Get a Hand-up on Helping Verbs in Spanish – Part 2 of 2 | Translation Skills Training

Get a Hand-up on Helping Verbs in Spanish – Part 2 of 2

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Get a Hand-up on Helping Verbs in Spanish – Part 2 of 2

Some frequently encountered Spanish helping verbs deviate slightly from the simple pattern of verb-plus-infinitive construction you read about in the previous Tip for the Week.  This second of our two-part series dedicated to helping verbs completes our overview which we believe will be useful to a variety of audiences.  Heritage speakers, who may have little-to-no formal study of Spanish, may find something that will enable them to begin to dislodge fossilized errors, such as not knowing how stem-changing verbs are conjugated or because of imitating English verb phrase structures.  Language professionals, such as Analytic Linguists and translators, may find a succinct and clear explanation for them to offer to monolingual supervisors or clients who for any number of reasons, may benefit from a look at how Spanish works.  English-speaking students of Spanish will learn to expand their command of verb phrases in a native way.  Teachers of Spanish, we hope, will discover some fresh perspective to help a student who is struggling.

In this Tip for the Week, we will go beyond deber, poder and querer and use four new Spanish helping verbs to show English-speaking learners of Spanish how to avoid some of the pitfalls when introducing verbal complements of these four verbs.

Nothing about the new auxiliary verbs we are about to examine will alter what you have learned thus far about complementary infinitives and their verbal complements.  As always, only helping verbs are conjugated. Still, two things can make the helping verbs you are about to study slightly more difficult for English-speaking learners of Spanish.  The first thing to notice and accept is that there is nothing in their English translations to help you remember what is different about using these helping verbs in Spanish.  Next, the present progressive is used in English quite often – when the simple present is used in Spanish.  This can tempt English speakers to overuse that structure, from a Spanish-speaker’s perspective. Examine these sentences:

I have to read the chapter.

They are learning to swim.

He is beginning to understand this book.

We are teaching her to write.

Notice the complementary infinitives: to read, to swim, to understand and to write. The helping verb in the first example is in the simple present: have, but the remaining three examples employ the present progressive, shown by the be verb having been contracted into the subject pronoun and the ing verbs following. Let’s see their Spanish translations:

I have to read the chapter.

[Yo] tengo que leer el capítulo.

They are learning to swim.

Ellos aprenden a nadar.

He is beginning to understand this book.

El empieza a entender este libro.

We are teaching her to write.

Le enseñamos a escribir.

When you examine this application of the basic auxiliary-verb-plus infinitive structure, the first thing that likely attracts your attention is that in Spanish, the simple present is used, not the present progressive.  This is not necessarily the case in all instances of the use of the progressive, but English speakers need to keep in mind that the progressive is used less in Spanish than in English.  Secondly, you should easily identify the complementary infinitives in these examples: leer, nadar, entender and escribir.

Next, examine their respective helping verbs: tengo que, aprenden a, empieza a and enseñamos a.  There is clearly a slight modification to the construction. When translating the helping verb has to or have to into Spanish, use the properly conjugated form of tener, followed by que, then the infinitive. The que is not translatable in this construction but it must not be omitted.  Notice how the other three verbs express learning, teaching and beginning. These three verbs are easy to associate mentally and, in Spanish, they always are followed by the preposition a before completing the construction with a complementary infinitive.  We have used some inductive reasoning to identify the pattern to be followed when using these auxiliary verbs as requiring an interposed word between the helping verb and the complementary infinitive.

The verb tener is a shoe verb, a concept explained in detail in the previous installment of this series about helping verbs.  This verb presents an additional irregularity in that its yo form has a g- in it: tengo.  Its other forms change the e of the stem to the diphthong ie, in the shoe pattern:

tengo Tenemos
tienes Tenéis
tiene Tienen

The examples in this last installment should reinforce students’ ability to conjugate this cluster of auxiliary verbs correctly and to employ the correct interposed word when translating from English to Spanish.

© 2019, Translation Skills Training (TST).

 

Eric Vogt
Eric Vogt
Eric W. Vogt, Ph.D. is Vice President of Operations & Program Director of Translation Skills Training™ (TST). For full bio, see: linkedin.com/in/ewvogt32 or tst-online.us/about-us

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