Sometimes only a letter can change the entire meaning of a word. Consider, for instance, the case of ventana and ventaja. The former means “window” and the latter “advantage”, but it’s really easy to mix them up in conversation thanks to their similarity. Today we’ll look at a handful of Spanish words that look almost the same and which are easily confused, but which have somewhat different meanings. These are rasgar, raspar, rascar, and rasguñar which translate as “to tear”, “to scrape”, “to scratch (from itchiness)”, and “to scratch” (causing a minor injury), respectively. Each of these words also has a number of noun or adjective derivatives which you’ll likely hear in daily conversation. Let’s examine each one in turn:
Rasgar – We’ll start with this one since its meaning is most distant from that of the others. Rasgar with “G” means to “to rip” or “to tear”. Its closest synonyms in Spanish are romper and desgarrar, which are sometimes used interchangeably (although romper also means “to break”). When we use rasgar, we often refer to clothing:
- Se me rasgó la camisa que me prestó mi hermana. = “The shirt my sister lent me ripped.”
- El velo del tempo se rasgó en dos. = “The temple’s curtain ripped in two.”
There are a few nouns associated with “rasgar”. Both rasgón and rasgadura mean “rip” or “tear”, although the former seems to be more common in Latin America.
Raspar – This and next several words are closely related. Raspar with “R” means “to scrape” or, in certain contexts, “to scratch”. It’s the word you need to describe the action of falling down and scraping your knee (Me raspé la rodilla) or if you’re trying to scrape paint off a wall (raspar la pintura de la pared). It means “to scratch”, however, when one object is used to scrape against another to remove something- think of a scratch-off lottery ticket for instance (which is actually called a raspadito/a in some countries). Here are some derivatives of raspar:
- Raspón / Raspadura / Raspada: All of these words mean “scrape” or “scratch”, like the sort you get when you injure yourself in a soccer match (Se raspó el codo en el partido de fútbol) or land on the sidewalk (Ella se cayó en la acera y se raspó). Which word to use varies by speaker and by region, but the meaning is essentially the same.
- Raspado: The means “shaved ice” or “snow cone” in some countries, especially Mexico. You’ll see it advertised by street vendors and at carnivals.
- Rasposo: This is a synonym of áspero, which means “rough” or “scratchy”. It can apply to a surface or also to the tone of someone’s voice (Te oyes muy raspado = “You sound very scratchy.”)
Rascar – Rascar with “C” also means “to scratch”, but in the way a person might scratch an itch or his/her back. This sort of scratching is generally intentional and doesn’t result in injury. Here are some examples:
- Me da comezón en todo el cuerpo y no puedo dejar de rascar = “My whole body feels itchy (me da comezón) and I can’t stop scratching.”
- Si me rascas la espalda, te rasco la tuya = “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” (Note that this statement could be taken literally in Spanish… try Hoy por tí, mañana por mí to convey the figurative meaning of this phrase… or you may get your back scratched!)
To confuse things a bit, most dictionaries also accept “to scrape” as a valid definition of rascar. That said, native speakers seem to use raspar for the sort of scratching or scraping which produces injury or causes the removal of something, whereas rascar is reserved for the sort of scratching that your dog may do at the door or that which you do to your skin simply because it feels good.
Rasguñar – By now you’re probably wondering, “How many words does this language need to express to translate the word scratch?” Well, here’s another one: rasguñar generally means “to scratch with one’s nails or something sharp” in such a way as to produce scratch marks. Whereas raspar conjures up images of scraped knees and rascar is a natural response to itchiness, rasguñar is the sort of thing your cat does when it claws your arm: ¡Ese pinche gato me rasguñó! (“That —- cat scratched me!”).
The word rasguño is derived from rasguñar and simply means “scratch”. A big scratch is called a rasguñón.
If all these words beginning with “R” are starting to make your head spin, know that rasguñar has a synonym which is used as often, if not more so: arañar (¡Ese pinche gato me arañó!). You may even hear aruñar, especially in Central America, but the standard acceptation is arañar. An arañazo is the same as a rasguño.
I was inspired to write this article because all of these words confused me greatly at an earlier stage in my Spanish studies. It’s admittedly annoying that they are all spelled almost the same but, as you can tell, a few of them are somewhat interchangeable. Here’s a few silly little memory tricks to help remember their meanings:
- RasGar = has a “G”… think of this “G” as an “O” that was ripped open
- RasPar = has a “P”… so does the word “scraPe”
- RasCar = has a “C”, which is the first letter of comezón, the Spanish word which means “itch” and invites you to “scratch”
- RasGUÑAr = GUÑA reminds me of the GATA which scratched you in my earlier example
OK, I know that these mnemonics are a little ridiculous, but hopefully they’ll help you keep these words straight. I know it’s hard enough when the words kind of look the same, but with the similar meanings the situation is even more confusing. Rest assured, Spanish speakers are among the most patient people in the world and they’ll know what you mean regardless of what you say!