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The Spanish Verb Quemar: Don't Get Burned!

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

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Quemar vs. Quemarse

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

 

me encanta, eh... usar salvia

I love to, um... use sage

que incluso tengo en mi... en mi jardín.

that I even have in my... in my garden.

La quemo y con eso recorro mi casa

I burn it, and I go around the house with it,

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

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Mili, quemá esa camisa por favor; que desaparezca;

Mili, burn that shirt please; it should disappear;

Caption 10, Muñeca Brava - 46 Recuperación

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

 

No es nada, señora. -¿Cómo no me voy a preocupar

It's nothing, ma'am. -How am I not going to be worried

si te quemaste? -¡Ay pero qué tonta!

if you burned yourself? -Oh, but how foolish [I am]!

Captions 22-23, Yago - 8 Descubrimiento

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

 

Este es el color, aproxi'... es como marrón dorado

This is the color, approx'... it's like golden brown,

pero no muy oscuro porque si no, se quema la arepa.

but not very dark because, otherwise, the arepa gets burned.

Captions 40-41, Dany - Arepas

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

 

Non-Physical Meanings of the Verb Quemar

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

 

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

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

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

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Siento dentro de mí ese sentimiento

I feel inside me that feeling

Que es grande, profundo y me quema por dentro. Yo sé que es amor

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

Captions 25-26, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano

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

 

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

 

También ayuda a quemar grasas

It also helps to burn fat.

Caption 35, Cleer - Hobbies

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

 

Alternative Translations for the Verb Quemarse

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

 

Y hace unos veinticinco años se quemó todo este edificio. 

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

Caption 5, Yago - 12 Fianza

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

 

Se me quemó una lamparita... 

A light bulb burned out on me...

Caption 77, Verano Eterno - Fiesta Grande

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

 

porque cuando se escapan sueltan chispas

because when they get loose they give off sparks

que provocan que se queme la instalación eléctrica,

that make the electrical system go up in smoke,

y puede provocar un incendio. 

and it can cause a fire.

Captions 52-54, Club de las ideas - La motivación

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

When Quemarse Doesn't Mean "To Burn"

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

 

A mí me encanta estar quemada

I love being tan,

pero este sol me recalienta la cabeza,

but this sun is overheating my head,

Caption 22, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones

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

 

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

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

Caption 16, Málaga - La tradición de los espetos

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

 

Quemarse as an Idiomatic Expression

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

 

Ahí te quemaste, hermano.

 That's where you screwed up, brother.

 

Me quemé en el examen de astronomia. 

I blew it on the astronomy test. 

 

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

 

Hablando de quemar,

Speaking of burning,

cómo me quemé con Andrea, mi vida, por favor.

I really burned my bridges with Andrea, my dear, please.

Caption 28, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones

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

 

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

 

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