Tag Archives: how to say … in spanish

How Do You Say Happy Birthday in Spanish?

The easy way to say happy birthday in Spanish is:

Feliz cumpleaños. — Happy birthday.

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But, not so fast; what if it’s a “sweet sixteen” or, the very important coming-of-age party for a Latin American girl—her 15th birthday? Well, if it’s the latter, it’s called a quinceañera and it means fifteenth birthday celebration. If you want to wish her well, you would say:

Te deseo una quinceañera feliz. — Have a happy fifteenth birthday party (celebration).

What if you want to include their age in the greeting? For example, you want to say: “Happy 19th birthday.” Well, that’s a trick question and I’ll show you why.

If you enter “Happy nineteenth birthday” into one of those language translators, you’ll get back something like this: Feliz cumpleaños decimonoveno.

Here’s the problem with that: decimonoveno is the literal—ordinal—translation. In the real world, Spanish ordinal numbers (first, second, third…nineteenth, etc…) are rarely used after ten. In the case of the nineteenth birthday, you would instead say:

Feliz cumpleaños del número diecinueve. — Happy birthday [of the] number nineteen.

…or simply,

Feliz cumpleaños del diecinueve. — Happy birthday [of the] nineteen.

Now, if the celebrant will be (or became) ten or younger, here are the Spanish ordinal numbers you could use:

primero(a) — first
segundo(a) — second
tercero(a) — third
cuarto(a) — forth
quinto(a) — fifth
sexto(a) — sixth
séptimo(a) — seventh
octavo(a) — eighth
noveno(a) — ninth
décimo(a) — tenth

For example:

¿Fue el quinto cumpleaños de María? — Was it Maria's fifth birthday?

Two more rules for Spanish ordinals:

1. Ordinals must agree in number and gender of the nouns they modify. For example:

Es la quinta vez que te llamo hoy. — This is the fifteenth time I'm calling you today.

2. The “o” is dropped from primero and tercero before masculine singular nouns, for example:

el primer día del mes — the first day of the month

Back to birthdays:

Hoy celebramos el primer cumpleaños del bebé. — Today we celebrate the baby's first birthday.

¡Cuando te toca el tuyo, feliz cumpleaños!

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How To Say You’re Sorry in Spanish

Just learning how to say “I’m sorry” in Spanish may not always be enough; sometimes social situations need a little smoothing over. Maybe it’s something you’ve said or done. Maybe you just want to express your sympathy for another’s misfortune. In any case, words count, so let’s learn some vocabulary and expressions.

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la pena — mental or spiritual anguish, misfortune (something to be sorry about that's not physical pain)

Me da pena. — It gives me pain (It causes me distress.)
¡Ay, qué pena! — What a drag! (What a misfortune!)

Be careful, because pena is a “false friend” corresponding to “pain”—it does not mean physical pain.

el dolor — pain, usually physical
dolor — to hurt, to ache, to feel pain

Tengo dolor de cabeza. — I have a headache.
Doctor, me duele la cabeza. — Doctor, my head aches.
Le duele la espalda. — His back hurts.

Whether or not you caused the pain, you will want to express your sympathy.

compadecer — to sympathize (literally, to suffer with)
Lo compadezco — I sympathize

sentir — to feel, to sense
Lo siento — I'm sorry

Lo siento is also appropriate for a social gaffe, but when you are responsible you will want to use a form of…

disculparse — to be forgiven

…where you are literally asking not to be held culpable.

Suppose you step on someone’s toe, you momentarily forget a name, you forget an appointment—there are so many small social misfortunes. You say:

¡Discúlpeme, por favor! — Forgive me, please!

or simply,

¡Disculpe! — Forgive! (me, is implied)

(Background for grammar buffs: the verb is disculpar “to forgive” but the form is the present subjunctive, conveying “May you forgive…” or “I hope you forgive…”)

If you have to interrupt someone at a task, in order to get their attention, you should apologize by saying:

Disculpe la molestia… — Forgive the bother…

And no, you are not asking advance forgiveness for some illegal act; molestar is another “false friend” meaning “bother”, not molest.

Finally, let’s deal with situations where you need to apologize in advance for what you are about to do, such as step in front of someone to reach your seat in a theater, or a bus or plane. Or you may need to excuse yourself from a group such as at a dinner table or a conversational gathering. In these cases you are actually asking permission, so remember to say:

con su permiso por favor — with your permission please

or simply,

con permiso — permit (me)

And if you should have the bad luck to trip and fall into someone’s lap as you clamber to your seat, by all means say:

¡perdóneme! — Pardon me! (please)

or simply,

¡perdón! — pardon! (me)

Just don’t say permiso in the above case. ¡Ay, qué pena! (How embarrassing!)

Here is a list of words and expressions on how to say you’re sorry in Spanish—with related phrases:

compadecer — to sympathize with
lo compadezco — I sympathize
disculpar — to forgive, to exculpate
disculparse — to be forgiven, to be sorry
discúlpeme — forgive me
el dolor — pain, hurt
dolor de cabeza — headache
doler — to hurt, to ache, to feel pain
me duele la cabeza — my head hurts, aches
la molestia — bother, annoyance
molestar — to bother, to annoy
la pena — mental pain, anguish, distress
me da pena — it causes me distress
sentir — to feel, to sense
lo siento — I'm sorry (for something)

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