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Translating 'So'

Key Is Determining Meaning

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"So" is one of those English words that has so many meanings that it can be translated to Spanish in dozens of ways. As such, it can be a confusing word for Spanish students — as a strategy when translating "so," you're often better off thinking of a synonym for the way it is used and translating that instead.

This lesson looks at few of the ways "so" is used and suggests possible translations. In all cases, the translations used are not the only ones possible.

An an adverb meaning "very": Most of the time when "so" is used as an adverb meaning "very" it can be translated as tan. However, muy is sometimes acceptable as well.

  • I was so happy that I saw cottony clouds pass through the sky. Era tan feliz que vi pasar nubes de algodón por el cielo.
  • My love for you is so strong. Es tan fuerte mi amor por ti.
  • He did it so poorly. Lo hizo tan mal.
  • The city is so small that once you leave downtown there's nothing else. La ciudad es tan pequeña que una vez que te sales del centro, ya no hay nada.

"So" in approximations: As the context requires, various ways of expressing approximations can be used when "so" is used for that purpose.

  • I need to lose 20 pounds in two months or so. Necesito perder 20 libras en dos meses más o menos.
  • I'm going to buy myself an aquarium holding 100 liters or so. Me voy a comprar un acuario de 100 litros aproximadamente.

"So" indicating causation: A common use of "so" is to indicate why something is done. Various phrases of causation or purpose can be used. Often, such sentences can't be translated word for word — what's important it to get the proper connection between the different elements of the sentence.

  • I will give you one so you don't forget me. Te daré uno para que no me olvides.
  • I was afraid, so I left. Me fue por miedo.
  • Evil exists so we can appreciate what is good. El mal existe para que podamos apreciar lo que es bueno.
  • You can edit your digital photo so it seems like a painting. Podrás editar tu foto digital de modo que parezca una pintura.

"So" as a transition or filler word: Often, "so" can be left out of sentences without much of a change in meaning. In such cases, you can simply leave it out of the translation, or you can use a filler word such as pues or bueno if leaving out a word such as that would seem too abrupt.

  • So, where are we going? Pues ¿adónde vamos?
  • So now comes the best time of the year. Pues ahora llega la mejor época del año.
  • So let's begin. Bueno, vamos a empezar.

"So" meaning "also": Usually, también will work fine: You're from Texas? So am I! ¿Eres de Tejas? ¡También yo!

"So" in set phrases: When "so" is used in various phrases or idioms, you can often translate by translating the phrases as a whole for meaning, as in the following examples:

  • The book has recipes for shakes of fruits such as apples, oranges, strawberries, kiwis and so on. El libro tiene recetas de batidos de frutas como las manzanas, naranjas, fresas, kiwis, etcétera.
  • He's not a citizen. So what? No es ciudadano. ¿Y qué?
  • Every so often I imagine a good future. De cuando en cuando imagino un buen futuro.
  • These are treated just so. Estos son tratados con sumo cuidado.

The above is far from complete in providing the meanings of "so," and you may need to practice being creative in your translation. If one of the examples doesn't fit with what you're trying to say, try to think of (in English) another way of what you're trying to say, and then translate that.

Sources: Sample sentences are adapted from a variety of sources. Among those consulted for this lesson are: AmigoMascota.com, enFemenino.com, es.Wikipedia, Flacoman, Forosactivos, La Habitación de Lullaby, RTVE.es, Taller de Escritura Creía, Toluna.com, Versos.net.

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