Posted by: janecronin | January 12, 2020

Establishing Al-Andalus from A Portrait of Spain course

En 716 Córdoba se estableció como la capital del reinado del hijo de Muza, mientras que la lealtad religiosa se le otorgó al Califato Omeya en Damasco. Los moros se mostraron más tolerantes que los gobernantes visigodos, respetando tanto a los cristianos como a los judíos como “gente del libro”. La expansión de los moros hacia el norte de Europa se detuvo en la batalla de Poitiers en 732 y la famosa Batalla de Covadonga en 722 les impidió llegar a la costa atlántica del norte de España.

In 716 Córdoba was established as the capital under the rule of Muza’s son, whilst religious allegiance was given to the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus.  The Moors proved to be more tolerant than the Visigoth rulers, showing respect for both Christians and Jews and “people of the book”.  The northerly spread of the Moors into northern Europe was stopped at the battle of Poitiers in 732 and the famous Battle of Covadonga in 722 stopped them from reaching the northern Atlantic coast of Spain. 

Posted by: janecronin | January 5, 2020

A bit about the Visigoths from A Portrait of Spain course

Los visigodos era un pueblo cristianizado a quien se le permitía establecerse en la península a cambio de ayuda militar contra los otros invasores bárbaros. Al principio, su número era pequeño, pero después de la caída de Roma en 476 dC y la desintegración del Imperio Romano occidental, los visigodos tomaron el control político y militar de la región central de forma gradual. Los visigodos tenían una cultura romanizada que proporcionaba de alguna manera la continuidad social al tiempo que perdían los vínculos comerciales y culturales con el mundo exterior.

The Visigoths were a Christianised people who were allowed to settle in the peninsula in exchange for military help against other barbarian invaders.  At first their numbers were small, but after the fall of Rome in 476 AD and the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths gradually took political and military control of the central region.  The Visigoths had a Romanised culture and provided a kind of social continuity while losing their trading and cultural links with the outside world.


Posted by: janecronin | December 29, 2019

More about the Romans from A Portrait of Spain course

Los romanos construyeron ciudades de piedra y cemento con caminos rectos que cruzaron el territorio. Cada ciudad tenía una gran zona pública llamada el foro, así como un anfiteatro donde peleaban los gladiadores, un teatro y un circo para carreras de cuadrigas. También había templos dedicados a numerosos dioses y diosas, arcos triunfales, puentes y acueductos. España hoy está llena de restos arquitectónicos romanos, incluidos los suelos con mosaicos espectaculares.

The Romans built cities made of stone and cement with straight roads crossing the countryside.  Each city had a large open public area called a forum as well as an amphitheatre where gladiators fought, a theatre and a circus for chariot races.  There were also temples to numerous gods and goddesses, triumphal arches, bridges and aqueducts.  Spain today is full of Roman architectural remains including floors with spectacular mosaics. 

Posted by: janecronin | December 22, 2019

Roman presence in Iberia from A Portrait of Spain course

Al principio, la presencia romana en Iberia consistía en asentamientos militares que gradualmente se desplazaron hacia el oeste, conquistando a las tribus nativas. El asedio de Numancia, que duró más de ocho meses y terminó con el suicidio colectivo de los numantinos, es un testimonio del coraje y la resistencia de las tribus nativas a la dominación romana.

At first the Roman presence in Iberia was in the form of military outposts which gradually moved westwards, conquering the native tribes.  The siege of Numantia, which lasted over eight months and ended with the mass suicide of the Numantians, is a testimony to the courage and resistance of the native tribes to Roman domination.  

Posted by: janecronin | December 15, 2019

Excerpts from A Portrait of Spain

I am going to start a new series of blogs which take out small excerpts from my internet course “A Portrait of Spain”.  This will consist of a small paragraph of Spanish followed by an English translation.  The hope is that this will be informative, of interest from a language point of view and a taster of the full course which includes an audio file of the full Spanish texts and comprehension questions.  So, here’s the first excerpt, I hope you enjoy it –

España está compuesta de diecisiete regiones autónomas, cada una con su propia constitución y acuerdo económico con el gobierno central en Madrid.  Antes de la formación de estas regiones modernas, España estaba dividida en cincuenta provincias, cada una gobernada directamente desde Madrid. Esta organización provincial todavía existe de la manera que algunas regiones constan de 8 o 9 provincias, mientras otras se denominan uniprovinciales, como es el caso de Murcia, Asturias, Cantabria y La Rioja.

Spain is made up of seventeen autonomous regions, each with its own constitution and specific economic relationship with central government in Madrid.  Prior to the establishment of these regions, Spain was divided into fifty provinces, each ruled directly from Madrid.  This provincial organisation still exists, with some regions consisting of 8 or 9 provinces whilst others are referred to as uni-provincial, as is the case of Murcia, Asturias, Cantabria and La Rioja.

Posted by: janecronin | June 16, 2019

Understanding Word Families

This article is the final one of the series “One Verb at a Time” and next week we will be starting on something new.   Consequently, I thought it would be appropriate to summarise some of the things we have learnt in the course of the last two years since the series started.

The aspect that I have found most interesting as I have written these articles, and that I have most wanted to communicate, is the whole subject of “word families”.  These occur in all languages, but I think they are especially noticeable in Spanish where one verb can lead to a huge range of variations, all centred round the same basic meaning.  To give a simple example of what I mean – “cocinar” means “to cook” and from this we can see “cocina” (kitchen) “cocinero/a” (cook – that is the person), “cocinado” (cooked), “precocinado” (precooked).  On the same subject of food, we have “comer” (to eat), “comedor” (dining room), “comida” (meal, lunch, food), “comilón/comilona” (someone who likes eating a lot) and so on.

In some cases, the basic verb itself can be extended to provide us with a new verb, for example “dormir” (to sleep), “dormitar” (to doze); “morir” (to die) “mortificar” (to mortify); “jugar” (to play), “juguetear” (to play around, to toy).  In addition we have prefixes which alter the meaning of the verb.  As in English, the prefix “re-“ means to do something again, so “leer” (to read), “releer” (to reread); “escribir” (to write) “reescribir” (to rewrite).  This “re-“ prefix can sometimes intensify the meaning of a verb, for example “bajar” (to go down) “rebajar” (to reduce); “matar” (to kill) “rematar” (to finish off).  Other prefixes are “con-“(giving the idea of “with” or “joint”) while “des-“ implies the opposite of an original verb, as in “cubrir” (to cover), “descubrir” (to discover or uncover).  One more prefix is “pre-“ which means before, just as it does in English, so while  “ver” is “to see”, “prever” is to “foresee”;  “decir” is to say, so “predecir” is “to predict” (in order words, to say something previous to it happening).  The past participle of a verb can often be turned into an adjective, for example “cansar” (to tire), “cansado” (tired) and from adjectives we can make adverbs – “cansadamente” (tiredly, wearily).

There are multiple examples if these modified meanings, and once you start noticing them, they can open up a whole range of possibilities.  From the point of view of understanding Spanish, once you have identified the root meaning of a word and have some notion of how prefixes and different parts of speech work, you can work out a lot of meanings by guesswork.  Whenever you come across and new word, look at how it is made up and see if you can identify its basic area of meaning.  There are so many more things one could say, but I hope I have at least opened the door to understanding a little bit more about Spanish word families.

Posted by: janecronin | June 9, 2019


“Morir” means “to die” and there is not a great deal more one can say about the meaning.  It is a root-changing verb, so the letter “o” in the root changes to “ue” in certain forms in the present tense.  For obvious reasons, and when used literally, this verb is mostly used on the third person, so “he or she dies” is “muere” and “they die” is “mueren”.  It has a small variation of form in the preterite or past simple tense, also in the third person where the “o” changes to “u” so “he or she died” is “murió” and “they died” is “murieron”.

This verb has a couple more irregularities, firstly the present participle, or gerund, makes the same “o” to “u” change, so that “dying” is “muriendo” and finally the past participle, that is “died” in the context of “has/have died” is “muerto”.  The one phrase that always jumps into my mind regarding this last word is the announcement made on television by the then president of the Spanish government at the death of Franco “Españoles, Franco ha muerto” (Spaniards, or people of Spain, Franco has died).

This past participle is probably very recognisable to you as it has another very common usage, that is as the adjective “dead”.  With this meaning the word is usually accompanied by the verb “estar” “Mi padre está muerto” (My father is dead) and also, being an adjective it’s ending can have four changes to agree with masculine, feminine, singular and plural (muerto, muerta, muertos, muertas).

As in English, we can also use the verb “to die” in a figurative sense, for example “I died of embarrassment” or “I nearly died when he told me that”.  Spanish deals with this by making the verb reflexive “morirse”.  “Morirse de vergüenza” means “to die of embarrassment”  “Cuando vi la foto me morí de vergüenza” (When I saw the photo I died of embarrassment).  Sometimes when someone is laughing a lot they might exclaim “¡Me muero!” (I’m dying!).  Remember in English we talk about “killing ourselves laughing”.  We can also say “nos morimos de hambre” (we’re dying of hunger) or “se muere por ir al concierto” (He’s dying to go to the concert).

Other words that are derivative of “morir” are “moribundo” (moribund, dying or almost dead) and one of the words for mortuary is “mortuorio” although it is more usual in Spain to use the word “morgue” for mortuary and “tanatorio” for what we rather prissily call a “funeral parlour”. It is interesting to note once more that formal vocabulary in English comes from Latin and is therefore more similar to Spanish, whereas “dead” is a straightforward Anglo-Saxon word of Germanic origin.

Finally, on this rather dismal subject, sometimes people want a softer word than “morir” to express their loss, and whilst Spanish is a more direct language in general, there is a synonym “fallecer” which has a slightly gentler sound.  “Mi marido ha fallecido” (My husband has passed away).

Posted by: janecronin | June 2, 2019


The literal meaning of “sonar” is “to sound” although it has quite a few alternative meanings that are expressed differently in English.   First of all we should note that “sonar” is an “o” to ue” root changing verb which means that the present tense conjugation is “sueno, suenas, suena, sonamos, sonáis, suenan”.  In all other tenses – apart from the present subjunctive which also contains the change of root – “sonar” acts like every other regular verb with no peculiarities.

By far the most commonly used form of this verb is the “third-person singular” “suena”.   Apart from “he or she sounds” it also means “it sounds” and is therefore applicable in all sorts of contexts.  For example – “suena el timbre” (the bell rings) “suena la música” (the music plays) “suena la campana” (the bell rings).  In English we have a saying which is “it rings a bell” when we are trying to recall something at the back of our minds.  In Spanish we say “me suena” which literally means something like “it rings to me”, but is used in exactly the same context as “it rings a bell”.

As you know Spanish is a phonetic language, which means that you can pretty well work out how to spell a word from the way it sounds.  Years ago when I had an English academy in the north of Spain I sometimes had to write down some unfamiliar sounding surnames, particularly as it was quite near the Basque country.  When I asked the question: “¿Cómo se escribe tu apellido?” (How do you spell your surname?) I quite often got the reply “como suena” (as it sounds) which was singularly unhelpful to me at the time!  The only way I could cope with that was to ask them to repeat it slowly and then show them what I’d written to make sure!

We can also say that something sounds good – “suena bien”; sounds bad – “suena mal” or sounds interesting – “suena interesante” in all the same ways as we would use these expressions in English. Another use of “sonar” is the reflexive form in the expression “sonarse la nariz” which means “to blow your nose”.  Given that this is often quite a noisy activity, I think it’s a good way of describing it.

We can form a negative adjective from “sonar” which is “malsonante” (rude, vulgar).  The positive equivalent which is used less commonly is “bien sonado” (good sounding).  There are a number of words that contain the syllable “son” which are to do with sound, such as “consonante” (consonant) and “asonante” (assonant) which is a form of rhyme where the vowels coincide but the consonants do not, such as in “meet” and “keep”.

Finally, I think it is important to point out that “sonar” is not the same verb as “soñar” which means “to dream”.  They are completely different verbs with a completely different spelling, since the letter “ñ” is not the same as the letter “n”, a fact which people are inclined to forget!

Posted by: janecronin | May 26, 2019


“Respirar” means “to breathe” and although these two words are completely different from each other, we will almost certainly recognise the meaning of the Spanish word from “respiratory” problems in English.  This is yet another example of the many we have seen in these articles, of a more technical or, in this case, medical word being closer to the Spanish, on account of its Latin origin.  You may have been instructed to “respira hondo” (breathe deeply) by a Spanish doctor as he or she listens to your chest through a stethoscope.  We also have the word “respiración” (breathing) “respiratorio” (respiratory) and a “respirador” which is actually an inhaler.

“Respirar” shares a root with a whole series of other verbs, all with similar or inter-connected meanings and with many echoes in English.  First in the list is “inspirar”.  As you can deduce from the prefix “in-“ the basic meaning of this verb is “to breathe in”.  However, in Spanish it also has the same meaning as in English; that is “to inspire”.  I think that gives a wonderful graphic image of what inspiration really is: something one receives from some outside metaphysical or spiritual source.  From this of course we also have the noun “inspiración” which means the same as “inspiration” in English.

If “inspirar” is to breathe in, then logic should lead us to the verb meaning “to breathe out”, which is in fact “expirar”.  This is interesting in that the English false friend “expire” means “to die” (to breathe one´s last, perhaps) and by extension “to run out” in the sense of passing one´s validity or “sell-by date”.  The Spanish have a much better, single verb for this as well which is “caducar”.

You might be forgiven for thinking that that is the end of all the “–spirar” verbs, but in fact, there are at least three more.  Next comes “aspirar” which has two main meanings: one is to “breathe in” or “inhale” in the same way as “inspirar”.  From this verb we get the word for a “vacuum cleaner” which is “aspiradora” (the breather-inner!)   However, “aspirar” also means the same as its counterpart in English “to aspire”.  “Aspiro a ser una actriz famosa, algún día” (I aspire to be a famous actress one day).

Still on the theme of breathing, we have “suspirar” which means “to sigh”.  The prefix “sus” is sometimes used to mean something that is low or hidden, so “suspirar” literally means to breathe in a quiet, hidden way, which is what sighs often are.  The noun of this verb is “suspiro” (a sigh) which is also the name of a very nice small cake made of meringue.

Finally, we have a surprising addition to our list: “conspirar”.  This means exactly the same as the English “to conspire” which begs the question as to how this verb came about, as it looks as though it means “to breathe together”.  I suppose that is what a real conspiracy is like.

Posted by: janecronin | May 19, 2019


“Suprimir” has a direct equivalent in the English language, which is the verb “to suppress” and, as often happens with words of a Latin origin, we can use our knowledge of English to deduce the meaning in Spanish.  Again as often happens, “suprimir” not only means to “suppress” but also has a more everyday meaning.  If you happen to have a Spanish keyboard on your computer you will have noticed (and if you haven´t, have a look now) that there is a key marked “supr”, which stands for “suprimir” and therefore means “delete”.  I have chosen this verb to talk about, not so much for its meaning or grammar, both of which are straightforward, but mainly because it has the same root as a whole range of other verbs, all of which are useful in their own way.  Actually, I have found six more related verbs, but am open to suggestion if there are more.  These are: “oprimir”, “imprimir”, “reprimir”, “deprimir”, “exprimir” and “comprimir”.

In the same way as “suprimir”, “oprimir” has a predictable translation in English, namely “to oppress”.  The noun from this verb is also very common “opresión”.  Notice that in English this word doubles two letters – oppression.  In Spanish, we don´t double letters unless we have a good reason to do so.  A good reason is when we actually pronounce the letter twice, or give it a stronger value as with the double “rr”.

Using the same logic as in the previous two examples, we would expect “imprimir” to mean “to impress”, but in fact it means “to print”.  Obviously these ideas are closely related, but in modern Spanish, “to impress” in the psychological sense (e.g. “His CV impressed us”) is “impresionar” and  something that is “impressive” is “impresionante”.  However, returning to “imprimir” we have the related noun “impresora” which means “printer” and a printed document or form is sometimes called “un impreso” which could also be translated as “print-out”.

“Reprimir” is to “repress” and the adjective “represivo” and the noun “represión” speaks for themselves.   We sometimes use this group of words in a political context – “una dictadura represiva” (a repressive dictatorship).  You may well have never associated these ideas with “deprimir” (to depress) but it also has the same root meaning of crushing or pressing something down.  In the case of “depresión” we usually refer to a mental state, although we can also talk about “una depresión” as a dip or hollow in a landscape.  There are three adjectives from “deprimir” namely “depresivo” (depressive); “deprimente” (depressing) and “deprimido” (depressed).

“Exprimir” means to “squeeze out” such as juice from a lemon.   Interesting though there are other words which must have been related originally, such as “expresar” (to express).  “Expresión” therefore means the same as “expression” in English, and has nothing to do with squeezing oranges.  Finally, “comprimir” (to compress).  The context in which I have seen this most often is in tablets from the chemist which are called “comprimidos” and are made of compressed powder.

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