A Spanish language question...

I started my new job at the local Welfare office yesterday. The area has a large Hispanic population, so all of the informational posters in the lobby are either bilingual or have versions in Spanish.

Two different posters deal with food stamps. One is about emergency food stamps. The English version’s “headline” is “Food Stamps Now!” The Spanish version reads “Cupones De Alimentos ¡Ahora!”

The other poster reads, in English, “Using Food Stamps”. In Spanish, “Como usar(?..I’m going from memory) sus cupones para alimentos”.

My question is why the difference in the “cupones…alimentos” phrases? Are they exact equivalents or is this a very subtle difference necessitated by the nature of the different phrases around them?


I keep forgetting that HTML entities don’t work here…

There is a subtle distinction in meaning. However, it’s not clear from the two constructions that it is absolutely necessary in either case to use one over the other.

“de” here simply means “for,” basically indicating a simple adjective modifying the noun.

“para” has a somewhat stronger sense of indicating what something is used for, that is, what its purpose is. “Una taza para cafe” = a cup for coffee = a coffee cup.

One could translate “food coupons” as either “cupones de alimentos” or “cupones para alimentos.” The latter possibly indicates more strongly “coupons to be used for food” than simply “coupons for food.”

“Para” might be favored in the second sentence because it is a more active construction. It sort of conveys more a sense of “How to use your coupons for the purpose of buying food.” However, I don’t think the use of “de” here would be incorrect.

Thank you! I’m seriously thinking of trying to learn Spanish. It would be a HUGE plus in this job (regular shifts as receptionist dealing with a goodly proportion of exclusive Españaphones being part of it).

I saw a Bank of America billboard with a Hispanic family, and a caption that read, “Para usted y por usted.” What does that mean exactly?

I’ve seen the same billboard. It involves subtle distinctions between the definitions of the words por and para. Por and para both mean ‘for’. But por also has the additional meaning of ‘for’ in the sense of ‘because of’. English also used to use the word ‘for’ in this manner: “oh beautiful, for spacious skies, *for * amber waves of grain”. So the billboard essentially means ‘for you and because of you’.

The distinctions between “por” an “para” can be a major headache for an English speaker learning Spanish. To elaborate on Washoe’s post a little, among the several meanings of the two words, the following ones best apply here:

para - “to indicate what something is used for or intended for”

por - “to express in behalf of, in favor of, for the sake of

So the connotation is “Our bank is intended for your use, and will work on your behalf.”

I remember asking my Spanish teacher in high school about the difference between por and para, but I never got a very clear answer. Thank you for clearing up a decade of confusion.

A very close but slightly different vibe to what Colibri said.

Rather simply: Food stamps now! Because nouns cannot become adjectives in Spanish as they do in English (by placing them in front of another noun), “de” is used.

In the second case the meaning I would apply is simply “How to use your coupons for food” meaning “how to use your coupons to get food”, rather than just “food stamps”. As Colibri is saying there’s a subtle distinction here, but i think what is meant is being implied “how to use your stamps in order to get food” as “para” often means “in order to…” They could have very easily have used “cupones de alimentos” as well. Although thinking about it, i think a meaning that would occur if they wrote “Como usar sus cupones de alimentos” would creat “how to use food stamps” which would imply telling directions rather than telling someone how to get the food using the food stamps. Ugh i’ll stop i’m just going to confuse things ;).

You didn’t confuse things, Doobieous. You clarified. And you’re right. Spanish does not share the quasi-agglutinative nature of English. In English, it’s almost like “Food Stamps” is one word, but in Spanish, they are strictly two separate words that simply follow the grammatical syntax of whatever sentence uses them.

Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that. My explanation was related to just that particular phrase. My grammar book gives no fewer than 11 different examples for when to use por, and 6 for para. However, most of them boil down to the fact that por tends to be used for meanings related to “because” (motive), while para means “in order to” (purpose). There are also some specialized uses of each.

I don’t disagree with Doobieous’s further comments. I was trying to keep it as simple as possible. There are some additional possible nuances to the second phrase, as well as some ambiguity.

I would also mention, with regard to my first post, that “de” and “para” cannot necessarily be substituted for one another in other cases.

Una taza para cafe = a cup used for coffee = a coffee cup

Una taza de cafe = a cup of coffee

In an episode of Emergency!, the episode begins with the firemen responding to an alarm–a house explosion. The address they arrive at, however, is undamaged. There is an aged caretaker who only speaks Spanish, so Marco Lopez talks to him.
(The following has no Spanish diacriticals because the computer I’m using has no access to them)
Marco: Que hubo explosion dentro de la casa?
Caretaker: No…Son policias?
Marco: *No, somos bomberos *[firemen]. Que hubo explosion?
Caretaker: Donde se cambiaron. (lapsing into English) And you…rent?
Marco: No, the people who moved out, where…(returning to Spanish)Pero adonde se fueron los gentes que se cambiaron?
Caretaker: Orange Grove, norte de Norton.
Marco: Muchas gracias.
The conversation reveals that the people who lived there had moved out (and obviously gave the fire department the wrong address).
But my question is the expression Que hubo. Does that mean “where was there” or “was there” or what?

To be honest, I’ve only ever heard “que hubo” used in a single, certain context: The President of Mexico said it to me on Christmas morning of 2001 as he shook my hand outside his ranch. Okay, enough name dropping. :slight_smile:

In the context mentioned above, it’s rushed together – “que-bo” kind of. It’s like, “what’s going on” or “how’s it going.” Literally translated, it’d mean “what was.” So what you transcribe from the show makes no sense to me, and I’ve never seen or read it anywhere. Granted my experience is Mexican Spanish as well as the low-class Spanish that’s prevenlent on Telemundo et al in the USA.

This is an advanced grammatical construction in Spanish, and one that is usually not encountered until the fourth semester of college Spanish. This is going to get a bit complicated, so bear with me. The word haber (to have) has two uses. It is used primarily as an auxiliary verb to form perfect (action completed) tenses, and is used in conjunction with the past participle of the action verb: he comido, has comido, ha comido—I have eaten, you have eaten, he/she/it has eaten, etc. This is covered in the second semester of college Spanish. It also has a second meaning, which is to indicate the concept of there is/there are. When used in this sense, it occurs only in the third-person singular. It is conjugated exactly as the third-person singular of the auxiliary form of haber, except that its present indicative form is hay instead of ha. This is where the word hay is actually derived from. Most beginning Spanish students are familiar with the word hay when used to indicate the concept of there is/there are, but they don’t realize that it is actually a conjugation of the verb haber. Que hubo, therefore, translates to “what was there/what were there”, and the sentence seems to mean “there was an explosion in the house”? But it seems to me to be a very strange grammatical construction. ‘Que hubo’ by itself literally means ‘what was there’ or ‘what were there’, but is actually a colloquialism meaning ‘how are things’?

The above was paraphrased from chapter 30 of A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, by Butt and Benjamin. If you really, really, really want to understand Spanish grammar, get a copy of this reference. It is the most thorough exposition of the subject I have ever encountered. If you read this entire book, memorized it, and understood it, you would essentially know everything there is to know about Spanish grammar.

I got the same sense of meaning for Que hubo as Balthisar and Washsoe, but it seemed such an odd/unusual expression in this context that I thought I’d wait until someone else volunteered to explain it.

The Spanish in that conversation has some other oddities, such as the use of cambiarse to express moving to another house, which would normally be trasladarse, traspasar, or mudarse. Unless it’s a colloquial use in Mexican Spanish, it seems to me to be wrong here.

And se fueron los gente que se cambiaron is also wrong. La gente (the people) is not only feminine, it is also normally takes a singular verb. It should be se fue la gente que se cambió (se trasladó).

Marco Lopez and the caretaker both seem to speak a decidedly odd dialect of Spanish. Or maybe it’s just bad scriptwriting.

In Mexican Spanish, I’ve only heard used cambiarse, mudarse, and yes, simply moverse used to indicate moving house. But as above, I can’t speak with only real authority; I can only share my experience.

On a movie or tv show, you’d at least think the guy speaking Spanish would speak up and say it ain’t correct, well, unless he’s lost his language. On the other hand, given all the gonna, wanna, and bad pluralz we get in English now, maybe no one knows the difference anymore.

FWIW, I said los gentes, not los gente–plural article and noun and thus properly conjugating ir in the third-person plural. Your point about other verbs to express this, however, is well taken; my college textbook mentions only mudarse.

Excuse me–irse. :o

The lack of the “s” was just a typo in my reply. My point was not just that gente takes a singular verb, it was that it’s not normally used in the plural at all - it would almost always be just la gente, not las gentes (and as I said, it’s feminine, so it would not take los in any case). My dictionary give a few examples of the use of gentes in some expressions, but if you are just talking about people, it’s singular. Unlike English, Spanish treats “people” as being a singular noun; “people is,” rather than “people are.”

So can you give me the proper construction of the conversation between Marco and the caretaker? :slight_smile: