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”.

Posted by: janecronin | April 7, 2019


Sometimes verbs in Spanish remind us directly of English verbs and this is the case of “construír” which means “to construct”.   Interestingly though, we also have a more commonly used verb in English for the same thing which is “to build”.  This word comes from a Germanic root and the co-existence of these two verbs in English – construct and build – is a great illustration of the richness of the English language.  We have words that come from both northern European via the Germanic tribes and a parallel set of words that comes from Latin via French or directly from the Latin taught by the church in medieval times.  This duality is very useful for us as it helps us to identify the meanings of a lot of Spanish words.

“Construír” is a regular verb although it does undergo one or two of what I call “spelling adjustments” in some of its forms.  These basically consist of the letter “i” being substituted by the letter “y” in certain positions.  In the present tense the conjugation goes like this:  “construyo, construyes, construye, construímos, construís, construyen”.  There are a number of other verbs that do the same sort of thing, for example “huír” (to free) and “oír” (to hear).

The word for a builder is a “constructor” or the female version “constructora” and we also have the noun “construcción” (construction).  This leads us to the adjective “constructivo” which is translated as “constructive”.  At the root of this verb we can also find the noun “estructura” (structure) which is also related to the concept of building but is also used in other contexts.  In language we talk about the “construction” of a sentence and the concept of “construction” or “construct” has also spread into psychology, sociology and many other fields.  In the course of writing these articles I come across all sorts of strange things I didn´t know, and I’ve just learnt about “constructivismo” (constructivism) which, if like me you didn´t know, is a Russian artistic movement.

The opposite of “construír” is “destruír” (to destroy) and from here we can get a similar series of related words “destrucción” (destruction), “destructivo” (destructive) “destructor” (destroyer).  This set of words really does open up a whole world of vocabulary.  We also have “indestructible” whose meaning is obvious in English as well as Spanish.

Although the connection is less obvious in terms of its meaning, there is another verb which clearly has the same root, namely “instruír” (to instruct).  The conjugated forms work in the same way, and there are a lot of similar related words such as “instrucción” (instruction) and “instructivo” (instructive).   “Las instrucciones” as well as being those things you have to follow to put together a piece of flat-pack furniture, also means “education” or “training” and is also used in a legal context when a judge decides that a case should be investigated with a view to prosecution.  So, “construír”, “destruír” and “instruír” have a lot of interesting and often technical uses.

Posted by: janecronin | March 31, 2019


“Deber” is an interesting verb as it can be used in two completely different ways.  It can stand in for what we refer to in English grammar as a “modal” verb, but also has a meaning in its own right as a main verb.  I think that last statement needs some clarifying.  In English we refer to modal verbs as verbs that in some way modify the nature of the following main verb.  Examples of modal verbs are “can”; “should”; “must”; “could”; “may”; and “might”.  If you think of a sentence using these verbs you will find that they have to be followed by a second verb to make sense.  For example: “She can play the violin; “You shouldn´t give him any more money”; “I must visit my aunt more often”; “they could go there tomorrow”; “You may be right”; “we might have the right answer”.  In each case the modal verb is followed by a second verb, in these examples – play, give, visit, go, be and have, and they introduce the ideas of ability, possibility, duty and obligation.

Now returning to our Spanish, “deber” basically means “must” when it is followed by another verb: “Debes pagarlo todo” (You must pay all of it); “¿Debemos volver mañana?” (Must we – do you have to – come back tomorrow?). Another common form of “deber” in this function is the conditional “debería” which means “should”.  In other words it reduces the idea of “obligation” and conveys the concept of “advice”.  “Deberías descansar más” (You should, or ought to, rest more) – you are not obliged to do so, but it is my advice to you.

Apart from this “modal” use, “deber” also means “to owe”.  In this case it can be used as a single, main verb in a sentence.  A way of asking to pay in a bar is “¿Qué te debo?” (What do I owe you?) or “¿Cúanto debo?”  (How much do you I owe?).  Of course we don´t only owe money, we may owe someone an apology or an explanation: “Te debemos una disculpa” (We owe you an apology); “La alcaldesa nos debe una explicación” (The mayoress owes us an explanation).

The English word “debt” comes from the same Latin root as the verb “deber” although “debt” in Spanish is “deuda”.  There is another verb related to “deuda” which is “endeudar” which means “to get into debt”.

Somewhat confusingly, and unusually for Spanish, there is also a noun “deber” which means “duty”.  This is unusual in the sense that verbs and nouns in Spanish tend to look very different from each other.  “Es mi deber” means “it is my duty”.  This is the same word in the plural that is used to mean homework.  “Tengo que hacer los deberes” (I have to do the – or my – homework).  Finally, we can use the reflexive form “deberse” when something is “due to” – “los extremos del clima se deben al cambio climático” (Extremes of climate are due to climate change).

Posted by: janecronin | March 24, 2019


Here is a verb that does what it says on the packet.  It looks like “prefer” and that is exactly what it means.  This verb is “root-changing e-ie” which means that in certain forms the middle “e” becomes “ie”.  Therefore, for example “I prefer” is “prefiero” or if we wanted to say “What do you prefer?” we would say “¿Qué prefieres?  Apart from this root-change which affects the present tense and the present subjunctive, all the other tenses of this verb are entirely standard.

If we want to say that we prefer one thing over another, as in “I prefer cream to cheese” or “I prefer Spain to England” we need the word “a” – “prefiero la nata al queso”;  “prefiero España a Inglaterra”.  Notice, incidentally, that when we talk about food items in general we use the article meaning “the” which is “la” (feminine) and “el” (masculine) and when the word “el” is preceded by the word “a” they merge together to form “al”.

There are quite a few derivations from “preferir” in the Spanish language, and one that immediately comes to mind is the word “preferente” which is used by the national train company RENFE.  When talking about transport in English we say “first class” or “business class” and “second class” or “economy class”, but on Spanish trains “first class” is called “preferente” while the rest of us hoi polloi travel in “turista”.  Either way, you get reserved seats and a far more comfortable journey than any I have had recently in the UK.

In actual fact “preferente” is an adjective which could be translated as “priority” and there are two other adjectives from the verb “preferir”, namely “preferido” and “preferible”.  “Preferido” basically means “preferred” and is another way of saying “favourite”.  “Mi programa de tele preferido es Gran Hermano” (My favourite television programme is Big Brother): if you believe that, you really don´t know me!  Let’s try this one: “Mi mascota preferida es el gato” (My favourite pet is the cat).  That´s more like it, and in the second example of course I have changed the ending to the feminine “a” to match the feminine word “mascota”.

To change adjectives into adverbs, in other words to change an English word like “preferable” into “preferably” we add the suffix “-mente” which is the equivalent of our “-ly”.  Therefore “preferably” in Spanish is “preferiblemente”.  Very similar in meaning is the adverb formed from “preferente” namely “preferentemente”.  There are other rules surrounding the formation of adverbs which I have talked about in other articles, but suffice it to say for now that if you see a word ending in “-mente” it is the equivalent of a “-ly” word in English.

Finally, we have the noun meaning “preference” which is “preferencia”.  If you don´t mind which cake you take from a plate, what kind of music is played in the car or what time a meeting should start, you can say “no tengo preferencia” (I don´t have any preference).

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