Today I thought I’d start a short series on the power verb llevar. As this word crops up over 100 times in the 250+ pages of notes I took while living in Mexico, I feel that it deserves special examination. Llevar gets a lot of mileage in the Spanish language and one might llevarse un buen susto by reading the seemingly endless definitions which appear in the dictionary. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed, however, as this word can easily become one of your best friends as you progress in the language.
Let’s begin by remembering that the use of one word to mean many things is not exclusive to Spanish. English does this too; take, for example, the word “take.” This word can mean “to grab,” “to transport,” “to carry,” “to steal,” etc, to say nothing of what happens when we start adding prepositions (“to take up,” “to take over,” “to take out,” etc). In this regard, Spanish is actually simpler and we can forgive the language for its apparent “overuse” of this word.
Llevar, in its most basic form, is translated as “to take” in the “carry” or “transport” sense of the word. This is the definition which most learners are most familiar with. Let’s look at a few examples, if only to refresh your memory:
- Ana se encargó de llevar las cervezas a la fiesta. = Ana agreed to bring [take] the beers to the party.
- Voy a llevarte los papeles mañana. = I’m going to bring [take] you the papers tomorrow.
- Su marido se* la va a llevar a casa. = Her husband is going to take her home. (* The “se” is used in colloquial language to add emphasis and implies that the wife in this example is being taken home without her consent. This is even more apparent in the sentence “Se la van a llevar presa” = They’re going to take her to jail).
You may be wondering why llevar is used in instances where, in English, we would use the verb “to bring” (which, in Spanish, is traer). Generally, one uses traer to refer to the present location of the speaker, whereas llevar is used to describe some other location. Notice that, in the first examples, that Ana said she would “llevar las cervezas a la fiesta.” Only if she were already at the party would it make sense to use traer. In English, we often use “to bring” to refer to locations where we plan to be later, whereas this would be a grammatical error in Spanish.
Llevar also means “to take” when referring to time:
- Eso lleva su tiempo = That takes [requires] time.
- Nos ha llevado meses venir a verlo. = It has taken us months to come see him.
Speaking of time, llevar can be used to describe how long something has been going on. In these examples, English would probably prefer the construction “has/have been”:
- Ellos llevan un año de casados. = They have been married one year.
- Mi hermano y su novia llevan una relación hace dos años. = My brother and his girlfriend have been together for two years.
- ¿Cuánto tiempo llevabas de jardinero? = How long had you been a gardener?
Perhaps an equally important use of llevar is “to lead,” as in the sentences “She is leading a double life” or “All roads lead to the same place.” Let’s see what these look like in Spanish:
- Ella está llevando una doble vida.
- Todos los caminos llevan al mismo lugar.
The English expression “one thing leads to another” can be translated thus: “Una cosa va llevando a otra.” If you’re telling a story about a series of things that went wrong, you could say: “Una cosa fue llevando a otra y, sin darnos cuenta, todo empezó a venirse abajo” (One thing led to another and, without realizing it, everything started to fall apart).
Llevar also has the sense of “to carry” or “to carry away”, in both a literal and figurative sense:
- Deberías llevar una copia de tu pasaporte por si se te extravíe. = You should carry a copy of your passport in case it gets lost.
- Las palabras se las lleva el viento. = Words are carried away by the wind. [What he/she/you/they say(s) doesn’t mean anything.]
- Imagínate el trabajo que vamos a llevar esta semana. = Imagine the work we’re going to have to do this week.
In the latter example, llevar refers to the load or burden of work we’ll have to carry. A few constructions with this figurative meaning are probably less intuitive to an English speaker:
- El se lleva por esos asuntos políticos. = He gets carried away with those political affairs.
- Se ha llevado la peor parte de la crisis. = The worst part of the crisis has been carried [is past].
- Esa opción lleva menos riesgo. = That option is less risky [carries less risk].
It’s amazing all the different things you can say with this simple little verb. The definitions given here are probably the most common, but there are plenty of other uses of llevar which we’ll look at next week. Or, to put it simply, te llevo más detalles en el siguiente artículo. ¡Hasta pronto!
Finally, for today anyhow,