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Two Distinct Uses for 'Hacer'

Lesson 1 in the 'Real Spanish Grammar' Series


Excerpt from news article: El traje rojo, la barba blanca, la barriga protuberante y la bolsa repleta de regalos hicieron que, por arte de magia, los ojos de los pacientes de pediatría del Hospital Santa Clara volvieran a brillar.

El protagonista de la visita fue el Papá Noel canadiense, personificado por un empresario norteamericano que vive hace 25 años en el país y que desde hace cerca de una década lleva regalos y alegría a los niños internados en hospitales bogotanos.

Source: ElTiempo.com of Bogota, Colombia. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2012.

Suggested translation: The red suit, the white beard, the protruding belly and the bag full of gifts made the eyes of the pediatric patients at Santa Clara Hospital magically light up again.

The key player of the visit was the Canadian Santa Claus, played by a North American businessman who has lived 25 years in the country and who for about the past decade has brought gifts and joy to the children staying in Bogota hospitals.

Key grammatical issue: This excerpt shows two distinct uses of one of the most common Spanish verbs, hacer, usually translated as "to make" or "to do."

In the first paragraph, hacer appears in the preterite form; note that hacer is conjugated irregularly.

Here, hacer is used to mean "to make" in the sense of "to cause to." The typical sentence construction used for that meaning of hacer is "subject + conjugated form of hacer + que + noun (may be implied rather than explicit) + verb in the subjunctive mood," although there are some circumstances where an infinitive can be use instead of the subjunctive verb. Here are some examples of hacer used in the same way as in the news article:

  • Yo quiero hacer que se detenga el tiempo. I want to make time stand still.
  • Las fuerzas económicas hicieron que los bancos incrementaran sus tipos de interés. Economic forces made the banks increases their interest rates.
  • Hice que pasara. I made it happen.

In the second paragraph of the excerpt, the hace form of hacer is used twice to mean "ago," indicating when something began.

It is important to note the shift in verb tense usage in translation. When using hacer to mean "ago" for something that began in the past and still continues, the present tense (vive and lleva in the excerpt) is used in Spanish, while in English the present perfect ("has lived" and "has brought") normally is used.

Other notes on vocabulary and grammar:

  • Protuberante is an example of a adjectival present participle.
  • Although volver typically means "to return," a common idiom is to use "volver + a + infinitive" as a way of saying "again."
  • Although protagonista can be translated as "protagonist," it is more common than the English word and often is used to refer to the main person of an event. It frequently refers to the main character in a story, play or movie.
  • Santa Claus is known as Papá Noel (Father Christmas) in much of Latin America, although the name Santa Claus (usually pronounced and sometimes spelled as Santa Clós or Santa Clos) is frequently used.
  • Norteamericano is usually used in Latin America to refer to someone from the United States.
  • Internar is the verb usually used when referring to the admitting of someone to a hospital. While it might have been technically more precise in the translation to refer to children admitted to Bogota hospitals, the translated meaning was changed slightly in accord with everyday English usage.
  • The idiom por arte de magia is an example of an adverbial phrase. It is translated here as "magically," but is frequently translated as "as if by magic."

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