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Using 'Echar'

Translation Varies Widely With Context

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pouring wine

Echó el vino en una copa. (He poured the wine in a glass.)

Photo by John; licensed via Creative Commons.

When you're trying to understand what something in Spanish means, context matters. That is certainly true in the case of a verb such as echar, which can be translated in literally dozens of ways depending on how it is used.

In its literal, simple usage, echar means "to throw" or, more generally, "to move from one place to another." See how the way you understand the verb depends on what is being moved and how:

  • Echó el libro a la basura. (She threw the book in the garbage.)
  • Echar una cuchara de aceite de oliva. (Add a spoonful of olive oil.)
  • Angelita echó la carta al correo. (Angelita put the letter in the mail.)
  • Echó el vino en una copa. (He poured the wine in a glass.)
  • Este dragón es monstruo que echa llamas de fuego por la boca. (This dragon is a monster that breathes fire from its mouth.)
  • Esa máquina echa chispas. (That machine gives off sparks.)
  • Le echaron de la escuela. (They tossed him out of the school. Note that, as in English, this sentence can be understood literally, meaning he was physically removed, or figuratively, meaning that he was expelled.)
  • Zupo les echó la charla a sus jugadores. (Zupo gave the talk to his players.)

Because echar can be so broadly understood, it is used in a variety of idioms, many that you probably wouldn't associate with the concept of throwing. For example, echar la culpa, which might literally be understood as "to throw blame," typically would be translated simply as "to blame." Example: Y luego me echó la culpa de arruinarle el cumpleaños. (And later he blamed me for ruining his birthday.)

Following are some other idioms using echar. This list is far from complete. Note that many of these are informal usages, and some phrases may be understood differently in some areas.

  • echar un vistazo a (to glance at)
  • echar de menos a alguien (to miss someone)
  • echar abajo (to pull down)
  • echar la llave (to lock)
  • echar el freno (to put the brakes on)
  • echar a perder (to ruin or demolish)
  • echarse atrás (to back out)
  • echarse un novio (to get oneself a boyfriend)
  • echar ganas (to put forth much effort)
  • echar a suertes (to make a decision by random means such as tossing a coin or drawing straws)
  • echar el alto (to order someone to stop)
  • echar un ojo (to watch or look at)
  • echar balones fuera (to sidetrack)
  • echar las campanas al vuelo (to shout out the news)
  • echar el cierre (to close or shut down)
  • echar algo en falta (to miss something)
  • echar la buenaventura (to tell a fortune)
  • echar la vista atrás (to look back)
  • echar por tierra (to ruin or spoil)
  • echar una siesta (to take a nap or siesta)
  • echar sapos y culebras (to rant and rave)
  • echar una mirada (to take a look)
  • echar sal (to salt)
  • echar en saco roto (to do something in vain)
  • echar el resto (to go for broke)
  • echar un pulso (to challenge someone, to armwrestle)
  • echar pestes de alguien (to run somebody down)
  • echar una película (to show a film)
  • echar la primera papilla (to vomit)
  • echar una mano, echar un capote (to help out, give a hand)
  • echar leña al fuego (to add fuel to the fire)
  • echar el guante a alguien (to catch somebody)
  • echar una cana al aire (to let one's hair down)
  • echar una cabezada (to nap)
  • echar chispas (to give off sparks, to rant)
  • echar una bronca a alguien (to tell off someone)
  • echar agua al vino, echar agua a la leche (to water down)

Also, the phrase echar a followed by an infinitive often means "to begin," as in these examples:

  • Cada vez que oía la cinta me echaba a llorar. (Each time I heard the tape I would burst into tears.)
  • Préstame tus alas y echaré a volar. (Lend me your wings and I will begin to fly.)
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