How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Probar’

Verb’s meanings include ‘to prove,’ ‘to try,’ and ‘to taste’

Fried grasshoppers and worms for Spanish lesson on probar
Yo no querría probar los saltamontes fritos. (I didn't want to taste the fried grasshoppers.).

Alpha / Creative Commons.

Although the Spanish verb probar comes from the same Latin word as the English verb "prove," it has a much wider range of meanings than the English word. It carries with it the idea not only of verifying that something is true, valid or suitable, but also of testing or trying to determine if that is the case. In fact, it can more often be translated as "to test" or "to try" than as "to prove."

Probar is conjugated regularly.

Probar Meaning ‘To Prove’

When it means "to prove," probar is often followed by que:

  • Hernando de Magallanes probó que la Tierra es redonda. (Ferdinand Magellan proved that the Earth is round.)
  • Los científicos probaron que el cerebro de los sicópatas es biológicamente diferente. (The scientists proved that the brain of psychopaths is biologically different.)
  • Si pides asilo político en cualquier lugar, tienes que probar que hay persecución política. (If you ask for political asylum anywhere, you have to prove that there is political persecution.)
  • A veces tengo la sensación que alguien me observa, pero no puedo probarlo. (Sometimes I have the feeling that someone is watching me, but I can't prove it.)

Probar Meaning ‘To Test’ or ‘To Try’

Probar is used in a wide variety of contexts to refer to the trying or testing of an item or activity. The context will determine whether "try" or "test" is a suitable translation, although often either one can be used.

  • Los científicos probaron la técnica en ratones diabéticos. (The scientists tested the technique on diabetic mice.)
  • Se probó el método tradicional empleado en el laboratorio. (The traditional method used in the laboratory was tried.)
  • Se probó la droga en catorce personas. (The drug was tested on 14 people.)
  • Cuando la compañía probó Windows Server, vio importantes beneficios. (When the company tried Windows Server, it saw important advantages.)
  • Una patata chiquita querría volar. Probaba y probaba y no podía volar. (A little potato wanted to fly. She tried and she tried and she could not fly.)

Using Probar in Reference to Food and Clothing

Probar is very commonly used when referring to tasting food or putting on clothing, usually but not necessarily to see whether it is suitable. In a few cases, as in the final example below, it can refer to a habitual action rather than a single event.

As in the examples below, it is very common to use the reflexive form, probarse, when referring to the trying on of clothing.

  • Yo no querría probar los saltamontes fritos. (I didn't want to taste the fried grasshoppers.)
  • Esta sopa de pollo es muy cicatrizante y te ayudará. ¡Próbala! (This chicken soup is very healing and will help you. Taste it!)
  • Marco llegó y rápidamente se probó la camisa oficial del equipo. (Marco arrived and quickly tried on the team's official shirt.)
  • Cenicienta se probó la zapatilla de cristal. (Cinderella put on the crystal slipper.)
  • Alejandra no prueba la carne porque piensa que es más sano ser vegetariana. (Alejandra doesn't eat meat because she believes it is healthier to be a vegetarian.)

In the negative form when referring to food or drink, probar can indicate that the person doesn't consume the product at all. No pruebo la carne de caballo. (I don't eat horse meat.)

A Verb for ‘Probe’?

Like "prove," "probe" is a cognate of the Latin verb probare. But probar is very seldom a good translation for "to probe." Although probar might be suitable when "probe" refers to a general type of testing, "probe" more often refers to specific types of testing, such as a police investigation for a murder probe or perhaps the use of technical equipment in a space probe.

So translating "probe" as a verb to Spanish depends on the specific type of action being performed. Among the possibilities are:

  • explorar: to explore scientifically, such as by sending or using a space vehicle
  • interrogar or sondear: to probe by asking questions
  • investigar: to investigate, such as in a crime probe
  • sondar: to probe medically, such as by inserting a device or by touching

Phrases Using Probar

The most common phrase using probar is obligación de probar, a legal term meaning "burden of proof." En Estados Unidos, el fiscal tiene la obligación de probar. (In the United States, the prosecutor has the burden of proof.)

Probar suerte typically means "to try one's luck." Nuestra hija prueba suerte en Hollywood. (Our daughter is trying her luck in Hollywood.)

Key Takeaways

  • The Spanish verb probar has a range of meanings that include that of its cognate "prove."
  • Probar is used to refer to the tasting of food or the trying on of clothing, especially to see if it is suitable.
  • Probar usually is an inadequate translation for "to probe."