Viernes de Vocabulario: Awkward

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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Some words and phrases are just plain difficult to translate.  Sometimes, it’s because there’s no good equivalent, and sometimes it’s because some particular word has a much wider range of meanings in one language or the other.

English speakers use the world “awkward” all the time.  A situation can be awkward, a person can be awkward, and a feeling can be awkward.  Yet these are not the same word in Spanish.

An awkward situation is a situation in which you feel uncomfortable.  In Spanish, then, to describe a situation or moment as awkward, you would say it’s incómodo, or uncomfortable.  It might also be delicado, “delicate”, if what you mean is that it requires particular social finesse.

An awkward person can be a few different things.  Someone who’s awkward might be physically gawky, or they might be particularly adept at saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Both of these are best described as torpe, or clumsy.

An awkward turn of phrase can also be torpe, but you could describe it as poco elegante (“not at all elegant”) as well.

If you feel awkward at any given time, you might say me siento incómodo (“I’m uncomfortable”), or me siento raro (“I feel weird”).  You might also use the verb cohibirse or the adjective cohibido.  Cohibirse means something like “get awkward” or “clam up” – and cohibido means “self-conscious.”

Fue un momento muy incómodo porque soy una persona torpe, siempre digo la cosa menos indicada.  It was an awkward moment because I’m an awkward person, I always say the worst thing.  Después me cohibí, y ya no volví a abrir la boca.  Then I got self-conscious, and I didn’t open my mouth again.

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Viernes de Vocabulario: Understanding, Not Understanding, and Not Knowing

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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When you’re just learning a language, it can be hard for others to know if you understand them, or for you to know if others have understood you.  So you might think you would want to know this word:

¿Entendiste?                Did you understand? (tú)
¿Entendió?                   Did you understand? (usted)

However, many (although not all) Spanish speakers consider this a rude questionThose who find this rude thinks that it places the blame on the person listening for not understanding, and prefer to place the blame on themselves.  So instead of asking someone if they understood, you would ask this:

¿Me explico?                Do I explain myself?  Do I make myself clear?

Of course, just knowing how to ask politely is only have the battle.  Sometimes you’ll have to tell someone that you didn’t understand, or that you don’t know, or that you’ve forgotten something or gotten confused.  For this, we have three more useful phrases:

Me quedé en blanco.    I drew a blank.
Perdí el hilo.                  I lost the thread (of the conversation)
Se me fue el avión.       I lost my train of thought.

These three phrases have different uses.  When someone asks you a question and you can’t remember the answer, you’d say, me quedé en blanco.  If someone’s talking too fast or you zone out in the middle of the conversation, the appropriate phrase is something like, es que perdí el hilo. And when you get tripped up in the middle of a sentence, you’d say, se me fue el avión.

Why is thought a train in English and an airplane in Spanish?  That may be one of the great mysteries of language learning.

Viernes de Vocabulario: Aprendiendo el Gerundio

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The gerund (gerundio) is a grammatical form that refers to actions in progress.  In English, we form gerunds with -ing: joking, laughing, dancing, playing.  In Spanish, however, we form them differently.
Starting from the infinitive, we remove the last two letters.  If these letters are -ar, we add -ando.  If these letters are -er or -ir, we add -iendo.  Hablando (hablar), comiendo (comer), viviendo (vivir).
In English, we use the gerund as a noun: Running is good for your health.  In Spanish, we can’t do this, and if we want to make a noun from a verb, we have to use an infinitive: Correr es bueno para la salud.

Since gerunds refer to actions in progress, they can’t be used alone.  Instead, they need to occur with another verb.  Most often, this verb is estar, but they can also be used with seguir, continuar, ir,venir, and andar.

The differences between these helping verbs are subtle, so a few examples will (hopefully) help explain.


Estoy buscando trabajo        I am looking for work
This is the most ordinary usage.


Sigo buscando trabajo        I am still looking for work, I keep on looking for work
Seguir and continuar have the same exact meaning when followed by a gerund: something is still happening, continues to happen, or keeps on happening.
Ando buscando trabajo        I go around looking for work; I am always looking for work
While andar means to walk, before a gerund it often implies a pointless or disorganized way of doing something rather than a more literal meaning.  It can also imply that something is habitual

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The Gerund can be also used as an adverb for example

Voy haciendo mi tarea        I am doing my homework as I go (e.g. in the car)
Ir with a gerund tends to have a more literal meaning of doing something on the go.  You can ir comiendo, which suggests eating a sandwich on the highway, for example.  In a figurative sense, ir, unlike andar, implies a much more positive attitude on the part of the speaker.  Indeed, it generally implies progress.  If you were to say, ando aprendiendo a cocinar, I might get the impression that every few weeks you learn something, but if you tell me, voy aprendiendo a cocinar, I would assume that you were already making substantial progress.  (I might even accept your invitation to dinner.)

Viene diciendo tonterías        He arrives saying stupid nonsense;
                    He’s (still) saying (the same) stupid nonsense.
Venir, like ir, often implies physical movement, although towards the speaker.  When venir is used with a gerund in a figurative sense, it typically implies that something has been going on a long time, and perhaps even frustration that it has not changed.

Given all of this new information, I have a question for you: ¿estás aprendiendo español?  y ¿vas progresando?

Viernes de Vocabulario: Día de Acción de Gracias

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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Those of us who are from the U.S. or have lived there associate November with one major holiday: Día de Acción de Gracias, or Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving, people in the U.S. traditionally eat foods that are indigenous to this hemisphere.  The pilgrims were, essentially, grateful that they did not starve to death!  We also give thanks (dar las gracias) for everything that we have.

Some traditional Thanksgiving foods:

guajolote                                     turkey
arándanos
                                   cranberries

Viernes de Vocabulario: Knowing

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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In Spanish, there are two different verbs that are often translated to know, saber and conocer.  How do you know which one to know when?

Saber often implies a more profound knowledge than conocer, which often implies familiarity with something it is impossible to know completely.  Saber, then, is used to refer to knowing facts, or knowing how to do something:

¿sabías que…?                              did you know…?
saberse (algo) (de memoria)        to know (something) by heart
saber hacer (algo)                         to know how to do (something)
no saber ni jota (de algo)             to have no clue (about something)
¿quién sabe?                                 who knows?
sólo Dios sabe                              God only knows
¿yo qué sé? / ¿qué sé yo?           what do I know?

Do you know that song?  Sí, me lo sé de memoria.  (“Yes, I know it by heart.”)  ¿Así que sabes cantar? (“So you know how to sing?”)

Conocer, on the other hand, is used when you want to talk about knowing a person or a place.  People and places are much more complicated than facts, so you can never know them completely.  Don’t forget that you need a before the direct object when it refers to a person.  ¿Conoces a María? (“Do you know María?”)  ¿Conoces Los Ángeles?  (“Do you know (i.e. have you been to) Los Angeles?”)

conocer de vista                          to know by sight
conocer al dedillo                       to know like the palm of one’s hand

Both saber and conocer have different meanings in the past tense that illustrate the difference in these two types of knowing.  The preterite tense of saber generally means “to find out” while the preterite of conocer means “to meet” or “to go to (a place) for the first time.”  Conocí a María ayer, y poco después supe que es tu novia.  (“I met María yesterday, and a bit later I found out that she’s your girlfriend.”)

Viernes de Vocabulario: Lots and Lots and Lots

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.
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What do you say when there’s lots and lots of something?  In English, you probably know a dozen different ways to say this: a ton, a pile, a gajillion, and so on and so forth.  In spanish, here are a handful:

un millón        a million
un millar        a thousand (or a thousand million, depending on where); a large quantity
un montón (de)    a heap
varios            many
muchos        many
muchísimos        very many
(una) cantidad (de)    a (massive) quantity

Want to go out tonight?  I can’t, tengo un millón de cosas que hacer.  But there’s a party.  Es que tengo cantidad de trabajo.  How many people are going to the party?  Un montón.

Viernes de Vocabulario: ¿Tienes la hora?

Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.

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¿tienes la hora? do you have the time?
¿qué hora(s) (es / son)? what time is it?

If you are wearing a watch or holding a cell phone in public, you will hear these questions and their variations a lot.  The difference between ¿qué hora es? and ¿qué horas son? is a regional one.

Es la una it’s one o’clock
Son las (dos/tres/etc.) it’s (two/three/etc.) o’clock

Since any number bigger than one requires plural agreement in Spanish, you’ll have to make sure your verb agrees with the time.

(las #) y cuarto quarter after …
(las #) y media half past …
(las #) en punto … on the dot
(las #) de la mañana … in the morning (am)
(las #) de la tarde … in the afternoon (pm)
(las #) de la noche … at night (either am or pm depending, as in English, “4 at night” is 4am but “7 at night” is 7pm)
mediodía noon
medianoche midnight

Es hora de (verbo) it’s time to …

If you’re hungry, it’s probably because ya es hora de comer.  If your friend tries to convince you at the party even though you’re falling asleep in a corner, you can tell her es hora de ira a dormir.  And always, always, always, es hora de practicar tu español