Speaking of Work

Translations Include "Trabajo" and "Funcionar"

Trabajadores en Ecuador. (Workers in Ecuador.). Photo by Municipio Piña; licensed via Creative Commons.

Although the related Spanish words trabajo (noun) and trabajar (verb) likely first come to mind as translations for the English word "work," in fact "work" has an array of meanings that must be conveyed in Spanish in other ways.

Trabajo and trabajar are frequently used to mean "work" when it refers to employment:

  • Mi hermano busca trabajo. My brother is looking for work.
  • Va al trabajo cada mañana vestido de una camisa blanca. He goes to work every day dressed in a white shirt.
  • ¿Qué tipo de trabajo estás buscando? What line of work are you looking for?
  • Si trabajamos es importante trazarnos metas realistas a cumplir. If we work it is important to develop realistic goals to accomplish.
  • Katrina y yo trabajamos juntos. Katrina and I work together.
  • La mayoría de sus parientes masculinos trabajaron en la fábrica. Most of her male relatives worked in the factory.

When "to work" is a synonym of "to function," funcionar can often be used:

  • Este método no funciona en todos los casos. This method doesn't work in every case.
  • El modelo económico chino funciona bien. The Chinese economic model works well.
  • Cuando una computadora funciona mal el primer paso es rehabilitar al operador. When a computer works poorly the first step is to retrain the operator.

Similarly, "to work" meaning "to have an effect" can be translated as surtir efecto:

  • La protesta campesina surte efecto. The farmworkers' protest is working.
  • Desgraciadamente, la medicina no surtió efecto. Unfortunately, the medicine didn't work.

The phrase "work out" can be translated in various ways depending on what is meant. As you learn Spanish, you may be best off thinking of other English words that have the some meaning and translate them instead:

  • Todo sale muy bien para Santos. Everything worked out (turned out) very well for Santos.
  • Si hace ejercicio en un gimnasio, pida asistencia antes de probar algo nuevo. If you work out (exercise) in a gymnasium, ask for help before trying something new.
  • Necesito ayuda para resolver estes crucigramas. I need help to work out (solve) these crossword puzzles.

Similarly, if uses of "work" don't fit well in any of the above categories, see if you can think of a good English synonym and try translating that word instead:

  • Está desempleado. He's out of work (unemployed).
  • Los peones labraban la tierra. The farmhands worked (cultivated) the ground.
  • El artista prefiere pintar al óleo. The artist prefers to work (paint) in oils.
  • Soy adicto a trabajo. I'm a workaholic (addicted to work).
  • Se puso frenético cuando leyó la carta. He worked himself (became) into a frenzy when he read the letter.
  • Fue impactado en el pecho por un tornillo que se soltó. He was struck in the chest by a screw that had worked itself loose (became loose).

There are also a few ways "work" is used that have specific equivalents, the most common being obra as an artistic creation: Nuestro sistema solar es una obra de arte. Our solar system is a work of art.

The translations given above for "work" are far from the only possibilities, and are intended to give you a feel for the different ways of approaching translation of the word.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Speaking of Work." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/speaking-of-work-3079711. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). Speaking of Work. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/speaking-of-work-3079711 Erichsen, Gerald. "Speaking of Work." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/speaking-of-work-3079711 (accessed May 28, 2018).