Our previous lesson focused on the proper use of reflexive pronouns. We discussed when and how to use them and how the meaning of what we say is affected by them. We also mentioned that there are some Spanish verbs that can be used with or without reflexive pronouns, and that the verb comer (to eat) and other "ingestion verbs" are excellent examples.
In theory, verbs like comer (to eat), tragar (to swallow), beber and tomar (to drink), etc., can either be used with or without reflexive pronouns. For example:
Yo como la zanahoria = Yo me como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot)
Nosotros bebimos el tequila = Nosotros nos bebimos el tequila (We drank the tequila)
Tú tomas la leche = Tú te tomas la leche (You drink the milk)
Ella traga la pastilla = Ella se traga la pastilla (She swallows the pill)
However, this equivalence is not 100% accurate. Most Spanish speakers would more likely use the second option with reflexive pronouns than the first one without them. Saying yo como la zanahoria may not be wrong, but it's surely more common to say yo me como la zanahoria.
Cuando te comes una seta venenosa...
When you eat a poisonous mushroom...
Caption 23, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
Nos bebemos la Coca Cola
We drink the Coca-Cola
Caption 85, Zoraida en Coro - Artesanos
On the other hand, sometimes you cannot use a reflexive pronoun at all—for example, when you don't use an article before the direct object. There's a difference between saying yo como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot) and yo como zanahoria ("I do eat carrot" or "I'm eating carrot"), right? But you can never say yo me como zanahoria.
So, you can say yo bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol), but it's more normal to say yo me bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol). You can also say yo bebo alcohol ("I do drink alcohol" or "I'm drinking alcohol"), but you can never say yo me bebo alcohol. Got it?
What about if we use indefinite articles (un, una, unos, unas)? Well, it's the same. You can't use reflexive pronouns when you don't use an article before the direct object. For starters, and by definition, you cannot use indefinite articles before nouns that describe an undetermined amount of something, like leche (milk). You don't say tomé una leche (I drank a milk)—you say tomé leche (I drank milk). But with countable nouns like pastilla (pill), you can say una pastilla (a pill) and la pastilla (the pill). So in Spanish you could say ella traga una pastilla , but it's even better to say ella se traga una pastilla (both meaning "she swallows a pill"). What you can never say is ella se traga pastilla. Here's a challenging example that combines the use of tragar (to swallow) with a reflexive pronoun, the reflexive verb pudrirse (to rot), and a pronoun (lo) playing the role of direct object:
Lo que uno se traga se pudre.
What one swallows rots [Keeping things to yourself is bad for you].
Caption 15, Yago - 8 Descubrimiento - Part 1
To make it simpler, you can substitute the pronoun lo with a proper direct object. Since this is a figure of speech, let's say we are talking about miedo (fear). The expression could be: el miedo que se traga se pudre (the fear one swallows rots). So it's two sentences combined: uno se traga el miedo (one swallows fear) / el miedo se pudre (fear rots).
Now, a tricky question for you. Is it correct to say ella traga pastilla, since we just said that yo como zanahoria (translated either as "I do eat carrots" or "I'm eating carrot”) is correct? The answer is no, it's not correct to say ella traga pastilla. This is because nouns like zanahoria (carrot) can be used either as a countable noun (if you use an article) or an uncountable noun (if you don't use an article). But the singular pastilla (pill) is always a countable noun in Spanish: it's always one pill. The only way to refer to an indeterminate amount of pills in Spanish is by using the plural pastillas (pills). So in Spanish you could say ella traga unas pastillas, but it's even better to say ella se traga unas pastillas (both meaning "she swallows some pills"). But you don't say ella se traga pastillas.
If you want to express that a certain girl does swallows pills regularly, you could say ella traga pastillas. That's correct, but you must know that, just like in English, Spanish prefers the use of the verb tomar (to take) for this particular expression: ella toma pastillas (she takes pills). But you can correctly say yo trago miedo ("I swallow fear" or "I'm swallowing fear") because miedo (fear) is an uncountable noun.
You also can't use a reflexive pronoun if you don't use a direct object at all with these verbs—for example, when you just use an adverb with the verb instead of a direct object. You can say yo bebo hoy (I drink today) but you can't say yo me bebo hoy (that would mean something that doesn't make sense, unless you are writing poetry: "I drink myself today").
Los españoles comen a las dos de la tarde.
Spaniards eat at two in the afternoon.
Caption 6, La rutina diaria - La tarde
Another example: you can say nosotros comemos despacio (we eat slowly), but you can't say nosotros nos comemos despacio (unless you mean "we eat each other slowly"!). You can use reflexive pronouns again if you add a direct object. The second option in the following examples is the more common:
Yo bebo rápidamente el tequila = Yo me bebo rápidamente el tequila (I drink the tequila quickly).
Nosotros comemos despacio el atún = Nosotros nos comemos despacio el atún (We eat the tuna slowly).
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 object, reflexive 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
I 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
I 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 (caer, morir), 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).
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 love, there'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 amo, te 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.
Here's an easy-to-remember expression: sudar la gota (literally, “to sweat the drop”), which means "to worry." Sometimes you may also hear sudar la gota gorda (to sweat the fat drop)! We used a somewhat similar English expression to translate the following example:
Suda la gota cuando ya no la encuentra
He sweats heavily when he doesn't find her anymore
Caption 12, La Vela Puerca - Se le va - Part 1
Another funny Spanish expression that also exists in English and is associated with distress is llorar lágrimas de cocodrilo (to cry crocodile tears). It's a funny, kind of ironic expression that is used to indicate that someone is crying without really feeling sad, maybe just a little theatrically. The phrase derives from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey!
No le creo nada, Ivo. Son lágrimas de cocodrilo.
I don't believe anything from him, Ivo. They are crocodile tears.
Caption 37-38, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 2
Talking about not believing, have you heard the expression ojos que no ven corazón que no siente (eyes that do not see, a heart that does not feel)? It's very close to the English expression "what the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve over." It's very common to hear Spanish speakers abbreviating this expression:
Igual, ojos que no ven...
Anyway, eyes that don't see...
Caption 26, Kikirikí - Agua - Part 2
Let's see a few more expressions that involve animals. It's no surprise that there are a large number of expressions involving monos (monkeys) and other types of apes. But Spanish uses a few that are really puzzling. For example, the expression dormir la mona (literally, "to put the female monkey to sleep"), which means "to sleep off a hangover”:
Tiene que hablar con la patrona y decirle que sus empleadas duermen la mona.
You have to talk with the boss and tell her that her employees are sleeping off their hangovers.
Caption 7, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 6
Una monada (a monkey-like thing), on the other hand, is used to describe something as very cute or beautiful:
Mira qué monada.
Look what a beauty.
Caption 5, Reporteros - Caza con Galgo - Part 2
What about expressions that refer to parts of animals? Spanish uses many with the word pata (paw). For example, meter la pata (to stick one's paw into something) means “to make a mistake.” The closest English equivalent is "to put your foot in your mouth," which means to say or do something tactless or embarrassing:
¡No! Pero si eso ocurre en cualquier momento metes la pata.
No! But if that happens, at any moment you'll put your foot in your mouth.
Caption 49, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 5
In Argentina and Chile, hacer la pata (to do the paw) means “to intercede for someone,” usually with sweet-talking:
¿Me hacés la pata con papá? -¿Para qué?
Will you give me a hand with dad? -What for?
Caption 63, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 3
Instead of hacer la pata, Mexicans use either hacer la pala (literally, “to do the shovel”), which means to sweet-talk someone in order to intercede for someone else, or hacer la barba (literally, “to do the beard”), which is used to describe someone who acts pleasantly with a superior in order to obtain his or her favor. English translations vary:
Julia le hace la barba al maestro para sacar buenas calificaciones.
Julia butters the teacher up so she gets good grades.
Hazme la pala con tu amiga para que acepte salir conmigo.
Convince your friend for me so she agrees to go out on a date with me.
Very different is echar flores or tirar flores (to throw flowers at someone), which means “to compliment,” “to say nice things about somebody”:
Gracias, te agradezco mucho las flores que me estás tirando.
Thanks, I thank you very much for your compliments [literally, "the flowers that you are throwing at me"].
Caption 12, Muñeca Brava - 45 El secreto - Part 1
Let's study and learn some Spanish expressions by reviewing the way real Spanish speakers use them in real situations. Our always-growing catalog of Spanish videos contains many examples!
Ni a sol ni sombra (literally "neither under the sun nor the shade") is a lively expression that means "no matter what" or simply "never." It's very similar to the English expression "rain or shine”:
¡Do you remember the shawl from "La Negra" Cardoso? -¿La Negra Cardoso? Oh sí. No se lo sacaba ni a sol ni a sombra.
Do you remember "La Negra" Cardoso's shawl? -"La Negra" Cardoso? Oh, yes. She didn't take it off, rain or shine.
Caption 48-49, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 6
It's important to note that this Spanish expression may be used in situations in which English wouldn't necessarily use "rain or shine." You can read some examples below. We are using idiomatic translations here:
No soporto a mi jefe, no me deja en paz ni a sol ni sombra. / I can't stand my boss, he's always breathing down my neck.
Su leal perro no le dejaba ni a sol ni a sombra. / His loyal dog never left his side.
In fact, the word sombra (meaning "shadow" or "shade") is used in many other Spanish expressions. Some examples you may be interested in learning are below. We have included a literal translation first, and then an idiomatic translation:
Él no tiene ni sombra de sospecha. / He hasn't a shadow of suspicion. / He is clueless.
Busqué, pero no había ni sombra de ella. / I looked, but there wasn't even a shadow of her. / I looked, but there was no sign of her.
No soy ni la sombra de lo que era. / I'm not even the shadow of what I used to be. / I'm only a shadow of what I used to be.
Let's see another expression. This is an easy one to learn, because it has an exact match in English:
Bueno, que el hábito no hace al monje! Era un chistecito.
Well, the thing is that the habit does not make the monk! It was a little joke.
Caption 12, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 5
This recalls yet another expression that exists both in Spanish and English, and probably in many other languages as well:
Tu marido es un santo. -¡Ah, por favor!
Your husband is a saint. -Oh, please!
Caption 15, Muñeca Brava - 3 Nueva Casa - Part 7
There are other Spanish expressions that use the word santo (saint) in a much more creative way. For example, the expression no ser santo de mi devoción (literally, "to not be a saint of my devotion") is used to express that you are not particularly fond of someone. This expression is equivalent to the English expression "not my cup of tea." There’s an interesting parallel between England's affection for tea and the devotion to saints in Spanish-speaking countries, don't you think?
Por favor, no invites a Julián. Sabes que él no es santo de mi devoción.
Please, do not invite Julian. You know he's not my cup of tea.
More difficult to translate is the expression a santo de qué, which is used to question the purpose or validity of something. It's a less sophisticated synonym of the expression en virtud de qué, itself the interrogative form of the expression en virtud de que, which also exists in English ("by virtue of"). Of course, using the expression a santo de qué is a very colloquial choice, one that will give people a very good impression of your Spanish skills:
¿A santo de qué voy a ir a almorzar con vos?
Why in God’s name am I going to go have lunch with you?
Caption 61, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poema - Part 1
In this context, it wouldn't be uncommon for a Spanish speaker to use en virtud de qué instead. Saying ¿En virtud de qué voy a ir a almorzar con vos? may sound a little posh, but it’s totally acceptable. On the contrary, as you know, using "by virtue of what" in this situation wouldn't really be appropriate in English.
Finally, let's review another expression related to the word santo (saint) that exists both in English and Spanish, with subtle differences. While in English the expressions "patron saint's day" and "saint's day" do exist, it's more common to simply say "name day" instead. In Spanish, on the contrary, expressions like hoy es día de su santo patrono("today is his patron saint's day") or hoy es el día de su santo (today is his saint's day) are as common as the extremely abbreviated form used in this example taken from the Mexican movie El Ausente:
Es santo de Felipe, ¿sabes?
It's Felipe's name day, you know.
Caption 11, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 7
Let's keep learning interesting Spanish expressions. Our always-growing catalog of Spanish videos contains many examples that will definitely help you boost your conversational skills.
Mili, the main character of the Argentinian telenovela Muñeca Brava, continues to be a never-ending source of colloquial expressions. In the following example, she gives us the Spanish equivalent of the expression "to call a spade a spade," which in Spanish has a very eucharistical nature:
¡Al pan, pan y al vino, vino, doña!
To call a spade a spade, ma'am! [literally: to call bread "bread" and wine "wine"]
Caption 54, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 4
Indeed, Mili siempre llama al pan, pan y al vino, vino (Mili always calls a spade a spade), because Mili es muy directa para hablar (Mili is very direct). Mexican folks would also say that Mili es muy claridosa (Mili is very plain-spoken, or blunt), a word that comes from the adjective claro (clear). Wouldn't you agree with Spanish speakers who would also say that Mili is not the type of person that esquiva el bulto (literally, “goes around the bundle”)? Depending on the context, this expression may be translated as "to beat around the bush" or even "to dodge the bullet”:
Al contrario, vos estás esquivando acá el bulto para no pagarme a mí...
On the contrary, you are trying to dodge the bullet to avoid paying me...
Caption 35, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 2
Also equivalent are the Spanish expressions sacar la vuelta (to go around, to evade), hacer rodeos or andar con rodeos (to make detours):
Dime la verdad, no le saques la vuelta.
Tell me the truth, don't beat around the bush.
Desde entonces, Lucía siempre me saca la vuelta.
Since then, Lucia is always evading me.
Está bien, Sor Cachetes, déjese de rodeos. Dígame, ¿qué, qué es lo que pasa?
All right, Sister Cheeks, stop beating about the bush. Tell me, what, what's going on?
Caption 41, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 7
Quiero andarme sin rodeos, confesarte que una tarde empecé a morir por ti
I want to go without detours [to be straightforward], to confess to you that one afternoon I began to die for you
Caption 16, Amaia Montero - Quiero Ser - Part 1
Going back to Mili's personality, another useful expression to describe the way she speaks would be ir al grano (to get straight to the point). When someone is wasting your time with a long chat, you can say ¡Ve al grano! (Get to the point!) Of course, you can also do as Mili does and omit the verb ir (to go):
Bueno, vamos. Al grano que quiero dormir mi siesta. ¿Qué venías a pedirme?
Well, let's go. Straight to the point that I want to take my nap. What did you want to ask me?
Caption 58, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 7
Another similar expression is ir al meollo del asunto or ir al meollo de la cuestión, which means “to get to the nub of the issue,” “to get straight to the point.” The word meollo is definitely a keeper. It means the central core of something, and comes from the latin medulla (marrow):
Bueno, el meollo de la cuestión.
Well, the point of the matter.
Caption 11, Muñeca Brava - 18 - La Apuesta - Part 9
There are many virtues and benefits associated with being as direct as Mili is. People like her are usually honest and not prone to telling lies or cheating. Speaking of which, you may have heard the expression dar gato por liebre (to try to deceive; literally, “to give a cat instead of a hare”). A somewhat close English expression is “to be sold a pig in a poke,” which is not very common, anyway.
Gato por liebre. -Exactamente.
A cat for a hare [you think you're getting one thing but it's another]. -Exactly.
Caption 11, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 7
This expression is very common in Spanish, so you may want a more contextualized example:
No quieras darme gato por liebre / Don't try to deceive me.
Another similar expression is tomar el pelo (to try to trick someone).The expression dar gato por liebre would be more suitable in the context of a real scam someone is trying to pull. On the other hand, tomar el pelo is more likely used in the context of a joke. In that sense it's similar to the English expression "to pull someone's leg." Here are two examples:
¿Ustedes dos me están tomando el pelo a mí?
Are you two pulling my leg [literally: pulling my hair]?
Caption 28, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 7
¿Qué tango, me estás tomando el pelo? Yo no escucho ningún tango.
What tango, are you pulling my leg? I don't hear any tango.
Caption 37, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones - Part 3
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 / I 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 / I 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 / I am well
Nosotros estamos tan bien / We are so well
El carro está bien / The car is Ok (is doing well)
Let's study a special type of Spanish plurals along with some idiomatic expressions in which they are used. In Spanish, there are nouns that can be used either in singular or plural to designate a single object that is constituted by symmetrical parts. That's the case of nouns such las tijeras (scissors), pantalones (pants), tenazas (tongs), gafas (glasses), calzones (underwear), etc. As in English, these Spanish nouns are normally used in the plural form. For example:
Estos pantalones, por ejemplo, son rosas
These pants, for example, are pink
Caption 56, Marta nos enseña - Prendas de ropa
Se recomienda el uso de guantes y de gafas protectoras.
The use of gloves and protective goggles is recommended.
Caption 56, Raquel - Fiestas de España
Que estoy viendo ahí unas pinzas muy curiosas.
Cause I am seeing there some very strange pincers.
Caption 84, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 16
However, for many of these it's also valid, but much less common, to use the singular form:
Este pantalón, por ejemplo, es rosa
These pants, for example, are pink
Que estoy viendo ahí una pinza muy curiosa.
Cause I am seeing there some very strange pincers.
For gafas it would be even less common, so we are not including an example. But let's see some examples from our catalog. Garments such as pantalones (pants) are also used in singular:
¿Cuánto te cuesta un pantalón aquí?
How much does a pair of pants cost you here,
Caption 1, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 15
The noun falda (skirt) is also used both in plural and singular:
Esta falda, por ejemplo, tiene una goma elástica
This skirt, for example, has an elastic band
Caption 62, Marta nos enseña - prendas de ropa
Another example. It would be much more common to say con las tijeras (with the scissors) but the use of the singular form is also correct:
¿Los rulos los hacés vos? -Sí, con la tijera.
Do you do the curls yourself? -Yes, with the scissors.
Caption 59, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 14
There are other cases in which Spanish prefers the use of singular and reserves the plural for expressive uses of the words. This is the case for el bigote (the mustache) and la nariz (the nose):
También, en el caso de los hombres, tienen bigote.
Also, in the case of men, they have a mustache.
Caption 77, Marta explica el cuerpo - La cabeza
Tiene la nariz roja y normalmente la cara blanca.
Has a red nose and normally (has) a white face.
Caption 52, El Aula Azul - Las Profesiones - Part 2
For emphatic purposes we can use the plural forms bigotes and narices:
¡Límpiate las narices y atúsate los bigotes!
Clean your nose and smooth down your mustache!
There are many expressions in Spanish that use these nouns. They are usually expresiones fijas (fixed expressions) or expresiones idiomáticas (idioms) that are used as a standard way of expressing a concept or idea. In these kinds of expressions the use of plural is predominant. Some of them also exist in English; others are easy to interpret. Let's learn a few.
Y aunque exista algún respeto, no metamos las narices.
And even though there exists some respect, let's not stick our noses [into it].
Caption 3, Molotov - frijolero - Part 1
o el Valle de Lecrín a las faldas de Sierra Nevada.
or the Lecrin Valley on the skirts of the Sierra Nevada.
Caption 25, Tecnópolis - Viaje por la red - Part 1
Finally, expressions using the plural pantalones (pants) are very common as well:
y que nadie ha tenido los pantalones para hablar
and that nobody has had the guts to speak
Caption 2, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - En campaña
Porque vos en esa casa no llevás los pantalones.
Because you don't wear the pants in that house.
Caption 53, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 6
Our last two lessons focused on how to use conjunctions (conjunctive phrases to be exact) to identify when we have to use the subjunctive. The first lesson in the series focused on conjunctions of time, and the second one on conjunctions of provision. Now we'll focus on conjunctions of condition.
This type of conjunctions will always be followed by subjunctive provided one condition: that you are talking about hypothetical, or unknown circumstances at the moment. The conjunctions that are used to express condition in Spanish are a pesar de que, como, aunque, según, and donde. Let's start with the examples.
A pesar de que means "despite that," "even though" or "in spite of." Study the following example. Our friend Crista is talking about a hypothetical situation (that a place might be five or ten km away):
entonces, a pesar de que pueda estar un lugar a cinco o diez kilómetros, lo medimos dependiendo del tiempo que tarde uno en llegar allí.
so, even though a place might be five or ten kilometers away, we measure it depending upon the time it takes someone to get there.
Caption 54, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana - Crista Pérez - Part 1
That doesn't mean that you can't use indicative after a pesar de que. If, like our friend Beatriz, you are talking about a fact (the fact that there are variations), you use a verb in indicative (tenemos) and not subjunctive (tengamos) after a pesar de que:
La cultura es una a pesar de que tenemos variaciones
Culture is one in spite of the fact that we have variations
Caption 39, Beatriz Noguera - Exposición de Arte
So, the difference between la cultura es una a pesar de que tenemos variaciones (culture is one in spite of the fact that we have variations) and la cultura es una a pesar de que tengamos variaciones (Culture is one in spite of the fact that we might have variations) is very subtle.
Let's continue. Aunque means "although" or "even if":
Estamos aquí a treinta y nueve grados... a la sombra. -Aunque estemos a la sombra.
We're here at thirty nine degrees... in the shade. -Although we're in the shade.
Caption 97, Burgos - Caminando
A more exact translation of aunque estemos a la sombra is, in fact, "although we may be in the shade," but since the person speaking is actually in the shade at the moment using "we're" makes more sense in English. In Spanish using the subjunctive allows to make a very subtle distinction between estemos (we may be) and the indicative estamos (we are): the indicative aunque estamos can only be used when the person speaking is presently and actually in the shade, while using the subjunctive aunque estemos makes the whole assertion a little more vague and general (we could just be talking about being in the shade as an hypothesis). They're slightly different expressions but neither is incorrect.
Como (as, in any way, whatever), según (as, in any way, depending) and donde (where, wherever) are less commonly used conjunctions. It's important to note that como and donde must be written without tilde (the orthographical accent).
Como and según mean the same thing, are used in the same way and are thus interchangeable. Como is perhaps more common and it's used in two phrases that you want to learn: como quieras (as you want) and como sea (however it might be, translations vary):
Sabe bien, sabe mal, como sea pero es tan real
It tastes good, it tastes bad, however it might be, but it's so real
Caption 11, Enrique Iglesias - Escapar - Part 1
Como quieras ¿eh?
Whatever you want, right?
Caption 52, Animales en familia - Un día en Bioparc: Microchip para Nacahué
Want to see examples of the use of como without subjunctive? It's very simple: whenever you are not talking about hypothetical situations you must use the indicative:
Tómame como soy
Take me as I am
Caption 9, Shakira - Gitana
Yo te trato como quiero porque para eso sos mi hija.
I treat you how I want because for that [reason], you are my daughter.
Caption 2, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 4
Would you like to know how would the previous example translate if you use the subjunctive instead? For the first example there's a big difference:
Tómame como sea
Take me in any way
Not so much for the second one:
Yo te trato como quiera porque para eso sos mi hija.
I treat you how I want because for that [reason], you are my daughter.
Let's see examples for según meaning "as," "depending on," or "in any way," which is less common:
Puedes elegir hacerlo según quieras
You can choose to do it in any way you want
Finally, an example of donde meaning "wherever." Plus another example of cuando(whenever), a conjunction of time:
Esa me la vas a pagar. -Cuando quieras y en donde quieras, princesa..
You are going to pay me for that. -Whenever you want and wherever you want, princess.
Caption 33, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa - Part 9 Coming soon!!
Let's continue practicing the use of the subjunctive in adverb clauses that are part of compound sentences (99% of the time subjunctive is used in compound sentences) by identifying the conjunctions typically used to introduce it. In our previous lesson we focused on conjunctions of time, this time let's revise the use of the subjunctive combined with conjunctions of provision, a classic match!
The conjunctions that are used to express provision in Spanish are antes (de) que, con tal (de) que, en caso (de) que, para que, sin que. You will love these conjunctions, which, by the way, are more properly called locuciones conjuntivas (conjunctive phrases). Why? Well, because they will always use subjunctive, always. There's no room for mistakes. They are, therefore, a great addition to your vocabulary, one that will automatically improve your proficiency in the use of the subjunctive. Of course, you also must learn the proper way to conjugate the subjunctive; if you are not there yet, we recommend you to first focus on the present subjunctive.
So let's start with the examples. Always use the subjunctive after the conjunction antes (de) que (before):
Aléjate de mí y hazlo pronto antes de que te mienta
Get away from me and do it soon before I lie to you
Caption 1, Camila - Aléjate de mí
The same happens with con tal (de) que (provided that):
Soy capaz de todo con tal de que te quedes a mi lado.
I'm capable of everything, provided that you stay beside me.
You probably noticed that we put the preposition de (of) between parentheses. This is just so you know that many Spanish speakers don't use it and instead just say antes que (before), con tal que (provided that), sometimes even en caso que (in case that). We recommend you to always use it. Read about dequeísmo and queísmo here.
The conjunctive phrase en caso de que (in case that) will also always be followed by subjunctive:
Porque en caso de que esté muy aguado, hecho el resto.
Because, in the case that it is very watery, I put in the rest.
Caption 46, Recetas de cocina - Papa a la Huancaína - Part 1
The same happens with para que (so that, in order that) and sin que (without):
Si quieres puedes voltear acá para que veas en el espejo el reflejo
If you want you can look here so that you see the reflection in the mirror
Caption 27, Instinto de conservación - Gorgona - Part 4
Yo soy el que hago que coman sin que tengan hambre
I am the one who makes them eat without being hungry
Caption 10, Calle 13 - Calma Pueblo