Posted by: janecronin | July 15, 2018


The verb “lavar” meaning “to wash” is about as regular a verb as you could ever hope to come across.  It has absolutely no peculiarities of any sort in the way it is spelt or conjugated, so for once we will just limit ourselves at looking when we use it and any interesting (or not so interesting) derivatives.

If what we are washing are things such as curtains, cars and floors or living creatures other than ourselves, such as children and pets, the simple verb “lavar” is all we need.  However, when we wash ourselves, or any particular part of ourselves, we have to use the reflexive version of “lavar” i.e. “lavarse” (to wash oneself).  This is how it works – to say “I wash my hands” in Spanish, I say “Me lavo las manos” (lit. I wash myself the hands).   Just to give you a few more examples “Wash your face” – “Lávate la cara” (lit. Wash yourself the face); “They have washed their feet” – “Se han lavado los pies” (lit. They have washed themselves the feet).

Here are another couple of examples which sound even stranger when translated literally – “lavarse la cabeza” (to wash one´s head – that is “hair”) and “lavarse los dientes” (to wash one’s teeth – that is “to clean”).  So, the sentence – “I can’t go out tonight, I have to wash my hair” takes on a whole new life: “No puedo salir esta noche, tengo que lavarme la cabeza” (I can´t go out tonight, I have to wash my head).  Similarly, “you should brush (or clean) your teeth after meals”, becomes “Debes lavarse los dientes después de las comidas”:  all very logical of course, just different.

There are a number of very familiar nouns that come from “lavar”.  The washing machine is “la lavadora”, the dishwasher is “el lavavajillas” (also more colloquially called “el lavaplatos”) and a car washing place or service is “el lavadero”.  A car wash is a “lavadero de coches” whilst those big automatic washing tunnels are called “tren de lavado” or “túnel de lavado” – “lavado” being the noun for “wash”.

The word for “laundry” in Spanish is “lavandería” and the old-fashioned figure of the “laundry maid” is “lavandera”.  The English word “laundry” is connected to the word “lavar” as they both are rooted in the Latin language. We can find the same root meaning in the English word “lavatory” which originally meant a “washing place” and was used as a euphemism.  The same can be said of the word “toilet, and in the old days ladies used to attend to their toilet, which did not mean that they went to clean the loo.

As you can see, I am running out of things to write about “lavar” as it is such a simple word to use.  I shall conclude by saying that only a few days ago I was in the Madrid district of “Lavapiés” which is quite a trendy area, even though it means “foot wash”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: