Dar por / dar + sustantivo

The verb dar is, without a doubt, one of the most common words in the Spanish language. Basic dictionaries define it as “to give”, but this overlooks the endless idiomatic constructions which Spanish speakers can make with this seemingly innocuous word. Today I simply wish to focus on a few common usages which I’ve recorded in my notes. These relate to the concept of “being inclined to something”, “taking to doing something” or “to experiencing a sudden condition”. Rather than try to explain outright the logic of these constructions, I shall offer examples with their English approximations.

Dar por (hacer algo): To feel like doing something, to take to doing something, etc.

  • En estos días a María le ha dado por aprender tango. = “Lately Maria has taken to learning tango.”
  • A Cristina le dio por cantar. = “Cristina got the urge to sing.”
  • Por lo visto a usted le da por hacer acuerdos con todo el mundo. = “Apparently you’re inclined to make agreements with everyone.”
  • Cuando usted está enfermo del mal de amores a usted le da por encerrarse en tu cuarto… = “When you’re heartsick you take to locking yourself in your room.”

Dar + sustantivo: To be struck with a sensation or condition…

  • A ti te dio la nostalgia de regresar a casa de tu mami. = “You got nostalgic for going home to your mom’s.”
  • Está sebosa, por eso le dio un infarto. = “She’s fat, for that reason she had a heart attack.”
  • Me dio una súbida de tension. = “My blood pressure went up.”
  • Me dio un vuelco el corazón. = “My heart skipped a beat.”

In English, we would rarely use the verb “to give” to express the foregoing thoughts. If you think of these sentences in the following ways however, they actually make some degree of sense.

  • En estos días a María le ha dado por aprender tango. = “Lately Maria has been given the urge to learn tango.” (By what or whom Maria has been given the urge to learn tango is irrelevant… let’s assume that it’s God, the universe or her own internal volition that has given her this urge.)
  • A Cristina le dio por cantar. = “Cristina was given the urge to sing.” (Again, by unspecified forces.)
  • Por lo visto a usted le da por hacer acuerdos con todo el mundo. = “Apparently you’re given to making agreements with everyone.” (We actually do sometimes phrase it this way in English.)
  • Cuando usted está enfermo del mal de amores a usted le da por encerrarse en tu cuarto… = “When you’re heartsick you’re given to locking yourself in your room.” (A sentiment, an urge, presumably one which is given to you by nature or some invisible force.)

Dar + sustantivo: To be struck with a sensation or condition…

  • A ti te dio la nostalgia de regresar a casa de tu mami. = “You were given nostalgia for going home to your mom’s.” (It was presumably your own brain which “gave” you this nostalgia, but Spanish doesn’t really care where the sensation actually came from.)
  • Está sebosa, por eso le dio un infarto. = “She’s fat, for that reason she was given a heart attack.” (She was given a heart attack by her own obesity or possibly by divine decree.)
  • Me dio una súbida de tension. = “I was given an increase in tension/blood pressure.” (My body presumably gave me this, perhaps in response to something I shouldn’t have eaten or to some stressful event.)
  • Me dio un vuelco el corazón. = “I was given a heart jump.” (My body also gave me this, possibly in response to some bad news or a startle.)

From these examples, you can see that dar has a wider usage than we generally ascribe to its English counterpart. You can be given nostalgia, heart attacks, urges to sing or to lock yourself away. The agents by which these things are “given” are unstated and often superfluous. This is an important reason not to take the word’s literal translation so literally, as Spanish speakers have found many creative ways to defy the dictionary…

Hasta la próxima…

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