterciopelados - Río - Part 1
But nos (us) can also be used as an indirect pronoun to substitute an indirect object:
Nos darán una degustación.
They will give us a tasting.
Caption 27, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 15
In the previous example, nos is the indirect object, while una degustación (a tasting) is the direct object. So, to substitute both objects you must say: Nos la darán (They will give it to us).
Now, the pronoun os (you) is used as a direct object by people who use vosotros (you), mainly in Spain:
Os esperamos pronto.
We expect you soon.
Caption 20, Viernes Santo en Tobarra - ¡La Cuna del Tambor! - Part 2
In the Americas, where people use ustedes (you) rather than vosotros (you), the direct pronoun is either los or las:
Los esperamos pronto.
We expect you soon.
But if, for example, we are talking to a group of only girls, we use las (you):
Las esperamos pronto.
We expect you (feminine plural) soon.
Now, to substitute the indirect object, Spaniards use the same pronoun, os (you):
Os doy un ejemplo.
I give you (plural) an example.
In the previous example, os is the indirect object, while the direct object is un ejemplo (an example), a masculine noun that according to our table should be substituted by the direct pronoun lo. So, if we were to substitute both objects, we would say os lo doy (I give it to you). If we were talking about una explicación (an explanation), then we would say os la doy (I give it to you). If we were talking about unos consejos (some words of advice), we would say os los doy (I give them to you), and so on.
In the Americas, on the other hand, the indirect pronoun is les (you) for both masculine and feminine forms. So, using a modified version of the previous examples:
Les doy un ejemplo, muchachos.
I give you an example, guys.
Les doy un ejemplo, muchachas.
I give you an example, girls.
What if we were to substitute both objects in the Latin American way? Can we say les lo doy? The answer is no, because, as we mentioned in Part I of this lesson, there's a special rulefor combining pronouns when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence: you must use se instead. So we must say se lo doy, muchachos (I give it to you, guys). If we were giving una explicación (an explanation) to a group of girls, then we would say se la doy, muchachas (I give it to you, girls). If we were talking about giving unos consejos (some words of advice) to a group of guys, we would say se los doy (I give them to you), and so on.
Finally, for the third-person plural, los and las are used for the direct object in both Spain and the Americas:
Yo doy ejemplos a mis alumnos / Yo los doy a mis alumnos.
I give examples to my students / I give them to my students.
Ella da explicaciones a las maestras / Ella las da a las maestras.
She gives explanations to the teachers / She gives them to the teachers.
And les is used for a plural indirect object, no matter whether it's feminine or masculine:
Yo doy ejemplos a mis alumnos / Yo les doy unos ejemplos.
I give examples to my students / I give them examples.
Ella da explicaciones a las maestras / Ella les da explicaciones.
She gives explanations to the teachers / She gives them explanations.
And now let's see how to substitute both direct and indirect objects in the previous examples. For the indirect object you have to use se instead of les because you can never say les los or les las:
Yo doy ejemplos a mis alumnos / Yo se los doy.
I give examples to my students / I give them to them.
Ella da explicaciones a las maestras / Ella se las da.
She gives explanations to the teachers / She gives them to them.
Finally, remember that Spanish also uses the third-person forms of the pronouns to address people formally. So:
Direct object, singular:
Yo la escucho, señora / Yo lo escucho, señor.
I listen to you, ma’am / I listen to you, sir.
Indirect object, singular:
Yo le preparo té, señora / Yo le enciendo el cigarro, señor.
I prepare tea for you, ma’am / I light up the cigarette for you, sir.
Indirect object, plural (in the Americas the familiar and formal forms are the same; in Spain the familiar is os and the formal is les):
Yo doy ejemplos a ustedes / Yo los doy a ustedes / Yo les doy ejemplos / Yo se los doy.
I give examples to you / I give them to you / I give examples to you / I give them to you.
Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are used to substitute indirect and direct objects. This lesson explores the proper way to do these substitutions using examples from our catalog of videos.
The direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are identical except for the third-person singular and plural (him, her, it, them) and the second-person formal (you) forms:
So, the pronoun me is used to substitute either the direct object, as in:
A Adícora me trajo el viento.
The wind brought me to Adícora.
Caption 7, Adícora - Venezuela - Darío y el Kitesurfing
Or the indirect object, as in:
Mi papá había ido a Nueva York en un viaje de negocios y me trajo unos discos.
My father had gone to New York on a business trip and brought me some records.
Caption 1, Carli Muñoz - Niñez - Part 2
In the previous example, me is the indirect object, while unos discos (some records) is the direct object, which is a plural masculine noun that according to our table is substituted by los (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: me los trajo (he brought them to me).
Now, the pronoun te is used to substitute either the direct object:
Y de este lado sólo te revuelca, pero del otro lado te come
And from this side it only pushes you around, but from the other side it eats you
Caption 37,38, Antonio Vargas - Artista - Comic - Part 1
or the indirect object:
Bueno y por eso te traje las aspirinas.
Well, and that's why I brought you the aspirins.
Caption 36, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 7
In the previous example, te is the indirect object, while las aspirinas (the aspirins) is the direct object, which is a plural feminine noun that according to our table is substituted by las (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: te las traje (I brought them to you).
For the third person of singular (him, her, it & formal "you"), though, Spanish uses lo, la for direct object and le for indirect object. So, for a feminine noun as cicatriz (scar) in the direct object position we use la (in genderless English we use "it"):
Porque tiene una pequeña cicatriz en el brazo que sólo yo conozco porque se la hizo jugando conmigo.
Because he has a small scar on his arm that only I know about because he got it playing with me.
Caption 41,42, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 2
For a masculine noun as pollo (chicken) in the direct object position we use lo (again, English uses "it"):
Ya tenemos listo aquí nuestro pollo.Y lo decoramos con un poco de ajonjolí y cebollín.
We already have our chicken ready here. And we decorate it with a bit of sesame seeds and chives.
Caption 17, Osos en la cocina - Pollo asiático - Part 1
Take note that lo and la are also used for usted (the formal you) in the direct object position. Lo is used for a noun in the direct object position that designates a male person (Morgan):
Morgan, la Señorita Victoria está enterada de su regreso y lo espera en el escritorio.
Morgan, Miss Victoria is aware of your return and awaits you in the study.
Caption 53, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta
Or la for a noun in the direct object position that designates a female person (let's say Ms. Gonzalez):
Señora Gonzalez, el doctor la verá a las diez.
Ms. Gonzalez, the doctor will see you at ten.
On the other hand, the indirect object uses a different pronoun le (him, her, it & formal "you"). So, for a masculine noun like muchacho (boy) in the indirect object position we use le:
Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave him
Caption 40,41, La Secta - Consejo - Part 1
And we would also use le if we were talking about una muchacha (a girl):
Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another girl that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave her
Equally, we use le if we are addressing someone formally:
Usted que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the words of advice your mother gave you
Got it? Now a test. How do you substitute not only the indirect object (muchacho, muchacha, usted), but also the direct object los consejos (the words of advise) in the previous examples? This is how:
Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave him
Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave her
Usted que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the ones your mother gave you
It's interesting to note how English can't use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in this particular construction because the wording is odd (it's somehow odd in Spanish as well). So let's simplify the example (the indirect object and indirect pronouns appear in bold):
Mamá dio unos consejos al muchacho / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the boy some words of advise / Mom gave them to him.
Mamá dio unos consejos a la muchacha / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the girl some words of advise / Mom gave them to her.
Mamá dio unos consejos a usted / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave you some words of advise / Mom gave them to you.
As you can see, it was now possible to use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in English. But did you notice that Spanish used se instead of le to replace the indirect object this time! Why is that? Well, that's because in Spanish there's a special rule for combining pronouns: when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence you must use se instead. So you can never say Mamá le los dio, you must say Mamá se los dio. We will learn more about this rule and continue with the plural forms of the direct and indirect pronouns in Part II of this lesson.
Did you know that the Spanish words sí (usually meaning "yes") and si (usually meaning "if") also have special uses that are for emphatic purposes? Let's look at some examples.
The word sí (yes) is used in a similar way to the repetition of the word "do" to express that someone indeed did something. For example, when someone says "you did not do it," one can reply, "I did do it." Well, in Spanish, you use the word sí (the orthographic accent is important here) in a similar way: a declaration such as tú no lo hiciste (you did not do it) can be answered with yo sí lo hice (I did do it).
Like the repetition of the word "do" in English, this use of sí has a purely emphatic effect. You could easily answer tú no lo hiciste (you did not do it) with a simple yo lo hice (I did it), but using yo sí lo hice (I did do it) is way more common. Let's look at some examples so you can learn how to throw in that emphatic sí in conversation:
Ah claro, ahora sí lo entiendo hija, ¡qué torpe soy!
Oh, of course, now I do understand it, girl. How clumsy I am!
Caption 57, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 7
The combination sí que is very common and is similar to the English phrase "does indeed”:
La cintura de Shakira, sí que tiene movimiento
Shakira's waist does indeed have movement
Caption 53, Alberto Barros - Cargamento Colombiano
The following is an interesting example. A literal translation of a tí sí te contamos is "you, we do tell," but a more accurate translation in English uses the future tense:
A ti sí te contamos, pero a nadie más.
You we will tell, but nobody else.
Caption 20, Guillermina y Candelario - El mundo de los juguetes perdidos - Part 1
On the other hand, the word si (without the orthographic accent), commonly used in conditional clauses, can also be used to indicate that you are affirming something very emphatically. It's not always easy (or necessary) to translate it into English, but in the following examples we added "indeed”:
Te tengo que pedir un favor. ¡Sí, loco, otro más! Si estás para eso, ¿no?
I have to ask you a favor. Yes, dude, another one! That's [indeed] what you are for, right?
Caption 27, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones - Part 4
¿Puedo? -Claro, si te dije que son pa' los dos.
May I? -Of course, I [indeed] told you that they are for both of us.
Caption 58, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 9
In the following example, a more literal translation of si me encanta could be "indeed, I love it" or just "I do love it," but we used "I'd love to" (me encantaría in Spanish), which better suits the context:
Ah, cuando quieras, no, si me encanta. ¿Yo te di mi teléfono, no?
Oh, whenever you want, no, I'd love to. I gave you my phone [number], right?
Caption 27, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 3
The word si as an emphatic affirmation is also commonly used to express a protest or to contradict someone. In this case it's equivalent to the English word "but”:
Si tú estás igualita. -Si yo estoy más fresca que una lechuga.
But you are exactly the same. -But I'm fresher than a [head of] lettuce.
Caption 8-9, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 6
Si yo lo estoy diciendo hace rato ya, hombre.
But I've been saying that for a while already, man.
Caption 71, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 4
No, no, no, si yo ya me voy. No, no, quédese, quédese. -¿Seguro?
No, no, no, but I'm already leaving. No, no, stay, stay. -[Are you] sure?
Caption 4, Muñeca Brava - 3 Nueva Casa - Part 10
If you have spent some time learning and listening Spanish, you have probably noticed that many common Spanish words have cognates in the fancy English vocabulary. This happens because Spanish is a romance language, that is, a language that directly evolved from vulgar Latin (and was even later enriched with classic Latin during the Middle ages when Spanish became a written language), while approximately only 29% of the English vocabulary comes from Latinate sources.
That's the reason why it's very common for a Spanish speaker to use verbs like estrangular (to choke) or canícula(dog days, midsummer heat) in everyday speech. In fact, similar words exist in English (to strangulate and canicule) but they are cultisms that are way too fancy to be used in everyday situations. On the other hand, and quite surprisingly, very often using these words is the only alternative you have to express something in Spanish. That's the case for estrangular (to strangulate, to choke) and canícula (doy days); really, there is no better, more common way to express such ideas in Spanish than using those words.
Words that are used to describe diseases and medical terms in Spanish are also great examples. In Spanish it's common to say (and make the distinction between) el oculista (oculist) and el optometrista (optometrist), while an expression like "el doctor de ojos" (the Eye doctor) may be understood, but sounds very much like toddler talking to Spanish speakers. And there are even weirdest examples, some of which may sound like tongue twisters for you. Take for example the common otorrinolaringólogo (ear nose and throat doctor, otorhinolaryngologist). But let's try to find examples from our catalog.
In Spanish, the verb aliviar means either "to get better" or "to cure," or "to alleviate" and it's just as common as the verb curar (to cure). In English the verb to alleviate is much more fancy, and it's only used in certain contexts, usually very formal or written speech:
Estoy enfermo, espérense a que me alivie.
I'm sick; wait until I get better.
Caption 19, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 2
The nouns cicatriz (scar) and cicatrización (scar healing) as well as the verb cicatrizar (to heal a scar) are common in Spanish, while "cicatrix," "to cicatrize" or "cicatrization" are less common in English:
Tiene la cicatriz, vivió en Misiones y tiene la misma sonrisa de Franco.
He has the scar, he lived in Misiones and he has the same smile as Franco.
Caption 16, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 4
The adjetives primordial and esencial are both commonly used in Spanish, usually as synonyms. English, on its part, does have the word "primordial," but the use of "essential" is more common in everyday speech:
Es importante, primordial, muy necesario.
It's important, essential, very necessary.
Caption 85, Bersuit Vergarabat - EPK - Part 2
Another example is the word subterráneo ("subterranean", but most commonly "underground"):
Contaminación de las aguas superficiales o subterráneas
Pollution of surface and underground waters
Caption 7, 3R - Campaña de reciclaje - Part 2
In Spanish the word docente is both an adjective meaning "teacher-related" and a noun that is synonymous with maestro (teacher). It's a common word in and it's used in many Spanish expressions. In contrast, the English word docent is far less common and, it has a slightly different meaning.
Es más, es que no se entiende la labor docente de otra manera.
Moreover, the thing is that the teaching job should not be understood in any other way.
Caption 13, Club de las ideas - La motivación - Part 1
The list goes on and on. Let's see one more example. In Spanish it's common to use the noun equilibrio (balance) and the verb equilibrar (to balance), both words are just as common as balance (balance) and balancear ("to balance", but also "to swing"). In contrast, English reserves the use of "equilibrium" and "to equilibrate" for scientific or highbrow language.
Tú eres todo lo que me equilibra.
You're everything that balances me.
Caption 27, Calle 13 - Un Beso De Desayuno
Our previous lesson focused on the proper use of reflexive pronouns. We discussed when and how to use them and how the meaning of what we say is affected by them. We also mentioned that there are some Spanish verbs that can be used with or without reflexive pronouns, and that the verb comer (to eat) and other "ingestion verbs" are excellent examples.
In theory, verbs like comer (to eat), tragar (to swallow), beber and tomar (to drink), etc., can either be used with or without reflexive pronouns. For example:
Yo como la zanahoria = Yo me como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot)
Nosotros bebimos el tequila = Nosotros nos bebimos el tequila (We drank the tequila)
Tú tomas la leche = Tú te tomas la leche (You drink the milk)
Ella traga la pastilla = Ella se traga la pastilla (She swallows the pill)
However, this equivalence is not 100% accurate. Most Spanish speakers would more likely use the second option with reflexive pronouns than the first one without them. Saying yo como la zanahoria may not be wrong, but it's surely more common to say yo me como la zanahoria.
Cuando te comes una seta venenosa...
When you eat a poisonous mushroom...
Caption 23, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
Nos bebemos la Coca Cola
We drink the Coca-Cola
Caption 85, Zoraida en Coro - Artesanos
On the other hand, sometimes you cannot use a reflexive pronoun at all—for example, when you don't use an article before the direct object. There's a difference between saying yo como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot) and yo como zanahoria ("I do eat carrot" or "I'm eating carrot"), right? But you can never say yo me como zanahoria.
So, you can say yo bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol), but it's more normal to say yo me bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol). You can also say yo bebo alcohol ("I do drink alcohol" or "I'm drinking alcohol"), but you can never say yo me bebo alcohol. Got it?
What about if we use indefinite articles (un, una, unos, unas)? Well, it's the same. You can't use reflexive pronouns when you don't use an article before the direct object. For starters, and by definition, you cannot use indefinite articles before nouns that describe an undetermined amount of something, like leche (milk). You don't say tomé una leche (I drank a milk)—you say tomé leche (I drank milk). But with countable nouns like pastilla (pill), you can say una pastilla (a pill) and la pastilla (the pill). So in Spanish you could say ella traga una pastilla , but it's even better to say ella se traga una pastilla (both meaning "she swallows a pill"). What you can never say is ella se traga pastilla. Here's a challenging example that combines the use of tragar (to swallow) with a reflexive pronoun, the reflexive verb pudrirse (to rot), and a pronoun (lo) playing the role of direct object:
Lo que uno se traga se pudre.
What one swallows rots [Keeping things to yourself is bad for you].
Caption 15, Yago - 8 Descubrimiento - Part 1
To make it simpler, you can substitute the pronoun lo with a proper direct object. Since this is a figure of speech, let's say we are talking about miedo (fear). The expression could be: el miedo que se traga se pudre (the fear one swallows rots). So it's two sentences combined: uno se traga el miedo (one swallows fear) / el miedo se pudre (fear rots).
Now, a tricky question for you. Is it correct to say ella traga pastilla, since we just said that yo como zanahoria (translated either as "I do eat carrots" or "I'm eating carrot”) is correct? The answer is no, it's not correct to say ella traga pastilla. This is because nouns like zanahoria (carrot) can be used either as a countable noun (if you use an article) or an uncountable noun (if you don't use an article). But the singular pastilla (pill) is always a countable noun in Spanish: it's always one pill. The only way to refer to an indeterminate amount of pills in Spanish is by using the plural pastillas (pills). So in Spanish you could say ella traga unas pastillas, but it's even better to say ella se traga unas pastillas (both meaning "she swallows some pills"). But you don't say ella se traga pastillas.
If you want to express that a certain girl does swallows pills regularly, you could say ella traga pastillas. That's correct, but you must know that, just like in English, Spanish prefers the use of the verb tomar (to take) for this particular expression: ella toma pastillas (she takes pills). But you can correctly say yo trago miedo ("I swallow fear" or "I'm swallowing fear") because miedo (fear) is an uncountable noun.
You also can't use a reflexive pronoun if you don't use a direct object at all with these verbs—for example, when you just use an adverb with the verb instead of a direct object. You can say yo bebo hoy (I drink today) but you can't say yo me bebo hoy (that would mean something that doesn't make sense, unless you are writing poetry: "I drink myself today").
Los españoles comen a las dos de la tarde.
Spaniards eat at two in the afternoon.
Caption 6, La rutina diaria - La tarde
Another example: you can say nosotros comemos despacio (we eat slowly), but you can't say nosotros nos comemos despacio (unless you mean "we eat each other slowly"!). You can use reflexive pronouns again if you add a direct object. The second option in the following examples is the more common:
Yo bebo rápidamente el tequila = Yo me bebo rápidamente el tequila (I drink the tequila quickly).
Nosotros comemos despacio el atún = Nosotros nos comemos despacio el atún (We eat the tuna slowly).
Do you remember reflexive verbs? A verb is reflexive when the subject in a sentence performs an action on itself, in other words, when the subject and the object are the same. In Spanish reflexive verbs use reflexive pronouns (me, te,se, nos, etc.), which play the role of direct object in the sentence:
Yo me veo en el espejo.
I look at myself in the mirror.
Since they involve a direct object, reflexive verbs are also transitive verbs (verbs that take a direct object). Many transitive verbs can be transformed into reflexive verbs. Peinar (to comb), for example, is a classic example of a transitive verb:
Yo peino a mi bebé
I comb my baby's hair
Caption 21, Lecciones con Carolina - Verbos reflexivos
that can also be transformed into a reflexive verb, peinarse:
Yo me peino
I comb my hair [literally, "I comb myself"]
Caption 20, Lecciones con Carolina - Verbos reflexivos
On the other hand, intransitive verbs are action verbs that, unlike transitive verbs, don't take a direct object receiving the action. Examples are llegar (to arrive), estornudar (to sneeze), morir (to die), caer (to fall), etc. Consequently, these verbs can't really be transformed into reflexive verbs. So why do we always hear Spanish speakers using reflexive pronouns with these verbs? For example:
Si me caigo, me vuelvo a parar.
If I fall, I stand up again.
Caption 8, Sondulo - Que te vaya mal
Obviously, me caigo doesn't mean “I fall myself." It just means "I fall," because the verb caer[se] is part of a group of verbs that use reflexive pronouns but are not reflexive verbs. These verbs are called verbos pronominales, verbs that are typically conjugated using a reflexive pronoun that doesn't have any syntactic function. It's just the way these verbs are typically constructed! Another example is the verb morir (to die). Me muero doesn't mean "I die myself"; it just means "I die." The following example uses it as part of an idiomatic expression:
No hablemos más de comida que me muero de hambre.
Let's not talk about food since I'm starving [literally, "I'm dying of hunger"].
Caption 35, Salvando el planeta Palabra - Llegada
Now, while reflexive verbs like peinarse always need to be used with reflexive pronouns, verbs like caer (to fall) and matar (to kill) can be used either as pronominales (caerse and morirse), or as simple intransitive verbs (caer, morir), that is, without the reflexive pronouns. Therefore, the following expressions are also correct (though maybe just a little less common in everyday speech):
Si caigo, me vuelvo a parar.
If I fall, I stand up again.
No hablemos más de comida que muero de hambre.
Let's not talk about food since I'm starving [literally, "I'm dying of hunger"].
The really tricky aspect of reflexive pronouns is how to use them, either with verbos reflexivos like peinarse or verbos pronominales like caerse and morirse. Typically, you will use the pronoun before the verb, for example me caigo (I fall), te peinas (you comb your hair). But how do you use reflexive pronouns in a sentence that uses more than one verb, for example an auxiliary verb such as the verb ir (to go) combined with a verb in the infinitive?
Voy a caer
I'm going to fall
Juan va a morir
Juan is going to die
Well, the rule is simple. You either use the reflexive pronoun right before the auxiliary verb:
Me voy a caer
I'm going to fall
Juan se va a morir
Juan is going to die
Or you use it after the verb in infinitive as a suffix:
Voy a caerme
I'm going to fall
Juan va a morirse
Juan is going to die
And the same rule applies to reflexive verbs like peinarse:
Ella se va a peinar = Ella va a peinarse
She is going to comb her hair
In fact, this rule applies to all pronouns, even pronouns that are not reflexive (that are used to substitute the direct object in any given sentence), like lo, la, los, las, and te:
Como sandía / La como
I eat watermelon / I eat it
Voy a comer sandía
I'm going to eat watermelon
Voy a comerla = La voy a comer
I'm going to eat it
Coincidentally, comer (as well as other "ingestion verbs") is an excellent example of a verb that is transitive in nature but that is also used as a pronominal verb with reflexive pronouns. For example, it’s also correct to say voy a comérmela (I’m going to eat it).
Even though there are plenty of websites devoted to explaining the difference between te amo and te quiero (both meaning "I love you" in English), learning how to use these expressions remains a difficult task for many English speakers. Why is that?
For starters, these phrases deal with perhaps one of the most complicated feelings human beings can ever experience. All things considered, you could say that a language that offers only two verbs to express this feeling is, in fact, very limited! And if you believe Spanish is just complicating things by using both amar and querer, consider that there are at least 11 words for love in Arabic! Is it really that surprising, considering the many ways, modes, and interpretations of love that there are out there?
So, generally speaking, the difference between te amo and te quiero is that the first one is more serious in nature, while the second one is more casual. You have also probably heard or read that te amo is romantic in nature and te quiero is not, but this is not really accurate. The phrase te quiero is used all the time to express romantic love, and is even perhaps more common than saying te amo.
What is the difference, then? Well, there is an added solemnity to saying te amo that is somewhat equivalent to the act of kneeling to propose marriage: some people may see it as too theatrical, affected, and old-fashioned, while others may see it as the ultimate proof of how deep and committed the declaration of love is. For many, using te amoas a declaration of romantic love is very telenovela-like, but for others, it's just the right way to do it. Our new series“Los Años Maravillosos” comically illustrates this duality of perspectives:
Te amo. -Yo también te amo. -¿Cómo podían amarse? ¡Se habían conocido a la puerta del colegio hacía cinco minutos!
I love you. -I love you too. -How could they love each other? They had met at the school door five minutes ago!
Caption 47, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1 - Part 5
Te amo is also used very often to express romantic love in songs and poetry:
Te amo dormida, te amo en silencio
I love you asleep, I love you in silence
Caption 49, Documental de Alejandro Fernandez - Viento A Favor - Part 2
On the other hand, te quiero is a more relaxed way to express either romantic love or affection to family, friends, pets, etc.
Confesarte que te quiero, que te adoro, que eres todo para mí
To confess to you that I love you, that I adore you, that you're everything to me
Caption 3, Andy Andy - Maldito Amor - Part 1
Te quiero mucho (I love you so much) is something you can and must say to your kids, your partner, your family, and yourself on a regular basis:
¿Sabes lo que yo quiero hacer? Pasar mis días con mi abuelito. -¡Qué maravilla! -Te quiero mucho.
Do you know what I want to do? To spend my days with my grandpa. -How wonderful! -I love you a lot.
Caption 22, Yago - 4 El secreto - Part 11
But when can't you say te quiero? Well, here's an interesting tidbit. Spanish speakers have long used the distinction between te amo and te quiero* to test the commitment of their lovers. So learn this: If your lover says to you te quiero, you can answer yo también te quiero. (Of course, you also have the option to turn up the tables and solemnly answer yo te amo, if you are up for it.) But if your lover says to you te amo, be careful! She or he probably means serious business. You either answer with a reciprocal te amo, or answer with te quiero (which will likely be interpreted as, "Whoa! I want to go slower").
In Spanish, when someone says te amo to profess romantic love, there's always this conscious choice of putting more emphasis, adding more commitment, giving more importance to the expression. It could come out of true emotion, of course, but it could also be a calculated move to manipulate someone. If you are familiar with the plot of “Yago Pasión Morena,” you know which is which in the following situation:
Yo también, mi amor. -Te amo. -Yo también te amo, te reamo.
Me too, my love. -I love you. -I also love you, I love you so much.
Caption 2-3, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 2
So you definitely don't want to be saying te amo lightly to declare romantic love. However, different contexts mean different rules. For example, since expressing your love to your dad is definitely not in the context of romantic love, maybe you can use te quiero on a regular basis and use te amo, papá on his 70th birthday.
Moreover, in some situations, using the verb amar is more natural than using querer. This is especially true when you are talking about your love for inanimate or abstract things, like nature, a musical genre, etc. Why? Well, because the verb querer literally means "to want," while amar is exclusively used to express affection. Strictly speaking, you can also use querer, though it would sound a little odd (it would sound a bit as if you are professing romantic love for an object or an abstract thing). Anyway, if you decide to use querer to express your affection to something other than an animate being, make sure to always use the preposition a (for) plus an article (el, la, los, las, etc.) or a possessive adjective (mi, su, tu, etc). Study the difference between the following examples and their translations. The first option is the most natural and common, the second one is possible but uncommon, and the third one means something totally different:
Voy de vacaciones al campo porque amo a la naturaleza / quiero a la naturaleza / quiero la naturaleza.
I'm going on a vacation to the countryside because I love nature / I love nature / I want nature.
Gertrudis realmente ama a la literatura / quiere a la literatura / quiere literatura.
Gertrudis really loves literature / loves literature / wants literature.
Los niños aman a su hogar / quieren a su hogar / quieren su hogar.
The kids love their home / love their home / want their home.
Amo al jamón ibérico / Quiero al jamón ibérico / quiero jamón ibérico.
I love Iberian ham / I love Iberian ham / I want Iberian ham.
Finally, there is another instance is which you must use amar instead of querer: when you want to express love that is strictly spiritual in nature. So you say amar a dios (to love God), amar al prójimo (to love one’s neighbor), amara la creación (to love God's creation), etc. Again, it's possible to use querer in such contexts as well, but it's not customary and it would sound odd. Here's a nice example:
Hermano gato yo te amo no te mato
Brother cat, I love you, I don't kill you
Caption 19-20, Aterciopelados - Hijos del Tigre
*For advanced learners, here’s a very famous song that refers to the difference between amar and querer out of spite for an unrequited love.
Here's an easy-to-remember expression: sudar la gota (literally, “to sweat the drop”), which means "to worry." Sometimes you may also hear sudar la gota gorda (to sweat the fat drop)! We used a somewhat similar English expression to translate the following example:
Suda la gota cuando ya no la encuentra
He sweats heavily when he doesn't find her anymore
Caption 12, La Vela Puerca - Se le va - Part 1
Another funny Spanish expression that also exists in English and is associated with distress is llorar lágrimas de cocodrilo (to cry crocodile tears). It's a funny, kind of ironic expression that is used to indicate that someone is crying without really feeling sad, maybe just a little theatrically. The phrase derives from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey!
No le creo nada, Ivo. Son lágrimas de cocodrilo.
I don't believe anything from him, Ivo. They are crocodile tears.
Caption 37-38, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 2
Talking about not believing, have you heard the expression ojos que no ven corazón que no siente (eyes that do not see, a heart that does not feel)? It's very close to the English expression "what the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve over." It's very common to hear Spanish speakers abbreviating this expression:
Igual, ojos que no ven...
Anyway, eyes that don't see...
Caption 26, Kikirikí - Agua - Part 2
Let's see a few more expressions that involve animals. It's no surprise that there are a large number of expressions involving monos (monkeys) and other types of apes. But Spanish uses a few that are really puzzling. For example, the expression dormir la mona (literally, "to put the female monkey to sleep"), which means "to sleep off a hangover”:
Tiene que hablar con la patrona y decirle que sus empleadas duermen la mona.
You have to talk with the boss and tell her that her employees are sleeping off their hangovers.
Caption 7, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 6
Una monada (a monkey-like thing), on the other hand, is used to describe something as very cute or beautiful:
Mira qué monada.
Look what a beauty.
Caption 5, Reporteros - Caza con Galgo - Part 2
What about expressions that refer to parts of animals? Spanish uses many with the word pata (paw). For example, meter la pata (to stick one's paw into something) means “to make a mistake.” The closest English equivalent is "to put your foot in your mouth," which means to say or do something tactless or embarrassing:
¡No! Pero si eso ocurre en cualquier momento metes la pata.
No! But if that happens, at any moment you'll put your foot in your mouth.
Caption 49, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 5
In Argentina and Chile, hacer la pata (to do the paw) means “to intercede for someone,” usually with sweet-talking:
¿Me hacés la pata con papá? -¿Para qué?
Will you give me a hand with dad? -What for?
Caption 63, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 3
Instead of hacer la pata, Mexicans use either hacer la pala (literally, “to do the shovel”), which means to sweet-talk someone in order to intercede for someone else, or hacer la barba (literally, “to do the beard”), which is used to describe someone who acts pleasantly with a superior in order to obtain his or her favor. English translations vary:
Julia le hace la barba al maestro para sacar buenas calificaciones.
Julia butters the teacher up so she gets good grades.
Hazme la pala con tu amiga para que acepte salir conmigo.
Convince your friend for me so she agrees to go out on a date with me.
Very different is echar flores or tirar flores (to throw flowers at someone), which means “to compliment,” “to say nice things about somebody”:
Gracias, te agradezco mucho las flores que me estás tirando.
Thanks, I thank you very much for your compliments [literally, "the flowers that you are throwing at me"].
Caption 12, Muñeca Brava - 45 El secreto - Part 1
Let's study and learn some Spanish expressions by reviewing the way real Spanish speakers use them in real situations. Our always-growing catalog of Spanish videos contains many examples!
Ni a sol ni sombra (literally "neither under the sun nor the shade") is a lively expression that means "no matter what" or simply "never." It's very similar to the English expression "rain or shine”:
¡Do you remember the shawl from "La Negra" Cardoso? -¿La Negra Cardoso? Oh sí. No se lo sacaba ni a sol ni a sombra.
Do you remember "La Negra" Cardoso's shawl? -"La Negra" Cardoso? Oh, yes. She didn't take it off, rain or shine.
Caption 48-49, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 6
It's important to note that this Spanish expression may be used in situations in which English wouldn't necessarily use "rain or shine." You can read some examples below. We are using idiomatic translations here:
No soporto a mi jefe, no me deja en paz ni a sol ni sombra. / I can't stand my boss, he's always breathing down my neck.
Su leal perro no le dejaba ni a sol ni a sombra. / His loyal dog never left his side.
In fact, the word sombra (meaning "shadow" or "shade") is used in many other Spanish expressions. Some examples you may be interested in learning are below. We have included a literal translation first, and then an idiomatic translation:
Él no tiene ni sombra de sospecha. / He hasn't a shadow of suspicion. / He is clueless.
Busqué, pero no había ni sombra de ella. / I looked, but there wasn't even a shadow of her. / I looked, but there was no sign of her.
No soy ni la sombra de lo que era. / I'm not even the shadow of what I used to be. / I'm only a shadow of what I used to be.
Let's see another expression. This is an easy one to learn, because it has an exact match in English:
Bueno, que el hábito no hace al monje! Era un chistecito.
Well, the thing is that the habit does not make the monk! It was a little joke.
Caption 12, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 5
This recalls yet another expression that exists both in Spanish and English, and probably in many other languages as well:
Tu marido es un santo. -¡Ah, por favor!
Your husband is a saint. -Oh, please!
Caption 15, Muñeca Brava - 3 Nueva Casa - Part 7
There are other Spanish expressions that use the word santo (saint) in a much more creative way. For example, the expression no ser santo de mi devoción (literally, "to not be a saint of my devotion") is used to express that you are not particularly fond of someone. This expression is equivalent to the English expression "not my cup of tea." There’s an interesting parallel between England's affection for tea and the devotion to saints in Spanish-speaking countries, don't you think?
Por favor, no invites a Julián. Sabes que él no es santo de mi devoción.
Please, do not invite Julian. You know he's not my cup of tea.
More difficult to translate is the expression a santo de qué, which is used to question the purpose or validity of something. It's a less sophisticated synonym of the expression en virtud de qué, itself the interrogative form of the expression en virtud de que, which also exists in English ("by virtue of"). Of course, using the expression a santo de qué is a very colloquial choice, one that will give people a very good impression of your Spanish skills:
¿A santo de qué voy a ir a almorzar con vos?
Why in God’s name am I going to go have lunch with you?
Caption 61, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poema - Part 1
In this context, it wouldn't be uncommon for a Spanish speaker to use en virtud de qué instead. Saying ¿En virtud de qué voy a ir a almorzar con vos? may sound a little posh, but it’s totally acceptable. On the contrary, as you know, using "by virtue of what" in this situation wouldn't really be appropriate in English.
Finally, let's review another expression related to the word santo (saint) that exists both in English and Spanish, with subtle differences. While in English the expressions "patron saint's day" and "saint's day" do exist, it's more common to simply say "name day" instead. In Spanish, on the contrary, expressions like hoy es día de su santo patrono("today is his patron saint's day") or hoy es el día de su santo (today is his saint's day) are as common as the extremely abbreviated form used in this example taken from the Mexican movie El Ausente:
Es santo de Felipe, ¿sabes?
It's Felipe's name day, you know.
Caption 11, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 7
Let's keep learning interesting Spanish expressions. Our always-growing catalog of Spanish videos contains many examples that will definitely help you boost your conversational skills.
Mili, the main character of the Argentinian telenovela Muñeca Brava, continues to be a never-ending source of colloquial expressions. In the following example, she gives us the Spanish equivalent of the expression "to call a spade a spade," which in Spanish has a very eucharistical nature:
¡Al pan, pan y al vino, vino, doña!
To call a spade a spade, ma'am! [literally: to call bread "bread" and wine "wine"]
Caption 54, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 4
Indeed, Mili siempre llama al pan, pan y al vino, vino (Mili always calls a spade a spade), because Mili es muy directa para hablar (Mili is very direct). Mexican folks would also say that Mili es muy claridosa (Mili is very plain-spoken, or blunt), a word that comes from the adjective claro (clear). Wouldn't you agree with Spanish speakers who would also say that Mili is not the type of person that esquiva el bulto (literally, “goes around the bundle”)? Depending on the context, this expression may be translated as "to beat around the bush" or even "to dodge the bullet”:
Al contrario, vos estás esquivando acá el bulto para no pagarme a mí...
On the contrary, you are trying to dodge the bullet to avoid paying me...
Caption 35, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 2
Also equivalent are the Spanish expressions sacar la vuelta (to go around, to evade), hacer rodeos or andar con rodeos (to make detours):
Dime la verdad, no le saques la vuelta.
Tell me the truth, don't beat around the bush.
Desde entonces, Lucía siempre me saca la vuelta.
Since then, Lucia is always evading me.
Está bien, Sor Cachetes, déjese de rodeos. Dígame, ¿qué, qué es lo que pasa?
All right, Sister Cheeks, stop beating about the bush. Tell me, what, what's going on?
Caption 41, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 7
Quiero andarme sin rodeos, confesarte que una tarde empecé a morir por ti
I want to go without detours [to be straightforward], to confess to you that one afternoon I began to die for you
Caption 16, Amaia Montero - Quiero Ser - Part 1
Going back to Mili's personality, another useful expression to describe the way she speaks would be ir al grano (to get straight to the point). When someone is wasting your time with a long chat, you can say ¡Ve al grano! (Get to the point!) Of course, you can also do as Mili does and omit the verb ir (to go):
Bueno, vamos. Al grano que quiero dormir mi siesta. ¿Qué venías a pedirme?
Well, let's go. Straight to the point that I want to take my nap. What did you want to ask me?
Caption 58, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 7
Another similar expression is ir al meollo del asunto or ir al meollo de la cuestión, which means “to get to the nub of the issue,” “to get straight to the point.” The word meollo is definitely a keeper. It means the central core of something, and comes from the latin medulla (marrow):
Bueno, el meollo de la cuestión.
Well, the point of the matter.
Caption 11, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 9
There are many virtues and benefits associated with being as direct as Mili is. People like her are usually honest and not prone to telling lies or cheating. Speaking of which, you may have heard the expression dar gato por liebre (to try to deceive; literally, “to give a cat instead of a hare”). A somewhat close English expression is “to be sold a pig in a poke,” which is not very common, anyway.
Gato por liebre. -Exactamente.
A cat for a hare [you think you're getting one thing but it's another]. -Exactly.
Caption 11, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 7
This expression is very common in Spanish, so you may want a more contextualized example:
No quieras darme gato por liebre / Don't try to deceive me.
Another similar expression is tomar el pelo (to try to trick someone).The expression dar gato por liebre would be more suitable in the context of a real scam someone is trying to pull. On the other hand, tomar el pelo is more likely used in the context of a joke. In that sense it's similar to the English expression "to pull someone's leg." Here are two examples:
¿Ustedes dos me están tomando el pelo a mí?
Are you two pulling my leg [literally: pulling my hair]?
Caption 28, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 7
¿Qué tango, me estás tomando el pelo? Yo no escucho ningún tango.
What tango, are you pulling my leg? I don't hear any tango.
Caption 37, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones - Part 3