Posted by: janecronin | January 28, 2018


This verb means “to look after” or “to care for”, and so is yet another example of a single word in Spanish needing at least two in English to give us the same meaning.  In terms of pronunciation, be careful not to confuse it with the word for town or city “ciudad”.  Notice that in “cuidar” the letter “u” follows the “c” so the pronunciation is like a “k”, whereas in the word “ciudad” the “c” is followed by an “i”, making the “c” sound like our English “th”.

There are no irregularities to the verb “cuidar”, which behaves like any common or garden –ar verb, such as hablar.  When we use it to mean “to look after” a person, it is normally followed by the word “a” as in “tengo que cuidar a mi madre” (I have to look after my mother) although it can also be followed by “de” – “cuidar de la casa y de la familia” (to care for the house and the family).  A third option to follow “cuidar” is “con” and this combination means “to be careful of” as in the ubiquitous sign “cuidado con el perro” (beware of the dog) which definitely does not mean “look after the dog”.

A nice thing to say to people is the equivalent of our “take care” which is “cuídate” literally “look after yourself”.  This is an imperative, that is, an order or instruction, and is based on the reflexive verb “cuidarse” (to look after oneself).  If you were worried about someone’s lack of care about themselves you might say “no se cuida nada” (he or she doesn´t look after himself – or herself – at all).

The past participle “cuidado” can also be used as a noun “care”.  The intensive care unit of a hospital is called the UCI (Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos).  When we want to warn someone to be careful we say “ten cuidado”.  We translate this as “be careful” but the literal translation is “have care”.  A person who is careful is described the adjective “cuidadoso” or “cuidadosa”

A compound of “cuidar” is “descuidar” which can mean “to neglect”, that is to lack care, but can also mean to be carefree.  “Un descuido” is the word given to an act of carelessness.  If you were to have a silly fall by putting a foot in the wrong place, you could call that “un descuido”, but we can also use this word in a positive sense.  If someone is anxious or concerned about something and we want to reassure them that all is in hand, we can say “descuida”, which is an alternative to “no te preocupes” and simply means “don´t worry”.

Just as someone careful is “una persona cuidadosa”, someone careless is “una persona  descuidada”.  Incidentally, notice in these two examples that the adjectives are feminine because they agree with the word “persona” (person) which is a feminine word, irrespective of the gender of the person being referred to.

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