Using the Spanish Verb ‘Dar’

Meanings go far beyond ‘to give’

setting sail in Lake Albufera
Se dieron a la vela en el lago de Valencia. (They set sail in the Valencian lake.).

Miguel Sotomayor / Getty Images

Although the Spanish verb dar is most often translated as "to give," it also is one of those verbs whose meanings or translations can vary widely with the context.

Those meanings, however, are usually related to the concept of giving in a broad sense of the word. A common example would be a sentence such as "El sol da luz." A literal translation of "The sun gives light" wouldn't be wrong—but most English speakers would be more likely to say something such as "The sun sheds light" or, more simply, "The sun shines" or "The sun is shining."

Everyday Figurative Uses of Dar

Most often, when something other then "give" works as a translation of dar, the meaning can be figured out by thinking of giving in a general or figurative sense. Here are some everyday examples that are mostly easy to figure out if you know the meaning of the noun serving as an object of dar:

  • El reloj dio las tres. (The clock struck three. Literally, the clock gives three.)
  • Dieron golpes a mi hijo. (They hit my son. Literally, they gave blows to my son.)
  • Te damos gracias. (We thank you. Literally, we give thanks to you.)
  • Darse a conocer. (To make oneself known.)
  • Me dio un abrazo. (She hugged me.)
  • Dar la mano. (To shake hands.)
  • Dar un paseo. (To take a walk.)
  • Darse vuelta. (To turn.)
  • Darse prisa. (To hurry.)
  • Darse a la vela. (To set sail.)
  • Darse a entender. (To suggest.)
  • Darse de comer. (To feed.)
  • Darse fin. (To finish.)

Phrases Using Dar

Dar is also used in a variety of phrases whose meaning isn't always so predictable. Here are some of the most common of them, along with sample sentences. When using the phrases in this list, alguien is replaced by reference to a person, while algo is replaced by reference to a thing.

  • dar alcance: to catch up with. (Los agentes dieron alcance al ladrón. The agents caught up with the thief.)
  • dar algo a alguien: to give something to someone. (Dieron un carro a su hijo. They gave a car to their son.)
  • dar con algo (o a alguien): to find something (or someone) (Di con mi lápiz en la escuela. I found my pencil in the school.)
  • a alguien dar por (o en) (infinitivo): to decide to (verb) (Me di por (o en) salir. I decided to leave.)
  • dar a lugar: to look over a place (La ventana da a la ciudad. The window overlooks the city.)
  • dar luz, dar a luz: to give birth (María dio luz a Jesús. Mary gave birth to Jesus.)
  • dar de cabeza: to fall on one's head. (Dio de cabeza en el gimnasio. He fell on his head in the gymnasium.)
  • dar de narices: to fall flat on one's face. (La chica dio de narices. The girl fell flat on her face.)
  • dar lo mismo: to make no difference. (Comió mucho, pero lo mismo dio. She ate a lot, but it didn't make a difference.)
  • darse a algo: to give or devote oneself (to something). (Se da a su trabajo. He gives himself to his work.)
  • dar a alguien (o algo) por (adjectivo) o (participio): to assume or consider someone to be (adjective or participle). (La dieron por feliz. Doy la lucha por concluido. She was considered to be happy. I consider the fight to be over.)
  • darse cuenta de: to realize. (Me di cuenta que ella estaba aquí. I realized she was here.)

Conjugation of Dar

Keep in mind that dar is conjugated irregularly, especially in the preterite form: yo di, tú diste, usted/él/ella dio, nosotros/nosotras dimos, vosotros/vosotras disteis, ustedes/ellos/ellas dieron.

In the present indicative tense, the one most often used, the first-person singular form is doy (I give).

Other irregular forms exist in the subjunctive and imperative moods. In many of them, the stem changes from d- to dier-.

Key Takeaways

  • Dar is a common verb whose literal meaning is "to give," but it can be used in a wide variety of ways where its translation depends on context.
  • Dar is also commonly used in phrases where its meaning isn't ready apparent.
  • Dar is conjugated irregularly.