A beginner’s guide to Spanish collocations

A beginner’s guide to Spanish collocations

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated November 4, 2022

Part of learning Spanish online is getting the chance to try out new phrases during your online Spanish classes. When you learn Spanish at home, your instructor can help you use Spanish idioms correctly so that you feel confident before saying them in real life. The best way to learn Spanish phrases is to watch Spanish movies and hear native Spanish speakers speak in a natural way. A Spanish collocation is a special type of phrase that is extremely useful for sounding fluent in Spanish.

What are Spanish collocations?

A collocation is a grammatical term for certain words that go together for no special reason. They just sound right together because they are commonly combined. If you learn Spanish at home or study online Spanish lessons, knowing collocations can come in handy. They are a main reason that direct translations don’t often work. See the examples below.

  • Age – I am 31 years old. In Spanish it’s: Tengo treintaiún años (I have thiry-one years). 
  • Decisions – Make a decision. In Spanish it’s: Tomar una decision (Take a decision). 
  • Job – I feel bad about my job. In Spanish it’s: Me siento mal sobre mi trabajo (Over my job).

How to sound natural in Spanish

The English and Spanish phrases above have the same meanings, but the word choice is slightly different. By using Spanish collocations, or word combinations, you will sound more natural. 

If you hear somebody say, “I have thirty-one years and it’s time for me to take a decision over my job” it sounds odd. In fact, you can guess the person is not a native English speaker. That phrase translated into Spanish sounds 100% natural though. Here are some collocations to watch for in Spanish. 

How to have a Spanish accent

Spanish collocations for transport

In English we get on a boat, into a car, get off the bus, and go down to the underground. In Spanish, you subir (go up) onto all forms of transport and bajar (go down) to get off. 

  • Ayer me subí a un barco (Yesterday I got up on a boat).
  • Me gusta subirme al metro (I like to get myself up on the metro). 
  • Hay que bajar del taxi, hemos llegado. (Everyone must get down from the taxicab, we’ve arrived).

Spanish collocations with hacer (to do/make)

In English we have a variety of words to describe doing, making, and having. In Spanish, most of these phrases use just one verb. Hacer (to do/make) can be used for many Spanish idioms. As a collocation, it appears in some of the most common word combinations in the Spanish language.

  • Quiero hacer una llamada telefónica (I want to place/make a telephone call).
  • Tengo que hacer la tarea (I have to do/complete my homework).
  • No me gusta hacer ejercisios (I don’t like doing exercises). 
  • Este fin de semana vamos a hacer una fiesta (This weekend we will hold /throw/make a party).
  • Hacerle cariño a alguien (To show affection to somebody).

Spanish collocations with dar (to give)

The Spanish verb dar (to give) appears in many Spanish idioms as well.

  • El cine va a dar una película de Batman (The cinema will give/show a Batman film). 
  • Me gusta dar un paseo los domingos (I like to pass along/go for a stroll on Sundays). 
  • Sandra va a dar a luz el próximo mes (Sandra will give light/give birth next month).

Spanish collocations with echar (to throw)

The English translation of echar means to throw. For example in a cake recipe you would echar azucar (throw in sugar) to the mixing bowl. Echar is also used in Spanish collocations. It helps to remember these Spanish idioms by thinking of old-fashioned English phrase “in the throes” meaning a hard or painful struggle. Most collocations using echar involve intense emotional reactions.

  • Echar a reír (To burst into laughter/the throes of laughter).
  • Echar a llorar (To burst into tears/the throes of crying).
  • Echar una mirada/un vistazo (To give an intense look/once-over).
  • Echar de menos (To miss someone/something).
  • Echar a perder (To ruin/waste something). 

From taking public transport to throwing parties to missing your sweetheart, Spanish collocations help you to speak naturally about daily life. What other collocations do you know? 

Practise your Spanish collocations by video chat this week. Enrol in a 7-day free trial with Lingoda’s native speaking Spanish teachers today. 

Related articles