Posted by: janecronin | June 16, 2019

Understanding Word Families

This article is the final one of the series “One Verb at a Time” and next week we will be starting on something new.   Consequently, I thought it would be appropriate to summarise some of the things we have learnt in the course of the last two years since the series started.

The aspect that I have found most interesting as I have written these articles, and that I have most wanted to communicate, is the whole subject of “word families”.  These occur in all languages, but I think they are especially noticeable in Spanish where one verb can lead to a huge range of variations, all centred round the same basic meaning.  To give a simple example of what I mean – “cocinar” means “to cook” and from this we can see “cocina” (kitchen) “cocinero/a” (cook – that is the person), “cocinado” (cooked), “precocinado” (precooked).  On the same subject of food, we have “comer” (to eat), “comedor” (dining room), “comida” (meal, lunch, food), “comilón/comilona” (someone who likes eating a lot) and so on.

In some cases, the basic verb itself can be extended to provide us with a new verb, for example “dormir” (to sleep), “dormitar” (to doze); “morir” (to die) “mortificar” (to mortify); “jugar” (to play), “juguetear” (to play around, to toy).  In addition we have prefixes which alter the meaning of the verb.  As in English, the prefix “re-“ means to do something again, so “leer” (to read), “releer” (to reread); “escribir” (to write) “reescribir” (to rewrite).  This “re-“ prefix can sometimes intensify the meaning of a verb, for example “bajar” (to go down) “rebajar” (to reduce); “matar” (to kill) “rematar” (to finish off).  Other prefixes are “con-“(giving the idea of “with” or “joint”) while “des-“ implies the opposite of an original verb, as in “cubrir” (to cover), “descubrir” (to discover or uncover).  One more prefix is “pre-“ which means before, just as it does in English, so while  “ver” is “to see”, “prever” is to “foresee”;  “decir” is to say, so “predecir” is “to predict” (in order words, to say something previous to it happening).  The past participle of a verb can often be turned into an adjective, for example “cansar” (to tire), “cansado” (tired) and from adjectives we can make adverbs – “cansadamente” (tiredly, wearily).

There are multiple examples if these modified meanings, and once you start noticing them, they can open up a whole range of possibilities.  From the point of view of understanding Spanish, once you have identified the root meaning of a word and have some notion of how prefixes and different parts of speech work, you can work out a lot of meanings by guesswork.  Whenever you come across and new word, look at how it is made up and see if you can identify its basic area of meaning.  There are so many more things one could say, but I hope I have at least opened the door to understanding a little bit more about Spanish word families.

Posted by: janecronin | June 9, 2019


“Morir” means “to die” and there is not a great deal more one can say about the meaning.  It is a root-changing verb, so the letter “o” in the root changes to “ue” in certain forms in the present tense.  For obvious reasons, and when used literally, this verb is mostly used on the third person, so “he or she dies” is “muere” and “they die” is “mueren”.  It has a small variation of form in the preterite or past simple tense, also in the third person where the “o” changes to “u” so “he or she died” is “murió” and “they died” is “murieron”.

This verb has a couple more irregularities, firstly the present participle, or gerund, makes the same “o” to “u” change, so that “dying” is “muriendo” and finally the past participle, that is “died” in the context of “has/have died” is “muerto”.  The one phrase that always jumps into my mind regarding this last word is the announcement made on television by the then president of the Spanish government at the death of Franco “Españoles, Franco ha muerto” (Spaniards, or people of Spain, Franco has died).

This past participle is probably very recognisable to you as it has another very common usage, that is as the adjective “dead”.  With this meaning the word is usually accompanied by the verb “estar” “Mi padre está muerto” (My father is dead) and also, being an adjective it’s ending can have four changes to agree with masculine, feminine, singular and plural (muerto, muerta, muertos, muertas).

As in English, we can also use the verb “to die” in a figurative sense, for example “I died of embarrassment” or “I nearly died when he told me that”.  Spanish deals with this by making the verb reflexive “morirse”.  “Morirse de vergüenza” means “to die of embarrassment”  “Cuando vi la foto me morí de vergüenza” (When I saw the photo I died of embarrassment).  Sometimes when someone is laughing a lot they might exclaim “¡Me muero!” (I’m dying!).  Remember in English we talk about “killing ourselves laughing”.  We can also say “nos morimos de hambre” (we’re dying of hunger) or “se muere por ir al concierto” (He’s dying to go to the concert).

Other words that are derivative of “morir” are “moribundo” (moribund, dying or almost dead) and one of the words for mortuary is “mortuorio” although it is more usual in Spain to use the word “morgue” for mortuary and “tanatorio” for what we rather prissily call a “funeral parlour”. It is interesting to note once more that formal vocabulary in English comes from Latin and is therefore more similar to Spanish, whereas “dead” is a straightforward Anglo-Saxon word of Germanic origin.

Finally, on this rather dismal subject, sometimes people want a softer word than “morir” to express their loss, and whilst Spanish is a more direct language in general, there is a synonym “fallecer” which has a slightly gentler sound.  “Mi marido ha fallecido” (My husband has passed away).

Posted by: janecronin | June 2, 2019


The literal meaning of “sonar” is “to sound” although it has quite a few alternative meanings that are expressed differently in English.   First of all we should note that “sonar” is an “o” to ue” root changing verb which means that the present tense conjugation is “sueno, suenas, suena, sonamos, sonáis, suenan”.  In all other tenses – apart from the present subjunctive which also contains the change of root – “sonar” acts like every other regular verb with no peculiarities.

By far the most commonly used form of this verb is the “third-person singular” “suena”.   Apart from “he or she sounds” it also means “it sounds” and is therefore applicable in all sorts of contexts.  For example – “suena el timbre” (the bell rings) “suena la música” (the music plays) “suena la campana” (the bell rings).  In English we have a saying which is “it rings a bell” when we are trying to recall something at the back of our minds.  In Spanish we say “me suena” which literally means something like “it rings to me”, but is used in exactly the same context as “it rings a bell”.

As you know Spanish is a phonetic language, which means that you can pretty well work out how to spell a word from the way it sounds.  Years ago when I had an English academy in the north of Spain I sometimes had to write down some unfamiliar sounding surnames, particularly as it was quite near the Basque country.  When I asked the question: “¿Cómo se escribe tu apellido?” (How do you spell your surname?) I quite often got the reply “como suena” (as it sounds) which was singularly unhelpful to me at the time!  The only way I could cope with that was to ask them to repeat it slowly and then show them what I’d written to make sure!

We can also say that something sounds good – “suena bien”; sounds bad – “suena mal” or sounds interesting – “suena interesante” in all the same ways as we would use these expressions in English. Another use of “sonar” is the reflexive form in the expression “sonarse la nariz” which means “to blow your nose”.  Given that this is often quite a noisy activity, I think it’s a good way of describing it.

We can form a negative adjective from “sonar” which is “malsonante” (rude, vulgar).  The positive equivalent which is used less commonly is “bien sonado” (good sounding).  There are a number of words that contain the syllable “son” which are to do with sound, such as “consonante” (consonant) and “asonante” (assonant) which is a form of rhyme where the vowels coincide but the consonants do not, such as in “meet” and “keep”.

Finally, I think it is important to point out that “sonar” is not the same verb as “soñar” which means “to dream”.  They are completely different verbs with a completely different spelling, since the letter “ñ” is not the same as the letter “n”, a fact which people are inclined to forget!

Posted by: janecronin | May 26, 2019


“Respirar” means “to breathe” and although these two words are completely different from each other, we will almost certainly recognise the meaning of the Spanish word from “respiratory” problems in English.  This is yet another example of the many we have seen in these articles, of a more technical or, in this case, medical word being closer to the Spanish, on account of its Latin origin.  You may have been instructed to “respira hondo” (breathe deeply) by a Spanish doctor as he or she listens to your chest through a stethoscope.  We also have the word “respiración” (breathing) “respiratorio” (respiratory) and a “respirador” which is actually an inhaler.

“Respirar” shares a root with a whole series of other verbs, all with similar or inter-connected meanings and with many echoes in English.  First in the list is “inspirar”.  As you can deduce from the prefix “in-“ the basic meaning of this verb is “to breathe in”.  However, in Spanish it also has the same meaning as in English; that is “to inspire”.  I think that gives a wonderful graphic image of what inspiration really is: something one receives from some outside metaphysical or spiritual source.  From this of course we also have the noun “inspiración” which means the same as “inspiration” in English.

If “inspirar” is to breathe in, then logic should lead us to the verb meaning “to breathe out”, which is in fact “expirar”.  This is interesting in that the English false friend “expire” means “to die” (to breathe one´s last, perhaps) and by extension “to run out” in the sense of passing one´s validity or “sell-by date”.  The Spanish have a much better, single verb for this as well which is “caducar”.

You might be forgiven for thinking that that is the end of all the “–spirar” verbs, but in fact, there are at least three more.  Next comes “aspirar” which has two main meanings: one is to “breathe in” or “inhale” in the same way as “inspirar”.  From this verb we get the word for a “vacuum cleaner” which is “aspiradora” (the breather-inner!)   However, “aspirar” also means the same as its counterpart in English “to aspire”.  “Aspiro a ser una actriz famosa, algún día” (I aspire to be a famous actress one day).

Still on the theme of breathing, we have “suspirar” which means “to sigh”.  The prefix “sus” is sometimes used to mean something that is low or hidden, so “suspirar” literally means to breathe in a quiet, hidden way, which is what sighs often are.  The noun of this verb is “suspiro” (a sigh) which is also the name of a very nice small cake made of meringue.

Finally, we have a surprising addition to our list: “conspirar”.  This means exactly the same as the English “to conspire” which begs the question as to how this verb came about, as it looks as though it means “to breathe together”.  I suppose that is what a real conspiracy is like.

Posted by: janecronin | May 19, 2019


“Suprimir” has a direct equivalent in the English language, which is the verb “to suppress” and, as often happens with words of a Latin origin, we can use our knowledge of English to deduce the meaning in Spanish.  Again as often happens, “suprimir” not only means to “suppress” but also has a more everyday meaning.  If you happen to have a Spanish keyboard on your computer you will have noticed (and if you haven´t, have a look now) that there is a key marked “supr”, which stands for “suprimir” and therefore means “delete”.  I have chosen this verb to talk about, not so much for its meaning or grammar, both of which are straightforward, but mainly because it has the same root as a whole range of other verbs, all of which are useful in their own way.  Actually, I have found six more related verbs, but am open to suggestion if there are more.  These are: “oprimir”, “imprimir”, “reprimir”, “deprimir”, “exprimir” and “comprimir”.

In the same way as “suprimir”, “oprimir” has a predictable translation in English, namely “to oppress”.  The noun from this verb is also very common “opresión”.  Notice that in English this word doubles two letters – oppression.  In Spanish, we don´t double letters unless we have a good reason to do so.  A good reason is when we actually pronounce the letter twice, or give it a stronger value as with the double “rr”.

Using the same logic as in the previous two examples, we would expect “imprimir” to mean “to impress”, but in fact it means “to print”.  Obviously these ideas are closely related, but in modern Spanish, “to impress” in the psychological sense (e.g. “His CV impressed us”) is “impresionar” and  something that is “impressive” is “impresionante”.  However, returning to “imprimir” we have the related noun “impresora” which means “printer” and a printed document or form is sometimes called “un impreso” which could also be translated as “print-out”.

“Reprimir” is to “repress” and the adjective “represivo” and the noun “represión” speaks for themselves.   We sometimes use this group of words in a political context – “una dictadura represiva” (a repressive dictatorship).  You may well have never associated these ideas with “deprimir” (to depress) but it also has the same root meaning of crushing or pressing something down.  In the case of “depresión” we usually refer to a mental state, although we can also talk about “una depresión” as a dip or hollow in a landscape.  There are three adjectives from “deprimir” namely “depresivo” (depressive); “deprimente” (depressing) and “deprimido” (depressed).

“Exprimir” means to “squeeze out” such as juice from a lemon.   Interesting though there are other words which must have been related originally, such as “expresar” (to express).  “Expresión” therefore means the same as “expression” in English, and has nothing to do with squeezing oranges.  Finally, “comprimir” (to compress).  The context in which I have seen this most often is in tablets from the chemist which are called “comprimidos” and are made of compressed powder.

Posted by: janecronin | May 12, 2019


We are going to look at three verbs which have the same root but different prefixes.  The first one is “progresar”, followed by “ingresar” and “regresar”.  You might be forgiven for thinking that there is not a lot to say about “progresar” as it means what it looks like, that is, “to progress” and the formation of the verb is completely regular.  However, if you’ve realised one thing about me through these articles, it is that I can always find something to say about verbs!  Just to give one or two examples of this verb in a sentence, we might say “He progresado mucho con mi español” (I have progressed a lot with my Spanish) and “Espero progresar aun más en el futuro” (I hope to progress even more in the future).

When talking about “making progress” we often use the noun “progreso” and combine it with the verb “hacer” – in this case, “to make”.  The previous sentence about having progressed with Spanish could also be expressed: “He hecho mucho progreso con mi español”. Other words that derive from “progresar” are “progresivo” (progressive) which is an adjective, and the adverb which comes from this “progresivamente”.

Apart from these obvious, general uses of “progresar”, the Spanish often apply the word to a political context.  The noun “progresista” is used to describe a person who believes in changing society and is the opposite of “conservador”.  A ”progresista” is generally associated with the left of the political spectrum and a “conservador” with the right.   Most left-wing people will tell you that they are proud to be called “progresistas” however the term is often abbreviated to “progre” (“los progres”) by their critics and used in a disrespectful way.

The second verb in this group is “ingresar” with means to “pay in” or “to enter” and other related ideas depending on the context.  If we say that a person “está ingresado” or “ingresada” we specifically mean that they are in hospital, although someone can also “ingresar en prisión” (go to gaol).  We also use this verb for paying money into the bank: “Quiero ingresar 100 euros en mi cuenta”.  The noun from this is “ingreso” which usually refers to “income”.

Our third verb is “regresar” which is an alternative to “volver”, that is, “to return”.  The noun “the return” is “el regreso” used in the same way as “vuelta”, in other words meaning a physical return from somewhere.  The film title “Back to the Future” is “Regreso al Futuro”. There is also the word “regresión” which means the same as in English, in other words a psychological term for returning to some previous mental state.

Finally, there is the more unusual verb “egresar” which is specifically used to refer to the graduation of students from university.   Technically it is the opposite of “ingresar” although used in a different context – university rather than hospitals.   Another word for graduate is “egresado” which in the plural “egresados” also translates as “alumni”.

Posted by: janecronin | May 5, 2019


“Traducir” means “to translate” which, one way or the other, we are all involved in if we are English speakers living in Spain.  As usual I will look at the grammar of the verb first, before delving into its meaning and uses.  It belongs to a particular group of verbs that make an interesting change to their first person singular form in the present tense.  In other words, “I translate” is “traduzco”.  The rest of the present tense conjugates like a normal “-ir” verb – “traduces, traduce, traducimos, traducís, traducen”.  “Traducir” has a further irregularity in the preterite, or past simple, tense.  One might expect the form to be “traducí” but in fact it is “traduje” (I translated).  The rest of that conjugation follows along the same lines – “tradujiste, tradujo, tradujimos, tradujisteis, tradujeron” (you, he, she, we and they translated).

The two words “traduzco” and “tradujeron” provide the basis for the formation of the subjunctive, which is therefore also odd – “traduzca” (present) and “tradujera” or “tradujese” (imperfect).  From the present subjunctive also comes the “usted” formal command “traduzca” (translate!).  The informal command is “traduce”. There is a group of verbs that all behave in a similar way, which are all “-er” or”-ir” verbs with their root ending in the letter “c” for example: conocer, deducir, parecer and conducir.

As for whatever the word “traducir” actually means, the obvious and most important context is when we change something from one language to another.  This is a much more difficult process, even for people who are fluent in both languages, than most people realise.  The problem with translating is that it cannot be done word by word.  To translate something properly we have to work in concepts rather than words and think about how a concept is actually expressed in another language.  Coming to terms with this is part of the process of language learning.

In terms of the actual job of being a translator – un traductor (masculine) or una traductora (feminine) people often mix this up with the role of an interpreter (un interprete, una interprete).  The difference is that a translator works with the written language and an interpreter is the person you take along with you to the doctor´s and who works with the spoken language.  Of the two jobs, interpreting is by far the most difficult (in my humble opinion) although it does depend on the situation and subject matter and how well the job is done.

The noun from “traducir” is “traducción” (translation).  The only other derivative from “traducir” is the word “traducible” which means “translatable”.  However, in English I think I use the word “untranslatable” more often for a variety of reasons.  My dictionary tells me this is “intraducible” although in everyday speech it’s more usual to hear: “que no se puede traducir” (that cannot be translated).

Finally, we shouldn´t confuse “traducir” with the false friend similar to translate, namely “trasladar”.  “Trasladar” means to move, usually a home or business from one premises to another.

Posted by: janecronin | April 28, 2019


We are looking at the verb “cansar” even though one of its derivatives, namely “descansar” is actually more commonly heard.  “Cansar” means “to tire” and is probably more familiar in its adjectival form “cansado” (tired).  Usually when we learn the word “cansado” we have to be careful not to mix it up with “casado” meaning “married”.  Anyway, “descansar” is the opposite of “cansar” and therefore means “to rest”, that is to “untire”.

There is nothing of importance to say about the conjugation of “cansar” as it does all the things that a well-behaved “-ar” verb should do, and therefore “descansar” works in the same way.  So, just going back a second to the word “cansado”, it is usually used with the verb “estar” – “estoy cansada” (I am tired – in the feminine form)  “¿Estás cansado? (Are you tired? – I am addressing you as a man).  “No están cansadas” (they are not tired – this time we are talking about more than one female).

As well as referring to physical tiredness, “cansar” can also mean “to irritate” or “wear out”.  “Estoy cansada de tu comportamiento” (I’m tired of your behaviour).  We can say exactly the same thing using “cansar” in its verbal form “Tu comportamiento me cansa” (your behaviour tires, or is tiring, me).    “Cansar” can also appear in the reflexive form “cansarse”.  This is usually translated into English by using the ubiquitous word “get”.  “Me estoy cansando” (I am getting tired).

The noun from “cansar” is “cansancio” (tiredness) and there is also another adjective which I find very expressive “cansino”.  “Cansino” means “tiresome” or “tedious” and can be used to describe something that is long-winded and repetitive.   An alternative to “cansino” is “cansador” which is simply “tiring” but doesn´t express the same sense of tedium as “cansino”.

The prefix “des-“expresses an opposite in the same way as “un-“ does in English.  Therefore if “descansar” means “to rest”, “descansado” means “rested”.  Perhaps after a break away, or a good night’s sleep, we might say “me siento descansado” (I feel rested).  If you drive much around Spain you may have noticed the sign “área de descanso” (rest area).  A “descanso” is also used for a break, perhaps in a meeting or some kind of performance.  “Vamos a tomar un descanso” would be the sentence to signal that it’s time to go to the loo or have a coffee or cigarette before returning to a meeting.

There is an area of some houses called a “descansillo”.  The suffix “-illo” makes something smaller, so the word literally means “a little resting place”.  If you haven´t worked out where that might be, I will tell you, it actually means “landing”, that is either the passage way at the top of the stairs or that little square space at the point where your stairs turn a corner.  I think “descansillo” is more expressive that “landing” which makes us all sound like aircraft.   Ya estoy cansada, y no quiero ser cansina, así que voy a descansar.

Posted by: janecronin | April 21, 2019


The verb “soltar” means “to release” or “to loosen” and has quite a variety of different uses which I will endeavour to explain.  First of all though, as usual, I will mention the formation of the verb, which belongs to that group we call “root-changing”.  Remembering that the “root” of the verb is the part that is left once the –ar, -er or –ir ending is removed; in the case of “soltar” the root therefore is “solt”.  There are three categories of root-changing verbs, and the only one involving the letter “o” is the change “o to ue”.  In other words, “solt” becomes “suelt” in four out of the six forms of the present tense.  “I release” is therefore “suelto”; “you release” “sueltas”; “he or she releases” suelta” and “they release” “sueltan”.  The other two forms in the present tense retain the root in its original form – “we release” “soltamos” and “you – plural – release” “soltáis”.  If you are not familiar with these formations then that might appear as clear as mud, but rest assured that “soltar” follows a very specific pattern shared by many verbs, and when you get on to learning about them you will see that it all makes sense!

Although in English the word “release” probably makes us think first of prisoners, in Spanish possibly the most obvious context is dogs.  If you were to let a dog off its lead or open an enclosure or gate to let a dog run out – they you are “soltando el perro”.  If you wanted to tell someone to “let you go”, again in the physical sense that someone was holding on to you, you would say “suéltame” or to tell someone to let someone or something else go “suéltalo” or “suéltala”.  Another very common context is actually referring to hair.  To let your hair down (in the literal sense) is “soltarse el pelo”.

Another use of the reflexive form “soltarse” is when we talk about someone “loosening up”.  We can use it to refer to speech.  If you have difficulty getting going with your Spanish you could say “no me suelto hablando en español” and it is also something the Spanish will say about their difficulties with English.   There are one or two idiomatic uses as well, for example the expression “soltar prenda” which literally means to take off a garment, but is used to mean to “let on” about something.  If you say that someone “no suelta prenda” you are complaining that they will not give you any information or clues about something you want to know.

The adjective that comes from “soltar” is “suelto”, so to describe someone with long hair that has been untied we say “tiene el pelo suelto”.  “Suelto” can also be used as a noun meaning “loose change”.   “¿Me dejas 20 céntimos para la máquina? es que no llevo suelto” – Will you lend me 20 cents for the machine?  It’s just that I don´t have any loose change.


Posted by: janecronin | April 14, 2019


“Quedar” is quite a tricky verb to explain.  It’s used very commonly indeed in Spanish in many everyday contexts, but eludes direct translation most of the time so is quite hard for people to hold in their heads.  However, fool-hardy as ever, I will give it a go.

First and foremost, there is absolutely nothing to say about the conjugation of “quedar” so that’s something at least.  It is an entirely regular, well-behaved “-ar” verb with no odd irregular forms hiding around the corner.  The difficulty really comes in the translation.

When I teach this verb I always start with the reflexive form, so that is what I’ll do now.  “Quedarse” means “to stay”.  Here are some examples which I think are quite straightforward:  “Cuando voy a Inglaterra me quedo en la casa de mi hermano” (When I go to England I stay in my brother’s house).  “Después de la clase se quedó para hablar con la profesora” (After the class s/he stayed to talk to the teacher).  “Quédate ahí, no te muevas” (Stay there!  Don´t move!)

There are other uses of “quedarse” which are a little more abstract.  For example, we can use it to describe various emotional, usually negative, reactions.  “Cuando oyó la noticia, se quedó atónito” (When he heard the news he was astonished).  Here “quedarse” carries a further meaning which is “to remain” or “to be left” – so we could translate the sentence   “Cuando oyó la noticia, se quedó atónito” (When he heard the news he was left in an astonished state”).  As you can see, we are already moving away from something that is easily translatable into English.  A very common colloquial expression when we are shocked by something is “quedarse helado/a” which would be something like “frozen to the spot”.  “Cuando me dijo eso, me quedé helada” (When he said that to me, I was left frozen to the spot).  I’m trying to avoid the word “gob-smacked” but actually that is probably the expression that best conveys the idea.

I’m going to move straight on now to the use of “quedar” in its non-reflexive form.  This is used all the time to talk about social arrangements.  As you are fully aware, the Spanish are generally highly sociable people, but at the same time, they are rather averse to making fixed arrangements.  Whereas I carry a diary and make a note of social meeting in two weeks, including time and place, the Spanish will make loose arrangements, to be confirmed or changed much nearer the time.  This is all sorted out using the verb “quedar”.  “¿A qué hora quedamos?” (What time did we arrange to meet?)  “¿Dónde quedamos?” (Where did we arrange to meet?).  “No puedo, he quedado con mi hermano” (I can’t – make it – I’ve arranged to meet my brother).  “¿Quedamos para mañana?” (Shall we arrange to meet tomorrow?)  “Luego te llamo y quedamos” (I’ll phone you in a while and we’ll arrange something).  So you see, to be cool, use “quedar”.

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