Posted by: janecronin | September 24, 2017


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


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.


Posted by: janecronin | September 10, 2017


This week’s verb “andar” is usually translated as “to walk” and indeed, that is what it usually means.  However, it has a slightly wider application in Spanish than “walk” has in English.  We definitely think of walking as the act of putting one foot in front of the other, whereas in Spanish we can also “andar en bici” or “andar en moto”.  The translation of these expressions is clearly not “to walk by bike” or “to walk by motorbike” so perhaps the best translation in this case would be “to go along”.

“Andar” is also used in the general sense of “getting along”, especially in South American Spanish.  Sometimes people ask ¿Qué tal andas? which is a bit like saying “How are you doing?”, an equally unlikely question if you think about it.  A particularly odd command using “andar” is “ándale” which means something like “get a move on”.  However, I have never heard this used by a Spaniard and I think it comes from Mexico and has reached us via cartoons and B movies, so I don´t recommend its use!

As far as the grammar of “andar” is concerned, it is a perfectly well behaved verb, doing all the regular thing one would expect in all tenses except in the preterite, where it suddenly becomes irregular.  So, instead of “I walked” being “andé” as one might expect, it is actually “anduve”.  The full conjugation is “anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvistéis, anduvieron”.  I can see very little justification for this (not that irregular verbs are generally obliged to justify themselves) and in fact the Spanish themselves can sometimes be caught out regularising this verb.  I have definitely read “andamos” meaning “we walked” when it should have been “anduvimos”.    It’s always especially satisfying to notice a mistake by a Spanish speaker in their own language!

I first came across the preterite tense of “andar” in a conversation of young mothers (of which I was one at the time) discussing when their babies had started walking.  The phrase I remember was “Alvaro anduvo con 13 meses”, or as we would say “Alvaro started walking at 13 months.”  It’s amazing how these little snippets of conversation stick in one’s mind.  As you can see I’ve always been much more interested in language than comparing the details of my children’s development.

Finally, as we have seen before with the exclamations “vaya” from “ir” and “venga” from “venir” so there is a similar exclamation based on “andar” which is simply “¡anda!”  This means something like “My goodness!” and expresses surprise.  It’s rather similar to “vaya” in fact, although less negative.  “¡Vaya!” could be an unpleasant surprise whereas “¡anda!” sounds as though you’ve just discovered something rather juicy and interesting.

Posted by: janecronin | September 3, 2017


Since we talked about “ir” (to go) last week, it seems only right to look at its opposite “venir” (to come) this week.   This was the first word I remember learning when I came to live in Spain.  On day two I went to the beach and was sunbathing next to a woman with a small child, who spend the entire afternoon shouting “Javier, ven aquí” at him, without ever moving from the spot. “Ven” is the imperative, or command form of “venir” and you can’t go near Spanish people with children or dogs without hearing it.  Of course, it can be confusing, as a friend said to me some years ago: “There are a lot of dogs round here called Ben”.

Another very frequent use of the verb “venir” is in the phrase “que viene” meaning “which comes” or “coming” when referring to time.   “La semana que viene” (the coming week, or next week), “el mes que viene”, “el año que viene”, “el martes que viene” and so on.

As far as different tenses are concerned “venir” is somewhat non-conformist in places.  In the present tense it is what we call a “root-changing” verb, hence “he, she or it comes” is “viene” with an added letter “i”.  In the preterite, or past simple, tense it is irregular with the root becoming just the “i”.  This means that “he, she or it came” is “vino”.  You will instantly recognise this word as it also, quite coincidentally, means “wine”.  Therefore “the wine came” is “el vino vino” or “vino el vino” depending on which way round you say it.

Something odd about the use of “venir” for English speakers is that we often say “come” in English when the Spanish would use “ir” (go).   To give you an example of what I mean, I remember once phoning up someone with whom I had an appointment and saying “Perdona, no puede venir para mi cita mañana” (I’m sorry I can’t come for my appointment tomorrow ).  She immediately corrected me “No Jane, es – no puedo IR mañana”.  It took me a while to register what she was actually correcting, but I eventually realised that according to Spanish logic I should be saying  “I can´t go tomorrow”.  The typical English “I can’t come” is as though I am speaking from the point of view of the other person, and not from my own point of view – think about it!

There is one more classic form of “venir” which we hear around us all the time, the word “venga”.  This is actually a subjunctive form and as such is a formal command.  “Venga conmigo” is the polite way to say “come with me”.  However, rather like the word “vaya” that we saw last week, it has become one of those padding words that often has very little meaning.   So when you hear “vale, venga, vamos ” interspersed in a conversation, you are hearing the equivalent of  “right, well, okay”.


Posted by: janecronin | August 27, 2017


I’ve decided to bite the bullet this week and write about the most irregular of all verbs – the infamous “ir” meaning “to go”.  Actually you only have to look at its infinitive form to realise that it has a serious problem, as it consist of just two letters which in any other verb would count as the ending.  In other words, when we do our usual operation of splitting the ending (-ar, -er, -ir) from the rest of the verb to get the root, we end up with nothing at all.  So, nothing about this verb is going to be normal.

Of course, you can look at the “ir” page of a verb book, or on the internet, to see just what weird and wonderful things this verb does to keep itself afloat in a sentence, so I’ll just point out a few gems.  First of all in the present tense, it breaks all convention by deciding to start with the letter “v”.  Quite early on in our elementary Spanish learning we come across the phrases “voy a..” (I’m going to..) and “vamos a..” (we’re going to..) which make use of these two forms of “ir”. “Vamos” is a particularly common word as on its own it means “we go” and “let’s go” as well as one of those one-off exclamations, something akin to “Well then!”  You also often hear it in the phrase “vamos a ver” (let’s see) when someone is about to tackle a problem or explain something that’s a bit complicated.

In the continuous or imperfect tense “ir” decides to involve the letter “b” with “iba, íbamos” etc. (I was going, we were going) whilst in the past simple or preterite tense the letter “f” suddenly makes an appearance “fui, fuimos“ (I went, we went).    Of course there are some occasions when “ir” behaves itself properly and unexpectedly becomes regular – such as in “ido” (gone) and also in the future “iré, iremos” (I will go, we will go).    My apologies to those readers who haven´t studied many different tenses and I hope this rather sketchy summary doesn´t put you off for life.

For the truly initiated, there is one other significant irregularity with the verb “ir” and that is the present subjunctive, which is based on “vaya”.   You may have heard of the group “Vaya con Dios” which means “(May you) Go with God”.   Rather like “vamos”, “vaya” also exists as a free-standing exclamation expressing a certain amount of surprise with a tinge of displeasure.  If someone unexpectedly walked out of the room, or you were trying to understand something that escapes you (possibly the contents of this article) you might exclaim “¡Vaya!” provided nothing stronger was required.

Going back to where we started “voy” on its own is often used to mean “I’m coming” “I’m on my way” although it sounds weird if you translate it literally into English “I go!”

Posted by: janecronin | August 20, 2017


Seguir is a verb that is commonly used with two different meanings.  The main meaning is “to follow”.  So, for example, the familiar command “follow me” is “sígueme” (or the more formal sígame) and “to follow the signs” is “seguir las señales”.  As well as physically following a person or vehicle, we might “follow” a TV series “seguir una serie” or follow some instructions “seguir las instrucciones”.

The other meaning of “seguir” is to “continue”.  It is usually followed by a second verb in the gerund (-ing) form.  In other words, “to continue reading” is “seguir leyendo” and “to continue studying” is “seguir estudiando”.  If you wanted to tell someone just to continue with something, you can use the command on its own “sigue” or “siga”.

At this point we have to notice the peculiarity of the English language, which is that although all the English above is completely understandable and correct, it is far more common for us to use the phrasal verb “to carry on”.  Our language really is very odd in this respect.  If someone interrupts what they are doing and you wish them to continue, you would say: “carry on”.  Any foreign student of English would think – carry what onto what?   So, we need to think of “seguir” as meaning “to follow”, “to continue” and “to carry on” (ignoring all the other meanings of “carry on” such as “he’s carrying on the woman next door” or “what a carry-on!”)

As far as the pronunciation of “seguir” is concerned, the first thing to realise is that the “u” in “seguir” is silent.  The reason for this is that it is there simply to make sure that the “g” is pronounced as a hard sound, rather than like the characteristic throaty sound as in the Scottish “loch”.   This throaty sound occurs when the letter “g” is followed by an “e” or an “i”, so the silent “u” appears between the letters “ge” and “gi” when the “g” is hardened.  This silent “u” appears in many other forms of the verb, such as “sigue” and “seguimos” or in the past “seguiste” to name but a few.  However, it is dropped in the first person singular, “sigo” (I follow) since it is not required between the “g” and the “o”.  If we were to write “siguo” we would distort the pronunciation by indicating a separately pronounced “u”.

A common derivative of this verb is the word “siguiente” meaning “next” or “following”.  You sometimes see this in supermarkets or other establishments which deal with queues of customers.  Again the “u” is silent in this word.  Another useful thing to know is that there are various other verbs which are formed by adding a prefix to “seguir”.  For example – “conseguir” (to obtain), “proseguir” (to persist), “perseguir” (to chase) which has the same root as the English word “persecution”.  With each of these words, the verb changes are identical to those made by the base verb “seguir”.

Posted by: janecronin | August 17, 2017


In my day-to-day work as a Spanish teacher I often find that progress in learning to speak the language is slowed down by confusion over verbs.  Spanish language learners, especially English speakers, tend to find all those ending changes very muddling, and the clear patterns that do exist can often be obscured in people’s minds by irregularities and subtle differences in meaning.

To help with this problem, I have developed a highly practical, clarifying course “Get to Grips with Spanish Verbs”.  The course consists of two packages which can be purchased together or separately.  You can work at your own pace, and you have the added benefit of contact with me as the course tutor to help with any particular difficulties.

Here is a video introduction to the course:

and here is a link to a detailed description of how the course works:

If you’ve come to a full-stop with your Spanish learning and need to make sense of the verbs, this course is just what you need!

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This course does exactly what it promises, to get to grips with Spanish verbs.  I really struggled with verbs as I hadn’t been taught them when I was at school. I now feel I have a much better understanding of how they work.”   Diane Cowley. Valle del Sol, Murcia

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“I have been studying Spanish for some time now and this course “Get to Grips with Spanish verbs” has been a great addition for me to learning in a classroom environment.  This course has helped me consolidate what I have already learnt and I have found that working at my own pace and studying each verb individually in different tenses in a table/template format extremely beneficial, and I can easily refer to them when needed.  After working through the templates of verbs I surprised myself how much I had improved when I did the audio and Spanish translation exercises.  Jane was very prompt in returning the correct answers to me, and this then motivated me to get working on to the next set of exercises.   I can thoroughly recommend this course as an addition to classroom learning or distance learning to help consolidate knowledge of Spanish language and in particular verbs – a very worthwhile course.”    Marylin Scourfield. West Sussex. UK


“The dreaded VERBS and TENSES – I was really struggling with these not knowing when and how to use them.  Well I have just subscribed to Jane Cronin’s online course GET TO GRIPS WITH SPANISH and can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  The course is easy to follow with logical steps and exercises to reinforce the learning. I am feeling more confident now with when and where to use them in conversation which is brilliant.”   Pauline Nichols. Pilar de la Horadada, Alicante


 Get to Grips with Spanish Verbs Packages 1 and 2 can be purchased for 25 euros each on this link:

Posted by: janecronin | August 13, 2017


This week we’re going to look at a somewhat troublesome character, the verb “hacer”.  This means “to do” or “to make” which is rather fundamental.  Sometimes people ask me why there are so many irregular verbs in Spanish.  The answer is that relatively speaking, there aren´t actually very many irregular verbs, it’s just they tend to be the most common ones.  The reason for this is that the more a word is used in a language the more likely it is to suffer alterations.  Just think of “go” and its past tense “went” if you want an example in English of an extremely common, but oddly irregular, verb!

So, amongst its charms, “hacer” can change to “hago” (I do), “hice” (I did), “hecho” (done) and “hare” (I will do).  All of these have to be assimilated gradually as our knowledge of grammar expands.  For most of us there’s not a lot of point memorising all of these changes and chanting them like Latin.  I sometimes say to students, wouldn´t it be nice if you could walk into a shop and just say “hago, haces, hace, hacemos, hacéis, hacen” rather than actually use each word in some sort of meaningful sentence.

One of the other problems with this verb, especially in its infinitive form “hacer”, is that it’s quite hard to pick up in a sentence.  If we hear someone saying, for example: “va a hacer …” (he is going to do …) the first half of the verb is likely to disappear along with the “va a …” since the “h” is silent and we are left with a string of three letter “a”s.  Before we know it we are just hearing the ending “-cer” (pronounced “theer”) which is hard for us to associate immediately with the verb “hacer”.  That’s just something we have to get used to.  The most obvious way of identifying the verb is to match it with what comes next – “hacer los deberes” (do the homework);  “hacer la cama” (make the bed); “hacer una cita” (make an appointment); “hacer un pedido” (make an order) “hacer falta” (to miss or need).  Of course there are many other uses of “hacer” but we have to start somewhere.

If somebody screams at you “¿Qué has hecho?” (What have you done?) you might want to  cover your tracks, but the question “¿Qué vas a hacer?” (What are you going to do?) will require a more thoughtful answer.  The past participle of this verb, “hecho” (done), can also work as an adjective as in “bien hecho” (well done) and as a noun meaning “fact”.  The phrase “de hecho” means “in fact”.

If we add the prefix “des” to “hacer” we get “deshacer” (to undo).  Therefore “deshecho” means “undone” which can describe a person who is distraught and “in bits”.  Likewise, we can add the prefix “re” to make “rehacer” (to redo).

Posted by: janecronin | August 6, 2017


“Salir” means to “go out” and to “come out”.  This verb comes from the category of “ir” ending verbs, which is the smallest group of the three (after “ar” and “er”).  For some reason all new verbs in the language automatically become “ar” verbs, so the ones ending in “ir” are becoming a more and more select group!  If you are into conjugations, that is verb form changes, you may like to know that “salir” is regular in all its forms apart from the first person singular of the present tense, which is “salgo” (I go out, I come out) and the future and conditional forms which involve the letter “d”.

When we translate “salir” we come across a familiar problem which is that one word in Spanish is represented by two words in everyday spoken English, that is either “go out” or “come out”.  We could also translate it as “exit”, but of course we don´t usually use that word when speaking.  “I’m going to exit now darling, see you later!”  No.

Some people mistakenly translate this verb as “to leave” but this isn´t exactly right.  It can only mean “to leave” in the sense of “go/come out from”, in which case it is used with the word “de”.   “The train leaves the station” is “El tren sale de la estación” but other kinds of leaving require other solutions such as “abandonar” and “dejar”.

As I have already said, as well as to “go out”, “salir” can also be to “come out” so therefore, the sun comes out in the morning “por la mañana sale el sol” and in the spring flowers come out “en la primavera salen las flores”.  You can also come out of the closet “salir del armario” and you can come out in spots or a rash, although it Spanish the spots or rash come out on you “me han salido granos”  (I’ve come out in spots) “me ha salido una roncha” (I’ve come out in a rash).

A noun that comes from the verb “salir” is the all too familiar “salida” meaning exit which includes of course the “salida de emergencias” (emergency exit).  When a young person is choosing a university course, they may look for one that has several “salidas” – that is work opportunities, although there are a few courses which only have one realistic “salida” – teaching, but that’s another story.  If you “go out with” a boyfriend or girlfriend, this also requires the verb “salir” – “Ese chico está saliendo con mi amiga” (That boy is going out with my friend).

We use the verb “salir” to talk about the outcome of a situation.  For example, if I win out in a situation “salgo ganando” and if I lose  “salgo perdiendo”.  That often refers to money, but not always –  a politician could “salir ganando” or “salir perdiendo“ from an election.   Another sore point at the moment.

Posted by: janecronin | July 30, 2017


There are certain words in Spanish that cause more problems than others when it comes to pronunciation.  I’ve never quite understood why more than 50% of student say “cochina” for “cocina” and yet rarely make the same mistake with other similar words.  Anyway, that is really a different subject, except for the fact that a majority of students mispronounce the word “bailar” even after lengthy explanations and corrections.

I will now put the explanation down on paper in the hope that it will help to reduce the statistics.  “Bailar” is a two-syllable word. The first syllable “bai” is pronounced the same as the word “by” in English, and the second syllable “lar” is pronounced pretty well as it looks, with each letter pronounced.  It’s really quite simple – but I think people confuse the “ai” diphthong (pronounced like the English word “eye”) and also get muddled about the “l”, maybe because related words in English have a double “l”.

So, with that off my chest, I haven´t actually yet mentioned that “bailar” means “to dance” and therefore is related to the English words “ballet” and “ball”.  The noun “dance” or “ball” is “baile” and a dancer is a “bailarín” (male) and “bailarina” (female).  Although this feminine form is very similar to our classical “ballerina” in fact it refers to any kind of female dancer.   Therefore the correct translation of “ballerina” is “bailarina clásica” and in the masculine it is “bailarín clásico”.  Any other style of dancer would be linked with the word “de”, such as “bailarín de salon” (ballroom dancer) or “bailarina de vientre” (belly dancer).

The only kind of dancer that has a different word is the flamenco dancer, who is a “bailaor” (male) or “bailaora” (female).  If you are one of the majority who find “bailar” difficult to pronounce, you might find “bailaor” and “bailaora” a bit intimidating, but in both cases just remember they start with the same sound as “by” and the emphasis goes on the letter “o”.

There are several other words that are derivatives of “bailar”, but the one I like best “bailable” meaning “danceable”, referring to music that gets your feet moving.  On a more cultural note, many people associate Flamenco as the traditional Spanish dance but in fact it is just one type of hundreds of traditional dances that are still performed at fiestas throughout the country with regional and local variations of all kinds.  A famous Spanish dance is the “jota” which is mainly associated with the region of Aragón.  I think its name derives from the posture of the arms making the body into a “j” (jota) shape.   In Cataluña the “Sardana” is a kind of community dance in which a large number participate and in Madrid the regional dance is called the “Chotis” which is danced in pairs.  The name is a derivation of the word “Scottish” although it arrived in Spain by a circuitous route via Bohemia.

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