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Using 'Cambiar'

Common Verb Conveys Change

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Bank of Spain

El banco cambiaba a dólares los euros. (The bank would change the euros to dollars.)

Photo by Antonio Tajuelo; licensed via Creative Commons.

It may not immediately be obvious, but the Spanish verb cambiar and the English verb "change," are cognates, coming from the same Latin source. Indeed, cambiar can be used for most of the English meanings of "to change." Some of the Spanish words derived from cambiar, however, differ in usage from the English counterparts where they exist.

Some examples of cambiar in use:

  • Tenías un minuto para cambiar la pila sin que se borrase la memoria. You have one minute to change the battery without the memory getting erased.
  • Necesito cambiar la dirección de email asociada a mi cuenta. I need to change the email address linked to my account.
  • Mi madre ha cambiado mucho desde que tiene nueva novio. My mother has changed a lot since she's had a new boyfriend.
  • El banco cambiaba a dólares esos euros según el valor oficial al momento. The bank would change those euros to dollars according to their official value at the time.
  • ¿Por qué nos cambia la voz con la edad? Why do our voices change with age?
  • No cambia mucho la política regional con el cáncer del presidente. Regional policy isn't changing much due to the president's cancer.
  • Me cambiaron la clase a una hora más tarde y se fastidió todos los planes. They moved my class to a later hour and messed up all my plans.

Cambiar is frequently followed by the preposition de to indicate what is being changed:

  • Una década más tarde cambiaron de idea, pero esa es otra historia. A decade later they changed their mind, but that's another story.
  • Nos cambiamos de casa a otra ciudad. We're moving to another city.
  • Un científico colombiano diseña ropa que cambia de color y detecta alergias. A Colombian scientist is designing clothes that change color and detect allergies.
  • Me compré un televisor caro, pero no puedo cambiar de canal. I bought an expensive television, but I can't change the channel.

The reflexive form cambiarse is frequently used when referring to the changing of clothes: Salí de la ducha y me cambié. I got out of the shower and changed my clothes.

Only three prefixes are commonly used with cambiar:

  • Intercambiar is usually used as the equivalent of "to exchange" or "to trade": Detuvieron a un joven que intercambió dulces por droga. The arrested a youth who traded candy for drugs.
  • Descambiar carries the idea of changing something into something comparable, such as when changing paper money to coins or when exchanging a gift. ¿La impresora que me compré ayer? Ya la descambié. The printer I bought yesterday? I already exchanged it.
  • Recambiar typically means "to change again." Recambian las lámparas en los semáforos. They're changing the lights in the traffic signals again.

The most common noun form of cambiar is cambio, which can nearly always be translated as "change" or "exchange":

  • Esto sin duda sería un gran cambio. This undoubtedly would be a great change.
  • Para evitar los peores impactos del cambio climático necesitamos una reducción drástica de las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero. In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases.
  • Ezeiza era el único aeropuerto del país con más de una casa de cambio. Ezeiza was the only airport in the country with more than one money exchange.

Nouns also can also be derived from two of the verbs closely related to cambiar:

  • Los palestinos celebran el intercambio de prisioneros con Israel. Palestinians are celebrating the prisoner exchange with Israel.
  • Tenemos más información sobre proveedores, piezas de recambio y accesorios relacionados. We have more information about providers, replacement parts and related accessories. (Recambio is usually used to refer to refills or replacement parts for items that are consumed or typically wear out.)

The adjective form is cambiable: Cambie lo cambiable, acepte lo incambiable, y aléjese de lo inaceptable. Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable. (Og Mandino quotation)

Usage of Other Common Verbs

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