Posted by: janecronin | June 2, 2019


The literal meaning of “sonar” is “to sound” although it has quite a few alternative meanings that are expressed differently in English.   First of all we should note that “sonar” is an “o” to ue” root changing verb which means that the present tense conjugation is “sueno, suenas, suena, sonamos, sonáis, suenan”.  In all other tenses – apart from the present subjunctive which also contains the change of root – “sonar” acts like every other regular verb with no peculiarities.

By far the most commonly used form of this verb is the “third-person singular” “suena”.   Apart from “he or she sounds” it also means “it sounds” and is therefore applicable in all sorts of contexts.  For example – “suena el timbre” (the bell rings) “suena la música” (the music plays) “suena la campana” (the bell rings).  In English we have a saying which is “it rings a bell” when we are trying to recall something at the back of our minds.  In Spanish we say “me suena” which literally means something like “it rings to me”, but is used in exactly the same context as “it rings a bell”.

As you know Spanish is a phonetic language, which means that you can pretty well work out how to spell a word from the way it sounds.  Years ago when I had an English academy in the north of Spain I sometimes had to write down some unfamiliar sounding surnames, particularly as it was quite near the Basque country.  When I asked the question: “¿Cómo se escribe tu apellido?” (How do you spell your surname?) I quite often got the reply “como suena” (as it sounds) which was singularly unhelpful to me at the time!  The only way I could cope with that was to ask them to repeat it slowly and then show them what I’d written to make sure!

We can also say that something sounds good – “suena bien”; sounds bad – “suena mal” or sounds interesting – “suena interesante” in all the same ways as we would use these expressions in English. Another use of “sonar” is the reflexive form in the expression “sonarse la nariz” which means “to blow your nose”.  Given that this is often quite a noisy activity, I think it’s a good way of describing it.

We can form a negative adjective from “sonar” which is “malsonante” (rude, vulgar).  The positive equivalent which is used less commonly is “bien sonado” (good sounding).  There are a number of words that contain the syllable “son” which are to do with sound, such as “consonante” (consonant) and “asonante” (assonant) which is a form of rhyme where the vowels coincide but the consonants do not, such as in “meet” and “keep”.

Finally, I think it is important to point out that “sonar” is not the same verb as “soñar” which means “to dream”.  They are completely different verbs with a completely different spelling, since the letter “ñ” is not the same as the letter “n”, a fact which people are inclined to forget!

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