Competer, atañer, incumbir

In English, we use the word concern a lot… especially when we have concerns (“preocupaciones” in Spanish). The verb concernir does exist and is occasionally used in formal situations. Its meaning, however, doesn’t transmit the degree of worry with which we often use it in English: “The Apocalypse is coming and I’m very concerned!” In Spanish, we would express this idea as such: “Viene el apocalipsis y estoy muy preocupado.” The verb concernir is used primarily in sentences like “Esta situación nos concierne a los dos” (This situation affects us both). When this is the meaning, the verb afectar is a close and far more common synonym: “Esta situación nos afecta a los dos.”

The sentence “Esta situación nos concierne a los dos” can also be translated as “This situation has to do with or involves both of us.” In that case, there are a number of verbs which Spanish speakers sometimes prefer over concernir. Today we’ll look at three of these:

  • Competer: Don’t confuse this one with the verb competir (“to compete”). Although the conjugations are very similar, the word competer with -er means “to be the responsibility of” and, in this context, can substitute the word concernir. If we use it in the example given above, we are saying that this situation is our problem or our responsibility: “Esta situación nos compete a los dos.” You’ll also see it in sentences such as “La recopilación de datos debe competer a la secretaría” (Data collection should be the secretary’s responsibility). You’re most likely to come across this word in newspapers or in official broadcasts, whereas the following verbs are probably more widely understood…
  • Atañer: A synonym of concernir, you can just as well say “Esta situación nos atañe a los dos.” If you want to sound very polished, you can start your phrases with the expression “En lo que me atañe…” (As far as I’m concerned…). Of course, you’ll sound a little schoolmarmish and many native speakers will simply say “Por lo que a mí me toca…”
  • Incumbir: Here’s one that has made its way onto the street. You can say “Esta situación nos incumbe a los dos” and mean everything we’ve said so far. That said, its the noun form of this verb which gets a lot of traction: incumbencia. Spanish speakers often use this word in a negative sense to mean that something is not one’s business: “¡No es de tu incumbencia!” (It’s none of your business!). This is the equivalent of saying “No es asunto tuyo,” which is probably even more common but not nearly so colorful.

As you can see, the many meanings carried by the somewhat overused English word concern are expressed through a myriad of verbs in Spanish. As a beginning student you’re not expected to know these, but as you advance in your studies you can really impress your listeners if you throw in one or the other of these words. That said, they’re all the domain of the educated world, and you might get strange looks at a village cantina with concernir or any of its equivalents. Learn also to say things like “¡Esta situación es un borlote para los dos!” or “¡Qué pedo esta situación!”, using, of course, whatever words are native to the region you’re visiting.

¡Hasta la próxima!

1 comment on Competer, atañer, incumbir

  1. Great post and lesson on these three new words for me.
    I’ll have to use these sometime, including the phrase
    “No es de tu incumbencia!”. I like that one.
    But for now, en lo que me atañe, yo mama so old that her social security
    number is 1! En lo que me atañe, yo mama so old that Jurassic
    Park brought back memories. En lo que me atañe, yo mama
    so old she was a waitress at the Last Supper.

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