Posted by: janecronin | July 23, 2017


I started this series last week with the verb “aprender” (to learn) so it seems appropriate to look at the converse activity “enseñar” (to teach).    To the relief of those who find Spanish verbs intimidating, “enseñar” is another completely regular verb in all its manifestations.  In fact, nearly all verbs are regular, it’s just that some of the more common ones aren´t and sometimes we spend too much time worrying about irregularities.

As well as meaning “to teach”, “enseñar” also means “to show”.  If you think about it, these are two very closely related ideas, and at times they overlap in meaning in English.  For example, we would say “El professor enseña matematicas” (The teacher teaches maths) but “El professor enseña la respuesta” (The teacher shows, or demonstrates, the answer).  Clearly the two activities are very similar in reality.  We can use the verb “enseñar” as a command “show me”, for example: “Enséñame la respuesta” (show me the answer) or “enséñame cómo hacerlo” (show, or teach, me how to do it).  However, the meaning of “show” is not only related to a teaching context.  Somebody might “enseñar las piernas”  (show their legs) or “enseñar los músculos” (show their muscles) or a rather angry dog might “enseñar los dientes”  (show its teeth).

We talked last week about the process of learning (aprendizaje) and likewise “enseñar” has the noun form “enseñanza” which means “teaching”, which is also another word for “education” as in “la enseñanza de nuestros hijos” (our children’s education).   We also talk about “la enseñanza primaria” and “la enseñanza secundaria” (primary and secondary education).

One form of “enseñar”, called the past participle, is “enseñado” meaning “taught” or “trained”.  This is also used as an adjective, and changes to “enseñada” to describe a female.   In other words we may say that a child is “bien enseñado” “bien enseñada” (well-taught) or “mal  enseñado” “mal enseñada” (badly taught).   If we apply the same adjective to an animal, such as a dog, it would mean “well or badly trained”.

Part of the “enseñar” word family is the noun “enseña” which means “banner”, also linked to the related English word “ensign”.  No doubt “ensign” has come to English from Latin, via French, and its root idea is that an “ensign” is something that “shows” our allegiance to a particular group, army or family.

Whereas the word “aprender” gives us “aprendiz” (learner) the word for teacher is usually “profesor” or “profesora”.  Other words for teacher are “maestro” and “maestra” which apply to primary teachers and local village teachers, and another one, “docente” is a general word for someone involved in the teaching profession at any level.  The word “enseñante”, which represents “teacher” more literally, does exist, but is not used nearly so often.

Hopefully now you can use this verb with a little more understanding, and can avoid any danger of “enseñando tu ignorancia” (showing your ignorance) on the subject!


  1. Are you still getting emails at this address? Hope all is well Steve

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