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How to Write and Use the Prefix Super in Spanish

Let's start this lesson with a little quiz. Do you know how to write "superhero" in Spanish? Choose one of the following:

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a. Super héroe

b. Superhéroe

c. Súper héroe

d. Súperheroe

 

If you don't know the answer, this lesson will help you to find out which one is the proper spelling.

 

The meaning of the prefix super in Spanish

 

When it works as a prefix, the word super has different meanings. Sometimes, it means 'above' like in the word superestructura (superstructure). It can also mean 'excellence' or 'superiority':

 

¿Con el superagente, Jaime Suárez?

With the super-agent, Jaime Suarez?

Caption 53, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa - Capítulo 3

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In some words, the prefix super expresses the 'highest degree' of something: 

 

Eh... La iglesia es superhermosa.

Um... The church is super beautiful.

Caption 14, Bogotá - Una visita a la ciudad

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And finally, the prefix super can also indicate the 'excess' of something:

 

Ehm... Tenemos la... la... la... la... la superpoblación.

Um... We have (the... the... the... the... the) overpopulation.

Caption 50, Los médicos explican - Entrevista con el Doctor Suarez

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The meaning of the word súper (with an accent)

 

Have you ever seen the word súper with an accent? If you think that súper is the same as super (with no accent), you are wrong. The word súper needs the accent only in the following situations:

 

1. When it is used as a noun for the short form of the word supermercado (supermarket) or the type of gasoline:

 

Roberto fue al súper a comprar naranjas.

Roberto went to the supermarket to buy oranges. 

 

2. When it works as an adjective or adverb to express that someone or something is/was great:

 

Súper, y ¿qué le dijeron de Gastón Almanza?

Super, and what did they tell you about Gaston Almanza?

Caption 20, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa - Capítulo 1

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The simplest thing to remember here is that the prefix super doesn't have a graphic accent.

 

How to write words that use the prefix super in Spanish

 

Believe it or not, there are many native Spanish speakers who don't know how to properly write words that are formed with the prefix super. The main rule, however, is quite simple: When writing, the prefix super should be connected to the word that follows. With that simple rule, we can answer the question we posed at the beggining of this lesson:

 

Y tengo de superhéroe lo que Juanes de vallenato

And I've got from a superhero what Juanes [has] from vallenato

Caption 30, Juanes - La Plata

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However, every rule has its exception and this rule has the following one:

 

Super followed by a hyphen

 

When the word that follows super starts with a capital letter or when this prefix is followed by a number, you need to add a hyphen:

 

super-Obama or super-10

 

Super separated by the word that follows it

 

You need to leave a space after super when it goes before a series of words that have their own meaning:

 

Yo siempre me he sentido super a gusto cantando al lado de ese grandísimo músico...

I have always felt pretty at home singing along this great musician...

Caption 50, David Bisbal - Haciendo Premonición Live

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That's it for today. We invite you to write 10 words with the prefix super. And don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions.

¡Cómo puedes preguntar eso?

Many languages, Spanish and English included, use the same words for both questions and exclamations. Words like qué (what), cómo (how), and cuánto (how many) may primarily be interrogative words, but they are also exclamatory words that are used to simply state an idea or opinion with surprise or amazement. Frequently, phrases containing these words use exclamation marks (don't forget Spanish uses an additional initial upside down exclamation mark), but sometimes that's not even necessary, because the meaning of these expressions can be easily inferred from the context. Let's do a quick review.

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Cómo (how) is used exactly the same way in Spanish and English. In one of our new videos, Sor Angelica expresses how much she missed the bakery goods served at the convent:
 

Mmm... Ay, Padre Manuel, cómo extrañaba este pancito casero.

Mmm... Oh, Father Manuel, how I missed this homemade bread.

Caption 1, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 6

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Qué (what) is also used as an exclamatory word in both languages. One important difference between Spanish and English here is that Spanish never uses an article between the word qué and the noun or adjetive it modifies:
 

Qué grandísimo músico.

What a great musician.

Caption 49, David Bisbal - Haciendo Premonición Live - Part 5

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Another difference is that Spanish allows the use of qué in many more cases than English, which must resort to the use of "how" instead, as you can see in the following examples: 
 

¡Pero qué inteligente!

But how smart!

Caption 6, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reunión - Part 5

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Bueno, qué grande la tienda, ¿eh?

Well, how big the store is, huh?

Caption 81, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 14

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When used as an exclamatory word, qué can be replaced by a fancy word: cuán (how). This, however, is less common than qué, and it's mostly used in literary works. So, in the previous examples you can also use: cuán grandísimo músico, cuán inteligente,cuán grande, etc. Here is an example of cuán in one of our videos. Speaking of grandísimos músicos, here is an example of cuán in the lyrics of a song interpreted by the famous Chilean singer Chico Trujillo:
 

Para que te cuenten cuán grande es mi dolor

So they tell you how big my pain is

Caption 10, Chico Trujillo - Quémame los ojos

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Cuánto (how much) can be used in front of nouns and verbs to express surprise at an amount of something. To modify a verb, one must always use the singular masculine form: cuánto.
 

¡Ay, señora Angélica, cuánto hacía que no bajaba por aquí!

Ah, Madame Angelica, it's been so long since you last came down here!

Caption 54, Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentro - Part 2

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To modify a noun, cuánto must match the noun in gender and number:
 

¡Cuántos frijoles hubiéramos hecho!

How many beans we would have produced!

Caption 28, Con ánimo de lucro - Cortometraje - Part 3

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¡Cuántas penurias pasamos el año pasado!
How many scarcities we had last year!

¡Cuánto dolor te he causado!
How much pain I've inflicted upon you!

To end this lesson we want to share something that may be new to you. In Spanish you can combine the use of exclamation and interrogation marks when an expression is both a question and an exclamation. According to the Real Academia Española, there are three possible ways to do it correctly. See below. Bet you didn't know the first two were even possible!

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¡Cómo te atreves? 
¿Cómo te atreves!
¿¡Cómo te atreves!?

How dare you!?

¡Cuánto hemos aprendido hoy, verdad? (How much we learned today, right?!) 

Vocabulary

The Imperfect Tense in Spanish: Setting the Scene

Let's stop by the kitchen of the Di Carlo mansion, setting of preparations for the big gala in Muñeca Brava. The maids are very excited. They want to get a detailed description of how Mili looked as she made her Cinderella-like debut. Notice that Socorrito uses the imperfect tense of both ver (to look) and bajar (to go down, to lower, to descend) when she asks:

 

...Contame, contame, ¿cómo se la veía cuando bajaba de la escalera?

...Tell me, tell me, how did she look as she was walking down the stairs?

Caption 1, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 2

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If you've ever heard anything at all about the imperfect tense, it's that it applies to past actions that are not completed or that are ongoing. We see that quite clearly above in the case of bajaba; Mili "was walking down," an action that was ongoing at the time. However, another rule of the imperfect, one less bandied about, also comes into play here: the imperfect is employed when describing two or more simultaneous past actions. Socorrito wants to know how Mili "looked" (using the imperfect veía) as (at the same point in time) she was going down the stairs. 
 

With her usual enthusiasm, Mariposa definitely puts them in the moment when she answers:

 

Socorrito, ¡no sabe lo que era! Parecía una princesa.

Socorrito, you can't imagine! She looked like a princess.

Caption 2, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 2

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There is yet another well-documented use of the imperfect that we can cite here: its use to "set the scene" or provide background information, especially at the beginning of a larger story. She uses the imperfect era (from ser, to be) when she says ¡no sabe lo que era! which literally translates to "you don't know how it was!" And she employs parecía (she looked like), which is an imperfect conjugation of parecer (to appear as/to look like/to seem like). Mariposa is setting the stage for the fairy tale taking place in the ballroom, and doing so in much the same way one would recite an actual fairy tale (which is no surprise if you remember that Muñeca Brava is a retelling of the Cinderella story).

The start of your average ghost tale or mystery story makes a good illustration of using the imperfect to paint a background picture:

Era una noche oscura y tormentosa, llovía y unos pájaros cantaban a lo lejos.
It was a dark and stormy night. It was raining and a few birds were singing from a distance.

 

[Note that in Spanish one can also use the past continuous tense, for example estaba lloviendo (it was raining) or estaban cantando (they were singing)—but it would not likely be used by native speakers when setting a scene or providing a backdrop. We'll look at the past continuous, aka past progressive, in a different lesson.]

More well-known to the average student of Spanish is the use of the imperfect to refer to a habitual or repeated action in the past. We saw an example of this in an earlier episode of Muñeca Brava when Milena says to Louise:

 

Sí, antes nos veíamos siempre.

Yes, we always used to see each other.

Caption 68, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta - Part 11

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 And David Bisbal tells us about what used to (regularly) happen to him and his band while touring.
 

Y muchas veces la gente se confundía.

And several times people would get confused.

Caption 40, David Bisbal - Haciendo Premonición Live - Part 5

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The other simple past tense in Spanish (called "simple" because its conjugations are only one word long) is known as preterite and is used for past actions that are completed and non-habitual. We find an example in a recent music video from The Krayolas:

 

Cuando yo la vi por primera vez me enamoré en un dos por tres

When I saw her for the first time I fell in love with her instantly

Captions 1-2, The Krayolas - Little Fox

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The singer uses the preterite vi (saw) instead of the imperfect veía (was seeing/used to see) because he is talking about a specific, completed instance of laying eyes on someone.

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Read more interesting things about the imperfect on the 123TeachMe site and be sure to visit Spaleon to master the imperfect conjugation of all verbs.

 

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