Using the Spanish Verb ‘Andar’

Common verb quite flexible in meaning

Mayapán ruins
Andando entre las ruinas de Mayapán de México. (Walking among the Mayapán ruins in Mexico.).

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

In its normal usage, the verb andar means "to walk." However, it is often used more broadly with a vague meaning that isn't readily translatable—meaning something along the line of "to function," "to do," "to go along," or even simply "to be."

Examples of Using Andar for Walking

Here are some examples of the verb being used with its common, most literal meaning:

  • Yo andaba con mi amigo Adry. (I walked with my friend Adry.)
  • Cada mañana, Pedro andaba cuatro kilómetros. (Every morning, Pedro walked four kilometers.)
  • Ella anduvo llorando el camino a su casa. (Crying, she walked the road to her house.)
  • Vamos a andar por las calles y los neighborhoods de nuestra ciudad. (We are going to walk through the streets and villages of our city.)

In many cases, andar can be used more broadly to mean simply "to travel" or "to go":

  • Todo el mundo andaba a pie pero los de la clase media andábamos en tranvía. (Everybody traveled by foot, but we in the middle class traveled by streetcar.)
  • Más del 70 por ciento de los niños andan en bicicleta. (More than 70 percent of the children bicycle.)
  • Ando tras mi gato, que desapareció. (I'm going after my cat, who disappeared.)

Andar Meaning ‘To Behave’

Andar can be used to refer acting or behaving in various ways. The reflexive form andarse is often used in this way.

  • Tu nobleza innata no te permitía andar con malicia ni trampear. (Your innate honor doesn't allow you to behave maliciously nor to cheat people.) 
  • Se andaron muy estrictos en mantener el anonimato absoluto. (They acted in a very disciplined fashion to maintain absolute anonymity.) 
  • Los empleadores chinos se andan con cautela. (The Chinese employers are behaving cautiously.)

Andar Meaning ‘To Function’

When a thing is the subject of the sentence, andar can be used to mean "to function" (much like the English verb "to run" can sometimes be used in the same way).

  • Si se humedece esa motocicleta no anda. (If it gets wet, that motorcycle doesn't run.)
  • Hay señales que no anda bien la conexión. (There are signs that the connection isn't working well.)
  • Mi teléfono no anda para llamar a ciertos números. (My telephone doesn't work for calling certain numbers.)

Using Andar With a Gerund

When followed by a gerund (a verb form ending in -ando or -endo), andar can mean something similar "to go about." It can even be less specific in terms of action than that, serving as kind of a substitute for estar, forming a kind of a continuous tense. Translation will depend largely on the context.

  • Andaba hablando consigo mismo. (He went around talking to himself.)
  • Ahora nadie anda comprando esas blusas. (Now nobody is buying those blouses.)
  • Había una gran piara de cerdos, que andaban comiendo en la falda del monte. (There was a large herd of pigs that were going about eating on the mountainside.)
  • Los astrónomos, que siempre andan estudiando el cielo, han llegado a pensar que muchas de las estrellas pueden tener planetas. (Astronomers, who are always studying the sky, have come to believe that many of the stars could have planets.)

Andar Translated as ‘To Be’

In some cases, andar has vague enough of a meaning that it can be translated as "to be."

  • ¿Andas por aquí? (Are you from around here?)
  • Ahora se estima que la inversión andará por los $30 millones. (Now it is estimated that the investment must be about $30 million.)
  • Silvia hoy anda por los 43 años. (Sylvia today is 43 years old.)
  • Muchas veces anda mal de dinero. (He's often short on money.)
  • Mi madre anda muy preocupada. (My mother is very worried.)
  • Mi tío andaba borracho. (My uncle was drunk.)

Conjugation and Etymology of Andar

Andar is irregular in the indicative preterite (yo anduve, tú anduviste, él/ella/usted anduvo, nosotros/nosotras anduvimos, vosotros/vosotras anduvisteis, ellos/ellas/ustedes anduvieron) and the imperfect subjunctive (anduviera, anduvieras, anduviera, anduviéramos, anduvierais, anduvieran) tenses. It is regular in all other tenses.

Andar comes from the Latin verb ambulāre, meaning to walk. That makes it a cousin of English words such as "ambulatory" and "ambulance."

Key Takeaways

  • The most common, literal meaning of andar is "to walk," although it can refer more generally to traveling or otherwise engaging in a motion.
  • Even more broadly, andar can refer to how a person or thing behaves, goes about doing something, or exists.
  • When a machine or other device is the subject of andar, andar can refer to how it runs or operates.