Posted by: janecronin | June 17, 2018


The verb “buscar” means “to search” or “to look for”.  In everyday English speech we use the two-word verb “to look for” much more commonly than “to search”.  If you are a native English speaker you have possibly never given this much thought, but to all learners of English as a foreign language, “look for” belongs to a dreaded group of words called “phrasal verbs”.  English is absolutely chock-a-block with them – get off, go out, play up, put up with – and hundreds more.  Of course we take these for granted, but they are very complicated for non-English speakers, who often have single words in their own language to convey the same meaning.  I mention this now, because when you translate from English into Spanish, it’s a common mistake to assume you have to translate all little words too.  In other words, don´t think that an alternative way of translating “to look for” is “mirar para”.  This is a complete misunderstand due to the weirdness of the English language and the phenomenon should be borne in mind generally as the same applies to many other verbs.

“Buscar” is a completely regular verb but it does undergo what I call a “spelling adjustment” in certain forms.  When the endings begin with an “e” or an “i” the “c” of “buscar” has to change to a “qu” for it to phonetically represent the same sound.  Therefore with have “busqué” (I looked for) and “busque, busques … etc” in the present subjunctive.  You can see the same spelling adjustment in the noun “search” (as in “the search for truth”) which is “búsqueda” (la búsqueda de la verdad).

A place where the word “busca” appears a lot is on signs which are the equivalent of “wanted” posters in English:  “se busca …”   It could be a lost pet or an outlaw in the Wild West, both of which are being sought, which is what “se busca” means (one seeks).  You will also find the button “buscar” instead of “search” on the internet.

If we add the prefix “re” to buscar, we get “rebuscar” which means to look for something very carefully and thoroughly.  The “re” gives it the meaning of looking for something over and over again.  We often find a form of this verb in the word “rebuscado” which usually refers to written communication and means tortuous, obscure or affected.  Those letters you get from the tax authorities or the law courts which make absolutely no sense at all, to you or anyone else.  They can be described as “rebuscado”, and in many cases one suspects, deliberately so.

“Buscar” can also be found in the reflexive form “buscarse”.  This basically intensifies meaning of “look for” to something like “go looking for” in the sense of “provoke”.  It is also used in the well-worn phrase “buscarse la vida” which means to “make your own way in life” as we all have to do.

Posted by: janecronin | June 10, 2018


“Ver” has two basic meanings in English: “to watch” and “to see”.  So, “ver la tele” would be to “watch TV” whereas “ver a mi vecino en la calle” would be “to see my neighbour in the street”.  This verb does have one or two irregularities so I’ll deal with those first.  If you don´t like the grammatical bits you’d better skip a couple of paragraphs!

In the first person singular of the present tense (meaning “I see” or “I watch”) the form is “veo”.  This is slightly irregular as the “e” of the “er” ending wouldn´t normally be included.  One way to remember this to it learn the Spanish version of “I spy with my little eye” which goes like this:  “Veo, veo”  “¿Qué ves?”  “Una cosita” “¿Qué cosita es?  “Una cosita que empieza por A”.  “Cosita” means “little thing” by the way, and yes, they really do go through this chant every time.  At least, they used to, before the days of ipads and tablets.  Try it with the younger members of your family some time!

Another irregularity is the past participle “visto” meaning “seen”, as in “He visto la película” (I have seen the film).   “Visto” can also be used as an adjective which means “seen” in various different ways.  In judicial terms it means “approved”, and it can also mean “obvious” or “clear”.  If we say something is “muy visto” it contains the idea of something that has been “seen too much”.  “No vuelvo a ponerme este vestido, está muy visto” (I won´t wear this dress again, it’s been seen too much).

Finally, “ver” is one of the few verbs (one of just three) that are irregular in the past imperfect tense (the one that means “was seeing” or “used to see”).  Here again it keeps the letter “e” in where you wouldn´t normally expect, so ” I used to watch TV in the evenings” is “Veía la tele por las tardes”.

There are quite a lot of expressions using a derivative of “ver” which is “visto”.  “Estar mal visto” means to be “considered unacceptable” or “frowned upon”.  “Dar el visto bueno” means to approve of something and to give it the “go-ahead”.   Another familiar derivate of “ver” is the word “vista” meaning “view”.   There is a compound verb “entrever” which means “to glimpse” “to catch a glimpse of” or more figuratively “to suspect” and “entrevista” means “interview”.

“Ver” is also used in that most everyday of expressions “vamos a ver” which means “let’s see”.  People use this all the time as a kind of prelude to looking into something that might be tricky or trying to explain something to someone.  It is also sometimes cut down to “a ver”.  I remember a few years ago hearing someone answer the phone by bellowing “¿A VER?” very loudly at the unexpected caller.  I’m sure he didn´t mean it quite as aggressively as he managed to make it sound.


Posted by: janecronin | June 3, 2018


Ironically, as most of the people I teach no longer engage in this activity, and when they did they probably moaned about it a lot of the time, “trabajar” meaning “to work” is one of the best known Spanish verbs.  I´m really not sure why this should be, but there you go.  There is absolutely nothing to say about the grammar of this verb, it is a completely standard “ar” verb with absolutely no tricks up its sleeve.  Also, unlike many of the verbs we have looked at, it only has one meaning.  Maybe that explains why it is so popular.  The only thing one could possibly complain about is the occasional form that becomes a bit of a mouthful, such as “trabajábamos” (we worked/we used to work/we were working).

The noun related to “trabajar” is “trabajo” which can be “work” or “job”.  There are different ways of describing ones “trabajo” – for example “trabajo fijo” (permanent job); “trabajo temporal” (temporary work); “trabajo de tiempo parcial” (part-time work or job) “trabajo de tiempo completo” (full-time work or job).   In my case, I am none of these, being a “trabajadora autónoma” (a self-employed worker – in the feminine form of course).

Another noun from “trabajar” is “trabajador” meaning “worker”.  The day of the worker is on 1st May, which became a public holiday in Spain under the socialist government after the death of Franco, who wasn´t too interested in workers´ rights, or anyone else´s for that matter.  The word “trabajador” can also be used as an adjective meaning “hard-working”.  “Es una persona muy trabajadora” (He or she is a very hard-working person).   Another adjective in the same family is “trabajoso” which means something that causes or creates a lot of work.  “Hacer encajes es muy trabajoso” (Lace making is very laborious).

The word “trabajar” appears in a very familiar phrase which is the traditional, overworked pick-up line rather on the lines of “What is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”  In the Spanish the question is “¿Trabajas o estudias?” (Do you work or study?)  This has given rise to another phenomenon of this never ending period of financial crisis which as you may know runs into huge numbers of unemployed youth.  This is the figure of the “nini” (“neither-nor”) and comes from “ni trabaja ni estudia” (a person who neither works nor studies).

One more word of warning about the verb “trabajar” –  it does not mean “work” in the sense of “function”.  In other words, “trabajar” is the thing that we actively engage in, but “function” refers to when a machine is performing correctly.  So, when you take your food mixer back to the shop because it doesn´t work, you have to say “no funciona” and not “no trabaja” which would sound awfully odd to the Spanish, as though you were expecting your food-mixer to do all the housework as well.

Posted by: janecronin | May 27, 2018


Most people learn the meaning of the word “escribir” pretty quickly as it is what you hear as a piece of paper and pen are shoved in front of you when you’re trying to tell somebody your name.  You might not think that is reasonable, but Frederic Marmaduke Blenkinsop is not immediately understandable to your average Spanish bureaucrat.    You will know therefore that “escribir” means “to write” and is linked to our words like “scribe” and “script” which share the same Latin root.

“Escribir” is a regular verb in almost all of its forms, the exception being the past participle “escrito” (written).  If it were regular it would be escribido, and if you ever make that mistake you will sound just like a two or three-year-old Spanish child, as the error is equivalent to “buyed” or “putted” in English.  As well as forming part of a verb tense (e.g. “he escrito un mensaje” – I have written a message) “escrito” also works as an adjective, as in “ingles escrito” (written English).

The Spanish often use the verb “escribir” where we would use the verb “to spell”.  In other words, to say “How do you spell your name?” the Spanish would say “¿Cómo se escribe tu nombre?”  (How is your name written? or How does one write your name?) Of course the whole obsession with “spelling” pertains to the English language, as we do not have a phonetically written script.  All those spelling tests we had to suffer as children and all those rules like “i before e except after c”, the “magic e” and the silent “gh” are peculiar to English.  The Spanish language is phonetically written which means that they rarely have to spell out anything to each other.  Yet more reason why they push a piece of paper in front of you and say “escribe” almost as soon as you’ve opened your mouth.

A derivative of “escribir” is the verb “describir” meaning, unsurprisingly “to describe”.  All we are doing is adding the letter “d” as a prefix, and all the verb forms work in the same way as its root “escribir”.  Therefore, the past participle “described” (as in “I have described” etc) is “descrito”.

Other words that come from “escribir” are “escritor” (writer – masculine) and “escritora” (writer – feminine).  Unlike in English where the tendency is to eliminate gender references in job titles, the Spanish trend is to specify gender (usually by changing “o” to “a” or in some cases by adding the letter “a”) to vindicate the presence of female workers in whatever field of activity.

Another derivative word familiar to many is “escritura” which means “deeds”: the word no doubt harking back to the years when deeds were written out by hand.  “Escritorio” means a “writing desk” although I don´t think many of us use one of those any more.   Ink wells and blotting paper are well in the past, now we have laptops, mouse pads and speakers instead.


Posted by: janecronin | May 20, 2018


As often happens when we translate words from one language to another, the verb “tocar” has more than one meaning.  The most obvious basic meaning is “to touch” and an example is the saying “toca madera” which means “touch wood” and is used in the same way as in English.  Another principle meaning of “tocar” is “to play” (an instrument or music).  “Tocar el piano” (to play the piano) or “Cuando era niña tocaba el violín” (when I was a child I played the violin).  That famous line from the film Casablanca “Play it, Sam” (she didn´t say “play it again, Sam” incidentally) is “tócala Sam”.   (The feminine pronoun “la” referring to the feminine word for song “canción”)

The conjugation of “tocar” is entirely regular and standard, although it is affected by the phenomenon I have pointed out before, since the root of the verb ends in the letter “c”.  This means that in any form where it is followed by the vowels “e” or “i” the letter “c” has to change to “qu” to keep the phonetic spelling of the hard “k” sound.  Therefore, for example, the first person singular of the preterite tense is spelt “toqué” (I touched, or I played).

Sometimes in shops or other public places you may see the sign “no tocar” which obviously means “do not touch”.   When we give orders in Spanish (the form we call imperative) the verb changes depending on whether we are addressing an individual or more than one person, whether we are being formal or informal and also whether the order is positive or negative.  On a sign to the general public therefore, as it is impossible to make all those decisions, it is quite common to use the infinitive (e.g. tocar) and have done with it.

Another very common use of “tocar” is also something that is hard to translate.  We use it when we are waiting in a queue and wish to say that is it our turn to be served.  The phrase to use is “me toca” which means “it’s my turn” but is literally translated as “it touches me”.  The same phrase can mean to win by chance, that is in a raffle or the lottery.  “Me ha tocado el gordo” is something I would love to say one day, as long as it means “I’ve won on the Christmas lottery” and not “the fat man has touched me”.

The noun from “tocar” is “toque”.  We can use it to mean a short phone call, like “a ring”. “Dame un toque cuando llegues” (Give me a ring when you arrive).  It also means a “touch” in the sense of a “tap” or a “nudge”.  A “toque de atención” is a “call to attention” in the sense of a light reprimand or warning.   Interestingly the word for “curfew” in Spanish is “toque de queda”.  Hopefully you will never need to know that, but it’s always good to be prepared.

Posted by: janecronin | May 13, 2018


The best verb to use when talking about our understanding (or lack of it) in Spanish is “entender”.  This goes against what a lot of English speakers like to think, as they find the verb “comprender” easier to remember.  This is obviously because “comprender” is similar to the English word “comprehend” but in fact, when we’re talking about understanding the spoken or written word, rather than a situation, “entender” is used more commonly.

“Entender” is a root changing verb, which means that in the present tense, and by extension the present subjunctive, the second “e” changes to “ie” in four of its six forms.  Therefore “I understand” is “entiendo” (and “I don´t understand” is “no entiendo”).  In all other tenses and forms “entender” is a completely regular, standard verb.

Going back to the general tendency to use the phrase “no comprendo” or even “no comprende” for “I don´t understand”, I have a cautionary tale for you.  It is quite likely that a Spanish person who is explaining a situation to you – why your car hasn´t been fixed because the parts are still on order but yesterday was a bank holiday in Madrid, for example – that the explanation is completed with a questioning “¿Comprende?”  This means “(Do) you understand?”  (and not “I understand).  I think this is what some people pounce on as a word they can use in all situations.  A while ago I was told the story of some well-meaning expat whose car was stopped by the Guardia Civil.  In response to whatever the policeman said to the driver, he replied with “No comprende”, which he thought meant “I don´t understand” but in actually fact meant “You don´t understand, or comprehend”.  Apparently the Guardia reacted rather badly, which I think you’ll agree is a situation to be avoided.

A useful phrase that means “as far as I understand it” is “a mi entender” (literally – to my understanding).  However, when we try to reach a mutual understanding with someone, we refer to this as an “entendimiento”.   We can also use the reflexive verb “entenderse” in this context.  For example:  “No pude entenderme con mi vecino” (I couldn´t reach an understanding with my neighbour).  To make yourself understood is “hacerse entender”.  There is also a common phrase “dar a entender” which means “to give the impression” or “to lead (someone) to believe”.  The phrase literally translates as “to give to understand” and is therefore a good illustration of how tricky translation can be sometimes!

The opposite of “entender” is “malentender” (to misunderstand – or literally, to understand badly) and as in the above Guardia Civil story, we should always try to avoid “malentendidos” (misunderstandings).  At the end of an explanation, when you want to let someone know that you have actually understood what they have told you, you can say “entendido” (understood!)   However, if you haven´t got a clue what they are talking about you can always say “No entiendo nada” (I don´t understand anything).

Posted by: janecronin | May 6, 2018


I can hardly believe that I haven´t written about “tomar” yet.   It is such a useful verb for so many simple everyday activities, although it tends to be tricky for us because it has so many possible applications.  If you look up “tomar” in the dictionary, you will find that the first translation is “take”.  Well, that seems simple enough until we think about what “take” means in English.  There is “take” as in taking a leaflet, a coffee, the bus or your time.  All of these can be expressed with the word “tomar”.  However, In English we can also “take” as in to move something or someone to another place.  For example, we take a friend to the airport or take the cat to the vet.  In that case “take” is expressed by the verb “llevar”.

“Tomar” is also the general verb used for “taking” as in eating and drinking.  There is a cultural element to this since in Spain, as I am sure you know, as it is extremely common to go to bars and cafés and “have” something with friends.  This could range from a drink, a snack or a meal, but in a rather random, casual way as part of a social, often spontaneous, occasion.  The Spanish refer to this as “tomar algo” (to have, or to take something) where each person feels free to eat or drink according to their inclination, since the most important thing is not the food or drink itself but the shared event.  That is why a waiter may say to you “¿Qué va a tomar?” which in English is the equivalent of “What will you have?”  The same question might be asked of you by a friend who has just invited you to “tomar algo” with him or her.  In that case: “¿Qué va a tomar?” might imply that your friend is “inviting” you (invitar), in other words that he or she is offering to pay at the end.

There are quite a lot of idiomatic uses of “tomar”.  A frequently used one is “tomar el pelo” which means to “pull someone’s leg”.  The literal translation is “to pull the hair” but if you think that is peculiar, pulling people’s legs is hardly a normal activity either.  Another popular phrase is “tomar el sol” which means “to sunbathe”.  We can also “tomar una decisión” which is to take, or to make, a decision.  “Tomar en cuenta” is “to take into account” and “tomar en serio” is “to take seriously”.

As you know, everyday Spanish is a lot more direct than English, and it is not uncommon to here “toma” (Take!) when someone hands you something.  A slightly more formal version of this is “tome”.    If you hear someone shouting “toma” in an excited manner whilst watching a football match, then perhaps a better translation is “take that!”

Posted by: janecronin | April 29, 2018


“Sacar” is one of those verbs that Spanish language learners tend to overlook even though it is very commonly used.  Its basic meaning is “to take out” as in: “Sacó algo de la bolsa” (He took something out of the bag).  It also has one or two other meanings which we will look at later.

As verbs go, we have another standard, regular one on our hands.  None of the tenses are irregular; neither does it have any root changes or odd first person singular.  The only thing that is worthy of note about its formation is the thing I often point out, which is what I call a “spelling adjustment”.  This is when the spelling changes to keep the sound of the verb regular, and is a very common phenomenon in Spanish.  As with other verbs that have “c” or “g” at the end of the root, we have to adjust the spelling when the following vowel makes it necessary.  The sound of the “c” throughout all the forms of this verb sounds like a “k”.  However, if we keep the “c” spelling when the next letter is an “e”, in Spanish phonetic terms we have turned the “c” into a “th” sound (as “c” followed by “e” is pronounced “th”).  So, in those positions we have to change the “c” to a “qu” to keep the correct phonetic spelling.  That’s such a long-winded explanation, but I do hope you understand what I mean!  This happens in the first person singular of the preterite tense which is spelt “saqué” and also in the present subjunctive.  I think I’ve said enough about that for now.

Moving on to expressions which use “sacar” we have “sacar a la luz” which is to bring something to light.  When people talk about their struggle to bring up a family or bring a project into fruition, they often use the phrase “sacar adelante” which has the idea of moving forward, but with considerable effort.  When school children get their exam marks they use the same verb, as they “sacar buenas notas” (get good marks) or they might ask their friends “¿Qué sacaste en el examen?” (What mark did you get in the exam?”

When something drives us mad or makes us furious we say “me saca de quicio”.  “Quicio” is a window or door frame, so I think the idea is that something is so disturbing or annoying that it pulls the door right away from its frame; something like that, anyway.  We also “sacar fotos” (take photos) and in your home you almost certainly have a “sacacorchos” (bottle opener) and a “sacapuntas” (pencil sharpener).  Finally, for all you football fans, a “corner” kick, which is sometimes referred to with the English word “corner” is also called a “saque de esquina”, “saque” being a derivative of “sacar” and for which I can´t think of a translation other than the “getting out” of the corner.

Posted by: janecronin | April 22, 2018


If you have lived in Spain for any length of time you will surely be familiar with the verb “pagar” (to pay).  When you wish to pay for a drink or meal there are a number of possible phrases but one you can add to the list is: “Quiero pagar” (I want to pay).   Just to digress even before I get started, the most commonly known phrase amongst foreigners is “La cuenta, por favor” (The bill please) but another very useful one when only a few items are involved is “¿me cobra?” (Will you charge me? i.e. take my money) or “cóbrame por favor” (Charge me please).  These two variations are the quickest and most direct ways of paying at the bar, without having to wait around for half an hour.  Try it: you should be pleasantly surprised.

As for the verb itself, it is a standard, regular verb.  Like other verbs which have the letter “g” at the end of the root, you sometimes have to vary the spelling slightly to keep it in line with the pronunciation.  The letter “g” has a soft throat sound (like the Scottish “loch”) when it appears before an “e” or an “i”, but it needs to keep its hard “g” sound  in all the different forms of “pagar”.  This means that, for example, the past tense “I paid” is spelt “pagué”.  The “u” here is silent and has been added to keep the “g” sounding hard.  Apart from that and a couple of other places where the same thing happens, “pagar” is a remarkably ordinary verb.

When money is being exchanged in Spain in other contexts, you may come across some other forms of “pagar”.  One is when a bill is stamped or marked as “paid”, in which case the word is “pagado”.  Another system that still works here, but less so in the age of plastic, is the use of a “pagaré”.  This is a type of cheque which has a future date on it, before which it will not be honoured.  “Pagaré” in this case has a literal meaning “I will pay”.  The noun from “pagar” is “pago” (payment) and you may also notice on bills a section where it says “forma de pago” (payment method).

Earlier on this year I came across an interesting word: “sinpa” or “simpa”.  It is an abbreviation of “sin pagar” (without paying) and refers to the situation when people eat and drink at a bar and then walk off without paying.  We’ve all done this once or twice by mistake, but hopefully not deliberately.  The case which I read about in the press was an entire first communion party of about 60 people who had a whole banquet with drinks galore and then all got up and walked out together.  The restaurant owner was naturally distraught, and I think he will be asking for money up front in future.

Posted by: janecronin | April 15, 2018


“Conducir” means “to drive” and comes from the same root as our English word “conduct” although of course it has a different meaning.  “Conducir” is a regular verb in all but one tense, namely the Preterite, or past simple.  In that tense its forms are:  “conduje” (I drove); “condujiste” (you drove) “condujo” (he or she drove); “condujimos” (we drove); “condujisteis” (you drove, plural); “condujeron” (they drove).    Most of the irregular verbs in this tense are rather common ones like “go” “put” and “have” so an irregular “conducir” can come as a surprise.  You may be aware that there is an English football commentator who works on the Spanish media by the name of Michael Robinson.  His Spanish is very fluent but he does make some choice mistakes from time to time and gets his leg pulled for them.  The other day on the radio he said: “conducí” instead of “conduje” for “I drove”.  I just thought you might like to know that even the great have their moments of weakness when it comes to irregular verbs.

Apart from that, the first person singular in the present tense has that lovely form “conduzco” (I drive) where the “z” (which sounds like our “th”) and the “c” (which sounds like our “k”) get put together, so that the  sound is “conduthko”.  There are a few other verbs whose infinitive ends in “cer” or “cir” that do the same thing.  I call them “committee” verbs because I always imagine that the spelling could just as easily have been “conduzo” or “conduco” but it was put to a special verb committee and there was no casting vote that day so they just decided to stick both sounds together.  Please don´t take any notice of this theory, I just have to amuse myself somehow.

So, you may or may not be surprised to know that the word for “driver” in Spanish is “conductor” and a female driver a “conductora”.  This is completely logical if you think about it, and I don´t know why we gave that word to those people who used to walk up and down buses selling tickets.  In English we also use the word “conductor” to describe someone who leads an orchestra but in Spanish that person is a “director” or “directora” as they “direct” (dirigir) the orchestra.

When we use the verb “conducir” in speech we should be careful not to translate one of our English peculiarities into literal Spanish as it will not make sense.  We say “I’ll drive you to the airport” or “He drove his friend to the station”.   In Spanish we drive cars, buses, lorries and taxis but we don´t drive people, instead we say “llevar (en coche)”. So these sentences would be “Te llevo al aeropuerto” and “Llevó a sus amigos a la estación”.  We only need to add “en coche” if there is any kind of doubt about the form of transport being used.

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