Posted by: janecronin | April 15, 2018

Conducir


“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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Posted by: janecronin | April 8, 2018

Contar


“Contar” is a verb with three distinct meanings.  The first is “to count” as in one, two, three, the second contains the idea of “depend” as in the phrase “cuenta conmigo” (count on me) and the third is to “recount” or “relate” something such as a story.  “Contar” is an “o to ue” root changing verb, which means that I count is “cuento” and the command “count!” is “cuenta”.

So, retuning to our three meanings: if you have ever said to your children or grandchildren “I’ll count up to three” to get them to clear up their toys and go upstairs to bed, well in Spanish you would say “cuento hasta tres”.  Irrespective of what might happen should you get to the number four, it is a ploy that works, sometimes.

For the second meaning, imagine that someone is asking for volunteers for a particular activity and you want to assure them that you will help out; you can say “cuenta conmigo” as mentioned above. In fact in some ways this is similar to the first meaning, because another way of translating it could be “count me in”.

The third use of “contar” as “to tell” or “to relate” has a lot of everyday applications.  If someone wanted to tell you something but was hesitating or waiting to be asked, you might want to encourage them by saying “cuéntame” (tell me).  This works in a similar way to “dime” (or the more formal “dígame”) but implies that you are expecting a more lengthy account rather than a short request or statement.  There is a long-running drama series on Spanish television TV1 called “Cuéntame Cómo Pasó” (Tell me How it Happened) which follows the story of a family throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s in Madrid.    The word for a tale is “cuento” and so a fairy story is a “cuento de hadas”.  A children’s story-teller is a “cuentacuentos” and you may come across these at events organised for children by your local town hall.

We have to return to the meaning of number counting for other derivatives of “contar”.  The one that all of us like is the “descuento” (discount) which comes from the same verb “contar” with the prefix “des-“, namely “descontar” (to discount).  A water or electricity meter is a “contador” (literally, a “counter”) and an accountant is a “contable”.  There’s also a famous cyclist called Alberto Contador but I don´t know whether his ancestors were money-counters or story-tellers.

We can use the past participle of “contar”, that is “contado”, which literally means “counted” in the same way we would use “numbered” in English.  In other words it can mean something rare or scarce.  There is a phrase “en contadas ocasiones” (on numbered, i.e. few occasions), and a common phrase is: “tiene los días contados” (his, her or its days are numbered).

Posted by: janecronin | April 1, 2018

Correr


“Correr” means “to run”.  It can also mean “to hurry up” as you often hear parents saying to their children when they want them to get a move on: “¡corre, corre!”  Grammatically speaking “correr” is a standard regular verb, so works in exactly the same way is “beber”, “comer” or whatever other verb you may have as a model.

Probably the biggest challenge with this verb for many English speakers is the pronunciation of the double ‘r’ in the middle.  When the letter ‘r’ appears at the beginning of a word or doubled in the middle of a word, it acquires the extra strong rolled ‘rrr’ which is so difficult for some of us to achieve.  Those who have the advantage in this game are the Scots, who also run ahead of us with the throaty “g” sound, not to mention those nice pure vowels.

A word you may not have identified as coming from “correr” is the word for post or mail, which is “correos”.  This does actually come from the same root and presumably goes back to the days when somebody did actually run with your letters.  It has the same root as the French “courir” from which we get the English word “courier”, which performs the same basic function as the post office.

In English of course we have other uses of the verb “run” which do not translate as “correr” in Spanish.  For example, we might “run” a company (dirigir), “run” a campaign (organizar) or “run” a car (mantener). We also have the strange habit of “running” water, whilst the Spanish “abrir el grifo” (open the tap), although they can also “dejar correr el agua” (allow the water to run) which amounts to the same thing, and is a little more logical, I think.

If you would like some idiomatic uses of “correr”, we do say “correr la voz” (to spread the word) and also “correr el riesgo” (to run the risk).  If we expand the verb with the prefix “re” to make “recorrer”, this means to travel around as in:  “Me gustaría recorrer toda España” (I would like to travel all round Spain).

Another word that is clearly linked to “correr” is the “corrida” which is the Spanish word for bull-fight.  If we connect it with the idea of running, then we would probably think of bull-running, but in actual fact “corrida” refers to the fight itself.  The word for the bull-running is “encierro” which means “enclosure” or “enclosing”, as the bulls were originally run from one enclosure to another.

Going back to the “mail” theme, the Spanish for “e-mail” is “correo electrónico”.  However, the vast majority of people nowadays use the English word “e-mail” imitating the English pronunciation of “mail” despite it not following Spanish phonetic rules.  I suppose that a few years down the line they will alter the spelling to “imeil” to complete the process of “españolización”.

 

Posted by: janecronin | March 25, 2018

Volver


“Volver” means “to return”.  It also means “to go back” and “to come back” which of course mean exactly the same thing anyway: just the English language complicating life again.  “Volver” is a root-changing verb, as “llover” was last week and a number of other verbs we have looked at.  These root-changing verbs (also called radical-changing and stem-changing) follow very consistent patterns and should never be regarded as irregular.  As we have also seen before, these root-changes occur in the present tense and by extension to the present subjunctive.  The present tense conjugation is therefore: Vuelvo (I return); vuelves (you return); vuelve (he,she,it returns, you return – formal), volvemos (we return); volvéis (you return – plural); vuelven (they return, you return –  formal plural).   Notice that the root change of “o” to “ue” always and only occurs in the same four positions.

Some people find the pronunciation of words like “vuelvo” difficult and that is usually because they trip up on the fact that the letter “v” and “b” is pronounced the same.  I spend my life telling people that this particular distinction is far less important that we English speakers presume, but I’m not sure whether anyone has yet believed me.  The Spanish ear tunes principally into the vowel sounds and a range of variations between what we regard as distinct “b” and “v” sounds are permitted without the meaning of the word being lost.  In addition, when this consonant appears at the beginning of a word and followed by a “u”, it tends to disappear anyway.  In other words, you could get away with saying something like “welvo” or “welbo” and be sufficiently clearly understood.

I concentrate on this particular word because it has a number of everyday practical uses.  If you go to a shop or office and find that the person you need is not there, you can say “vuelvo más tarde” (I’ll come back later) or “vuelvo mañana” (I’ll come back tomorrow) or you can ask “¿A qué hora vuelvo?” (What time shall I come back?)  Notice that the idea of “will” and “shall” in this type of situation is covered by using the present tense – literally “I come back” “What time do I come back?”

When you want to express the idea of “returning something” that is “to return” plus an object (e.g. a library book to the library), then you need the verb “devolver”.  It conjugates exactly like “volver” as it is the same word with the added prefix “de”.  So, “I return a book to the library” is “Devuelvo un libro a la biblioteca”.

Also derivative of “volver” is “revolver” which means “to stir” and is therefore a verb you will find in cooking instructions.   Scrambled egg is “revuelto” not to be confused with “revuelta” which means “riot”, which you hope doesn´t break out when you’re having your menu del día.

 

Posted by: janecronin | March 18, 2018

Llover


Just for a change we are going to look at a verb that only has one meaning: “llover” which means “to rain”. Tackling the grammar first, “llover” belongs to a group of verbs which are “root-changing”.  That means that in the present tense (and by extension in the present subjunctive as well) the root of the verb “llov” changes to “lluev” in four of its forms.  However, before we go any further, we have to stop and look at what we actually use this verb for.  Given that it means “to rain”, it makes absolutely no sense to conjugate “I rain”, “you rain” “he or she rains”, “we rain” “they rain”, as none of us “rains”.  So, in normal everyday language we only need one form of this verb – the third person singular “it rains” which is “llueve”.  Here is an example sentence which I think you can translate on your own: “En Inglaterra llueve mucho”.

In all other tenses, “llover” is a completely standard verb, so here are some examples:  “está lloviendo” (it is raining); “ha llovido” (it has rained); “lloverá” (it will rain); “llovió” (It rained); “llovía” (it rained, it used to rain, it was raining); “había llovido” (it had rained).  We could also include here the use of the infinitive as in the sentence “va a llover” (it´s going to rain).

Since I’ve already told you most of the different forms of “llover”, I might as well do the job properly and include the subjunctive.  If, for example, we want to say “I hope it doesn´t rain”, that would be “Espero que no llueva”.  Similarly “I don´t think it will rain” is “No creo que llueva”.  In both cases, we are expressing something speculative, with the most important idea of these sentences being our statements of hope or opinion, which means the verb goes into the subjunctive form.  It´s rather difficult to summarise the use of the subjunctive in one sentence, so I hope (!) you will bear with me.  The imperfect subjunctive of “llover” is “lloviera”, but I think that explaining its use in this article is a bridge too far.

The most important derivative of this verb is the noun “lluvia” meaning “rain”.  This kind of statement often leads to confusion for English speakers, because we use exactly the same word for the verb “to rain” and the noun “the rain”.  This phenomenon is extremely widespread in the English language, which means we are usually not even aware of which one we are using in a sentence.  This confusion is impossible in Spanish, because ending changes clearly indicate which category of word we are using.  So in the sentence: “Mira la lluvia” (Look at the rain) the verb is “mirar” and “lluvia” is the noun.

Finally, here´s a nice little saying with “llover”:  “Nunca llueve a gusto de todos” which literally means “It never rains to everyone’s taste” and is the equivalent of “You can´t please everybody”.

Posted by: janecronin | March 11, 2018

Elegir


“Elegir” means “to choose” and is closely related to our own Latin-based word “to elect”.  “Choose” and “elect” basically mean the same thing, but in the English language we generally use words of Latin origin in more technical or official contexts, whilst their Anglo-Saxon counterparts,  in this case “choose” are assigned to more everyday functions.  In other words, we “elect” a Prime Minister but we “choose” a pudding, although you might think the reverse is true!  Spanish, once more, is simpler in this particular respect, and we use “elegir” for both functions.

This verb is what we call “root-changing” as in the present tense the letter “e” which falls before the ending (i.e. in this case the second “e”) changes to an “i” in the first, second and third persons singular and third person plural.  This change pattern in the present tense is the same for all root-changing verbs, and also works through to the present subjunctive.  This verb also belongs to a small group which make the same e to i alteration in the gerund form “eligiendo”  (choosing) and in the third person preterite forms “eligió” and “eligieron”.

Sorry if that makes no sense, but maybe one day it will!  There’s one more technical point about “elegir” which is actually more to do with pronunciation than grammar.  In a few forms, for example, the first person singular of the present tense, you would probably expect to see the spelling “eligo” for “I choose”.  However, with this spelling, the pronunciation of the letter “g” has gone from a soft throaty sound (which it makes when followed by e or i) to a hard sound.  Therefore, the spelling has to be altered to preserve the correct pronunciation, because Spanish is always spelt phonetically.  Therefore, “I choose” is spelt “elijo”.  Apologies once more if you haven´t understood that bit either, but it does actually illustrate a fundamental principle of written and spoken Spanish, so is well worth getting to grips with if you can.

As usual there are a number of words which derive from this verb “elegir”.  The most obvious one is “elección” (election).  When referring to political elections, the word is usually found in the plural “las elecciones generales” or “las elecciones municipales” (or regionales or europeas).  Otherwise, “elección” can just mean “choice”, as in what dishes you’ve chosen for your menu del día.  “El electorado” is the “electorate” and “electo” means “elected”.  This is the term used for the winner of an election before they take office – “el presidente electo” or “la presidenta electa”.

One more derivative of “elegir” which clearly connects with English is the adjective “elegible” (electable, that is, eligible).  There is also the noun “elegibilidad” which looks like a real mouthful in Spanish, but is the exact equivalent of “eligibility” in English.

Posted by: janecronin | March 4, 2018

Ganar


“Ganar” is a regular verb, like the vast majority of verbs in the Spanish language.  We tend to get terribly hung up on irregularities, and admittedly there are a few amongst the most common verbs, but the regular majority just conjugate away quietly in the background without drawing attention to themselves or upsetting anybody.

From the point of view of English speakers, the difficulty of “ganar” lies in its translation as it can mean “to win” “to beat” “to earn” and “to gain”.  Even here difficulty is probably the wrong word.  If you look on the positive side, you only need one verb to say all those things in Spanish, and when you come across them in a text or speech, both context and a bit of common sense should tell you which one it is.

Here are examples of each use, in a different order from the above:  “He ganado mucho peso durante estas vacaciones”;  “Nadal ganó a Federer en el torneo”; “Mi equipo ha ganado el partido”; “Las mujeres ganamos menos que los hombres en muchos casos”.  Hopefully you’ve been able to interpret these messages without any problem, so there is more proof that “ganar” is an easy verb to use!

As is so often the case, “ganar” has certain idiomatic uses.  For example, when you are in the process of getting a problem of any kind sorted out, you might say “voy ganando” or “vamos ganando” which is similar to when we would say “I think I’m winning”.  Also “ganar tiempo” is “to save time” as in: “Vamos a desayunar todos juntos y así ganamos tiempo para salir más temprano”.  There is also the reflexive form “ganarse”.  “Ganarse la vida” is to earn a living and “ganarse la confianza de la gente” is “to gain”, in the sense of “to deserve”, people’s trust.

A winner in any contest is a “ganador” (male) or “ganadora” (female).  These can also be used as adjectives – “la pintura ganadora” (the winning painting); “el libro ganador” (the winning book).  Another related word is “ganancia” which can mean profit, earnings or winnings depending on the context.

There are some other words which sound as though they are related to “ganar”, and I think in some distant way they are, but the relationship is certainly not obvious.  The word for “cattle” is “ganado” and a cattle farmer is a “ganadero”.  Another similarity is with the wonderful expression “tener ganas” which means “to fancy” or feel the desire for something.  To do something reluctantly is to do it with “desgana” and “desganarse” is to lose one’s appetite.  There has to be a connection somewhere between all these expressions and “ganar”, but in reality we learn to use them independently without ever thinking about how they all came to mean what they do.

Posted by: janecronin | February 25, 2018

Vivir


“Vivir” is one of the best known Spanish verbs thanks to that great anthem  “Y Viva España” rendered in Spanish by the late great Manolo Escobar.  To get the grammar over with quickly, “viva” is the present subjunctive form of “vivir” and means “May it live…” or as we say in English “Long live …”  If you have attended any of the thousands of fiestas in Spain you may have noticed that at various points in the proceedings someone shouts up “Viva … (whichever saint it happens to be)” to which everyone around shouts back “Viva” at the tops of their voices.

The verb “vivir” is completely regular in all its forms and only has one meaning “to live”.  However, it does give rise to lots of interesting derivations.  Firstly, we can add the prefix “re” and make “revivir” which immediately resonates with the English word “revive” which has the same meaning.  We don´t have an English equivalent however for “convivir” (to live with).  From this we get the word “convivencia” which means “living together” “getting along together” and is also the term used for retreats for work colleagues , religious or cultural groups, who go away for a weekend “convivencia” to bond together in a different environment.

If you own a home in Spain you may have noticed that on contracts and bills your home is referred to as a “vivienda” (dwelling).  Another word seen very frequently is “vida” which is the noun “life”.  Another beautiful song has just come to mind “Gracias a la Vida” (Thanks to Life) composed by the Chilean singer Violeta Parra.  Other nouns from “vivir” are “vivero” (nursery, that is for plants) and “vividor” is a person how lives off others, in other words a scrounger or a free-loader.

Adjectives from “vivir” are “vivido” (someone who has “lived” and is therefore worldly-wise) and “vivaz” meaning lively or vivacious.  Another English word that derives from the same Latin root is the adjective“vivid”.  Finally on a more negative note, we have the expression in Spanish “un sin vivir”.  A typical context would be someone who is suffering from a serious illness or is in a state of constant anxiety.  They might say “esto es un sin vivir”.  This is one of those phrases that one understands perfectly but are difficult to translate.  It’s something like:”this is no life at all” although that doesn’t quite carry the weight of the Spanish words.

Posted by: janecronin | February 18, 2018

Bajar


You have almost certainly come across the verb “bajar”, or some derivative of it, many times in the course of your everyday life in Spain.  The verb itself means “to go down”, “to come down” or “to lower”.  There are no irregularities in the way “bajar” is conjugated so it behaves just like the verb “hablar” in all its tense changes.  It has a number of uses which all tie in to its basic, simple meaning.  Apart from the obvious, going down a hill or a flight of stairs, we can use it when referring to volume, so “bajar el volumen” means “to lower the volume” although in English we more often say to “turn down the volume”.  “Bajar” is also used to refer to the temperature, prices and sea levels.

As I said at the beginning, there are many everyday derivatives of “bajar”.  The noun “baja” is used in an administrative context to refer to one’s work and health status.  Someone who is officially “off” work for whatever reason, in Spanish is “de baja”.  This may be “baja por maternidad” (maternity leave), “baja por enfermedad” (sickness leave) or “baja por motivos familiares” (compassionate leave).  This same concept works with vehicles, if your car is “de baja” then it is officially off the road.  Another noun related to “bajar” is “bajo” which means ground floor and can also refer to a premises that opens onto street level, such as a “bajo comercial” (shop premises).

The adjective related to “bajar” is “bajo/baja” meaning “short” (in height, but not in length) and “low” referring to buildings, hills and also volume.  In all cases the opposite is “alto” (tall, high, loud).  “Bajo” is also used as an adverb in a wide variety of phrases including: “bajo control” (under control”) “bajo cero” (below zero) and “bajo mi punto de vista” (from my point of view).  Then we have the preposition “debajo” meaning “under”.  “El ratón está debajo de la mesa” (“The mouse is under the table” – to slightly misquote Eddie Izzard on the subject of useless French phrases).

“Bajar” can be made reflexive “bajarse” which means “to get down”, “to climb down” or the more old-fashioned word “to alight”.  It is also used when in English we would say “to get out of” a car or train “bajarse del coche”, “bajarse del tren”.  This reflexive form can also be used figuratively, as in “to climb down” from ones ideas or negotiating position, and the person who has to “bajarse del burro” (literally, “climb down from his/her donkey”) is someone who has to swallow their pride and “eat humble pie”.  When you want to unsubscribe from a service or de-register from some official status or process, we say “darse de baja”.  Finally, If we add the prefix “re-“to our original verb, we get “rebajar” which is “to reduce” usually referring to price.  That is why the sales are called “las rebajas”.

Posted by: janecronin | February 11, 2018

Poder


The translation of “poder” in its infinitive form is “to be able”.  However, English is such a strange language that once we start using the verb in sentences “to be able” almost always turns into “can”.  Therefore the first person singular “puedo” means “I am able to” or simply “I can”.  Similarly the past tenses “pude” and “podia” are “I was able to” or “I could”.  Even more peculiarly in English “I could” is also “I would be able”, which in Spanish is the conditional “podría”.

Well, having seen how strange English is in this respect, hopefully the verb “poder” will now seem remarkably normal.  It is in fact a root changing verb in the present tense, so “I can” “you can” “he or she can” and “they can” are “puedo”, “puedes”, “puede” and “pueden” respectively.  The “we” and “you – plural” forms keep the “o” of the root – “podemos” (we can) and “podéis” (you can, plural).  “Poder” is irregular in the preterite tense (pude etc.) as well in the future and conditional tenses (podré, podría).

As in English, we use this verb to talk about ability, but it can also be used in the question form to ask for permission.  For example: “¿Puedo cambiar el canal?” (Can I change the channel?)  There is also a less personal form “¿Se puede?” (Can one?  Is it permitted?)”¿Se puede aparcar aquí?” (Can one park here?)  On occasions we can use these two words on their own.  For example, you are at the doctor’s and you think you can go into the surgery room but you’re not sure, you might knock, open the door slightly and say “¿Se puede?”

There are a couple of nouns related to “poder”.  The word for “power” is exactly the same as the verb “poder”.  “Tiene mucho poder” (He or she has a lot of power).  This word is also used in a legal context meaning “power of attorney” or “proxy”.  You may have been asked to sign one of these by a lawyer at some point.  The other noun is “poderío” and refers more to the quality of power, that is, “powerfulness”.  The adjective meaning “powerful” is “poderoso” and one of the names given to God is “el Todopoderoso” (the All-powerful).

Returning to the present tense of this verb, there is a new political party in Spain called “Podemos” which means “We can”, pronounced “PodEmos” (emphasis on the “e”).   I was reading something the other day about how some people who don´t like this particular political party are now having problems using the word “podemos” in everyday conversation.  There was an example of a sign someone had written in a church, about keeping the place clean and tidy.   At the end it said “Juntos podemos” (together we can) and someone, (who knows, it could have been the priest) had crossed out “podemos” and changed it to “Juntos lo lograremos” (together we will achieve it).  It made me laugh.

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