The verb dar is a power verb and one of the first that Spanish students learn. In its most basic form it translates as “to give,” as in the sentence Yo le doy a la manzana a mi madre. As with any hyper-used verb, however, it carries a seemingly endless array of meanings. While this may sound intimidating at first, it simply means that you can express a lot of different things with a single word. All you have to do is change the context!
Today I want to explore three uses of dar which aren’t among the first which appear in the dictionary. You’ll hear these frequently in colloquial conversation:
1) The first usage refers to ability or the propensity to like something. I was once in a conversation with a friend and we were talking about learning languages. She stated midway through the discussion that “No se me da el inglés.” From the context, I understood that she meant that English wasn’t easy for her and, as such, it wasn’t her “thing.” I nearly had a grammatical aneurysm, however, trying to understand the reason she used dar in this sentence. “How on Earth would we translate that?”, I thought. “English isn’t given to her?” As it turns out, dar is used as a colloquial shortcut for “No tengo habilidad para…” OR, in some instance, “No me gusta…”. Let’s look at the following examples, taken straight out of actual conversations:
- “No se me da la música” = “No soy hábil para la música” = Music is not my thing.
- “Los deportes no se me dan” = “No soy hábil para los deportes” = Sports are not my thing.
- “Eso de mojarme en la lluvia no se me da mucho” = “No me gusta mojarme en la lluvia” = Getting wet in the rain is not my thing.
In other words, to say that something is not my thing, we can use dar in a passive construction. Essentially, what we are saying is that “music is not given to me in any form by which I can excel at it or dedicate the whole of my efforts to it.” The idea is similar with getting wet in the rain… we have neither the ability nor propensity to put up with it. Basically, “no se me da”… it’s not my thing.
2) Dar is also used when someone “gets the idea to do something” or when “one is inclined to do something.” When, in English, we say that “María got the idea to learn tango,” we aren’t necessarily concerned with where she got the idea (although we can specify it if it matters). In Spanish we would say “A María le dio por aprender tango.” Rather than get the idea, as in English, the idea is given to her (by whom or what is irrelevant, although we could always say something like “Fernando le dio la idea de aprender tango”, if, in fact, we care). Here are some other examples:
- “En estos días a Cristina le ha dado por cantar” = Cristina has gotten to singing lately.
- “Cuando usted está enfermo del mal de amores a usted le da por encerrarse en tu cuarto.” = When you feel heartsick you are inclined to stay locked in your room.
- “Por lo visto a usted le da por hacer acuerdos con todo el mundo.” = Apparently you are inclined to make agreements with everybody.
We can also say things like:
- – “A Crisanta le dio la nostalgia de regresar a casa de su mami” = Crisanta got the nostalgia of going back to her mom’s house.
Where did the person get the nostalgia? By whom was it given? We don’t care… all that matters is that Crisanta got nostalgic somehow and decided to go home. In English, we would use “get” or “to be inclined” in the foregoing examples, but in Spanish all this can be done with dar. Again, this is a very colloquial usage and you could also say “Cristina se puso nostálgica y decidió regresar a casa de su madre” and express pretty much the same thing.
3) The last usage I want to examine is similar, but it relates to health and medical occurrences. Take a look at these sentences:
- “Está sebosa, por eso le dio un infarto” = She’s fat, therefore she had a heart attack.
- “A mi hermano le dio una súbida de tensión” = My brother’s blood pressure went up.
- “Me dio un vuelco el corazón” = My heart skipped a beat.
- La prueba de embarazo dio [un resultado] positivo” = The pregnancy test came back positive.
When heart attacks, high blood pressure, skipped heart beats, aneurysms, etc occur, these things are given to the affected. The same is true when test results are returned (the test gives a certain result). It’s true that, in English, when we use the verb to give, we generally specify a giver: “You almost gave me a heart attack!” In Spanish, the use of dar does not imply that someone else caused these things to occur. Someone could have a heart attack out of the blue and we would still say “le dio un infarto.”
As you can see, dar has a lot of uses that don’t translate to our English concept of “giving.” It’s simply a question of memorizing and practicing these forms which, as I stated above, are extremely common in daily conversation. Using dar in these contexts make no more or no less sense than using “get” in our language. They must be accepted as figures of speech and, once mastered, will prove to be indispensable to your path to fluency. Try it out the next time your talking about getting nostalgic or having a heart attack…
¡Hasta la próxima!