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Starting a New Year in Spanish

It's a brand-new year, which means it's the perfect time to vow to change for good! Many of us have New Year's resolutions so we are rushing to the gym, cutting out carbs, filling out agendas with important meetings and to-do lists, etc. This is all very good and all, but learning how to balance things out and slow down once in a while is also an important part of the equation. Let’s learn some Spanish words of wisdom that may inspire you to do just that.

First of all, it's important to remain positive and don't hold on to the past. As Ramón says:

Y como que... Año nuevo, vida nueva.
And [it's] like... A New Year, a new life.
Caption 66, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa - Part 3
 
Of course it's important to tackle propósitos de año nuevo (New Year's resolutions) head on. So maybe you will need to madrugar (get up early) more often these days:

Yo también porque mañana tengo que madrugar...
Me, too, because tomorrow I have to wake up early and I have to...
Caption 64, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reunión - Part 1
 
However, a wise grandma will certainly advice you not to push yourself too hard by saying: No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano (No matter how early you get up, you can't make the sun rise any sooner), which in a way is similar to the English expression "the early bird does not always catch the worm." You can hear our friends from Kikiriki making a humorous adaptation of the same phrase:

y no olviden que no por ser mucho animal amanece más temprano.
and don't forget that you don't get up early because you're very much an animal.
Caption 31, Kikirikí - Animales - Part 7

Finally, it's not like you should slack off either. Yes, it's hard to wake up early to go to the gym, but try to encourage yourself with an old saying that goes al mal paso darle prisa (literally "hurry up with a difficult step") which means something along the lines of "let's get it over and done."
 

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Using Subjunctive to State Facts!

Did you know that Spanish can sometimes use the subjunctive mood to state facts? For example:
 

Ahora, qué raro que lo haya atacado un puma.
But, it's strange that a puma attacked him.
Caption 66, Yago - 1 La llegada - Part 5

 
You may wonder, if the person was indeed attacked by a puma, why do we use the subjunctive here? The reason is the phrase que raro (it's strange). The subjunctive is caused by the person's judgment about the incident. The same applies to similar phrases used to express a judgment in Spanish: es raro (it's strange), es triste (it's sad), etc.
 

¿Sabés que éste es un lindo departamento? Es una pena que lo dejes
Do you know that this is a nice apartment? It's a shame for you to leave it.
Caption 5, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa - Part 2


Here's another example that states a fact with the subjunctive:
 

¿No te pone contenta que quiera vivir con vos aquí?
Doesn't it make you happy that I want to live here with you?
Caption 15, Yago - 4 El secreto - Part 1

 
It's a fact that the person speaking wants to live with her interlocutor, so why is she then using the subjunctive? Well, because using the subjunctive stresses the fact that she is not imposing her wishes, making for a more polite and refined expression. In this case, however, you could use the indicative as well. It's still correct, and could be used to subtly express a firmer determination: ¿no te pone contenta que quiero vivir con vos?
 
However, there are cases in which you can't use the indicative. For example:
 
No es malo que Lucía fume.
It's not bad that Lucía smokes.
 
Again, it's a fact that Lucía smokes, but the subjunctive is triggered by the judgment that the person speaking is making. To say no es malo que Lucía fuma is incorrect, and the same happens with other similar expressions. So you can be sure that any phrase similar to no es malo (it's not bad), no es un delito (it's not a crime), es un pecado (it's a sin), etc., will trigger the use of the subjunctive.
 
An even more confusing example of using the subjunctive to state a fact is:
 

Me revienta que me digas "te lo dije".
I hate it when you say "I told you so."
Caption 32, Muñeca Brava - 1 Piloto - Part 10

 
This is a very common use of the subjunctive but one that many learners might miss. The person speaking is not doubting or questioning what his interlocutor is saying, or the fact that he is saying it. The subjunctive is caused by the emotion of me revienta (I hate it) + another verb with a change of subject. If you were to say, for example, me revienta escucharte (I hate listening to you), there is no change of subject in the verbs me revienta (I hate) and escucharte (to listen to you): both actions are performed by the same person, so you can use the indicative. But if there's a change of subject as in the example above, meaning that the action of the verbs me revienta (I hate) and digas (you say) belongs to different subjects, it's better to use the subjunctive for the second verb. Some expressions of gratitude that use the verb agradecer (to thank) are classic examples of this construction: te agradezco que me ayudes (I thank you for helping me), te agradezco que me digas (I thank you for telling me), etc.
 
Compare the following examples, all of which use the subjunctive to state a fact:
 

Y me encanta que la gente disfrute con el deporte que practico.
And I love that people enjoy the sport that I do.
Caption 32, Los Juegos Olímpicos - Adrián Gavira - Part 1
 
Y a las mujeres, no soporto que las golpeen.
And, women, I can't tolerate for them to be beaten.
Caption 48, El Ausente - Acto 4 - Part 4
 
No me gusta que vivas sola, por eso.
I don't like it that you live alone, that's why.
Caption 70, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 3

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How to Use Direct and Indirect Pronouns - Part II

In Part I of this lesson we learned how to use singular direct and indirect pronouns to substitute direct and indirect objects. We will now continue with the plural forms.
 
For your reference, here's a table showing how the direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are identical except for the third-person singular and plural (him, her, it, them, formal you), and the second-person plural (you) forms:

 

 

You can clearly see that nos (us) is the first-person plural form of both the direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish. It follows that the pronoun nos (us) is used to substitute a direct object. Remember that we need a transitive verb in order to have a direct object. Here's a good example:
 
Y del cielo van cayendo cristales, nos lavan
And from the sky, crystals start falling, they wash us
Caption 9, Aterciopelados - Río - Part 1
 
But nos (us) can also be used as an indirect pronoun to substitute an indirect object:
 
Nos darán una degustación.
They will give us a tasting.
Caption 27, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 15
 
In the previous example, nos is the indirect object, while una degustación (a tasting) is the direct object. So, to substitute both objects you must say: Nos la darán (They will give it to us).
 
Now, the pronoun os (you) is used as a direct object by people who use vosotros (you), mainly in Spain:
 
Os esperamos pronto.
We expect you soon.
Caption 20, Viernes Santo en Tobarra - ¡La Cuna del Tambor! - Part 2
 
In the Americas, where people use ustedes (you) rather than vosotros (you), the direct pronoun is either los or las:
 
Los esperamos pronto.
We expect you soon.
 
But if, for example, we are talking to a group of only girls, we use las (you):
 
Las esperamos pronto.
We expect you (feminine plural) soon.
 
Now, to substitute the indirect object, Spaniards use the same pronoun, os (you):
 
Os doy un ejemplo.
I give you (plural) an example.
 
In the previous example, os is the indirect object, while the direct object is un ejemplo (an example), a masculine noun that according to our table should be substituted by the direct pronoun lo. So, if we were to substitute both objects, we would say os lo doy (I give it to you). If we were talking about una explicación (an explanation), then we would say os la doy (I give it to you). If we were talking about unos consejos (some words of advice), we would say os los doy (I give them to you), and so on.
 
In the Americas, on the other hand, the indirect pronoun is les (you) for both masculine and feminine forms. So, using a modified version of the previous examples:
 
Les doy un ejemplo, muchachos.
I give you an example, guys.
 
Les doy un ejemplo, muchachas.
I give you an example, girls.
 
What if we were to substitute both objects in the Latin American way? Can we say les lo doy? The answer is no, because, as we mentioned in Part I of this lesson, there's a special rulefor combining pronouns when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence: you must use se instead. So we must say se lo doy, muchachos (I give it to you, guys)If we were giving una explicación (an explanation) to a group of girls, then we would say se la doy, muchachas (I give it to you, girls). If we were talking about giving unos consejos (some words of advice) to a group of guys, we would say se los doy (I give them to you), and so on.
 
Finally, for the third-person plural, los and las are used for the direct object in both Spain and the Americas:
 
Yo doy ejemplos a mis alumnos / Yo los doy a mis alumnos.
I give examples to my students / I give them to my students.
 
Ella da explicaciones a las maestras / Ella las da a las maestras.
She gives explanations to the teachers / She gives them to the teachers.
 
And les is used for a plural indirect object, no matter whether it's feminine or masculine:
 
Yo doy ejemplos a mis alumnos / Yo les doy unos ejemplos.
I give examples to my students / I give them examples.
 
Ella da explicaciones a las maestras / Ella les da explicaciones.
She gives explanations to the teachers / She gives them explanations.
 
And now let's see how to substitute both direct and indirect objects in the previous examples. For the indirect object you have to use se instead of les because you can never say les los or les las:
 
Yo doy ejemplos a mis alumnos / Yo se los doy.
I give examples to my students / I give them to them.
 
Ella da explicaciones a las maestras / Ella se las da.
She gives explanations to the teachers / She gives them to them.
 
Finally, remember that Spanish also uses the third-person forms of the pronouns to address people formally. So:
 
Direct object, singular:
 
Yo la escucho, señora / Yo lo escucho, señor.
I listen to you, ma’am / I listen to you, sir.
 
Indirect object, singular:
 
Yo le preparo té, señora / Yo le enciendo el cigarro, señor.
I prepare tea for you, ma’am / I light up the cigarette for you, sir.
 
Indirect object, plural (in the Americas the familiar and formal forms are the same; in Spain the familiar is os and the formal is les):
 
Yo doy ejemplos a ustedes / Yo los doy a ustedes / Yo les doy ejemplos / Yo se los doy.
I give examples to you / I give them to you / I give examples to you / I give them to you.

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How to Use Direct and Indirect Pronouns Part I

Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are used to substitute indirect and direct objects. This lesson explores the proper way to do these substitutions using examples from our catalog of videos.

The direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are identical except for the third-person singular and plural (him, her, it, them)  and the second-person formal (you) forms:

 

So, the pronoun me is used to substitute either the direct object, as in:

A Adícora me trajo el viento.
The wind brought me to Adícora.
Caption 7, Adícora - Venezuela - Darío y el Kitesurfing

Or the indirect object, as in:

Mi papá había ido a Nueva York en un viaje de negocios y me trajo unos discos.
My father had gone to New York on a business trip and brought me some records.
Caption 1, Carli Muñoz - Niñez - Part 2

In the previous example, me is the indirect object, while unos discos (some records) is the direct object, which is a plural masculine noun that according to our table is substituted by los (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: me los trajo (he brought them to me).

Now, the pronoun te is used to substitute either the direct object:

Y de este lado sólo te revuelca, pero del otro lado te come
And from this side it only pushes you around, but from the other side it eats you
Caption 37,38, Antonio Vargas - Artista - Comic - Part 1

or the indirect object:

Bueno y por eso te traje las aspirinas.
Well, and that's why I brought you the aspirins.
Caption 36, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 7

In the previous example, te is the indirect object, while las aspirinas (the aspirins) is the direct object, which is a plural feminine noun that according to our table is substituted by las (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: te las traje (I brought them to you).

For the third person of singular (him, her, it & formal "you"), though, Spanish uses lola for direct object and le for indirect object. So, for a feminine noun as cicatriz (scar) in the direct object position we use la (in genderless English we use "it"):

Porque tiene una pequeña cicatriz en el brazo que sólo yo conozco porque se la hizo jugando conmigo.
Because he has a small scar on his arm that only I know about because he got it playing with me.
Caption 41,42, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 2

For a masculine noun as pollo (chicken) in the direct object position we use lo (again, English uses "it"):

Ya tenemos listo aquí nuestro pollo.lo decoramos con un poco de ajonjolí y cebollín.
We already have our chicken ready here. And we decorate it with a bit of sesame seeds and chives.
Caption 17, Osos en la cocina - Pollo asiático - Part 1

Take note that lo and la are also used for usted (the formal you) in the direct object position. Lo is used for a noun in the direct object position that designates a male person (Morgan):

Morgan, la Señorita Victoria está enterada de su regreso y lo espera en el escritorio.
Morgan, Miss Victoria is aware of your return and awaits you in the study.
Caption 53, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta

Or la for a noun in the direct object position that designates a female person (let's say Ms. Gonzalez):

Señora Gonzalez, el doctor la verá a las diez.
Ms. Gonzalez, the doctor will see you at ten.

On the other hand, the indirect object uses a different pronoun le (him, her, it & formal "you"). So, for a masculine noun like muchacho (boy) in the indirect object position we use le:

Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave him
Caption 40,41, La Secta - Consejo - Part 1

And we would also use le if we were talking about una muchacha (a girl):

Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another girl that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave her

Equally, we use le if we are addressing someone formally:

Usted que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the words of advice your mother gave you

Got it? Now a test. How do you substitute not only the indirect object (muchacho, muchacha, usted), but also the direct object los consejos (the words of advise) in the previous examples? This is how:

Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave him

Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave her

Usted que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the ones your mother gave you

It's interesting to note how English can't use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in this particular construction because the wording is odd (it's somehow odd in Spanish as well). So let's simplify the example (the indirect object and indirect pronouns appear in bold):

Mamá dio unos consejos al muchacho / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the boy some words of advise / Mom gave them to him.

Mamá dio unos consejos a la muchacha / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the girl some words of advise / Mom gave them to her.

Mamá dio unos consejos a usted / Mamá se los dio. 
Mom gave you some words of advise / Mom gave them to you.

As you can see, it was now possible to use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in English. But did you notice that Spanish used se instead of le to replace the indirect object this time! Why is that? Well, that's because in Spanish there's a special rule for combining pronouns: when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence you must use se instead. So you can never say Mamá le los dio, you must say Mamá se los dio. We will learn more about this rule and continue with the plural forms of the direct and indirect pronouns in Part II of this lesson.

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Emphatic uses of sí & si

Did you know that the Spanish words  (usually meaning "yes") and si (usually meaning "if") also have special uses that are for emphatic purposes? Let's look at some examples.
 
The word sí (yes) is used in a similar way to the repetition of the word "do" to express that someone indeed did something. For example, when someone says "you did not do it," one can reply, "I did do it." Well, in Spanish, you use the word  (the orthographic accent is important here) in a similar way: a declaration such as tú no lo hiciste (you did not do it) can be answered with yo  lo hice (I did do it).
 
Like the repetition of the word "do" in English, this use of sí has a purely emphatic effect. You could easily answer tú no lo hiciste (you did not do it) with a simple yo lo hice (I did it), but using yo sí lo hice (I did do it) is way more common. Let's look at some examples so you can learn how to throw in that emphatic  in conversation:
 

Ah claro, ahora  lo entiendo hija, ¡qué torpe soy!
Oh, of course, now I do understand it, girl. How clumsy I am!
Caption 57, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 7

 
The combination sí que is very common and is similar to the English phrase "does indeed”:
 

La cintura de Shakira, sí que tiene movimiento
Shakira's waist does indeed have movement
Caption 53, Alberto Barros - Cargamento Colombiano

 
The following is an interesting example. A literal translation of a tí sí te contamos is "you, we do tell," but a more accurate translation in English uses the future tense:
 

A ti sí te contamos, pero a nadie más.
You we will tell, but nobody else.
Caption 20, Guillermina y Candelario - El mundo de los juguetes perdidos - Part 1


On the other hand, the word si (without the orthographic accent), commonly used in conditional clauses, can also be used to indicate that you are affirming something very emphatically. It's not always easy (or necessary) to translate it into English, but in the following examples we added "indeed”:
 

Te tengo que pedir un favor. ¡Sí, loco, otro más! Si estás para eso, ¿no?
I have to ask you a favor. Yes, dude, another one! That's [indeed] what you are for, right?
Caption 27, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones - Part 4
 
¿Puedo? -Claro, si te dije que son pa' los dos.
May I? -Of course, I [indeed] told you that they are for both of us.
Caption 58, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas - Part 9

 
In the following example, a more literal translation of si me encanta could be "indeed, I love it" or just "I do love it," but we used "I'd love to" (me encantaría in Spanish), which better suits the context:
 

Ah, cuando quieras, no, si me encanta. ¿Yo te di mi teléfono, no?
Oh, whenever you want, no, I'd love to. I gave you my phone [number], right?
Caption 27, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 3


The word si as an emphatic affirmation is also commonly used to express a protest or to contradict someone. In this case it's equivalent to the English word "but”:
 

Si tú estás igualita. -Si yo estoy más fresca que una lechuga.
But you are exactly the same. -But I'm fresher than a [head of] lettuce.
Caption 8-9, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 6
 
Si yo lo estoy diciendo hace rato ya, hombre.
But I've been saying that for a while already, man.
Caption 71, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 4
 
No, no, no, si yo ya me voy. No, no, quédese, quédese. -¿Seguro?
No, no, no, but I'm already leaving. No, no, stay, stay. -[Are you] sure?
Caption 4, Muñeca Brava - 3 Nueva Casa - Part 10

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That Fancy Spanish...

If you have spent some time learning and listening Spanish, you have probably noticed that many common Spanish words have cognates in the fancy English vocabulary. This happens because Spanish is a romance language, that is, a language that directly evolved from vulgar Latin (and was even later enriched with classic Latin during the Middle ages when Spanish became a written language), while approximately only 29% of the English vocabulary comes from Latinate sources.

That's the reason why it's very common for a Spanish speaker to use verbs like estrangular (to choke) or canícula(dog days, midsummer heat) in everyday speech. In fact, similar words exist in English (to strangulate and canicule) but they are cultisms that are way too fancy to be used in everyday situations. On the other hand, and quite surprisingly, very often using these words is the only alternative you have to express something in Spanish. That's the case for estrangular (to strangulate, to choke) and canícula (doy days); really, there is no better, more common way to express such ideas in Spanish than using those words.

Words that are used to describe diseases and medical terms in Spanish are also great examples. In Spanish it's common to say (and make the distinction between) el oculista (oculist) and el optometrista (optometrist), while an expression like "el doctor de ojos" (the Eye doctor) may be understood, but sounds very much like toddler talking to Spanish speakers. And there are even weirdest examples, some of which may sound like tongue twisters for you. Take for example the common otorrinolaringólogo (ear nose and throat doctor, otorhinolaryngologist). But let's try to find examples from our catalog.

In Spanish, the verb aliviar means either "to get better" or "to cure," or "to alleviate" and it's just as common as the verb curar (to cure). In English the verb to alleviate is much more fancy, and it's only used in certain contexts, usually very formal or written speech:

Estoy enfermo, espérense a que me alivie.
I'm sick; wait until I get better.
Caption 19, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 2

The nouns cicatriz (scar) and cicatrización (scar healing) as well as the verb cicatrizar (to heal a scar) are common in Spanish, while "cicatrix," "to cicatrize" or "cicatrization" are less common in English:

Tiene la cicatriz, vivió en Misiones y tiene la misma sonrisa de Franco.
He has the scar, he lived in Misiones and he has the same smile as Franco.
Caption 16, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 4

The adjetives primordial  and esencial are both commonly used in Spanish, usually as synonyms. English, on its part, does have the word "primordial," but the use of "essential" is more common in everyday speech:

Es importante, primordial, muy necesario.
It's important, essential, very necessary.
Caption 85, Bersuit Vergarabat - EPK - Part 2 

Another example is the word subterráneo ("subterranean", but most commonly "underground"):

Contaminación de las aguas superficiales o subterráneas
Pollution of surface and underground waters
Caption 7, 3R - Campaña de reciclaje - Part 2 


In Spanish the word docente is both an adjective meaning "teacher-related" and a noun that is synonymous with maestro (teacher). It's a common word in and it's used in many Spanish expressions. In contrast, the English word docent is far less common and, it has a slightly different meaning

Es más, es que no se entiende la labor docente de otra manera.
Moreover, the thing is that the teaching job should not be understood in any other way.
Caption 13, Club de las ideas - La motivación - Part 1

The list goes on and on. Let's see one more example. In Spanish it's common to use the noun equilibrio (balance) and the verb equilibrar (to balance), both words are just as common as balance (balance) and balancear ("to balance", but also "to swing"). In contrast, English reserves the use of "equilibrium" and "to equilibrate" for scientific or highbrow language.  

Tú eres todo lo que me equilibra.
You're everything that balances me.
Caption 27, Calle 13 - Un Beso De Desayuno

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Comer, beber, tomar, tragar...

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).

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Those Tricky Reflexive Pronouns

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 objectreflexive 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
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
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 (caermorir), 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).

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Amar y Querer

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 lovethere'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 amote 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.

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Flores y Monadas

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

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On Shadows, Monks, and Saints

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

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To Be Honest & Avoid Being a Chump

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

 

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Bien vs Bueno/Ser vs Estar/Adjectives vs Adverbs

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 / 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 / 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 / am well
Nosotros estamos tan bien / We are so well
El carro está bien / The car is Ok (is doing well)
 

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Very Singular Plurals

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

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Using Subjunctive After Conjunctions of Condition

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!!

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Using Subjunctive After Conjunctions of Provision

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

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Using Subjunctive After Conjunctions of Time

The Spanish subjunctive is used in adverb clauses when the action described in the clause is anticipated or hypothetical (a reservation, a condition not yet met, a mere intention). Adverb clauses are sentences that function as adverbs in compound sentences: 

 

Organizaremos una fiesta / cuando mi esposo regrese de su viaje
We will organize a party / when my husband comes back from his trip

 

In the previous example, the main clause is organizaremos una fiesta and its verb (organizaremos) is in the indicative mood, future tense. However, the adverb clause that modifies that verb (in this case, establishing a condition of time for the action to happen) must use regrese, the subjunctive form of the verb regresar (to come back). Adverb clauses like this one are usually introduced by conjunctions, which you can use to identify the type of clause that it's being used. The previous sentence, for example, uses the conjunction cuando (when) to introduce the adverb clause. The word cuando is a conjunction of time, just like después (after). These conjunctions are used with the subjunctive to express anticipated circumstances, that is, a future occurrence not yet met. Let's study some examples from our catalog of authentic videos.

 

An example with the conjunction cuando (when):

pues no quiere deberle nada a nadie cuando llegue a la presidencia.
because he doesn't want to owe anything to anyone when he reaches the presidency.
Caption 20, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - En campaña - Part 1

 

An example with the conjunction hasta (until), which must be combined with the pronoun que (that):

Yo mantendré esa tradición hasta que me muera.
I will keep this tradition until the day I die.
Caption 66, Estado Falcón - Locos de la Vela - Part 4

 

Here's an example with the conjunction siempre (always), which combined with the pronoun que (that) means "whenever" or "as long as." Pay attention, the word order has been changed, so the main clause appears at the end. 

Pero siempre que sea posible, recurriremos a un fotógrafo profesional.
But whenever it is possible, we'll turn to a professional photographer.
Caption 22, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción

 

Now, that doesn't mean that you should always use subjunctive after conjunctions of time. You must use it only when you are talking about actions anticipated to occur in the future. If, for example, the conjunction is used to introduce an adverb clause that refers to actions in the past or in progress, known facts or habits, you must use the indicative. Let's see examples:

 

An example where you don't use subjunctive after the conjunction cuando (when):

Lo primero que hago cuando voy de compras es mirar los escaparates.*
The first thing that I do when I go shopping is to look at the display windows.
Caption 20, Raquel - Haciendo compras - Part 1

*Another common word order could be: Lo primero que hago es mirar los escaparates cuando voy de compras.

 

Now, an example where you don't use subjunctive after hasta que (until):

Hay policías desde que salgo de mi casa hasta que entro al Tec.
There are police from when I leave my house until I enter the Tech.
Caption 67, Alumnos extranjeros del - Tec de Monterrey - Part 1

 

And here's and example with the conjunction siempre (always) combined with the pronoun que (that) that doesn't use subjunctive either. 

Entonces, yo siempre que estaba en Lima no los encontraba.*
So, every time I was in Lima, I didn't meet up with them.
Caption 22, Gonzalo el Pintor - Vida - Part 2

 *Again, the main clause appears at the end of the sentence here, but you can easily change the word order: Entonces, yo no los encontraba siempre que estaba en Lima.

 

Summarizing: the subjunctive is used after conjunctions of time (such as cuandohasta quesiempre que, etc.) only when you want to express anticipated circumstances, that is, a future occurrence not yet met (anyway, strictly speaking future is always hypothetical, right?). For your reference, other conjunctions of time that use subjunctive are después de que (after), mientras que (while, as long as), tan pronto que (as soon as), antes de que (before), and en cuanto (as soon as). So remember to always use subjunctive after them if you want to talk about anticipated circumstances. There is only one exception that applies to después de que (after), antes de que (before), and hasta que (until): you can get away with using a verb in infinitive (ending in -ar, -er, -ir) instead of subjunctive if you get rid of the pronoun que (that). Check the following examples:

 

Voy a bañarme después de hacer ejercicio.
I'm going to shower after I exercise.

Escribiré un libro antes de morir.
I will write a book before I die.

No me voy hasta hablar contigo.
I'm not leaving until I speak with you.

 

Of course, you can also use the subjunctive by adding the pronoun que. Here are the equivalent sentences for the examples above:

 

Voy a bañarme después de que haga ejercicio.
I'm going to shower after I exercise.

Escribiré un libro antes de que me muera.
I will write a book before I die.

No me voy hasta que hable contigo.
I'm not leaving until I speak with you.

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Encontrar

The Spanish verb encontrar basic meaning is "to find." This verb is, however, very versatile, and can also be used to express una plétora de ideas (a plethora of ideas). Let's see a few notable examples. 

As we just said, encontrar means "to find," or "to locate":
 

Sí. No encuentro palabras qué decir
Yes. I don't find words to say
Caption 1, Franco De Vita - No Hay Cielo


You must know, however, that Spanish also uses the verb encontrar as a reflexive verb, so you will commonly find it preceded by a reflexive pronoun. The meaning of encontrarse is "to be found" or "to be located:"
 

porque Barcelona se encuentra entre el mar y la montaña.
because Barcelona is located between the sea and the mountains.
Caption 14, Blanca - Sobre la ciudad de Barcelona


The meaning of the verb encontrarse is also equivalent to the verb estar (to be), depending on the context. For example:
 

Sí, el Señor Aldo Sirenio no se encuentra en este momento en la empresa.
Yes, Mr. Aldo Sirenio is not at the company at the moment.
Caption 33, Yago - 5 La ciudad - Part 5

Actualmente se encuentra filmando la película "Cleopatra,"
Currently she is filming the movie "Cleopatra,"
Caption 62, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 11


Consequently, you can substitute the use of the reflexive verb encontrarse with the verb estar(to be) in the previous examples: Aldo Sirenio no está (Aldo Sireno is not...), and ...está filmando la película (...is filming the movie). 

And just like the verb estar (to be), the verb encontrar can also be used figuratively to talk about the state of being of someone or something. It's very common to use it to ask about feelings or about someone's health. Check out the following example from our new series Los Años Maravillosos:
 

La gente verdaderamente se encuentra muy preocupada.
People are truly very worried
Caption 18, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1 - Part 3


In the previous example the verb encontrar is used as a reflexive (it is as if saying "people find themselves worried") but you can also use encontrar as a transitive verb. In the following example the pronoun lo (it) substitutes the direct object of the verb, which is el paciente (the patient), while el doctor (the doctor) is the subject who performs the action of "finding:" 
 

Bueno, doctor, y a mi enfermito, ¿cómo lo encuentra?
Well, Doctor, and my little patient, how is he?
Caption 23, El Ausente - Acto 1 - Part 1


In a way, this expression is similar to the English colloquial expression "how do you find (him)?" meaning "what do you think about (him)?" and is also reminiscent of the expression "how do you find the defendant"? Well, this use of encontrar also exists in Spanish:
 

si al mundo lo encuentras enfermizo, delirante y brutal
if you find the world sickly, delirious and brutal
Caption 2, SiZu Yantra - Bienvenido


Now, going back to the use of encontrar as equivalent to estar (to be), if a Spanish speaker asks you ¿Cómo te encuentras? you can answer by saying either estoy bien (I'm fine), más o menos (I feel so so), me siento mal (I feel bad), or something similar. Just don't say estoy aquí(I'm here) because he or she are definitely not asking where to find you :)!
 

Bueno Adrián, ¿qué tal estás? ¿Cómo te encuentras?
Well Adrian, how are you? How do you feel?
Caption 5,6, l Aula Azul - La Doctora Consejos - Subjuntivo y condicional


Finally, the reflexive verb encontrarse also means "to meet" or "to run into":
 

...porque si se encuentra con el padre va ser un desastre.
...because if he runs into the father it's going to be a disaster.
Caption 14, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 1

...que la siga y cuando [ella] se encuentre con el Gringo, la atrapa.
...to follow her and when she meets with the Gringo, he traps her.
Caption 19, Yago - 3 La foto - Part 8

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