Posted by: janecronin | May 13, 2018


The best verb to use when talking about our understanding (or lack of it) in Spanish is “entender”.  This goes against what a lot of English speakers like to think, as they find the verb “comprender” easier to remember.  This is obviously because “comprender” is similar to the English word “comprehend” but in fact, when we’re talking about understanding the spoken or written word, rather than a situation, “entender” is used more commonly.

“Entender” is a root changing verb, which means that in the present tense, and by extension the present subjunctive, the second “e” changes to “ie” in four of its six forms.  Therefore “I understand” is “entiendo” (and “I don´t understand” is “no entiendo”).  In all other tenses and forms “entender” is a completely regular, standard verb.

Going back to the general tendency to use the phrase “no comprendo” or even “no comprende” for “I don´t understand”, I have a cautionary tale for you.  It is quite likely that a Spanish person who is explaining a situation to you – why your car hasn´t been fixed because the parts are still on order but yesterday was a bank holiday in Madrid, for example – that the explanation is completed with a questioning “¿Comprende?”  This means “(Do) you understand?”  (and not “I understand).  I think this is what some people pounce on as a word they can use in all situations.  A while ago I was told the story of some well-meaning expat whose car was stopped by the Guardia Civil.  In response to whatever the policeman said to the driver, he replied with “No comprende”, which he thought meant “I don´t understand” but in actually fact meant “You don´t understand, or comprehend”.  Apparently the Guardia reacted rather badly, which I think you’ll agree is a situation to be avoided.

A useful phrase that means “as far as I understand it” is “a mi entender” (literally – to my understanding).  However, when we try to reach a mutual understanding with someone, we refer to this as an “entendimiento”.   We can also use the reflexive verb “entenderse” in this context.  For example:  “No pude entenderme con mi vecino” (I couldn´t reach an understanding with my neighbour).  To make yourself understood is “hacerse entender”.  There is also a common phrase “dar a entender” which means “to give the impression” or “to lead (someone) to believe”.  The phrase literally translates as “to give to understand” and is therefore a good illustration of how tricky translation can be sometimes!

The opposite of “entender” is “malentender” (to misunderstand – or literally, to understand badly) and as in the above Guardia Civil story, we should always try to avoid “malentendidos” (misunderstandings).  At the end of an explanation, when you want to let someone know that you have actually understood what they have told you, you can say “entendido” (understood!)   However, if you haven´t got a clue what they are talking about you can always say “No entiendo nada” (I don´t understand anything).

Posted by: janecronin | May 6, 2018


I can hardly believe that I haven´t written about “tomar” yet.   It is such a useful verb for so many simple everyday activities, although it tends to be tricky for us because it has so many possible applications.  If you look up “tomar” in the dictionary, you will find that the first translation is “take”.  Well, that seems simple enough until we think about what “take” means in English.  There is “take” as in taking a leaflet, a coffee, the bus or your time.  All of these can be expressed with the word “tomar”.  However, In English we can also “take” as in to move something or someone to another place.  For example, we take a friend to the airport or take the cat to the vet.  In that case “take” is expressed by the verb “llevar”.

“Tomar” is also the general verb used for “taking” as in eating and drinking.  There is a cultural element to this since in Spain, as I am sure you know, as it is extremely common to go to bars and cafés and “have” something with friends.  This could range from a drink, a snack or a meal, but in a rather random, casual way as part of a social, often spontaneous, occasion.  The Spanish refer to this as “tomar algo” (to have, or to take something) where each person feels free to eat or drink according to their inclination, since the most important thing is not the food or drink itself but the shared event.  That is why a waiter may say to you “¿Qué va a tomar?” which in English is the equivalent of “What will you have?”  The same question might be asked of you by a friend who has just invited you to “tomar algo” with him or her.  In that case: “¿Qué va a tomar?” might imply that your friend is “inviting” you (invitar), in other words that he or she is offering to pay at the end.

There are quite a lot of idiomatic uses of “tomar”.  A frequently used one is “tomar el pelo” which means to “pull someone’s leg”.  The literal translation is “to pull the hair” but if you think that is peculiar, pulling people’s legs is hardly a normal activity either.  Another popular phrase is “tomar el sol” which means “to sunbathe”.  We can also “tomar una decisión” which is to take, or to make, a decision.  “Tomar en cuenta” is “to take into account” and “tomar en serio” is “to take seriously”.

As you know, everyday Spanish is a lot more direct than English, and it is not uncommon to here “toma” (Take!) when someone hands you something.  A slightly more formal version of this is “tome”.    If you hear someone shouting “toma” in an excited manner whilst watching a football match, then perhaps a better translation is “take that!”

Posted by: janecronin | April 29, 2018


“Sacar” is one of those verbs that Spanish language learners tend to overlook even though it is very commonly used.  Its basic meaning is “to take out” as in: “Sacó algo de la bolsa” (He took something out of the bag).  It also has one or two other meanings which we will look at later.

As verbs go, we have another standard, regular one on our hands.  None of the tenses are irregular; neither does it have any root changes or odd first person singular.  The only thing that is worthy of note about its formation is the thing I often point out, which is what I call a “spelling adjustment”.  This is when the spelling changes to keep the sound of the verb regular, and is a very common phenomenon in Spanish.  As with other verbs that have “c” or “g” at the end of the root, we have to adjust the spelling when the following vowel makes it necessary.  The sound of the “c” throughout all the forms of this verb sounds like a “k”.  However, if we keep the “c” spelling when the next letter is an “e”, in Spanish phonetic terms we have turned the “c” into a “th” sound (as “c” followed by “e” is pronounced “th”).  So, in those positions we have to change the “c” to a “qu” to keep the correct phonetic spelling.  That’s such a long-winded explanation, but I do hope you understand what I mean!  This happens in the first person singular of the preterite tense which is spelt “saqué” and also in the present subjunctive.  I think I’ve said enough about that for now.

Moving on to expressions which use “sacar” we have “sacar a la luz” which is to bring something to light.  When people talk about their struggle to bring up a family or bring a project into fruition, they often use the phrase “sacar adelante” which has the idea of moving forward, but with considerable effort.  When school children get their exam marks they use the same verb, as they “sacar buenas notas” (get good marks) or they might ask their friends “¿Qué sacaste en el examen?” (What mark did you get in the exam?”

When something drives us mad or makes us furious we say “me saca de quicio”.  “Quicio” is a window or door frame, so I think the idea is that something is so disturbing or annoying that it pulls the door right away from its frame; something like that, anyway.  We also “sacar fotos” (take photos) and in your home you almost certainly have a “sacacorchos” (bottle opener) and a “sacapuntas” (pencil sharpener).  Finally, for all you football fans, a “corner” kick, which is sometimes referred to with the English word “corner” is also called a “saque de esquina”, “saque” being a derivative of “sacar” and for which I can´t think of a translation other than the “getting out” of the corner.

Posted by: janecronin | April 22, 2018


If you have lived in Spain for any length of time you will surely be familiar with the verb “pagar” (to pay).  When you wish to pay for a drink or meal there are a number of possible phrases but one you can add to the list is: “Quiero pagar” (I want to pay).   Just to digress even before I get started, the most commonly known phrase amongst foreigners is “La cuenta, por favor” (The bill please) but another very useful one when only a few items are involved is “¿me cobra?” (Will you charge me? i.e. take my money) or “cóbrame por favor” (Charge me please).  These two variations are the quickest and most direct ways of paying at the bar, without having to wait around for half an hour.  Try it: you should be pleasantly surprised.

As for the verb itself, it is a standard, regular verb.  Like other verbs which have the letter “g” at the end of the root, you sometimes have to vary the spelling slightly to keep it in line with the pronunciation.  The letter “g” has a soft throat sound (like the Scottish “loch”) when it appears before an “e” or an “i”, but it needs to keep its hard “g” sound  in all the different forms of “pagar”.  This means that, for example, the past tense “I paid” is spelt “pagué”.  The “u” here is silent and has been added to keep the “g” sounding hard.  Apart from that and a couple of other places where the same thing happens, “pagar” is a remarkably ordinary verb.

When money is being exchanged in Spain in other contexts, you may come across some other forms of “pagar”.  One is when a bill is stamped or marked as “paid”, in which case the word is “pagado”.  Another system that still works here, but less so in the age of plastic, is the use of a “pagaré”.  This is a type of cheque which has a future date on it, before which it will not be honoured.  “Pagaré” in this case has a literal meaning “I will pay”.  The noun from “pagar” is “pago” (payment) and you may also notice on bills a section where it says “forma de pago” (payment method).

Earlier on this year I came across an interesting word: “sinpa” or “simpa”.  It is an abbreviation of “sin pagar” (without paying) and refers to the situation when people eat and drink at a bar and then walk off without paying.  We’ve all done this once or twice by mistake, but hopefully not deliberately.  The case which I read about in the press was an entire first communion party of about 60 people who had a whole banquet with drinks galore and then all got up and walked out together.  The restaurant owner was naturally distraught, and I think he will be asking for money up front in future.

Posted by: janecronin | April 15, 2018


“Conducir” means “to drive” and comes from the same root as our English word “conduct” although of course it has a different meaning.  “Conducir” is a regular verb in all but one tense, namely the Preterite, or past simple.  In that tense its forms are:  “conduje” (I drove); “condujiste” (you drove) “condujo” (he or she drove); “condujimos” (we drove); “condujisteis” (you drove, plural); “condujeron” (they drove).    Most of the irregular verbs in this tense are rather common ones like “go” “put” and “have” so an irregular “conducir” can come as a surprise.  You may be aware that there is an English football commentator who works on the Spanish media by the name of Michael Robinson.  His Spanish is very fluent but he does make some choice mistakes from time to time and gets his leg pulled for them.  The other day on the radio he said: “conducí” instead of “conduje” for “I drove”.  I just thought you might like to know that even the great have their moments of weakness when it comes to irregular verbs.

Apart from that, the first person singular in the present tense has that lovely form “conduzco” (I drive) where the “z” (which sounds like our “th”) and the “c” (which sounds like our “k”) get put together, so that the  sound is “conduthko”.  There are a few other verbs whose infinitive ends in “cer” or “cir” that do the same thing.  I call them “committee” verbs because I always imagine that the spelling could just as easily have been “conduzo” or “conduco” but it was put to a special verb committee and there was no casting vote that day so they just decided to stick both sounds together.  Please don´t take any notice of this theory, I just have to amuse myself somehow.

So, you may or may not be surprised to know that the word for “driver” in Spanish is “conductor” and a female driver a “conductora”.  This is completely logical if you think about it, and I don´t know why we gave that word to those people who used to walk up and down buses selling tickets.  In English we also use the word “conductor” to describe someone who leads an orchestra but in Spanish that person is a “director” or “directora” as they “direct” (dirigir) the orchestra.

When we use the verb “conducir” in speech we should be careful not to translate one of our English peculiarities into literal Spanish as it will not make sense.  We say “I’ll drive you to the airport” or “He drove his friend to the station”.   In Spanish we drive cars, buses, lorries and taxis but we don´t drive people, instead we say “llevar (en coche)”. So these sentences would be “Te llevo al aeropuerto” and “Llevó a sus amigos a la estación”.  We only need to add “en coche” if there is any kind of doubt about the form of transport being used.

Posted by: janecronin | April 8, 2018


“Contar” is a verb with three distinct meanings.  The first is “to count” as in one, two, three, the second contains the idea of “depend” as in the phrase “cuenta conmigo” (count on me) and the third is to “recount” or “relate” something such as a story.  “Contar” is an “o to ue” root changing verb, which means that I count is “cuento” and the command “count!” is “cuenta”.

So, retuning to our three meanings: if you have ever said to your children or grandchildren “I’ll count up to three” to get them to clear up their toys and go upstairs to bed, well in Spanish you would say “cuento hasta tres”.  Irrespective of what might happen should you get to the number four, it is a ploy that works, sometimes.

For the second meaning, imagine that someone is asking for volunteers for a particular activity and you want to assure them that you will help out; you can say “cuenta conmigo” as mentioned above. In fact in some ways this is similar to the first meaning, because another way of translating it could be “count me in”.

The third use of “contar” as “to tell” or “to relate” has a lot of everyday applications.  If someone wanted to tell you something but was hesitating or waiting to be asked, you might want to encourage them by saying “cuéntame” (tell me).  This works in a similar way to “dime” (or the more formal “dígame”) but implies that you are expecting a more lengthy account rather than a short request or statement.  There is a long-running drama series on Spanish television TV1 called “Cuéntame Cómo Pasó” (Tell me How it Happened) which follows the story of a family throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s in Madrid.    The word for a tale is “cuento” and so a fairy story is a “cuento de hadas”.  A children’s story-teller is a “cuentacuentos” and you may come across these at events organised for children by your local town hall.

We have to return to the meaning of number counting for other derivatives of “contar”.  The one that all of us like is the “descuento” (discount) which comes from the same verb “contar” with the prefix “des-“, namely “descontar” (to discount).  A water or electricity meter is a “contador” (literally, a “counter”) and an accountant is a “contable”.  There’s also a famous cyclist called Alberto Contador but I don´t know whether his ancestors were money-counters or story-tellers.

We can use the past participle of “contar”, that is “contado”, which literally means “counted” in the same way we would use “numbered” in English.  In other words it can mean something rare or scarce.  There is a phrase “en contadas ocasiones” (on numbered, i.e. few occasions), and a common phrase is: “tiene los días contados” (his, her or its days are numbered).

Posted by: janecronin | April 1, 2018


“Correr” means “to run”.  It can also mean “to hurry up” as you often hear parents saying to their children when they want them to get a move on: “¡corre, corre!”  Grammatically speaking “correr” is a standard regular verb, so works in exactly the same way is “beber”, “comer” or whatever other verb you may have as a model.

Probably the biggest challenge with this verb for many English speakers is the pronunciation of the double ‘r’ in the middle.  When the letter ‘r’ appears at the beginning of a word or doubled in the middle of a word, it acquires the extra strong rolled ‘rrr’ which is so difficult for some of us to achieve.  Those who have the advantage in this game are the Scots, who also run ahead of us with the throaty “g” sound, not to mention those nice pure vowels.

A word you may not have identified as coming from “correr” is the word for post or mail, which is “correos”.  This does actually come from the same root and presumably goes back to the days when somebody did actually run with your letters.  It has the same root as the French “courir” from which we get the English word “courier”, which performs the same basic function as the post office.

In English of course we have other uses of the verb “run” which do not translate as “correr” in Spanish.  For example, we might “run” a company (dirigir), “run” a campaign (organizar) or “run” a car (mantener). We also have the strange habit of “running” water, whilst the Spanish “abrir el grifo” (open the tap), although they can also “dejar correr el agua” (allow the water to run) which amounts to the same thing, and is a little more logical, I think.

If you would like some idiomatic uses of “correr”, we do say “correr la voz” (to spread the word) and also “correr el riesgo” (to run the risk).  If we expand the verb with the prefix “re” to make “recorrer”, this means to travel around as in:  “Me gustaría recorrer toda España” (I would like to travel all round Spain).

Another word that is clearly linked to “correr” is the “corrida” which is the Spanish word for bull-fight.  If we connect it with the idea of running, then we would probably think of bull-running, but in actual fact “corrida” refers to the fight itself.  The word for the bull-running is “encierro” which means “enclosure” or “enclosing”, as the bulls were originally run from one enclosure to another.

Going back to the “mail” theme, the Spanish for “e-mail” is “correo electrónico”.  However, the vast majority of people nowadays use the English word “e-mail” imitating the English pronunciation of “mail” despite it not following Spanish phonetic rules.  I suppose that a few years down the line they will alter the spelling to “imeil” to complete the process of “españolización”.


Posted by: janecronin | March 25, 2018


“Volver” means “to return”.  It also means “to go back” and “to come back” which of course mean exactly the same thing anyway: just the English language complicating life again.  “Volver” is a root-changing verb, as “llover” was last week and a number of other verbs we have looked at.  These root-changing verbs (also called radical-changing and stem-changing) follow very consistent patterns and should never be regarded as irregular.  As we have also seen before, these root-changes occur in the present tense and by extension to the present subjunctive.  The present tense conjugation is therefore: Vuelvo (I return); vuelves (you return); vuelve (he,she,it returns, you return – formal), volvemos (we return); volvéis (you return – plural); vuelven (they return, you return –  formal plural).   Notice that the root change of “o” to “ue” always and only occurs in the same four positions.

Some people find the pronunciation of words like “vuelvo” difficult and that is usually because they trip up on the fact that the letter “v” and “b” is pronounced the same.  I spend my life telling people that this particular distinction is far less important that we English speakers presume, but I’m not sure whether anyone has yet believed me.  The Spanish ear tunes principally into the vowel sounds and a range of variations between what we regard as distinct “b” and “v” sounds are permitted without the meaning of the word being lost.  In addition, when this consonant appears at the beginning of a word and followed by a “u”, it tends to disappear anyway.  In other words, you could get away with saying something like “welvo” or “welbo” and be sufficiently clearly understood.

I concentrate on this particular word because it has a number of everyday practical uses.  If you go to a shop or office and find that the person you need is not there, you can say “vuelvo más tarde” (I’ll come back later) or “vuelvo mañana” (I’ll come back tomorrow) or you can ask “¿A qué hora vuelvo?” (What time shall I come back?)  Notice that the idea of “will” and “shall” in this type of situation is covered by using the present tense – literally “I come back” “What time do I come back?”

When you want to express the idea of “returning something” that is “to return” plus an object (e.g. a library book to the library), then you need the verb “devolver”.  It conjugates exactly like “volver” as it is the same word with the added prefix “de”.  So, “I return a book to the library” is “Devuelvo un libro a la biblioteca”.

Also derivative of “volver” is “revolver” which means “to stir” and is therefore a verb you will find in cooking instructions.   Scrambled egg is “revuelto” not to be confused with “revuelta” which means “riot”, which you hope doesn´t break out when you’re having your menu del día.


Posted by: janecronin | March 18, 2018


Just for a change we are going to look at a verb that only has one meaning: “llover” which means “to rain”. Tackling the grammar first, “llover” belongs to a group of verbs which are “root-changing”.  That means that in the present tense (and by extension in the present subjunctive as well) the root of the verb “llov” changes to “lluev” in four of its forms.  However, before we go any further, we have to stop and look at what we actually use this verb for.  Given that it means “to rain”, it makes absolutely no sense to conjugate “I rain”, “you rain” “he or she rains”, “we rain” “they rain”, as none of us “rains”.  So, in normal everyday language we only need one form of this verb – the third person singular “it rains” which is “llueve”.  Here is an example sentence which I think you can translate on your own: “En Inglaterra llueve mucho”.

In all other tenses, “llover” is a completely standard verb, so here are some examples:  “está lloviendo” (it is raining); “ha llovido” (it has rained); “lloverá” (it will rain); “llovió” (It rained); “llovía” (it rained, it used to rain, it was raining); “había llovido” (it had rained).  We could also include here the use of the infinitive as in the sentence “va a llover” (it´s going to rain).

Since I’ve already told you most of the different forms of “llover”, I might as well do the job properly and include the subjunctive.  If, for example, we want to say “I hope it doesn´t rain”, that would be “Espero que no llueva”.  Similarly “I don´t think it will rain” is “No creo que llueva”.  In both cases, we are expressing something speculative, with the most important idea of these sentences being our statements of hope or opinion, which means the verb goes into the subjunctive form.  It´s rather difficult to summarise the use of the subjunctive in one sentence, so I hope (!) you will bear with me.  The imperfect subjunctive of “llover” is “lloviera”, but I think that explaining its use in this article is a bridge too far.

The most important derivative of this verb is the noun “lluvia” meaning “rain”.  This kind of statement often leads to confusion for English speakers, because we use exactly the same word for the verb “to rain” and the noun “the rain”.  This phenomenon is extremely widespread in the English language, which means we are usually not even aware of which one we are using in a sentence.  This confusion is impossible in Spanish, because ending changes clearly indicate which category of word we are using.  So in the sentence: “Mira la lluvia” (Look at the rain) the verb is “mirar” and “lluvia” is the noun.

Finally, here´s a nice little saying with “llover”:  “Nunca llueve a gusto de todos” which literally means “It never rains to everyone’s taste” and is the equivalent of “You can´t please everybody”.

Posted by: janecronin | March 11, 2018


“Elegir” means “to choose” and is closely related to our own Latin-based word “to elect”.  “Choose” and “elect” basically mean the same thing, but in the English language we generally use words of Latin origin in more technical or official contexts, whilst their Anglo-Saxon counterparts,  in this case “choose” are assigned to more everyday functions.  In other words, we “elect” a Prime Minister but we “choose” a pudding, although you might think the reverse is true!  Spanish, once more, is simpler in this particular respect, and we use “elegir” for both functions.

This verb is what we call “root-changing” as in the present tense the letter “e” which falls before the ending (i.e. in this case the second “e”) changes to an “i” in the first, second and third persons singular and third person plural.  This change pattern in the present tense is the same for all root-changing verbs, and also works through to the present subjunctive.  This verb also belongs to a small group which make the same e to i alteration in the gerund form “eligiendo”  (choosing) and in the third person preterite forms “eligió” and “eligieron”.

Sorry if that makes no sense, but maybe one day it will!  There’s one more technical point about “elegir” which is actually more to do with pronunciation than grammar.  In a few forms, for example, the first person singular of the present tense, you would probably expect to see the spelling “eligo” for “I choose”.  However, with this spelling, the pronunciation of the letter “g” has gone from a soft throaty sound (which it makes when followed by e or i) to a hard sound.  Therefore, the spelling has to be altered to preserve the correct pronunciation, because Spanish is always spelt phonetically.  Therefore, “I choose” is spelt “elijo”.  Apologies once more if you haven´t understood that bit either, but it does actually illustrate a fundamental principle of written and spoken Spanish, so is well worth getting to grips with if you can.

As usual there are a number of words which derive from this verb “elegir”.  The most obvious one is “elección” (election).  When referring to political elections, the word is usually found in the plural “las elecciones generales” or “las elecciones municipales” (or regionales or europeas).  Otherwise, “elección” can just mean “choice”, as in what dishes you’ve chosen for your menu del día.  “El electorado” is the “electorate” and “electo” means “elected”.  This is the term used for the winner of an election before they take office – “el presidente electo” or “la presidenta electa”.

One more derivative of “elegir” which clearly connects with English is the adjective “elegible” (electable, that is, eligible).  There is also the noun “elegibilidad” which looks like a real mouthful in Spanish, but is the exact equivalent of “eligibility” in English.

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