Posted by: janecronin | November 18, 2018


“Pensar” means “to think” and is related to the English word “pensive” meaning “thoughtful”.  It is a root changing verb (yet another one) which alters its root vowel from “e” to “ie” in four out of its six present tense forms.  In other words “pienso” (and not “penso”) means “I think”.

Before we look at more examples, we need to give some thought to what “think” actually means in English.  I presume we can agree that “to think” is an activity of the brain which all of us are capable of to a greater or lesser extent.  There are those who think deeply, those who think occasionally and those who don´t think when they should, but all three cases refer to the same mental activity.

However, in English we have another use of the verb “to think” which really means “to believe”.  For example, if I “think” that the concert starts at 8 o’clock or that my friend would like to come or that it will be quite good, I’m not really focusing on my thought processes so much as expressing my opinion or belief.  In Spanish when I want to say “I think” in the sense of “I believe” I need to use the verb “creer” (to believe).   So, I would say: “creo que el concierto empieza a las ocho”; “creo que a mi amiga le gustaría ir”; “creo que va a ser bastante bueno”.

There is yet another verb we can use for “think” which has more to do with expressing an opinion, that  is – “opinar”.  “What do you think?” in Spanish would often be: “¿Qué opinas?”  However, please don´t get too hung up on the finer differences between these three verbs as they all have similar meanings.  It is simply more usual to use “creer” and “opinar” in some situations when we would naturally use “think” in English, and therefore we are inclined to over rely on “pensar” in Spanish.

So, when would we specifically use “pensar”?  Well, if you are thinking of doing something, you would use “pensar en”, for example “Estoy pensando en vender mi coche” (I’m thinking of selling my car).  If you see someone deep in thought you might ask: “¿Qué estás pensando?” although don´t expect a truthful reply.

The noun from “pensar” is “pensamiento” (thought).  These articles could be entitled “mis pensamientos sobre los verbos en español” but I think that sounds a little too pompous.  As well as the adjective “pensativo” (pensive) there is also “impensable” (unthinkable).  It’s one of those words you can say with lots of emphasis about something you completely disapprove of or think should not happen under any circumstances “¡Es absolutamente impensable¡”.  Curiously, there is no such word as “pensable” as far as I know.

A thinker is “pensador” or “pensadora” and finally there is a rather neat idiom which can be used when something happens when you least expect it – we say that it has occurred “en el momento menos pensado”.

Posted by: janecronin | November 11, 2018


If you have ever trotted hopefully along to an exhibition or museum on a Monday morning in Spain looking forward to a bit of culture and entertainment only to be confronted with the ubiquitous sign “lunes cerrado” then you have come across the true meaning of the word “cerrar” which is of course “to close”.  You may go away disappointed, but at least you know when and where to avoid seeing the sign again.

“Cerrar” is what we call a root-changing verb of which we have already seen a number of examples.  In this case the change to the root, in the present tense, is from the letter “e” to “ie” in four out of the six forms.  In other words, “cierro” means “I close”; “cierras” means “you close”; “cierra” means “he or she closes” (or more formally “you close”) and “cierran” means “they close”.   The first and second persons plural keep the “e” root – “cerramos” (we close) and “cerráis” (plural – you close).  The verb “cerrar” is regular in all its other forms and the root change only comes back into play in the present subjunctive.

As well as meaning the kind of “close” we do to doors and cupboards, we can also use the verb in a similar, more figurative, way as we do in English.  We can say “cerrar un acuerdo” or “cerrar un trato” (to close a deal); or when a time period expires, for example for an application, we “cerrar el plazo”.

Curiously the Spanish do not have a specific word for “lock” and use the term “cerrar con llave” (lit. to close with a key).   However, if the door in question happens to have a bolt, we still use the verb “cerrar”, this time “cerrar con pestillo”.  “Cerrar” is used is a really logical way when referring to water taps.  Whereas in English we turn taps on and off, is Spanish we open (abrir) and close (cerrar) taps.  This could be useful to know if you ever have a plumber shouting instructions to you from the bathroom to the kitchen.

A word that derives from “cerrar” is “cerradura” which means a lock.  “Cerrojo” also exists as an alternative to “pestillo” (bolt).  A locksmith is a “cerrajero” (masculine) or “cerrajera” (feminine).  These are the people who cover entrance ways to apartment blocks with dozens of sticky adverts.  It seems that the locksmith business is highly competitive, and let’s face it, we’ve all needed them at least once.

Another verb that derives from “cerrar” using a prefix is “encerrar” (to enclose).  There is a saying which is the equivalent of when in English we say that something “smells a bit fishy”, that is, suspicious.  In Spanish we say “Aquí hay gato encerrado” (There’s a locked up cat here).  It doesn´t take too much imagination to understand where the saying comes from.    Both “cerrar” and “encerrar” can be used reflexively.  To write this article I have to “encerrarme” in my office once a week.

Posted by: janecronin | November 4, 2018


It’s time to tackle a tricky verb, namely “llevar”.  On first appearance this verb seems quite simple, and in fact it is in terms of its grammatical forms.  It is a common or garden “-ar” verb that obeys all the rules.  Also its most basic meaning, that is “to take” in the sense of “move from one place to another”, is very straightforward.  However, I defend my comment about it being a tricky verb as it has quite a lot of secondary meanings, idiomatic uses and other things that can create some confusion if we are not careful.

We had better start with some of the basic uses, for example when it means “to take”, as in the sentence “Llevo mis libros a clase” (I take my books to class).   It can also mean “to carry” for example “Siempre llevo mis llaves y el bolsillo” (I always carry my keys in my pocket) and “to wear” as in “La modelo lleva un jersey gris y pantalones negros” (the model is wearing a grey jumper and black trousers).  When talking about “wearing” we sometimes add the word “puesto” (put on).  “Llevo puesto  mi chaqueta” (I am wearing, have on, my jacket).

Another use of “llevar” is to “bear” as in to “bear the name”.  “El restaurant lleva el nombre de su abuelo”.  Going back to more everyday uses, if we “llevar en coche” we give someone a lift.  Nowadays there is no need to specify in English “in my car” as we tend to take the means of transport for granted.  Likewise in Spanish, if some asks “Me puedes llevar a casa después de la fiesta” (Can you give me a lift home after the party) we assume it isn´t on the back of a donkey.

More idiomatically, “llevar” can refer to time.  If something “lleva tiempo” it takes time, as in the sentence “Cocinar una buena paella lleva bastante tiempo” (It takes quite a long time to cook a good paella).  Still on the subject of food, “llevar” can mean the same as “contener” (to contain) as in “La tortilla lleva cebolla pero no lleva ajo” (the tortilla has/contains onion but not garlic).  Still on the subject of time, we use “llevar” when we want to talk about age difference, as in the sentence “mi hermana me lleva seis años” which means “my sister is six years older than me”.  That one is slightly harder to translate literally into English, as is the rather common time expression “¿Cuántos años llevas en España?”  “Llevo viviendo aquí cuatro años” (How long have you been in Spain?  I have lived here for four years).

Finally, there is the widely-used reflexive verb “llevarse” which means “to take away” as used when shopping “me lo llevo” (I’ll take it) and which also means “to get on with” that is socially or personally.  “Me llevo muy bien con mis hermanos” (I get on very well with my brothers and sisters).

Posted by: janecronin | October 28, 2018


It seems appropriate to talk about the verb “mentir” (to lie) this week, even more than usual, and if you have seen any Spanish news recently you will understand why.  For those of you who haven´t,  a key politician of the governing PP political party, Cristina Cifuentes, has been caught out fabricating a Masters degree for which she never studied.  In fact it is worse than that, because the university actually awarded her the degree, falsifying documents and deliberating trying to cover her tracks.  And so, once more, the whole issue of the toleration of lying in public life has come to the fore, as Sra. Cifuentes, at the time of writing, has still not seen fit to resign her position as president of the region of Madrid.

So, what shall we say about the verb “mentir” itself?  First of all, that in the present tense it is a root-changing” i to ie” verb, which means that “I lie” is “miento” and you lie is “mientes” and so on.   The only small irregularity that exists in the conjugation of this verb is that it belongs to a group of “-ir” verbs which change their root from “e” to “i” in two places: in the gerund “mintiendo” (lying) and in the two third person forms of the preterite tense “mintió” (he or she lied) and “mintieron” (they lied).  Other than that “mentir” follows predictable patterns in all its ending changes.

Although you may think there are few opportunities to use the word “miento” (I lie) in fact it is often used when people wish to correct themselves while speaking.  We use the expression “I tell a lie” in the same way: “Fuimos ahí el martes.  Miento fue el lunes” (We went there on Tuesday.  I tell a lie, it was Monday).

The noun from “mentir” is “una mentira” (a lie).   This is yet another example of English nouns and verbs being identical (to lie v. a lie) which means explaining the difference doubly difficult.  Sometimes the Spanish use that one word “mentira”, often said with a certain amount of force, to directly deny the truth of what they have just heard.  I’m sure I first learnt this word in the course of teaching English to Spanish children, when an argument would sometimes arise consisting of two words “¡mentira!” (lie) “¡verdad!” (truth) exclaimed with ever increasing volume.

To tell lies is “decir mentiras” and of course, not all “mentiras” are bad.  We sometimes need to say a “mentira piadosa” (a kind, that is, a white lie) or we might just say a little fib a “mentirijilla”.  A liar is a “mentiroso or mentirosa” depending on the gender, and a fibber is a “mentirosillo/a”  with the diminutive “-illo” “-illa” ending indicating something small, mild or unimportant.

Finally, if we want to prove something to be false, that is, to be a lie, we can “desmentir” (to deny, refute) which Sra. Cifuentes is currently trying to do (UPDATE:  she has subsequently been rumbled I’m happy to report).

Posted by: janecronin | October 21, 2018


“Dejar” is an innocent looking verb which doesn´t change its forms in any unusual ways, but has a number of related and interesting meanings.  We usual learn the meaning of “dejar” as “to leave”.  This does not mean “to leave” a place (“to leave the house” is “salir de casa”), but “to leave” something, such as food or a message.  An expression that can be useful to learn in some circumstances is “déjame en paz” which means “leave me alone” (literally “leave me in peace”).  Whether or not you are likely to use this phrase, it illustrates clearly the principal use of “dejar”.

“Dejar” can also mean “to let” in the sense of “to allow” or “to permit”.  You may also know the verb “permitir” which is what you more often see on signs and in more formal contexts.  However, in everyday speech we can use “dejar” in this way, for example “Déjame ver” (let me see) “Mi madre no me deja salir” (My mother doesn´t let me (allow me to) go out).   In Spanish there isn´t a one word translation for “to drop” so we say “dejar caer” (to allow to fall).

A third meaning of “dejar” is “to lend”.  Again, we have another verb “prestar” when the lending is more official or formal.  In other words a bank would “prestar dinero” and a library will “prestar libros”.  However, if I just want someone to “lend/pass” me something such as a pen or a piece of paper, I would say “déjame un boli” – in which case I would presumably give it back, or “déjame un papel” in which case I probably wouldn´t.

Believe it or not, there is yet another meaning of this very useful verb.  When it is followed by the word “de” it means “to stop” doing something:  for example, “voy a dejar de fumar” (I’m going to stop smoking); “ha dejado de llover” (it has stopped raining).  You might say to a child “Deja de molestar a tu madre” (stop bothering your mother).

“Dejar” can also appear in the reflexive form “dejarse” (to allow oneself).  “Dejarse llevar” is “to allow oneself to be led”.  When children or young people are talking about their exams, they use the verb “dejarse” to refer to subjects they have either failed (and therefore have left to re-take) or literally leave to sit at a later stage.   So, if you have passed six exams out of eight, you would say “me he dejado dos”.  “Dejarse” can also be used in the sense of “to forget”, that is, “to leave something behind by mistake”.  “Me he dejado el móvil en casa” (I’ve left my mobile at home – by mistake).    Just as “dejar caer” is “to drop” so “dejarse caer” is to allow oneself to fall.  It’s the sort of thing you do when you’re completely exhausted – “me dejé caer en la cama y me dormí enseguida” (I dropped onto the bed and fell asleep straight away).

Posted by: janecronin | October 14, 2018


For some reason this week I have chosen a verb that has no irregularities and very few derivative words, so I thought we could just look as some examples of how it is used.  That being said, it is a very common verb so it is worth having a look at.

The verb in question is “viajar” to travel.  It is related to our English word “voyage” and contains that lovely throat “j” sound which makes it tricky for some people to pronounce.  As already stated, it is a completely regular “-ar” verb in all its forms and in all tenses, so in that sense it’s a nice easy one to deal with.

Here are some of the words that are related to “viajar”.  Firstly we have “viajero” which means “traveller”, that is in the general sense that most of us become from time to time.  The other kind of traveller, namely a commercial traveller is called a “viajante”.  The word for a “trip” or “journey” is “viaje” and a business trip is a “viaje de negocios”.  You have probably  noticed at some point the exhortation “buen viaje” which means “have a good journey”.  It pops up on car park exit machines amongst other places.

To go on a journey is “ir de viaje” and we can also say “hacer un viaje” (to make a journey) whilst to “set off” on a journey is “emprender un viaje”.  To talk about a short trip, typically just one day out in a coach, we use the word “excursión”.  We still find “agencias de viajes” on high streets, although their role has diminished with the increase in Internet bookings.   We might still use them to organise a “viaje de estudios” (study or school trip) or a “viaje fin de curso” (end of school year trip) which are extremely popular in Spanish schools.   Travel expenses are referred to a “gastos de viaje”.

Since I seem to have run out of things to say about “viajar” here are some related expressions which you might find useful.  Firstly, various means of transport: we can “viajar” en bici (by bike); “en moto” (by motorbike); en coche (by car); “en autobús” (by bus); “en autocar” (by coach); “en barco” (by boat); “en avión”; (by plane) or andando (walking – on foot).  When we travel by train we can choose to go “preferente” (first class) or “turista” (second/standard class).  A one-way ticket is called “ida” (which is derived from the verb “ir”) and a return ticket is “ida y vuelta” (“vuelta” coming from the verb “volver” , to return).

It is very common for Spanish people to travel within their own country, as opposed to the British tendency to leap on a plane and escape to warmer climes.  During shorter breaks such as long weekends, Christmas and Easter, there are massive exoduses from the big cities to the coast, as those of you who live near the Mediterranean will be only too aware.

Posted by: janecronin | October 7, 2018


“Probar” means “to try” “to test” and “to taste” and is linked to our English word “prove”, from which we also get probation, probate and even the word “probable”.  However, before I get carried away with English, back to Spanish and what “probar” is all about.

First of all, as ever, let’s look at the various formations of  “probar”.  The only thing worth mentioning here is that it is a classic “root-changing” verb, which means that its present tense goes “pruebo, pruebas, prueba, probamos, probáis, prueban”.  If you read these articles every week you will have got the hang of these changes by now, and if not, there is always Google and that book you’ve been using as a door stop which limits itself to a mere 501 Spanish verbs.  In all other forms, “probar” is regular and predictable.

As I have already said, we can use this verb in a number of contexts.  If we want to test something out, like an engine or a machine we use “probar” and likewise when we taste something, a grape in the market to see if it’s sweet, or when sampling someone’s cooking.   When we are trying on clothes in a shop it is actually more correct to use the reflexive form “probarse”, that is “to try on … oneself” and those of you who have done this in Spain will know that you have to look for the “probadores” (changing rooms).  Another place you will see the word “probador” is on perfume or make-up testers.

There are quite a few other words that come from the same root as “probar”, the most common of which is “prueba” meaning “test” or “proof”.   In the face of an accusation, one might say “No hay pruebas” (there is no proof).  In a legal context this could also means “there isn´t any evidence”.  “Prueba” can also be a test, perhaps a physical test of endurance or a school subject test, designed to “prove” ones capabilities.   Another related word is “probeta” which means “test tube” and just as we have the colloquial phrase “test-tube baby” so in Spanish there is “niño/niña de probeta”.

If we add the prefix “a” to “probar” we have “aprobar” which means to “approve” and also “to pass” in the context of an exam.  School children know this verb all too well as they either “aprobar” or “suspender” (fail) their exams and therefore their entire school year.   One of the joys of parenthood is to hear the cry “he aprobado” (I’ve passed) from a child rushing out of the school gates waving the appropriately stamped and signed piece of paper.  We can also add a further prefix to create “desaprobar”.  This carries the same meaning as the English verb “to disapprove”.   “Reprobar” means the same, but is perhaps even stronger in tone.  We can link this to the word “reprobate” in English, a person who is thoroughly unacceptable.


Posted by: janecronin | September 30, 2018


“Caer” means “to fall” and we can use it for when a tree or a building falls or collapses.  However, when we want to talk about us humans “falling over” or falling down”, we would normally need the reflexive form “caerse”.    I will elaborate on this in a moment.

Firstly though, looking at the conjugation of this verb, it is more regular that first meets the eye.  The main oddity about it is the first person singular present tense form “caigo” (I fall).  This also gives us the present subjunctive “caiga, caigas, caiga, caigamos, caigáis, caigan”.  The only other slight variation in the spelling of “caer” is in the preterite tense where letter “i” changes to the letter “y” in the third person – “cayó” (he fell) and “cayeron” (they fell).  Now I’ve got this far I might as well tell you that this form influences the imperfect subjunctive “cayera” etc.  but please just ignore that point if you like.

As I said at the beginning, the straightforward misfortunate that happens to us from time to time, that is “falling over”, is expressed in the reflexive form.  So, this gives us:  “me caí” (I fell); “se cayó” (he or she fell); or the form you often hear Spanish parents shout to kids who are being a bit too daring on the swings and slides “¡Te vas a caer!” (You’re going to fall!).

So, when do we need the non-reflexive verb “caer”?  I hear you ask.  Well, here are a few examples of its use.  In Spanish there isn´t a specific word meaning “to drop” so we have to say “dejar caer” (let fall).  We also use it when we want to say that “the penny has dropped” (although last time I went to the loo in London it cost me about 40p!)  In other words, to say something like “Now I understand!” in Spanish we say “¡Ahora caigo!”  This is also the title of a television quiz programme in which people who don´t get the answer right fall through a trap door under their feet.  Likewise, if you just can´t “get” something, you might say “no caigo”.

In English we can say, for example, “What day does Christmas fall this year?” and similarly in Spanish we say “¿En qué día cae el día de Navidad?”  or “This year my birthday falls on a Tuesday” or  “Este año mi cumpleaños cae en martes”.

Even more idiomatic is the expression “caer bien” or “caer mal” which has to do with whether we like people or not.  “Mis vecinos me caen muy bien” means “I like my neighbours very much” whilst “Mi profesora me cae fatal” means “I can´t stand my teacher”.

A noun from “caer” is “caída” (fall) and a parachute is a “paracaídas” which literally means “for falls” which is pretty logical.  Here’s one idiom to finish off with – “caerse del burro”.  This means “to climb down”, that is, to admit one is in the wrong.


Posted by: janecronin | September 23, 2018


“Volar” means “to fly”.  It can also mean “to blow up” in the sense of “explode” and presumably there is some connection between these two meanings.   It is a root-changing verb in the present tense, which therefore goes:  “vuelo, vuelas, vuela, volamos, voláis, vuelan” – meaning I fly, you fly, he,she or it flies, we fly, you (plural) fly and they fly.  Whilst we’re talking about verb conjunctions, I should also remind you that “vuela” can also mean “you fly” if I am addressing you in a formal way.

Having said all of that, none of us actually “volar” a great deal.  When you “fly” somewhere, it is more usual in Spanish to use the expression “ir en avion” (to go in, or by, plane):  “volar” is mostly left to birds and the plane itself.  However, you will have come across a form of “volar” when you are booking a flight, or at the airport, as the word for “flight” is “vuelo”.  There is also a budget Spanish airline called “Vueling” which is based on a Spanglish mixture of “vuelo” and the English gerund – ing ending.

There are quite a lot of words in Spanish which are related, loosely or otherwise, to the verb “volar”.  For example we have “volante” which means “steering wheel” in a car, but “fly wheel “ in a mechanical context.  If you ever have to make a sudden swerve when you are driving, this is called a “volantazo”.  The suffix “-azo” is often added to words to mean something big, sudden or violent.  In the same way “portazo” means the slamming of a door and “puñetazo” is a punch made with the “puño” (fist).  The same word “volante” is also used to means “frill”, such as you might find on the sleeve or neck of a blouse or hem of a skirt.

A “flying fish” is a “pez volador” which I’m sure you always wanted to know, and perhaps more curiously the word “volador” appears in the acronym “OVNI” which stands for “objeto volante no identificado” (unidentified flying object, that is a UFO).

A word that is similar to English that comes from the same root is “volátil”.  This can refer to physical properties in the same way as in English we can talk about a “volatile” chemical for example.  Also, as in English, this word can describe someone’s personality: someone who is unstable or likely to “fly” off the handle at short notice.

If we add the prefix “re” to make the word “revuelo” we create a word that I rather like.  When referring to birds it means a big flutter or flight of many birds together.  In the old days of pigeons in Trafalgar Square you could create a “revuelo” by running towards them – not that I ever did that of course.  However, the word “revuelo” is also used to describe a commotion or rumpus. In English we also call this setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

Posted by: janecronin | September 16, 2018


The verb “romper” means “to break”.  This can mean the literal kind of breaking, mobile screens, bones, fencing, that kind of thing, and also in the non-physical context of relationships and friendships.  We can also use the word “romper” in a kind of social context.  A new political movement might “romper moldes” (break molds – that is traditional roles or systems).  This same phenomenon is expressed in the phrase “romper esquemas” (break systems or outlines: that is traditional roles and ideas).  In the social sense as well we can talk about “romper el hielo” (to break the ice).  We can also “romper con el pasado” (break from the past) and “romper con la rutina” (take a break from the routine).

In terms of grammar, “romper” obeys all the usual rules except one, which is the past participle “roto”.  In fact, many people learn the word “roto” (feminine “rota”) meaning “broken” without ever associating it with its base verb “romper”.   Thus we can say “la puerta está rota” (the door is broken) or “nuestra relación está rota” (our relationship is broken).  Another way of saying the same thing is “Hemos roto nuestra relación” which basically means “We have broken up”.

An idea or phenomenon that is innovative can be referred to as “rompedor” or “rompedora”.  The translation of this word is “ground-breaking” which obviously contains the same idea.  There are a lot of compound words starting with “rompe-“ all containing the “breaking” concept.  For example, there is “rompeolas” (breakwater – literally, wave breaker); “rompecabezas” (puzzle or brainteaser – literally, head breaker; “rompecorazones” (heart-throb – literally, heart breaker) and, if you’ll pardon the expression “rompebolas” (ball-breaker, or as my dictionary politely puts it, “someone who is extremely annoying”)

Sometimes “romper” is used in the sense of being “stunning”.  In a play I was in a couple of years ago, one of the female actors appears dressed up to the nines (another interesting phrase) and exclaims “Estoy que rompo” (I’m looking stunning – enough to break camera lenses or hearts, I suppose).  Something that is “breakable” is “rompible” and therefore the opposite, “unbreakable” is “irrompible”.

If you are unfortunate enough to break a bone or some other part of your body, the usual way to express this is with the reflexive form “romperse”.  Therefore, for example, “I have broken my arm” is “me he roto el brazo” (literally “I have broken myself the arm).  This is along the same lines as many expressions, particularly referring to ones physical person, which use reflexive verbs and avoid the possessive adjective (my, your, his, her etc) replacing them with “the”).    Similar structures are: “me duele la cabeza” (my head hurts – literally, it hurts me the head), “me he puesto la chaqueta” (I have put on my jacket – literally, I have put on myself the jacket).

In English we have many uses for the word “break” which do not automatically translate as “romper” and if you need a break now, you actually need a “descanso” (a rest).

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