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Multi-Word Verbs in Spanish

Multi-word verbs are a combination of mostly two or three words that function together as a verb. There are thousands of them in English. Examples: watch out, sit up, throw away. These semantic units cannot be understood based upon the meanings of the individual parts alone, but must be taken as a whole. Unlike English, multi-word verbs are not as common in Spanish.

The fact that Spanish has markedly fewer multi-word verbs has both advantages and disadvantages for Spanish learners. Combining words to create new verbs rather than having to learn new ones is handy at times, but it can also be confusing. Imagine English learners trying to understand why the verb “take” appears three times in this sentence:

The girl who took after her dad took care of the baby while the plane took off.

La niña que se parecía a su papá cuidó al bebé mientras despegó el avión.

It can be difficult for English learners to find a connection between these three meanings. Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about this, not like you don’t have your fair share of complications with Spanish verbs already. Spanish doesn’t have as many multi-word verbs as English, but it does have some. The following are some of the most common:

darse cuenta de realize

Eddie no se dio cuenta del problema que tiene.

Eddie didn't realize the problem he has.

estar de acuerdo agree

Nunca estoy de acuerdo con mi jefe.

I never agree with my boss.

valer la pena be worth it

Podemos intentarlo, pero creo que no vale la pena.

We can try, but I don't think it's worth it.

hacer caso listen, pay attention

Cuando están con sus teléfonos mis hijos nunca me hacen caso.

When my kids are on their phones they never pay attention to me.

quedarse sin run out of

Nos quedamos sin azúcar, ¿podrías ir al supermercado?

We ran out of sugar, could you go to the supermarket?

darse vuelta turn around

Me di vuelta cuando escuché su voz.

I turned around when I heard her voice.

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I’m a Spanish teacher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2007 I have been teaching Spanish to people from all over the world. Whether looking for an online Spanish tutor, or in person while visiting Buenos Aires, please reach out to me with any questions you might have!

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