Using the Spanish Verb ‘Ganar’

Common translations include ‘to earn’ and ‘to win’

todas las de ganar
The slogan on this fast-food cup comes from a Spanish idiom, "tener todas las de ganar," which means to look like a winner or to have a strong winning advantage.

Geronimo De Francesco / Creative Commons.

Ganar is a common Spanish verb that has as its basic sense the idea of accomplishment. As such, it can be translated to English in a variety of ways, depending on the context: to earn, to win, to reach, to defeat, to improve. Ganar is a cousin of the English "gain" and sometimes has that meaning as well.

Ganar Meaning ‘To Earn’

In one of its most common usages, ganar is used to refer to how much money a person or business earns:

  • ¡Gana 80.00 dólares solo por suscribirte a nuestro programa! (Earn $80 just for subscribing to our program!)
  • Cada profesional ganará 18.450 pesos uruguayos por mes. (Each professional will earn 18,450 Uruguayan pesos per month.)
  • La compañía ganaba muy poco dinero. (The company earned very little money.)

Ganar Meaning ‘To Win’

Ganar can mean "win" in various senses:

  • Adams ganó la lotería dos veces, en 1985 y 1986. (Adams won the lottery twice, in 1985 and 1986.)
  • La empresa ganaba muchas veces en licitaciones internacionales. (The company won often in international bidding.)
  • Carter ganó el voto popular por un 50,1% contra 48,0% de Ford. (Carter won the popular vote with 50.1 percent against Ford's 48.0 percent.)
  • Entre 1936 y 1951 fue la estrella de los Yankees de Nueva York, equipo con el que ganó nueve Series Mundiales. (Between 1936 and 1951 he was the star of the New York Yankees, the team that won nine World Series.)
  • Ganaron los Cavaliers. (The Cavaliers won.)
  • No ganamos la guerra contra las drogas. (We aren't winning the war against drugs.)

Ganar as a Verb of Achieving

Ganar often conveys the sense of achievement. Translations to English can vary substantially:

  • Ganó mucho éxito escribiendo sobre los problemas de su ciudad. (He was very successful writing about his city's problems.)
  • El Congreso ganó su objetivo principal. (The Congress achieved its main goal.)
  • Al menos 73 escaladores ganaron la cima el lunes. (At least 73 climbers reached the summit on Monday.)
  • Las voces de los soldados ganaron intensidad cuando llegaron a la orilla. (The voices of the soldiers rose in intensity when they arrived at the shore.)
  • Bolivia ganó un escalón, ubicándose en el sitio 10 del ranking. (Bolivia reached a milestone, planting itself in 10th place.) 

Using the Verbal Phrase Ganar En

Ganar en can mean "to improve" or "to gain in."

  • Perdí mi libertad, pero gané en felicidad. (I lost my freedom, but I became happier. Literally, I lost my freedom, but I gained in happiness.)
  • Pablo y María ganaron en fortaleza. (Pablo y María became stronger. Literally, Pablo y María gained in strength.)


The reflexive form ganarse usually means "to deserve" or otherwise suggests extraordinary effort. It also is frequently used to refer to those who win a lottery or drawing.

  • Los atletas colombianas se ganaron la medalla de oro. (The Colombian athletes deserved the gold medal.)
  • La compañia se ha ganado la reputación de líder innovador. (The company has deservedly earned its reputation as an innovative leader.)
  • La felicidad invadió a los 20 empleados, quienes se ganaron millones de dólares. (Happiness overwhelmed the 20 employees, who won millions of dollars.)
  • Al fin me gané la confianza y el respeto de su familia. (Finally I obtained the trust and respect of her family.)

Using the Noun Form Gana

Although you might expect that the noun form gana would refer to earnings or gains, it instead refers to the desire or appetite for something. It usually is used in the plural form.

  • ¿Que le dirías a alguien que no tiene ganas de vivir? (What would you say to someone who doesn't have the desire to live?)
  • Mis ganas de entender la vida y el mundo me llevaron a estudiar filosofía en la universidad. (My desire to understand life and the world led me to study philosophy at the university.)
  • Quiero ganas de hacer algo que no haya hecho nunca. (I want the desire to do something that has never been done before.)

Etymology of Ganar

Unlike most other Spanish verbs, ganar probably isn't of Latin origin. According to the Royal Spanish Academy's dictionary, ganar possibly came from a Gothic word ganan, which meant to covet, along with Germanic and Nordic influences from words related to hunting, harvesting, and envy. Ganar and the English "gain" may be related to an ancient Proto-Indo-European root referring to striving.

Key Takeaways

  • Ganar often means "to win" or "to earn" and usually refers to having an accomplishment.
  • The noun form is often used in the plural, ganas, and usually refers to a desire.
  • The reflexive form ganarse often carries the idea of having an achievement due to a strong effort.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Using the Spanish Verb ‘Ganar’." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). Using the Spanish Verb ‘Ganar’. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Using the Spanish Verb ‘Ganar’." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).