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).

Posted by: janecronin | March 17, 2019


“Haber” is not a verb for the faint-hearted.  I will do my best to explain it, but hold on tight if you’re not too interested in grammar.  I’ll do my best to include practical examples of its use as well so we can all be happy.  “Haber” is what I call a “grammatical” verb in that its main purpose is to help construct verb tenses, rather than having any, or at least much, independent use.

Before we go to the meaning though, we’d better look at the grammar, because as well as being difficult to define, it is also full of irregularities.  In the present tense it goes like this “he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han”; then in the past simple or preterite tense it does this “hubo, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron”.  These two tenses give rise to irregularities in the subjunctive which are “haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan” in the present and “hubiera, hubieras, hubiera, hubiéramos, hubierais, hubieran” in the imperfect.   Also the future and conditional forms are irregular as the letter “e” is dropped from the infinitive to give us “habré etc” for the future and “habría etc” for the conditional.

So, what exactly does this highly unusual verb actually mean?  Well, first and foremost, it is the equivalent of our verb “have” when we use it to form tenses.  In other words, if I say “I have read the book” that would be “he leído el libro”.  Here the word “have” is indicating that we are talking about some moment in the recent or undetermined past.  In this sense, “have” has nothing to do with the standard meaning of “have” which refers mainly to possession and which in Spanish is “tener”.  Perhaps it would help to contrast the above sentence “He leído el libro” (I have read the book) with “tengo el libro” (I have the book).  The first sentence refers to an activity in the past and the second one refers to something I possess.

Just as in English we can change this use of “have” to make different tenses (I had read the book); (I will have read the book) and so on, so we can use “haber” in the various forms above to create these tense changes in Spanish – “había leído el libro”;  “habré leído el libro”.

Apart from this function, “haber” does stand on its own in various tenses to mean “there is”, “there was/were” “there will be” etc.   In this sense, we only ever use the third person singular form of “haber” so: “hubo muchos problemas” (there were a lot of problems); “habrá seis personas en la clase” (there will be six people in the class).  In the present tense however, instead of “ha” we use “hay” (there is, there are).  Finally, we can follow these forms with “que” to mean “one has to”.  “hay que estudiar mucho” (one has to study a lot).   But don´t worry too much about it!

Posted by: janecronin | March 10, 2019


“Estudiar” is a verb that should cause us few problems either in its formation or its meaning.   In fact, I would bet that everyone reading this either knows, or can guess, what it means, and the conjugations are completely regular.

An interesting phenomenon that you may or may not have noticed about the Spanish language, is that none of its words begin with the letter ‘s’ plus another consonant.  In other words, there is nothing beginning with ‘sp-‘, ‘sc-‘, ‘scr-‘ ‘sl-‘, ‘sm-‘, ‘str-‘ or ‘st-‘ all of which are extremely common in English.  Consequently you will find that the words in Spanish with similar roots to their English equivalent will have the letter “e” added at the beginning.   I mention this now because of course “estudiar” means “to study”.  We find the same phenomenon with “especial” (special); “escuela” (school); “escrúpulo” (scruple); “eslogan” (slogan); “esmoquin” (dinner jacket – from “smoking”); “estricto” (strict) and many more examples besides.  This also means that the Spanish struggle when speaking English to pronounce these combinations without putting an “e” sound at the beginning.  The classic example is the way they generally pronounce the international “stop” sign as “estop”.

Going back to our verb “estudiar” we can identify a lot of derivative words, all of which are easily understandable in English:  “estudiante” (student); “estudio” (study); “estudioso” (studious).  One derivative which is a little difficult to define in English is the adjective “estudiantil”.  This really means “of students” or “pertaining to students” which of course is an expression we don´t use in English.  What we do in English is take nouns, such as “student” and use them in the place of an adjective.  So, for example, we have expressions like: “student life” or “a student movement” which is Spanish are “la vida estudiantil” “un movimiento estudiantil”.

The plural of “estudio”, that is “estudios” is used in Spanish to describe someone´s level of education.  Someone, and usually it would be an elderly person, might say “no tengo estudios” where an English equivalent would probably be “I didn´t have much education”.  Likewise, when describing someone with a high level of education and qualifications we can say “tiene muchos estudios”.  We should avoid using the word “educación” in this sense, as in everyday speech this refers more to one’s manners.  If you say of someone “no tiene educación” you are referring to their general behaviour, which has nothing to do with their academic qualifications.  Similarly, if we say “es una persona muy educada” we mean, he or she is a very polite person.

Of course we tend to think of “estudiante” as a young person, but I’m firmly of the opinion that we can be, and should be, “estudiantes” all our lives.  I went to university in my thirties and was classed as a “mature student” (estudiante adulto) then, but I’m happy to belong to that category for the rest of my life, irrespective of whether I go along to classes or not.

Posted by: janecronin | February 24, 2019


Most foreigners who come to live in Spain assimilate the verb “vender” unconsciously because of the proliferation of the sign “se vende” which of course means “for sale”.  If we were to be over-literal about its meaning we could say that it means “one sells” or even “it sells itself” both of which sound rather ridiculous.  This is because the word “vende” is the third person singular of the present tense of “vender”, therefore meaning “he, she or it sells”.  The word “se” in front gives it the impersonal sense of “one” or the reflexive sense of “oneself”.  That is about as well as I can explain it at the moment.

“Vender” itself is a good solid regular verb with very little to say about it grammatically speaking.  In other words, it does all the same things you would expect from any common or garden “-er” verb. Going back to “for sale” signs for a moment, you can come across variations on a theme from time to time.  For example, I have seen “me venden” (they are selling me) often on some rather sad looking car or motorbike that has outlived its usefulness.  Also, you can find “vendo” I sell, this could be followed by “huevos” (eggs); “melons” (melons) or “miel” (honey) among many other things.  Occasionally you may also see “en venta” which is closer to our English phrase “on (or for) sale” – “venta” being the noun “sale” derived from “vender”.

When we come to the people involved is the act of selling, we have the word “vendedor” (salesman) which has the feminine form “vendedora” (saleswoman) or as we would usually now say in English for both genders “sales person”.  Sometimes in villages you see the sign “Prohibido vendedores ambulantes”.  This has nothing to do with ambulances, as in fact “ambulante” means “moving” or “travelling” so what the village is prohibiting are basically door-to-door or street sellers who, if they want to come and sell their wares, should apply to the town hall for a stall in the local street market.

Ambling away from “vender” for a while, you may be interested to know that the word for an Out-patients’ hospital in Spain is “ambulatorio”.  I think this is because people arrive and leave of their own accord and don’t stay the night, in other words they are moving.  I used to think that it literally meant that people walked in and out, but of course this is not always the case.

An adjective from “vender” is “vendible”, that is “sellable” or “saleable” and from this comes the other noun, apart from “venta”, that is “vendibilidad” (saleability).  I’m not sure how often we would use that word in Spanish or English, but there it is.

Finally, another use of the word “venta” is a rather old-fashioned word for an “inn”.  These would often be points of sale in rural areas providing food, drink and accommodation as well as selling basic provisions.

Posted by: janecronin | February 17, 2019


The verb “recordar” means “to remember” and also “to remind”.  I think it´s fairly easy to remember the meaning of “recordar” if we associate it with the English verb “to record”.

It is a root-changing “o to ue” verb.  This means, for example, that “I remember” is “recuerdo” (and not recordo).  We have seen a lot of root-changing verbs in the course of these articles, so by now you should have noticed that they all follow the same pattern.  This means, of course, that they do not count as “irregular” verbs.  An example of this root-change that we see in everyday life in Spain is the road sign which consists of a circular speed notice accompanied by the word “Recuerde”.  This is a polite command – “remember” reminding the driver to keep to the same speed as already indicated further down the road.

Actually, there are two ways of saying “I remember” – one is as above “recuerdo” and the other is “me acuerdo” from the reflexive very “acordarse”.  It´s sometimes hard for English speakers to appreciate that there are two ways of saying the same thing, one non-reflexive (recordar) and one reflexive (acordarse) and I’m afraid I don’t have a magic explanation either, except to say that the Spanish, for some reason tend to prefer the reflexive form when there is a choice.  So, “I don´t remember” is more often expressed as “no me acuerdo” although “no recuerdo” also means the same thing.  When using the reflexive form, we have to add the word “de” if we extend the sentence, so “No recuerdo tu nombre” but “No me acuerdo de tu nombre”.

As mentioned above “recordar” also means “to remind” so we can say “recuérdame tu nombre” (remind me of your name) or “recuérdame que tengo que llamar al fontanero” (remind me that I have to phone the plumber).  Also, when we are passively reminded of something – the same verb applies: “me recuerdas a mi madre” (you remind me of my mother).

Most derivatives of “recordar” contain the complete root “record” and so are quite easy to identify.  If something is “recordable” it is “memorable”.  A useful word is “recordatorio” which means “reminder”.  I find the Spanish tend to rely on these rather a lot.  When you get a phone call from your dentist reminding you that you have an appointment the next day, that is called a “recordatorio”.  Personally, I think they would save a lot of time and money if everyone just bought themselves a decent diary – but obviously I´m very old-fashioned or very British in that respect, or probably both.

The Spanish have re-imported the English word “record” when they want to talk about the Guinness Book of ….  In Spanish it is written with an accent over the letter e – “récord” so that the cadence of the words sounds more like the English original.   It´s possible that I might be the world record holder (la poseedora del récord mundial) for droning on about Spanish verbs.

Posted by: janecronin | February 10, 2019


I think “nacer” is a really interesting verb, if indeed verbs are ever interesting.  “Nacer” means “to be born”.  Notice that we don´t translate the “to be” part of the verb into Spanish as the whole verbal phrase “to be born” is included in the one word “nacer”.  It has one irregularity in its formation which is the first person singular of the present tense “nazco” (I am born).  Of course, by the very nature of being born, this is not a verb you would use in all its forms very often.  The most common tense used in everyday conversation would be the preterite:  “nací” (I was born) “naciste” (you were born) “nació” (he/she was born) “nacimos” (we were born) “nacisteis” (you – plural – were born) “nacieron” (they were born).  I would say “Nací en Londres” (I was born in London) and would also ask the question “¿Dónde naciste?” (Where were you born?).  From the two forms “nazco” and “nacieron” we can get to the subjunctive forms “nazca” and “naciera” but we won´t worry about those now.

There are several nouns that come from this verb – the most obvious one being “nacimiento” (birth). This word is sometimes used as an alternative to “belén” to describe the traditional Christmas “nativity” (notice the word!) scene.  “Navidad” (Christmas) therefore belongs to the same family of words, as does the girl’s name “Natalia”.  As well as “nativity” in English, we can now also recognise the medical terms “ante-natal”; “neo-natal”; “post-natal” and so on, all coming from the same Latin root as “nacer”.

We can now take this a little further by looking at the word “nativo” (native).  The word “native” in English tends to conjure up a picture of primitive tribes people, but “nativo” in Spanish has no such connotation.  When advertising as an English speaker in Spanish I always had to include the phrase “profesora nativa” which simply meant that I was a native English speaker, not that I danced around in a grass skirt, fortunately.  In other words “nativo” simply means that a person has been born in a particular place, and therefore by implication, into a particular language group.

The next step takes us to the word “nación” (nation).  I must admit I only made this connection recently, but I thought it was a jolly interesting one.  A “nación” basically refers to large group of “nativos”.  People also refer to this concept as a “homeland” or “fatherland” – an idea which means not only a geographical place but also to the language and culture that binds such a group of people together.  I think at the very least it’s an interesting concept to think about.

Going back to our initial verb “nacer”, there is another use of it that one sees around in Spain at Christmas time.  You may have noticed that on the balcony of some houses they have a picture of a baby Jesus with the words “Dios ha nacido” (God has been born).


Posted by: janecronin | February 10, 2019

Portrait of Spain talks in Benijófar

Due to increasing demand, I am delighted to announce that I will be giving my series of eight talks entitled “A Portrait of Spain” in Benijófar starting on Saturday February 23rd and concluding on Saturday April 13th.  The talks are being organised in conjunction with Reme Ruiz who is a Spanish teacher at the venue in Benijófar.

The talks will be delivered in English and are designed to give you a lively and interesting introduction to Spanish culture and history.  They are suitable for anyone who would like to learn more about this country, whether you are a student of the Spanish language or not.

Each talk will be accompanied by a colourful PowerPoint presentation and supported with printed notes.  There are two opportunities to hear each talk and attendance must be booked by e-mail to: as places are limited.   Your booking should include your name and names of people attending, contact telephone number, talk number and time. Attached is a poster which gives you full details of titles, dates and times.  All bookings will receive a confirmation e-mail with directions to the venue.

I look forward to seeing you in Benijófar!


Posted by: janecronin | February 3, 2019


As I have tried to keep to common verbs in these articles, I think it is definitely time to talk about “llamar” as in many cases this is one of the first words that people learn in Spanish.  “Llamar” actually means “to call”.  There is a historical linguistic relationship between words that begin with “ll” and those that begin with “cl” so in fact “llamar” is related to our word “claim” as it is to the Spanish group of words like “clamar” (clamour) “reclamar” (claim) and clamoroso (resounding, rousing).  This might seem rather obscure, but with a bit of imagination you might be able to see the connections.

Coming back to “llamar”, first and foremost we can say, once more, that this verb is completely regular in its formation, so it works in the same way as “hablar”, “mirar” and hundreds, if not thousands, of other verbs.  It means “to call” in the sense of shouting out to somebody, but nowadays usually refers to the telephone (how old-fashioned that is beginning to sound) in the same way as “call” does in English.  “Te llamo mañana” means “I’ll call you tomorrow” and “Llamo a la policía” means (I’ll call the police) which seem to be the two most useful basic sentences using this verb.  Notice incidentally that we use the present tense form “llamo – I call” when we are making spontaneous decisions, where in English we use the future form “I’ll call”.

The reason this verb crops up very soon in our Spanish language learning is because of its reflexive form “llamarse” which means “to be called”.  The literal translation of “llamarse” is to “call oneself” but if we translate it literally in context it quickly sounds a bit ridiculous.  “Me llamo Jane” means “I’m called Jane” in other words “my name is Jane”.  “I call myself Jane” in English just sounds as though I’m actually called something else, but for some capricious reason I’ve decided to “call myself” Jane:  “My name is Esmeralda, but I call myself Jane”.

Anyway, in beginners Spanish classes people are generally taught to say “Me llamo Fred” (or whatever) which means “My name is Fred”.  If the sentence isn´t explained very well, people sometimes pick up the idea that “me” must mean “I” and “llamo” therefore must mean “name” (all completely wrong of course) which then leads to the incorrect sentence “Me llamo es Fred” .  Personally I avoid this whole issue in my early lessons by teaching people to say “Soy Fred” (I’m Fred):  firstly, it’s easier to explain and secondly, it actually sounds more natural to me in everyday conversation.

The other basic “llamarse” sentence is the question “¿Cómo te llamas?” (How do you call yourself? i.e. What is your name?)   In a more formal or official situation this would become “¿Cómo se llama?” or “¿Cómo se llama usted?” to which the reply would be “Me llamo Fred” or “Soy Fred Bloggs” depending on the situation.


Posted by: janecronin | January 27, 2019


“Asistir” is one of those words which we call a “false friend”.  This is a much wider issue that you might realise, as false friends are words that appear to mean something in a foreign language but in fact mean something significantly different.  There are literally hundreds of these and I have a list of them somewhere!   In the case of “asistir” we may well be forgiven for assuming that it means “to assist” but in fact it means “to attend”.

False friends work in both directions.  Some years ago now I used to run a social club on Orihuela Costa called Crossroads, which some readers might remember.  Every week we had a visit from a young man who ran a local English speaking cinema.  His English was understandable most of the time but full of errors, and he always used to tell us about how many people had “assisted” the cinema the week before.  I did correct his English from time to time, but we all got rather fond of his mistakes.  Sometimes noticing people’s misuse of English words can be a good way of learning their language.

There is nothing to say about the grammar of “asistir” as it is a completely regular “-ir” verb in all its forms and tenses.   Derivatives or “asistir” are “asistencia” meaning “attendance”.  Actually this word brings us straightaway to a point where “attendance” and “assistance” can coincide as an example of the use of “asistencia” is to refer to the “attendance” of an ambulance to an emergency.    This same convergence of meaning occurs with the word “asistente” which is often combined with the word “social”.  The translation of “asistente social” in English is “social worker”.  The concept behind the word is therefore a person who “attends” to social problems, although we can easily make the link to the idea of “assisting” in social situations: thus the complexity of “false friends”.

There are a couple of other verbs that are related to “asistir” with slight changes to the beginning. One is “desistir” and the other “resistir”.  “Desistir” means “to desist” and “to desist” means to give up or stop doing something.  “Resistir” means, surprise surprise, “to resist” but has a much wider use in Spanish that we have for “resist” in English.   The most obvious use of “resist” in English is in the phrase “to resist the temptation”.  In Spanish we can also say “resistir la tentación” but we also use “resistir” to refer to strength and endurance.  The noun “resistencia” is used a great deal in this context.  In sport, we refer to the “resistencia” of a player, meaning their “stamina” and in a DIY context “resistencia” can refer to the strength and durability of materials.  My computer wants to type “resistencia” with a capital “r” and I assume this is because of the “la Resistencia Francesa”.  Their activities perhaps encapsulate the whole meaning of the word – opposing, enduring and holding out against the odds.

Posted by: janecronin | January 20, 2019


I could perhaps be accused of being boring (heaven forbid) about some of these verbs because so many of them are completely regular and have single meanings.  We tend to spend a lot of time worrying about all the odd and difficult ones, whilst the silent majority are ignored.  “Limpiar” is an example of a perfectly normal verb that doesn´t try to be difficult in any way.  All its forms are regular and it simply means “to clean”.  You can say anything you want to say about the action of cleaning using this one verb:  limpiaré (I will clean);  limpiarías (you would clean); limpia (he or she cleans); limpié (I cleaned); limpiábamos (we were cleaning, we used to clean) to name but a few at random.  Notice that in each case the root “limpi-“ is constant and it is only the “-ar” ending which changes for tense and person.  This is what makes “limpiar” a regular verb.

There is basic noun which comes from “limpiar” namely “limpieza” which means “cleanliness”.  Sometimes this is used when we would use the word “cleaning” in English as in “el trabajo de limpieza” (the cleaning work).   Nowadays, you sometimes hear the phrase “limpieza política” which means “political cleanliness”, that is, lack of political corruption.  This is still very much an aspiration rather than a reality in many cases.   The word for cleaner is “limpiador” (male) and “limpiadora” (female), and the adjective “clean” is “limpio” or “limpia” as in “la mesa está limpia” (the table is clean).

There are a lot of compound nouns which begin with “limpia –“, which are the equivalent of “something-cleaner” in Engilsh: for example: “limpiamuebles” is “furniture cleaner” and “limpiapipas” are pipe cleaners.  I haven´t seen those for many years but I used to buy them twice a year for my father´s birthday and Christmas.  Most of them then got used to make little model dogs and horses.   No prizes for guessing “limpiaventanas”, while “limpiapiés” in fact means “shoe scraper” rather than “foot cleaner” which would be a little odd.

One of my all-time favourite words is “limpiaparabrisas”.  You may have to think about this one.  “Parabrisas” which seems to mean “for breezes” is in fact “windscreen” (which if you think about it, is the same thing).  Therefore “limpiaparabrisas” is the thing that cleans the windscreen namely “windscreen wiper”.

You may not think that English has any related word to “limpiar” but in fact we do have the word “limpid” mean “clear” or “transparent” usually referring to water.  This is clearly related to “limpiar” and the Spanish also have the word “límpido” also meaning limpid.

I find students often remember the verb “limpiar” quite easily, and in many cases these seems to be due to their noticing the cleaning product “Don Limpio”.  He is a bald man with a nice white t-shirt and folded, muscular arms who looks a bit like a genie and even more like his English cousin “Mr. Clean”.

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