Do You Know What These Spanish Verbs Mean?

Torrance Grey

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About This Quiz

Spanish: it's the world's second-largest native language, and growing fast! There are about 500 million Spanish speakers worldwide (native and second-language), and that number is expected to climb to 600 million by the year 2050. It might surprise you to know, too, that the United States has the second-largest pool of Spanish speakers on the globe. With all that going for it, it's no surprise that many people study Spanish, and hope to become fluent enough to make it their second language. You might, in fact, be one of them. 

But what's the lifeblood of any language? Its verbs, of course! Spanish verbs are easy to recognize: when in their infinitive (unconjugated) form, they end in -ar, -er, or -ir. And when they're reflexive verbs (verbs where the action reflects back on the actor) ... then there's an "-se" after the "r." 

Sound confusing? You'll get it quickly enough. For simplicity's sake, we're only testing you on infinitives, not conjugated verbs. Along the way, you'll learn about the Latin roots of many Spanish words, you'll learn about related words in English, and about "false cognates" -- words that look like an English equivalent, but actually mean something else. 

So get ready to see if your Spanish skills are passport-worthy .. or if they'd get you stopped at the border! Buena suerte- good luck!


"Ser" is Spanish's verb for long-term states of being, like being red-haired or Canadian or a good driver. You wouldn't use it to describe being at the grocery store.


This reminds us of a favorite anecdote from baseball. A major-league center fielder was tired of yelling "I got it" and still running into the right fielder, who didn't speak English. So he learned to yell "Yo lo tengo!" and then ran into the left fielder, who didn't know any Spanish.


You'd use "estar" for temporary states of being: mood, location, activity, and so on. "Estamos al teatro," means "We're at the theater."


"Amo," from the infinitive "amar," means "I love." In Spanish, as in some other languages, you can leave out the pronoun when the verb's shape tells you what it is. In this case, the "o" ending tells you it's "I."


"Querer" is often used for "to want," but also expresses romantic love. "Te quiero" means "I love you (romantically)" but stops short of the direct sexual meaning of English's "I want you."


"Decir" is a handy verb not just because it's frequently used (though it is). But it also gives us the helpful phrase "Como se dice ... ?" or "How do you say ...?" whereby you can ask a Spanish speaker how to say "bread" or "airport" or "go away!"


In Spanish as in English, the more common a verb is, the more it multitasks. In addition to the two meanings above, you'll find "hacer" in idiomatic expressions like "Hacer gracia," or "to seem funny."


"Ir" is such a deceptively tiny word for such a useful verb. It looks like an infinitive ending in search of a root!


The double "ll" in Spanish creates a "y" sound, perhaps most famously in "llama." "Llegar" is an important word not least because it gives us "llegar a ser," or "become." There's no single word for that in Spanish, like there is in English.


"Cocinar" also gives us the noun "cocina," for "kitchen." You'll see that a lot in the names of Mexican restaurants, like "Cocina de Rosa."


This verb gives us the Spanish expression "Vamos a ver." It means "We'll see" and comes in very handy.


This can be a little confusing to Spanish learners. We are taught "(lo) me gusta" as the equivalent of "I like (it)." But you're actually saying that the "it" pleases you. The thing, not the speaker, is the subject of the sentence.


This word is almost honorary English by now. People who speak no other Spanish will say "Comprende?" as a (slightly snarky) way of asking if you understand something.


Don't look for this one on stop signs in Latin American countries, though. They tend to use the more forceful "Alto" for "Halt!"


This might be your first exposure to a reflexive verb, which are marked by the "-se" at the end. This means that the subject and object of the verb are the same. "Se cayeron los libros" means "The books fell (on their own)." Nobody "falled" them (which doesn't make sense anyway.)


"Cuidar" means to take care of someone or something else. If it were reflexive, "cuidarse," that's someone taking care of himself/herself. In fact, "Cuidate" is a common farewell in Spanish, meaning "Take care of yourself."


You've probably heard the command "Andale!" It means, "Move it!"


This verb might be familiar to you from an adjective form, "baja," meaning "low" or "lower." Think of "Baja California," the part of Mexico right below California.


"Leer" is the Spanish word for "to read." It's not to be confused with the English "leer," which *does* mean "to stare crudely."


Like English, Spanish has separate words for "to hear" and "to listen." You'll find the second verb elsewhere in this quiz.


"Mandar" means "to send," as with a package, but can also mean "to order." It's related to words like "command" and "mandatory."


Again, the reflexive form means the action rebounds on the actor, or is internal. If it were simply "calmar," that would imply calming another person. When a Spanish speaker says, "Calmate," they want you to relax.


Okay, this one's a little tricky -- it's a false cognate, a word that strongly resembles an English word but doesn't mean the same thing. At least, it doesn't fit the common meaning of "realize," as in, "come to an understanding or a piece of knowledge." However, in English, we also use it in the sense of "fulfill": "My dreams were realized."


"Pedir," or "to ask," is related to the English word "petition." They're both taken from the Latin verb "petere," or "to seek."


"Caminar" is a more literal word for "to walk" than "andar." That word has a number of figurative meanings, like "to proceed" or "to operate" (as in a machine). "Caminar" is usually literal walking or travel, and gives Spanish the noun "camino," for road.


This is the close cousin of "oir," or "to hear," earlier in this quiz. As we all know, listening isn't exactly the same as hearing -- it implies a good intention, but not necessarily success!


Caesar famously said, "Veni, vidi, vici" for "I came, I saw, I conquered." It would be almost the same in Spanish. "I came" is "Vine."


"Saber" is the Spanish term for knowing in the fact or book-learning sense. Being familiar with a person or place is represented by a different verb.


Spanish has two main verbs for knowing. "Conocer" is the more personal one that you'd use to say you know a person. Knowing facts requires a different verb, which you'll find elsewhere in this quiz.


You might have recognized this one because of its similiarity to "scribe." In English, that's someone who writes for a living, usually as a copier or stenographer.


"Dar" has a lot of figurative meanings, as simple workhorse verbs often do. One favorite is "Dar a luz" for "to give birth." It literally means, "to give to the light."

Darse cuenta

Hey, we threw a curveball -- a verb phrase! "Darse cuenta" means "to realize," a word that is so useful it's one word in many other languages.


"Escoger" is Spanish for "to choose," words that look nothing alike in Spanish and English. In contrast, "decidir" looks very like "to decide." Go figure!


"Mantener" is, of course, related to our word "maintain." "Keep" is shorter and simpler, but it's from Old English, and didn't find its way into Spanish.


This one was probably easy, if you thought of English words like "credible" or "credulous." They both have to do with belief, and are descended from the Latin "credo" or "I believe," a word that's been adopted directly into English to mean a mission statement.

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