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Idiomatic expressions with the verb Tener

In this lesson, we will review some very useful idioms and expressions with the verb tener (to have).
 
Very often, we use idiomatic expressions with tener in the present so let’s review the conjugation of this verb in the present tense:
 
Yo tengo | I have
Tú tienes | You have
Él/Ella tiene | He/She has
Nosotros tenemos | We have
Vosotros tenéis | You have
Ellos tienen | They have
 
There are many idiomatic expressions with the verb tener that Spanish speakers use to express physical sensations. These include expressions like tener frío/calor (to be cold/hot), tener hambre (to be hungry) and tener sueño (to be sleepy):

 Bueno, pero tengo frío.
Well, but I'm cold.
Caption 31, Natalia de Ecuador - Palabras de uso básico

 Y más que tenemos hambre ya a esta hora.
And plus, we're already hungry at this hour.
Caption 106, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5

Tenemos sueño.
We are sleepy.
Caption 38, El Aula Azul - Estados de ánimo


Apart from physical sensations, we can also use the verb tener to express other more psychological states such as tener miedo (to be afraid), tener ganas (to want/to desire), tener prisa (to be in a hurry) and tener vergüenza (to be ashamed):
 

¡Tengo miedo, tengo miedo, tengo miedo!
I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid!
Caption 42, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reunión - Part 2

 Siento que te cansaste y tienes ganas
I feel that you got tired and you want
Caption 4, Circo - Velocidades luz

la gente parece que siempre tiene prisa
people seem to always be in a hurry...
Caption 38, Maestra en Madrid - Nuria y amigo 

En este momento duda porque tiene vergüenza de ir a la escuela,
At this moment she hesitates because she's ashamed to go to school,
Caption 49, Con ánimo de lucro - Cortometraje - Part 4

 
And finally, don’t forget that you also need to use an idiomatic expression with the verb tenerwhen you talk about age:
 

Tengo veintiún años y soy estudiante de negocios internacionales.
I'm twenty-one years old and I'm a student of international business.
Caption 2, Amigos D.F. - Consejos para la calle


That's all for now. We challenge you to try finding more idiomatic expressions with the verb tener in our catalog of videos! And don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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The Spanish Verb Decir

The verb decir (to say, to tell) is very common in Spanish. Let’s learn how to use it.
 
One of the most commonly used forms of this verb is digo (I say):
 

Pero si yo digo: yo voy en el coche y tú vas en el autobús. 
But if I say: I'm going in the car, and you are going on the bus.
Caption 46, Fundamentos del Español - 6 - Tú y Usted

 
The verb decir is frequently followed by the word que (that):
 

Yo digo que la fruta es para comerla no para hacerse una fotografía con ella.
I say that fruit is to eat it not to take a picture with it.
Caption 48, Los Reporteros - Sembrar, comer, tirar - Part 2

 
Also remember that in Spanish you don't always need to use personal pronouns before verbs, since these are conjugated differently for each person:
 

Pues entonces rejuvenece coger castañas. -Digo que sí.
Well then, it rejuvenates to pick chestnuts. -I say so.
Caption 19, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 4


Another common instance of the verb decir is dice (he/she/it says). The reason why dice is very useful is because it helps us talk about what we read or hear. For example:
 
Hay un letrero en la puerta que dice que ya está cerrado | There's a sign on the door sayingit's closed already.
El mensaje dice que viene una gran tormenta | The message says a big storm is coming.
Mayra dice que te tienes que ir | Mayra says you have to go.
 
We mentioned before that it’s very common to omit personal pronouns before verbs in Spanish. But you will find that the verb decir is frequently preceded by reflexive, direct, or indirect object pronouns (me, te, se, nos, os, le, les, la, las, lo) depending on what is being said and to whom. For example:
 

¿Quién nos dice que la vida nos dará el tiempo necesario?
Who says [to us] that life will give us the necessary time?
Caption 19, Julieta Venegas - El Presente
 
Supongamos que un amigo me dice lo siguiente:
Let's imagine that a friend tells me the following:
Caption 44, Carlos explica - Diminutivos y Aumentativos Parte 2


It's also important to remember how pronouns are combined when using this verb. You must place reflexive or indirect object pronouns first, and then direct object pronouns right next to the verb. In the following example te replaces an indirect object (you) and lo (it) replaces a direct object:
 

Te lo digo de corazón.
 I tell [it to] you from the heart.
Caption 25, Documental de Alejandro Fernandez - Viento A Favor


The past tense dijo (he/she/it said) is another useful form of this verb. For example, you can use it to talk about what someone told you in the past. The expression me lo dijo (he/she/it told it to me) is worth learning:
 

¡Es verdad, pana, mi hermano me lo dijo!
It's true, pal, my brother told it to me!
Caption 45, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 3

 
No le digas (don’t tell him/her) and no me digas (don’t tell me) are  also useful:
 

¡No le digas, Candelario!
Don’t tell him, Candelario!
Caption 14, Guillermina y Candelario - La isla de las serpientes


Another fixed expression is se dice (it's said, one says), which is equivalent to dice la gente(people say):
 

Bueno y se dice que la mujer tiene un sexto sentido.
Well, and one says that a woman has a sixth sense.
Caption 48, El Ausente - Acto 2 - Part 3

 
The same phrase, se dice, can also be used to talk about the correct pronunciation of a word, or its meaning in a different language. For example:
 
Buenos días se dice "bonjour" en Francés | "Bonjour" is good morning in French.
No se dice "soy contento", se dice "estoy contento" | You don't say "soy contento," you say "estoy contento" (I'm happy).
 
You can find many more examples of the verb decir in our catalog. You just need to type the form of the verb that you want to practice in the search tool to start learning real Spanish from real speakers in real situations!

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The Verb Llevar

The Spanish verb llevar has many different meanings. It's also used in many idiomatic phrases. Let's study some examples since this is a very popular and useful verb.
 
The basic meanings of llevar is "to carry " or "to take": 
 
Tengo que llevar a mi hijo al doctor - I have to take my kid to the doctor.
Ella lleva una carga muy pesada - She carries a very heavy burden.
 
Sometimes the verb llevar translates as "to bring": 
 
No [te] olvides [de] llevar un regalo a la fiesta de Lucía / Don't forget to bring a gift to Lucia's party.
 
This can be a little confusing for English speakers, since traer and llevar actually mean opposite things in Spanish. The verb traer involves carrying something to the speaker's location, while llevar means to carry something from the speaker's location to a different place. So, to use the same example, if you are already at Lucía's party or, let's say, she is your roomie, you must say: No [te] olvides [de] traer un regalo a la fiesta de Lucía (Don't forget to bring a gift to Lucia's party).
 
But the verb llevar has many other interesting uses. For example, it's used to express the idea of having been doing something for a period of time. In this case, it's very common to combine llevar with the preposition ya (already):
 

Yo ya llevo veintitrés años aquí ya.
have already been here for twenty-three years now.
Caption 64, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 18

 
Llevar can also be used to express duration. This is easy to learn since English also uses "to take" for the same purpose:
 

tenemos que teñirlo, esto pues, nos lleva un ratito,
we have to dye it, this well, it takes us a little while,
Caption 68, Animales en familia - Un día en Bioparc: Microchip para Nacahué


As you can see, this use of llevar frequently involves using reflexive pronouns. But you don't always need them. Compare, for example: 
 
Hacer la tarea lleva mucho tiempo / Doing homework takes a lot of time.
Hacer la tarea me lleva mucho tiempo / Doing homework takes me a lot of time.
 
Llevar also means"to wear":
 

¿Por qué lleváis guantes?
Why do you wear gloves?
Caption 46, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5


By the way, the verb traer (to bring) is sometimes used the same way:
 

...por eso traen pantalones.
…that's why they wear pants.
Caption 48, El Ausente - Acto 2 - Part 3


And the verb llevar also means "to lead." For example: ¿Llevas una vida saludable? (Do youlead a healthy life?). 
 
Finally, there's an expression used in Mexico that derives from this last meaning: ahí la llevas. It literally means something like "there, you are leading it" but it means that the person speaking is telling you that you are doing your work well. It's very common to use this expression as an ironic remark that means exactly the opposite, so be careful: 
 
No te rindas, hijo. Ahí la llevas. / Don't give up, son. You are doing well.
¿Otra vez borracho? Bueno, tú síguele. Ahí la llevas. / Drunk again? Well, keep going. You are on the right track... not.
 

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Ser vs Estar - Yo Soy

Let's continue our series on the use of the verbs ser and estar, now focusing on how you can use soy (“I'm”—the first-person singular form of ser in the present tense) to talk about yourself.
 
The present tense of the verb ser (to be) is soy. You can use it combined with an adjective (or a participiothe -ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho endings and their feminine and plural forms, used as an adjective) to express an intrinsic characteristic or status, a permanent state of mind, body, or soul.
 
For starters, you can use it to introduce yourself:
 
Soy Paco, de 75 Minutos. -Hola.
I'm Paco, from 75 Minutos. -Hola.
Caption 7, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 4
 
You can also use soy to talk about your occupation, career, etc.
 
Yo soy guardia civil.
I am a Civil Guard.
Caption 33, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 12
 
And you can use soy to talk about your personality, preferences, nationality, beliefs or affiliations. For example: Yo soy musulmán (I'm muslim), soy miembro del partido (|'m a member of the party), soy tu hada madrina (I'm your fairy godmother).
 
Soy buena clienta, sí. La verdad que sí.
I am a good customer, yes. I truly am.
Caption 2, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 7
 
Yo soy bastante escrupulosa y no me da nada.
I am pretty fussy and it doesn't bother me at all.
Caption 21, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 7
 
The verb soy can also be used to talk about a role, status, function, etc:
 
Tú eres testigo. -Yo soy testigo. -Tú eres testigo.
You're a witness. -I'm a witness. -You're a witness.
Caption 81, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 11
 
We mentioned, in our previous lesson on the subject, that estoy can also be used to talk about roles when combined with the preposition de, so saying yo estoy de testigo is also correct. There are subtle differences, though, which sometimes get lost in translation:
 
Yo soy testigo - I'm a witness
Yo estoy de testigo - I'm (working as) a witness
 
It's perhaps at this point, when these verbs are combined with adjectives (or participios used as adjectives), that English speakers get the most confused about the difference between soyand estoy. It gets even more confusing because in many cases it may seem Spanish speakers use both verbs indistinctly. Here are some examples:
 
Yo soy casado - I'm (a) married (person).
Yo estoy casado - I'm married.
Yo soy gordo - I'm (a) fat (person).
Yo estoy gordo - I'm fat.
Yo soy pequeña - I'm (a) small (person).
Yo estoy pequeña - I'm small.
 
Sometimes, however, it's impossible to use them indistinctly. It happens more frequently when the verbs are combined with participios (-ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho endings), which take estar much more easily than ser:
 
Yo estoy devastado - I'm devastated.
*Yo soy devastado - Incorrect, don't use it.
Yo estoy cansado - I'm tired.
*Yo soy cansado - Incorrect, don't use it.
Yo estoy herido - I'm wounded.
*Yo soy herido - Incorrect, don't use it.
Yo estoy muerto - I'm dead.
*Yo soy muerto - Incorrect, don't use it.
 
*It's interesting how this may be different while using other modes or tenses. For example both yo estuve herido and yo fui herido (I was wounded) are possible, given the right context. However, fui herido is actually far more common than yo estuve herido, which would need a special context to make proper sense, for example: Yo estuve herido sin recibir ayuda por 10 horas (I was wounded without receiving any help for 10 hours).
 
The verb soy is also frequently combined with prepositions. For example, when combined with the preposition de, the verb soy indicates origin. So, besides soy mexicano (I'm Mexican) you can also say soy de México (I'm from Mexico).
 
Typically, the verb soy is followed by articles, but estoy doesn't take articles. Compare these:
 
Soy el mejor (I'm the best), soy mejor (I'm better), and estoy mejor (I feel better) are correct, but never say estoy el mejor. 
Soy tu padre (I'm your father), soy padre (I'm a father / also "I'm a nice person") and even estoy padre (I feel or look good) are correct, but you can't say estoy el padre.
Soy buena (I'm good), soy la buena (I'm the good one), estoy buena (I'm hot, good looking) are correct, but never say estoy la buena.
 
The same happens with pronouns. You won't find a pronoun naturally following the verb estar, except, maybe, when you want to reiterate the subject and change the natural order of words (hyperbaton) for emphatic or stylistic purposes: estoy yo tan triste (me, I feel so sad)Normally, you'd say estoy tan triste (I feel so sad)This could also be done with ser: soy yo tan triste (me, I'm such a sad person).  But again, normally you'd just say soy tan triste (I'm such a sad person).
 
There are many other ways in which you can use the verb soy; these are just some of the most common ones. 

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Ser vs Estar - Yo estoy

How much you learn about the proper use of ser and estar (both meaning "to be") depends on your exposure to how real Spanish is spoken by real people. This lesson focuses on how a person can use estoy (“I'm” —the first-person singular form of estar in the present tense) to talk about himself or herself.
 
The present tense of the verb estar (to be) is estoy. You can use it combined with an adjective (or a participiothe -ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho endings and their feminine and plural forms, used as an adjective) to express your current state of mind, body, or soul:
 

Yo estoy listo ya... ¿Dónde está el perro?
I'm ready now... Where's the dog?
Caption 108, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5


It's very common, for example, to use estar to talk about emotions, convictions, and beliefs:
 

Bueno, pero estoy muy contenta.
Well, but I am very happy.
Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 6
 
Yo creo que sí. -Estoy convencido que poco a poco vamos a... a buscar alternativas.
I think so. -I am convinced that little by little we are going to... to look for alternatives.
Caption 75-76, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 5


You can use any other regular adjective as well. Some examples are below:
 
Estoy limpio - I'm clean.
Estoy enferma - I'm sick.
Estoy sola - I'm lonely.
 
At this point it's useful to compare the possible meaning of similar phrases using ser instead of estar. Note how, by using ser instead of estar, the adjective becomes an intrinsic characteristic of the subject:
 
Soy limpio - I'm a clean person.
Soy enferma - Incorrect, it’s better to say soy una persona enferma "I'm a sick person," or even just estoy enferma (I’m sick), because this phrase can also mean “I’m a sick person” given the appropriate context.
Soy sola - Incorrect, it’s better to say soy una persona solitaria (I'm a lonely person).
 
You can combine estoy with the gerundio (-ando / -endo / -iendo endings) to talk about your actions, about what you are doing. The combination with haciendo, the gerundio of the verb hacer (to do) is very common:
 

Yo estoy haciendo el control de calidad del producto.
I'm doing the quality control of the product.
Caption 4, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 20

 
But you can combine estoy with any other gerundio, for example cogiendo, the gerundio of coger (to grab, to pick):
 

Hasta que no palme estoy cogiendo castañas.
As long as I don't croak, I'm picking chestnuts.
Caption 6, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5

 
You can use estoy with a complement that denotes space to specify your location. The combination with an adverb of place is common:
 

Por eso estoy aquí, porque me han dicho...
That's why I am here because they have told me...
Caption 85, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 15

 
And also with the preposition en (in):
 

Eh, ahora mismo estoy en Málaga, estoy de vacaciones.
Right now I am in Malaga, I am on vacation.
Caption 2, Arume - Málaga, España

 
The verb estoy can also be combined with certain prepositions to express a wide array of ideas. For example, you can use it with the preposition de to talk about your role or position in a certain context:
 

Eh, y... estoy de acuerdo con, con Denisse ahí.
Uh, and... I agree (literally, "I'm in accord") with, with Denisse there.
Caption 24, Belanova - Entrevista - Part 3
 
No, luego, cuando acaba la campaña estoy de camarero.
No, after, once the season ends, I work as a waiter.
Caption 61, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 13
 
Eh, ahora mismo estoy en Málaga, estoy de vacaciones.
Right now I am in Malaga, I am on vacation.
Caption 2, Arume - Málaga, España

 
You can combine the verb estoy with the preposition por  and a verb in infinitive (-er, -ar, -irendings) to talk about what you are about to do:
 
Estoy por ganar el juego de scrabble. 
I'm about to win the Scrabble match.
 
Estoy por terminar. Espérenme, por favor.
I'm about to finish. Please, wait for me.
 
You can use estar and the preposition para to talk about purpose, function, etc.
 
Aquí estoy para servir
I'm here to serve.
 
Here's an interesting example from our catalog of videos:
 

estoy para dirigir cine tal vez.
or maybe, I'm suited to direct a movie.
Caption 68, Arturo Vega - Entrevista

 
There are many other ways in which you can use the verb estoy; these are just some of the most common ones. For now, we recommend you practice these expressions, maybe try transforming them into the past or future tenses!  Our next lesson in this series will focus on how soy (the first-person singular form of ser in the present tense) can be used to talk about oneself.

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The Spanish Verb asistir

The Spanish verb asistir (to be present, to attend) has many different meanings depending on the context. Let's learn how to use this interesting verb.
 
The verb asistir derives from the latin assistĕre, which literally means "to stop next to," and that’s the basic meaning of this verb:

 

Para asistir a una reunión de trabajo.
To attend a business meeting.
Caption 4, Raquel - La Compra de un Billete de Tren

 
This verb is always accompanied by the preposition a. Here's another example using a conjugated form of the verb:

 

Así que, por primera vez en Animales en familia, asistimos a una doble cirugía.
So, for the first time on "Animales en familia," we witness a double surgery.
Caption 9, Animales en familia - La operación de Yaki


As you can see in the example above, the verb asistir may have different translations. The following example uses the imperative form of the verb:

 

So, don't stop educating yourself. Lee libros, asiste a seminarios.
So, don't stop educating yourself. Read books, go to seminars.
Caption 60, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Crear una empresa

 
In certain contexts the verb asistir means "to attend to," in which case it's very common to use the passive voice. The passive voice uses the participle asistido and the preposition por(by), as you can see in the following example:

 

La enfermera asiste al paciente / El paciente es asistido por la enfermera.
The nurse attends to the patient / The patient is attended by the nurse.


Additionally, asistir also means "to give help or assistance":

 

El principal rol de un asistente quirúrgico es asistir al cirujano durante una operación.
The primary role of a surgical assistant is to assist the surgeon during an operation.


As in English, the verb asistir is also used in sports to describe the act of enabling another player making a good play:

 

¡Messi asistió a Suárez sin siquiera tocar la pelota!
Messi assisted Suarez without even touching the ball!


Finally the verb asistir is used to express the idea of reason or law being on somebody's side:

 

Al demandate le asiste el derecho y la razón
The plaintiff has the law and reason on his side.

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The Verb Atender

The Spanish verb atender ("to serve," "to see to," "to attend to," among other uses) is a common source of confusion since it doesn't always mean what it sounds like it should to English speakers. Let's see some examples.
 
The verb atender meaning “to serve” or “to attend” can be very useful in any context that involves providing or receiving a service:
 

Quisiera saber si la doctora Castaño me podría atender hoy.
I would like to know if Doctor Castaño could see me today.
Caption 9, Cita médica - La cita médica de Cleer

 
Most of the time this verb is accompanied by the preposition a, but not always. In the following example, the preposition a was omitted:
 

Por el momento ustedes se pueden ir un rato a hablar con sus amigos, a atender [a] la visita...
For the moment you can go for a while to talk with your friends, to serve your guests...
Caption 40, Cocinando con Miguelito - Pollo sudado


This can be done because the expression la visita is depersonalized. But it's very different when the object of the verb atender is an individual or group of individuals, in which case you must always use the preposition a:
 

Mi ocupación es atender a la gente.
My job is to serve people.
Caption 67, Perdidos en la Patagonia - El Aeropuerto - La Sala de Esperas


The omission of the preposition a occurs more frequently when the verb atender means "to respond to," "to meet," "to answer to," or "to look after" something. For example:
 

Por ahí lo llamo, se da cuenta que soy yo, no atiende el teléfono.
I might call him, he realizes that it's me, he doesn't answer the phone.
Caption 47, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 6
 
Y de pronto los que atienden [un] negocio...
And suddenly those who look after a business...
Caption 10, Festivaliando - Mono Núñez - Part 12

 
You always need to use the preposition a before atender when it means "to pay attention.” In the following example, Raquel uses the contraction al (a + el):
 

No tendrás dudas si atiendes al contexto de lo que se dice.
You will have no doubt if you pay attention to the context of what is said.
Caption 14, Raquel - Diminutivos y aumentativos


The verb atender is also frequently combined with personal pronouns (used instead of direct and indirect objects):
 

Voy a tratar de dejarme que me atiendan, que me hagan lo que necesite.
I am going to try to let them take care of me, do to me whatever I need.
Caption 23, Transformación - Estética

 
It's also common to reiterate the object of the verb in these expressions, even when a pronoun has already been used. For example, it's not incorrect to say dejar que me atiendan a mí (let them take care of me). Saying Es mejor que el doctor la atienda a ella primero is as correct as saying Es mejor que el doctor la atienda primero (It's better if the doctor sees her first). Here's an interesting example:
 

No sé, como nervios [de] que lo atiendan a uno y sentirse tan bien atendido.
I don't know, like nerves that one is taken care of and to feel so well taken care of.
Caption 20, Transformación - Estética

 
¡Gracias por atender a esta lección!

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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 to indicate the beginning and progression of an action, for example:

¡Excelente! Voy planeando el evento.
Excellent! I'm starting to plan 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 often 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 are 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 studying 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

Poco a poco los irás descubriendo todos.
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 not only as the auxiliary conjugated verb but also for 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)!

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The Verb Poder - Common Expressions

The verb poder (to be able, can) is one of the 10 most common verbs in Spanish. This verb is irregular, which means that it's unique in its conjugations. Let's study some common expressions in which this verb is used.
 
Most of the time the verb poder functions as an auxiliary verb (just like its English counterparts "can" and "could"), but in Spanish poder is followed by an infinitive. In the present tense you could find it used to express the ability or permission to do something:
 

Hay mucho que tú puedes hacer.
There is a lot that you can do.
Caption 44, 3R - Campaña de reciclaje - Part 2

¿Yo puedo ir a tú casa?
Can I go to your house?
Caption 65, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 15


Compare this to the use of puedo with reflexive pronouns in the same video:
 

¿Yo me puedo apuntar a eso? -Claro.
Can I sign up for that? -Sure.
Caption 28, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 15


You can also use the reflexive pronoun as a suffix of the verb in the infinitive. So it's also correct to say puedo apuntarme (can I sign up). In Spanish the idea behind the use of reflexive here is that you write down your own name yourself. If you don't use the reflexive and only say puedo apuntar, then the expression means I can write down. For example: puedo apuntar tu nombre (I can write down your name).
 
The combination of the reflexive with the verb poder is also used to talk about abilities or possibilities in an impersonal way. For this you will always use the pronoun se, and the third-person of the verb. For example, se puede nadar (one can swim). Many Spanish speakers use an abbreviation of the impersonal expression ¿se puede pasar? (literally "may one come in?") as a courtesy before entering a house or a room:
 

¿Se puede? Sí. -Sí. -Soy Toñi. -Encantada.
May I? Yes. -Yes. -I'm Toñi. -Glad to meet you.
Caption 7, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 14


Of course, you can also not use the impersonal and say ¿puedo pasar? (May I come in?). The equivalent of the shortened expression "may I" is simply ¿puedo?, which, as in English, can be used to ask for permission to do something, not only entering a room.
 
Now, the combination of the verb poder with the reflexive se can also indicate the use of a special type of passive voice. In the following example, the doctor is talking about ozone:
 

Se puede obtener artificialmente a partir de descargas eléctricas.
It can be obtained artificially through electrical discharges.  
Caption 28, Los médicos explican - Beneficios del ozono


FYI: the normal passive voice construction for this would be: puede ser obtenido (it can be obtained).
 
We will continue studying more expressions that use the verb poder with other tenses and moods in a future lesson. We leave you with a very common expression of disbelief or surprise that uses the verb poderno puede ser (it can’t be). We even have a series titled NPS, an acronym of no puede ser. ¿Puedes creerlo? (can you believe it?)
 

¡No puede ser! -¡No puede ser!
It can't be! -It can't be.
Caption 52, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 2

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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).

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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.

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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)
 

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