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If you are a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, regardless of which is your dominant or first language, you have probably scratched your head when confronted by the high-frequency English word wonder. It can be a noun or a verb; it can be turned into an adjective (wonderful) or an adverb (wonderfully) – but just what are the solutions when searching for a good translation of wonder into Spanish? Spanish speakers may also be wondering about when and how to use it.
To begin to solve this problem, we need to look at the use of wonder at the communicative level and identify the ways wonder is used in English. It turns out that there are a few ways English speakers use this word to communicate some idea and each requires its own translation into Spanish.
Likewise, for those whose dominant or first language is Spanish, knowing when to use wonder in ways that are natural and spontaneous to native speakers of English can be frustrating, because the ability to use this handy word is one of those words that can mark a speaker as highly proficient in English. Let’s examine its uses and see the best solutions – so that you can go between English and Spanish.
There are five basic ways in which wonder is used in English.
English speakers use wonder as a verb to make a polite request, such as I was wondering if she would like to have dinner with me tonight. To translate this use of wonder into Spanish, perhaps the most useful solution is: Me gustaría saber si ella quisiera cenar conmigo esta noche. Another form of a polite request using wonder can be solved more simply: We wonder whether we should go with you to eat there. This use of wonder is a bit less frequent in US English, but the situation is simpler in Spanish because there is no change of subject and hence does not involve a subordinate clause: Nos gustaría ir con Uds. a comer allí.
Another use of wonder is to express passing curiosity. One might wonder if something has happened yet. It’s a question disguised as a statement, really: I wonder if the shipment has arrived. This use of wonder is easily translated into Spanish: A ver si ha llegado el cargamento. Or, since this is a case of probability in the present, another solution is: ¿Habrá llegado el cargamento?
Thirdly, wonder implies weighing things in one’s mind: I wondered about that problem all afternoon. This can be translated as Le daba muchas vueltas en la cabeza a ese problema toda la tarde.
Fourthly wonder is used by English speakers to express uncertainty. So, in order to say We wondered whether we should take that class, you can say No sabíamos si deberíamos tomar esa materia.
Lastly, wonder is often used to communicate surprise or lack of surprise: No wonder she didn’t drive; the storm is awful. This can be translated as No me sorprende que ella no haya manejado – la tormenta es espantosa.
Let’s not forget the adjectival use: He did a wonderful job, which can be expressed in Spanish by saying: Él hizo un trabajo maravilloso. In fact, most English uses of wonderful can be exchanged for marvelous, which makes the translation come to mind more easily.
As an adverb, wonderfully is easily translated by using maravillosamente, unless you want or need to use slang expressions in either language according to your dialect(s). Thus, simple statements such as: No one wanted to do it, but he took charge and did the job marvelously and Nadie quería hacerlo, pero él aceptó el reto e hizo el trabajo maravillosamente, could become such wonderful (!) statements as Nobody wanted to do it, so he took charge and knocked it out of the ball park. No hubo quién lo quisiera hacer así que él se la comió.
We hope this handful of models, with their suggested Spanish solutions has offered some insight into both languages and in some ways, into the nature of translation. At a minimum, this offers quick and natural ways for communicating these ideas in both English and Spanish.
© 2019, Translation Skills Training (TST).