Posted by: janecronin | May 20, 2018


As often happens when we translate words from one language to another, the verb “tocar” has more than one meaning.  The most obvious basic meaning is “to touch” and an example is the saying “toca madera” which means “touch wood” and is used in the same way as in English.  Another principle meaning of “tocar” is “to play” (an instrument or music).  “Tocar el piano” (to play the piano) or “Cuando era niña tocaba el violín” (when I was a child I played the violin).  That famous line from the film Casablanca “Play it, Sam” (she didn´t say “play it again, Sam” incidentally) is “tócala Sam”.   (The feminine pronoun “la” referring to the feminine word for song “canción”)

The conjugation of “tocar” is entirely regular and standard, although it is affected by the phenomenon I have pointed out before, since the root of the verb ends in the letter “c”.  This means that in any form where it is followed by the vowels “e” or “i” the letter “c” has to change to “qu” to keep the phonetic spelling of the hard “k” sound.  Therefore, for example, the first person singular of the preterite tense is spelt “toqué” (I touched, or I played).

Sometimes in shops or other public places you may see the sign “no tocar” which obviously means “do not touch”.   When we give orders in Spanish (the form we call imperative) the verb changes depending on whether we are addressing an individual or more than one person, whether we are being formal or informal and also whether the order is positive or negative.  On a sign to the general public therefore, as it is impossible to make all those decisions, it is quite common to use the infinitive (e.g. tocar) and have done with it.

Another very common use of “tocar” is also something that is hard to translate.  We use it when we are waiting in a queue and wish to say that is it our turn to be served.  The phrase to use is “me toca” which means “it’s my turn” but is literally translated as “it touches me”.  The same phrase can mean to win by chance, that is in a raffle or the lottery.  “Me ha tocado el gordo” is something I would love to say one day, as long as it means “I’ve won on the Christmas lottery” and not “the fat man has touched me”.

The noun from “tocar” is “toque”.  We can use it to mean a short phone call, like “a ring”. “Dame un toque cuando llegues” (Give me a ring when you arrive).  It also means a “touch” in the sense of a “tap” or a “nudge”.  A “toque de atención” is a “call to attention” in the sense of a light reprimand or warning.   Interestingly the word for “curfew” in Spanish is “toque de queda”.  Hopefully you will never need to know that, but it’s always good to be prepared.


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