Posted by: janecronin | February 18, 2018

Bajar


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

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

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

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

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Posted by: janecronin | February 11, 2018

Poder


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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: janecronin | February 4, 2018

Tener


“Tener” (to have) is a very basic verb and one of the first ones we learn in Spanish classes.  In fact, you will probably have learnt the form “tengo” (I have) and perhaps the formal “¿tiene?” (Do you have?) before you realised that it came from the infinitive verb “tener”.  I usually teach the more familiar question form “¿tienes?” (Do you have?) as well, as in so much spoken Spanish nowadays people address each other with these familiar “tú” verb forms.

“Tener” is what we call a root changing verb, which means that the “e” in the root becomes “ie” in several of its present tense forms: “tienes” and “tiene” as we have just seen, and also “tienen” (they have).  As with all root changing verbs, the first and second persons plural retain the infinitive root: “tenemos” (we have) and “tenéis” (you have, plural).  This verb is irregular in several other tenses.  The preterite or past simple tense is “tuve, tuviste, tuvo, tuvimos, tuvisteis, tuvieron” (I had, you had etc) and the future simple form is “tendré, tendrás, tendrá, tendremos tendréis, tendrán” (I will have, you will have etc.).  So, overall, as basic as it is, “tener” does have its difficulties.

In English the verb “to have” has a lot of different uses, so we must be careful not to assume that “have” is always translated with “tener”.  For example, “to have a shower” (ducharse), “to have dinner” (cenar) or “to have a drink” (tomar algo, OR tomar una bebida) do not involve the verb “tener”.  Likewise, when we are creating the present perfect, or recent past tense, as it “I have seen” or “they have written”, we do not use “tener” either.  Here the verb is “haber”: “he visto” (I have seen) and “han escrito” (they have written).

If you haven´t studied these things yourself they all might look very confusing, but if you think of “tener” as principally meaning “to have” in the sense of possession, this might help you to see the wood from the trees.

There are some interesting compound verbs that are formed from “tener”.  For example “contener” (to contain); “mantener” (to maintain); “retener” (to retain) “detener” (to detain, to arrest) “sostener” (to sustain).  Notice that in all these cases, the English translation is similar to the Spanish,and therefore rooted in Latin, whereas the basic word “to have” is of Germanic, Old English origin.  From a grammatical point of view it’s useful to realise that these compounds change in exactly the same way as the base verb “tener”. For example “contiene” (it contains); “mantengo” (I maintain); “la policía detuvo el ladrón” (the police arrested the thief) and so on.

I must admit, I really like making these connections.  The word “tenedor” which means “fork” also comes from the same root.  “Tenedor” can mean a “holder” or “bearer” of something, and what does a fork do? Well it holds, or bears, your food while you eat it!

Posted by: janecronin | January 28, 2018

Cuidar


This verb means “to look after” or “to care for”, and so is yet another example of a single word in Spanish needing at least two in English to give us the same meaning.  In terms of pronunciation, be careful not to confuse it with the word for town or city “ciudad”.  Notice that in “cuidar” the letter “u” follows the “c” so the pronunciation is like a “k”, whereas in the word “ciudad” the “c” is followed by an “i”, making the “c” sound like our English “th”.

There are no irregularities to the verb “cuidar”, which behaves like any common or garden –ar verb, such as hablar.  When we use it to mean “to look after” a person, it is normally followed by the word “a” as in “tengo que cuidar a mi madre” (I have to look after my mother) although it can also be followed by “de” – “cuidar de la casa y de la familia” (to care for the house and the family).  A third option to follow “cuidar” is “con” and this combination means “to be careful of” as in the ubiquitous sign “cuidado con el perro” (beware of the dog) which definitely does not mean “look after the dog”.

A nice thing to say to people is the equivalent of our “take care” which is “cuídate” literally “look after yourself”.  This is an imperative, that is, an order or instruction, and is based on the reflexive verb “cuidarse” (to look after oneself).  If you were worried about someone’s lack of care about themselves you might say “no se cuida nada” (he or she doesn´t look after himself – or herself – at all).

The past participle “cuidado” can also be used as a noun “care”.  The intensive care unit of a hospital is called the UCI (Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos).  When we want to warn someone to be careful we say “ten cuidado”.  We translate this as “be careful” but the literal translation is “have care”.  A person who is careful is described the adjective “cuidadoso” or “cuidadosa”

A compound of “cuidar” is “descuidar” which can mean “to neglect”, that is to lack care, but can also mean to be carefree.  “Un descuido” is the word given to an act of carelessness.  If you were to have a silly fall by putting a foot in the wrong place, you could call that “un descuido”, but we can also use this word in a positive sense.  If someone is anxious or concerned about something and we want to reassure them that all is in hand, we can say “descuida”, which is an alternative to “no te preocupes” and simply means “don´t worry”.

Just as someone careful is “una persona cuidadosa”, someone careless is “una persona  descuidada”.  Incidentally, notice in these two examples that the adjectives are feminine because they agree with the word “persona” (person) which is a feminine word, irrespective of the gender of the person being referred to.

Posted by: janecronin | January 14, 2018

Coger


The basic meanings of “coger” are “to pick up” and “to catch”.  We may “coger un boli” (pick up a pen) or “coger la pelota” (catch the ball) or indeed “coger un resfriado” (catch a cold).  It can also mean “to catch” in the sense of “to understand” as in “no cojo el sentido del artículo” (I can’t get the meaning of the article”)

When we conjugate “coger” in the present tense we notice a spelling change in the first person singular, which is “cojo” (I pick up, I catch) in which the letter “g” is replaced by the letter “j”.  Some Spanish courses will have you believe that this spelling change constitutes an irregularity, but in fact this is not the case.  Language is fundamentally a spoken phenomenon, with written forms created later in history to reflect the sounds made by spoken language.  In the case of Spanish, this written representation reflects the spoken form phonetically, something that the English language lacks.   This relationship between spoken and written forms should help us understand that many of the apparent irregularities in spelling are in fact simply adjustments to spelling which reflect completely regular spoken forms.

This is the case with the spelling of “cojo”.  The verb “coger” is pronounced with the throaty “ch” sound (as in Scottish “loch”) which is represented by the letter “g” when it is followed by the letters “e” or “i”.  Throughout the conjugations of “coger” (apart from the present subjunctive) this spelling combination (ge, gi) exists except in the first person singular of the present tense, where the “e” or “i” vowel sound is replaced by the “o” sound.  Here the spelling has to change to “cojo” to accurately reflect the regularity of the pronunciation, since “j” is always pronounced with the throat “ch” sound in all positions.

I hope that makes sense, andsSince I’ve mentioned the subjunctive of this verb, I’d better tell you how it is spelt as well – “coja, cojas, coja, cojamos, cojáis, cojan”.  However, I will not venture any further in explaining what these forms mean at the moment, you may be relieved to know.

One compound form of “coger” is “recoger” which means “to pick up” in the sense of “to collect”, as in “recoger firmas” (to collect signatures) or “recoger a amigos del aeropuerto” (to pick up friends from the airport”).  Another related verb is “acoger” which means “to welcome”.  As “una recogida” can mean a collection of something “una acogida” means a welcome.  “Acoger” also means “to foster” and the adjective “acogedor” means “welcoming” or “cozy”.

One final word of warning to anyone who might be planning to visit South America: in Argentina the verb “coger” means something rather less polite.  They express the various meanings given above with “atrapar” and “tomar”.

Posted by: janecronin | January 7, 2018

Pedir


This verb means “to order” or “to ask for”, “to request”.  The English verbal phrase “to ask for” illustrates a particular problem for us as English speakers when we translate from English into Spanish.  You may be aware that “to ask” in Spanish (as in “to ask a question”) is “preguntar”, and it is very common for people to assume that “to ask for” is therefore “preguntar para”. However, what we need to realise is that in English we often add a second word to a verb in order to change its meaning completely.  If you analyse the meanings of “ask” in the two phrases: “to ask a question” and “to ask for a beer” (that is, to request a beer), you should see that they exemplify two different uses of the verb “ask”.  Another example of this phenomenon is the verb “look”, where “to look for” and “to look after” express two complete different meanings, which in Spanish are represented by completely different verbs “buscar” and “cuidar”.

So, we can use “pedir” in the context of ordering a drink or meal in a bar or restaurant as well as ordering a product or service in a shop or on the Internet.  We can “pedir un favor” (to ask (for) a favour) and if someone asks for the impossible, the Spanish have the expression “pedir la luna” (to ask for the moon) which I have a feeling comes from a children’s story.  A similar expression is “pedir peras al olmo” (to ask for pears from an elm tree).

As far as the grammar of this verb goes, it is what we call a “root changing” verb in the present tense.  It belongs to the group that substitutes the “e” for an “i” in some forms, as follows:  Pido (I ask for); pides (you ask for); pide (he or she asks for); pedimos (we ask for); pedís (you ask for -plural); piden (they ask for).

There are two nouns formed from “pedir”, one is “pedido” which means “an order” as in the sentence: “Gracias por su pedido” (thank you for your order).  This noun is formed from the past participle of the verb, so the same word is used in the very useful sentence: “Ya hemos pedido” (we have already ordered).  The second noun, which is less obvious, is “petición” which means “a formal request”. “Petición” in Spanish can also have the meaning we give it in English, as a written request to authority signed by a large number of people, but its principle meaning in Spanish does not include the idea of mass support.

Finally, here is a compound verb based on “pedir” which is “despedir” (to dismiss).  This can be used in the positive sense of “saying goodbye” or in the more negative meaning of “giving someone the sack”.  “Me han despedido” (They’ve given me the sack, or,, I’ve been given the sack).  When simply saying goodbye, we usually use the reflexive form “despedirse de” so, as I have arrived at the end of this article – “me despido de vosotros por esta semana y nos vemos la semana que viene”.

 

Posted by: janecronin | December 29, 2017

Doler


After eating, drinking and generally being merry, today’s verb is rather more sombre, but nonetheless very important in everyday life.  The verb is “doler” meaning “to hurt”.  This verb works in a similar way to “gustar” in terms of the way it is used in a sentence.  In other words, just as we say “me gusta el helado” (I like ice-cream, literally “ice-cream pleases me”) in the same way we say “me duele el pie” (my foot hurts, literally “to me it hurts the foot”).

As you can see from that example, “dolor” belongs to a group of what we call “root-changing” verbs, which means that in some of its present tense forms the “o” changes to “ue”, like this: “duelo, dueles, duele, dolemos, doléis, duelen”.   However, by far the most common of these six words are the two “third person” forms “duele” (it hurts) and “duelen” (they hurt).

So, leaving the grammar behind and looking at real life situations, when some part of our body hurts and we need to let a medical professional know about it we say “me duele …. (whatever part of the body it is).   For example: “me duele la cabeza” (my head hurts, or, I have a headache); “me duele la espalda” (my back hurts, or, I have backache); “me duele la garganta” (my throat hurts, or, I have a sore throat); “me duele el estómago” (my stomach hurts, or, I have a stomachache) and so on.  If there are two things hurting, like eyes, ears or legs, then “duele” (it hurts) becomes “duelen” (they hurt) which gives us “me duelen los ojos” (my eyes hurt), “me duelen los oídos” (my ears hurt), “me duelen las piernas” (my legs hurt).

If we want to talk about someone else rather than ourselves, then the word in the sentence that changes is the “me” (to me), which becomes “te” (to you) or “le” (to him, to her).  For example, if I wanted to ask someone the question “Does your arm hurt?” this would be “¿Te duele el brazo?”  If we want to reduce this to just “Does it hurt?” this would be “¿Te duele?  If you’re speaking on someone else’s behalf then it becomes “le duele” (it hurts him or her).  “My husband’s arms hurt” is “A mi marido le duelen los brazos”.

Linked to the verb “doler” is the noun “dolor” meaning “pain”, so an alternative to all the above is “tengo un dolor …” (I have a pain …) although this is less commonly used by the Spanish.  Incidentally, the woman’s name “Dolores” means “Pains”.  In its full version the name is “María de los Dolores” (Mary of the Pains) but is very often abbreviated to Lola, Loli, Lolita or Mariloli.  The town of Dolores also means “Pains” but I think it has been named after a Catholic virgin, rather than referring to the experience of living there.

Posted by: janecronin | December 17, 2017

Dormir


We seem to be having a run on favourite occupations, “to eat”, “to drink” and now my personal favourite, “to sleep”.  Student usually find this verb fairly easy to remember as it has a lot of resonances in English, such as “dormitory”, “dormant” and of course “dormouse” for which I have to thank Lewis Carroll and the Hatter’s tea party to remind me of this little creature’s main characteristic.

When we use the verb “dormir” in the present tense, we have to remember that it belongs to a category of verbs called “root-changing” or “stem-changing”.  This means that in four out of the six present tense forms, the “o” in the root of the verb changes to “ue”, like this:  “duermo” (I sleep); “duermes” (you sleep); “duerme” (he or she sleeps); “dormimos” (we sleep); dormís (plural you sleep); “duermen” (they sleep).  If you have never studied these you might find this a little confusing, but in fact it is following the regular pattern of many similar root-changing verbs where the change from “o” to “ue” falls on the part of the verb that is being stressed or emphasised.

The rather annoying thing about learning the rules surrounding root-changing verbs is to realise that these changes basically only apply to the present tense.  Once you go into the past and future tenses, these changes no longer occur – “dormía” “dormí” “dormiré” and so on.  Although there are a few instances where the “o” changes to a single “u” as in “durmiendo” (sleeping) and “durmió” “durmieron” (he slept, they slept).

If we turn “dormir” into the reflexive form “dormirse” we change the meaning from “to sleep” to “to fall asleep”.  “Siempre me duermo antes del final de una película” (I always fall asleep before the end of a film) is my own particular problem.  “Cuando eran pequeñas mis hijas se dormían en el coche” (when they were small, my daughters used to fall asleep in the car).  Or perhaps if you hear a loud snore coming from the sofa when you have friends visiting, you might have to say: “Perdonad, mi marido se ha dormido” (I’m sorry, my husband has fallen asleep), or you could just give him a sharp kick in the shins.

Similar to “dormitory” in English is the Spanish word for bedroom, “dormitorio” which refers to any normal bedroom and not one that has rows of bunk beds and sleeping back-packers.   You are no doubt familiar with the Spanish “siesta” which means a short sleep at a particular time of day, but there is also a verb which means “to doze” “to nod off” or “to sleep lightly” which can apply to any time of day and is a derivative of “dormir”, namely “dormitar”.  Finally, the word for “sleepy-head” is “dormilón” (or feminine “dormilona”) and Dormilón is the Spanish name for “Sleepy” the dwarf in the story of Snow White.  And that has just reminded me of another famous story “La Bella Durmiente”.

Posted by: janecronin | December 10, 2017

Beber


Since we have talked about eating, the obvious next priority is drinking, in other words, the verb “beber”.   This seems to be one of the first Spanish words that a lot of people learn, although I can´t imagine why.  One of things I sometimes have to correct from the beginning though is the pronunciation, as it can be confused with the verb “vivir” (to live).  This is because the “b” and the “v” in Spanish sound exactly the same, and so the difference depends on distinguishing the vowel sounds properly: the same “e” in both parts of “beber” and the same “i” in both parts of “vivir”.  As difficult as some people might find this, it is so basic to the Spanish that if you confuse the pronunciation, you might not be understood at all.

Whilst we are on the subject of pronunciation, it’s also worth pointing out that the third person singular of the present tense “bebe” (he or she drinks) has the vocal emphasis on the first of the two syllables and therefore should not sound like the word “bebé” (baby) which is emphasised on the second “e”.

The noun which derives from “beber” is “bebida”.  The fact that “bebida” also translates as “drink” highlights one of the difficulties of the English language.  For us, the same word “drink” can act as a verb, as in “I drink a cup of tea” as well as a noun, as in “Would you like a drink?”  Our language is full of these similarities, as almost any noun can get turned into a verb.  Just think about the parts of the body as an example – “head – to head”;  “hand – to hand”;  “arm – to arm”; “finger – to finger” and so on.  Then think about words like “book – to book”; “table – to table”; “floor – to floor” – the list is endless.   Of course we take these words for granted and use them correctly as verbs and nouns without thinking about their grammatical differences.  However, once we want to translate them into Spanish we have a problem, unless we know how they are being used in a sentence.  It’s useful to know that when you look a word up in the dictionary, the noun is usually listed first, followed by the verb, so for “drink”, you will find something like this:  Drink (n) Bebida.  Drink (v) Beber.

When it comes to the past participle of drink which is “drunk”, and in Spanish “bebido”, this can also be used as an adjective to describe someone’s state of inebriation.  “The man was rather drunk” – “El hombre estaba bastante bebido”.  It is an alternative to the more well-known adjective “borracho”.

Finally, if you want to invite someone to go for a drink in Spanish, we use a different verb, namely “tomar” (to take) so “to go for a drink” in this general, social sense is “tomar algo” (to take something).

 

Posted by: janecronin | December 3, 2017

Comer


I thought it was time to get down to the really important verbs, so what could be more fundamental to our existence than “comer” (to eat) apart from “beber” of course, but that one will have to wait.  First of all in terms of grammar, once again we have a verb that is entirely regular in all its forms, so there is very little to say about it, other than perhaps to point out that the first person singular f the present tense, “como” (I eat) is not be confused with “como” meaning “how” or “as” or “like” (that is “like” similar to “as”, not the verb “gustar”)  you see, English can be confusing too!

What you may not be aware of is that, as well as meaning “to eat”, in everyday parlance “comer” is also used to mean “to have lunch”.  I find that many people have been taught, or have extracted from a dictionary, the verb “almorzar” meaning “to have lunch”.  However, whilst this is true in many South American countries, and in some circles in Spain, the most usual everyday word is “comer”.

All these sentences, which you might hear in everyday speech, work the same way: “¿Has comido ya?” (Have you had lunch already?);  “Voy a comer” (I’m going to have lunch);  “Es la hora de comer” (it’s lunchtime);  “echo una siesta después de comer” (I have an afternoon nap after lunch) and so on.  Students very often don´t realise that the Spanish use this single verb to express the whole phrase “to have lunch” and also “to have for lunch”.  So, as well as saying “como a las dos” (I have lunch at two o’clock) I might also say “Como pescado con patatas” (I have fish and chips for lunch).

“Comer” is one of a group of words used to describe “having” various meals.  The others are “desayunar” (to have breakfast) “almorzar” (which in many parts of Spain at least means a mid-morning snack), “merendar” (to have afternoon tea, and also, to have a picnic) and finally “cenar” (to have dinner or supper:  in other words, to have an evening meal).  Another thing that is important to realise is that these meals are time related.  So, in other words, if you only have an apple and a yoghurt in the middle of the day, that is still “la comida” and referred to with the verb “comer”  whilst your main meal in the evening can only be “la cena” and talked about with the verb “cenar”.

“Comer” can also be a reflexive verb “comerse” which means “to eat up” (and not “to eat oneself”).  You may hear a parent commanding their child “cómetelo todo” (eat it all up).  Finally, on a more romantic note, well, on a romantic note, you might like to listen to the song “Comiéndote a besos” by María Rozalén, which gives a different meaning to “comer” altogether.

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