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Verbs to boost your Spanish

Spanish, as you may already know, has a lot of verbs, and sometimes it is difficult to choose the most appropriate verb for what we want to express. This is complicated when there are specific verbs that we use in particular situations. And yes, of course that instead of those verbs we could use others, but it would squeak at us natives, that is, it would sound a bit strange to us, not quite right.

A clear example of this is the popular among students, hacer sentido, which is a literal translation of its English equivalent to make sense. And that, in Spanish, we don’t use, or we do, but with a different verb, in Spanish in this situation, we don’t say hacer sentido, we say tener sentido.

That’s what we’re going to look at today, some verbs that we use for specific things, so that the next time you speak and use one of these verbs you surprise your interlocutor. So if you’re ready…

Let’s go for it!

We’ve already mentioned the first one, which is tener sentido, but I haven’t given you an example. I always like to give examples, because I think it helps to consolidate concepts, seeing things in context is very useful when learning another language.

Muchas veces cuando estoy explicando un tiempo verbal nuevo, el subjuntivo, digamos, cuando explico sus usos o algunas situaciones concretas en las que lo usamos, siempre suelo preguntar a mis estudiantes si tiene sentido para asegurarme de que aún siendo un poco complejo captan el sentido.

A lot of times when I’m explaining a new verb tense, the subjunctive, let’s say, when I’m explaining its uses or some specific situations in which we use it, I always tend to ask my students if it makes sense to make sure that even though it is a bit confusing they understand the jist of it.

Another specific verb is cumplir, which we use especially on birthdays because in Spanish we say we cumplimos años when we get old. When you go, for example, to a girl’s birthday, it’s normal to ask her, “¿cuántos años cumples?”  “How old are you?” And she’ll tell you  “4,” or “5.” Or, it will give you the full answer, “cumplo 4 años”. “I’m turning 4 years old.” Or, the other day, talking to a friend’s son, my friend, his mother told him that he couldn’t do something because he was small, and the child replied, “no soy pequeño, ¿eh? Voy a cumplir 7 años” “I’m not small, huh? I’m going to be 7 years old.” Cute! But he still couldn’t do what he wanted, his mother wouldn’t let him—injustices of being a boy.

If a person start up a business, we probably don’t use the verb abrir, to open, or even the verb empezar, to start. The verb we use on these occasions is montar. We say montar un negocio fot start up a business. For example,

mi amigo dejó su trabajo y montó un negocio el año pasado que le va bastante bien

my friend quit his job and started a business last year that is doing quite well.


el sueño de mi pareja es montar su propio negocio.

my partner’s dream is to start his own business.

Now we’re going to talk about records. In Spanish, we don’t break records, we beat them. Yes, the verb batir has several meanings, but when we use it referring to records it means to beat an established mark.

For example, if you like to run, you’re probably always trying to beat your own records, or rather your personal best.  And if one day you manage to run the same distance you normally run in less time you will proudly say, “he batido mi mejor marca personal, he corrido 5 km en 24 minutos”. “I beat my personal best, I ran 5 km in 24 minutes”.

Or continuing with the theme of running,  Usain Bolt batió varios récords en los Juegos Olímpicos. Usain Bolt broke several records at the Olympic Games.

Another interesting verb is the verb sacar, or rather, sacarse, which we also use for many things, including when someone achieves something, especially a career or something related to academics. If someone has a career, we say se ha sacado una carrera they have earned a career. For example, mi vecino se está sacando la carrera de derecho en la Universidad de Edimburgo, my neighbour is getting a law degree at the University of Edinburgh. And when I pass his degree, I’ll say, mi vecino se ha sacado la carrera de derecho, my neighbor has graduated from law school.

With this verb we can also say that you have achieved other things. For example, if you pass las oposiciones, which is the exam you need to take in Spain to work in the public sector. If you pass it you’ll say that  te has sacado una oposición, you’ve taken (and passed)  a competitive examination. Or when you pass your driving test, the same, you can say that  te has sacado la licencia de conducer, you have obtained your driver’s license,

We continue with wars. Wars, of course, begin, but at the beginning the verb we use is declarar, to declare. Declarar una guerra is the official announcement identifying the nation or nations against which war is declared, in the case of two nations. This statement will be accompanied by a list that justifies the reason for the war and blaming the other country. And I said in the case that the declaration of war is between two nations, because sometimes, in popular speech we can use it to refer to the confrontation between two people. For example, if you are the leader of a team and one of your colleagues does not follow your instructions, in fact contradicts you in front of the rest, you may think that haciendo eso te ha declarado la guerra, by doing so he has declared war on you. Because from that moment on, a direct confrontation may not begin, but probably the relationships turns a bit tense.

To finish up, another verb, and something you may be familiar with. The thing is attention, and the verb we use with it is… Prestar, to lend! In Spanish, we don’t pay attention, we lend attention. I’m sure that at school more than one teacher told you in class “prestad atención que esto es importante”, pay attention because this is important”, or “prestad atención que esto es una pregunta de examen, pay attention because this is an exam question.

Also, if you’re with a friend and she’s telling you something, but you’re not listening because you’re thinking about your stuff, she can notice and say, También, si estás con una amiga y te está contando algo, pero tú no estás escuchando porque estás pensando en tus cosas, ella se puede dar cuenta y te dirá, ¿en qué estás pensando que no me estás prestando atención?, What are you thinking that you’re not paying attention to? Although here she could also use hacer caso that it means the same of prestar atención, but in a more colloquial way. So they question may look like something like “¿en qué estás pensando que no me estás haciendo caso?

Here are some verbs we use for specific things that can help you boost your Spanish. Of course there are others, but I’ve made a small selection. Start by using these, and not all of them! Pick a couple of them and familiarize yourself with them. In fact, write your own couple of sentences in the comments to practice! I’d love to read them. I hope you found this post useful. If you want to stay in touch, you can join my newsletter, here. I promise I don’t spam!

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