It seems that life is all about rushing around and, for many of us, there’s never enough time in the day to accomplish everything. While sitting in traffic the other day, in a hurry as usual, it occurred to me that the Spanish-speaking world doesn’t share our cultural propensity for cramming as many tasks into our brief existence as possible. I warmly recall evening paseos through the streets of Madrid, the whole city alive with light, music and families enjoying the aire refrescante. Elsewhere, Oaxaca, Bogotá, Antigua and a multitude of other cities offered a similar experience, with spontaneous parades, bands playing mariachis or boleros in the plazas, and couples making out in front of moonlit cathedrals. Here, in my country, these things just don’t seem to happen. There are few streets to stroll on in the late evening, parades and bands require planning and permits of all kinds and what few cathedrals and plazas exist are located in such disparate places, there’s hardly anywhere for folks to gather even if they wanted to.
Perhaps this is what attracts me to the Spanish-speaking world. It’s true that our northern latitude countries are known for their stronger economies and greater industrial efficiency, but we sacrifice a lot of life to sport these labels. The streets may be cleaner in Berlin or Boston than, say, in Mexico City, but what’s the point of clean streets if most people only use them to transit between home and work? Learning Spanish has reminded me that life is meant to be lived and not merely spent on rush hours, bills or deadlines… and perhaps no other language offers so many opportunities to chill out, relax, y tomarse un buen respiro as this one.
This rant leads me to the day’s topic: the many ways to express the concept of being in a hurry in Spanish. Ironically, this language has a multitude of words and expressions to translate this idea. Perhaps it’s because Spanish speakers took the time to think these words up, whereas we English speakers make do with a more limited lexicon due to time constraints. Whatever the case, let’s stop, take a few moments and see how our Spanish-speaking counterparts would describe our regular routines…
The standard translation for “to be in a hurry” is tener prisa. The word prisa is a noun and means “hurry” or “rush” and, in Spanish, it’s something that you have (as opposed to something you are). If you are late for a meeting, it’s perfectly natural to say “¡Tengo prisa!” You can also say “¡Llevo prisa!”, which implies that you need to get going from wherever you are. Conversely, you can also say “¡Traigo prisa!”, implying that you’re arriving somewhere in a hurried state. If, however, you want someone else to hurry up, the verb to use is dar as in “¡Dáte prisa!” The word “prisa” also appears in a few set phrases:
- a toda prisa: “El se echó a correr a toda prisa” = He starting running in a big hurry.
- No hay prisa: “Puedes entregarme el documento mañana. No hay prisa.” = You can turn the document into me tomorrow. There’s no hurry.
Another verb meaning “to hurry” figures in daily speech, especially in Mexico and other parts of Latin America: apurarse. You will often hear mothers yelling “¡Apúrate!” or “¡Apúrense!” to children who are dragging their feet. In colloquial terms, this may be the most frequent way of saying “Hurry up!” to someone. And when someone is in a hurry, we can say that he or she “anda muy apurado/a.”
The negative imperative of “apurarse,” however, has a meaning more akin to “Don’t worry about it!” or “¡No te preocupes!“:
- “¡No te apures! No le voy a decir nada a tu novio sobre lo que vi.” = Don’t worry! I’m not going to say anything to your boyfriend about what I saw.
- “No se apure por el cambio… tengo dos centavos aquí.” = Don’t worry about the change… I have two pennies here.
It happens that Spanish speakers equate “being in a hurry” with “being with worry,” hence the reason this verb serves double-duty:
- “No hay porque apurarte, la vida sigue…” = There’s no reason to worry, life goes on…
Spanish has another verb to describe when something is done in a hurried or a rushed manner: apresurar. Its close English relative, “to pressure,” conveys some of the meaning behind it:
- “Yo también me quiero casar pero no tenemos porque apresurar las cosas.” = I also want to get married but there’s no reason to hurry things.
- “Ante la fragilidad económica del país, resultaría muy apresurado aumentar la tasa de impuestos a la clase media.” = In light of the economic fragility of the country, it would be quite rushed [premature] to raise the tax rate on the middle class.
If you crave variety, you can substitute “apresurar” with the verb precipitar in these examples:
- “Yo también me quiero casar pero no tenemos porque precipitar las cosas.”
- “Ante la fragilidad económica del país, resultaría muy precipitado aumentar la tasa de impuestos a la clase media.”
Both of these verbs can be made into adverbs: apresuradamente, precipitadamente. Only “apresurar,” however, can be made into a command (without sounding like a space cadet): “¡Apresúrate!” From walking around the streets in all the aforementioned cities, I can say that “¡Apúrate!” is the command of choice for most native speakers. “Apresurar” and its variants however, are your best bet for describing actions which are done in a hurried, pressured and premature manner.
If you want a word which means “pressing,” as it refers to those things which might induce you to be in a hurry, then use apremiante:
- “Iré tan pronto que resuelve mis asuntos más apremiantes.” = I’ll go as soon as I resolve my most pressing issues.
The verb apremiar also means “to hurry,” but it sounds so nauseatingly formal that I won’t belabor it here. You may hear, however, the phrase “el tiempo apremia,” which means that time is running out.
Another verb which means “to hurry” is agilizar, but this verb has a more positive connotation than “apresurar.” For instance, “un proceso apresurado” is likely to be one which produces shoddy results. “Un proceso agilizado” is a process which has been sped up and made more efficient. “Apresurar la toma de una decisión” is to make a decision hurriedly and in a premature manner. “Agilizar la toma de una decisión” is to quicken the process of making a decision, but in a way which produces better results. Here are a few examples of “agilizar” in context:
- “Hay que agilizar la construcción del café para que se inaugure antes de las fiestas.” = It is necessary to hurry the construction of the cafe to get it open by the holidays.
- “La automatización ha servido para agilizar el proceso de capturar datos sobre los clientes.” = Automation has served to speed up the process of collecting data about the customers.
Note a couple things about the word “agilizar.” It is usually used in formal contexts and best translates as “to speed up” when referring to a process of some sort. We would use the word “hurry” in some translations, but you can’t use “agilizar” when you’re yelling at your daughter to get in the car. The word “agilizar” has a secondary meaning, which means “to sharpen,” as in “agilizar la mente” (to sharpen one’s mind). In all instances, the point is that this word is about making things more efficient. The element of stress inherent in all of the other words discussed is absent with “agilizar.”
There are no shortage of regionalisms and archaic words to describe being in a hurry. You may come across ahincar or atrabacar in literature or in certain dialects (although the average native speaker would not recognize these words). On the street you may hear phrases like en friega or a la carrera, which refer to the speed at which someone does something:
- “El iba en friega para su casa.” = He was in a major hurry to get home.
- “Terminé el informe a la carrera y seguro que el maestro no lo acepta.” = I finished the paper in a hurry and [I’m] sure that the teacher won’t accept it.
I’m sure there are even more ways to express “being in a hurry,” but el tiempo apremia. Tengo prisa por ver mi telenovela favorita…
I hope this explanation is useful. ¡Hasta la próxima!