At some point or another, most students of Spanish discover that the verb coger is, for many native speakers, a naughty word. The dictionary translates it as “to take” or “to grab”, but in many countries it means “to f–k” (the main exceptions being Spain and the Carribean, where it is used extensively and without any insinuations). This word, of course, would be a handy and straightforward way to translate “to take” or “to grab” were it not for this particular connotation. The student is left, therefore, searching for alternatives and today I want to present one which is common in much of Latin America (and particularly in Mexico): “agarrar”.

The literal meaning of “agarrar” is “to grab” or “to hold onto”, but in some places it has taken on all the non-vulgar uses of “coger”. Let’s see some of the different meanings this handy little word can convey:

  • To catch:
    • La semana pasada agarré un catarro y falté tres días al trabajo. = Last week I caught a cold and missed three days of work.
    • La policía lleva semanas buscando al sospechoso pero todavía no lo agarra. = The police have been looking for the suspect but they still haven’t caught him.
    • Te agarré con las manos en la masa. = I caught you red-handed (with your hands in the dough).
    • Agarré la pelota a medio vuelo. = I caught the ball in mid-flight.
  • To pick up:
    • Ese gatito no se deja agarrar. = That kitten won’t let you pick you him up.
    • Cada quien agarra mañas. = Everyone picks up habits.
  • To grab:
    • ¡Agarra ese martillo y ponte a trabajar! = Grab that hammer and get to work!
    • El salón está lleno y no hay donde agarrar localidad. = The room is full and there’s no place to sit (no place to grab). 
  • To obtain:
    • Ella quiere agarrar más conocimiento sobre el tema. = She wants to obtain more knowledge on the subject.
    • No hallas donde agarrar [dinero] para solventar tus gastos. = You can’t find [where to obtain] money to pay off your bills.
  • To hold on:
    • Hay que ir bien agarrado en el autobús. = You have to hold on tight on the bus.
  • To “get something” – Mexican usage:
    • ¡Por fin agarraste la onda! = Finally you get it (understand it)!
  • To hit (figurative meaning) – Mexican usage:
    • Vamos a agarrar la calle esta noche. = Let’s hit the street(s) tonight (let’s go out).

A few other phrases in which you’ll hear “agarrar” include “Agarramos la plática”, which means “We started chatting“, and “Esos muchachos se agarraron a patadas”, which loosely translates as “Those boys got into a fight” (literally, “They grabbed each other kicking“). A fun way to express the latter is “Se agararron del chongo”, which is a very Mexican phrase which means “They grabbed each other by the hairbun”… this often describes women who get into it with each other.

As you can see, for almost every use of coger, you’ll find a worthy substitute and generally safer substitute in agarrar. Of course, in several of the aforementioned contexts, it is perfectly acceptable to use tomar… the difference between “Tomé el autobus” and “Agarré el autobus” is essentially the same between “I took the bus” and “I caught the bus“. And, as I mentioned, if you’re traveling in Spain or Cuba, feel free to use coger without shame.

¡Hasta la próxima!


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