What is what?

What is what?  Unlike English, “what” cannot be translated into an all purpose word in Spanish.  It all depends on what kind of what you’re talking about, and qué is not an all purpose what. Here’s a quick recap of the various differences.  What – meaning a definition:  ¿Qué es un puente?  Un puente es una construcción que cruza los dos lados de un río y que se usa para el transporte.  What – meaning which of many possibilities:  ¿Cuál es su apellido?   ¿Cuál es el número?      Special note here.  When the “selection” word is used in combination with a noun, you use qué instead of cuál:  ¿Qué número tiene?  ¿Qué apellido es el más famoso?  What – meaning that which:  Lo que es muy importante es la calidad del programa.  Lo que más me gusta es bailar.  Lo que necesito es más tiempo y más dinero.  What – meaning what did you say:  This can have various forms, but the most universally used one is ¿Cómo?  It’s like saying how did you mean that?  What – meaning what something is like:  ¿Cómo es la novia de Pablo?  What’s Paul’s girlfriend like?  Qué- when it doesn’t mean what, but how:  ¡Qué bonito!  ¡Qué guapo!  ¡Qué rico!  Qué – when it doesn’t mean what, but how far: ¿ A qué distancia está la casa de la escuela?  How far is the house from the school?  Que – when it means who:  El hombre que vive aquí es español.  The man who lives here is Spanish.  Qué – to mean you’re welcome:  No hay de qué.  Que – to mean have a nice day when you’re the one leaving:  Que le vaya bien.  With a good friend:  Que te vaya bien.  It’s like may it (things) go well with you, the equivalent of the English have a nice day.  There are many other times when que (without an accent) is used in idioms:  Hay que hacerlo.  One must do it.    Tengo que aprender más español.  I have to learn more Spanish.  Es imposible que él lo haga.  It’s impossible for him to do it.  Tengo más libros que tú.  I have more books than you.  But be careful with the next one.  Tengo más de cuatrocientos libros.  I have more than 400 books.  Notice the de when it’s in front of a specific number.

Be more commanding

670px-Teach-Your-Dog-Basic-Commands-Step-2In this lesson we’ll review command forms.  You can’t be functional in a language until you can give someone an order (politely, of course!).  The easiest way to start is to remember one phrase, and then add an infinitive (no conjugations!).  When speaking formally to one person, Hágame el favor de + infinitive.  You’re literally asking someone to do you the favor of doing something.  Remember to attach object pronouns on the end of the infinitive.  Hágame el favor de pagar la cuenta.  Hágame el favor de pagarla.  In using the informal “tú”, adapt to – Hazme el favor de + inf.  When speaking to more than one person – Háganme el favor de +.  This is an easy, grammatically correct form.  You’ll want to move on to a more complex level, however, as you progress.  With these forms, you need to sound them out, think them often, and think a whole package of sounds.  There are logical rules which apply, but there seem to be a lot of them.  To simplify – when speaking to a “tú” person, just think in your mind that you’re more formal when you’re bossy, so use the Ud. form of the regular present tense.  For instance, when talking to your best friend, you say – Pablito, habla español, por favor!  Add pronouns at the end – Háblame español, por favor.  The irregular forms are most often short one syllable words (faster to order around your children!):  Haz (do)  Pon (put)  Di (say, tell)  Ten (have)  Ven (venir).  Practice these in combinations such as:   – Hazlo ahora!  Ponlo aquí.  Dime la verdad.  – Ten cuidado!  – Ven aquí!  If you’re talking to an “usted”, think switchy endings.  If it’s an AR verb, but an E on the end of it.  If it’s ER or IR, put an A on the end of it.  Señor, (hablar) hable español, por favor.  Señora, (pagar) pague la cuenta (note that the spelling has to change somewhat to accommodate the “e” here).  Señor, (regresar) regrese aquí a las ocho, por favor.  (Note that these forms do NOT have an accent on the end, so they should not sound at all like regresé, which means I returned in the past…completely different!!)  Señora, (dar) déme el cambio en dólares, por favor.  Señor, (comer) coma el pan, por favor.  Most of the irregular forms come from the irregular first person “yo” forms in the present tense.  Venga (from venir, yo vengo).  Ponga (from poner, yo pongo), Tenga (from tener, yo tengo),  Diga (from decir, yo digo).  But do notice that these are all affirmative commands, or telling someone positively to do something.  In negative commands, things are a bit different.  The easiest ones are the “usted” commands.  Use the same verb, but remember to put those pesky little pronouns in front.  +Hágalo, por favor.  -No lo haga, por favor.  +Hábleme en español.  No me hable en inglés.  +Olvídelo. -No lo olvide.  The “tú” negative commands are a little trickier.  They use a completely different verb form than the positive commands.  But they’re easy – just tack an “s” on to your switchy usted ending.  +Hazlo ahora, Pablito.  -No lo hagas más tarde.  +Háblame en 5 minutos, Pablo.  -No me hables ahora. Make a game of thinking of a negative command every time you make an affirmative command.

Lo and Behold

LO AND BEHOLD  The little word lo in Spanish is a very handy one and is used in a variety of ways.  One use is as a direct object pronoun, replacing a masculine singular word and meaning “it”.  Always remember to put it in front of conjugated verbs, attached to infinitives.  (el libro) Lo tengo.  Quiero comprarlo.  Another use is when you want to use the word “what” as a subject, not just as the question asking word. (A question asking word would be asking for a definition – Qué es esto?)   In English anytime you can use “that which”, you can use lo que in Spanish.  What (that which) I need is more time – Lo que necesito es más tiempo.  What’s (that which is) important is the cost –  Lo que es importante es el precio.  And there’s even more!  You can take an adjective and turn it into a noun meaning a thing by adding lo.  Lo bueno – the good thing, lo malo – the bad thing, lo mas necesario – the most necessary thing, lo bonito – the pretty part (or thing).  Another use of lo is in the common expression to express probability, and it doesn’t even need a subjunctive verb.  A lo mejor, Pablo no necesita más dinero – Pablo probably doesn’t need any more money.    A lo mejor, Juan viene mañana – Juan’s probably coming tomorrow.  Contrast this with the more complex construction of – Es probable que Pablo necesite más dinero.  Es probable que Juan venga mañana.