Translating ‘So’ to Spanish

Understanding its contextual meaning is key to translation

happy woman jumping
Yo era tan feliz que salté en el aire. (I was so happy that I jumped in the air.).

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"So" is one of those English words that has so many meanings that it can be translated to Spanish in dozens of ways. As such, it can be a confusing word for Spanish students—so as a strategy when translating "so," you're often better off thinking of a synonym for the way it is used and translating that instead.

This lesson looks at a few of the ways "so" is used and suggests possible translations. In all cases, the translations used are not the only ones possible.

Translating ‘So’ as an Adverb Meaning ‘Very’

Most of the time when "so" is used as an adverb meaning "very," it can be translated as tan. However, muy is sometimes acceptable as well, especially when it is not awkward to substitute "very" for "so" in the English sentence.

  • I was so happy that I jumped in the air. (Yo era tan feliz que salté en aire.)
  • My love for you is so strong. (Es tan fuerte mi amor por ti. Alternative: Es muy fuerte my amor por ti.)
  • He did it so poorly. (Lo hizo tan mal. Alternative: Lo hizo muy mal.)
  • The city is so small that once you leave downtown there's nothing else. (La ciudad es tan pequeña que una vez que te sales del centro, ya no hay nada.)
  • Why is it so difficult for us to be happy? (¿Por qué es tan difícil que seamos felices?)
  • The meat was so tasty that it needed only salt. (La carne era tan rica que solo necesitaba sal.)

Translating ‘So’ in Approximations

As the context requires, various ways of expressing approximations can be used when "so" is used for that purpose.

  • I need to lose 20 pounds in two months or so. (Necesito perder 20 libras en dos meses más o menos.)
  • I'm going to buy myself an aquarium holding 100 liters or so. (Me voy a comprar un acuario de 100 litros aproximadamente.)
  • They stole 20,000 or so pesos from her. (Le robaron alrededor de 20 mil pesos.)

Translating ‘So’ When It Indicates Causation

A common use of "so" is to indicate why something is done. Various phrases of causation or purpose can be used. Often, such sentences can't be translated word for word—what's important is to get the proper connection between the different elements of the sentence.

  • I will give you one so you don't forget me. (Te daré uno para que no me olvides.)
  • I was afraid, so I left. (Me fui por miedo.)
  • I am innocent, so I am not going to go into hiding. (No me esconderé porque soy inocente.)
  • Evil exists so we can appreciate what is good. (El mal existe para que podamos apreciar lo que es bueno.)
  • There was violence, so many children were evacuated from the city. (Muchos niños fueron evacuados ciudad por causa de la violencia.)
  • You can edit your digital photo so it seems like a painting. (Podrás editar tu foto digital de modo que parezca una pintura.)

Translating ‘So’ as a Transition or Filler

Often, "so" can be left out of sentences without much of a change in meaning. In such cases, you can simply leave it out of the translation, or you can use a filler word such as pues or bueno if leaving out a word such as that would seem too abrupt.

  • So, where are we going? (Pues ¿adónde vamos?)
  • So now comes the best time of the year. (Pues ahora llega la mejor época del año.)
  • So let's begin. (Bueno, vamos a empezar.)
  • So what do you know? (¿Qué sabes?)

Translating ‘So’ Meaning ‘Also’

Usually, también will work fine when translating "so" carrying meanings such as "also" or "in addition":

  • You're from Texas? So am I! (¿Eres de Tejas? ¡También yo!)
  • I slept and so did they. (Yo dormí y también ellos.)

Translating ‘So-so’

Translations for "so-so" meaning "mediocre" or "in a mediocre way" include regular and más o menos. Así así is listed in most dictionaries but is used less often than the other two.

  • Mi hermana tenía una idea regular. (My sister had a so-so idea.)
  • Es una película perfecta para un estudiante que habla español más o menos. (It's a perfect movie for a student who speaks so-so Spanish.)
  • ¿Cómo estás? —Así así. (How are you? So-so.)

Translating ‘So’ in Set Phrases

When "so" is used in various phrases or idioms, you can often translate the phrases as a whole for meaning, as in the following examples:

  • The book has recipes for shakes of fruits such as apples, oranges, strawberries, kiwis and so on. (El libro tiene recetas de batidos de frutas como las manzanas, naranjas, fresas, kiwis, etcétera.)
  • He's not a citizen. So what? (No es ciudadano. ¿Y qué?)
  • Every so often I imagine a good future. (De cuando en cuando imagino un buen futuro.)
  • These are treated just so. (Estos son tratados con sumo cuidado.)
  • I am going to buy raspberries, applies, blackberries, peras, strawberries, and so on. (Voy a comprar frambuesas, manzanas, moras, peras, fresas, etcétera.)

Key Takeaways

  • The English "so" has a wide variety of meanings, so the choice when translating it to Spanish can vary widely with the context.
  • If "so" means "very," it can usually be translated as tan or muy.
  • If "so" can be left out of an English sentence with little change in meaning, it can be translated using a filler word such as pues or left untranslated.
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Your Citation
Erichsen, Gerald. "Translating ‘So’ to Spanish." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). Translating ‘So’ to Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Translating ‘So’ to Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).