Spanish Lessons


Nomás: Not only or no more?

How might a new airport affect the families living off the farming land of Atenco, Mexico? Listen to the interviews in this documentary for some strongly held opinions.

In the introduction, a listener might think they're hearing double:

Y no nomás el estado de México...

"And not only the state of Mexico..."

[Caption 6 ¡Tierra, Sí! > Atenco > 1]

No nomás ("not only") is not to be confused with no, no más ("no, no more"). In Mexico and parts of Central America, nomás as a single word can mean solamente or sólo (in English: "only"). It's distinguished from the two words 'no más' by their context.

But note that
'no nomás' probably sounds a little odd to someone from Spain, who would say "No sólo el estado de México," instead. (Loyal readers may recall we
previously discussed why sólo takes an accent mark when it means "only.")

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Ya: That's it, enough already!

... y ya

"... and that's it"

[Caption 28, Patricia Martí > Perspectiva Política > 1

In Spanish, ya is an adverb that packs a lot of meanings. It most commonly means "already" and "now." In informal, everyday speech, it's best understood in the context. For example, in a busy café, a waiter might ask you and your friend:

¿Ya pidieron?

"Did you all order

No, no tenemos la carta todavía

"No, we don't have the menu yet"

Ya se la traigo

"I'll bring it to you now"

Note that fellow adverb todavía means "yet" or "still" But getting back to ya, here are two phrases you're sure to come across often:

Ya es la hora = "It's time [already/now ]."

Ya está = "It's here [already/now]."

Our interview subject ends the interview with a shrug and a "y ya," which is her way of telling us "enough already," or "that's it."

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Anoche: Last Night

In the music video A Casa by Javier Garcia, take a look at two lines of the catchy refrain:

Anoche fue muy fuerte...
Last night was very tough...
[Captions 7, 19, 23, 27 Javier Garcia > A Casa]

La noche fue muy fuerte...
The night was very tough...
[Captions 11, 31, 41 Javier Garcia > A Casa]

Note that anoche means "last night." Some non-native Spanish speakers think they should say 'la noche pasada,' but that would be akin to saying "the day before today" when you mean simply "yesterday" in English. So listen closely to distinguish 'la noche' -meaning, more generically, "the night"- from 'anoche' -meaning "last night"- as in this week's featured song.

Here are some more useful Spanish terms for the past:

Ayer = "Yesterday"
Anteayer =
"The day before yesterday"

You'll note ante means "before," and so anteayer is really just a contraction of "[the day] before yesterday." Following the logic, can you guess what anteanoche means? Yup, "the night before last." (Isn't it convenient to have one Spanish word when in English we require four?)

Moving from days to weeks and years, the rules change a little. You see, there's no single word that means "last week." Instead, you have to say: '
la semana pasada.' And to say "last year," use el año pasado. But there is a word that means "yesteryear": It's antaño. Like "yesteryear" in English, antaño in Spanish refers to "times past"--not necessarily last year.

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Llevar: Shades of time

Meanwhile, in New York City, we catch up with Skampida's Gustavo and David on camera. They tell us what they've been up to:

llevamos cuatro meses in New York City...

we've been in New York City for four months"

[Caption 5, Skampida > Gustavo y David]

llevamos ocho años tocando...

"we've been playing for eight years..."

[Caption 10, Skampida > Gustavo y David]

You probaby know that the verb llevar means "to carry." But it has many other shades of meaning, one of which indicates the passage of time. Here are a couple more examples of llevar in this context:

¿Cuánto tiempo llevas aquí?

"How long have you been here?"


Llevo seis horas esperando

"I've been waiting six hours"

Note that you could substitute "haber estado," as in "to have been," to arrive at approximately the same meaning as llevar.

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Solía: Used to

In the new music video posted this week, the diction is very clear, but the meaning...? Well, Mexican pop band Molotov tends towards the surreal in this song about turning into a Martian (marciano). Once you listen carefully, and realize the lyrics are as goofy as the dance moves on your screen, you'll learn some very useful Spanish vocab.

For starters, take a look at the third line of the song:

No es el cuerpo marrano que solía tener...
It's not the fat body I used to have...
[Caption 3, Molotov > Marciano]

Solía is from the verb soler, which means, in the present infinitive, "to usually do" or "to be accustomed to." But in the past tense -as in the caption above- it has a simpler English translation: "used to."

Here's the trick: Soler in the present or past tense is always followed by another verb in the infinitive. Compare these two similar sentences:

En verano, suelo ir a la playa
"In summer, I usually go to the beach"
"In summer, I tend to go to the beach"

Cuando era niño, solía ir a la playa (tense = past)
"When I was a boy, I used to go to the beach"

And what about in the future or in the conditional tenses? Well, soler doesn't have a future or a conditional tense. That puts the word in a category of verbs that are not fully conjugated, known as "defective verbs." Other examples of defective verbs in Spanish include llover--"to rain"--and amanecer--"to dawn." (Click
here for more.)

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Acatar: A very obedient verb

No acato límites

[Caption 33, Babasónicos > Carísmatico]

The verb acatar means "to respect," "to observe," "to comply with" or "to defer to." For the lyrics quoted above, we translate: "I don't obey limits."

Here are some other examples of the verb in context:

Deben acatar la ley.

"They ought to follow the law."

El gobierno acata la decision final.

"The government respects the final decision."

Acatar is
conjugated the same way as hablar. In other words, it follows the rules (acata las reglas) of a regular -ar verb.

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Pendejo: A kid or a insult

In this week's new videos, Argentine movie and TV star, Pablo Echarri, tells us about when he was a kid:

Y yo me recuerdo que de pendejo en la escuela...
"And I remember when I was a kid in school..."
[Caption 13, Entrevista > Pablo Echarri > 4]

A word of warning here: In Argentina and Uruguay, the word pendejo is a benign, if slangy, synonym for muchacho meaning "kid, youth or teen." But you couldn't use pendejo in the same way in Mexico or parts of Central America and get away with it. There, pendejo is a crude profanity that you should read about in Wikipedia's write-up under Spanish profanity or this etymology discussion (it's what George Bush likes to use to refer to New York Times reporters -- and, sin duda, they to him!).

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Otro: Another usual mistake

Otro is a simple word in Spanish that looks and sounds like its English equivalent, "other" or "another." But with this ease of recognition and use, many non-native speakers misuse otro by adding an article where it doesn't belong.

Here's a trick question. How do you say "another" in Spanish -as in "I'll have another (beer)."?

Answer: "Me tomaría otra (cerveza)."

Note that it's NOT: una otra or un otro. That's wrong. It would be like saying "an another" in English.

In the sixth installment of the short documentary Con Ánimo de Lucro, we encounter a short clip from Nicaraguan TV: policía capturó a dos sujetos...

uno porque supuestamente se acababa a robar una moto...

y otro porque se metió a una casa...

"...the police captured two individuals...

one because he had allegedly just stolen a motorcycle...

and the other because he broke into a house... "

[Captions 13-15, Con Ánimo de Lucro > cortometraje > 6]

Note that once again, otro in Spanish doesn't require the pronoun it does in English.

The time to use a definite pronoun before otro is to distinguish between "another" and "the other"-- if the distinction needs to be made. For example:

Otro día =  "Another day"

But: El otro día = "The other day"

So, if you add a pronoun before otro(a), make sure it's a definite prounoun (i.e., el or la) and not an indefinite one (i.e., un or una).

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A finales de: Beginnings, middles, and ends

...terminamos nuestro trabajo de grado en abril, a finales de abril

[Captions 15-6, Patricia Marti > Estudios Médicos > 1]

With all Patricia's talk of school requirements, you could be forgiven for initially thinking 'a finales de abril' referred to her final exams. But the phrase actually means "at the end of April" or "around the end of April." And so, the quote cited above is translated as: "....we'll finish our thesis in April, at the end of April."

f Patricia's project were to be delayed, she might say:

...terminamos nuestro trabajo de grado a principios de mayo

or even:

...terminamos nuestro trabajo de grado a mediados de mayo

As you probably guessed, those two phrases above mean "around the beginning of May" and "around the middle of May" respectively.

If she wanted to be even more vague, Patricia could also use the common phrase a
mediados de año which means "around the middle of year." As an adjective, mediado(a) means "half-full" or "half-empty," depending on how you look at it.

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Tener que ver con: What's sight got to do with it?

[A]plicarle la palabra 'solidario' a las finanzas tiene que ver con que todo el mundo puede acceder a ese elemento de intermediación que es el dinero para poder hacer lo que en verdad importa, ¿no?

Applying the word 'solidarity' to finance has to do with everyone being able to access that element of intermediation, that is money, to be able to do what's really important, no?

[captions 29-30, De consumidor a persona> cortometraje > Part 6]

There are some complicated thoughts being expressed in this short film about the social consequences of consumerism. The number of verbs in the above quote alone could make a head spin. But here we want to home in on just two of those verbs, joined together in a common phrase: tener que ver.

In Spanish, tiene que ver con means, basically, "has to do with" or "got to do with" in English. But, of course, ver means "to see" and not "to do" (that's hacer). That's just the way it is.

¿Y eso qué tiene que ver?

"What's that got to do with it?" [Or, more simply:] "So what?"

No tiene nada que ver

"It's got nothing to do with it"

One of the points that comes across loud and clear in this short film is that a lot of social issues have to do with $money$ (el dinero). Eso es la verdad. ("That's the truth.")

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Sólo solo: Only alone

Sólo tú tienes el filo que rompe mi cascarón

Sólo tú pintas de negro el brillo de mi canción

[Captions 7-8 (refrain), Circo > Cascarón]

Solo and sólo are pronounced exactly the same, whether or not an accent over the initial o appears. So why mark the word in the catchy refrain of Circo's song? It's to clarify the meaning of the lyrics. You see, sólo is an adverb meaning "only," "solely" or "just"--same as solamente. In fact, sólo and solamente can be used interchangeably. A speaker (or singer) can decide which sounds better in any given sentence.

On the other hand, solo without an accent mark is an adjective meaning "alone," "on one's own" or "sole." Solo describes a lone man or a masculine object--for example, un cafe solo is "a black coffee". For a woman, the adjective is sola. "¿Estás sola?" is a simple, direct pick-up line.

Back to the song that sparked this discussion. The above lines can be translated as:

"Only you have the edge that breaks my shell

Only you paint black the shine of my song"

Note that if there had been no accent mark on sólo, you could interpret the lyric as "You [masculine] alone [that is, 'unaccompanied'] have the edge...." If you're ever scribbling down song lyrics from the radio and trying to decide if there's an accent in
sólo, simply substitute solamente to see if the meaning remains clear.

Of course, accent marks are also used in Spanish to change the pronunciation of a word. Soló -- from the verb solar ("to pave" or "to floor") -- means "he paved." A different story altogether.

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Cómo No: Of Course (It's a piece of cake!)

Dicen que no se puede cambiar. Pues, ¡cómo no! si se llevan la tajada más grande del pastel.

[captions 3-4, Andrés Manuel López Obrador > Publicidad de TV > Part 2]

The setup line here, Dicen que no se puede cambiar, translates to:

"They say that things can't change."

Then we have the simple phrase
¡cómo no!, which is translated as "of course!" Taking it word by word, cómo (with an accent over the first ó) means "how," and no means "no" or "not." But "how not!" is not quite as straightforward as the simple "of course!" in our translation. Context can be most helpful here. So, ask just about any soccer (fútbol) fan if they'll be watching the World Cup finals on Sunday and the reply in Spanish is the same: ¡Cómo no! / ("Of course!")

Next comes,
si se llevan la tajada más grande del pastel, or "if they take the biggest piece of the cake." Note that the phrase la tajada más grande del pastel can also be phrased el trozo más grande de la tarta.

You see, both pastel and tarta mean "cake." At the same time, both trozo and tajada mean "slice" or "piece." And your choices don't end there: Another way to say "a piece" or "a bit" is un pedazo, but that's not necessarily culinary. It's often used in the sense of "to fall to pieces" (caerse a pedazos). Meanwhile, una porción is commonly "a portion" but it can also mean "a slice" as in, una porción de pizza.

Got all that? Don't worry if you don't find it's "a piece of cake," which, incidentally, is expressed in Spanish as no está chupado or, no es pan comido.

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Buena Lid: Fair Fight

The votes are in and the official count is over. But the presidential election in Mexico may still be less than finished. The more left-leaning of the top two candidates, López Obrador lost by a hair (according to Mexico's election authority), but he's not admitting defeat and demands a painstaking recount. In this video footage, shot before the ballot counting began, the candidate says confidently:

Vamos a ganar de manera limpia, pacífica, en buena lid....
[Captions 24-6 , Andrés Manuel López Obrador > Campaigning]

Make a vocabulary note that lid in Spanish means "fight" or "combat." Meanwhile, "en buena lid" is a common expression (in some parts) that means "in a fair fight" or, more figuratively, "fair and square." So the phrase above gives us:
"We are going to win in a clean way, peacefully, in a fair fight..."

The expression does not necessarily mean "a good fight," in the sense of it being close or fun to watch, but the election in Mexico has turned into just that.

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Lograr: Achieve success

...tengo la satisfacción de que logramos cambiar la opinión...

[Caption 30, Felipe Calderón > Publicidad > Part 3]

Did you have the feeling that former energy minister and presidential rival Felipe Calderón has accomplished a lot by watching this video? It might be the repetition of the verb lograr that left that impression. In this week's clip from Calderón's publicity campaign, there are six--or is that seven?--appearances of the verb lograr--which means "to achieve," "to obtain" or "to succeed in."

In the quote sited above, we translate: "I've got the satisfaction that we succeeded in changing opinion...'

Here's another one:

Nos va a sacar adelante si logramos canalizarla bien

[Caption 75, Felipe Calderón > Publicidad > Part 3]

We'll know soon if Calderón succeeds in overcoming his biggest challenge yet.

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Tocar: The turn's turn.

Ahora nos toca a nosotros
[Captions 12 , Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador > Publicidad]

The campaign ads running on Mexican TV reflect the candidates' different styles. In one ad supporting Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, a group of Mexicans say in unison: Ahora nos toca a nosotros ("Now it's our turn")

The verb tocar means many things in Spanish. "To touch" and "to achieve by chance/fortune" are two definitions we discussed
a few weeks ago. But here the verb has a different meaning. Tocar a alguien can mean "it's somebody's turn" or "it's up to somebody." So, me toca means "it's my turn" and nos toca means "it's our turn." And, for added emphasis and clarity, nos toca a nosotros also means "it's our turn".

 Here's another example that's always appropriate for an election:

A ti te toca decidir
"It's up to you to decide"

The fact is: There are many more uses of the verb tocar than there are candidates in this hotly contested campaign. The authoritative dictionary from the
Real Academia Española
contains more than 30 entries for tocar. It's one of the few words that can fit any political purpose.

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Valer la Pena and Probar: Trying to be worthwhile

Vale la pena explicar que... hemos tratado lo más posible de no dañar la ecología.

[Caption 1, Javier Marin > Artesano Venezolano > Part 2]


Venezuelan artisan Javier Marin tells us right away that he and his fellow jewelry makers are not damaging sea creatures when they make their pretty shell necklaces to sell on the beach. In this video clip, Javier's opening sentence begins: Vale la pena explicar que... A literal translation might begin: "It's worth the trouble to explain that..." Or, more simply: "It's worth explaining that..." 


Vale la pena recordar la frase "vale la pena"

It's worthwhile remembering the phrase "vale la pena"


Later in the same sentence, we translate: "... we have tried to do everything possible not to damage the ecology." The verb tratar can mean "to treat" or "to try [to do something]" / [de hacer algo]). But note that there's another way to say "to try" in Spanish: probar. Here's how to differentiate the two:


Probar usually means "to try" in the sense of "to taste" or "to test." To try on clothing in a store, you use the reflexive probarse [probarse la ropa en una tienda]. 


Ay, no sé cómo detener esta máquina, voy a probar con el botón azul.

"Oh, I don´t know how to stop this machine, I´ll to try pressing the blue button."


Tratar [de] is usually used more in the sense of "to intend to" or "to attempt to." For example:


Tratamos de explicar el sentido de la palabra.

"We tried to explain the sense of the word."


Es bastante testarudo pero igual voy a tratar de convencerlo.

"He is quite stubborn but still I'll try to persuade him."


Of course, tratar means "to treat" too:


Cada vez que vamos a visitarlos nos tratan como reyes/ nos tratan de maravillas.

"Every time we go to visit them, they treat us as royalty/ wonderfully."


 And tratar [con] "to deal [with]". For example:

No quiero ni tratar con esa clase de gente.

"I don't even want to deal with those people."

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Culei: Slang for the Worst

Vota por la opción que más te gusta o por la menos culei
[Caption 13, Tu Rock es Votar > Publicidad > Part 2]

Tu Rock es Votar speaks directly to Mexico's youth in the language they understand. Problem is, Spanish dictionaries don't contain every example of youthful Mexican street slang. Case in point: culei. To understand this word, a native speaker from México is going to be more helpful than your average dictionary. So we asked our friends on the ground to translate, and we learned that culei is a Mexican variation of the slang word culero, which has many, colorful meanings--basically, malo ("bad") or gacho (Mexican for "nasty" or "ugly"). Trolling around the web

, we also found culei linked to the brand name Kool-Aid -as in the Technicolored, artificial fruit beverage. Their pronunciations are almost identical--save the final "d." Without sweating the details of the origins of the slang too much, we bring you the translation:

"Vote for the option that you like most, or for the least bad"

Sounds like the U.S.'s last "Rock the Vote" campaign, which acknowledged the youth vote's antipathy or even disgust with available election candidates.

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Requerir, Carecer: Meaning needed, meaning lacking

Desde que el hombre apareció como tal sobre la faz de la Tierra... ha requerido, y por cierto, aún requiere, de diversas fuentes de energía que le sirvan de combustible.

[Captions 1/4-5 , Cocinas Peruanas > cortometraje]

We begin this cortometraje ("short film") about the dangers of unventilated cooking in Peru with the basic needs of man. "Since man appeared as he is on the face of the Earth, he has required, and by the way still requires, diverse sources of energy to serve as fuel."

Above, the verb requerir ("to require" or "to need") is followed by the preposition de. This is common only in Latin America, notes HarperCollins' Spanish Unabridged Dictionary. Meanwhile, the Spanish spoken in Spain for the most part uses requerir as a transitive verb followed by a direct object, meaning no preposition is requerido ("required"). For example, in Spain you'd likely hear:

Esto requiere cierto cuidado

"This requires some care"

A little later in the short film, we encounter a verb that's always followed by de and then an indirect object:

sus viviendas... que en su mayoría, carecen de ventilación

[Captions 12-13 , Cocinas Peruanas > cortometraje]

Carecer [de algo] means "to lack [something]." Above, the narrator is speaking of "their homes... that for the majority, lack ventilation." The use of the preposition de is required here, regardless of which continent the speaker is standing on. If it were missing, you would have to say the sentence lacks something (la frase carece de algo).

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