Posted by: janecronin | November 11, 2018


If you have ever trotted hopefully along to an exhibition or museum on a Monday morning in Spain looking forward to a bit of culture and entertainment only to be confronted with the ubiquitous sign “lunes cerrado” then you have come across the true meaning of the word “cerrar” which is of course “to close”.  You may go away disappointed, but at least you know when and where to avoid seeing the sign again.

“Cerrar” is what we call a root-changing verb of which we have already seen a number of examples.  In this case the change to the root, in the present tense, is from the letter “e” to “ie” in four out of the six forms.  In other words, “cierro” means “I close”; “cierras” means “you close”; “cierra” means “he or she closes” (or more formally “you close”) and “cierran” means “they close”.   The first and second persons plural keep the “e” root – “cerramos” (we close) and “cerráis” (plural – you close).  The verb “cerrar” is regular in all its other forms and the root change only comes back into play in the present subjunctive.

As well as meaning the kind of “close” we do to doors and cupboards, we can also use the verb in a similar, more figurative, way as we do in English.  We can say “cerrar un acuerdo” or “cerrar un trato” (to close a deal); or when a time period expires, for example for an application, we “cerrar el plazo”.

Curiously the Spanish do not have a specific word for “lock” and use the term “cerrar con llave” (lit. to close with a key).   However, if the door in question happens to have a bolt, we still use the verb “cerrar”, this time “cerrar con pestillo”.  “Cerrar” is used is a really logical way when referring to water taps.  Whereas in English we turn taps on and off, is Spanish we open (abrir) and close (cerrar) taps.  This could be useful to know if you ever have a plumber shouting instructions to you from the bathroom to the kitchen.

A word that derives from “cerrar” is “cerradura” which means a lock.  “Cerrojo” also exists as an alternative to “pestillo” (bolt).  A locksmith is a “cerrajero” (masculine) or “cerrajera” (feminine).  These are the people who cover entrance ways to apartment blocks with dozens of sticky adverts.  It seems that the locksmith business is highly competitive, and let’s face it, we’ve all needed them at least once.

Another verb that derives from “cerrar” using a prefix is “encerrar” (to enclose).  There is a saying which is the equivalent of when in English we say that something “smells a bit fishy”, that is, suspicious.  In Spanish we say “Aquí hay gato encerrado” (There’s a locked up cat here).  It doesn´t take too much imagination to understand where the saying comes from.    Both “cerrar” and “encerrar” can be used reflexively.  To write this article I have to “encerrarme” in my office once a week.

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