Dar: The Super Handy Spanish Verb That Doesn’t Stop Giving
Dar is as inconspicuous as a Spanish verb could get. A tiny three-letter word with a very straightforward translation, to give. What could warrant an entire article on something that simple? Well, as they say, there’s more than meets the eye here. As in the case of all languages spoken, words multitask. Despite its seemingly unassuming form, dar has as many contextual connotations and as many idiomatic applications as human imagination would allow. And quite a few of those have the power to transform your communication in a heartbeat. Idiomatic expressions are the meat and potato of eloquence and dar offers those in generous helpings.
For a little perspective, consider the verb’s English counterpart, give. We all know what it means in its most primitive form. But think of the ways you use it as a native speaker. You’ll be surprised by the number of complex ideas you express on a regular basis using the myriad idiomatic expressions and connotations derived off this verb. Here’s a few such usage examples:
Coldplay is giving a concert in my city tonight.
Let’s give it to John Milton for his wonderful poetry!
No matter what happens, I’m not giving up.
Did she give in already?
She has given herself to her work.
I’ll speak with him, given he’s in the right mood.
I honestly think you should give it a go.
The trucker finally had to give way to the car behind.
And this is just a tiny fraction of all the possibilities this one verb opens up for us. We use them without even thinking and that’s exactly what native Spanish speakers do with dar. Or any Spanish verb for that matter. This article explores all such cool things you can do with dar in order to make your Spanish immediately sound more polished than your fellow learners.
11 Shades of Dar
I know you’re itching to get right to the idioms part but bear with me. Before we get there, it’s equally important to review some of the coon non-idiomatic ways dar could be employed to spice up your Spanish. Verbs can mean more than what they were originally intended to and that’s a sweet side-effect of linguistic evolution. People invent novel ways to use the same verb for expressing slightly or drastically divergent ideas. And they have done this with dar more than most other verbs in Spanish. Getting a firm handle on his ubiquity of dar is essential before we even begin with the more advanced idiomatic expressions.
1. To Give
This is the central theme throughout every usage of dar and unarguably the most well-known translation thereof. In this context, dar is employed the exact same way as its English counterpart with no deviation whatsoever. Other that conjugations, I mean, but that’s a topic for another discussion. An absolute no-brainer, give also happens to be the most widely used translation of dar. By give, I mean all kinds of transfer of stuff from one person to another, including lending. So, dar can mean to give, to lend, to grant, and everything in between.
Dame una cerveza, por favour (Give me a beer please).
El perejil le da un sabor único al plato (The parsley gives a unique taste to the food).
2. To Produce
Don’t let this one confuse you because you do the same with give in English as well. Basically when you produce something, you do it for someone, even if that someone is yourself or something undefined. Think of times when you boasted that your car gave 100 miles to the gallon. Or when fussed that your brand new cell phone gave only six hours of talk-time on full charge. In these contexts, you could easily throw interpretations like yield, generate, and bear to the mix. All these verbs can be expressed as efficiently by dar in Spanish as they are by give in English.
Este tratamiento da buenos resultados (This treatment yields good results).
Este manzano da más manzanas de las que podríamos comer (This apple tree produces more apples than we can possibly eat).
3. To Celebrate
Celebrations involve partying which is why to celebrate is to give or throw a party. See the connotation? It’s all about the context. Whenever you’re hosting an event, give works. Dar works pretty much the same way. You may throw a party or have one. You may celebrate a party or hold one. It all boils down to give in these context. Different verbs, same interpretation. That’s why depending on the situation, dar can be interpreted as any of these verbs. Just be sure to not lose sight of your context. For example, you wouldn’t use give to mean throw if, for example, you were speaking of throwing out stale food, would you? You wouldn’t use give to mean hold if you were speaking of holding a pen, would you? It’s the same with dar.
Mi compañía da una fiesta de Navidad todos los años (My company has a Christmas party every year).
Le dieron una fiesta sorpresa para celebrar su graduación (They threw him a surprise party to celebrate his graduation).
4. To Teach
To teach is to give lessons. And that’s why give works perfectly well in this context. As does dar. Just remember that give doesn’t work if you’re speaking of teaching without a mention of what it is that’s being taught, i.e. give is synonymous with teach only if teach is being transitively. For instance, you may say you’re giving a lecture but you can’t say you’re giving without mentioning a lecture. Dar follows the exact same format, which means it must be used transitively, i.e. with an object, when used as a synonym for teach. In this context, dar can be interpreted as not only teach but also educate.
No dan mi asignatura favorita en la escuela (My favorite subject is not taught in school).
Un premio Nobel da clases en nuestra Universidad (A Nobel laureate teaches at our university).
5. To Award
This one is another no-brainer. Dar again follows its English counterpart as a loyal partner. Both verbs can and rampantly are used synonymously with the verb award. And it’s obvious why. Awards are always given, after all. Whenever you hear someone being awarded something, the verb give is inherent. You could further extend the interpretation to also include verbs like grant and present. The overlap with give is right there, staring at you. And just because I say the word award, doesn’t mean it has to involve one. Think of granting a scholarship, presenting a memento, awarding a contract. All these scenarios can be handled by give or dar with finesse.
Me dieron una beca para ir a la Universidad (I was awarded a scholarship to go to university).
Le dieron el primer premio (He was awarded the first prize).
6. To Express
Yet another interpretation of dar is to express. Like all others I’ve discussed thus far, this one too is just as intuitive as the English give. When you express yourself, you’re essentially giving or offering them to those around you. Think of, for example, expressing your condolences which is just as good as offering your condolences. Similarly, expressing gratitude is no different than giving thanks. Different ways of expressing the same thing. And that’s why dar works. Just like its English counterpart, though, be sure to use dar transitively in this interpretation too. Which means, you must state what it is that you’re expressing when you use dar to indicate an expression.
Le quiero dar las gracias por una cena magnífica (I want to say thank you for a wonderful dinner).
El Día de Acción de Gracias es un día para dar las gracias por todo lo que tenemos (Thanksgiving Day is a day to offer gratitude for all that we have).
7. To Show
This one is where dar begins to deviate in usage from its English buddy. The context could be that of a TV show, a movie, a play, etc. Basically, native Spanish speakers often use dar to mean show when they’re talking about what’s coming on TV or what’s playing at the theatre. You may not use give in these contexts, so you might at first feel awkward with this usage. But it’s just as intuitive as any other. Think of it this way, when they put up a show, they essentially just offer it to you for your entertainment. Makes sense now, no? Again, you must mention what’s being shown, i.e. dar must be used transitively in this interpretation.
Dan una película de Almodóvar (They’re screening an Almodóvar film).
El cine está dando un maratón de películas clásicas (The movie theater is showing a classic film marathon).
The clock strikes two at 2 o’clock in English. In Spanish, it gives two at 2 o’clock.
8. To Deal
This one is in the context of playing cards. The verb deal while playing card-games such as poker or blackjack is just an alternative for give. It’s a no-brainer. When the dealer gives you a card, you say he dealt it. I don’t know why we don’t use give more often than deal in this context but Spanish speakers do it all the time with dar. Like all meanings discussed above, this one too calls for an object, i.e. dar ought to be used transitively in this interpretation.
¿Quién va a dar esta ronda? (Who’s going to deal this round?)
Ya el repartido dio, así que te toca jugar (The dealer already dealt so it’s your turn to play).
9. To Strike
No, this one isn’t about you refusing to work as a sign of protest. This one also isn’t about hitting someone with that baseball club. No, this interpretation is about time. And clocks. The clock strikes two at 2 o’clock in English. In Spanish, it gives two at 2 o’clock. Think of it in the same vein as the verb to show, discussed above. Actually, you know what, forget what I said about hitting above. You can use dar to mean to hit. Think of it as giving someone or something a hit. Or a strike. Or a kick.
El reloj dio las doce de la noche y Cenicienta huyó del palacio (The clock struck midnight and Cinderella fled the palace).
El boxeador le dio en la cara a su oponente y ganó la pelea (The boxer hit his opponent in the face and won the fight).
10. To Give Up
This one is a fun Mexican colloquialism which doesn’t have a direct parallel in English. Mexicans often use dar reflexively to express surrender or defeat. We do that with give up in English too but there are two key differences to bear in mind. Firstly, the preposition up isn’t necessary in the Spanish version. And secondly, we don’t use give up reflexively in English, but we do so with in Spanish. And only in Mexico please. This usage is strictly colloquial.
Vas a perder, ¿te das? (You are going to lose. Do you give up?)
Nunca debes darte por vencido (You should never give up).
11. To Happen
This time, you ought to use the verb with a se, as darse. Such verbs are referred to by grammar Nazis as pronomial verbs, but let’s not bother with pointless taxonomy here. Using darse instead of, say, suceder, as Spanish for happen should instantly make your Spanish a notch more street-worthy. And this usage is not even slang or colloquialism, so feel free to toss it around with carefree abandon and rest assured you won’t be judged.
Se da pocas veces (It rarely happens).
Se dio la circunstancia de que (It so happened that)…
The Dar Side of Spanish Idioms
We have discussed the various ways dar can be interpreted in different contexts. But those were all about the verb in isolation. The true power of dar lies in its myriad idiomatic possibilities. The verb gives us more idioms than any other in the entire Spanish lexicon. Alright, that was a slight exaggeration but there’s no understating the amount of fun you can have with dar. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to English speakers given we are already used to doing plenty of interesting things with give.
As you may already expect, nothing short of an entire book could ever do justice to all the ways dar is used idiomatically. Here, however, I am only going to touch upon a tiny slice of that pie. We are going to explore sixteen of the most interesting and heavily-used idiomatic expressions of all which should give you a firm starting point with the verb.
1. Dar Algo Por
Literal meaning: To give something for
Implied meaning: To consider something as
The literal meaning here doesn’t sound like it makes any sense and that’s exactly how idioms are meant to be. But don’t let this stump you because there’s something similar you do in English too. The English expression is to take someone for something, meaning to consider someone as something. Instead of take, Spanish speakers go with give, i.e. dar, and the rest is identical. I bet the expression sounds all too familiar now, doesn’t it? Needless to say it’s a bring-your-own-object party here, meaning dar must be transitive in this expression.
Le dieron por desaparecido (They gave him up for lost).
Doy el dinero por bien empleado (I consider it money well spent).
2. Dar con Algo/Alguien
Literal meaning: To give with something/someone
Implied meaning: To encounter something/someone
True to its nature as a thoroughbred idiom weathered by time, dar con algo makes zero sense when translated literally. But then, isn’t that exactly what makes idioms such a fun idea in conversations? Think of finding something as giving it your attention and that could help you bridge the literal and actual translations. Sure, that doesn’t explain the preposition con but then, when were idiomatic expressions answerable to grammar anyway?
He dado con la solución (I’ve hit upon the solution).
Dimos con él dos horas más tarde (We found him two hours later).
3. Dar Consigo En
Literal meaning: To give with oneself in
Implied meaning: To wind up in
Nothing defies the tyranny of grammar like a rebellious idiom. And the ones in Spanish are masters at this craft. I mean to give with him in? What is one even supposed to make of it? Go home, prepositions, you’re drunk! But look closely, it’s not as crazy as it seems. Dar consigo en is just an extension of dar con alguien, the idiom we discussed right before this one. If dar con alguien is to find someone, think of dar consigo en as to find oneself in.
Dio consigo en la cárcel (He ended up in jail).
Di conmigo en una situación comprometida (I found myself in a sticky situation).
4. Dar de Sí
Literal meaning: To give of yes
Implied meaning: To go a long way
This one is most commonly about food or drink. Again, don’t try to make sense of the literal translation as it’s only gonna confuse you further. Just take it for what it is and start having fun with it in your conversations. Use dar de sí whenever you want your food to last longer. I don’t know if it actually makes your food last but that’s not an idiom’s job anyway. Just put it away in the fridge and you should be good on that front. More generically, this expression means to give more than expected.
Siempre supe que tenía más para dar de sí (I always knew he had more about him).
Casi siempre das de sí (You’re stretching things out of proportion almost all the time).
5. Dar el Día a Alguien
Literal meaning: To give the day to someone
Implied meaning: To ruin someone’s day
This is something you’re more likely to hear in Spain than anyplace else. A classic colloquialism from the country, it means to ruin or spoil someone’s day. Feel free to replace día with anything else that’s being spoiled. The idea here is probably that of someone taking day from you and giving it to themselves, a day that was meant for you to enjoy. Sounds a tad contrived but a couple of examples should make things easier to grasp.
Me dio la película al decirme el final (He ruined the movie for me when he spoiled the ending).
Es tan pesado que me dio la tarde (He’s so boring that he ruined the afternoon for me).
6. Darle a Alguien por Hacer Algo
Literal meaning: To give to someone to do something
Implied meaning: To get someone into doing something
Think of convincing here as giving someone a brainwash to do whatever it is you want them to do. Obviously dar needs an object in this expression. But you could even use the verb reflexively in case you yourself are the one who’s taken to doing what’s being spoken of. In simpler terms, think of dar as not give but take in this expression and that should help you recall the English expression to take up a task which works in the exact same way.
Le ha dado por la gimnasia (She’s taken it into her head to start gymnastics).
Le ha dado por no venir a clase (He has taken to cutting classes).
7. Dar a Luz A
Literal meaning: To give to light
Implied meaning: To give birth to
This one is very easy to relate to. The first time a baby sees light when he’s born and that’s what the metaphor alludes to here. Even in English we have expressions like to see the light of the day that mean almost the same thing. The idea is to give someone or something to light. Don’t let the repetitive prepositions stump you because the second one is just there to introduce the object. Spanish calls such an a the personal a. But we’re not discussing that right now as that would totally derail our conversation.
Mi esposa dio a luz a trillizos ayer (My wife gave birth to triplets yesterday).
Delia murió dándome a luz a mí (Delia died giving birth to me).
8. Dar Para
Literal meaning: To give for
Implied meaning: To suffice for
Just like in English we can say it will do when we mean it will suffice, in Spanish we can say it will give to imply sufficiency. Give in these contexts is just as normal to Spanish speakers as do is to English speakers. Neither of the two seem grammatically sound and yet they enjoy full immunity from the grammar Nazis’ persecution. Be careful not to use por in this expression as para is what you need when for the sake of is implied by the preposition. I have already discussed this distinction in the past in case you need a refresher.
Esa casita da para cuatro personas (This little house is enough for four people).
Mi pobre cabeza no da para más hoy (My poor head can’t take any more today).
9. Dar a Alguien Que
Literal meaning: To give someone to
Implied meaning: To make someone do something
This one is to a large extent similar in nature to dar a alguien por hacer algo that we discussed a little while ago. Except that this time the provocation is not as strong as the last time. Used mostly with the verbs hablar (to speak) and pensar (to think), dar a alguien can also be used reflexively if that’s what the situation demands. Que typically translates into that but can also fill in for to at times. Perhaps the most recognizable example of que translating as to would be tener que which means to have to.
aquella película me dio que pensar (That movie made me think).
Dio que hablar hace unos años (That was a huge story a few years back).
10. Darse Contra
Literal meaning: To give oneself against
Implied meaning: To hit or crash
This expression is quite self-explanatory if you think about it. To give yourself against something already sounds like to run into something or to crash into something. Interestingly, you could also replace against with with in this expression and the meaning remains unchanged. That is, dares contra and dares con are perfectly synonymous, despite the seemingly contrasting prepositions they carry. And this should hardly scandalize the speakers of a language where flammable and inflammable both mean the exact same thing.
Se dieron contra una farola (They crashed into o hit a lamppost).
No me quiero dar con la esquina de la cama (I don’t want to bump into the corner of the bed).
11. Estar Dale Que Dale
Literal meaning: To be giving it to giving it
Implied meaning: To keep going on
Don’t even bother translating this one literally unless you enjoy being confounded beyond repair. What makes this expression uber-cool is the way it flows off the tongue. Dale que dale has got to be the most fun-to-pronounce string of three words in all of Spanish, or at least one of them. And in case you’ve already bored yourself with it, there’s quite a few variants to keep your spirits up. For one, you could replace estar with seguir and still mean the same thing. And if that isn’t enough, go for a complete overhaul with dale que te pago or dale y dale as alternatives for dale que dale. Oh and I almost forgot, this expression only enjoys currency in Latin America, just so you know.
Estoy dale que dale a este problema (I’ve been bashing away at this problem).
Nuestra vecina está dale que dale al piano (Our neighbour is pounding away at the piano).
12. No Dar Una
Literal meaning: To not give one
Implied meaning: To get it all wrong
This expression is essentially a colloquialism from Spain. So, if you’re gunning for Latin American Spanish, this one isn’t going to prove quite as useful. I would still learn it though simply because it sounds so cool! At first glance you may interpret no dar una as to not give a damn, i.e. to not care. But that would obviously be getting it all wrong, no pun intended. If you found this lame pun interesting enough, you’ll find it hard to forget what the expression means, no memorization necessary. How cool is that!
No daba una cuando quise aprender a conducir (I got everything wrong when I wanted to learn driving).
No daba una en el examen (She got it all wrong on her test).
13. Algo Para Dar y Tomar
Literal meaning: Something to give and take
Implied meaning: A lot of something
You can’t do much of giving and taking unless there were plenty of stuff to begin with. And that’s pretty much the idea at work here. To have enough of something to give and take in Spanish is to have an abundance of something. There’s little more to this unassuming expression than this. Plenty to give and plenty to take. A simple yet powerful idiom worth using as much as you can.
Tenemos botellas para dar y tomar (We’ve got loads of bottles).
Aquí hay basura para dar y tomar (There’s tons of garbage here).
14. Dársele Bien a Alguien
Literal meaning: To give it good to someone
Implied meaning: To be good at
Blame it on the redundant object pronouns if this expression sounds twisted and unnatural to you. Although it takes some getting used to, this idiom is a very handy way of saying someone is good at something. There’s just no better option available in Spanish. Of course, all those clitics (the se and le in dársele) come undone when used in an actual construct. You could also switch bien with mal for the opposite effect, i.e. when one is bad at something.
Se le dan muy bien las matemáticas (She’s very good at math).
Se me dan muy mal los idiomas (I’m very bad at languages).
15. ¡Y Dale!
Literal meaning: And give to him/her!
Implied meaning: Not again!
This one’s got to be the biggest surprise in the entire list which explains its position right at the bottom. Idioms are already free to violate all laws of grammar and this one is an interjection to boot! There’s no way you’re gonna be able to sue this expression for any violations no matter how many rules of grammar it broke when translated literally. It is this very anarchist attitude of idiomatic interjections that make them so appealing to native speakers. Besides, being hardly two words long is no small help either. The smaller an interjection, the smoother it rolls off the tongue. By the way, this interjection is pretty colloquial, so avoid it in super formal settings if you can.
¡Y dale con lo mismo! (There we go again!)
¡Y dale con el percance de anoche! (Not again with the accident from last night!)
Now that we have established that dar is the Swiss Army knife of Spanish verbs or at least one of them, it must be noted that we have just about scratched the surface.
Don’t Fear the Dar
Every language has a few Swiss Army knives in its verb arsenal. MUVs (Multi-Utility Verbs), if you will. And given its lexical richness, it’s natural Spanish would have some too. Dar happens to be one of them. So now that we have firmly established the status of dar as an incredibly versatile Spanish verb, it pays to remember the word itself. Committing foreign words to memory is an exercise in tedium. Rote memorization and what have you, they’re all methods programmed to fail. Which is where tricks like word association and etymology come in. No matter how alien-sounding a word, there’s always a way to bridge it with something familiar.
So can we use etymology as a memory hook for dar? Let’s see, dar comes from Latin dare (not the one that’s synonymous to challenge) which seems to have descendants and cognates in almost all modern languages from Greek to Sanskrit and from Italian to Romanian. Except English. How unfortunate. So that rules out etymology. But that’s not the end of the world yet, so don’t fret. Let’s explore other options.
How about word association? Let’s give it a shot, it always works. There are so many ways you can do this, let me give you a couple of starting points. Dar looks very much like dare, even though the two words have as much in common as you have with your boss’ neighbor’s mother-in-law’s housekeeper. But let’s bridge them anyway. Every time you think give, think of someone giving you a dare. Think of dar itself as a challenge, a dare if you will, your Spanish teacher has given you.
Another trick could be to relate dar and dark. The two words already sound so similar, you just have to think of ways you could employ them both in a single visual to serve as a memory hook. I bet you love chocolate. Picture yourself at one of Willy Wonka’s stores where you’re overwhelmed with candies in all shapes, sizes, and colors. So hard to pick, but you know what you want. Your heart is set on only one color. The ultra-exotic dark chocolate! So go ahead, ask the guy to give you a piece of dark chocolate. Now try inventing something that works for you. This one did it for me.
Now that we have established that dar is the Swiss Army knife of Spanish verbs or at least one of them, it must be noted that we have just about scratched the surface. The verb’s full potential when unleashed far exceeds what a measly blog article can cover. Dar is employed in dozens if not hundreds of idiomatic expressions, both standard and colloquial. What I have discussed in this article are the ones I enjoy using the most. These are the ones I believe must be a part of every intermediate-level learner’s lexicon. These are my favorites. But they need not be yours too. Do you have any that you’d like to share with the rest of us? Please drop in a comment and let the conversation begin!