Posted by: janecronin | December 30, 2018


The verb “sentir” means “to feel” and has a few different uses.  First of all, we need to know that it is a root-changing “e to ie” verb, so in the present tense it changes to “siento” (I feel) “sientes” (you feel) “siente” (he, she feels) and “sienten” (they feel), reverting back to the single root vowel in “sentimos” (we feel) and “sentís” (plural you feel).  This particular verb also changes its root to a single “i” in the gerund form “sintiendo” (feeling) and third persons singular and plural in the preterite tense “sintió”  (he, she felt) and “sintieron” (they felt).  Just to complete the picture, this latter verb gives us the basis of the imperfect subjunctive “sintiera”.  We mustn´t confuse this verb with “sentar” which occasionally coincides in form (e.g. “siento” I sit) but in most cases doesn´t, and in any case is easily distinguishable from the context.

The most well-known use of this verb is in the phrase “lo siento” which we all faithfully learn to mean “I’m sorry”.  The literal meaning is “I feel it” and should only be used when we wish to make a genuine apology for something that has affected another person in a negative way, or as a phrase that expresses empathy with someone else’s discomfort or misfortune.   In other words, the British habit of say “sorry” just because we’ve stood in someone’s way for 3 seconds should not be a reason to say “lo siento”.  “Perdón” is all you need, and in the 3 second situation, nothing at all.

“Sentir” is often found in its reflexive form.  This also means “to feel” but refers to our inner feelings, such as happiness or anger, rather than something external.  In other words “siento tu pena” (I feel, that is I’m sorry about, your pain) whereas “me siento triste” (I feel sad).  One of my students was commenting the other day on how much watching adverts on television helps with her Spanish, and that took me right back to an advert I saw in my first year in Spain.  The advert was for a bedding company called Flex, and consisted of people bouncing around on beds with happy faces singing “hoy me siento Flex” (Flex obviously substituting feliz).  Just thought I’d mention it, because it is actually how I learned the meaning of “me siento”!

A derivative of “sentir” is the word “sentido” which as a noun means “sense”,( although it can also mean “direction”).   “Sentido” can also mean “heart-felt” as in the set phrase for giving condolences “Mi más sentido pésame” (My most heart-felt condolences).   We can say “no tiene sentido” if something has no sense, and a good sense of humour is “un buen sentido del humor”.   The translation of Jane Austen’s novel “Sense and Sensibility” is “Sentido y sensibilidad”.

Another noun from the same root is “sensación” meaning “feeling” or “sensation” and if you think back to the last great concert or show you went to, you might want to say that it was “sensacional”.

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