Nothing is harder than trying to reach a level of complete fluency in a foreign language. Not being a native speaker shows in minuscule ways, like how natural a sentence is. To avoid this, it is important to not only use synonyms, but to be able to differentiate similar words and use them in their correct context. We are going to show you this with an example word: happy.
In Spanish, like in English, “happy” has many words that have similar meanings but that are NOT complete synonyms. It is easy for English speakers to confuse “feliz”, “alegre” and “contento” because they can all mean happy, but they are not interchangeable.
“Feliz” means, according to the Real Academia Española, “feeling great satisfaction, physically and spiritually.” It is the most intense of the three words. It is more lasting and deeper than “alegre” and “contento”. The plural of “feliz” is “felices”, there is no masculine or feminine form, and it is used with the verb SER for a permanent feeling and ESTAR for mood.
- Me hace muy feliz poder trabajar de lo que quiero (it makes me really happy to work in what I love).
- ¡Qué seáis muy felices juntos! (I hope you’re happy together)
- Estoy feliz porque ya llega el buen tiempo (I’m happy because warm weather is almost here).
The superlative form (happiest) technically is “felicísimo” but it is not commonly used. We tend to say “lo/la/los/las más feliz/felices”:
- Soy la [persona] más feliz del mundo/Son los más felices del mundo.
“Alegre” is an adjective that means “experiencing a bright and pleasant feeling that is manifested through exterior signs.” In this case, “alegre” means happy and showing it, but in general it is used like “joyful” or “cheerful”. It is mainly used with the verb SER. The verb form “alegrar” is also very used in everyday conversations such as “me alegro de verte” (it’s good to see you). Here are some examples of the word in context:
- David es un niño muy alegre (David is a cheerful lad).
- Se le ve muy alegre desde que empezó el curso (He seems very happy since the school year started).
- Nos alegramos de que hayáis venido esta noche (We are so delighted you came tonight).
The RAE defines “contento” as “happy, satisfied.” This word is the most nuanced of the three. Unlike “alegre,” the feeling of being satisfied might not be shown with body expressions and is more tied to the internal feeling. “Feliz” is similar in the sense of being spiritually happy, but it is also physical and more long lasting. “Contento” is also commonly used for moods, and “alegre” as a personality trait. Because it describes a mood, it is used with the verb ESTAR:
- Mi empresa ha crecido mucho este año, estoy muy contenta (My company has grown a lot this year, I’m so happy).
- Estoy contento porque hoy voy a ver a mi familia que vive lejos (I’m happy because today I’m seeing my family that lives far).
Can you see the differences now? Let us know in the comments any doubts you may have.
Find other posts about English, translations and origins here.
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