5.1 Uses of the Infinitive

1. The use of the infinitive that can most easily cause comprehension problems is when it comes after the contraction al and is the equivalent of “upon” or “on” + present participle:

Al llegar, veo a mis parientes. Upon/On arriving, I see my relatives.
Al terminar, vamos a salir a un restaurante. Upon finishing, we’re going to go out to a restaurant.

The above al (al llegaral terminar) is not the same as the contraction al (ael), which usually translates as “to the”: Vamos al concierto. (We’re going to the concert.)

Other uses, which seldom cause comprehension problems, include:

2. As in English, Spanish routinely uses the infinitive form of the verb after a conjugated one:

Lucía no desea cocinar. Lucía doesn’t want to cook.

3. The infinitive is the verb form used when the verb is the subject of the sentence. It is sometimes preceded by the masculine singular definite article, which is never translated. (The use or absence of the article does not change the meaning at all, however using the article makes slightly more formal Spanish.)

(El) Leer ficción me interesa. Reading fiction interests me.
Nadar es uno de mis pasatiempos. Swimming is one of my pastimes

4. The infinitive is the form of the verb you will see after a preposition in Spanish. The preposition is almost never translated*.

Vamos a trabjar. We are going to work.
Salgo después de estudiar. I go out after studying.
Amenaza con salir. He threatens to leave.
Enrique me ayuda a aprender. Enrique helps me to learn.
Nos invita a ir. She invites us to go.
Tratamos de ayudar. We try to help.

*One case in which the preposition happens to be translated in English is with the verb insistir: Insiste en hablar = she insists on speaking.

¡Ojo! There is a difference between salir de and salir aSalir a means to “to go out” as in “to go out into the street”: Sale a la calle. Salir de means “to leave a place” and the de is not normally translated: Salimos de la casa. (We leave the house.)

 

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

amenazar (con)- to threaten (to) (cognate: to menace)
convencer (a)- to convince
enseñar (a)- to show, to teach
sumar- to add
tocar- to play (music), to touch
tratar- to treat; tratar (de + inf.)- to try (to do something)

Sustantivos:

el gobierno- government
la manera- manner, way
la medianoche- midnight
el medio- means, medium, middle
el mediodía- noon, midday
los medios de comunicación- media
la salud- health
la tarea- task, homework

Adjetivos:

alto- high, tall
bajo- low, short (height)
bastante- enough*
corto- short
extraño- strange

Adverbios:

bastante- enough, fairly, sufficiently, rather*
hasta- even
tan- so

Preposiciones:

hasta- until, up to, as far as
sin- without

Conjunciones (Conjunctions):

lo que- what, that which
siempre que- whenever, provided that

*Note the different as well as overlapping meanings of bastante when used as an adverb versus adjective: Habla bastante. (He speaks enough.) ¿Hay bastantes sillas? (Are there enough chairs? Hablas bastante bien. (You speak fairly [rather, sufficiently] well.)

Last revised on June 18, 2021.

5.2 Stem-Changing Verbs

There are many -ar, -er and -ir stem- changing (sometimes called “radical” [“having to do with the root”]) verbs in Spanish.

In the most common patterns, the e of the stem changes to ie, the o to ue, and the e to i. All of these changes occur only in stressed syllables, in other words, in all persons except nosotros and vosotros. That the stems of these verbs change should not present comprehension problems, provided that you recognize the infinitives.

pensar (to think) dormir (to sleep) pedir (to ask for/request)
yo pienso duermo pido
piensas duermes pides
él, Ella, Ud. piensa duerme pide
Nosotros pensamos dormimos pedimos
Vosotros pensáis dormís pedís
ellos, ellas, Uds. piensan duermen piden

One exception to the above pattern is the verb jugar (“to play” [a sport, a game]), which used to have an o in the stem, but made a late shift to a u, which is the vowel that changes to ue.

In the vocabulary lists in this text, stem-changing verbs are indicated by the vowel(s) to which the stem changes, put in parentheses immediately after the infinitive.

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

almorzar (ue)- to eat lunch
cerrar (ie)- to close, to shut
comenzar (ie)- to begin, to start*
devolver (ue)- to return (an object)
dormir (ue)- to sleep (cognate- dormant)
empezar (ie)- to start, to begin*
encender (ie)- to turn on
encontrar (ue)- to encounter, to find
entender (ie)- to understand
jugar (ue)- to play (a sport, a game)
llover (ue)- to rain
mostrar (ue)- to show
nevar (ie)- to snow
pedir (i)- to request, to ask for
pensar (ie)- to think
pensar + inf.- to intend (to do something)**
pensar + en- to think about someone or something, to reflect on someone or something***
pensar + de- to think (in the sense of having an opinion about something), often used in a question****
perder (ie)- to lose
poder (ue)- to be able to, can
preferir (ie)- to prefer
querer (ie)- to want, to love
recordar (ue)- to remember, to remind
servir (i)- to serve, to be useful
soler (ue) (+inf.)- to be accustomed/ used (to doing something)
volar (ue)- to fly
volver (ue)- to return (to a place)

Sustantivos:

Chipre- Cyprus
la hora- hour, time (of day)

*These two verbs are generally used synonymously, with equal frequency.

**This frequent expression is easy to mistranslate as, for example, “I am thinking about …ing.” Be sure to translate it as “I intend to….”

***Pienso mucho en mi abuelo. I think about my grandfather a lot.

****¿Qué piensan Uds. de la nueva ley? What do you think of the new law?

¡Ojo! There are five verbs, four of which appear above, that because of their similarity may cause confusion in reading. These verbs have cognates in English, which may serve as a mnemonic device to help avoid confusion.

Verb Mnemonic Device
pensar (to think) is “pensive”
perder (to lose)  is “perdition”
pedir (to request/ask for)  is “to petition” (Remember that t and d are phonetically related consonants.)
poder (to be able to/can)  is “potent”
poner (to put)  is “to position” (or “to posit”)

The relationship between poner and “to position” will be seen in the preterite tense (section 8.2.), which in the first person singular is puse.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

5.3 Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns

Spanish uses three demonstrative adjectives (each of which has its masculine and feminine, singular and plural forms) and shows a degree of subtlety absent in English:

este this (near the speaker)
ese that (somewhat further from the speaker)
aquel that (over there, far from the speaker)

Their forms are as follows:

Masculine Feminine
singular este esta
plural estos estas
singular ese esa
plural esos esas
singular aquel aquella
plural aquellos aquellas

Ejemplos:

Esta clase es mi favorita This class is my favorite (one).
¿Ves ese pequeño libro azul? Do you see that (nearby) little blue book?
Aquellos turistas son extranjeros. Those tourists (far away/over there) are foreigners.

The two keys to achieving accurate understanding of demonstrative pronouns are:

1. Remembering that ese and aquel should be thought of in terms of distance from the speaker and that their subtlety cannot be rendered by one single word in English.

2. Trying to distinguish between forms of este and ese (A possibly helpful mnemonic device is “This and these have the T’s. That and those don’t.”)

The demonstrative adjectives above may all stand alone and function as pronouns, meaning “this one,” “that one,” “these,” and “those.” Until 1959, the demonstrative pronouns were required to bear written accents, as in éste, ése, aquél, etc., but these accents were deemed unnecessary except to avoid ambiguity by the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language (La Real Academia de la Lengua Española), the most prestigious body that governs the standards of the written language. (This is in Spain. Some Spanish American countries have similar organizations, the linguistic norms of which at times differ from Spain’s. [See Mini-Capsule: I.]) In the early 21st century, there is still no agreed on uniformity regarding the use or omission of these accent marks. There is no ambiguity when the demonstrative adjectives are always followed by nouns or when the demonstrative pronouns stand alone. Accents on the latter are not used in the text.

Tengo dos regalos. Este es para mi hermana y ese es para mi prima. I have two gifts. This one is for my sister and that one is for my cousin.
Esta casa es donde viven mis padres. En aquella viven mis abuelos. This house is where my parents live. My grandparents live in that one (far away).

Demonstratives to say “the former” and “the latter”

The forms este and aquel, as well as their feminine and plural forms, when referring to two different antecedents also mean “the latter” and “the former,” respectively. Being unaware of this can cause major comprehension problems, unless the context is particularly illustrative of the meaning. Another complicating factor of this usage is that Spanish expresses este (or a form thereof) before aquel, in the opposite order from English, as well as the fact that they are used much more commonly in Spanish than in English and, therefore, cannot be considered “low frequency” items.

Colombia y Venezuela tienen costas en el Mar Caribe. Este tiene como capital a Caracas, aquel, a Bogotá. Colombia and Venezuela have coasts on the Caribbean Sea. The former has Bogotá as its capital, the latter, Caracas.
Eugenio y Claudia son nuevos estudiantes este año. Esta es chilena, aquel, neoyorquino. Eugenio and Claudia are new students this year. The former is a New Yorker, the latter, Chilean.

The demonstrative pronouns also have neuter forms: esto, eso, and aquello. These are used when there is no antecedent mentioned, or to refer to notions, abstracts or concepts.

Esto no es tan difícil como piensas. This isn’t so (as) difficult as you think.
Aquello simplemente no es verdad. That simply is not true.

One minor additional usage is that este (esto, in Spain) is the hesitation word in speaking that corresponds to “er…” or “uh” in English.

Vocabulario básico 

Sustantivos:

la corrida de toros- bullfight (running of the bulls)
la época- epoch, era, time
la era- era
la regla- rule

Expresiones:

algunas veces- sometimes
a menudo- often
a veces- at times
muchas veces- often (many times)
la primera vez- the first time
rara vez, raras veces- seldom, infrequently, rarely

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

5.4 Verbs saber and conocer

Spanish has two verbs that often translate as “to know.” Saber is an irregular verb that means to know a fact, a piece of information, or to know something by memory. Conocer is a regular verb that means to know a city, place, person, or work of art.

SABER

Person Singular Plural
1st sabemos
2nd sabes sabéis
3rd sabe saben

CONOCER

Person Singular Plural
1st conozco conocemos
2nd conoces conocéis
3rd conoce conocen

Although the first person singular of conocer may appear irregular, it is not. The insertion of the z before the c serves to keep the “soft” sound of the s. (All verbs ending in vowel + –cer and -cir follow this pattern.)

Sé donde vive. I know where he lives.
¿Sabes la repuesta? Do you know the answer?
Sé el poema de memoria. I know the poem by memory.
Conozco el poema. I’m familiar with the poem.
¿Conocen Uds. Andalucía? Do you know (Are you acquainted/familiar with) Andalusia?
Ellas conocen a mi esposa. They know my wife.
¿Conoce el camino a la playa? Do you know the road to the beach?

Saber followed directly by the infinitive means “to know how to do something.” The omission of como is the norm, though when it occasionally appears it does not cause comprehension problems.

¿Sabes esquiar? Do you know how to ski?
Raquel sabe traducir documentos del latín al español. Raquel knows how to translate documents from Latin to Spanish.
No sabemos cómo explicar esto. We don’t know how to explain this.

(Cómo, in the last example, is another indirect interrogative and, as such, takes a written accent mark.)

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

conducir- to drive, to conduct
coser- to sew
esquiar- to ski
ofrecer- to offer
reconocer- to recognize
traducir- to translate

Sustantivos:

los calcetines- socks
el camino- road
la camisa- shirt
la camiseta – t-shirt
la falda- skirt
los pantalones- pants
la respuesta- answer (cognate: response)
el vestido- dress (cognate: vestment)
los zapatos- shoes

Adjetivo:

propio- own (false friend)

Conjunción:

así (que)-so, this, therefore

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

5.5 Prepositions POR and PARA

Both of these prepositions often translate as “for.” In reading comprehension, problems may be posed in cases when they do not translate as such or you may miss the mot accurate meaning when they have more specific possibilities of translation. This section focuses on those occasions.

Por is the more vibrant and dynamic of these prepositions, while para is the more flat, “neutral” one, as will be seen in some of the cases below. Whenever possible, opt for the translation that provides the most nuance, such as in the following cases.

Uses of para that do not always translate as “for”: 

1. Purpose: “to,” “in order to”

Estamos aquí para aprender español. We’re here (in order) to learn Spanish.
Luis estudia para (ser) ingeniero. Luis is studying to be an engineer.

2. Destination: “to,” “headed to,” “to leave for”

Mañana vamos a ir para San Andrés. Tomorrow we’re going to go to San Andrés

3. To be used for: noun + para (not translated) + noun

Necesitamos más vasos para vino. We need more wine glasses.

¡Ojo! Pay special attention to vasos para vino versus vasos de vino. The latter translates as “glasses (full) of wine”:

Hay varios vasos de vino en la mesa. There are several glasses of wine on the table.

4. Deadline: “by” (occasionally, “for”)

Hay que terminar los informes para el viernes. It’s necessary to finish the reports by Friday.

5. In the opinion of (or “for”)

Para ellos, viajar al extranjero es muy importante.
In their opinion (For them), traveling abroad is very important.

6. To be about to do something

Estamos para salir y suena el teléfono. We are about to leave and the telephone rings.

¡Ojo! The above construction is from Spain. In most of the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, the expression estar por + infinitive means “to be about to do something.” (See usage 12, below.) Context and origin of text should clarify meaning.

7. To be done

Tenemos mucho trabajo para hacer.
We have much work to be done (to do).

Contrast with usage 15 of por. Por indicates a stronger sense of urgency.

8. Comparison, Contrast (“considering”)

Para verano, hace bastante frío. Considering it’s (For) summer, it’s fairly cold.

9. Idiomatic Expressions

para siempre forever
para nada not… at all
para empezar for starters
para variar just for a change

Ejemplos con expresiones idiomáticas:

Van a ser amigos para siempre. They’re going to be friends forever.
A Lidia no le gustan las verduras para nada. Sólo quiere comer fruta. Lidia doesn’t like vegetables at all. She only wants to eat fruit.
Para empezar, tiene el hábito de interrumpir. For starters, he has the habit of interrupting.
Vamos a quedarnos en la ciudad este verano para variar. We’re going to stay in the city this summer just for a change.

Uses of por that do not always translate as “for”:

1. Indefinite place: “around”

¿Está Arturo por aquí? Is Arturo around here?

2. Movement: “along,” “by”

Caminan por la playa. They’re walking along the beach.

3. Movement: “through”

Este verano vamos a viajar por Costa Rica. This summer we’re going to travel through Costa Rica.

¡Ojo! Contrast this with usage 2 of para which indicates destination

Este verano vamos a viajar para Costa Rica. This summer we’re going to travel to Costa Rica.

4. Explanation: “because of,” “on account of,” “out of”

Por miedo, Soledad no entra en el agua. Soledad doesn’t go into the water out of fear.

5. Indefinite time: “around”

Por noviembre, es necesario comenzar a estudiar mucho. Around November, it’s necessary to begin studying a lot.

¡Ojo! Contrast this with usage 4 of para:

Para noviembre, es necesario comenzar a estudiar mucho. By November, it’s necessary to begin to study a lot

6. “In place of,” “instead of”

Como mi hermano no puede asistir, voy por él. As my brother can’t attend, I’m going in his place (instead of him).

7. “For the sake of,” “on behalf of”

Hago esto por mis padres. I’m doing this for my parents’ sake (on behalf of my parents).

8. By means of: “by”

Mandamos el paquete por avión. We’re sending the package by plane.
¿Vienes por autobús o por tren? Are you coming by bus or by train?

9. Agent: “by” (following a past participle in a passive voice construction [See section 15.6.]

Son detendios por la policía. They are detained (arrested) by the police.

10. Parts of the day: “in,” “at”

Pilar estudia por la tarde y trabaja por la noche. Pilar studies in the afternoon and works at night.

11. From the Latin: “per”

¿Cuánto gana por hora un abogado? How much does a lawyer earn per hour?

Also common instead of por is a: Vienen al pueblo una vez a la semana [They come to the town once a (per) week.]

12. Opinion: “in favor of”

¿Estás por ir allí?
Are you in favor of going there?

13. Object of a search: Verb of motion + “to get”

Va por ayuda. He’s going to get help.
Salen por más agua. They’re going out to get more water.

14. “On one’s honor”

Juro por mi honor que es verdad. I swear on my honor that it’s true.

15. “To be done” (“to”)

Tengo un informe por escribir. I have a report to be written.

This is in essence synonymous with Tengo un informe para escribir (usage 7 of para), but the sentence with por connotes greater urgency, that it is incumbent on the speaker to write the report. The sentence using para lacks this urgency and is a more “neutral” utterance.

16. Purpose: “in order to”

Hago todo lo posible por hacer ir a Manuel. I’m doing everything possible in order to make Manuel go.

This sentence is similar to usage 1 of para, however the use of por connotes strong resolve and deliberate effort, if not emotion. In comparison, the sentence Hago todo lo posible para hacer ir a Manuel is more “flat.”

17. Strong opinion: “as far as one is concerned”

Por ella, puedes hace rlo que quieres. As far as she’s concerned, you can do what you want.

This can be contrasted with usage 5 of para: Para ella, puedes hacer lo que quieres. The sentence with para is simply less emotional or less strong, just as “as far as one is concerned” is a stronger expression in English than “in one’s opinion.”

18. In exchange for

Por su testimonio recibe mucho dinero. In exchange for his testimony, he gets (receives) a lot of money.

19. Por is used in many idiomatic expressions:

por ciento percent
por Dios for heaven’s sake
por favor please
por fin finally
por lo general generally
por lo visto apparently, evidently
por suerte luckily, with luck
por todas partes (todos lados) everywhere

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

conseguir (i)- to obtain, to get, to manage (before an inf.)
correr- to run
destacar(se)- to stand out
detener- to detain. to arrest*
entregar- to deliver, to hand in
ganar- to gain, to earn, to win
jurar- to swear
seguir (i)- to follow, to keep on, to continue (doing something), to remain, to be
sonar (ue)- to ring, to sound

Sustantivos:

el avión- airplane
la ayuda- help
la cerveza- beer
la editorial- publisher
la iglesia- church (cognate: ecclesiastical)
la ingeniería- engineering
el/la ingeniero/-a- engineer
Nueva Zelanda (Nueva Zelandia in S.A.)- New Zealand
la página- page
la piel- skin
la taza- coffee/ tea cup
el vaso- glass
el vino- wine

Adjetivos:

enfermo- ill, sick
rocoso- rocky

Adverbio:

tanto- as much, so much

*Like mantener, this is a compound form of tener and has all the same irregularities.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.