Acoger / Recoger

You may be aware that the verb coger means to “to take” or “to grab” in standard Spanish, but in countries like Mexico and Argentina, this verb is considered vulgar and means “to have sex”.  Its derivatives, on the other hand, like acogerrecoger and sobrecoger, do not have such connotations and can be used safely with strangers and elders. I was once wary of these verbs because they contain the word coger, which I learned early on was a no-no in many Spanish-speaking circles. Nevertheless, the first two of these are quite common, and they have somewhat different meanings from their parent verb. Let’s take a look…

The closest synonym for acoger is refugiar. Translations in English could be “to take in”, “to give refuge to” or “to provide protection for”.  Here are some examples:

Los refugiados fueron acogidos por la gente = “The refugees were taken in by the people”

Los padrinos acogieron a los niños cuando murieron los padres = “The godparents took the kids in when the parents died”

In its reflexive form, it means “to have recourse to” or “to avail oneself of”. The famous phrase in American English, “I plead the fifth”, would be translated as Me acojo a la quinta enmienda. Its a common verb in legal-speak: “The immigrants invoked their rights to asylum” could be translated as Los inmigrantes se acogieron al derecho de asilo.

The verb recoger, on the other hand, means to “to pick up”. As in to “pick up” your kids from school or “pick up” a dress from the laundromat, etc. Here are a few examples:

Vamos a recoger a los abuelos antes de ir a misa = “We’re going to pick up the grandparents before going to mass”

Está prohibido recoger leña = It is prohibited to pick up firewood

You’ll notice that the meaning of a Spanish word can change somewhat when you put a prefix on it, in this case a– and re-. This happens in English too (think of what happens to the verb “come” when you place “over” before it). Acoger and recoger are related to their root, coger, but that relationship isn’t immediately obvious to native speakers, who hear these verbs in their respective contexts. So if you use acoger or recoger in a conversation, no one will raise an eyebrow. Just be careful with the parent verb…


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