12.1 Se Construction for Unplanned Occurrences

With a limited number of verbs, mainly those that follow, Spanish often uses a construction based on the impersonal se, followed by an indirect object pronoun, then the verb (most often in the preterite tense) to express unplanned occurrences, communicating a level of subtlety that is not always present in English.

Impersonal se construction:

Se acabó el dinero. The money ran out/was exhausted.

Impersonal se + Indirect Object = Unplanned Occurrence

Se nos acabó el dinero. The money ran out on us.

By using the impersonal se + indirect object pronoun, the speaker or writer shifts blame away from the person involved. (In English, a stark example of this may be seen in “Dad, I wrecked the car” [blame accepted] versus “Dad, the car got wrecked [while I happened to be driving it”] [blame shifted].)

Study this construction in the sentences that follow. Although it does not affect the translation, note that the verb agrees with the grammatical subject. As perros (first sentence) is plural, so is the verb. Coche (second sentence), as a singular noun, takes a singular verb.

¿Se te escaparon los perros? Did the dogs get away from you?
Se les descompuso el coche. The car broke down on them.
Se nos olvidó la cámara. We accidentally forgot the camera.
Se nos quedaron dos maletas en casa. We accidentally left two suitcases at home.
Se le rompió un plato. A dish got broken “on him.”
Se les murió su querido vecino. Their dear neighbor died “on them.”
Se le cayó la bandeja. She accidentally dropped the tray.

Vocabulario básico

Verbo:

cortar(se)- to cut (oneself)

Sustantivos:

la bandeja- tray
la conferencia- lecture, talk (false friend)
el ordenador- computer (Sp.)
el platillo- saucer
la red- net, network, Internet

Adjetivo:

querido- dear

Expresión:

a lo mejor- at best, most likely

Last revised on June 23, 2021.

12.2 Future Tense

The future tense of regular verbs is formed by adding the endings of the present tense of haber (he, has ha, hemos, habéis, han), minus the h, to the infinitive.*

hablar

Person Singular Plural
1st hablaré I will speak hablaremos  we will speak
2nd hablarás you (fam.) will speak hablaréis you (fam. pl.) will speak
3rd hablará he/she/ you will (form.) speak hablarán they/ you will speak(form. pl. in Sp.) [fam. pl. in L.A.]

*The original tense was formed by two words (e.g., hablar he), which fused into one.

Note that all the forms of the future tense except the nosotros form carry a written accent. You need to be careful to distinguish among tenses, especially in the first person singular, in which  an accented é appears in both the future and the preterite tenses. The difference is that the future adds the ending to the infinitive while the preterite adds the same ending to the stem:

Hablé con él. I spoke with him. (preterite)
Hablaré con él. I will speak with him. (future)

The future tense is used for near-future as well as distant-future actions. When referring to near-future actions, it connotes stronger purpose or resolve than the similar-meaning ir + a + infinitive construction.

Lo voy a ayudar. I’m going to help him.
Lo ayudaré. will help him.

Various verbs that show irregularities in the preterite (and in some cases, other tenses) have an irregular or shortened stem in the future tense, although the endings are the same as for regular verbs:

decir diré, dirás, dirá, diremos, diréis, dirán
haber habré, habrás, habrá, etc.
hacer haré, harás, hará, etc.
poder podré, podrás, podrá, etc.
poner pondré, pondrás, pondrá, etc.
querer querré, querrás, querrá, etc.
saber sabré, sabrás, sabrá, etc.
salir saldré, saldrás, saldrá, etc.
tener tendré, tendrás, tendrá, etc.
valer valdré, valdrás, valdrá, etc.
venir vendré, vendrás, vendrá, etc.
caber (to fit) cabré, cabrás, cabrá, etc.

The verb caber is highly irregular. The present tense (indicative) is quepo, cabes, cabe etc. The preterite is cupe, cupiste, cupo, etc. The present subjunctive (based on the present indicative) is quepa, quepas, quepa, etc.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

castigar- to punish (cognate: to castigate)
mimar- to spoil

Sustantivos:

la amistad- friendship (cognate: amity), friend
el amor- love (cognate: amorous)
el castigo- punishment
el/la cuñado/a- brother-/sister-in-law
el familiar- family member, intimate friend (false friend)
la Navidad- Christmas
el/la nieto/-a- grandson, granddaughter
el noviazgo- engagement, courtship
el/la/los recién casado/-a (-os)- newlywed(s)
el/la suegro/-a- father/ mother-in-law
el/la viudo/-a- widower, widow

Adjetivos:

bien educado- well mannered*
familiar- family, pertaining to the family (false friend)
íntimo- close (friend), intimate
malcriado- ill-behaved
mal educado- ill mannered*
unido- close-knit

*Traditionally educado has referred to manners and educación to social skills. (Instruido has been the adjective used to mean “educated” and instrucción the noun to mean “education.”) As Spanish evolves, educado and educación are now routinely heard and written with the meaning of “educated” and “education.” Rely on context (or, occasionally, date of the text) to determine the meaning.

Last revised on June 25, 2021.

12.3 The Future of Probability

Spanish commonly uses the future tense to indicate probability or conjecture in the present moment. This is another non-systemic use of verbs and it is very important to recognize, to avoid missing the intended meaning. It is worthwhile to begin to be aware of this concept now, as Spanish uses three other tenses non-systemically to refer to probability or conjecture. Note the varying possibilities of the English translation:

¿Dónde estará Juan?  

 

Where can Juan be?

Where do you think Juan is?

I wonder where Juan is.

¿Qué hora será?  

 

What time can it be?

What time do you think it is?

I wonder what time it is?

Remember: future tense + probability = present meaning.

You will be reading in a context, which should clarify the meaning. Some sentences, out of context, are ambiguous:

Future meaning:

Future of probability (refers to present):

Volverán al parque. They will return to the park. They will return to the park./ They must be returning to the park.

As in the last example, at times the insertion of the word “probably” is sufficient to translate the meaning in the present tense.

¡Ojo!  There is no special way of indicating probability in the future time frame. In such cases a word such as probablemente is normally inserted.

Another way of indicating probability -in various tenses- is deber de + infinitive.

Debe de estar perdida. She must be (probably is) lost.
Debió de hacerlo ayer. He probably did (must have done) it yesterday.
Debían de salir tarde. They must have left (probably left) late.

In recent years, however, the de is sometimes omitted, creating ambiguity, due to the meaning of deber when referring to obligation:

Debe estudiarlo. He must be studying it. (probability)

He ought to study it. (obligation)

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

aislar- to isolate
aprobar (ue)- to pass (exam), to approve
cumplir- to fulfill; to accomplish

Sustantivos:

el apellido- surname
el apodo- nickname
el intento- attempt (false friend)

Adjetivos:

derechista- rightist, right-wing
izquierdista- leftist, left-wing
tal- such, such a

Expresiones:

cumplir años- to have a birthday
es difícil que- is unlikely that (versus: es difícil- it’s difficult/hard)
es fácil que- it’s likely that (versus: es fácil- it’s easy)
estar a cargo (de)- to be in charge (of)

Last revised on June 25, 2021.

12.4 Meanings of ya

The adverb ya, besides its meaning of “no longer” with the negative (ya no) and “because,” “as,” or “since” when combined with que to form a conjunction, may vary in translation according to the tense with which it is used. The tendency is for ya to mean “now” when used with a present tense or a command; “already” with any past tense (including the present perfect); and “later on” with a future tense.

¡Ya voy! I’m coming now!
¡Hágalo ya! Do it now!
Ya han llegado They have already arrived.
Ya viajamos a Martinica el año pasado. We already traveled to Martinique last year.
Ya te lo diremos. We’ll tell it to you later on.
Ya sabrás la respuesta. You’ll know the answer later on.

*Note in the first expression that, although the verb ir is used, the translation is “to come.” This is a fixed phrase and isolated case. Barring this example, the verbs ir and venir are never interchangeable, unlike in spoken, colloquial English. (Ya vengo is also heard and seen to mean “I’m coming,” but this does not present a translation problem.)

Last revised on June 24, 2021.

12.5 Cuyo and Cuanto

Cuyo

Cuyo is an adjectival relative pronoun that you have already seen and that usually translates as “whose.” As you see below, it links two nouns and agrees in number and gender with the one it precedes:

Madrid es una ciudad cuyas calles conocemos muy bien. Madrid is a city whose streets we know very well.
Gabriela Mistral y Pablo Neruda, cuya patria es Chile, han ganado el premio Nóbel de Literatura. Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, whose homeland is Chile, have won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Cuanto

Cuanto, when not functioning as an interrogative, may be employed as an adjective or pronoun. In the former case, it agrees in number and gender with the noun it modifies and means “all those” or “as many as”:

Solicitaron fondos a cuantas personas pudieron. They solicited funds from all those (as many as) they could.

When used as a pronoun, cuanto is invariable in form and is the equivalent of “all that” or “as much as”:

A pesar de hacer cuanto pudo, perdió el caso. In spite of doing all he could, he lost the case.

The above could also be expressed as A pesar de hacer todo lo que pudo… without changing the meaning.

Cuanto has a shortened form cuán, which is seen occasionally before adjectives or adverbs and is considered informal in style.

No sabían cuán tarde era. They didn’t know how late it was.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

acudir- to come (to the rescue), to help, to aid
añorar- to yearn for
derrocar- to overthrow, to topple, to oust
disminuir- to diminish
ignorar- to be ignorant, not to know (false friend)*

Sustantivos:

el lema- slogan
la pieza- play (theatrical), piece, room (house)
el rescate- rescue
el ron- rum
el trago- drink

Adjetivos:

desnudo- naked, nude

Expresión:

años + multiple of 10- a decade of _____s

*These are the traditional meanings of ignorar. Recently it has been used by some with the meaning that corresponds to the English, “not to pay attention to,” which will likely become standard in parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

Last revised on June 25, 2021.

12.6 Meanings of sino

Sino is used after a negative to express “but” in the sense of “but rather” or “on the contrary.” It is used for contrast and is followed by que (not translated) before a conjugated verb.

Certain statements may employ either pero or sino, but the meaning shifts slightly from the simple “but” (no contrast implied) to “but rather”:

No votaron, sino que discutieron el asunto. They didn’t vote, but rather [they] discussed the matter.
No votaron, pero discutieron el asunto. They didn’t vote, but they did discuss the matter.

See these further examples:

No fueron por autobús, sino por tren. They didn’t go by bus, but rather by train.
Nélida no sigue siendo una mera empleada, sino que llegó a ser jefa de su departamento. Nélida is no longer a mere employee, but rather became head of her department.
Varsovia es grande, pero, como otras ciudades grandes, tiene muchos problemas. Warsaw is large, but, like other large cities, it has many problems.

Sino must be translated with care, as it has two other meanings, the first of which is “but” in the sense of “except”:

Nadie se ha enterado de eso sino ella. No one has found out about that except her.

When combined with no, its other common meaning is “only”:

No tengo sino diez minutos para explicar la cuestión. I only have ten minutes to explain the issue.

Remember the expression no sólo… sino también:

No sólo no me lo dijo ayer, sino también se negó a revelármelo hoy. Not only did he not tell it to me yesterday, but also he refused to reveal it to me today.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

enterarse (de)- to find out (about)
extrañar- to miss (a person or place)

Sustantivos:

la estadía- stay
la estancia- stay; ranch, country house
el/ la extraño/-a- stranger, foreigner
el/la forastero/-a- stranger, outsider

Adjetivo:

poblado- populated, populous

Adverbio:

efectivamente- in fact (false friend)

Preposición:

dentro de- within

Expresión:

echar de menos- to miss (a person or place)

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

12.7 The Conditional Tense

The conditional tense of regular verbs is formed with the infinitive as the stem and uses the same endings as does the imperfect tense of –er and –ir verbs.

ir

Person Singular Plural
1st iría I would go iríamos we would go
2nd irías you (fam.) would go iríais you (fam. pl.) would go
3rd iría he/she/ you would (form.) go irían they/you (form. pl. in Sp.) [fam. pl. in L.A.] would go

Be careful to look for the infinitive + the endings, to distinguish the conditional tense from the imperfect tense of –er and –ir verbs:

comíamos we were eating (used to eat, ate )
comeríamos we would eat

The same verbs that have an irregular stem in the future tense have the same irregular stem in the conditional tense:

decir diría, dirías, diría, diríamos, diríais, dirían
haber habría, habrías, habría, etc.
hacer haría, harías, haría, etc.
poder podría, podrías, podría, etc.
poner pondría, pondrías, pondría, etc.
querer querría, querrías, querría, etc.
saber sabría, sabrías, sabría, etc.
salir saldría, saldrías, saldría, etc.
tener tendría, tendrías, tendría, etc.
valer valdría, valdrías, valdría, etc.
venir vendría, vendrías, vendría, etc.
caber (to fit) cabría, cabrías, cabría, etc.

The conditional tense is used and translated in Spanish as it is in English:

Me dijo que vendría a las ocho. She told me she would come at eight o’clock.
¿Harías eso jamás? Would you ever do that?

 Building on what you know: similarities between future and conditional tenses

The conditional and future tenses share much in common:

  1. Both use the infinitive as the stem (unlike all other verb tenses studied so far).
  2. In both tenses, the same verbs have irregular stems.
  3. Their use is analogous. The conditional tense expresses what would happen in the future from a past point in time (Ayer me dijo que estaría aquí [“Yesterday he told me he would be here”) versus the future tense, from a present point in time Hoy me dice que estará aquí[“Today he tells me that he will be here.”]).

¡Ojo! Some verbs have very similar forms in the conditional and imperfect tenses. Pay close attention to quería (imperfect) and querría (conditional). Two verbs similar in form that are easily confused are hacer and haber. Be careful to distinguish between haría (I/he/she/you would do) and habría (there would be).

Now that all of the simple (one-word) indicative tenses have been studied, for purposes of comparison, see the following chart:

Llegar (To arrive) Translation
present llego I arrive/am arriving/ do arrive/ (will arrive)
imperfect llegaba I arrived/ was arriving/ used to arrive
preterite llegué I arrived
future llegaré I will arrive
conditional llegaría I would arrive
present participle llegando arriving
past participle llegado arrived

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

apreciar – to appreciate, to esteem, to hold in esteem
compartir – to share
despreciar – to scorn, to look down on, to disdain, to deprecate
recoger – to pick up, to gather

Sustantivos:

el antepasado – ancestor
el/la ciudadano/-a – citizen
el crisol – melting pot
el desprecio – scorn, disdain

Adjetivo:

siguiente – following

Expresión:

yo, de usted (él, ella, etc.) – if l were you (he, she, etc.)

*This expression usually takes the place of the imperfect subjunctive (see section 13.4) or, occasionally, the past perfect subjunctive (see section 15.1), in which case it means “If I had been you (he, she, etc.)”.

Last revised on June 24, 2021.

12.8 The Conditional of Probability

Just as the future tense is used to indicate probability or conjecture in the present moment, so is the conditional tense used to express the same in the simple past moment. (See section 12.3) This non-systemic usage is analogous to that of the future of probability. Again, note the various possibilities of translation:

¿Dónde estaría Juan? Where could Juan be?

Where do (did) you think Juan was?

I wonder(ed) where Juan was.

¿Qué hora sería cuando se fue?  

 

What time could it be when he left?

What time do (did) you think it was when he left?

I wonder(ed) what time it was when he left.

Remember:

  • future tense + probability = present tense meaning
  • conditional tense + probability = simple past tense meaning

Again, there exist conceivably ambiguous sentences out of context. Volverían al parque, in its conditional meaning, translates as “They would return to the park” (i.e., if they wanted to, if they had time). In the conditional of probability, the same sentences translates as “They probably returned to the park.”

Context should help you identify which of the two translations is best.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

fracasar- to fail
lograr- to obtain, to achieve, to manage (to do something)
luchar- to struggle, to fight
realizar*- to achieve, to carry out (false friend)

Sustantivos:

la clave- key (figurative)
el ensayo- essay, trial, rehearsal, attempt
la trama- plot

Preposiciones:

frente a- in the face of
mediante- by means of, through

*Realizar also may translate as “to realize” but only in limited circumstances, such as Claudio realizó su sueño de estudiar en Santiago (“Claudio realized his dream of studying in Santiago.”) Remember that “to realize,” when it means “to become aware of,” is expressed by darse cuenta (de).

Last revised on June 25, 2021.