“Faltar” vs “Faltar a”

The verb “faltar” is one of the most common in Spanish, but it causes no end of confusion to English speakers. It means “to be lacking” or “to be missing” but, similar to the infamous “gustar”, it is constructed differently in Spanish than in English. Take a look at the following examples:

  • Nos faltan los dos libros que nos dio el maestro = We are missing the two books which our teacher gave us
  • Falta el respeto en este lugar = Respect is lacking in this place

In the first example, the literal construction is “To us are missing two books”. You’ll notice that the verb “faltar” agrees with the number of books. It is incorrect to say “Estamos faltando los dos libros…”, which is how students of Spanish sometimes translate this idea from English.

In the second example, the literal translation is “Is lacking respect in this place”. The verb “faltar” is singular because it agrees with “el respeto”.

“Faltar a” is used a little differently. With the preposition attached, this means “to miss”, “to be absent” or, in some cases, “to offend”. In a general sense, it means “to miss the mark” whether it’s not showing up to class or showing disrespect to a superior. Check out the following examples:

  • Hoy falté a la clase = Today I missed class
  • Faltaron a la verdad = They failed to tell the truth
  • Faltó a las órdenes de su padre = He failed to comply with his father’s orders
  • Nunca he faltado al respeto a nadie = I’ve never disrespected anyone

Pay careful attention to the following contrast:

  • Falta el respeto = Respect is lacking
  • Falta al respeto = He/she fails to respect

That tiny little preposition “a” changes the meaning of these two sentences. It can be hard to distinguish in native speech, but just know that the difference exists. Be back next week with another nugget of Spanish insight… ¡No faltes!




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