Last post, we examined some of the most common uses of the Spanish verb llevar. Today we’ll dig a little deeper and discover what other things we can say with this versatile little word. We’ll start first with one of its most common meanings, which is somewhat related to the concept of “carrying something” we saw last time. In this case, I’m referring to the clothes which we carry or wear on our bodies:
- Hoy llevo una camisa azul y unos pantalones negros. = Today I’m wearing a blue shirt and black pants.
Notice that, in this sentence, there is one fundamental difference regarding how we express the present of “wearing something” in Spanish. Unlike in English, we don’t use the progressive -ing (the equivalent of which is –ando or –iendo). It would sound funny to say “Estoy llevando una camisa azul…,” unless, of course, you meant that you were carrying a blue shirt from one location to another (but not wearing it). We can, however, spice this sentence up by adding the word puesto after llevar:
- Hoy llevo puestos una camisa azul y unos pantalones negros.
This doesn’t really change the meaning but it does emphasize that you are definitely, most certainly and without a doubt wearing a blue shirt and black pants. It’s merely a manner of speaking and either sentence is understood to mean the same.
The concept of wearing something also extends to hair, glasses, rings, etc:
- Mi hermana lleva el cabello bastante largo. = My sister wears her hair quite long.
In colloquial speech, especially in Mexico, it is common to use “traer” in these instances:
- Mi hermana trae el cabello bastante largo.
If there’s any difference in these sentences, it’s very subtle. With llevar you’re saying that your sister wears her hair long. This could be a momentary thing or a regular characteristic: llevar doesn’t tell us without additional context. With traer you’re saying that she’s wearing it long right now and not actually insinuating that it’s a permanent feature.
To be older than: In the last post, we related llevar to the concept of time:
- “Llevo dos horas aquí” = I’ve been here two hours.
We can also use llevar to compare ages:
- “¿Cuánto tiempo le llevas a tu hermana?” … “Le llevo dos años.” = How much older are you than your sister? … I’m two years older.
If it’s difficult to remember this usage, consider that it also sort of relates to the concept of “carrying”: I’m carrying two more years than my sister… you can see it by the sag lines I’m carrying around.
To steal: And llevar isn’t just about carrying things around, but also about carrying things off:
- Los ladrones se llevaron casi toda la mercancía. = The thieves carried off almost all of the merchandise.
In this instance, we use the reflexive form llevarse. It may be a bit of a stretch, but the “se” here is kind of the equivalent of the “off” in “to carry off.” Whereas, in English, we use a million different prepositions to change the meaning of a verb, in Spanish it sometimes suffices to simply change the verb to the reflexive (I wrote a series of articles on this recently: see here). Llevarse, however, refers not only to the things that people steal. The following exchange, presumably between a store clerk and a customer, is perfectly natural:
- “¿Cuántos tacos quiere?” … “Me llevo dos.”
In this case, you’re going to make off with two tacos but it will be perfectly legal.
To get along with: I know that I’m pushing the limits of the “carry” analogy, but I wanted to weave all these disparate meanings into a concept which you could easily remember. In this instance, llevarse refers to how two or more individuals “carry along” with each other:
- Mis padres nunca se han llevado bien. = My parents have never gotten along well with each other.
- No me llevo bien con mi hermana. = I don’t get along well with my sister.
A weirder, but perhaps more literal translation: I don’t carry myself well with my sister. You get the idea, right?
To carry out: The phrase “llevar a cabo” is how Spanish speakers express the idea of carrying out a plan:
- La policía llevó a cabo una investigación y descubrió quien fue el culpable. = The police carried out an investigation and discovered who the culprit was.
- La bruja no pudo llevar a cabo sus intenciones de convertir al príncipe en sapo. = The witch couldn’t carry out her intentions of turning the prince into a toad.
Incidentally, the word “cabo” means “end” or “final realization.” Ropes have cabos, Baja California has cabos and well-executed plans have cabos… llevar is simply how we carry them out!
¡Me lleva! I’ll end today’s post with this one… in Mexico, it’s common to hear someone say “¡Me lleva la chingada!” when something goes wrong or doesn’t go as planned. I’ll let you imagine what it means, but suffice to say that more reticent types will simply say “¡Me lleva!” without carrying the phrase on to its already understood conclusion…
Ya llevo mucho con esto … ¡Nos vemos la próxima vez!