Posted by: janecronin | July 31, 2011

Spanish/English translations – being “puntual”

This false friend thing is amazing.  The more you think you know, the more you find out, and some you just get to take for granted.  This is true of that pair of false friends “punctual” and “puntual”.  I was reminded of the difference today listening to a news report about “un problema puntual” which means an occasional, “one-off” problem.  “Puntual” in Spanish can also carry the same meaning as English, but is more often used to mean “occasional”.

The most common phrase I’ve heard referring to our idea of punctuality is “la puntualidad inglesa” which I get accused of displaying when I arrive only five minutes late for a meeting instead of the standard half an hour.


  1. We have a sort of sliding scale of words to do with time and punctuality. Ahora usually, but not always, means now, pronto means sometime this week and mañana means some time. Our favourite, which we’ve incorporated into our own conversations is that when we visit our friend by train in El Rebollar near Requena, we await the return train with trepidation – it’s always late because it comes from Madrid. The stationman always tells us, no matter how late it is, that it will be ‘cinco minutos. So if I tell my wife that dinner will be ready in cinco minutos, she knows it’s imminent but not quite yet (the latest the train has ever been is ninety minutes!).

  2. Yes! Akin to this is the sign on a locked shop door “Vuelvo en 5 minutos” (Back in five minutes) One near me I particularly appreciate is “Estoy en los bancos, vuelvo en 10 minutos” (I’m in the banks, I’ll be back in 10 minutes). I must ask next time which bank they go to!

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