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Problema, trabajo, razón, and idea

The most common Spanish nouns aren’t physical objects — they’re abstract ideas, such as problema, trabajo, razón, and idea. Let’s learn and practice several Spanish abstract nouns.

Full Podcast Episode


Better learn these words, or you’ll be in… problems.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to learn seven essential nouns. The most frequently used nouns don’t represent physical objects; instead, they represent various ideas, the kinds of things we think and talk about all the time without necessarily realizing it: Words like “trouble”, “work”, “reason”, and even the word “idea”.

Let’s start with the Spanish word for “problem”, which is problema. Now this word is masculine, even though it ends with the letter A, so just like you would say un día, not una día, you always say el problema or un problema.

Here’s an example:

Yes, that would be a problem.

Sí, eso sería un problema.

This word is much more frequent in Spanish than the word “problem” in English, because it’s used to refer to a wide variety of negative ideas. In fact, the word “trouble” in English normally translates to “problems” in Spanish. For examples:

If she weren’t my friend, she would be in trouble.

Si ella no fuera mi amiga, estaría en problemas.

Another Spanish word that can mean two things in English is trabajo, a masculine noun that means either “work” or “job”. Here are some examples:

Do the work!

¡Haz el trabajo!

This is the best job.

Este es el mejor trabajo.

Let’s practice both problema and trabajo with a mini-quiz. Note that this quiz will practice these new nouns, as well as some of the other things we’ve learned on the podcast this week; this will be the case throughout this episode, since we need lots more practice with Hacer and the advanced pronoun uses that we learned yesterday.

OK, first example:

If you are bored with your job, you will be in trouble.

Si estás bored con tu trabajo, estarás en problemas.

Si estás aburrido con tu trabajo, estarás en problemas.

What he did caused us a lot of problems.

Lo que él hizo nos caused muchos problemas.

Lo que él hizo nos causó muchos problemas.

She used to do those things at work in order to do it well.

Ella hacía esas cosas en el trabajo para hacerlo bien.

Our next word is the word for “idea”, which is idea — spelled exactly like the English word. This is a feminine noun and is pretty easy to use. For example:

That day he had the best idea.

Ese día tuvo la mejor idea.

A more challenging word is razón, spelled r-a-z-o-n, with an accent mark on the O. Razón. This mean “reason”, and it’s used in an interesting variety of ways.

Of course, it can simply mean “reason”. A very easy example is “we left for that reason”. Now, how do we translate “for” in that sentence? We didn’t leave in a way that was intended for that reason, so we won’t use para. Instead, we left “because of” that reason. This is a case where in English, we say “for”, when what we really mean is “because of”, or por. So here’s the translation:

We left for that reason.

Nos fuimos por esa razón.

Another way you might use this is “that is the reason we left”. But sentence structures like this are pretty tricky. If you look at this sentence, “that is the reason we left”, it really looks like we have two sentences stuck together: “that is the reason” and “we left”. Something’s missing here. We need to join them together somehow. What we want to say is: “That is the reason for which we left”. In Spanish, to make this work, we actually translate “which” as either el que or la que. Literally, “that is the reason for the one that we left”, which makes no sense when you translate it this way. But it’s how you say “that is the reason for which we left”. So here’s the whole sentence in Spanish.

That is the reason for which we left.

Esa es la razón por la que nos fuimos.

So what’s happening here is “which” is being translated as la que because the reason itself is feminine.

Here are a couple more sentences using the same template:

This is the girl for which we did that.

Esta es la chica para la que hicimos eso.

That is the place to which we went.

Ese es el lugar al que fuimos.

This was the problem because of which we did that.

Este fue el problema por el que hicimos eso.

We’ll get a bit more practice with this structure on today’s quiz. For now, let’s practice using razón and idea in a few sentences:

They told us that idea and for that reason they did it.

Nos they told esa idea y por esa razón lo hicieron.

Nos contaron esa idea y por esa razón lo hicieron.

That’s the reason for which we want to leave.

Esa es la razón por la que we want irnos.

Esa es la razón por la que queremos irnos.

The reason for which I did it was because I had that idea.

La razón por la que lo hice fue porque tuve esa idea.

Another use of razón actually has to do with being right about something. In Spanish, you don’t describe someone as “being right about” something; instead you describe them as “having reason in” something. For example:

You’re right about that.

Tienes razón en eso.

This takes a lot of getting used to, so we’ll get some practice with this right away.

She is right and that’s why we told it to her.

Ella tiene razón y por eso se lo we told.

Ella tiene razón y por eso se lo dijimos.

I wasn’t right and I didn’t want to do you that favor.

No tenía razón y no I wanted hacerte ese favor.

No tenía razón y no quería hacerte ese favor.

He thinks I’m right so he always does it.

He thinks que tengo razón así que siempre lo hace.

Cree que tengo razón así que siempre lo hace.

You weren’t right when you told me that.

No tenías razón cuando me you told eso.

No tenías razón cuando me dijiste eso.

Now if you’re talking with someone and you believe that they are right, you can say that you agree with them. The word for “agreement” in Spanish is acuerdo, spelled a-c-u-e-r-d-o. The most common way to use this is after the preposition de; the idiom de acuerdo means “in agreement” (literally “of agreement”). For example, the sentence “we all agree” is most typically translated as literally “we are all of agreement”.

We are all in agreement.

Todos estamos de acuerdo.

Another word that’s used in very specific ways is cuidado, which literally means “caution”, but it’s a word you’ll often use to talk about being careful. In English, we talk about “being careful”; in Spanish, we instead talk about “having caution”. For example:

There is a need to be careful here.

Hay que tener cuidado aquí.

You can even be “very careful” by having mucho cuidado, literally “much caution”. For example:

That day he was very careful.

Ese día tuvo mucho cuidado.

And if you’re talking about something being done with caution, in English we typically use the adverb “carefully”. In Spanish, you’ll probably just say con cuidado. For example:

We did it very carefully.

Lo hicimos con mucho cuidado.

OK, so “carefully” is one way you can describe how someone does something. But what if you want to talk about the way something is done, as a concept? The word “way” has multiple translations in Spanish, but one of the most common is forma, which sounds a lot like the English word “form”, but this is its most common use. To talk about the way of doing something, you talk about the forma of doing something.

For example:

We don’t know the best way of doing this.

No we know la mejor forma de hacer esto.

No sabemos la mejor forma de hacer esto.

Here’s a trickier one:

This is the way in which I did it.

Esta es la forma en la que lo hice.

Let’s practice acuerdo, cuidado, and forma with a mini-quiz.

We didn’t reach an agreement, so we’ll do it that way.

No we reached un acuerdo, así que lo haremos de esa forma.

No llegamos a un acuerdo, así que lo haremos de esa forma.

Be careful upon doing him that favor.

Ten cuidado al hacerle ese favor.

He will do it, but he will have to be very careful.

Lo hará, pero tendrá que tener mucho cuidado.

We always do it that way.

Siempre lo hacemos de esa forma.

I do it carefully.

Lo hago con cuidado.

That’s why we agree.

Por eso estamos de acuerdo.

Before we go on to today’s final quiz, let’s talk about a new pronoun, the word cuál, spelled c-u-a-l, with an accent mark on the A. This word most literally means “which”, and it’s used in questions. For example:

Which is your house?

¿Cuál es tu casa?

The thing about this word is that it’s used a lot more often in Spanish than you might expect, and that’s because very often, you ask “which” questions in Spanish where you might expect to ask a “what” question in English.

Here’s a typical example.

What is the reason for that?

¿Cuál es la razón por eso?

You would expect to use qué here because in English we’re asking “what”, not “which”. But in Spanish, the word cuál is often used in questions about reasons, ways, and ideas. Here’s another example:

What is the way to do this?

¿Cuál es la forma de hacer esto?

In general, qué is used when something is completely unknown, whereas cuál is used when it’s a little less unknown, as if there are multiple options and you’re trying to choose the right one. However, that framework doesn’t work perfectly, because it’s idiomatic, which means you have to learn specific contexts. For example, to ask about the time or what day it is, you actually use qué, even though there are technically limited options. And to ask for someone’s name, you use cuál, even though there are seemingly limitless options for that. We’ll pick up on the specifics as we learn more and more contexts for these types of questions. For now, remember that “what” questions can translate as either qué or cuál, and you’ll use cuál for reasons (or razones) and for ways (or formas).

Let’s practice using cuál a bit.

What is the reason for which you did that?

¿Cuál es la razón por la que hiciste eso?

I don’t know which is the best way to do it.

No sé cuál es la mejor forma de hacerlo.

We didn’t know which to choose and that’s why you left.

No we knew cuál to choose y por eso te fuiste.

No sabíamos cuál elegir y por eso te fuiste.

Which one did you do? I did this one(m).

¿Cuál hiciste? Yo hice este.

Which is the best idea?

¿Cuál es la mejor idea?

If you need more help with cuál versus qué, or with anything else we learned this week, go to LCSPodcast.com/64. If you’re in our coaching program, you can always ask for more supplementary materials on this or any other topic.

Now, if you’re ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.

She always wants to be right, so I told her it.

Siempre she wants tener razón, así que se lo I told.

Siempre quiere tener razón, así que se lo dije.

You will do it when they do it.

Lo harás cuando ellos lo hagan.

That is the reason we do not agree.

Esa es la razón por la que no estamos de acuerdo.

The boy is right.

El chico tiene razón.

You have to do that job carefully.

Tienes que hacer ese trabajo con cuidado.

Which of the two did you give to your friend(f)?

¿Cuál de los dos le you gave a tu amiga?

¿Cuál de los dos le diste a tu amiga?

Do it! That was the problem because of which we didn’t go.

¡Hazlo! Ese fue el problema por el que no fuimos.

We have an agreement, both of us are going to do the job.

Tenemos un acuerdo, los dos vamos a hacer el trabajo.

I would do it carefully to have it.

Lo haría con cuidado para tenerlo.

He gave me a reason to do it that way.

Me he gave una razón para hacerlo de esa forma.

Me dio una razón para hacerlo de esa forma.

Do that! That is the idea because of which we argued.

¡Haz eso! Esa es la idea por la que we argued.

¡Haz eso! Esa es la idea por la que discutimos.

I will tell him “do it(formal)” and he will agree.

Le I will tell “hágalo” y él estará de acuerdo.

Le diré “hágalo” y él estará de acuerdo.

What is the reason for which we are here with them?

¿Cuál es la razón por la que estamos aquí con ellos?

That was the agreement because of which they fought.

Ese fue el acuerdo por el que they fought.

Ese fue el acuerdo por el que se pelearon.

We have to be careful because that is not the best way.

Tenemos que tener cuidado porque esa no es la mejor forma.

They are always very careful when they do that job.

Siempre tienen mucho cuidado cuando hacen ese trabajo.

I told my friend(f) that she had to be very careful.

Le I told a mi amiga que tenía que tener mucho cuidado.

Le dije a mi amiga que tenía que tener mucho cuidado.

I told it(m) to the girl because I would really do it(m).

Se lo I told a la chica porque de verdad lo haría.

Se lo dije a la chica porque de verdad lo haría.

You used to do that job and you had good ideas.

Hacías ese trabajo y tenías buenas ideas.

To have you here with me is a problem.

Tenerte aquí conmigo es un problema.

You have to be careful when you do it, we don’t want trouble.

Tienes que tener cuidado cuando lo hagas, no we want problemas.

Tienes que tener cuidado cuando lo hagas, no queremos problemas.

For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/64.

Tomorrow, we have a giant quiz to practice everything we’ve been learning on the podcast in the last week.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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