When was the last time you saw “verb” and “spice up” in the same sentence?
I know, I know.
Can one little verb really spice up your Spanish?
While we’ll try to avoid setting your whole mouth aflame, we can guarantee you’ll sound more sophisticated if you use these “spicier” verbs.
Instead of the same old verbs like tener, salir and those other trusty friends you learned back in beginners’ class, you’re gonna bite right into some powerful, flavorful verbs.
No more mild, boring Spanish for you. No, sir.
“But why verbs?” I hear you cry.
“Isn’t improving my vocabulary enough?”
Well, seeing as you asked.
Why Bother Learning New Spanish Verbs?
A verb is like the backbone of a sentence. Not only does it convey a lot of the meaning, it also tells us what time period we’re talking about.
Imagine you went up to your friend and just said: vino.
Now, if you’re really good friends who are both partial to a bit of a tipple, your friend might understand what you’re saying and crack open a bottle.
But what if you’re trying to say that you bought a bottle but somehow lost it on the way over, or that you’re giving up vino for good and will never drink it again? How are we supposed to know about that?
Verbs. They’re the answer.
At an intermediate or advanced Spanish level, it’s a good idea to swap your basic verbs for those of a more sophisticated caliber. Just like one progresses to finer wines with age, or moves on from speaking like a two-year-old.
While we’re not suggesting you eliminate basic verbs like ser, estar, tener and haber completely, it’s good to have a few other options up your sleeve for when you want to impress (or simply speak normally, naturally and fluently).
Of course, showing off your new fancy verbs in different tenses like the conditional and the subjunctive will make it all the better.
So what sort of verbs do we mean when we say “spicy”? Try these on for size…
10 Red Hot Advanced Verbs to Spice Up Your Spanish
This is one you mightn’t have learned earlier on, and means “to be used to” something.
It’s a reflexive regular verb, so it needs se either before the conjugated verb — me acostumbré a la vida en españa (I got used to my life in Spain) — or, when in the infinitive, after the verb — tengo que acostumbrarme a mi nuevo trabajo (I need to get used to my new job).
Use it instead of: cambiar (to change). Saying tengo que cambiarme a mi nueva vida isn’t as neat as saying tengo que acostumbrarme.
They also mean slightly different things. Changing isn’t quite the same as getting used to something. Also the verb cambiar is more likely to be used with clothing: as in ‘to get changed’. Tengo que cambiarme = I have to get changed. To say that you changed your mind, use cambié de opinion.
Agarrar is a regular verb which means “to grab,” “to grasp” or “to hold on to.”
It can be a bit of a tricky one because of the rr sound, but it sounds good if you can manage it. Try a tongue twister with rr in it to practice rolling your tongue if you’re still having trouble.
One example sentence with agarrar is: agarra bien tu bolsa porque hay ladrones por acá (hold on tightly to your bag because there are thieves around here).
You could also say: tengo que agarrar mis llaves y vamos (I need to grab my keys and let’s go).
Note that in some Latin American countries, the word agarrar has a sexual connotation and can mean that a couple kissed or even had sex. Nos hemos agarrado could mean “we have kissed” or “we have had sex.”
It’s best to ask for clarification if you’re not sure!
Idioms with agarrar include agarrar a golpes (to fight or beat someone), agarrar el dinero (to steal the money) and agarrar a besos (to kiss intensely).
This verb means “to yawn.”
It might not be a particularly advanced word in itself, but it’s the kind of verb that often gets missed out of Spanish textbooks or classes.
It’s an irregular verb as in the first person in the past tense the z changes to c (bostecé). Aside from this, it’s regular.
Challenge: try saying it over and over without yawning. Feeling sleepy yet? Stay with us!
One good thing about some advanced verbs is that they’re actually simple verbs with prefixes or suffixes added to them. Contradecir, which means “to contradict”, is one such verb. The verb makes perfect sense once you understand the way it’s made. Contra means “against or opposite” and decir means “to say.” The combination of the two should logically mean contradict.
The verb is irregular and follows the same patterns as decir, so in the preterite tense it conjugates to form sentences like: Lucía contradijo a su hermano (Lucía contradicted her brother).
Contradecir is usually followed by the preposition a, as in the above example.
This verb can also be a reflexive verb — to contradict oneself — contradecirse. And example of this is: Me contradijo todo el tiempo (I am always contradicting myself).
Chiflar means to whistle. However, there are two verbs for whistling. In some countries, chiflar and silbar are interchangeable.
In some parts of Latin America, like Mexico and Argentina , chiflar and silbar are slightly different. Chiflar means to whistle with your fingers in your mouth in the manner of a wolf-whistle or a loud whistle to catch someone’s attention, and silbar means to whistle a tune with just your mouth. Chiflar can also mean to boo or hiss at someone.
Just to make things even more confusing, chiflar can also mean to be crazy about something. In this case you might see the verb used like: me chifla el chocolate (I’m crazy about chocolate). This kind of makes sense in relation to the wolf-whistling, as the wolf-whistle does pretty much suggest “you drive me crazy” whether or not that attention is warranted or desired!
Another interesting side note: in Spanish, the Three Stooges are known as “Los Tres Chiflados.” It’s all coming together now, isn’t it?
This one means “to faint.” Perhaps useful on a hot day when you’re not properly hydrated (which too often happens to travelers in Latin America). You might have to say later ¡Me desmayé! (I fainted!)
It’s another reflexive verb and is regular.
While we’re on bodily functions, another useful verb is estornudar, which means to sneeze. This is another one that’s often left out of textbooks but can be very useful, especially in those moments when you need to sneeze but can’t, and you’re rendered temporarily speechless with a funny look on your face. Next time you find yourself in that situation you can say: “necesito estornudar pero no puedo” (I need to sneeze but I can’t). You’ll be momentarily excused, which couldn’t have happened without knowing that vocabulary word..
Related vocabulary is: pañuelo (tissue or handkerchief.)
This word also has a nice idiom: el mundo es un pañuelo (the world is a handkerchief), which is similar to the phrase “it’s a small world.”
Did you know that animals in Spanish make different noises than they do in English?
That’s right. Spanish dogs don’t woof, they guau guau.
Cats ronronear when they purr and roosters go qui quirk qui.
So what does ladrar mean? Bark, of course! We challenge you to use this regular verb in a sentence this week. For example, you could exclaim to your roommate, “¡El perro está ladrando muy fuerte!” (the dog is barking really loudly).
If por favor means please, what do you think porfiar means?
To plead? Sadly not.
Porfiar actually means to insist or persevere with something, e.g. porfió y al final solucionó el problema (he persisted and eventually solved the problem).
It’s an irregular verb, since in the first person there’s an accent on the i in some forms, it goes (porfío, porfías, porfía, porfiamos, porfiáis, porfían).
Another reflexive verb, quejarse means to complain, groan or moan. Me quejé porque no me gustó la comida (I complained because I didn’t like the food), for example. It’s a particularly useful one when traveling, since grumpy, jet-lagged people have the tendency to complain about missed flights, bad service and lost luggage.
So there you have it, 10 spicy verbs to add some flavor to your Spanish. What’s next? We challenge you to use them all this week, or even to write a short story involving them all.
Good luck, remember you need to porfiar and we hope that you’re able to acostumbrarse to using them soon.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked learning all this colorful (and incredibly useful) Spanish, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks and turns them into Spanish learning experiences. Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos – topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on. Then play some fun, interactive learning games like word matches and fill-in-the-blank.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store.
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