Vuelta (I)

The word vuelta is so ubiquitous in the Spanish language, it’s worth learning it early in your journey to fluency. Over the years, I’ve collected a large number of examples as to how its used and I thought I’d share these in a two-part series. The word translates roughly as “a turn” or “a rotation”, as well as “a walk” or “stroll”. As is often the case, however, these meanings do not encompass all its different nuances.

Vuelta is the noun derivate of the verb volver, which means “to return” or “to come back.” A close relative is devolver, which means “to return something”, such an item to a store. You’ll see connections to both verbs in the following examples:

1) de vuelta: You may recognize the phrase de ida y vuelta, which translates literally as “of going and returning” and means “round-trip”. The phrase de vuelta is used to indicate that something returns or is returned. Estar de vuelta means “to be back”… Me fui de viaje pero ya estoy de vuelta = “I left on a trip but now I’m back.” Check out the following examples:

  • Van a tener que mandarle el dinero de vuelta = “They’re going to have to send the money back to him.”
  • En el camino de vuelta, el carro chocó con un árbol = “On the return trip, the car hit a tree.”
  • Estaremos de vuelta mañana = “We’ll be back tomorrow.”

Sometimes, de vuelta can mean “again”. ¡Hazlo de vuelta! = “Do it again!” In this case, it is a synonym of de nuevo.

2) vuelta atrás: This means “back the way one came”. A common phrase is No hay vuelta atrás, which means “There’s no going back.” A more colorful way of expressing this, as it refers to the past, is No hay vuelta de hoja (“There’s no turning the page back”).

3) dar una vuelta: This phrase generally means “to take a walk”, “a stroll” or “a drive”, or it can also mean “to come by” or “to drop in”. It can be used reflexively and, in some dialects (think Mexico), this is especially common.

  • ¿Queres dar una vuelta conmigo en mi coche nuevo? = “Would you like to take a spin in my new car?”
  • Nos vamos a dar una vuelta en mi carro. = “We’re going to take a spin in my car.”
  • Dáte una vuelta por la casa cuando tengas tiempo = “Drop by the house when you have time.”

4) dar la vuelta: Depending on the context, this means “to turn around”, “to return the way one came” or “to go around.” It forms part of the common expression darle la vuelto al mundo, which means “to go around the world.” You’ll also hear expressions similar to the following:

  • Él me hizo dar la vuelta = “He forced me to turn around/go back (the way I came).”
  • Se dio la vuelta y me miró = “He turned around and looked at me.”

To complicate things a bit, dar la vuelta can also mean the same as dar una vuelta:

  • Dimos la vuelta por el parque esta tarde = “We took a walk through the park this afternoon.”

5) dar media vuelta: Technically, this is the most precise way to express “to turn around 180 degrees”, as a vuelta is theoretically a 360 degree turn. As you saw in the previous example, however, this is not a hard and fast rule in the subconscious of native speakers. You’ll also hear dar media vuelta and darse media vuelta used almost interchangeably. From my research, however, it seems that the non-reflexive form means “to turn around for the purpose of moving in the opposite direction”, whereas the reflexive form means “to turn oneself around without moving location.” This is splitting hairs, however, and I doubt most native speakers would perceive a difference. Thus you can say La muchacha dio media vuelta or se dio media vuelta and mean that the girl turned around 180 degrees.

6) darle vueltas a algo: “To turn” or, more literally, “to give something turns”:

  • Dále vuelta a la página = “Turn the page over.”
  • La tierra le da vueltas al sol = “The Earth revolves around the sun” or “The Earth gives itself turns around the sun.”

In a figurative sense, this phrase also means “to think something over” or “to overthink”:

  • No hay que darle más vueltas al problema = “We can’t keep going around and around with the problem.”

7) dar vuelta: Just to confuse things further, Mexicans often use this phrase instead of doblar or girar when referring to the turns one makes when driving or walking:

  • Para llegar al parque, da vuelta a la izquerda en el próximo semáforo = “To get to the park, turn left at the next traffic light.”

As you can tell, there is a great deal of overlap in the above examples and native speakers won’t always follow these formulas when using vuelta. Its various uses and meanings vary by context, dialect and speaker, so don’t despair if it seems confusing at first. I’ve done the best I can to provide accurate examples, but with such a nuanced subject perfection is impossible to achieve. I invite feedback and comments.

Next week, I’ll reveal some other uses of vuelta that I have written in my notes. ¡Gracias por su participación en este blog y estaré de vuelta pronto!

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