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Lessons for topic Grammar


Dieciocho motivos pa' dejarte
Catorce consejos pa' olvidar
Quinientas razones para odiarte
Saco la cuenta, y a sumar...

[Captions 1-4, Ricardo Arjona > Quien]


Dejar(te), olvidar, odiar(te), sumar...
Songs sung in Spanish seem to contain a lot of verbs in the infinitive. Maybe that's because infinitives are so easy to rhyme -- since all end in either -ar, -er or -ir. But we digress. Among the new content on
Yabla Spanish, there's a song by Guatemalan Ricardo Arjona. In it, we heard so many infinitives that we pored over the grammar rules to make sure we struck the right note in our translations. Below we'll highlight some of what we found along the way.

First, let's look at the translation of the first four lines of Arjona's song:

Dieciocho motivos pa' dejarte
Catorce consejos pa' olvidar

Quinientas razones para odiarte
Saco la cuenta, y a sumar...

Eighteen reasons to leave you
Fourteen tips to forget
Five hundred reasons to hate you
I do the math, and I add...

[Captions 1-4, Ricardo Arjona > Quien]

What do all the infinitives in bold have in common? Ok, they are all -ar verbs. But what else? They are all preceded by a preposition -- specifically, para ("for, in order to") in the first three lines, and then "a" ("to"), above. As a rule, only the infinitive may follow prepositions in Spanish.

We've discussed the use of prepositions para and por (both meaning "for") before infinitives in
a past newsletter, if you'd like to review. (Loyal readers: Remember Chayenne's song "Por amor, por amar"?). With that concept already covered, let's move to the fourth line of our excerpt above.

Saco la cuenta, y a sumar...?" What does "a + infinitive mean? A ver ("Let's see") is the most famous example. You hear it all the time -- sometimes just to buy time in spoken Spanish. You also might hear ¡A bailar! ("Let's dance!") to get people going on the dance floor, or ¡A volar! ("Let's fly") at a graduation ceremony. It's one of the many ways to express a command in Spanish.

The a + infinitive construction in our new song by Arjona gave us a little pause, because translating
a sumar as "let's add" sounded a little funny in English... But if you realize the singer is, in a sense, urging himself to crunch the numbers, the meaning falls into place.

Later in the song, we hear this line, twice:

Saco la cuenta, y a restar...
"I do the math, and I subtract"
[Caption 28, Ricardo Arjona > Quien]

As you've probably noted, for the English captions in these lines, we ended up choosing to keep the subject -- "I" -- throughout the sentence. But students who understand that a sumar and a restar are commands issued by the singer to urge himself on will have a better understanding of what the lyrics intend to communicate.


Can you find some more lyrics by Ricardo Arjona that use the preposition + infinitive construction? Here are a couple lines we were humming:

Dejaste minas en la casa
con objetivos de matar

"You left mines in the house
with the objective of killing
[Caption 33, Ricardo Arjona > Quien]

[Want a refresher on the other uses of the infinitives? has some nice explanations of infinitives in Spanish here]

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Se + Verb: De-emphasizing the subject

From a kitchen in Puerto Escondido (Oaxaca, México), we learn in Spanish about making refried beans -- two useful lessons wrapped up in one video. Note that we're not just talking about refried beans and rice: These onion-y beans can be served with bread, tortillas, cheese, scrambled eggs, sausage, nothing, everything... the sky's the limit. In sum, we hear, as a general rule:

Bueno... se puede variar con todo lo que... lo que se le antoje.
"Well... you can vary it with everything that... that you wish."
[Caption 22, Desayuno Puerto Escondido > Frijoles refritos]


Those of you following the subtitles word for word may wonder why we chose to translate se puede as "you can." Here, "you" is really an impersonal, general subject; it could also be translated as "one can." You see, in Spanish, the construction se + a verb in the third person (singular or plural) is commonly used to deemphasize the subject. Here are a few examples:

Se habla español aquí
"Spanish is spoken here"

Se come bien en esta cuidad

" People eat well in this city"

¿Cómo se dice "Formula One" en español?
"How do you say "Formula One" in Spanish?"

As you can see in the above examples, the "se + verb" construction can be translated into English in a few ways: (1) With a passive construction; (2) using "people" or "one" as the unspecified subject; or (3) using "you" as the subject, but in an impersonal, generalized sense. The third choice -- "you" -- seemed like the most appropriate translation for our refried bean recipe.


Native English speakers, if they directly mirror the English passive voice, can come up with unnatural Spanish phrases. Instead they need to accustom themselves to the Pasiva con "se."

"Cars are repaired in two days."
Los autos son reparados en dos días. [Not natural in Spanish]
Se reparan autos en dos días. [Natural in Spanish]

"This bill is being discussed in the Congress."
Este proyecto de ley está siendo tratado en el Congreso.
[Not natural]
Este proyecto de ley se está tratando en el congreso. [Natural]

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Dicho: Better said and done

Just a few moments later in the Oreiro interview, Natalia Oreiro's father corrects himself with the phrase mejor dicho, which can be translated as "better said" or "rather." Note that dicho ("said") is the past participle of the irregular verb decir ("to say"). We also hear dicho in our interview with the co-founder of Tu Rock es Votar Armando David. Armando says dicho y hecho ("said and done").


Looking around at other dicho sayings, we found the catchy:

Del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho.
"From the saying to the deed, there's a big distance."
(or "Easier said than done.")

By the way, another definition for dicho actually is "saying," as we noted in passing in this space, just a few weeks ago

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Veintiún: Don't stress--it's called "apocope"

One of the very first things a student of Spanish or any language learns is how to count. So, what comes after veinte (twenty)? Veintiuno! (Twenty-one!) Simple, right? So listen to this young man from Mexico introduce himself in front of the video camera:

Hola, ¿cómo están? Mi nombre es David de Valle. Tengo veintiún años y soy estudiante de negocios internacionales.
"Hi, how are you? My name is David de Valle. I'm twenty-one years old and I'm a student of international business."
[Captions 1-2, Amigos D.F. > Consejos para la calle]

So where did the 'o' at the end of veintiuno go? As it turns out, "veintiuno" is on a short list of Spanish words that lose their last, unstressed syllable when they come before certain nouns. [To get technical, we're talking about "apocope," (apócope in Spanish) defined as "the loss of one or more sounds or letters at the end of a word" (Merriam-Webster).]


Remember, when nothing follows the number 21, every syllable is pronounced:

¿Cuántos años tiene David?
How old is David?

But when 21 is followed by a masculine noun or feminine noun that begins with a stressed "a" or a stressed "ha" sound -- it loses that final "o" and an accent mark is added to keep the stress on the "ú." For example:

David tiene veintiún años.
"David is twenty-one years old."

El pobrecito tiene veintiún granos.
"The poor kid has twenty-one pimples."

La caja tiene veintiún hachas.
"The box has twenty-one axes."

When 21 is followed by a feminine noun that does not begin with a stressed "a" or "ha" sound, the final "o" in veintiuno becomes an "a," giving us veintiuna, for example veintiuna chicas (twenty-one girls) or veintiuna sillas (twenty-one chairs).

El libro tiene veintiuna páginas.
"The book has twenty-one pages."

[Note: It is not at all uncommon to hear this rule as it pertains to feminine nouns being "broken" by native Spanish speakers. For example, the Spanish pop group "21 Japonesas" (21 Japanese Girls) is often called "Veintiún Japonesas" by broadcasters, much to the dismay of language


The number "one" ("uno") and any other number that ends with "one" follows the same pattern, so it's "ochenta y uno without a noun following the number, but ochenta y un años or ochenta y una reglas ("eighty-one rules"). [Note that no accent mark is needed for the u in un since there could be no confusion regarding which syllable to stress in the one syllable word.]

Other common words that drop endings before certain nouns include "ciento -> cien" ("100"), "bueno -> buen" ("good"), and "santo -> san" ("saint"). There are more extensive lists of apocopes in Spanish
here and here.

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Lo: The Neuter Gender

Did you wonder why it's "lo mismo" and not "el mismo" or "la misma" in our examples above? The answer is that "lo" is the neuter article in Spanish and it is used to stand in for an abstract idea, concept, category or quality--in other words, something that's not a concrete object or person. One way to translate it is as "thing" -- but sometimes there's no easy translation.


Here are some more phrases that take "lo" before an adjective:

lo bueno = "the good part, what's good"
lo fácil = "the easy part, what's easy"
lo important es que... = "the important thing is that..."

lo mío = "(that which is) mine"
lo nuestro = "(that which is) ours"
lo más = "the most"
-- as in LoMásTv, of course!

Let's look at the refrain once more (with "lo" as our focus):

No es lo mismo una sospecha que saberlo de verdad.
No es saberlo de verdad lo mismo que una sospecha.

"A suspicion isn't the same [thing] as knowing it for sure.
Knowing it for sure isn't the same
[thing] as a suspicion."

[Captions 7-8, 9-10, etc., Circo > La Sospecha]

Now, you've noted that "lo" is standing in for something unknown in this song -- something that's neither masculine nor feminine per se. When "lo" appears before an adjective or adverb, it's easy to recognize as neuter. But, to complicate matters, "lo" can also be a masculine direct object -- as in, "Lo vi" ("I saw him"). The only way to straighten out whether "lo" is a masculine or neuter object in a sentence is via the context.

In our Circo song lyrics, the second "lo" (-- "saberlo") also stands in for something undefined. As the direct object of a verb, lo works in a similar way in these common phrases:

Lo siento = "Sorry" (or, literally, "I feel it")
No lo sabía = "I didn't know [it]"
No quiero saberlo = "I don't want to know [it]"

For more on the neuter, see > Spanish language >
The neuter gender in Spanish


When we premiered the spacy music video Bienvenido by Sizu Yantra several months ago, we received this letter:

If someone had asked me to translate "if you find the world sickly" I might have come up with "si el mundo tú encuentras enfermizo"... could someone explain why the "lo" is in there? --DonJorge, San Mateo, CA

si al mundo lo encuentras enfermizo...
"if you find the world sickly..."
[Caption 2, Sizu Yantra > Bienvenido

When lo is not busy working as a neuter article (e.g. lo importante, "the important thing/what's important"), or as an "undefined" neuter direct object (e.g. No puedo creerlo, "I can't believe it"), lo can also be found serving duty as the masculine singular direct object pronoun, just as la does as the feminine singular direct object pronoun.

¿Dónde encontraste el perro?
Lo encontré en la calle.

"Where did you find the dog?
I found it on the street.

¿Desde cuándo has querido a María?
Siempre la he querido.

Since when have you loved Maria?
I have always loved her.

¿Quien rompió la mesa?
Juan la rompío.

"Who broke the table?
Juan broke it."

As you can see, when we mention the direct object by name (e.g., el perro), it comes after the verb. When we replace it, the direct object pronoun (such as lo, or la) comes before the verb.

However, it is permissible in Spanish to mention your direct object by name AND put it before the verb, but if you do this you must include both the object and its pronoun. When we do this we provide more emphasis to the direct object, as Sizu Yantra emphasizes "el mundo" in the example above.



Al perro lo encontré en la calle.
"I found the dog in the street."

La mesa la rompió Juan.
"Juan broke the table."

Now's a good time to go back and take another listen to Bienvenido by Sizu Yantra! (it's in the "Music Videos" section)


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Estudiastes: A heated debate

In Part 2 of our chat with Arturo Vega, artistic director of The Ramones, the interviewer asks:

¿Entonces tú estudiastes esto? ¿Estudiastes este arte o eso ya fue algo que tú...?
"Then did you study this? Did you study this art or was it already something that you...?"

[Captions 33-34, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]


If you've studied basic Spanish grammar, you've probably learned that the correct second-person preterite of estudiar (a regular, -ar verb) is () estudiaste without a final 's.' So what was the interviewer saying -- not once but twice? Was she so tongue-tied in the presence of Vega that she can't speak her own language without adding stray s's? Or is it simply a manner of speaking that you don't come across in textbooks?

Elsewhere in the interview, we
heard the same -astes ending on another -ar verb:

...cómo tú desarrollastes tu... tu... tu trabajo.
" you developed your... your... your work."
[Captions 5-6, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]

(Use the "slow" button on the Yabla player and you'll hear that there's no mistaking that there is a final 's' there.)

After asking around (and browsing online), we found that some Spanish speakers in many countries (Spain included) do indeed say () estudiastes, even though it's considered improper. People also say things like "() comistes" and "() dijistes," equally frowned upon by grammarians.

Among professional translators and other highly educated multi-lingual folks, we found
heated debates on message boards about -astes/ -istes. Some say the endings came from the Spanish vosotros (-asteis/ -isteis) form. Some note that all other endings for "" verbs end with an "s," so it comes as a natural extension of Spanish grammatical rules ("pattern pressure"). Some argue it is acceptably "casual" in some settings while others insist it is dead wrong and painful to hear.


As you yourself navigate la habla hispana (the Spanish-speaking world), there is a good chance you will continue to encounter this usage. You may have even already danced salsa to such tunes as Cuando Llegastes Tú (Louie Ramirez) or Llegastes Tú (Ray Sepúlveda). Unless your spoken Spanish is of such an extremely high level that you can easily slip in and out of "dialect" depending on what community you are socializing in (and you really feel compelled to "fit in"), you probably don't want to adopt this style yourself. And when writing, it's definitely best to refrain altogether.

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Al Desear: By wanting

Pero al desear siempre un poco más... por allá ya vas.
"But by wanting always a little more... you're already going there."
[Captions 7-8 and 15-16, Sizu Yantra> Bienvenido]


References (such as this one) would suggest that al desear here could be translated as "when wanting" or "upon wanting," but we went with "by wanting." The idea here is that one action leads to the other, the desire in inself makes you move forward. An equally acceptable translation here would be "in wanting always..."

Al cambiar de actitud, la mayoría de la gente puede cambiar el modo en que otros los tratan.
"By changing their attitude, most people can change the way others treat them."

Al confesarle la verdad, le dio la posibilidad de evaluar la situación.
"By telling the truth, he gave her the opportunity to assess the situation."

Al dejar a aquella mujer, pudo comenzar una nueva vida.
"By leaving that woman, he could start a new life."

Final note about Sizu's Bienvenido: You will probably find captions 10 and 12, in particular, rather unusual in terms of sentence structure. These lines can have even native speakers scratching their heads and are not typical Spanish.

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Invisible Pronouns

From the clarity of the diction and the pacing of the music, you might think Sizu Yantra's tune Bienvenido would be easy to translate. But you'd be wrong. Some lyrics drove us to semantic delirium! Here is the opening:

Y si tú ya estás aquí, yo quisiera preguntarte
si al mundo lo encuentras enfermizo, delirante y brutal.
Tú ya estás aquí y deseando que tú goces...

"And if you are already here, I would like to ask you
if you find the world sickly, delirious and brutal.

You're already here and [I am] desiring that you enjoy [it]..."

[Captions 1-3, Sizu Yantra> Bienvenido]


The very first line of lyrics is clearly enunciated and seemingly unambiguous -- with personal pronouns and yo included to set the listener off on the right foot. OK: it's sort of trippy, but we have every reason to believe we are hearing what the songwriter wanted us to hear.

But we get to the second sentence (caption 3) and native English speakers may find themselves at a bit of a loss. "Deseando" -- the gerund of the verb desear ("to desire, to wish, to look forward to") -- has no immediately apparent subject. So, how would we know to translate "deseando" as if it were the first person, progressive, "estoy deseando"? There are a few clues to solve this mystery. Let's investigate:

  1. Gerunds -aka -ndo verbs-- are usually used as part of the progressive tense in Spanish. Note that they are not entirely interchangeable with "-ing verbs" in English, which have many more uses. (See: Gerunds and the progressive tenses.)
  2. After "deseando," we encounter the common "que" which is most often used to introduce a subordinate clause in a complex sentence.
  3. After "que" we hear "tú goces" -- i.e., the second-person, present subjunctive of the verb gozar ("to enjoy"). Yes, here's the dreaded subjunctive -- the verb "mood" that means or implies the imposition of will, emotion, doubt, or non-existence. (See: In the Mood: The Subjunctive, Part 1.) You see, after an expression of desire, Spanish grammar demands the subjunctive in the subordinate clause if the person doing the desiring is different from the object of that wish. And that, in turn, means "you" ("") cannot be the one doing the desiring ("deseando"). Got that?
  4. Let's back up and approach the subordinate clause another way. Spanish grammar rules demand that if the two verbs (desear and gozar) had the same subject, the second verb would take the infinitive.
    Yo quiero irme
    I want to go
    If the subject changes, the second verb takes the subjunctive.
    Yo quiero que te vayas
    I want you to go

If this detective work seems complicated, remember that in English we have a similar situation with "Wish you were here." Taken on its own, this seemingly simple sentiment has an implied subject (Could it be "I wish"? Or: "We wish"?) and then a subordinate clause using the subjunctive. At the end of the day, the subject is left to context -- or the listener's own interpretation.


Back to our slippery song. "Deseando que tú goces" was finally translated as "I am desiring that you enjoy it..." because it matches best with the first line of the song (where "yo" is introduced) -- and doesn't break any grammar rules. Whew. Keep listening, for more constructive confusion!

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¿Por qué?: Why? Because!

Do you ever wonder why "por qué" has an accent in certain instances and not others? In a similar vein: Do you know the reason "porque" is sometimes one word and sometimes two? Tune in to the latest new content at Yabla Spanish and read the captions to see "por qué" and "porque" in action.


Our team of translators took special pains to put all the accents in their proper places in the captions of this week's installment of the documentary ¡Tierra Sí, Aviones No! You'll see evidence of their hard work in the short excerpt below.

¿Por qué? Porque él es el unico responsable.
"Why? Because he is the only one responsible."

[Caption 5, ¡Tierra Sí! > Atenco > 4]



Why does the first "por qué" take an accent mark over the é? Because it is used to ask a question, that's why. Remember: "Who, what, when, where and why" (those famous five Ws of journalism) all take accents in Spanish -- as in "Quién, qué, cuándo, dónde y por qué."

Now that you've got the "questioning word = accent mark" rule in mind, let's look at some trickier cases. One pops up just a sentence later.

Pero a nivel ejidal no tiene por qué meterse en nuestro ejido
"But at the cooperative level, he has no reason to meddle in our cooperative."

[Caption 7, ¡Tierra Sí! > Atenco > 4]


No tener por qué + infinitive ("to have no reason to...") is one of those auxiliary (modal) verb phrases that you simply have to memorize -- or figure it out from context. Listen for it; we think you'll find it's surprisingly common in spoken and written Spanish. In these cases por qué means "reason" or "cause." For example:

No tengo por qué juzgar el comportamiento de otros.
"I have no reason to judge the behavior of others."

Sometimes it's best translated in the sense of necessity.

Amor no tiene por qué doler.
"Love doesn't have to hurt."

Listening to the lyrics of Belanova's ballad featured this week, we encounter another "por qué":

Me pregunto por qué
No te puedo encontrar.

I ask myself why
I can't find you.

In the song's refrain, above, Belanova lead singer Denise is asking herself a question. We don't need to use question marks to get the idea across; the "por qué" here expresses an indirect inquiry.


We left you to figure out that "porque" -- one word, no accent mark -- means "because." It begins the answer to many a "por qué" question. Why? Just because!
That is, expressed in Spanish:

¿Por qué? ¡Porque sí!
Why? Just because! (or: Because I said so!)

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Haber+De+Infinitive: Something you should learn

The Mexican trio Belanova use the haber + de + infinitive construction repeatedly in the chorus of Por Ti:

Si mi vida ha de continuar
"If my life should continue"
Si otro día llegará
"If another day will come"
Si he de volver a comenzar
"If I should start all over again"

será por ti.
it will be for you.
[Captions 6-9, Belanova > Por ti]



As it turns out, the haber+de+infinitive construction, often found in music and literature, is deceivingly difficult to translate with precision. A native speaker staff member tells us that, in the context of this song, she gets the sense that ha de continuar expresses possibility ("if my life is to continue / is going to continue") more than obligation ("if my life must continue"). However, generally speaking, haber+de+infinitive, does convey a sense of obligation or necessity, though often milder than the tener+que+infinitive construction ( tiene que continuar -`"has to continue") or hay que+infinitive construction (hay que continuar -"has to / must continue").

For this reason, in the end, we chose to use "should" in our English translations as it is nicely ambigious, conveying a sense of possibility but also having the alternate meaning of mild obligation.

Note that haber+de+infinitive and hay [also from the verb haber] + que + infinitive are completely distinct, and used in distinct contexts. So, how should you decide de vs que? You see, hay que continuar, loosely translated as "one has to continue," would always express a generalization. Meanwhile, the first-, second- and third-person conjugations of haber -- that is, he, hemos, has, han, ha and han -- plus 'de' yields a more specific, though milder sense of obligation, or of possibility, as in our featured song.


Check out these discussions on the topic:

Spanish Kit >
Spanish Idioms with Tener, Deber, and Haber >
How is Haber de used? > haber de, haber que, tener que


A final note regarding the verbs in Belanova's provocative refrain: 'Volver a comenzar' could be translated bit by bit as "to return ['volver'] to begin [comenzar]." But in English, we tend to say "to start again" or, with more emphasis, "to start all over again."

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—ito, —ita: Making it smaller, or is it?

Among Polbo's song lyrics that are entirely in Spanish in this video, we see the diminutive of todos ("everyone" or "all") repeated in the refrain:

Ahora toditos se fueron al sur
"Now everyone's gone south"
[Captions 10, 21 27, Polbo > Yo era tan cool']


Why use the diminutive of todos here? Well, adding the suffix -ito to make it toditos doesn't change the meaning of the word. It simply renders it more colloquial.

You see, in Spanish adding a diminutive suffix -- namely, -ito or -ita -- is often used in informal speech -- in its extreme, in baby talk or other affectionate banter. So, a gatito (gato / "cat" + -ito) can be a little cat (or "kitty") but it can also be a big cat that you're discussing with a small person. For example:

Mira el gatito, mi amorcito
"Look at the kitty, my little love.

This could be said at the zoo in front of a lion's cage if we're talking baby talk. Another example:

Besitos grandes
"Big affectionate kisses.

Back to our song. Toditos is "everyone" said in a friendly, familiar way. Toditos is not meant to shrink the size of "everyone," just to cut make it more casual.



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Gender Reversals: "El Alma" and more

Colombian crooner Juanes has the audience singing along to every word of his hit Para tu amor in this week's featured video. Catchy lyrics are helpful language-learning aids: When they get stuck in your head (and won't leave) they build up your vocab and aid in your memorizaiton of usage rules. Case in point: Para tu amor contains many lyrical lines that can help non-native speakers grasp the difference between para and por -- both translated into English as "for" in many cases. In newsletters past, we've drawn from the Yabla Spanish archive of song lyrics to write about distinctions between por and para. (Linked here for your review.) So, in this week's newsletter, we'll use Juanes to illuminate a gender rule bender instead.

He sings:

Yo te quiero con el alma y con el corazón

"I love you with my soul and with my heart."

[Captions 13 and 23, Juanes > Para tu amor]

Check our online dictionary and you'll see alma (a noun) is feminine, as so many Spanish words that '-a' are. But alma belongs to a subgroup of feminine nouns that take masculine articles when singular. Others include:

  • El agua fría ("The cold water")
  • El águila americana ("The American eagle")
  • El ama de casa desperada ("The desperate housewife")

Note that all four examples listed above begin with a stressed a-, which wouldn't sound right to a native speaker if preceded by la or una. Also note that when plural, they revert to the feminine article las or unas. So it's las aguas tibias ("the lukewarm waters").


As a final note: Whatever the number, alma and her gender-bending ilk behave like feminine nouns when they are paired with adjectives. That is to say, the adjectives they are paired with are made feminine with an -a ending. For more on words that break gender rules, see: > Spanish grammar > Gender reversals

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—ote, —ota, and encajar: Too big to fit?

We learn many things in the sixth installment of actress Natalia Oreiro's biography. One is that she's not a Tom Cruise- or Winona Ryder-sized wee thing. She's tall -- for an actress. And that was actually a worry at first, her friend Rosa tells us. Here's a snippet of the interview:

Le dijeron… que era como muy grandote y no encajaba

They told her... that she was like too huge and would not fit

[Captions 9-10, Natalia Oreiro > Biografía > 6]


Rosa has a colorful way of speaking. The first of the two words we highlight above --grandote-- is formed from the adjective grande ("big, large") and the augmentative suffix -ote, which amplifies the meaning of grande, making our best translation "huge." Adding -ote or -ota "often adds a note of contempt to the idea of bigness," according to The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice (published by Passport Books).

Note that augmentative suffixes can be applied to pretty much any noun or adjective. Some augmented words merit their own dictionary entries, especially if they take on a special meaning, while others don't. For example, consulting a few sources, we found entries for:

ojotes (root word: ojos, "eyes"): "bulging eyes, goggle eyes"

palabrota (root word: palabra, "word"): "swear word, dirty word"

animalote (root word: animal, "animal"): "big animal; gross, ignorant person"

In Spanish, augmentative suffixes are not quite as popular as diminutive ones (-ito, -ita, -cito, -cita), but you will hear them peppering the language for emphasis. (For some more on diminutives, review our previous discussion of poquitito some weeks back. To learn more about suffixes in general, has a helpful list.)


Moving on to the second word we highlighted above: It's encajaba, from the verb encajar. It, too, is a compound word, formed from the prefix en- ("in") and root word caja ("box"). The verb encajar means "to fit." It can suggest a physical fit (e.g., pieces of a puzzle fitting together), or a more thematic one (e.g., a transfer student fitting in to his new school). Rosa is using the second sense of the word, when she describes the fears that her friend wouldn't fit in to the acting world in Buenos Aires.

For more on compound words in Spanish, see:'s Colorful Combinations.

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Por, Para: Forever complications

The title of this week's new music video is the common phrase Para Siempre, meaning "forever." Take a look at how the phrase is used in the lyrics:

Puedo esperar para siempre
"I can wait forever"

Puedo durar para siempre
"I can last forever"

Quiero vivir para siempre
"I want to live forever"

Tiene que ser para siempre
"It has to be forever"
[Captions 6, 8, 14 and 16, Zurdok > Para Siempre]


Para here means "for." Para + an expression of time will indicate a point in time for which something is intended--or, a deadline. In the examples above, our singer is intending something to go on forever. Here are two less poetic examples of para in action:

Tengo tarea para mañana.
"I have homework for tomorrow."

Tengo que terminar este informe para la semana que viene.
"I have to finish this report for next week."

But astute listeners will catch that there's another way to say "for" in Spanish, also used in this song. Look at this line of our featured song:

O por toda una eternidad
"Or for all eternity"

[Caption 4, Zurdok > Para Siempre]

You see, por + an expression of time usually indicates the duration of something. For example:

Él trabajó por tres horas
"He worked for three hours"


Por la semana que viene, vamos a tener clases en el edificio viejo porque acá hay una reunión.
"(Just) for next week, we are having classes in the old building because there is a meeting here."
The difference is subtle when we're talking about the intention "forever" (para siempre) vs. the duration "forever" (por siempre). It's no wonder por and para take a lot of practice to get right for non-native Spanish speakers. But here's a hint to help you along: The phrase 'para siempre' is much more common than 'por siempre' in romantic song lyrics and on Valentine's cards. And even native Spanish speakers debate the por / para divide, as on this webpage.


So, if you want to tell someone that "it has to be forever"--and you want to sound like a native Spanish speaker in the process-- remember this catchy tune to remind you to say "tiene que ser para siempre."

(Final note: We've touched on por and para before, specifically looking at what happens when each is paired with the infinitive of a verb.)





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Otro: Another common mistake

Otro is a simple word in Spanish that looks and sounds like its English equivalent, "other" or "another." But with this ease of recognition and use, many non-native speakers misuse otro by adding an article where it doesn't belong.



Here's a tricky question. How do you say "another" in Spanish — as in, "I'll have another (beer)"?

Answer: "Tomaré otra (cerveza)."


Note that it's NOT: una otra or un otro. That's wrong. It would be like saying "an another" in English.


In an episode of the documentary series 75 minutos, we find the following clip:


Yo tengo lo que me pertenece a la de... de la custodia: un fin de semana sí y otro no

I have what belongs to me to the... from the custody: one weekend yes and the other, no

Captions 13-14, 75 minutos Del campo a la mesa - Part 17

 Play Caption


Note once again that otro in Spanish doesn't require the article that "other" does in English.


The time to use a definite article before otro is when we need to distinguish between "another" and "the other" if, indeed, the distinction needs to be made:


Otro día =  "Another day"

El otro día = "The other day"


So, if you add an article before otro(a), make sure it's a definite article (el or la) and not an indefinite one (un or una):


¡Hola! -La otra socia. -Sí. -La otra.

Hello! -The other partner. -Yes. -The other one.

Caption 16, 75 minutos Gangas para ricos - Part 8

 Play Caption


And finally, don't forget about otra vez, a very useful expression that you can use when you wan to say 'another time' or 'once again.'


That's it for today. Did you like this little reminder? Please send us your comments, questions, and suggestions

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Solo: Only alone

Solo and sólo... Are you still confused about when to write this word with or without a graphic accent? If you still don't know how to go about it, we have some good news for you: the word solo doesn't need an accent... ever! Although the rule has already been in place for quite a few years, there are many people who are not aware it.


The old rule: sólo vs. solo

Before the Real Academia Española (RAE) decided that the word solo didn't need a graphic accent, the old rule used to work like this:


Sólo is an adverb meaning "only," "solely" or "just" — the same as solamente. In fact, sólo and solamente can be used interchangeably. A speaker (or singer) can decide which sounds better in any given sentence.

On the other hand, solo without an accent mark is an adjective meaning "alone," "on one's own" or "sole." Solo describes a lone man or a masculine object--for example, un café solo is "a black coffee". For a woman, the adjective is sola. "¿Estás sola?" (are you alone?) is a simple, direct pick-up line.


Today's rule: just one solo for "only" and "alone"

Whether you are using solo as an adjective or as an adverb, the word solo doesn't need the graphic accent. 


Solo as an adjective meaning "alone":

muy raro que un agente, solo... solo, le caiga a un carro con placas diplomáticas.

really weird that an agent, alone... alone, drops on a car with diplomatic plates.

Captions 33-34, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 3 - Part 2

 Play Caption


Solo as an adverb meaning "only":

Solo yo sé lo que sufrí

Only I know what I suffered

Caption 2, Alejandra Guzmán Porque no estás aquí

 Play Caption


That's it for this lesson. Keep in mind this "update" and don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions.

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A ti: Emphasizing

A ti no te gustaría que te dijeran con quién tienes que andar.
[Captions 1-2, Tu Rock es Votar > TV Spot > Part 1]


As per our previous discussion of the verb gustar, the phrase above states:

"You wouldn’t like it if they told you who you have to hang out with."

But what does the addition of A ti at the beginning do for the phrase? It simply adds emphasis to the "you," the translation would be same even if it wasn't there.

[Side note: remember we
talked about
andar's various meanings outside of the obvious "to walk"? The phrase above demonstrates yet another, "to hang out / pal around."]

Me gustas.
"I like you."

A mi me gustas.
"I like you." ("I" emphasized.)

Besides adding emphasis, this type of construction can also clarify about whom you are talking.

Le gusta bailar.
He likes to dance.

A Juan le gusta bailar.
Juan likes to dance.

No mires a tu compañero, a ti te estoy preguntando.
"Don´t look at your buddy, I´m asking you."

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Que: It also means "because"

Pero no te quedes ahí dándole vueltas a la cabeza, que tanto pensar no es bueno.

[Caption 29, De consumidor a persona > Short Film > Part 1]



Que most often means "that." Slap an accent on the final e and we have qué, used to ask the question "what?" -- add por before qué and you have ¿por qué?, which asks the question "why?" ¿Por qué? is two words, but if we push the two together, without the accent on the e, we have porque, which is one word, and it means "because."

You may just know all that. What you might not have known is that que can also mean "because," or "as," and that's the meaning it takes in the line above:

"But don't stay there making your head spin, because [or "as"] thinking so much is not good."

Other examples:

No comas más, que no es bueno antes de ir a la cama.

"Don't eat more, as it's not good before going to bed."

Obedéceme, que si no lo haces, te vas a arrepentir.

"Obey me, because if you don't, you are going to regret it."

No corras, que el piso está mojado.

"Don't run, because the floor is wet."

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