Posted by: janecronin | January 13, 2019


“Subir” is a slightly strange verb for English speakers and others, because it means the opposite of what it appears.  The “sub” bit seems to be telling us something to do with “under” or “below” but actually the opposite is true: “subir” actually means “to rise” or “to go up”.  In case you are wondering, the verb meaning “to lower” or “to go down” is “bajar”.  So there you have it.  You could go up and down the stairs saying “subir” on the way up and “bajar” on the way down, if you needed a physical way of remembering the difference.

For once there is nothing of interest to say about the formation of “subir” as it is completely regular in all tenses and other forms, such as the gerund “subiendo” and the past participle “subido”, so if you know what to do with standard verbs like “vivir”, then “subir” works in exactly the same way.

As already mentioned, we would use “subir” in reference to stairs, so “subir la escalera” is “to go upstairs”.  Once you´re up there, the word for “upstairs” is “arriba”.  “Subir” is also used to embark on or get into various means of transport.  “Get into the car” is Spanish is “sube al coche”, which no doubt comes from the days when cars were generally higher up from the ground than they are today.  Likewise, we “subir al autobús” as well as “al tren”.  Needless to say, we have to “bajar” when we get off again.

We also use “subir” when referring to volume as it would be to “turn up” the volume of something.  Anything else you can think of that “goes up” will probably also need “subir”, such as the price, the level of unemployment and even your tone of voice.  A common use of “subir” these days is for when we “upload” something onto the Internet, as in “subir un video a Youtube”.  I realise I am now addressing a readership under a certain age of IT literacy.    It´s getting a bit tedious to keep saying so, but yes, “to download” is “bajar” del Internet.  Whilst we`re talking about the relationship between these two verbs, you might like to know that “subibaja” means “ups and downs”.  Apparently, it literally means “seesaw” in south American Spanish, although due to my extensive experience of children´s parks in Spain, I know that the word most used in these here parts for “seesaw” is “balancín”.

There are one or two nouns from the word “subir” one of which is “subida” meaning “increase”.  A sudden or dramatic increase in something is referred to as a “subidón”.  We might get a “subidón de adrenalina” after doing something adventurous or particularly exciting.  If you haven´t had a “subidón de adrenalina” lately, you might want to take a look at your lifestyle and stir things up a bit. You don´t have to skydive – reciting a poem on stage can have the same effect!

Posted by: janecronin | January 6, 2019


There is one form of this verb that should belong to your list of absolute basics, and that is “repite” which is the basic command “repeat”.  On its own, that does sound rather blunt and abrupt, but it can always be said in a friendly voice with a querying tone and we could also add “por favor” for good measure.  What we don’t need to bother doing is saying a full translation of “Could you repeat that, please” or “I wonder if you would be so kind as to repeat that please”.  In English, the more polite we wish to sound, the more words we add to a sentence, but in Spanish often one word will do the trick, provided it is said in a friendly way.  Another matter is whether you understand what is said the second time, but at least you’ve shown willing.

“Repetir” is a root-changing “e to i” verb, which means that the present tense forms are: “repito, repites, repite, repetimos, repetís, repiten”.  As with other similar verb we have looked at, we also change the root to an “i” in the gerund “repitiendo” and in the third person singular and plural of the preterite tense: “repitió” (he or she repeated) and “repitieron” (they repeated).  From these forms we can extrapolate the subjunctives, but I will leave that to those readers who know what I’m talking about!

For once “repetir” only has one basic meaning, although it can have a wider application.  For example, when you want to have what was always called “seconds” in my family, that is a second serving of food, we always use this verb.  So if someone asks you at a meal table “¿Quieres repetir?” they do not mean that you look as though you need to burp.

The verb “repetir” really comes into its own in the context of schooling.  In Spain there is a system whereby students who fail certain school years, and after being given the chance of a re-take examination still fail the year, then they have to “repetir el curso” (repeat the school year).  Notice incidentally that a school year is referred to as “curso” and not “año”.  This sector of the school population is referred to as “repetidores” (repeaters).    This is not such a bad idea in some cases, although it can cause problems once you start mixing disaffected 14 and 15 year olds with diligent 12 and 13 year olds, which was a problem I had to face with one of my daughter’s classes.

The adjective from “repetir” is “repetitivo” (repetitive).  This applies to a lot of pop music these days (says Jane, instantly sounding like her grandmother).  It also describes certain kinds of people and conversations, not to mention most people’s jobs, unless they are exceptionally lucky.   Another adjective is based on the past particple of “repetir”, namely “repetido” (repeated) and from “repetido” we get the adverb “repetidamente” which means “repeatedly”.


Posted by: janecronin | December 30, 2018


The verb “sentir” means “to feel” and has a few different uses.  First of all, we need to know that it is a root-changing “e to ie” verb, so in the present tense it changes to “siento” (I feel) “sientes” (you feel) “siente” (he, she feels) and “sienten” (they feel), reverting back to the single root vowel in “sentimos” (we feel) and “sentís” (plural you feel).  This particular verb also changes its root to a single “i” in the gerund form “sintiendo” (feeling) and third persons singular and plural in the preterite tense “sintió”  (he, she felt) and “sintieron” (they felt).  Just to complete the picture, this latter verb gives us the basis of the imperfect subjunctive “sintiera”.  We mustn´t confuse this verb with “sentar” which occasionally coincides in form (e.g. “siento” I sit) but in most cases doesn´t, and in any case is easily distinguishable from the context.

The most well-known use of this verb is in the phrase “lo siento” which we all faithfully learn to mean “I’m sorry”.  The literal meaning is “I feel it” and should only be used when we wish to make a genuine apology for something that has affected another person in a negative way, or as a phrase that expresses empathy with someone else’s discomfort or misfortune.   In other words, the British habit of say “sorry” just because we’ve stood in someone’s way for 3 seconds should not be a reason to say “lo siento”.  “Perdón” is all you need, and in the 3 second situation, nothing at all.

“Sentir” is often found in its reflexive form.  This also means “to feel” but refers to our inner feelings, such as happiness or anger, rather than something external.  In other words “siento tu pena” (I feel, that is I’m sorry about, your pain) whereas “me siento triste” (I feel sad).  One of my students was commenting the other day on how much watching adverts on television helps with her Spanish, and that took me right back to an advert I saw in my first year in Spain.  The advert was for a bedding company called Flex, and consisted of people bouncing around on beds with happy faces singing “hoy me siento Flex” (Flex obviously substituting feliz).  Just thought I’d mention it, because it is actually how I learned the meaning of “me siento”!

A derivative of “sentir” is the word “sentido” which as a noun means “sense”,( although it can also mean “direction”).   “Sentido” can also mean “heart-felt” as in the set phrase for giving condolences “Mi más sentido pésame” (My most heart-felt condolences).   We can say “no tiene sentido” if something has no sense, and a good sense of humour is “un buen sentido del humor”.   The translation of Jane Austen’s novel “Sense and Sensibility” is “Sentido y sensibilidad”.

Another noun from the same root is “sensación” meaning “feeling” or “sensation” and if you think back to the last great concert or show you went to, you might want to say that it was “sensacional”.

Posted by: janecronin | December 23, 2018


“Esperar” is an interesting verb as it has three possible translations in English, depending on the context.  From a grammatical point of view there is nothing interesting to say about it as it is a standard –ar verb and does all the right things.  The three translations of “esperar” are – to wait, to expect and to hope.   I think you will agree that these three verbs have related meanings and in reality we would rarely be confused as to which one was meant.

The most basic everyday use of “esperar” means “to wait”.  You may have seen in banks and other offices polite signs which say “espere su turno” (wait your turn) even though the instruction is frequently ignored.  If you see a group of friends or a family, especially with children, out and about, you will often hear the command “Espera” (Wait!) which can also be expressed as “espérame (wait for me) or “espéranos” (wait for us).  Imperatives, or commands, are a bit complicated in grammar, but I might as well slip in here that the written “espere” is a formal command and if you are commanding more than one person to wait for you, you would say “esperad”.

“Espera” meaning “to expect” comes in all the same sorts of phrases as we say in English.  “Mi hija está esperando un bebé” (My daughter is expecting a baby) or “estamos esperando su llegada esta semana” (We are expecting his arrival this week).  In reality “to wait for” and “to expect” are very close in meaning and can sometimes be interchanged.  “Estamos esperando el autobús” could mean, “we are waiting for the bus” or “we are expecting the bus”.  It rather depends on how optimistic you’re feeling at the time.

When we come to the meaning of “esperar” as “to hope” something different happens to the grammar of the sentence.  If I start off a sentence with “espero que … (I hope that …) the following part of the sentence has to change into the subjunctive form.   The reasoning behind this is that if we are expressing a hope, we are talking about something that is hypothetical, that is, that may or may not ever exist or occur.  Here are some examples of what I mean: “Espero que estés bien” (I hope you are well – “estés” instead of “estás”).  Espero que vayamos a Madrid este año. (I hope we will go to Madrid this year – “vayamos” instead of “vamos”).  Obviously I can only cover the subject superficially in this article, but anyway, there it is.  The opposite of “esperar” is “desesperar” which means “to despair”.

A noun from “esperar” is “esperanza” (hope) as in “tengo mucha esperanza” (I have a lot of hope).  “Esperanza” is also a woman´s name, as in the dreaded Esperanza Aguirre a somewhat fierce Madrid PP politician from the Margaret Thatcher School of charm.  The name Esperanza is sometimes abbreviated to “Espe” although I don´t think that is one of Aguirre’s nicknames.   We also use the word “esperanza” in the expression “esperanza de vida” (life expectancy).

Posted by: janecronin | December 16, 2018


“Vestir” means “to dress”.  This should make some sense to us, because the word “vest” in English clearly comes from the same Latin root.  Those of you who have studied Spanish will quite possibly have come across the reflexive form “vestirse” (to get dressed) first, but it does also exist in its simple, non-reflexive form.

First of all though, we need to look at the verb’s formation.  Along with a number of other “-ir” verbs, “vestir” is a root changing “e – i” verb in the present tense.  This simply means that, for example “I dress” is “visto” and not “vesto”.   The present tense conjugation, therefore, goes “visto, vistes, viste, vestimos, vestís, visten”.  Remember as well that when you are saying these words, the initial ‘v’ has the sound quality of a lightly pronounced ‘b’.  As is the case with several other similar verbs, this root change also occurs in the gerund form “vistiendo” (dressing) and in the third persons singular and plural of the preterite (past simple) tense – “vistió” (he or she dressed) “vistieron” (they dressed) and by further extension to the imperfect subjunctive “vistiera”.

The contexts in which someone might dress another person, or perhaps object, are of course a little limited.  We may dress our children or an adult who is unable to do so him or herself.  A designer might dress a model and religious observers might dress a statue.  Other than that, we mostly take control of dressing ourselves, and this is where the reflexive form of this verb comes in.  In the first-person form “visto” (I dress) we put the word “me” in front, giving us “me visto” we are now saying “I dress me” or “I dress myself”.  This form is called reflexive and the word “me” here is acting as a “reflexive pronoun”.   If we write this short sentence out more completely it is “yo me visto”.  “Yo” is the subject of the sentence, that is the person who initiates or controls the action of the verb and “me” acts as the “object” that is, the person or thing that received the action of the verb.  When the subject and the object are the same person, we would translate “me” as “myself” in English.  However, in English we rarely use the form “I dress myself” and far more often say “I get dressed”. The present tense of this reflexive form therefore is: “Me visto” (I get dressed); “te vistes” (you get dressed); “se viste” (he or she gets dressed.  Also formal “usted” – you get dressed);  “nos vestimos” (we get dressed); “os vistís” (plural “you” get dressed); “se visten” (they get dressed).   Reflexive verbs work in this way throughout all the tenses.  As already mentioned the infinitive form is “vestirse”.

A noun form of “vestir” is “vestido” meaning dress, while “vestimento” means clothing or vestments in general.  The opposite of “vestir” is “desvestir” (to undress) which we can definitely connect to the English word “to divest”.


Posted by: janecronin | December 9, 2018


This week’s verb is “encontrar” which means “to find”.  It is a regular root-changing verb which means that the “o” in the root changes to “ue” in some of the present tense and present subjunctive forms.  Other than that, it is a very well behaved verb indeed.

Apart from directly translating “to find” as in “he encontrado mis llaves” (I have found my keys), when it refers to people rather than things it means “to meet” in the sense of “to bump into” or “to meet by change”.  “He encontrado a Miguel en la calle” simply means that you have bumped into Miguel by chance, not that you tripped over him as he was lying in the gutter like a lost wallet.

“Encontrar” has a reflexive form “encontrarse” which we can sometimes directly translate as “to find oneself” but by extension also means “to be situated”.  For example:  “La iglesia se encuentra en el centro de la ciudad” (the church is situated – or can be found – in the centre of the town).  “Encontrarse” can also be used more figuratively meaning to “find oneself” in a particular state of body or mind.  “Me encontré un poco perdido con su discurso” (I found myself a little lost by his or her speech – in other words, I couldn´t understand his or her speech very well).  “¿Cómo te encuentras?” Is another way of saying “How are you?” although it would be a genuine enquiry to someone who has not been well rather than a routine greeting.

One noun from “encontrarse” is “encuentro” which is another word for “meeting” or a “coming together”.  There are quite a few different ways in Spanish to talk about “meetings”, the most common formal one being “reunión”.  However, “encuentro”  is used for a less formal get-together and in a sporting context to mean a game or match.   The negative form of “encuentro” is “desencuentro”.  This does not refer to a meeting that doesn´t happen, but rather to a meeting that goes wrong in some way, perhaps ending in an argument or simply the inability to reach an agreement.

We can add a very useful suffix to the noun “encuentro” as well as change to “ue” root back to an “o” to give us the word “econtronazo”.  This means a crash or collision, both in the literal sense but more often in the context of a strong disagreement or a meeting with a hostile atmosphere.  The suffix “-azo” often expresses something violent or strong and is added to lots of different words.  For example “portazo” means the slam of a door (puerta) and a “puñetazo” is a punch delivered by a fist (puño).   Sometimes the Spanish are quite imaginative with their use of this suffix.  Years ago I used to teach English to Spanish children and gave them each a folder (carpeta) for their work.  It was quite common for one of them to complain to me that they had received a “carpetazo” from another child.



Posted by: janecronin | December 2, 2018


“Sentar” is most often seen in its reflexive form “sentarse” which means “to sit down”.   It is reflexive because it is something we usually do to ourselves, that is, we sit “ourselves” down.  However, if you were ever to “seat” or even to “sit” another person, then you would need the non-reflexive “sentar”.  For example:  Prefiero sentar a los niños delante.  (I prefer to sit the children at the front).  Apart from sitting, “sentar” can also mean to “settle” or “establish” as in “los primeros romanos sentaron las bases de la civilización” (the first Romans established the basis of the civilization).  I know that not exactly something you would say every day, but hopefully you get the point.   A much more common use of “sentar” on its own is to express the feeling when something affects us in a good or bad way.  A meal that you don´t properly digest might “sentar mal” and an unpleasant comment or negative attitude can have the same effect:  “Su actitud me sentó fatal” (his or her attitude affected me really badly, made me feel awful).

Before we move onto the other uses of this verb, we need to do our usual survey of its grammatical properties.  “Sentar” is a root-change “e to ie” verb, so “I sit” is “me siento” with the additional letter “i” in the root.  Apart from this present tense change the verb has no other irregularities.  One of the difficulties that can occur with “sentar” is its possible confusion with “sentir” meaning “to feel”.  There are one or two forms that are identical but usually there are sufficient differences in grammar and context to help us to distinguish clearly between the two verbs.

As already mentioned, we generally see this verb in its reflexive form “sentarse”.  Therefore “I sit down” is “me siento”; you sit down “te sientas”; he or she sits down “se sienta”; we sit down “nos sentamos”; you (plural) sit down “os sentáis” and they sit down “se sientan”.  Notice that if we want to describe someone’s posture as “sitting down” this is expressed by the past participle “sentado” or “sentada” literally meaning “seated”.  The continous form “Me estoy sentando” would only be correct if I was describing the actual action or process of “sitting down”.  “Sentarse” has a commonly heard imperative or command form which is “siéntate” (informal) and “siéntese” (formal) – “sit down”.  However, when the Spanish are training their dogs they often use the English command “sit” oddly enough.

A derivate from “sentarse” is the word “asiento” meaning “seat”.  In a car we talk about the “asientos delanteros” (front seats) and “asientos traseros” (back seats).   “Tomar asiento” (to take a seat) is a more formal way of saying “sentarse”.  A noun from “sentar” is “sentada” which means a “sit-in” and finally the word “sedentario” means “sedentary”, an English word from the same root referring to a job or activity that involves a lot of time spent on one’s rear end.

Posted by: janecronin | November 25, 2018


“Parecer” means “to seem”.    It is a regular verb which belongs to that group of verbs ending in “-cer” and “-cir” which make a change in the first person singular of the present tense.  In other words, whereas one normally adds the letter “o” to the root, such as “hablo” (I speak) or “vivo” I live, parecer adds an extra letter “z” so that “I seem” is “parezco”.  Other verbs that do the same thing are “conducir” – “conduzco” (I drive); “conocer” – “conozco” (I know, I am familiar with) or “merecer” – “merezco” (I deserve).   This first person present tense form is the basis of the present subjunctive which is, therefore “parezca, parezcas, parezca, parezcamos, parezcáis, parezcan”.

When you want to express an opinion or impression, it is quite common to say “me parece” (it seems to me).  Notice that here we are using the third person “it seems” with the “me” meaning “to me”.  Likewise, we might ask the question “¿Qué te parece?” which is literally “What/How does it seem to you?” or as we would usually say “What do you think?”  A reply could be “me parece estupendo” (It seems wonderful to me) or “me parece fatal” (I think it’s dreadful).

An adjective from “parecer” is “parecido” which means “similar”.  “Parecido” is used far more commonly than “similar” even though English speakers find this word easier to remember.  A set phrase in which the word “parecer” is used as a noun is “a mi parecer” which is another, slightly more formal, way of saying “it seems to me”.

“Parecer” has a reflexive form “parecerse” which means “to look alike” or “to be alike”.  “Me parezco a mi hermana” means “I look like me sister” and “mis hijas se parecen” means “My daughters look like each other”.

We can make a compound verb by adding the prefix “a” to give us “aparecer”.  This means “to appear” is the literal sense, not in the sense of “seem”.  Thus,  if I want to say for example, “the man appeared nervous” I would use “parecer” – “El hombre parecía nervioso”, whereas “the man appeared in the room” is “aparecer” – “El hombre apareció en la habitación”.  The opposite of “aparecer” is unsurprisingly “desaparecer” (to disappear).

There are two words meaning “appearance” is Spanish.  Firstly there is “apariencia”, which generally refers to how someone or something looks.  We can also talk about doing something “por pura apariencia” (solely for the sake of appearances).   The other word for “appearance” is “aparición” which refers to someone or something coming into view, as in an appearance on the stage.  “Aparición” also carries the same meaning as our English equivalent, namely something strange or supernatural.

Finally, there is a small village near Orihuela called “La Aparecida”.  Apparently the name comes from the discovery of a portrait of the Virgin Mary which “appeared” on the land of a farmer two centuries ago.  The image, which became an object of veneration, was destroyed during the civil war.

Posted by: janecronin | November 18, 2018


“Pensar” means “to think” and is related to the English word “pensive” meaning “thoughtful”.  It is a root changing verb (yet another one) which alters its root vowel from “e” to “ie” in four out of its six present tense forms.  In other words “pienso” (and not “penso”) means “I think”.

Before we look at more examples, we need to give some thought to what “think” actually means in English.  I presume we can agree that “to think” is an activity of the brain which all of us are capable of to a greater or lesser extent.  There are those who think deeply, those who think occasionally and those who don´t think when they should, but all three cases refer to the same mental activity.

However, in English we have another use of the verb “to think” which really means “to believe”.  For example, if I “think” that the concert starts at 8 o’clock or that my friend would like to come or that it will be quite good, I’m not really focusing on my thought processes so much as expressing my opinion or belief.  In Spanish when I want to say “I think” in the sense of “I believe” I need to use the verb “creer” (to believe).   So, I would say: “creo que el concierto empieza a las ocho”; “creo que a mi amiga le gustaría ir”; “creo que va a ser bastante bueno”.

There is yet another verb we can use for “think” which has more to do with expressing an opinion, that  is – “opinar”.  “What do you think?” in Spanish would often be: “¿Qué opinas?”  However, please don´t get too hung up on the finer differences between these three verbs as they all have similar meanings.  It is simply more usual to use “creer” and “opinar” in some situations when we would naturally use “think” in English, and therefore we are inclined to over rely on “pensar” in Spanish.

So, when would we specifically use “pensar”?  Well, if you are thinking of doing something, you would use “pensar en”, for example “Estoy pensando en vender mi coche” (I’m thinking of selling my car).  If you see someone deep in thought you might ask: “¿Qué estás pensando?” although don´t expect a truthful reply.

The noun from “pensar” is “pensamiento” (thought).  These articles could be entitled “mis pensamientos sobre los verbos en español” but I think that sounds a little too pompous.  As well as the adjective “pensativo” (pensive) there is also “impensable” (unthinkable).  It’s one of those words you can say with lots of emphasis about something you completely disapprove of or think should not happen under any circumstances “¡Es absolutamente impensable¡”.  Curiously, there is no such word as “pensable” as far as I know.

A thinker is “pensador” or “pensadora” and finally there is a rather neat idiom which can be used when something happens when you least expect it – we say that it has occurred “en el momento menos pensado”.

Posted by: janecronin | November 11, 2018


If you have ever trotted hopefully along to an exhibition or museum on a Monday morning in Spain looking forward to a bit of culture and entertainment only to be confronted with the ubiquitous sign “lunes cerrado” then you have come across the true meaning of the word “cerrar” which is of course “to close”.  You may go away disappointed, but at least you know when and where to avoid seeing the sign again.

“Cerrar” is what we call a root-changing verb of which we have already seen a number of examples.  In this case the change to the root, in the present tense, is from the letter “e” to “ie” in four out of the six forms.  In other words, “cierro” means “I close”; “cierras” means “you close”; “cierra” means “he or she closes” (or more formally “you close”) and “cierran” means “they close”.   The first and second persons plural keep the “e” root – “cerramos” (we close) and “cerráis” (plural – you close).  The verb “cerrar” is regular in all its other forms and the root change only comes back into play in the present subjunctive.

As well as meaning the kind of “close” we do to doors and cupboards, we can also use the verb in a similar, more figurative, way as we do in English.  We can say “cerrar un acuerdo” or “cerrar un trato” (to close a deal); or when a time period expires, for example for an application, we “cerrar el plazo”.

Curiously the Spanish do not have a specific word for “lock” and use the term “cerrar con llave” (lit. to close with a key).   However, if the door in question happens to have a bolt, we still use the verb “cerrar”, this time “cerrar con pestillo”.  “Cerrar” is used is a really logical way when referring to water taps.  Whereas in English we turn taps on and off, is Spanish we open (abrir) and close (cerrar) taps.  This could be useful to know if you ever have a plumber shouting instructions to you from the bathroom to the kitchen.

A word that derives from “cerrar” is “cerradura” which means a lock.  “Cerrojo” also exists as an alternative to “pestillo” (bolt).  A locksmith is a “cerrajero” (masculine) or “cerrajera” (feminine).  These are the people who cover entrance ways to apartment blocks with dozens of sticky adverts.  It seems that the locksmith business is highly competitive, and let’s face it, we’ve all needed them at least once.

Another verb that derives from “cerrar” using a prefix is “encerrar” (to enclose).  There is a saying which is the equivalent of when in English we say that something “smells a bit fishy”, that is, suspicious.  In Spanish we say “Aquí hay gato encerrado” (There’s a locked up cat here).  It doesn´t take too much imagination to understand where the saying comes from.    Both “cerrar” and “encerrar” can be used reflexively.  To write this article I have to “encerrarme” in my office once a week.

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