Doing Things Again in Spanish – De nuevo vs. Volver a

August 18, 2016
<p>One of my awesome friends on the way to Spanish fluency recently started running. She wanted to tell me <em>I just started running again</em>, but this is how it came out in Spanish:</p><div class="mistake translation"><p><span class="sp">Acabo de empezar a correr <span class="mistake">de nuevo</span>.</span><br><span class="en">literal translation, needs Spanishifying</span></p></div><p>That's a very interesting mistake; let's see what we can learn from it.</p><p>We'll start by carving out the 3 pieces of the puzzle, then we'll see why some pieces don't fit together, and we'll finish by unveiling the secret Spanish word that makes everything right again.</p><p>By the end of this post you'll feel as native as a deep-fried chimichanga stuffed with loads of <span class="sp">jamón serrano</span> (don't try this at home unless you're <em>really</em> comfortable with intercultural exchange).</p><!--more--><h2><span class="sp">Acabo de {infinitivo}</span><span class="en">I just {verb}</span></h2><p><span class="sp">Acabar</span> is a verb and it means <em>to finish</em>, but when we append <span class="sp">de</span>, it gains a feeling of recency; the same feeling that <em>just</em> is so famous for.</p><p>If I hear <span class="sp">Robertito acaba de…</span> (<span class="en">Robertito has just…</span>) my Spanish brain yearns for an infinitive verb to resolve the mystery of what Robertito has done this time.</p><p>For example: <span class="sp">Robertito acaba de lanzar la dentadura de la abuela por la ventana</span> (<span class="en">Robertito has just thrown (his) grandma's dentures (through) the window</span>). Another example:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">—Papá, <strong>acabo de terminar</strong> mis deberes. ¿Puedo ir a jugar a la calle? </span><br><span class="en">"Dad, I <strong>just finished</strong> (my homeworks). Can I go (to) play (to the) street?"</span></p><p><span class="sp">—Pero si tu madre te <strong>acaba de decir</strong> que estás castigado. </span><br><span class="en">"But (don't you realize that) your mother <strong>just said</strong> (to you) that you are grounded"</span></p><p><span class="sp">—¡Por eso te lo estoy preguntando a ti! </span><br><span class="en">"(That's why) I am asking (it to) <em>you</em>"</span></p></div><h2><span class="sp">Empezar a {infinitivo}</span><span class="en">To start/begin to {verb}</span><span class="en">To start/begin {-ing verb}</span></h2><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">—¡Corre! Que está <strong>empezando a llover</strong> y no he traído paraguas. </span><br><span class="en">"Run! (Because) it's <strong>starting to rain</strong> and I haven't brought (an) umbrella"</span></p><p><span class="sp">—Tienes que <strong>empezar a darte</strong> cuenta de que en este país llueve cuando menos te lo esperas.</span><br><span class="en">"You have to <strong>start to realize</strong> that in this country it rains when you least expect it"</span></p><p><span class="sp">—<strong>No acabo de acostumbrarme</strong> al clima escocés.</span><br><span class="en">"I <strong>(don't finish getting / can't get) used to</strong> to the Scottish climate"</span></p></div><p>Things to notice:</p><ul><li>In the first sentence <span class="sp">empezar</span> is conjugated (<span class="sp">empezando</span>), but in the second sentence it's in the infinitive because it comes after <span class="sp">tener que</span>. This conjugated/infinitive duality is par for the course in Spanish territory. </li><li>After <span class="sp">acabar de</span> and <span class="sp">empezar a</span>, Spanish ears crave an infinitive (<span class="sp">llover, darte, acostumbrarme</span>)</li><li>Double-whammy combo for using both <span class="sp">empezar a</span> and <span class="sp">acabar de</span> in the same example. High five!</li><li>Actually, maybe I shouldn't get so excited. This <span class="sp">no acabar de {infinitivo}</span> construction is a bit of an exception because the emphasis here is not on the feeling of recency, but rather on the fact that the act of finishing has not yet reached completion. As awkward as my literal attempt to translate the third sentence was, trust me: you'll sound very native (or uppity, depending on the context) if you say something like:</li></ul><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">No acabo de entender por qué a la gente le gusta tanto el cilantro</span><br><span class="en">I (don't finish understanding) why (the) people enjoy (the) cilantro so much</span>.</p></div><h2><span class="sp">De nuevo</span><span class="en">Again</span></h2><p>You might be tempted to treat both <span class="sp">de nuevo</span> and <span class="sp">otra vez</span> as synonyms for <span class="en">again</span>, but I wouldn't recommend it:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">—Voy a empezar <strong>de nuevo</strong> porque veo que te has quedado dormido.</span><br><span class="en">"I'm going to <strong>start over</strong> because I see that you have fallen asleep"</span></p><p><span class="sp">—Por favor, papá, no empieces <strong>otra vez</strong> la misma historia.</span><br><span class="en">"Please, dad, don't start <strong>again</strong> the same story"</span></p><p><span class="sp">—Verás, cuando tu madre y yo empezábamos a salir, nos gustaba comprar vinilos y escucharlos en el tocadiscos, y bla, bla, bla…</span><br><span class="en">"(You see), when your mother and I started to go out, I liked buying vinyls and listening to them in the record player, and blah, blah, blah…"</span></p></div><p>Things to notice:</p><ul><li>In the first two sentences, <span class="sp">empezar</span>/<span class="sp">empieces</span> is not immediately followed by an infinitive, so we don't need to add the <span class="sp">a</span>. In the third sentence, however, we do need it.</li><li><span class="sp">Empezar de nuevo</span> has a strong flavor of <span class="en">starting over</span> (starting from the beginning).</li><li><span class="sp">Empezar otra vez</span> has a strong flavor of <span class="en">starting one more time</span>.</li><li>I say <em>strong flavor</em> because you may find yourself in a poetic circumstance where you have to use <span class="sp">de nuevo</span> to mean <span class="en">one more time</span> (and I don't want to rob you of that <a href="">opportunity</a>), but as a general rule you should follow the strong flavor.</li></ul><h2>Tell me what the problem is and how to fix it</h2><p>You'll sound totally native as long as you stick to these combos:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp"><strong>Acabo de empezar a correr</strong></span><br><span class="en">I just started (to run/running)</span></p><p><span class="sp">Ha <strong>empezado a contarme</strong> la historia <strong>de nuevo</strong></span><br><span class="en">He started (to tell) me the story from the beginning</span></p><p><span class="sp"><strong>Acabo de ver</strong> a Juan <strong>otra vez</strong></span><br><span class="en">I just saw Juan again (I had seen him before)</span></p></div><p>But this sounds super weird:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp"><strong>Acabo de ver</strong> a Juan <strong>de nuevo</strong></span><br><span class="en">my mental Spanish train is derailing</span></p></div><p>The problem is that <span class="sp">acabo de ver</span> emphasizes the recency of the vision, and <span class="sp">de nuevo</span> emphasizes the feeling of going back to the beginning. So one part of the sentence is saying "Let's go over here" and the other is like "No, man, let's go over <em>there</em>".</p><p>So let's leave all the bickering behind and choose a much more diplomatic and effective solution.</p><h2><span class="sp">Volver a {infinitivo}</span><span class="en">To {verb} again</span></h2><p>To resolve the epic battle between <span class="sp">acabo de {infinitivo}</span> and <span class="sp">de nuevo</span> we can use <span class="sp">volver a {infinitivo}</span>. This is what my friend at the beginning of the post actually wanted to say:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Acabo de <strong>volver a empezar</strong> a correr.</span><br><span class="en">I just started running again</span></p></div><p>Beautiful. <span class="sp">Volver a {infinitivo}</span> fits in this sentence as snuggly as an avocado pit. It plays nicely with <span class="sp">acabo de {infinitivo}</span> without getting in the way of <span class="sp">empezar a {infinitivo}</span>, and it adds this feeling of <span class="en">returning/redoing/coming back</span> that gets to the point without sounding artificially poetic.</p><h2>Spanish takeaways</h2><p>What have we learned? Quite a bit:</p><ul><li><span class="sp">Acabar de {infinitivo}</span> emphasizes the recency of the infinitive verb.</li><li><span class="sp">Empezar a {infinitivo}</span> emphasizes the beginningness of the infinitive verb.</li><li>Both <span class="sp">acabar</span> and <span class="sp">empezar</span> can be conjugated, but the verb that comes after <span class="sp">de/a</span> is always an infinitive:</li></ul><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp"><strong>Acabamos de perder</strong> el partido. </span><br><span class="en">We just lost the game</span></p><p><span class="sp"><strong>Empezaré a jugar</strong> mañana. </span><br><span class="en">I'll start (to play) tomorrow</span></p></div><ul><li><span class="sp">De nuevo</span> emphasizes the feeling of <span class="en">starting over/from the beginning</span>.</li><li><span class="sp">Otra vez</span> emphasizes the feeling of <span class="en">again/one more time</span>.</li><li><span class="sp">Acabo de {infinitivo}</span> + <span class="sp">de nuevo</span> feels like chewing a sandwich on a windy day at the beach.</li><li>A better alternative is <span class="sp">volver a {infinitivo}</span>.</li></ul><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Me ha gustado tanto este artículo que <strong>acabo de volver a leerlo</strong> de cabo a rabo</span><br><span class="en">I have enjoyed so much this post that I <strong>just (re-read) it</strong> from (start to finish)</span></p></div>