Blow up. Flip out. Take off.
What the heck are these phrases considered, grammatically speaking?
Maybe you never exactly knew how to define them in English.
Moving on to Spanish studies, do you know the difference between echar and echar a?
Well, yes, perhaps in a sense. But, more specifically, they’re an essential part of grammar called phrasal verbs.
English has a ton of phrasal verbs, but Spanish is also full of them.
Don’t worry. I’m going to explain everything you need to know here.
What Are Phrasal Verbs?
Phrasal verbs are verbs that change their meaning when a preposition or an adverb is added to them. Take “blow up” for example. Blow up doesn’t mean that you’re tilting your head back and blowing air towards the sky (unless you are, in which case you probably need to get a hobby).
Blow up means explode. “The Martians blew up the moon.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that they put a giant fan under it and blew the moon higher in the universe. No, they exploded it.
Phrasal verbs are constructed by adding a preposition or an adverb to the main verb.
Main verb + preposition/adverb = new meaning
Blow + up = explode
Flip + out = go crazy
Take + off = leave the ground
See, it’s easy. And it’s the same thing in Spanish. A preposition (de, con, and a are the most common) is added to a main verb to change the meaning of the verb. Take for example reírse. Reírse mean “to laugh.” But when you add the preposition de to it, reírse de, it means “to make fun of” or “to laugh at someone or something.”
Reírse + de = to make fun of, to laugh at
Me reí del chiste. (I laughed at the joke.)
Another example is dar con. By itself, dar means “to give.” But when combined with the preposition con, it means “to come upon or to find.”
Dar + con = to come upon, to find
Silvia dio con la solución a su problema. (Silvia found the solution to her problem.)
Why Learn Phrasal Verbs?
Phrasal verbs are an essential part of Spanish grammar. Many times the best or most common way to express an idea is by using a phrasal verb. You might already know acabar de, but if you don’t, this is by far the simplest, easiest and most common way to say that you have just done something. Yup, it’s a phrasal verb.
You need to know phrasal verbs because the difference between echar a and echar could mean you’ve just started a beautiful new relationship with a handsome Spaniard or that you’ve thrown it away. This tiny change has a huge impact on the meaning of the sentence.
With practice, you’ll have no problem distinguishing phrasal verbs in writing and in speech. Soon, using them will become second nature.
Here are 15 essential Spanish phrasal verbs to get you started.
15 Essential Spanish Phrasal Verbs
To get started, we’re going to explore the Verbs of Action and Reaction.
Note that all of these expressions must be followed by an infinitive.
1. Echar a
Meaning: to start to, to begin to
Echar a is used with verbs of movement. You can speak about a new feeling if you make it reflexive: echarse a.
Me eché a investigar sobre los verbos con complemento preposicional en español. (I started investigating about phrasal verbs in Spanish.)
Pero cuando me di cuenta de lo fáciles que son, me eché a llorar. (But when I realized how easy they were, I began to cry.)
2. Dejar de
Meaning: to fail to, to stop, to neglect to
You’ll hear this very often in the command form.
Así que me dije—”¡Deja de estudiar!” (So I told myself, “Stop studying!”)
3. Acabar de
Meaning: to have just
Use this verb when you want to say that you’ve just finished doing something. I hope you never have to use it to say this:
Acabo de suspender mi examen de verbos. (I just failed my test on Spanish verbs.)
4. Volver a
Meaning: to return to doing something
This is the most common way to say that you’re going to begin something again.
Así que volví a estudiarlos. (So I started to study them again.)
5. Estar para
Meaning (Spain): to be about to
Meaning (Latin America): to be in the mood for
This is a tricky one. Not only are there a couple regional usage variations to keep in mind here, but you’ll also need to be careful not to confuse estar para with the next phrasal verb on this list.
Y ahora estoy para ir a España y practicar lo que aprendí. (And now I’m about to travel to Spain and practice what I learned.)
Next up, we’re going to explore some Verbs of the Mind.
6. Estar por
Meaning (Spain): to be in favor of
Meaning (Latin America): to be about to
In Spain, this is a great way to express what you would like to do. Use it to express your preferences. It’s strong but not rude. Like when you’re tired of museums. In Latin America, use it when you’re on the verge of doing something at the moment.
Me aburre el Reina Sofía; estoy por ir a Kapitol. (The Reina Sofia is boring; I say we go to Kapitol.)
7. Pensar de
Meaning (Spain): to think about, to have an opinion about
Once you learn this phrase, you’ll find yourself using it in all sorts of situations. This is the best way to express what you think about something. Be careful not to mix it up with the next phrasal verb on this list.
¿Qué piensas de la chica de los tacones azules? (What do you think about the girl with the blue heels?)
8. Pensar en
Meaning: to think of, to direct your thoughts to
This differs from the previous verb because it often implies intention. Use this to express what’s occupying your thoughts. Like the girl with the blue heels.
No puedo dejar de pensar en ti. (I can’t stop thinking about you.)
9. Soñar con
Meaning: to dream about
You probably already know soñar, but you might not know that when you’re talking about your dreams, you must use con. Note that you can follow con with either a noun or a verb.
Soñé con bailar con ella toda la noche. (I dreamed about dancing with her all night.)
10. Contar con
Meaning: to rely on, to count on
This is a great way to let someone know how important they are to you. Especially when you forget where you put her number.
¿Diego tiene el número? Sabía que podía contar con él. (Diego has the number? I knew I could count on him.)
Alright, now let’s move on to some Verbs of the Heart.
11. Reírse de
Meaning: to make fun of, to laugh at
This construction is absolutely essential if you want to express that you thought something was funny. Or you need to tell your friends why you’re at the bar.
Mi novia se rió de mí. (My girlfriend was laughing at me.)
12. Alegrarse de
Meaning: to be glad to
When you get bored with estar feliz, that old Spanish 101 phrase, alegrarse de is useful for saying that you’re happy about something. Like that you and your girlfriend have made up.
Me alegro de hacer las paces con mi novia. (I’m glad to make up with my girlfriend. / Making up with my girlfriend makes me happy.)
13. Enamorarse de
Meaning: to fall in love with
How could you travel to any Spanish-speaking country without knowing this verb?!
Al verla hacer una tortilla, me enamoré de ella de nuevo. (When I saw her making a tortilla, I fell in love with her all over again.)
14. Casarse con
Meaning: to marry
It’s a common mistake to leave out the preposition in this construction, but when you want to indicate that a person got married to someone, you have to use con.
Pero se casó con mi mejor amigo cuando le cantó una canción de Jarabe de Palo. (But she married my best friend when he sang her a Jarabe de Palo song.)
15. Echar de menos
Meaning: to miss
You’ll hear this expression often in Spain. It’s interchangeable with extrañar. Don’t forget to add a before the object.
Ahora que me ha dejado, echo de menos a Mercedes más que nunca. (Now that she has left me, I miss Mercedes more than ever.)
Now all it takes is a little practice and you’ll be speaking like a local in no time.
And once you get a grip on these 15 Spanish phrasal verbs, you’ll be more than ready to win over the man or woman of your dreams, fall in love, get married and miss them when they go away on business trips.
Now, keep studying to take your Spanish to the next level!
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