Posted by: janecronin | November 19, 2017

Cantar


I finished the last article by referring to the various connections between modern languages, and more specifically, with the idea that modern English is mainly derived from the Germanic and Latin language families.  Because of the particular history of the British Isles, our basic, everyday English speech is still dominated by words of Anglo-Saxon and Viking origin, whilst our more sophisticated, technical, formal or academic language is populated with words of Latin origin.  In fact we have many pairs of words which started off meaning the same thing, but which have diverged from each other over time.

A very good example of this are the words “to sing” and “to chant” in English.  I am of course supposed to be writing about Spanish, and the Spanish for “to sing” is “cantar”.  This is a completely standard, regular verb so there is not a lot to say about it grammatically.  It has derivations in the Spanish language such as “canción” (song) “cantante” (singer) “canto” (singing – i.e. the art of singing) and “cantautor” (singer-songwriter).  Going back to English, I think we can all agree that the related word “to chant” has a more esoteric or specialist meaning that the everyday word “to sing”.  Perhaps the strongest association is a religious one, we may think of Gregorian chant or perhaps someone chanting during meditation in an eastern religion like Buddhism.   The basic English word “to sing” is clearly of Germanic origin as “to sing” in German is, surprise, surprise, “singen”.

A connection you may not have noticed is that if we add the prefix “en” to “cantar” we get the verb “encantar” which means “delight”.  When we meet someone for the first time, the standard greeting is “encantado” (if you are a man) or “encantada” (if you are a woman) which comes from the longer expression “encantado de conocerle” (delighted to meet you).   The other word in English for “delight” is of course “to enchant” and if you have learnt any French you will probably remember the equivalent greeting “enchanté” (delighted or enchanted).

Another meaning of “encantar” in Spanish is to “enchant” in the sense of to “bewitch” or to “charm” as in “snake charmer”.  We also talk about a person who is “charming” in Spanish as “una persona encantadora” – a person who “charms” or even “bewitches” us.  The masculine form is “encantador” as in “es un hombre encantador”.  In modern speech this just means he’s a very nice chap, and not necessary a Spanish version of Rasputin.  However, it seems clear that the origin of the idea is “to enchant” using ones voice.

Another more mundane uses of “encantar” is the equivalent of “love” as in “I love ice cream”.  In Spanish we say “me encanta el helado” (literally “ice-cream delights me”).  “Me encanta el chocolate” (I love chocolate, chocolate delights me, or perhaps chocolate charms and bewitches me like a snake-charmer bewitches a snake).   I will leave you with that rich association of ideas, all derived from the simple word “cantar”.

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Posted by: janecronin | November 12, 2017

Creer


The primary meaning of “creer” is “to believe” although in everyday speech it often appears when we would use the word “to think” in English.  For example, if I were to say “I think his name is Bill” or “I think the concert starts at 8 o’clock” I am really stating something that I believe to be true, rather than talking about my thought processes.  In these sentences we use the verb “creer” in Spanish: “Creo que se llama Bill”; “Creo que el concierto empieza a las 8”.  Likewise, when we are confirming information with the expressions “I think so” and “I don´t think so”, we also use “creer”, with those very useful phrases “creo que sí” and “creo que no”.  It’s also possible to say “no creo” in response to an affirmation, again meaning “I don´t think so”.

“Creer” is a regular verb in all tenses with just one small spelling variation in the third person singular of the preterite tense which changes “creio” to “creyó”.  This is a standard spelling adjustment which occurs with regular –er and –ir verbs with roots ending in a vowel, such as “leer” and “caer”.  It is easy to confuse the verb “creer” with “crear” (to create) and in some forms they are exactly the same.  For example “creo” which would normally mean “I believe” could also mean “I create”, although the context would obviously make the meaning clear.  In the preterite tense, he or she created is “creó” as opposed to the above mentioned “creyó”.

There are some very useful derivatives of the verb “creer”, including the adjectives “creíble” and even more useful “¡increíble!” which is often used as an exclamation meaning “incredible!”.  Notice the accent on the “i” of “increíble” where the emphasis falls.  Another adjective with derives from “creer” is “crédulo” which means “credulous” or “gullible”.  “Incrédulo” therefore means “incredulous”, in other words “sceptical”.  It is interesting that we often have secondary words which look like the Spanish equivalent (crédulo – credulous etc.)  This is because the English language has two distinct sources:  Germanic and Latin languages.  Often our most basic word comes from Old English which is related to old Germanic languages, whilst more sophisticated secondary words come from Latin.

Also related to the Latin verb “to believe” (credere) is the Christian “Creed” which starts “I believe in God”.  The word for “creed” in Spanish is “credo” which means “I believe” in Latin.  I would now like to defend myself for imaginary complaints about imparting such apparently useless information, as noticing the roots and origins of words can take us a long way down the road of understanding foreign languages, not to mention our own rich mother tongue.

 

 

Posted by: janecronin | November 5, 2017

Poner


“Poner” is another verb which has a rather wide range of meanings.  The basic translation of “to put” is similar to “to place”.  “Pone el libro en la mesa” (she puts the book on the table).   In a similar way, it also translates the verb “to lay”, as in “poner la mesa” (to lay the table) and “poner huevos” (to lay eggs).

At an elementary level, perhaps our first exposure to this verb is when we are buying food or ordering something in a bar.  We can use “quiero” (I want) “dame” (give me – informal) or “deme” (give me – formal) but also “ponme” which is hard to translate but is something like “serve me” or more literally “put (in front of) me”.  The more formal version of “ponme” is “póngame”.  “Ponme un kilo de manzanas” or more formally if you prefer: “póngame un kilo de manzanas”.

These two forms “pon” and “ponga” are imperatives, that is commands, “ponga” being based on the first person singular of “poner” which is “pongo” (I put).  “Poner” has a number of other irregular forms: the past participle is “puesto” (e.g. I have put – “he puesto”).  We also use this word to talk about clothing that is being worn, for example “la modelo lleva puesto un vestido verde” (the model is wearing a green dress).

The past simple or preterite tense of “poner” is also very irregular.  Here it is:  puse, pusiste, puso, pusimos, pusisteis, pusieron”.   “Mi gallina puso seis huevos esta mañana” (My hen laid six eggs this morning).  I haven´t got a hen, it was just an example.

The verb “poner” is frequently found in the reflexive form “ponerse”.  The most basic use of this is when talking about “putting on” clothing.  “Por la mañana me pongo los zapatos” (I put my shoes on in the morning).  “¿Qué te vas poner esta noche?” (What are you going to put on tonight?).  Hence the connection with the previous phrase “llevar puesto”, it means, literally (to wear put on).  I’m just hoping all this wearing and putting on is making sense.

Finally, “ponerse” can be used when we are describing certain emotional reactions.  “Mi padre se puso furioso cuando llegué tarde a casa”  (My father was furious when I arrived home late).  “A veces me pongo triste cuando veo las noticias” (Sometimes I get sad when I watch the news).  Although these kinds of sentences are often about negative reactions, we can also say: “Sus amigos se pusieron muy alegres cuando les dijo que se iba a casar”.  (His friends became very happy when he told them he was going to get married).  “Poner” and “ponerse” can also mean to turn on, or be turned on in the sexual sense.  “Eso me pone” (that turns me on).   I just thought I’d throw that one in, not that I want to scare you from using it in every day conversation!

Posted by: janecronin | October 29, 2017

Dar


This week’s verb is “dar” which means “to give”.  It is a very basic verb in Spanish because as well as meaning “give” it has a lot of derivatives and idiomatic uses as well, so it can actually be translated in all sorts of different ways.

Let´s start with the straightforward stuff first though.  In terms of the changes it makes it is basically regular, with the exception of the first person singular of the present tense which is “doy” (I give) and that pesky preterite or misnamed past “simple” tense in which “dar” goes mad and does its own thing – “di, diste, dio, dimos, disteis, dieron”.   It´s also irregular in the present subjunctive “dé” but you probably don´t need to worry too much about that.

We probably first come across this verb in simple exchanges such as “dame” (give me) or slightly more formal “deme” (that is “give me” when we are addressing the person as “usted”).  In either case, the translation into English makes our hackles rise as we would never dare say “give me” in English unless it was accompanied at the very least with “Could you …” and “please”.  Depending of course on our general manner and tone of voice, these basic instructions are fine in a Spanish context.  However, we could soften the effect slightly by changing the command into a question “¿me das un kilo de manzanas?”

We use “dar” in a lot of expressions where in English we use “make”.  For example, if something makes you thirsty, in Spanish you would say “me da sed” (it gives me thirst).  Likewise “me da hambre” (it makes me hungry).  There are actually many different but similar constructions – “me da rabia” (it makes me furious – literally “it gives me rage”); “me da pena”  (it makes me feel sorry – literally “it gives me sorrow or pain) and so on.  If you wish to express apathy or lack of interest in something, or you simply don´t mind what decision is made, you can say “me da igual” (something like – it´s all the same to me).  We can also “dar un susto” to someone, which is to give them fright, and even more idiomatically we can “dar un paseo” (go for a walk or stroll); “dar una vuelta” (go for a walk, ride or drive round).

To enter into even deeper waters, “dar” is very often found in the reflexive form “darse” and again this gives rise to a multitude of idioms.  One of the most useful ones is “darse cuenta” which means “to realise” and one of the most useful phrases ever is the one you can use when you turn up with the wrong paperwork, give the wrong change or generally get the wrong end of the stick and someone puts you right: “Perdón, no me di cuenta” (Sorry, I didn´t realise).

Posted by: janecronin | October 22, 2017

Abrir


“Abrir” means “to open” and is used in all the usual ways we use “to open” in English, that is, referring to doors, windows, shops and your mouth.  Grammatically is it completely regular apart from the past participle (opened, as in “I have opened”) which is “abierto” (if it were regular it would be “abrido”).  So, for example, “they have opened the doors” would be “han abierto las puertas”.

As with many other past participles, “abierto” can also have the function of an adjective, that is, the describing word “open”.  As you may know, adjectives in Spanish change their endings to agree with masculine or feminine and singular or plural nouns.  This means that if we turn our sentence around from “they have opened the doors” to “the doors are open”, this would be “las puertas están abiertas”, changing “abierto” to “abiertas” to agree with the feminine plural noun “puertas”.

The adjective “abierto” also means “open” in the sense of “out-going” or “extrovert”.  This is not the same as the English idea of “open” meaning “liberal or open-minded”, it simply means someone who is sociable and will talk to anyone and everyone.  “Mi padre es muy abierto” therefore means “my father is very sociable and outgoing” and not “my father is very open-minded”.

A form of the word “abrir”, namely “abre” is sometimes combined with other words to describe particular implements.  For example, “abrebotellas” is, surprise, surprise, a bottle-opener, whilst “abrelatas” is a tin opener.   When you buy pre-wrapped food such as sliced cheese or ham from the supermarket you sometimes see printed in the corner “abrefácil” which means “easy opening”.  Whenever I see that I know I’m destined for ten minutes of pulling and biting and will end up using the scissors, as I would have done in the first place!

You’ll definitely hear the command at the dentist “abre la boca” although mostly you do that without being told.  However, in my case, I seem to get a lot of “abre un poco más” (open a bit more) which is when they want me to dislocate my jaw for their convenience.

One of my favourite compound words going back to another form of “abrir” is “boquiabierto”.  “Boqui-“ here is a form of the word “boca” (mouth) so the word means “open-mouthed”.  “Su respuesta me dejó boquiabierta” (His answer left me open-mouthed). I do prefer the word “open-mouthed” to “gob-smacked” but I think that´s just a sign of my age.  Notice that as I’m writing about myself in the feminine I have again changed the ending to an “a”, since “boquiabierto” is also an adjective.

Other phrases with “abierto” are “a cielo abierto”, meaning “open cast” as in mining or “roofless” as in a building and “mar abierto” means “open or high seas”.  If you are a “libro abierto” then you’re the kind of person who shows what they are thinking by the expression on their face, in other words “an open book”.

Posted by: janecronin | October 15, 2017

Decir


The verb “decir” is one of the most useful words in the whole language.   It is the equivalent of both “to say” and “to tell” in English, and it would be hard to imagine surviving for more than a few hours without using these words.  We spend a lot of our time telling other people things, listening to other people telling us things, and then telling people what other people have said, or would say or are going to say about things.  “Saying” and “telling” are a basic part of our everyday social existence.

When Spanish people speak English they sometimes find it hard to distinguish between “to say” and “to tell” so it´s not unusual to hear mistakes like “He said me” or “She told that…”.   At least we don´t have that problem in Spanish as everything is covered by “decir”, but it is a verb that has a lot of different forms and irregularities.

A phrase you will have heard many times in restaurants and shops is the ubiquitous “dígame”.  This is a polite imperative, or command, form of “decir” which literally translates as “tell me”.  Of course this sounds appallingly blunt as a conversation opener in English, but is perfectly correct in Spanish.  The more familiar form of the same command is “dime” and you will hear both of these versions when people answer the phone: “dígame” usually meaning that the caller is unknown and “dime” usually implying the opposite.

A sentence using “decir” in the present tense is “Cómo se dice en español” (How do you say (it) in Spanish?).  This is a good way of showing a willingness to communicate in Spanish whilst learning new words at the same time.   Another present tense form is in the phrase “¿Qué dices?” which literally means “What do you say?” but is more accurately translated as “What are you talking about!” so has to be said in a surprised tone.

There are several irregularities in the past tenses of “decir”.  “Dicho” is the past participle meaning “said” or “told” when following the appropriate form of “haber”.  For example: “he dicho” means “I have said” and ¿Qué han dicho?”  is “What have they said?”   The preterite (or past historic tense) gets even more irregular, but it is so worthwhile learning because it is basic tense needed for all those conversations about who said what to whom.  Here are the six preterite forms of “decir”:  “dije” (I said) “dijiste” (you said) “dijo” (he or she said) “dijimos” (we said) “dijisteis” (plural you said) “dijeron” (they said).   Those six variations of “decir” can get you such a long way that I really recommend that you commit them to memory.  And finally one more exclamation, this time using “decir” as a negative command: “¡No me digas!” which is literally “don´t tell me” but actually meaning something like “You must be joking!”

Posted by: janecronin | October 8, 2017

Pasar


One of the most useful verbs in the entire Spanish language is “pasar”.  It has three basic meanings which we can apply to everyday life immediately.  One is “to pass” in the physical sense of the word.  Therefore, when we give or receive directions we say: “pasar el supermercado” (pass, or go past, the supermarket) and also “pasar la rotunda” (go past the roundabout) which always seems a safer instruction than the English “go straight over the roundabout”.  You will have heard the command “pasa” many times in your daily life.  When a group of people are blocking the pavement, and seem completely oblivious of the fact, they will say a friendly “pasa” once they’ve noticed you want to go by.  You can also use it in the supermarket when you have a trolley full of shopping and someone joins the queue behind you with a loaf of bread and we all hope that in the opposite situation, the trolley person will say “pasa” to us.

The other basic use of “pasar” is “to happen” or “to occur”.  We hear this in the question “¿Qué pasa?”  which means “What’s happening?”  “What’s going on?” or “What’s the matter?”.  Once again notice how much more complicated English is than Spanish!  When nothing is the matter we can respond “No pasa nada” (Nothing is happening. Nothing’s the matter).  If you apologise in a shop for offering too big a note for a small purchase, or in a thousand other small situations where you feel an apology is in order, you will often be reassured by a friendly “no pasa nada”.

The third basic meaning of “pasar” is “to spend”, but only in reference to time, not money.  “Este verano he pasado mis vacaciones en Benidorm” (This summer I have spent my holidays in Benidorm).  To have a good time is “pasarlo bien” (literally “to pass it well”). When someone is going away we can wish them a good time by saying “pásalo bien” or “que lo pases bien”.  The word for a pastime is “pasatiempo” as you will see written over the Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper.

Another meaning of “pasar” is “not to care”.  To describe someone who just lets everything go over their head we say “pasa de todo” and a “pasota” is translated in my dictionary by the wonderful word “slaphappy”.

 

Posted by: janecronin | October 1, 2017

Jugar


I think I may be getting a bit too serious with these verbs, so this week’s is much more playful, in fact it is the verb “to play” – jugar.   “Jugar” is used very similarly to “play” in English referring to sports, board games, children’s games and the like but I should point out straight away that it is not used to talk about playing a musical instrument.   In Spanish we “touch” instruments, so we might say “toco la guitarra” (I play the guitar) or “mi hija tocaba el violin” (my daughter used to play the violin).

Apart from that exception, we’re on reasonably safe ground when using “jugar”.  There are one or two things to point out about the changes we make to the verb itself.  In the present tense it is called a “root-changing” verb, which means that the letter “u” in the root (between the j and the g) changes to “ue” in four of the six forms.  Therefore I play is “juego” and not “jugo”.  The other slightly awkward thing in terms of the spelling is that, since the root ends in the letter “g” we have to adjust the spelling from time to time to keep it consistent with the hard sounding “g”.  In other words, if I want to say, for example “I played”, it is spelt “jugué”, inserting a silent “u” between the “g” and the “e”.  If we were to spell it “jugé” the sound of the “g” should soften into a throaty “h” sound.   It rather difficult to explain this in a short paragraph, so if that doesn´t make sense, keep it in mind for any future time you come across the same phenomenon.

Related to the verb “jugar” is the noun “juego” which means “game”.  You see this on those flashing fruit machines in the corner of the local bar.  Another derivative of “jugar” is the word for “toy” which is “juguete” (this contains another example of the silent “u” keeping the “g” hard).  You may well have noticed toy shops with names like “Juguetilandia” although the general word meaning “toy shop” is “juguetería”.

A word that means playful is “juguetón”.  This can refer to children and puppies but in some contexts can mean “provocative” or “seductive”.  My feminist hackles have just been raised my noticing that it also means “wanton” but that the dictionary has thoughtfully put “female” in brackets after the word!

Going back to “juego”  a point of interest is how we say “Olympic Games” in Spanish.  These, unsurprisingly are “Los Juegos Olímpicos”.  Nothing strange there, but what you might not know is how the Spanish abbreviate titles when they are in the plural.  They double the initial letter of the plural word, so In the case of “Juegos Olímpicos” they write JJOO.   It’s the same process that means “Estados Unidos” EEUU and Comunidades Autónomas CCAA.

 

Posted by: janecronin | September 24, 2017

Conocer


Last week I wrote about the verb “saber” meaning “to know” and we saw that it refers to knowing information or facts.  There is another verb which we also translate as “to know” which is used when we mean “to know” in the sense of “to be familiar with”.  The usual examples are “to know a person or place” although it can also be used to mean “to know a song”, “to know a book” or “to know a television programme” in other words, “to be familiar with”.

In terms of its grammar “conocer” is an uncomplicated verb with only one minor irregularity, which is the first person singular in the present tense, “conozco” (I know).  It is in fact part of a small group of verbs which end in “–cer” or “-cir” in the infinitive, for example “parecer” (to appear, seem) “parezco” (I appear, I seem) and “reducir” (to reduce)  “reduzco” (I reduce”.

“Conocer” is an extremely useful verb to use in general conversation.  When we meet people and learn where they are from or where they live, we often want to tell them that we “know” the place they come from or perhaps some neighbours who live in the same area.  To carry out this type of conversation at a basic level we simple need “conozco” (I know) and “¿conoces?” (Do you know?)  So, here’s the sort of thing I mean:

“Hola, Buenos días, soy Manuel de Madrid.

“Hola, soy Jane, soy inglesa”

“Conozco tu país un poco.  He estado en Brighton”.

“¿Ah sí?  No conozco Brighton.  Soy de Londres.

“¿Conoces Madrid?”

“Sí, conozco Madrid bastante bien.  ¿Conoces a mi amiga Pilar?  Ella es de Madrid también.

“Sí claro que conozco a Pilar.  Es muy amiga mía”.

Okay, I admit it’s not the most inspiring of conversations, but hopefully you can see that quite a bit of common ground can be established basically through the use of “conozco” and “conoces”!!

Another use of this verb is to talk about meeting someone for the first time, or “to get to know”.  Supposing I wanted to say “Yesterday, I met your husband” (that is for the first time), in Spanish this would be “Ayer conocí a tu marido”.  In fact there are several different words in Spanish which translation the English word “meet”, but when it’s for the first time “conocer” is the appropriate one.

A derivative of “conocer” is the adjective “conocido” (well-known), so the Spanish say “known” and miss out the equivalent of “well”.  “Antonio Banderas es un conocido actor”.  And finally, the word for knowledge is “conocimiento”, all those things we’re familiar with.

 

Posted by: janecronin | September 17, 2017

Saber


There are two verbs in Spanish which we translate as “to know” in English.  One is “conocer” which is “to know” in the sense of “to be familiar with” and the other is “saber” which means “to know” in the sense of having facts or information.   For purely practical reasons our first exposure to the verb “saber” tends to be in the negative, with “no sé” (I don´t know).  This is one of those catch-all, “don´t ask me I’m an ignorant foreigner” sort of phrases which is highly useful in many and varied situations.  It also exposes us to one of the anomalies of the verb “saber”, which is that it has this unusual first person singular present tense form, “sé” (I know), which we might otherwise be forgiven for expecting to be “sabo”.  “Sabo” incidentally is what one hears from small Spanish children who are learning to speak, rather like “I seed” instead of “I saw” in English.  It’s always good to know that one’s efforts potentially make us sound like a three-year-old!

The rest of the present tense is strictly standard, and we sometimes here the word “¿sabes?” (You know?) when people are chatting informally.  Another useful spoken form, this time in the past tense, is “¡lo sabía!” (I knew it!) when something predictable occurs.  In the future form, we can say “tú sabrás” which is the equivalent of the English “You should know!” This has the same kind of dismissive meaning as it has in English, similar to the idea behind “Don´t ask me!”

Another good little phrase uses the verb “saber” in the present subjunctive.  Even if you know nothing at all about subjunctives you can still make use of this one: “que yo sepa” (as far as I know).  This is a great get-out clause when you’re passing on second hand information that you don´t want to take any responsibility for.  “El concierto empieza a las 8, que yo sepa” (the concert starts at 8 o’clock, as far as I know).  “Él es el jefe, que yo sepa” (he’s the boss, as far as I know).  It can stand on its own as a response:  “¿La oficina está aquí” “Sí, que yo sepa”.  (Is the office here?  Yes, as far as I know).  As you see, it’s a good to use, but you should also pay close attention when you’re the one on the receiving end.

Finally, returning to the present tense, we have the phrase “¿Sabes qué?” (You know what?)  I’ve noticed that this question has become increasingly common as a rhetorical question in spoken English, introducing some kind of personal statement: “You know what?  I’m not going to do this anymore”. In Spanish, “¿Sabes qué?” is a real question, even though the only answer expected is:  “No. ¿Qué?” (No, what?) , paving the way for some interesting information or nice bit of gossip to be imparted.

 

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