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Spanish Lessons


Aguantar: A whole lot to bear

Here's a haunting description of what it's like to be out in a field, wounded by a land mine:

Y bueno, yo aguanté hasta cierta parte, y de ahí ya no pude, el dolor me dominó.
"And, well, I could take it until a certain point, and from there on I couldn't anymore; the pain dominated me."
[Caption 66, La Tierra Envenenada > Desminando > 1]


The verb aguantar is a synonym for soportar in this context. It means "to be able to endure," "to stand" or "to bear." You'll often see aguantar followed by hasta ("until") to set a limit for how much can be stood or endured. For example:

Hay que aguantar hasta mañana
"You [in an impersonal sense] have to put up with it until tomorrow."

You'll probably hear the verb aguantar used by students with heavy work loads and tough teachers, but the verb can describe truly horrific pain as well.

If you go back into the archives, you'll hear this verb used in the Disputas theme song, Me llamas, by
José Luis Perales.

me llamas... para decirme que te marchas, que ya no aguantas más... que ya estas harta...
"you call me... to tell me that you're leaving, that you can't take it anymore... that you're fed up..."
[Captions 13-16, Disputas > La Extraña Dama > 2]

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Mina: An explosive or a woman

This week, we've uploaded and subtitled the first installment of "La Tierra Envenenada" ("The Poisoned Land") -- a documentary describing the horrors of land mines in Central America.


Check out this short exchange between an unseen interviewer and a pedestrian (known in the business as an MOS, for "man on the street"):

Cuénteme, ¿usted sabe lo que es una mina?
Tell me, do you know what a mine is?

No, no sé... ¿Quién es?
No, I don't know... Who is it?
[Captions 23-4, La Tierra Envenenada > Desminando > 1]

"¿Quién es?" ("Who is it?")...

That off-the-cuff reply is kind of funny if you note that in some Latin American countries una mina is slang for "a girl" or "a woman," often with negative connotations. Regular subscribers to this service may remember that we wrote about the slang meaning of minas in Argentina back in this newsletter.

According to la Real Academia Española, the definitive Spanish-language authority, mina has many definitions. For one thing, it is a mine, as in a site where minerals are excavated. In a more military sense, it's a mine, as in an encased explosive set to detonate when disturbed. (The latter is the subject of our documentary today.) And the dictionary also acknowledges that mina is an informal synonym for una mujer in Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. Some explosively bad puns could be made with this minefield of a word. (Sorry.)


But keep in mind that this video is introducing the very serious topic of minas antipersonales ("antipersonnel mines") and the process of desminando ("removing the mines") -- that la Organización de los Estados Americanos ("the Organization of American States") is undertaking. Listen and learn.

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Haber+De+Infinitive: Something you should learn

The Mexican trio Belanova use the haber + de + infinitive construction repeatedly in the chorus of Por Ti:

Si mi vida ha de continuar
"If my life should continue"
Si otro día llegará
"If another day will come"
Si he de volver a comenzar
"If I should start all over again"

será por ti.
it will be for you.
[Captions 6-9, Belanova > Por ti]



As it turns out, the haber+de+infinitive construction, often found in music and literature, is deceivingly difficult to translate with precision. A native speaker staff member tells us that, in the context of this song, she gets the sense that ha de continuar expresses possibility ("if my life is to continue / is going to continue") more than obligation ("if my life must continue"). However, generally speaking, haber+de+infinitive, does convey a sense of obligation or necessity, though often milder than the tener+que+infinitive construction ( tiene que continuar -`"has to continue") or hay que+infinitive construction (hay que continuar -"has to / must continue").

For this reason, in the end, we chose to use "should" in our English translations as it is nicely ambigious, conveying a sense of possibility but also having the alternate meaning of mild obligation.

Note that haber+de+infinitive and hay [also from the verb haber] + que + infinitive are completely distinct, and used in distinct contexts. So, how should you decide de vs que? You see, hay que continuar, loosely translated as "one has to continue," would always express a generalization. Meanwhile, the first-, second- and third-person conjugations of haber -- that is, he, hemos, has, han, ha and han -- plus 'de' yields a more specific, though milder sense of obligation, or of possibility, as in our featured song.


Check out these discussions on the topic:

Spanish Kit >
Spanish Idioms with Tener, Deber, and Haber
About.com >
How is Haber de used?
WordReference.com > haber de, haber que, tener que


A final note regarding the verbs in Belanova's provocative refrain: 'Volver a comenzar' could be translated bit by bit as "to return ['volver'] to begin [comenzar]." But in English, we tend to say "to start again" or, with more emphasis, "to start all over again."

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Llevar: A verb that wears many outfits

Say you're going to a Christmas party -- that is, una fiesta de Navidad. What are you going to bring? (¿Que vas a llevar?) Well, your host might suggest:


Tráiganos una botella de vino, nada más.
"Bring us a bottle of wine, that's all."

And then you might respond:

Bueno. Voy a llevar vino tinto.
"Ok. I'll bring red wine."

Did you notice we switched verbs there? Both llevar and traer can mean "to bring," but with a crucial difference in perspective. If you're the one doing the bringing to someone else, you use 'llevar' -which also means "to carry." If you're the one asking someone to bring something to you, you use 'traer.' Got that?

There are many definitions of the common verb 'llevar,' which is why we keep returning to it again and again in our weekly missives.

In this week's videos, you'll hear llevar used in a couple of different contexts -- in a song and in a classroom. First, let's look at the heartstring-tugging lyrics sung by Axel Fernando:

Muchas veces me pregunto por qué pasa todo esto,
por qué tus mil 'te quieros' siempre se los lleva el viento

"Many times I wonder why is all this happening,
why your thousand "I love yous" are always carried away by the wind"

[Captions 1-2, Axel Fernando > ¿Qué estás buscando?]

Here, the reflexive llevarse means "to carry away" or "to take away." The online dictionary site, WordReference.com provides some examples along the same lines:

¡Llévatelo de aquí!
"Take it away [from here]!"

Se lo llevó la corriente
"The current carried it away"

Remember: At a restaurant, they might ask you '¿Para llevar?' ("To take out [with you]?"). In our next video -- in Spanish school room -- we get a handy lesson in verb forms to use to offer advice. At the same time, we see our featured verb take on another shade of its meaning. Sit in the back of the classroom and listen:

'Te aconsejo que lleves una chaqueta'. ...
'Yo, que tú, llevaría... llevaría una chaqueta.'
"I recommend that you bring a jacket." ....
"If I were you, I would bring... I would bring a jacket."

[Captions 12, 14, Escuela Don Quijote > En el aula > Part 2]


Note that llevar could also mean "to wear," and that the phrases above could possibly be talking about the "wearing" of a jacket as well. One must distinguish the proper meaning from the greater context.

Hazme un favor: Tráeme mi chaqueta.
"Do me a favor: Bring me my jacket."
¿Para qué?
Quiero llevarla a la fiesta de Navidad.
"I want to wear it [or possibly: to bring it] to the Christmas party.

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—ito, —ita: Making it smaller, or is it?

Among Polbo's song lyrics that are entirely in Spanish in this video, we see the diminutive of todos ("everyone" or "all") repeated in the refrain:

Ahora toditos se fueron al sur
"Now everyone's gone south"
[Captions 10, 21 27, Polbo > Yo era tan cool']


Why use the diminutive of todos here? Well, adding the suffix -ito to make it toditos doesn't change the meaning of the word. It simply renders it more colloquial.

You see, in Spanish adding a diminutive suffix -- namely, -ito or -ita -- is often used in informal speech -- in its extreme, in baby talk or other affectionate banter. So, a gatito (gato / "cat" + -ito) can be a little cat (or "kitty") but it can also be a big cat that you're discussing with a small person. For example:

Mira el gatito, mi amorcito
"Look at the kitty, my little love.

This could be said at the zoo in front of a lion's cage if we're talking baby talk. Another example:

Besitos grandes
"Big affectionate kisses.

Back to our song. Toditos is "everyone" said in a friendly, familiar way. Toditos is not meant to shrink the size of "everyone," just to cut make it more casual.



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As: A whiz or an ass?

Spanish is the official language of Puerto Rico, yet a large portion of the population knows English, so bilingual puns play to a wide audience. Case in point, the lyrics to this cynical song by the band Polbo:

Yo era el as de las nenas, cuando tenía dinero.
Ahora sigo siendo el as/ass,
en otro idioma, tú sabrás.
"I was the ace of the girls, when I had money.
Now I'm still the ace/ass,
in another language, you know."

[Captions 13-6, Polbo > Yo era tan cool]


Like its English equivalent "ace," the Spanish as is both a good poker card and "a whiz" at something. The pun on as / ass works in this song because the two words are pronounced essentially the same way, with a soft "s" (unlike the word "as" in English, which is pronounced "az").

One more note regarding the bilingual audience for Yo era tan cool. The word "cool" is obviously borrowed from English. But one could argue that cool is going the way of "OK" / "okay" or "ciao" / "chau" / "chao" as a word that crosses linguistic barriers. We googled "es cool" (in Spanish) and more than 100,000 web pages came up. Cool, ¿no?

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Llevarse Bien: To get along

In the song's refrain, there's another example of a common verb used in a secondary sense.

Si dos ya no se llevan bien
"If two don't get along [well]

captions 11, 26, 33 and 39, Jeremías > Uno y uno igual a tres

The first definition you'll probably learn for the common verb llevar is "to carry." Learn the nuances of this versatile verb and you'll find this construction:

Llevarse bien/mal con alguien
"To get on well/badly with somebody"

For more examples -- and more nuances of llevar -- you could check out:
About.com > Spanish language > Using llevar



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Echarse: To Start To

Cheating! Bitter tears! Broken hearts!... There's a lot of action in this week's featured song by Jeremías -Uno y uno igual a tres ("One and one, the same as three") -- which is why the singer uses a lot of verbs (except in the song title).


By and large, the verbs sprinkled throughout these lyrics are standards found in classic reference texts, like "501 Spanish Verbs" and "The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs." But they may not follow the first definitions found on the top of the page. Let's take a closer look at some lyrics.

Pero ya las lágrimas se echaban a correr
"But the tears had already started to fall"
[Caption 8, Jeremí
as - Uno y uno igual a tres]

The first definition students usually learn for echar is usually "to throw" -as in, ¡Echa la pelota! ("Throw the ball!"). But in this construction -echarse a + infinitive- the more faithful translation is "to begin to [do something]." For example:

De repente, se echó a reír
"Suddenly, he began to laugh"

"Suddenly, he burst out


So, in the song lyric cited above, a student of Spanish who only knew the first definition of echar might try to translate the sentence as "But the tears had already thrown themselves to running." Well, almost... Familiarity with the construction echarse a + infinitive will help you quickly realize that the tears had started to run (or, in English, it's more common to say tears "fall").

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Prestar un Servicio: To Lend a Service

The verb prestar (which means "to lend') has some different uses in Spanish than the verb "lend" does in English. For an example, let's turn to Chober, chatting on the beach in Venezuela in this week's new interview.

Y bueno, el destino final es prestar un servicio donde la gente pueda degustar gratronomía local
"And, well, the final objective is to provide a service where people can taste local gastronomy"
caption 24, Playa Adícora > Chober

If you translated the above quotation and decided 'prestar un servicio' was "to lend a service," you'd still get the gist of the sentence. But your English might sound a little stilted. Same holds true of this common phrase in Spanish:

Prestar atención

To lend attention? Well, in modern English we'd say "to pay attention."

For more Spanish phrases containing prestar, see:

WordReference.com >



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Drink up!

Joselo's song titled Sobriedad ("sobriety") is dripping with references to booze. We counted seven kinds of alcoholic beverages in the lyrics: pisco sour, champaña, vino blanco, whiskey, vodka, gin and tonic, and vino tinto. Most of these drinks need no translation to English speakers, but we have a few tips for reading bar menus.
  • Pisco sour is claimed to be the national drink of both Chile and Peru. Both South American countries produce pisco -a type of brandy or liquor distilled from grapes, usually Quebranta or Muscat varieties.
  • Vino, as almost everyone knows, is "wine." This song mentions both white and red wine -- or, vino blanco y tinto. Tinto?, you may ask. Not rojo ("red")? Yes, you read that correctly. A common rookie error in Spanish is to assume "red wine" is vino rojo. But that order is more likely to get you some sort of rosé or vino rosado. Remember to use the word tinto to get your classic red wine.
  • Champaña sounds familiar, no? As you guessed, it's "Champagne" in English and the original French. It's also known as champán in the Spanish-speaking world.

Ok. Now whiskey, vodka and gin and tonic are just what you think they are. Incidentally, "whiskey" (pronounced 'wee-skee') is often what you say when someone takes your photo, in order to smile as wide in Spanish as you do in English when you say "cheese."



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Gender Reversals: "El Alma" and more

Colombian crooner Juanes has the audience singing along to every word of his hit Para tu amor in this week's featured video. Catchy lyrics are helpful language-learning aids: When they get stuck in your head (and won't leave) they build up your vocab and aid in your memorizaiton of usage rules. Case in point: Para tu amor contains many lyrical lines that can help non-native speakers grasp the difference between para and por -- both translated into English as "for" in many cases. In newsletters past, we've drawn from the Yabla Spanish archive of song lyrics to write about distinctions between por and para. (Linked here for your review.) So, in this week's newsletter, we'll use Juanes to illuminate a gender rule bender instead.

He sings:

Yo te quiero con el alma y con el corazón

"I love you with my soul and with my heart."

[Captions 13 and 23, Juanes > Para tu amor]

Check our online dictionary and you'll see alma (a noun) is feminine, as so many Spanish words that '-a' are. But alma belongs to a subgroup of feminine nouns that take masculine articles when singular. Others include:

  • El agua fría ("The cold water")
  • El águila americana ("The American eagle")
  • El ama de casa desperada ("The desperate housewife")

Note that all four examples listed above begin with a stressed a-, which wouldn't sound right to a native speaker if preceded by la or una. Also note that when plural, they revert to the feminine article las or unas. So it's las aguas tibias ("the lukewarm waters").


As a final note: Whatever the number, alma and her gender-bending ilk behave like feminine nouns when they are paired with adjectives. That is to say, the adjectives they are paired with are made feminine with an -a ending. For more on words that break gender rules, see:

About.com > Spanish grammar > Gender reversals

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Escuchar: Listen to some meanings

¡Oye! ("Hey!") -from the verb oír ("to hear")- and ¡Escúchame! ("Listen to me!") -from the verb escuchar ("to listen")- mean approximately the same thing. Kind of like the modern "Listen up!"and the old fashioned "Hear ye! Hear ye!" in English. And now that we've got your attention, let's look more closely at the two auditory verbs.


Escuchar generally means "to listen" in the sense of paying attention to what's heard. In contrast, oír means "to hear" in the sense of using your ears. Escuchar is a deliberate act, while oír can be passive. So, note that escuchar música usually means "to listen to music" while oír música is "to hear music." In other words, you might hear a band's latest album without really listening to the lyrics. Got that?

So, have you heard or listened to Antes que ver el sol by Coti? The refrain goes like this:

Antes que ver el sol... prefiero escuchar tu voz
"Before seeing the sun... I prefer to listen to your voice."
[Captions 9,10, (refrain), Coti > Antes que ver el sol]

In our video's subtitles, we translate escuchar the traditional way, as "listen to". But because the lyrics in this song are a little, um, opaque -as rock lyrics so often are- one could also argue that escuchar could be translated as "hear" here. You see, in popular usage, the dictionary definitions of escuchar and oír can be blurred, especially in various Latin American countries.

Case in point: In our video clip, Coti urges his vocal audience to sing louder by saying:

¡No se escucha!
"I can't hear you!"

[Caption 23, Coti > Antes que ver el sol]

So are escuchar and oír losing their distinctive definitions? Native Spanish speakers and observant English speakers argue the point on various message boards. See, for example:

WordReference.com > Escuchar / Oír
DR1 (Dominican Republic forums) > Oír / Escuchar
Wikipedia > Convenciones idiomáticas (Oír / Escuchar)

But the authoritative Real Academia Española upholds the difference in its Diccionario de la Lengua Española and we think Spanish students should listen to that.


As a final note, the instrument that does all of our listening and hearing can also be confusing for non-native speakers of Spanish. You see, "ear" is translated into Spanish as oído, which specifically means "the inner ear," -i.e., the part used for hearing. Meanwhile, "the outer ear" -i.e., the body part Vincent Van Gogh famously chopped off- is translated as oreja.

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Pitufresa: Remember the Smurfs?

Remember The Smurfs? Los Pitufos -as they are known in Spanish- are referenced among the trippy Liquits lyrics in this featured music video now on Yabla Spanish:

Pastel de pitufresa mezclado con peyote natural y moras
Smurfberry pie mixed with natural peyote and blackberry"
[Caption 10, Liquits > Jardín]

Huh?, you might ask. What's a pitufresa? Well, fresa translates as "strawberry." Adding the made-up prefix pitu[f]- in front of the word for this sweet, red fruit is akin to manipulating the English word "strawberry" to create the fictional food "smurfberry." (Remember this red-fruited cereal spun off from the cartoon?)

Like "Smurf," Pitufo is a made-up word in Spanish. But in both English and Spanish, the Smurf world -that is, Pitufolandia- follows some basic language rules that can be illuminating for students to note. For example:

"Smurf" + the suffix "-ette" = "Smurfette"
Pitufo + the suffix -ina = Pitufina

In both cases, the made-up root word is paired with a real-world suffix to name the cute, female character in the cartoon.


So, the Liquits' loopy reference to fictional pitufresas can help shed light on other pop culture references. Bonus points for anyone who can figure out how to say "Smurftastic!" en español....

For more, see:

Wikipedia >
The Smurfs in other languages

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Encantar: Another way to love

How do you say "love" in Spanish? Let us count the ways...

  1. There's the verb amar ("to love"), which is pretty easy to remember because it shares Latin roots with the English words "amorous" and "enamored."
  2. There's the verb querer, which means both "to love" (someone) or "to want" (something). You've probably heard:
    Te quiero = "I love you" +
    Yo quiero Taco Bell = "I want Taco Bell"
  3. Then there's the verb encantar ("to love," or "to enchant"), which is used to express "love" in the sense of liking something a whole heck of a lot (i.e., gustar mucho). It is used with objects, not people. For example:
    Me encanta esta ciudad = "I love this city."
    Me encantan esos pantalones = "I love those pants."


Did you note in our examples above that the verb encantar (like gustar) agrees with the object of affection (la cuidad / los pantalones), instead of the speaker? The construction, if expressed in English, might be "Those pants enchant me."

In the newest video content currently featured on Yabla Spanish, we interview Jesús Baz, the director of studies at the don Quijote Spanish-language school in Salamanca.


Be assured, long-time teacher Jesús knows his Spanish -- and he loves his hometown of Salamanca, Spain. Here's how he expresses his affection:


Yo soy salmantino, y me encanta mi ciudad porque me parece una de las ciudades más bonitas del mundo.
"I am from Salamanca, and I love my city because I think it's one of the nicest cities in the world."
[Captions 25-6, Escuela Don Quijote - Jesús Baz]

So, feel confident about following Jesús's example and describing the love you feel for your own favorite place in the world with the verb encantar.


For further discussions on "love," see:
About.com >
Te quiero vs te amo
WordReference.com > Encantar / amar
WordReference.com >
Querer / amar and amar / querer


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Tantos: Points

Tantos para allí para la sota.
"Points over there for the jack."

[Caption 18, La Brisca > En la Calle]


Spanish learners quickly pick up the word tanto in its widely used sense of "so much" or "so many." In this meaning the word is used both as an adjective, tanto dinero (so much money), and adverb, no deberías apostar tanto (you shouldn't gamble so much).

However un tanto is also "a point," and tantos can mean "points," as in points in a game or a competition. In our video example the speaker is referring to points in a card game.

El jugador marcó dos tantos y su equipo ganó el partido.
"The player scored two points and his team won the match."

Este equipo tiene dos tantos a su favor.
"This team is up by two points."

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Animarse: Would you dare?

¿Se animará Sebastián Estebanez a comer cucarachas?
"Will Sebastian Estebanez dare to eat cockroaches?"

[Caption 1, Factor Fobia > Cucarachas > part 2]


In Argentina, the reflexive verb animarse is frequently used to mean "to dare," as we see throughout our Factor Fobia series.

¿Se animará o no se animará Sebastián Estebanez?
"Will Sebastian Estebanez dare or not dare?"

[Caption 19, Factor Fobia > Cucarachas > part 2]

Animarse a más
Dare for more
(Pepsi slogan)

¿Te animás a saltar desde el puente?
Do you dare jump from the bridge?

Some parts of the Spanish speaking world are less likely to use animarse when they want to speak of "daring", but would more likely be using another reflexive verb,

For example Marley could have equally well have said:

¿Se atreverá Sebastián Estebanez a comer cucarachas?
Will Sebastian Estebanez dare to eat cockroaches?

Here's an interesting headline we
¿Se atreverá alguien a comprar Youtube?
Will someone dare to buy Youtube?

(The answer to that is now clear.)


Another use of animarse found throughout most of the the Spanish-speaking world is in the sense of infusing oneself with ánimo (spirit, life, energy). This can mean cheering oneself up or gaining courage/motivation.

¡Animate! Vamos a la fiesta.
Cheer up! Let's go to the party.

Al final me animé
a lanzarme al agua helada.
In the end I got up the courage to jump into the freezing water.

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Poder Soñar: Dream About

...vestía la ropa con la que tú sólo puedes soñar
"...she wore clothes that you can only dream about"

[Caption 10, La Mala Rodríguez > La niña]


In caption 10 of María's song La Niña we are told that the protagonist  wore clothes con la que tú sólo puedes soñar, "that you can only dream about." Soñar is the infinitive "to dream" and of course is related  to the word for dreams themselves, sueños. The tilde (~) over the n tells us that this n is pronounced with the "palatal nasal sound" or [ny], like what we hear when we say the English word "canyon" (which is, appropriately, cañón in Spanish). Soñar, therefore, is pronounced [sonyar].

Being a rapper and therefore a poet, it's no surprise that a few lines later she ends another line with a very similar looking infinitive.

...tu teléfono no deja de sonar
"...your phone doesn't stop ringing"

[Caption 13,
La Mala Rodríguez > La niña]

By dropping the ~ over the n in soñar we get sonar, which means "to sound" and also, as in this case means "to ring." Because there is no tilde over the n, the word is pronounced with the standard [n] sound we are used to in English. As so often happens, in this case the infinitive sonar is best translated into English using the present participle ("ing") form of the verb, which gives us "ringing."



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Trato: Deal

Tengo un trato, lo mío pa' mi saco...
I have a deal, what's mine is mine...

[Caption 3, La Mala Rodríguez > Interview]


In her rap, María Rodríguez tells us Tengo un trato, "I have a deal," and lo mío pa' mi saco, which literally means "mine for my bag," but which is a figurative way to say "what's mine is mine."

¡Es un trato hecho! Te paso a buscar a las ocho.
"It´s a done deal! I'll pick you up at eight."

Hagamos un trato: tú vas a la reunión y yo cuido a los chicos.
"Let´s make a deal: you'll go to the meeting and I´ll look after the children."

As in English, a deal, un trato, is related to but not exactly the same as un contrato, a contract, which usually implies a more formal, legal agreement, usually written.

We can informally make a deal, un trato, but whenever we are talking about more serious and legal matters, we´ll use
contrato, contract.



El abogado está redactando el contrato de mantenimiento.
"The lawyer is drawing up the maintenance contract."

El contrato que firmé me obliga a trabajar dos sábados al mes.
"The contract that I signed requires me to work two saturdays a month.

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