Posted by: janecronin | June 16, 2019

Understanding Word Families

This article is the final one of the series “One Verb at a Time” and next week we will be starting on something new.   Consequently, I thought it would be appropriate to summarise some of the things we have learnt in the course of the last two years since the series started.

The aspect that I have found most interesting as I have written these articles, and that I have most wanted to communicate, is the whole subject of “word families”.  These occur in all languages, but I think they are especially noticeable in Spanish where one verb can lead to a huge range of variations, all centred round the same basic meaning.  To give a simple example of what I mean – “cocinar” means “to cook” and from this we can see “cocina” (kitchen) “cocinero/a” (cook – that is the person), “cocinado” (cooked), “precocinado” (precooked).  On the same subject of food, we have “comer” (to eat), “comedor” (dining room), “comida” (meal, lunch, food), “comilón/comilona” (someone who likes eating a lot) and so on.

In some cases, the basic verb itself can be extended to provide us with a new verb, for example “dormir” (to sleep), “dormitar” (to doze); “morir” (to die) “mortificar” (to mortify); “jugar” (to play), “juguetear” (to play around, to toy).  In addition we have prefixes which alter the meaning of the verb.  As in English, the prefix “re-“ means to do something again, so “leer” (to read), “releer” (to reread); “escribir” (to write) “reescribir” (to rewrite).  This “re-“ prefix can sometimes intensify the meaning of a verb, for example “bajar” (to go down) “rebajar” (to reduce); “matar” (to kill) “rematar” (to finish off).  Other prefixes are “con-“(giving the idea of “with” or “joint”) while “des-“ implies the opposite of an original verb, as in “cubrir” (to cover), “descubrir” (to discover or uncover).  One more prefix is “pre-“ which means before, just as it does in English, so while  “ver” is “to see”, “prever” is to “foresee”;  “decir” is to say, so “predecir” is “to predict” (in order words, to say something previous to it happening).  The past participle of a verb can often be turned into an adjective, for example “cansar” (to tire), “cansado” (tired) and from adjectives we can make adverbs – “cansadamente” (tiredly, wearily).

There are multiple examples if these modified meanings, and once you start noticing them, they can open up a whole range of possibilities.  From the point of view of understanding Spanish, once you have identified the root meaning of a word and have some notion of how prefixes and different parts of speech work, you can work out a lot of meanings by guesswork.  Whenever you come across and new word, look at how it is made up and see if you can identify its basic area of meaning.  There are so many more things one could say, but I hope I have at least opened the door to understanding a little bit more about Spanish word families.


  1. I have been a follower of ‘Jane’ and admire the methods used . Wish the classes were nearer to Mijas

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