Spanish Language Precision: Preguntar

Posted by kogilvie | Filed under

Being precise with your Spanish is one of the many small things you can do to improve your understanding. Achieving a better grasp of the subtle meanings behind everyday words is a great place to start, and it can really maximize your ability to gain more out of poetry, songs, movies, and literature.

Preguntar is a very common word in Spanish, but what exactly does its meaning encompass? Where can it really be used effectively, and when is it better to find another word instead?

Preguntar means loosely "to ask", but the underlying meaning is "to ask a question" or "to ask about something". In the case of "Le pregunto la hora" preguntar functions quite nicely. But what about asking for forgiveness? Asking someone to come to dinner? These are two cases where preguntar will not suffice.

So what should you use in those cases?

For starters, let’s look at our options. Pedir also means "to ask", but in a way that suggests you are asking for something. Invitar means to ask but is a cognate with English "to invite".

So in the cases above, you could use pedir when asking for something like forgiveness, and invitar for asking someone over to dinner: pido perdón; le invito a mi casa.

When looking at a poem such as "Pido silencio" by Pablo Neruda, knowing that he is not asking silence a question and that he is asking for silence will help you understand the basic meaning of the poem. But on a deeper level, you can also make the distinction that he is not begging for silence (in which case he would have used rogar) but simply and calmly asking for it.

In a song by Edgar Lira called "Yo le pregunto", knowing that preguntar implies asking a question can really help your understanding of the lyrics:

Yo le pregunto a la historia quién fue aquel
Que partió el tiempo en donde estoy
El antes y después de él
Si dice que no existió
Yo le pregunto a la psicología
Si me puede explicar
Como doce hombres sin valor
Cambiaron de una forma radical
Después que resucitó

Knowing that preguntar means to ask a question, we can understand that he is asking "history" and asking "psychology" for answers to questions.

Working on your language precision is one of the best ways to get you closer to fluency, and it can be a very rewarding process as your abilities increase.