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Los Sesenta: The Sixties and the Grammar Police

Chatting with Arturo Vega, the artistic director of the seminal New York rockers The Ramones, we learn he's from Chihuahua, Mexico (yes, the namesake of those tiny Taco Bell / Paris Hilton dogs). We also learn that he came to the U.S. in "los sesentas" ["the sixties"] -- as in, "los años sesenta." In fact, in just over six minutes of chatting in front of the camera, Vega mentions "los sesentas" four times (in captions 29, 30, 40 and 50, to be precise).

 

En los sesentas empecé a viajar y por supuesto en los sesentas era más atractivo ir a lugares como San Francisco, California

In the sixties I started to travel and of course in the sixties it was more attractive to go to places like San Francisco, California

Captions 29-30, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 1

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But the grammar police say that Vega gets it wrong four times: In proper Spanish, the decades are supposed to be singular, so it's los sesenta (short for los años sesenta).

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Well, let's give Vega the benefit of the doubt. You see, Anglicisms in Spanish are increasingly popular. By "Anglicism" here we are referring to the application of a rule of English grammar to Spanish. Besides making decades plural, as an Anglicism, you may hear some family names pluralized in Spanish as the are in English. For example: Los Ramones (as uttered by our interviewer in caption 37) is technically the incorrect way to refer to the members of the fictional Ramone family.

 

Y... aquí fue donde... conociste a Los Ramones

And... it was here where... you came to know the Ramones

Captions 36-37, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 1

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(Granted, "los Ramone" does not echo the name of the legendary band....) Note: the band members each took the last name "Ramone" as stage names, but these neighborhood pals from Queens were not, in fact, related, nor born with this surname.

Tip: If you want to hear a more traditional translation of a famous U.S. family into Spanish, tune into
Los Simpson
. (Yup: it's singular: "Simpson.")

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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, SiZu Yantra - Bienvenido

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References (such as this one) would suggest that al desear here could be translated as "when wanting" or "in wishing," but we went with "by wanting." The idea here is that one action leads to the other, the desire in itself 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

And if you're already here, I would like to ask you

si al mundo lo encuentras enfermizo, delirante y brutal

if you find the world sickly, delirious and brutal

Tú ya estás aquí y deseando que tú goces...

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

Captions 1-3, SiZu Yantra - Bienvenido

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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: Understanding the Subjuntive Mood in Spanish.) 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.
 

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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.

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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 único responsable.

Why? Because he's the only one responsible.

Caption 9, ¡Tierra, Sí! - Atenco - Part 4

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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 doesn't have reason to meddle in our cooperative.

Caption 13, ¡Tierra, Sí! - Atenco - Part 4

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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

I ask myself why

no te puedo encontrar

I can't find you

Captions 9-10, Belanova - Me Pregunto

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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.

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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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Calavera: A Dangerous Sign

In the second installment of the documentary Tierra Envenenada -- "The Poisoned Land" -- we open with instructions given to children. The instructions are meant to teach them to look out for signs of danger. Do you know the internationally recognized icon of danger?

 

¿Qué figura es esa?

What figure is that?

Una calavera, una calavera, una calavera...

It's a skull, a skull, a skull...

Captions 8-9, Tierra Envenenada - Desminando - Part 2

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The spooky image of the skull, spoken by the young boy in the documentary is repeated above for effect. Aside from being an icon of danger, many of us also know the skull as a ubiquitous symbol of Mexico's Día de los Muertos, as well as rock & rollers everywhere.

If you want to be medically technical, you might use cráneo to say "skull" in Spanish, but that's more like saying "cranium" in English. Yes, it's the bone structure of the head, but it's not as symbolically evocative.

Slang lovers will note that calavera can also mean "daredevil" or "madcap" -- as in "un hombre calavera." However, that is far from the lesson this serious documentary about the danger of land mines seeks to impart.

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Subir, Bajar: Up and Downs

The lyrics to Javier García's song Tranquila describe climbing up a mountain... and then climbing back down. Meanwhile, the video depicts passengers on a bus. But, guess what?: In Spanish, "to climb up or down a mountain" and "to get on or off a bus" use the same two verbs: subir y bajar.

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Let's take a closer look at the lyrics:

 

Súbete a una montaña

Climb up a mountain

Quédate un ratito

Stay for a while

Y después te bajas

And then you get down

Captions 6-8, Javier García - Tranquila

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The lyrics here would still make linguistic sense if García sang about a bus ride:

Súbete a un autobús
Quédate un ratito
Y después te bajas

In Spanish, you also use subir and bajar to describe getting in and out of a car, climbing up or down stairs, taking an escalator up or down, getting on or off a train or subway or horse.... In other words, subir and bajar are an essential pair of verbs to know to get around town.
 

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(As an aside: Whether or not you use the reflexive form of subir and/or bajar in this context is a matter of emphasis and formality. Note that it's less formal -- and less technically correct, according to the Real Academía Española -- to use the "te" pronouns in this song. Saying súbete... above is somewhat akin to saying, say, "get yourself..." in English. Call it creative license.)

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Aguantar: A Whole Lot to Bear

Here's a haunting description of what it's like to be out in a field, wounded by a land mine:

 

Y bueno, yo aguanté hasta cierta parte, y de ahí ya no pude, el dolor me dominó.

And well, I could take it until a certain point, and from there on I couldn't anymore, the pain dominated me.

Captions 83-84, Tierra Envenenada - Desminando

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The verb aguantar is a synonym for soportar in this context. It means "to be able to endure," "to stand" or "to bear." You'll often see aguantar followed by hasta ("until") to set a limit for how much can be stood or endured. For example:

Hay que aguantar hasta mañana.
You [in an impersonal sense] have to put up with it until tomorrow.

You'll probably hear the verb aguantar used by students with heavy work loads and tough teachers, but the verb can describe truly horrific pain as well.

If you go back into the archives, you'll hear this verb used in the Disputas theme song, Me llamas, by
José Luis Perales.

 

Me llamas... para decirme que te marchas que ya no aguantas más... que ya estás harta...

You call me... to tell me that you're leaving that you can't take it anymore... that you're fed up...

Captions 15-18, Disputas - La Extraña Dama

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Mina: An Explosive or a Woman

This week, we've uploaded and subtitled the first installment of "La Tierra Envenenada" ("The Poisoned Land") -- a documentary describing the horrors of land mines in Central America.
 

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Check out this short exchange between an unseen interviewer and a pedestrian (known in the business as an MOS, for "man on the street"):

 

Cuénteme, ¿usted sabe lo que es una mina?

Tell me, do you know what a mine is?

No, no sé... ¿Quién es?

No, I don't know... who is it?

Captions 30-31, Tierra Envenenada - Desminando

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"¿Quién es?" ("Who is it?")...

That off-the-cuff reply is kind of funny if you note that in some Latin American countries una mina is slang for "a girl" or "a woman," often with negative connotations. Regular subscribers to this service may remember that we wrote about the slang meaning of minas in Argentina back in this newsletter.

According to la Real Academia Española, the definitive Spanish-language authority, mina has many definitions. For one thing, it is a mine, as in a site where minerals are excavated. In a more military sense, it's a mine, as in an encased explosive set to detonate when disturbed. (The latter is the subject of our documentary today.) And the dictionary also acknowledges that mina is an informal synonym for una mujer in Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. Some explosively bad puns could be made with this minefield of a word. (Sorry.)
 

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But keep in mind that this video is introducing the very serious topic of minas antipersonales ("antipersonnel mines") and the process of desminando ("removing the mines") -- that la Organización de los Estados Americanos ("the Organization of American States") is undertaking. Listen and learn.

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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 7-10, Belanova - Por ti

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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:

ThoughtCo. > How is Haber de used?
WordReference.com > haber de, haber que, tener que
 

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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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Llevar: A Verb That Wears Many Outfits

Say you're going to a Christmas party -- that is, una fiesta de Navidad. What are you going to bring? (¿Que vas a llevar?) Well, your host might suggest:

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Tráiganos una botella de vino, nada más.
Bring us a bottle of wine, that's all.

And then you might respond:

Bueno. Voy a llevar vino tinto.
Ok. I'll bring red wine.

Did you notice we switched verbs there? Both llevar and traer can mean "to bring," but with a crucial difference in perspective. If you're the one doing the bringing to someone else, you use 'llevar' -which also means "to carry." If you're the one asking someone to bring something to you, you use 'traer.' Got that?

There are many definitions of the common verb 'llevar,which is why we keep returning to it again and again in our weekly missives.

In this week's videos, you'll hear llevar used in a couple of different contexts -- in a song and in a classroom. First, let's look at the heartstring-tugging lyrics sung by Axel Fernando:

 

Muchas veces me pregunto por qué pasa todo esto,

Many times I wonder why all this happens

por qué tus mil "Te quiero" siempre se los lleva el viento

why your thousand "I love yous" are always carried away by the wind

Captions 1-2, Axel Fernando - ¿Qué estás buscando?

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Here, the reflexive llevarse means "to carry away" or "to take away." The online dictionary site, WordReference.com provides some examples along the same lines:

¡Llévatelo de aquí!
Take it away [from here]!

Se lo llevó la corriente
The current carried it away

Remember: At a restaurant, they might ask you '¿Para llevar?' ("To take out [with you]?"). In our next video -- in Spanish school room -- we get a handy lesson in verb forms to use to offer advice. At the same time, we see our featured verb take on another shade of its meaning. Sit in the back of the classroom and listen:

 

"Te aconsejo que lleves una chaqueta".

"I recommend that you bring a jacket."

Caption 28, Escuela Don Quijote - En el aula

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Llevaría una chaqueta. -Muy bien. Yo, que tú.

I would bring a jacket. -Very good. If I were you.

Caption 31, Escuela Don Quijote - En el aula

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Note that llevar could also mean "to wear," and that the phrases above could possibly be talking about the "wearing" of a jacket as well. One must distinguish the proper meaning from the greater context.

 

Bernardo, traeme otra caja de pastillas. ¿Bernardo?

Bernardo, bring me another box of pills. Bernardo?

Caption 57, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poema

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Hazme un favor: Tráeme mi chaqueta.
Do me a favor: Bring me my jacket.
¿Para qué?
Why? 
Quiero llevarla a la fiesta de Navidad.
I want to wear it [or possibly: to bring it] to the Christmas party.

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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

Caption 10, Polbo - Yo era tan cool

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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 make it more casual.

 

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As: A Whiz or an Ass?

Spanish is the official language of Puerto Rico, yet a large portion of the population knows English, so bilingual puns play to a wide audience. Case in point, the lyrics to this cynical song by the band Polbo:

 

Yo era el as de las nenas Cuando tenía dinero

I was the ace of the girls When I had money

Ahora sigo siendo el as/ass En otro idioma, tú sabrás

Now I'm still the ace/ass [bilingual pun] In another language, you know

Captions 13-16, Polbo - Yo era tan cool

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Like its English equivalent "ace," the Spanish as is both a good poker card and "a whiz" at something. The pun on as / ass works in this song because the two words are pronounced essentially the same way, with a soft "s" (unlike the word "as" in English, which is pronounced "az").

One more note regarding the bilingual audience for Yo era tan cool. The word "cool" is obviously borrowed from English. But one could argue that cool is going the way of "OK" / "okay" or "ciao" / "chau" / "chao" as a word that crosses linguistic barriers. We googled "es cool" (in Spanish) and more than 1,000,000 web pages came up. Cool, ¿no?

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Llevarse Bien: To Get Along

In the song's refrain, there's another example of a common verb used in a secondary sense.

 

Si dos ya no se llevan bien

If two don't get along [well]

Caption 11, Jeremías - Uno y uno igual a tres

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The first definition you'll probably learn for the common verb llevar is "to carry." Learn the nuances of this versatile verb and you'll find this construction:

Llevarse bien/mal con alguien
"To get on well/badly with somebody"

For more examples -- and more nuances of llevar -- you could check out:
ThoughtCo. > Spanish language > Using llevar

 

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Echarse: To Start To

Cheating! Bitter tears! Broken hearts!... There's a lot of action in this week's featured song by Jeremías -Uno y uno igual a tres ("One and One, the Same As Three") -- which is why the singer uses a lot of verbs (except in the song title).
 

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By and large, the verbs sprinkled throughout these lyrics are standards found in classic reference texts, like 501 Spanish Verbs and The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs. But they may not follow the first definitions found on the top of the page. Let's take a closer look at some lyrics.

 

Pero ya las lágrimas se echaban a correr

But the tears were starting to fall

Caption 8, Jeremías - Uno y uno igual a tres

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The first definition students usually learn for echar is usually "to throw" -as in, ¡Echa la pelota! ("Throw the ball!"). But in this construction -echarse a + infinitive- the more faithful translation is "to begin to [do something]." For example:

De repente, se echó a reír
Suddenly, he began to laugh 

Or...
Suddenly, he burst out
laughing

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So, in the song lyric cited above, a student of Spanish who only knew the first definition of echar might try to translate the sentence as "But the tears had already thrown themselves to running." Well, almost... familiarity with the construction echarse a + infinitive will help you quickly realize that the tears had started to run (or, in English, it's more common to say tears "fall").

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Prestar un Servicio: To Lend a Service

The verb prestar (which means "to lend") has some different uses in Spanish than the verb "lend" does in English. For an example, let's turn to Chober, chatting on the beach in Venezuela in this week's new interview.

 

Y buenos, el destino final es prestar un servicio donde la gente pueda degustar gastronomía local...

And well, the final objective is to provide a service where people can taste local gastronomy...

Captions 37-38, Playa Adícora - Chober

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If you translated the above quotation and decided 'prestar un servicio' was "to lend a service," you'd still get the gist of the sentence. But your English might sound a little stilted. Same holds true of this common phrase in Spanish:

Prestar atención

To lend attention? Well, in modern English we'd say "to pay attention."

For more Spanish phrases containing prestar, see:


WordReference.com >
prestar

 

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Drink Up!

Joselo's song titled Sobriedad ("sobriety") is dripping with references to booze. We counted seven kinds of alcoholic beverages in the lyrics: pisco sour, champaña, vino blanco, whiskey, vodka, gin and tonic, and vino tinto. Most of these drinks need no translation to English speakers, but we have a few tips for reading bar menus.

  • Pisco sour is claimed to be the national drink of both Chile and Peru. Both South American countries produce pisco -a type of brandy or liquor distilled from grapes, usually Quebranta or Muscat varieties.
     
  • Vino, as almost everyone knows, is "wine." This song mentions both white and red wine -- or, vino blanco y tinto. Tinto?, you may ask. Not rojo ("red")? Yes, you read that correctly. A common rookie error in Spanish is to assume "red wine" is vino rojo. But that order is more likely to get you some sort of rosé or vino rosado. Remember to use the word tinto to get your classic red wine.
     
  • Champaña sounds familiar, no? As you guessed, it's "Champagne" in English and the original French. It's also known as champán in the Spanish-speaking world.

Ok. Now whiskey, vodka and gin and tonic are just what you think they are. Incidentally, "whiskey" (pronounced 'wee-skee') is often what you say when someone takes your photo, in order to smile as wide in Spanish as you do in English when you say "cheese."

 

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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 vocabulary and aid in your memorization 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

Caption 13, Juanes - Para tu amor

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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").

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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:
 

ThoughtCo. > Spanish grammar > Gender reversals

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Escuchar: Listen to Some Meanings

¡Oye! ("Hey!") -from the verb oír ("to hear")- and ¡Escúchame! ("Listen to me!") -from the verb escuchar ("to listen")- mean approximately the same thing. Kind of like the modern "Listen up!"and the old fashioned "Hear ye! Hear ye!" in English. And now that we've got your attention, let's look more closely at the two auditory verbs.
 

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Escuchar generally means "to listen" in the sense of paying attention to what's heard. In contrast, oír means "to hear" in the sense of using your ears. Escuchar is a deliberate act, while oír can be passive. So, note that escuchar música usually means "to listen to music" while oír música is "to hear music." In other words, you might hear a band's latest album without really listening to the lyrics. Got that?

So, have you heard or listened to Antes que ver el sol by Coti? The refrain goes like this:

 

Antes que ver el sol... prefiero escuchar tu voz

Before seeing the sun... I prefer to listen to your voice

Caption 9, Coti - Antes que ver el sol

 Play Caption

 

In our video's subtitles, we translate escuchar the traditional way, as "listen to". But because the lyrics in this song are a little, um, opaque -as rock lyrics so often are- one could also argue that escuchar could be translated as "hear" here. You see, in popular usage, the dictionary definitions of escuchar and oír can be blurred, especially in various Latin American countries.

Case in point: In our video clip, Coti urges his vocal audience to sing louder by saying:

 

¡No se escucha!

I can't hear you!

Caption 24, Coti - Antes que ver el sol

 Play Caption

 

So are escuchar and oír losing their distinctive definitions? Native Spanish speakers and observant English speakers argue the point on various message boards. See, for example:

WordReference.com > Escuchar / Oír
Tomísimo.org > Oír vs. Escuchar

But the authoritative Real Academia Española upholds the difference in its Diccionario de la Lengua Española and we think Spanish students should listen to that.

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As a final note, the instrument that does all of our listening and hearing can also be confusing for non-native speakers of Spanish. You see, "ear" is translated into Spanish as oído, which specifically means "the inner ear," -i.e., the part used for hearing. Meanwhile, "the outer ear" -i.e., the body part Vincent Van Gogh famously chopped off- is translated as oreja.

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