Spanish Lessons


Lessons for topic Grammar

Cuál vs Qué

The use of the interrogative questions qué (what) and cuál (which) in Spanish can sometimes be confusing for English speakers. There are certain rules about the proper use of these words, but, as usual, sometimes grammar doesn't quite catch up with how things work in the real world. Our best advice is always listen more and practice more. So let's see some examples of how the questions qué (what) and cuál (which) are used in real context!

Generally speaking you can say that cuál (which) is used to ask about the identity of a person or a thing in a group. Cuál is a question about choice. The question qué is a question about identity as well, but it's used in direct questions rather than in ones that involve making a choice. Let's start with the examples. Here's one where the question cuál (which) is used before a verb:

¿Pero cuál es el peor trabajo?
But which is the worst job?
Caption 40, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 8

It would be really odd to hear someone saying ¿qué es el mejor trabajo? It's rare, but possible, because making this substitution alters completely the meaning of the question. It's easier to understand it if we compare what kind of answer these two questions would likely get:

¿Pero cuál es el peor trabajo? / But which is the worst job?
El peor trabajo es el de recogedor de basura. /The worst job is garbage hauler.

¿Pero qué es el peor trabajo? / But what is the worst job?
-El peor trabajo es el menos deseable. / The worst job is the least desirable.

Now, let's check the following example. The question cuál is used before a noun:

¿Pero cuál juego les gusta más?
But which attraction do you like the most?
Caption 36, Guillermina y Candelario - El parque de diversiones - Part 1

This is a great example, because when used before a noun, cuál is equivalent to qué. So the following is also correct:

¿Pero qué juego les gusta más?
But which attraction do you like the most?

We believe it's actually better to see it the other way around: sometimes qué (what) is also used to ask about choices. It happens in English as well, right?

¿Qué color te gustaría?
What color would you like?
Caption 50, Raquel y Marisa - Agente del concesionario

But must of the time it's just not right to use qué to ask about choices. Let's see an interesting phenomenon. In Spanish, you can use the preposition de (of) to introduce a group of things from which to pick a choice. And you can use cuál (which) before this preposition:

¿Cuál de esos países te gustó más?
Which one of those countries did you like most?
Caption 86, Entrevista a Cleer - Hobbies - Part 1

You can also use qué (what) before de (of), but then you wouldn't be asking to pick a favorite country from a list of countries (the ones the other person visited), you would be asking something else: 

¿Qué de esos países te gusto más? 
What [aspect] of those countries did you like the most?

It's very useful to imagine possible answers to both questions:

¿Cuál de esos países te gustó más? Which one of those countries did you like most?
Italia y Francia. / Italy and France.

¿Qué de esos países te gustó más? What aspect of those countries did you like most?
Su rica cultura y deliciosa comida. / Their rich culture and delicious food. 

But, if you place the preposition de (of) before and not after qué or cuál, you can again use them as equivalents! Why? Because now they are both right before a noun.

¿De qué sabor quieres? = ¿De cuál sabor quieres?
What flavor do you want? = Which flavor do you want?

We'll continue to explore the use of cuál (which) and qué (what) in future lessons. 

Continue Reading

Expressing Progression With the Verb ir

The verb ir (to go) is used in many idiomatic expressions in Spanish. One of the most interesting uses of this verb is when expressing the starting and progression of an action, for example:

¡Excelente! Voy planeando el evento.
Excellent! I start planning the event (right now).

It's not easy to translate the expression voy planeando el evento with precision. In the same situation, an English speaker would rather use the future tense, "I will start planning the event," which has an exact equivalent in Spanish: comenzaré a planear el evento. But voy planeando (literally, "I go planning") is in the present tense, and the expression means that I'm starting the action of planning at a certain point (the present in this case) and that it will continue for some time in the future until its completion. It also implies that I will be planning while other actions will be taking place simultaneously. This may be something obvious that could be inferred by context or mere logic in English, but there is no special verbal form to express it.

Now, this expression has many variations and, since the verb ir (to go) is an important irregular verb, it's worth it to study different examples. The basic structure of the expression is as follows: a conjugated form of the verb ir (to go) + a verb in gerundio (-ando, -iendo endings in Spanish). In the previous example we used voy, the conjugated form of the verb ir in the present, and planeando, the gerundio of the verb planear (to plan). Let's see variations with different persons and tenses:

Iré planeando el evento.
I will start planning the event.

Lucía irá planeando el evento.
Lucia will start planning the event.

The verb ir in this expression can also be conjugated in the past tense. For example:

Fuimos planeando el evento.
We went about planning the event.

Did you notice that we adjusted our translation to better express the meaning of the sentence? The same happens when we use other verbs different from planear (to plan):

Voy cancelando el evento.
I start by cancelling the event.
(Though Spanish also has an exact equivalent for this translation: empiezo por cancelar el evento.)

But let's see some examples in real context. In the following examples, try to analyze the construction and meaning of the sentence in Spanish but also the translation we used for each. Maybe you can come up with a better one!

Te pones de rodillas o vas cambiando de postura.
You get on your knees or you go around changing postures.
Caption 75, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5

Y ahora, una vez que tenemos el aceite, lo vamos clasificando por cualidades.
And now, once we have the oil, we're going to classify it by traits.
Caption 66, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 14

they have a very developed sense of smell, enseguida te huelen el trocito de manzana, galleta, lo que sea, y te van siguiendo.
they have a very developed sense of smell, right away they smell the little piece of apple, cookie, whatever, and they start following you.
Caption 54-56, Animales en familia - Un día en Bioparc: Coatís

Poco a poco la iremos consiguiendo.
Little by little, we are going to achieve it.
Caption16, ¡Tierra, Sí! - Atenco - Part 4

que poco a poco los irás descubriendo todos.
as little by little you'll go along discovering all of them.
Caption 40, Fundamentos del Español - 9 - Verbos Reflexivos 

Hasta después fui aprendiendo conforme se fue haciendo el cómic.
Until later I started learning as the comic was being made.
Caption 40-41, Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustración - Part 1

Finally, here's an interesting example that uses the verb ir (to go) not only as the auxiliary conjugated verb but also as the gerundio, which is yendo (going). The expression is then voy yendo (literally "I go going").  

Bueno, voy yendo que... -Sí, sí. -...deben de estar por llegar.
Well, I'm going since... -Yes, yes. -...they are bound to arrive soon.
Caption 18, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 5

That's it. Mejor nos vamos despidiendo (we better start saying goodbye). 

Continue Reading

Combining Parts of Speech III - Cual, Cuales

Let's continue studying phrases that combine prepositions, articles and pronouns, since these are always a source of confusion for many Spanish learners. One of the main function of this type of phrase is to connect simple sentences to transform them into complex ones, and thus participate in real conversations. You can take a look at previous lessons in the series at our lessons site.
For this lesson, we will focus on the use of the pronoun cual (plural cuales), which should not be mixed up with the interrogative adjective cuál (plural cuáles) that modifies and accompanies a noun:

¿Pero cuál juego les gusta más?
But which attraction do you like the most?
Caption 36, Guillermina y Candelario - El parque de diversiones - Part 1

or with the interrogative pronoun cuál (plural cuáles) that takes the place of a noun. In the following example, when having a conversation about cars, someone uses it to ask:

¿Cuál te gusta a ti?
Which one do you like?
Caption 13, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 19

On the other hand, the pronoun cual/cuales (without the accent mark) is not used to ask questions. It's rather used in fixed phrases (called locusiones in Spanish) that usually involve the combination of articles, prepositions and other pronouns. In this case, the core is always a definite article + cual:  el cual, la cual, lo cual, for the singular, and los cuales, las cuales, los cuales, for the plural. Other parts of speech can then be added to that: prepositions before, pronouns after. Let's see an example using the preposition en (on, in) and the personal pronoun nos:

y el segundo tiene que ver con el lugar en el cual nos encontramos.
and the second one has to do with the place in which we are located.
Caption 35, Carlos explica - Tuteo, Ustedeo y Voseo - Conceptos básicos

Here's an example with the preposition por (for). These are the words of a Mexican politician. We have decided to transcribe a big chunk of what he says so you can see the phrase in context:

Yo sé que este país que me ha tocado conocer de cerca, palparlo de cerca, sentirlo muy, muy profundamente y por el cual tengo una enorme pasión.
I know that this country that I've had the fortune to know closely, to sense it closely, to feel it very, very deeply and for which I have an enormous passion.
Caption 3, Felipe Calderón - Publicidad - Part 1

Here's another long example using the plural feminine form las cuales and the preposition con (with):


Básicamente este era un juguete que era un amplificador, con algunas pistas, con las cuales los niños juegan a cantar, ¿no?
Basically this was a toy which was an amplifier, with some tracks, that kids sing along with, right?
Caption 63, Lo que no sabías - Arte electrónico - Part 3

Now an example using the preposition de (for) and the neutral form lo cual:

Es básicamente lo mismo que hicimos en el laboratorio pero a escala industrial, de lo cual están encargados otros colegas.
It's basically the same thing we did in the laboratory but on an industrial scale, which other colleagues are in charge of.
Caption 62, Una Historia de Café - La Catación - Part 1

There are many other combinations that you can find in our catalog of videos, with other prepositions and pronouns, or without them. Here's just one example with the preposition de (of) and the pronoun me:

De lo cual me siento muy orgulloso.
I'm very proud of that [of which I'm very proud].
Caption 41, Escuela Don Quijote - Jesús Baz - Part 1

Something important to note is that it's possible to substitute the pronoun cual with the pronoun que. This is especially true in colloquial Spanish and considered less correct in formal or written speech. Take the first example above, el lugar en el cual nos encontramos: people also say el lugar en el que nos encontramos. The same substitution can be made with all the other subsequent examples.

Continue Reading

Combining Parts of Speech II

Let's continue reviewing examples of phrases that combine prepositions, articles and pronouns. In the previous lesson we talked about combining the preposition con (with) with the indefinite articles (el, la, los, las) and the pronoun que (that, which): con la que, con el que, con los que, con las que (with whom or with which). Let's see the examples, because in real context these phrases can be quite tricky. 

Les preguntaron cómo debería ser la escuela con la que ellos sueñan.
They were asked the question of what the school that they dream of should be like.
Caption 7, Club de las ideas - La escuela que queremos

We can try a more literal translation just to see how Spanish works:  "what the school of/with which they dream should be like." Here's another example:

no me parecía el tipo de gente con el que yo me quería involucrar.
they didn't seem to be the kind of people I wanted to get involved with.
Caption 81, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 2

Do you want a literal translation? Here it is: "they didn't seem to be the kind of people with which I wanted to get involved."

It seems that Spanish and English are more parallel when using the plural forms:

Estos espacios recrean un capítulo histórico con los que el coriano convive a diario.
These spaces recreate a historic chapter with which the Corian resident coexists daily.
Caption 34, Ciudades - Coro Colonial - Part 1

y para beneficiar las comunidades con las que trabajamos.
and to benefit those communities with whom we work.
Caption 48, De consumidor a persona - Short Film - Part 5

Now let's see how to combine el que, la que, los que, las que with two similar prepositions: por and para. Understanding the difference between these two is a constant challenge, even for advanced learners, so you can never study them too much!

...aquí están las puertas abiertas para el que quiera trabajar. the doors are open for whomever wants to work.
Caption 38, Circo Infantil de Nicaragua - Learning the Trade - Part 1

por el que transitan trece millones de clientes al año.
through which thirteen million customers pass per year.
Caption 14, Reporteros - Crecen los robos en tiendas - Part 2

Esa es buena para la que fuma el puro,
That one is good for the one who smokes cigars,
Caption 44, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 7
Y ésta es la razón por la que cuando se piensa en un nombre que contribuya a...
And this is the reason why (literally, "because of which") when one thinks of a name that contributes to... 
Caption 22, El Instituto Cervantes - Director del Instituto - Part 1

Existe el metro y el autobús para los que tienes que comprar billetes.
There is the subway and the bus for which you have to buy tickets.
Caption 70, Blanca - Cómo moverse en Barcelona
De las etapas por las que pasan los conjuntos...
Of the stages that groups go through...
Caption 74, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 3

Continue Reading

Combining Parts of Speech

Using Spanish articles and pronouns is not always easy, and learning to combine them is even more complicated. Let's study some interesting examples to learn more about these combinations.
The phrases la que, el que mean "the one that" or "the one who":
que es la que está con el niño atrás.
who is the one who is with the little boy back there.
Caption 14, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 3
Aligerar, hacer ritmo. -Y el que venga conmigo
To hurry up, to make it quick. -And, whoever comes with me,
Caption 81, Europa Abierta - Empuje para Pymes
As you can see, the English translations may be different, but the meaning is still the same in both examples. In the second case, a more literal translation is also possible: el que venga conmigo (the one who comes with me).

It's important to always have in mind the variations of gender and number: los que and las que ("the ones that" or "the ones who"):

los que se pueden coger con la mano desde abajo,
the ones that can be picked by hand from below
Caption 51, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 16

Now, in Spanish it's also possible to combine these expression with prepositions. For example, you can add the preposition and form a los quea las quea la que, and al que (remember that a + el + que al que).
These phrases could mean, literally, "to/for the one(s) that" or "to/for the one(s) who":
Al que llegó sin avisar
To the one who arrived without warning
Caption 21, Calle 13 - Pa'l norte
Depending on the context, the English equivalent of these phrases is different, though. For example, check out the following caption including an extra pronoun (a reflexive one): nos (to us).
Ah, a los que nos gusta surfear,
Ah, for those of us who like surfing,
Caption 9, Antonio Vargas - Artista - ilustración - Part 1

Also, depending on the context, and since the preposition a has many different meanings, the literal meaning of these phrases could also be "to the ones that" or "to the ones who" =  "whom" or "to which."  
Al que llamaban Speedy Gonzales.
whom they called Speedy Gonzales.
Caption 4, A. B. Quintanilla - Speedy Gonzalez
a la que pertenecieron sus primeros moradores.
to which its first inhabitants belonged.
Caption 17, Club de las ideas - Mi entorno - Part 1
Check out this example, also with an extra reflexive pronoun: se (to it, to him, to her, to them)
El principal problema al que se enfrentan la mayoría de las PYMEs europeas
The main problem that most of the European SMEs face
Caption 17, Club de las ideas - Mi entorno - Part 1
Tricky, right? The English translation is simply "that," but you can think of a literal one just to see how Spanish works: "the main problem to the one (to which) most of the European SMEs face."
You can also combine these phrases with a different preposition, for example the preposition con (with). Then you have con la que, con el que, con los que, con las que (with whom or with which). But let's save that for a future lesson. 

Continue Reading

Getting Impersonal

An impersonal statement is one that has no determinate subject. In English you'll hear impersonal expressions like "you shouldn't point your finger at people" or "one would think the airlines would have to close down." 

Spanish has a different way to express the impersonal voice, though. To make general statements Spanish adds the pronoun se in front of verbs. Let's see some examples:

 In the new episode of Yago - Pasión Morena we hear a distressed Yago stating a very basic and general principle indeed:

No se mata lo que se ama.
You don't kill what you love.
Caption 64-65, Yago - 11 Prisión - Part 7

Of course, to express this idea in Spanish you can also do as in English and simply conjugate the verb in the second person:

No matas lo que amas.
You don't kill what you love.

However, in Spanish the use of se is much more common, expressive and emphatic.

Actually, in Spanish it's also possible to use the word uno (one) instead. In this case you must use the third person:

Uno no mata lo que ama.
One shouldn't kill what ones loves.

Here are another two examples from our catalog, both using the verb decir (to say):

Bueno y se dice que la mujer tiene un sexto sentido
Well, and one says that a woman has a sixth sense
Caption 16, Club de las ideas - Intuición - Part 1
Ay, ¿cómo se dice? -Las imperfecciones.
Oh, how do you say it? -The imperfections.
Caption 18, Maquillaje - Con Cata y Cleer - Part 1

And then with the verb hacer (to do, to make):

... se hace como un... té.
... one makes like a... tea.
Caption 12, Recetas - Capirotada - Part 1

Take note, both the Spanish impersonal and singular passive voice use the same construction. You can clearly see it by comparing the above example with the following one using the same verb hacer (to do, to make):

¿Esto se hace en otros puntos de... de Europa?
Is this done in other parts of... of Europe?
Caption 59, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 13

Luckily, being able to make this distinction is really not that relevant because the difference is mostly just grammatical. For example, for practical purposes, you could also interpret this example as a case of the impersonal and translate it as, "Do you do this in other parts of... of Europe?"

Finally, note that Spanish also uses the plural to express impersonal ideas. In this case, however, you don't need to use the pronoun se, you only use the third-person plural ellos (they).

Y el futuro que vendrá, dicen que pende de un hilo
And the future that will come, they say that it hangs by a thread
Caption 79, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 2

The beautiful thing about the Spanish plural impersonal is that it doesn't use the pronoun ellos (they)—just the verb conjugated in the third-person plural dicen (they say). In fact, in Spanish it can't be impersonal at all if you include the pronoun, if you actually say ellos dicen (they say). If the same example were to include the pronoun ellos (them), then it would mean that the subject is actually known from context. Check out the modified version of the previous example to which we added one of many possible contexts in brackets:

[Los dioses llegaron en sus naves blandas.Y el futuro que vendrá, dicen ellos que pende de un hilo.
[The gods arrived in their soft vessels.] And the future that will come, they say that it hangs by a thread.

The plural impersonal is used a lot to spread gossip when combined with the verbs decir (to say), contar (to tell), etc.

Dicen que nadie puede seguirte el tren
They say nobody can keep up with you
Caption 14, Bahiano - Oyelo - Part 1

Or popular knowledge:

Dicen que si los sueños se cuentan después no se cumplen, loco.
They say that if you tell your dreams, then they won't come true, dude.
Caption 36, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 7

Continue Reading

Using the Word "Sea" - Subjunctive | Verb Ser (to be)

The present subjunctive of the verb ser is the same in the first- and third-person singular: sea. This little word is used profusely in Spanish for the most varied purposes. Let's explore and learn a few.
The first person yo (I) uses sea. You can use it to express other people's wishes or expectations placed on you:
Quieres que [yo] sea cuidadosa
You want me to be cautious
or to deny hypothetic situations or conditions:
No es que yo sea mala...
It's not that I'm bad...
The third person (he, she, it) also uses sea. Here are examples using sea to talk about people (he, she). The tricky part is that Spanish usually gets rid of the pronouns él or ella, so you will only hear or see the verb sea.
No importa que sea morena, blanca, rubia o canela
It doesn't matter if she is dark-skinned, white, blonde or brown
Caption 52, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano - Part 1
¿Cómo me voy a andar fijando en él por más simpático, alto, caballero y bello que sea?
How am I going to go around thinking about him no matter how nice, tall, gentlemanly and handsome he might be?
Caption 75, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 11
It's the same when you use sea to, for example, talk about a poisonous mushroom:
Por tocarlo no pasa nada. Aunque sea mortal.
Nothing happens by touching it. Even though it's lethal.
Caption 115, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
However, the use of sea extends far beyond that in Spanish. Many idiomatic expressions use it. For example, the expression sea lo que is used to express fatalistic sentiments. Use this model phrase to learn it: sea + lo que dios mande (literally, let it be what God commands). Note that it uses subjunctive plus subjunctive:
Que sea lo que dios mande
Let it be God's will.
Of course, it's possible to get rid of the pronoun que (that) and combine the phrase with a different verb, like querer (to want):
Sea lo que Dios quiera.
Let it be God's will.
Caption 8, Baile Folklórico de Puerto Rico - Los Bailarines

But there's also the expression sea lo que sea, literally meaning "let it be whatever it might be," or more simply put: "whatever it may be."
Sea lo que sea, quiero saber la verdad.
I want to know the truth, whatever that may be.

The shorter expression lo que sea (whatever) is even more common:
No es solamente utilizar una moneda local o lo que sea
It's not just to use a local coin or whatever
Caption 67, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 4
...sea hombre, mujer, o lo que sea.
...whether it's a man, a woman or whatever.
Caption 60, Arume - Barcelona - Part 1
The clause para que sea (for it to be, so that it is) is also a great addition to your Spanish vocabulary:
Entonces, para que sea una sorpresa también.
So, for it to be a surprise also.
Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 10
Para que sea más fácil, le cortáis por la mitad.
So that it is easier, you cut it in half.
Caption 49, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 3

Finally, don't forget the expression o sea (I mean, meaning):
¡O sea, esto es más de lo que cualquier chica popular puede soportar!
I mean, this is more than any popular girl could bear!
Caption 1, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 4

Continue Reading

Good and Cold and Handsome and Hot

We have a gem in one of our videos and we want to share it with you. It's a little slip of the tongue that Rosie, one of the girls in the NPS series, makes while being introduced to a handsome new sports instructor:

Ay, a mí me encanta el deporte y más si el "teacher" está así de bueno.
Oh, I love sports and even more if the teacher is so good-looking.
Caption 30, NPS No puede ser - 3 - La cita - Part 3

Rosie's subconscious betrayed her for a moment there, because that's apparently not what she wanted to say, as she immediately corrects her blunder:

Ah, ay, digo, digo si es tan bueno.
Uh, oh, I mean, I mean if he's so good.
Caption 31, NPS No puede ser - 3 - La cita - Part 3

The difference between estar bueno (to be good-looking*) vs ser bueno (to be good) is the classic example used to explain the proper way to combine the verbs estar and ser (both meaning "to be") with adjectives, and to understand the sometimes not-so-subtle difference in meaning that results from it: if you use ser, the adjective is a fundamental characteristic of the person or thing you are describing, whereas if you use estar, it's a description of a mood or appearance, something less intrinsic or something not permanent. Having the chance to learn this rule with a pun is priceless, don't you think?
There are many interesting examples of adjectives that change meaning when they are combined with the Spanish verbs ser and estar to describe people. For example, the adjective frío, which means "cold."
You can use this adjective with the verb ser to describe a fundamental characteristic of a person or group of persons:

Lo siento. Pero acá la gente es fría y distante, es una... -¡Mentira!
Sorry. But here the people are cold and distant, it's a... -Lie!
Caption 73, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 3

But if you say that someone está frío, that can only mean that the person('s body) is actually cold. Here is a grim example:

Está en la cama, muerto. Está frío y azul.
He's on the bed, dead. He’s cold and blue.

 That's why, in fact, the combination of the verb estar with the adjective frío is much more commonly used to describe objects, concepts, and beings regarded as inanimate: la noche está fría (the night is cold), la champaña está fría (the champagne is cold), etc. But careful: that doesn't mean that you can't use ser + an adjective to describe such things. You can, especially with concepts and abstract ideas. For example:

si la temperatura exterior es más fría que la interior
or if the temperature outside is colder than the inside [temperature]
Caption 59, Tecnópolis - El Coronil - Part 1
En Buenos Aires las noches son frías.
In Buenos Aires nights are cold.

Yet that doesn't mean that you can't say en Buenos Aires las noches están frías. It's just definitely less common and actually incorrect if what you mean is that all nights in Buenos Aires are generally cold. So, if you ever find or hear such an assertion using the verb estar instead of ser, it would probably be accompanied by certain implicit or explicit clues that would tell you that the adjective frías (cold) is being used to describe a temporary situation. For example:

En Buenos Aires las noches están frías, por ahora.
In Buenos Aires nights are cold, for now.
No salgas, está frío afuera.
Don't go out, it's cold outside.

 So, you may be wondering: how do I say in Spanish that someone is cold, meaning that the person feels cold? Well, you have to use a different verb instead: tener (to have). Have you ever heard a Spanish native speaker say "I have cold" by mistake? That's why.

y yo nada más tengo frío y hambre y no sé qué hacer.
and I'm just cold and I'm hungry and I don't know what to do.
Caption 23, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 1


So, unless you are a zombie or another kind of undead creature, don't ever say estoy frío.


*Just so you know, the adjective bueno in estar bueno is actually closer to "yummy" or "hot" than to "good-looking."

Continue Reading

Commands in Spanish: The Formal Imperative

Let's continue learning the Spanish imperative. On a previous lesson we explored the use of the informal imperative used with  (singular "you"), vosotros (plural “you” in Spain) and ustedes (plural “you” in the Americas). Now let's see how to give orders with the formal usted (singular "you"), and ustedes (plural “you” in Spain and in the Americas). 

Actually, the formal commands are very easy in Spanish, we just need to use the present subjunctive.  

For usted (formal you singular):

Vaya y coma todo el plancton que quiera,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,
Caption 5, Kikirikí - Animales - Part 6

For ustedes (formal you plural):
Vayan y coman todo el plancton que quieran,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

Actually, this is a great example that gives us the opportunity to introduce an important irregular verb, ir (to go) and it's formal imperative vaya (go).Let's see some variations of the example using the informal imperative. Pay attention to the verb ir (to go):

For  (you singular informal):
Ve y come todo el plancton que quieras,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

For vosotros (you plural informal in Spain):
Id y comed todo el plancton que queráis,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

For ustedes (you plural informal in the Americas*):
Vayan y coman todo el plancton que quieran,
Go and eat all the plankton that you want,

But let's continue with another regular verb and the formal imperative:

Sí, no espere (usted) que me ría. -No, ni por un momento, Madre.
Yes, don't expect me to laugh. -No, not even for a moment, Mother.
Caption 13, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 5

This is also another great example because it's showing us how to use the formal imperative with negation, which, good news, also uses the present subjunctive, so you only need to add the word "no," that' it! Here are examples using the regular verbs amar (to love), temer (to fear), partir (to leave) as models:

Ame (usted) a su hermano - No (ame) usted a su hermano | Love your brother - Don't love your brother
Tema (usted) a su hermano - No (tema) usted a su hermano | Fear your brother - Don't fear your brother
Parta con su hermano - No parta con su hermano Leave with your brother - Don't leave with your brother

Finally, an example of formal imperative with ustedes (you plural) that uses the regular verbs caminar (to walk) and perdonar (to forgive), this last one with a suffix pronoun!

¡Caminen! - ¡Perdónenos la vida, patrón!
Walk!, Spare our life, boss!
Caption 32, El Ausente - Acto 3 - Part 3

And thus we have also learned that you can use the imperative to supplicate as well!

Continue Reading

If I Had Known - An Alternative to Si Clauses

Si clauses are typical markers of the Spanish conditional:

Y yo creo que si me hubiese quedado viviendo...
And, I believe that if I had stayed living...
Caption 31, Club de las ideas - Seguridad en internet - Part 1
However, sometimes you could use the conditional phrase de + haber + participio:

Y yo creo que de haberme quedado viviendo...
And, I believe that if I had stayed living...

In fact, the construction de + haber + participio (endings -ado, -ido, -to, -so -cho) is based on what in Spanish is known as the conditional compuesto or condidional perfecto (perfect conditional):

Here's an example of the perfect conditional combined with a si clause:

Tal vez, si yo fuera un poco más sensata habría inventado una poción
Maybe, if I were a bit more sensible I would have invented a potion
Caption 19, Belanova - Tal vez - Part 1

And this is how you substitute si with de:

Tal vez, de ser un poco más sensata habría inventado una poción
Maybe, if I were a bit more sensible I would have invented a potion

Just for practice, instead of present subjunctive (yo fuera) let's use past perfect subjunctive:

Tal vez, si yo hubiera sido un poco más sensata habría inventado una poción
Maybe, if I had been a bit more sensible I would have invented a potion

Substitution is as follows:

Tal vez, de haber sido un poco más sensata habría inventado una poción
Maybe, if I had been a bit more sensible I would have invented a potion

This recalls the common phrase de haber sabido (if I had known). It's also common to combine it with direct object pronouns: de haberlo sabido (If I had known of it), de haberlo pensado (if I had thought of it). 

But de + infinitive is not always an option. For example, you can't use it instead of the si clause when the conditional refers to an action in the future. You can't use it in the following example:


Voy a ver si alguna quiere jugar conmigo a Nimanji.
I am going to see if anyone wants to play Nimanji with me.
Caption 26, Kikirikí - Animales - Part 7

This is because the perfect conditional can only be used to refer to actions in the past. Also have in mind that the perfect conditional is not only used with si clauses, because sometimes the condition for something to happen is left unexpressed or it's inferred only by context:

Yo y mi hermana hemos vivido una vida que no nos habríamos imaginado
My sister and I have lived a life that we wouldn't have imagined.
Caption 68, Horno San Onofre - La Historia de la Pastelería

But if we artificially add a si clause to the previous example, let's say:

Yo y mi hermana hemos vivido una vida que no nos habríamos imaginado [si viviéramos en México]
My sister and I have lived a life that we wouldn't have imagined [if we were living in Mexico]

Then you can make the de + infinitive substitution:

Yo y mi hermana hemos vivido una vida que no nos habríamos imaginado [de vivir en México]
My sister and I have lived a life that we wouldn't have imagined [if we were living in Mexico]

Continue Reading

Commands in Spanish: The Informal Imperative

Do you enjoy giving orders? Let's study the imperative mood in Spanish so you can do it correctly and guarantee obedience from your subjects. 

Imperatives are phrases used to tell someone to do something. One easy way to give commands in Spanish is using the verbs mandar and ordenar (to command) with the phrases ordeno que or mando que + a verb in subjunctive (2nd person). For example, ordeno que bailes (I order you to dance), or les mando que vayan a la tienda (I order you guys to go to the store). However, and this is true in English as well, giving commands in such way may be adequate for a king or a general, but not for nice regular folks like us. So how do people normally give commands in Spanish? Usually with a single verb, just like in English. Check out the following quote:

¡Pues vente aquí a la cocina, anda, que no sé lo que estás haciendo!
Come here to the kitchen, come on, I don't know what are you doing!
Caption 31, Club de las ideas - Seguridad en internet - Part 1

This example shows two variations of single-word commands in Spanish: the first one, vente (come), includes a suffix pronoun, and the second one, anda (come), doesn't. It’s also correct to say ¡Pues ven aquí a la cocina, andate, que no sé lo que estás haciendo! These suffixes are very common but not always necessary: sometimes they point to the existence of direct and indirect objects, sometimes they indicate you are using a reflexive verb, etc. In many occasions they are simply used to add emphasis, as in the example above. Saying ¡Pues ven aquí a la cocina, anda, que no sé lo que estás haciendo! is perfectly correct.

To learn how to conjugate imperatives is a different story. There are basically three possibilities: Informal  and vosotros (you singular and plural), formal usted and ustedes (you singular and plural), and nosotros (we) commands. It's also important to make a distinction between regular verbs (like andar, "to go") and irregular verbs (like venir, "to come"). For now, let’s stick to regular verbs. We can revisit the subject in a future lesson to learn the imperative form of some common irregular verbs.

The imperative for the informal  (singular you) and vosotros (plural you) is the most common and perhaps the more challenging. Let's use the regular verbs amar (to love), temer (to fear), partir (to leave) as models to learn how to build these imperative forms.

For  (you) we must use the same form of the verb that we use for the third person of the indicative:

(tú) ama, teme, parte - (you) love, fear, leave

To create the imperative for vosotros (plural you) we have to substitute the letter "r" from the infinitive with a "d:"

(vosotrosamad, temed, partid - (you plural) love, fear, leave

in the Americas people use ustedes instead of vosotros, right? Well, to make the imperative for ustedes use the present subjunctive for the same person:

(ustedes) amen, teman, partan - (you plural) love, fear, leave

Let's take a moment to test the rules we mentioned above. Is it true that ama is the imperative of amar for  and also the third person of the indicative (he, she, it)?

Ama a tu esposa (love your wife) - Imperative tú (you)
Él ama a su esposa (He loves his wife) - Indicative third person (he, she, it)

It's true. Now, that you can transform the infinitive form of amar (to love), temer (to fear), partir (to leave) into the imperative for vosotros by replacing the r for a d is self evident: amad, temed, partid. Here’s an example using the regular verb mirar (to see):

mirad lo que vamos a hacer ahora.
and look what we are going to do now.
Caption 71, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 7

Perfect. Now let's see if the imperative for ustedes and the present subjunctive share the same form:

Teman al dios de fuego (Fear the god of fire) - imperative ustedes (you plural)
Yo dudo que ustedes teman al dios de fuego (I doubt that you fear the god of fire) - present subjunctive ustedes (you plural).

It's true as well. Here are more examples of the imperative for vosotros, and ustedes:
Aprende el sentido de las tres erres.
Learn the meaning of the three Rs.
Caption 21, 3R - Campaña de reciclaje - Part 2

Escuchad, escuchad, queridos súbditos.
Hear, hear, worthy subjects.
Caption 31, Cuentos de hadas - La Cenicienta - Part 2 
Pregúntenle primero al corazón, hablen primero con Cupido
First ask the heart, speak first with Cupid
Caption 7, Mennores - Enamorarme Quiero

A final note: it’s also possible to use negative sentences to give orders. For example: Niños, no coman insectos (Kids, don’t eat bugs). As you can see, the negative command for ustedes (you plural) has the same form than the positive command: coman (eat).  But the negative commands for  (you singular) and vosotros (you plural) use different conjugations. The negative commands for  and vosotros use instead the present subjunctive: no comas pan (don’t eat bread) and no comáis porquerías (don’t eat junk food). Let’s transform the last examples above into negative sentences:
No aprendas el sentido de las tres erres.
Don’t learn the meaning of the three Rs.
No escuchéis, no escuchéis, queridos súbditos.
Don’t listen, don’t listen, worthy subjects.
No le pregunten primero al corazón, no hablen primero con Cupido
Don’t ask the heart first, don’t speak first with Cupid

Continue Reading

Using Subjunctive to State Facts!

Did you know that Spanish can sometimes use the subjunctive mood to state facts? For example:

Ahora, qué raro que lo haya atacado un puma.
But, it's strange that a puma attacked him.
Caption 66, Yago - 1 La llegada - Part 5

You may wonder, if the person was indeed attacked by a puma, why do we use the subjunctive here? The reason is the phrase que raro (it's strange). The subjunctive is caused by the person's judgment about the incident. The same applies to similar phrases used to express a judgment in Spanish: es raro (it's strange), es triste (it's sad), etc.

¿Sabés que éste es un lindo departamento? Es una pena que lo dejes
Do you know that this is a nice apartment? It's a shame for you to leave it.
Caption 5, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa - Part 2

Here's another example that states a fact with the subjunctive:

¿No te pone contenta que quiera vivir con vos aquí?
Doesn't it make you happy that I want to live here with you?
Caption 15, Yago - 4 El secreto - Part 1

It's a fact that the person speaking wants to live with her interlocutor, so why is she then using the subjunctive? Well, because using the subjunctive stresses the fact that she is not imposing her wishes, making for a more polite and refined expression. In this case, however, you could use the indicative as well. It's still correct, and could be used to subtly express a firmer determination: ¿no te pone contenta que quiero vivir con vos?
However, there are cases in which you can't use the indicative. For example:
No es malo que Lucía fume.
It's not bad that Lucía smokes.
Again, it's a fact that Lucía smokes, but the subjunctive is triggered by the judgment that the person speaking is making. To say no es malo que Lucía fuma is incorrect, and the same happens with other similar expressions. So you can be sure that any phrase similar to no es malo (it's not bad), no es un delito (it's not a crime), es un pecado (it's a sin), etc., will trigger the use of the subjunctive.
An even more confusing example of using the subjunctive to state a fact is:

Me revienta que me digas "te lo dije".
I hate it when you say "I told you so."
Caption 32, Muñeca Brava - 1 Piloto - Part 10

This is a very common use of the subjunctive but one that many learners might miss. The person speaking is not doubting or questioning what his interlocutor is saying, or the fact that he is saying it. The subjunctive is caused by the emotion of me revienta (I hate it) + another verb with a change of subject. If you were to say, for example, me revienta escucharte (I hate listening to you), there is no change of subject in the verbs me revienta (I hate) and escucharte (to listen to you): both actions are performed by the same person, so you can use the indicative. But if there's a change of subject as in the example above, meaning that the action of the verbs me revienta (I hate) and digas (you say) belongs to different subjects, it's better to use the subjunctive for the second verb. Some expressions of gratitude that use the verb agradecer (to thank) are classic examples of this construction: te agradezco que me ayudes (I thank you for helping me), te agradezco que me digas (I thank you for telling me), etc.
Compare the following examples, all of which use the subjunctive to state a fact:

Y me encanta que la gente disfrute con el deporte que practico.
And I love that people enjoy the sport that I do.
Caption 32, Los Juegos Olímpicos - Adrián Gavira - Part 1
Y a las mujeres, no soporto que las golpeen.
And, women, I can't tolerate for them to be beaten.
Caption 48, El Ausente - Acto 4 - Part 4
No me gusta que vivas sola, por eso.
I don't like it that you live alone, that's why.
Caption 70, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 3

Continue Reading

How to Use Direct and Indirect Pronouns Part I

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 lola 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.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.

Continue Reading

Comer, beber, tomar, tragar...

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).

Continue Reading

Those Tricky Reflexive Pronouns

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 objectreflexive 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
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
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 (caermorir), 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).

Continue Reading

Amar y Querer

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 lovethere'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 amote 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.

Continue Reading

Bien vs Bueno/Ser vs Estar/Adjectives vs Adverbs

The proper use of the words bien (well) and bueno (good) seems to be specially challenging for English speakers. From a grammatical point of view the difference between these words is quite simple: bueno (good) is an adjective, and bien (well) an adverb. But that doesn’t help much, doesn't it? Especially if you don't have a clear understanding of the function of adjectives and adverbs themselves. And even if you do, people who are really fluent don't usually go around wondering if a word is an adverb or an adjective in order to use it properly.

Is not that grammar isn't helpful, it's just that very often people try to use it as a rigid template that you can superimpose on any given portion of speech to determine its correctness. But trying to grammatically deconstruct a sentence in Spanish, or any language, can be a tricky and confusing exercise, one more suited to linguists than to language learners. Indeed, from a learner's perspective, grammar is more useful if you learn to see it as a set of very basic structures (think of Legos), that you learn how to combine and then use to build basic structures that may eventually be used to build more complex structures and so on. Imagine a foreign language is some kind of alien technology that you want to replicate and master. Would you prefer if you are given the blue print and some of its basic components, or would you rather try to do reverse engineering on it?

For example, "adjectives modify nouns and only nouns" is a much simpler grammar "Lego piece" than "adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs." Right? So maybe we can start with that. The word bueno(good) is an adjective, like bonito (pretty), flaco (skinny), and malo (bad). Add another basic Lego piece such as "in Spanish, adjectives must agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify," and you can build:

El perro bonito /The pretty dog and  Los perros bonitos /The pretty dogs
El gato flaco / The skinny cat and Los gatos flacos / The skinny cats
El lobo malo / The bad wolf and Los lobos malos / The bad wolves
La niña buena / The good girl and Las niñas buenas / The good girls

A classic example of the proper use of bueno is the expression buenos días:

¡Hola, buenos días! -Joaquín.
Hi, good morning! -Joaquín.
Caption 7, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 16

Now, what about bien (well)? Bien is an adverb, like rápidamente (fast) or mal (badly). Adverbs in Spanish are invariable, which means they have only one form and do not change according to gender or number. The main function of adverbs is to modify verbs:

Yo corro rápidamente /I ran fast
Ella baila mal / She dances badly
Yo lo hago bien / I do it well

Adverbs also modify other adverbs:

Yo corro bastante rápidamente / I ran quite fast
Ella baila muy mal / She dances very badly
Yo lo hago bien temprano / I do it very early (yes, bien can also mean "very")

Adverbs also modify adjectives:

El perro muy bonito /The very pretty dog 
El gato bastante flaco / The quite skinny cat
El lobo terriblemente malo / The terribly bad wolf
La niña tan buena / The so very good girl

So, if the adjective bueno can only be used to modify a noun, and bien can only be used to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb, how can Spanish speakers say things like La sopa está buena (the soup is good) or Yo soy bueno (I'm good) all the time? Aren't estar and ser verbs? They are, but here we have to step up our game and remember that these two verbs are very special in Spanish—they are special Lego pieces with special rules. 

You use the verb ser with an adjective to describe something or someone by stating their characteristics as essential qualities that are an intrinsic part of who they are. In a way, you could say that this use of the verb ser +an adjective is redundant because, whether you use ser or not, you are essentially expressing the same thing about the object or person (noun) you are talking about. Another way to put it is that when you use the verb ser (to be) with an adjective you are just talking about a characteristic as if it were an action, in a verbal form. Compare our first set of examples:

El perro bonito / The pretty dog =  El perro es bonito /The dog is pretty
El gato flaco / The skinny cat = El gato es flaco / The cat is skinny
El lobo malo / The bad wolf = El lobo es malo / The wolf is bad
Las niñas buenas / The good girls = Las niñas son buenas / The girls are good

But if you use the verb estar (to be) with an adjective you are not talking about a characteristic as if it were an essential trait, you are talking about a characteristic of someone or something but not seeing it as intrinsically related to that someone or something. It may be a trait only present for the moment, for example. English doesn't usually makes this subtle distinction, so we have added some extra information to the translations so you can better grasp the difference of using estar instead or ser:

El perro es bonito / The dog is pretty ≠ El perro está bonito / The dog is pretty (right now but maybe not tomorrow). 
El gato es flaco / The cat is skinny  ≠ El gato está flaco / The cat is skinny (today, but it could get fat if we feed him). 

Now, since estar is not used to express an intrinsic quality, the following examples using estar can't be referring to moral or spiritual qualities (intrinsic by nature) such as being good or being bad, so malo (bad) and bueno (good) here can only refer to something different: 

El lobo es malo / The wolf is bad ≠ El lobo está malo / The wolf is sick (or tastes badly). 
Las niñas son buenas / The girls are good ≠ Las niñas están buenas / The girls are tasty (Something the Big Bad Wolf could say, for example (think buenas = sabrosas = tasty). As "tasty" in English buenas can also mean "good looking," which is a rather vulgar expression, by the way). 

That covers the use of ser and estar plus an adjective like bueno (good). Let's see what happens if you combine these verbs with an adverb, like bien (well). The first good news is that you never use the verb ser with and adverb. So you can never user bien (well) with the verb ser. Never. The following are all incorrect expressions: 

Yo soy bien
Nosotros somos tan bien
El carro es bien

You must use instead an adjective combined with the verb ser if you want to talk about ethical or intrinsic qualities:

Yo soy bueno / am good
Nosotros somos tan buenos / We are so good 
El carro es bueno / The car is good (maybe it's a good brand, or a good model, or just a good one for some other reason)

If you want to talk about non-essential, non-intrinsic, non-ethical qualities, you need to use an adjective combined with the verb estar:

Yo estoy bueno / am tasty (If a good meal could talk, it could say something like that. The expression can also mean " I'm good looking" by extension, see above).  
Nosotros estamos tan buenos / We are so tasty (or "good looking," see above).  
El carro está bueno / The car is in good condition.

Or, finally, an adverb with the verb estar:

Yo estoy bien / am well
Nosotros estamos tan bien / We are so well
El carro está bien / The car is Ok (is doing well)

Continue Reading

Using Subjunctive After Conjunctions of Provision

Let's continue practicing the use of the subjunctive in adverb clauses that are part of compound sentences (99% of the time subjunctive is used in compound sentences) by identifying the conjunctions typically used to introduce it. In our previous lesson we focused on conjunctions of time, this time let's revise the use of the subjunctive combined with conjunctions of provision, a classic match!

The conjunctions that are used to express provision in Spanish are antes (de) que, con tal (de) que, en caso (de) que, para que, sin que. You will love these conjunctions, which, by the way, are more properly called locuciones conjuntivas (conjunctive phrases). Why? Well, because they will always use subjunctive, always. There's no room for mistakes. They are, therefore, a great addition to your vocabulary, one that will automatically improve your proficiency in the use of the subjunctive. Of course, you also must learn the proper way to conjugate the subjunctive; if you are not there yet, we recommend you to first focus on the present subjunctive

So let's start with the examples. Always use the subjunctive after the conjunction antes (de) que (before):

Aléjate de mí y hazlo pronto antes de que te mienta
Get away from me and do it soon before I lie to you
Caption 1, Camila - Aléjate de mí

The same happens with con tal (de) que (provided that):

Soy capaz de todo con tal de que te quedes a mi lado.
I'm capable of everything, provided that you stay beside me.

You probably noticed that we put the preposition de (of) between parentheses. This is just so you know that many Spanish speakers don't use it and instead just say antes que (before), con tal que (provided that), sometimes even en caso que (in case that). We recommend you to always use it. Read about dequeísmo and queísmo here.

The conjunctive phrase en caso de que (in case that) will also always be followed by subjunctive: 

Porque en caso de que esté muy aguado, hecho el resto.
Because, in the case that it is very watery, I put in the rest.
Caption 46, Recetas de cocina - Papa a la Huancaína - Part 1

The same happens with para que (so that, in order that) and sin que (without):

Si quieres puedes voltear acá para que veas en el espejo el reflejo 
If you want you can look here so that you see the reflection in the mirror
Caption 27, Instinto de conservación - Gorgona - Part 4

Yo soy el que hago que coman sin que tengan hambre
I am the one who makes them eat without being hungry
Caption 10, Calle 13 - Calma Pueblo

Continue Reading