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Translating 'Down'

'Abajo' and Related Words Often Used

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"Down" is one of those simple, everyday words that can be especially challenging to translate to Spanish. One reason is that it can function as five parts of speech: most commonly an adverb, but also as a preposition, adjective, verb and adjective. But even within those categories, there's no consistent way of translating the word.

In many cases, the best approach to take in translation is to think of another way of rewording the English and then translate that. For example, if you try translating a sentence such as "I'm down to only one dollar" word-for-word, you'll find yourself confused at best. Instead, try using the verb quedar, often used to indicate a remaining quantity. The idea is expressed with "Me queda sólo un dólar," which literally means "Only one dollar remains for me."

That said, in many contexts — such as when "down" means the opposite of "up" and indicates motion or direction — it is possible to use the adverb abajo, either by itself or in combination with other words, or the related verb bajar, which typically means "to go down." This includes most cases where "down" is functioning as an adverb. Some examples:

  • When I look down I feel dizzy. Cuando miro para abajo me mareo.
  • The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. El accidente lo dejó paralizado desde el cuello para abajo.
  • The Bilbao Market has gone down 22 points at midsession. La Bolsa de Bilbao ha bajado 22,72 puntos a media sesión.
  • It's essential that the roots grow downward in order to maximize the absorption of water. Es esencial que las raÍces crezcan hacia abajo para que maximizar su absorción de agua.
  • Gravitational force pulls the satellite downward. La fuerza gravitatoria tira del satélite hacia abajo.
  • We have to get down from the train at the border. Tenemos que bajar del tren en la frontera.
  • Everyone from the governor down is immersed in a web of corruption. Todos desde el gobernador para ajabo están inmersos in una aurealoa de corrupción.
  • Another possibility for adventurers is to camp down in the canyon. Otra posibilidad para los aventureros es acampar abajo en el cañon.
  • The temperature went down from 30 degrees to 20 degrees. La temperatura se bajó de 30 grados hasta 20 grados.
  • I prefer to sleep face down. Prefiero dormir boca abajo.

"Down" as an adjective: When "down" functions as a adjective in English, it often has a specialized meaning that depends on the context. You'll usually be best off recasting the English before translating:

  • The wireless network is down today. La red inalámbrica no funciona hoy. (Literally, the wireless network isn't working today.)
  • She knew he was down with the flu because she called him twice. Sabía que él estaba enfermo de influenza porque ella le llamó dos veces. ("Down" here is being used here as roughly synonymous with "sick.")
  • We're down 10 points. Estamos perdiendo por diez puntos. (Literally, we're losing by 10 points.)
  • It's a shame that he is always down on himself. Es lástima que él se menosprecie a sí mismo. (The phrase "to be down on someone" is a colloquial way of indicating that someone devalues someone.)
  • They have me down for 2 p.m. Tengo una cita para 2 de la tarde. (Literally, I have an appointment for 2 p.m.)
  • The down payment normally is a percentage of the price of the house. El pago inicial normalmente es un porcentaje del precio de la casa.

"Down" as a particle: "Down" is a part of many English phrasal verbs — verbs that a made of up a verb word followed by "down" to form a phrase that has a meaning separate from the verb by itself. To translate, these two-word verbs must be learned separately just as any other vocabulary. Here are a few of many possible examples:

  • My mother isn't going to back down so easily. Mi madre no va a recular tan fácil.
  • The bar was shut down for not meeting safety requirements. El bar fue clausurado por no cumplir las medidas de seguridad.
  • He bowed down before the statue. Se inclinó ante la estatua.
  • The Iowa woman burned down a friend's house because she defriended her on Facebook. La mujer de Iowa incendió la casa de una amiga porque la eliminó del Facebook.
  • The government is cracking down on illegal arms sales. El gobierno toma medidas enérgicas contra la venta ilegal de armas.
  • My cousin is unable hold down a job. Mi prima no puede durar en un trabajo. (Literally, my cousin is unable to last in a job.)
  • The mayor played down the murders. El alcade no le dio tanta importancia a los asesinatos. (Literally, the major did not give much importance to the murders.)

"Down" as a noun: The down of a bird is typically referred to as el plumón, although a down pillow is referred to as una almohada de plumas. The down of a fruit is known as la pelusa. In football, a down is usually un down.

Down syndrome: The congenital condition is known as el síndrome de Down, sometimes abbreviated as SD.


Sources: Sample sentences are adapted from a variety of sources written by native Spanish speakers. Among those consulted for this lesson are 20minutos; Twitter conversations; Biolog&iacuate;a y Geologí, Ciencias pra el uno Contemporáneo; Visión Santigueña; Tatoeba; Namancambre Tours; Finanzas Prácticas; Yahoo.mx and TN.com.ar.

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