Verb Usually Used To Indicate Lack of Existence or Sufficiency

Río San Pedro, Guatemala
Hay 10 secretos que te faltarán saber de Guatemala. (There are 10 secrets you will need to know about Guatemala.). Photo by Fernando Reyes Palencia; licensed via Creative Commons.

Faltar carries with it the idea of lacking — it's a cousin of the English word "fault," which used to often have a similar meaning. But it is used in a variety of ways where "to lack" isn't the best translation. Here are some of its most common uses:

To indicate absence or lack of existence: Possible translations include "to be absent" and "to be missing" as well as a simple statement of nonexistence:

  • A la reunión faltaron los representantes de Ecuador. The representatives of Ecuador were absent from the meeting. The representatives of Ecuador were not at the meeting.
  • La mujer faltaba de su hogar desde hace cuatro días y era buscada intensamente por sus familiares. The woman was missing from her home since four days ago and was intensively searched for by her relatives.
  • El martes de la semana pasada, Sabrina faltó a la escuela sin avisar a sus padres. On Tuesday of last week, Sabrina missed school without telling her parents.

To indicate lack or need: This usage is similar to the above examples, but note that the person or thing that lacks something is often referred to using an indirect-object pronoun. In this usage, faltar functions much like gustar. The indirect-object pronoun is in boldface in the following examples. Although "lack" can almost always be used in translation, other possibilities include "need," "to be short" and so on. As is the case with gustar, the noun represented by the indirect-object pronoun often serves as the subject of the sentence in translation.

  • A esta receta le falta un ingrediente principal. This recipe lacks a main ingredient.
  • Nos faltan dos personas para reservar el cuarto de hotel. We need two more people to reserve the hotel room.
  • A este pobre le falta una pierna. This poor man is missing a leg.
  • Sólo me falta el teléfono. I'm missing only my telephone. I have everything I need except for my telephone.
  • ¿Cuántos puntos me faltan para llegar al nivel segundo? How many points do I need to arrive at the second level?
  • Te falta estudiarlo un poco más. You need to study it a little more.
  • Hay 10 secretos que te faltarán saber de Guatemala. There are 10 secrets you will need to know about Guatemala.
  • Me falta agua en el radiador. I need water in the radiator.

To indicate what remains: The common construction used, as in the following examples, is "optional pronoun + faltar + what remains + para + the goal."

  • Faltan cinco días para Navidad. Five days remain until Christmas. There are five days to go until Christmas.
  • Faltaban dos segundos para terminar el juego. There were two seconds to go to end the game.
  • Te faltan 100 pesos para comprarlo. You need 100 pesos more to buy it.
  • A él le faltaban tres horas para la medianoche. He had three hours remaining until midnight.

In various expressions: Some examples:

  • Faltar al respeto, to be disrespectful.
  • ¡Lo que faltaba! It's all I needed!
  • ¡No faltaría más! Of course! Obviously! Don't mention it!
  • Faltar a la verdad. To be dishonest.

Note that faltar is conjugated regularly, following the pattern of hablar.

Final note: Since I wrote this lesson, I've received several letters from people who have mentioned hearing uses of faltar that aren't listed here. For example, one person reported hearing it used to say that someone misses someone else, and another reported someone hearing it used to say that something was left in a car trunk. These were both valid uses, and both are related to lacking something, so keep in mind that faltar can be quite flexible in usage, certainly usable in places not specifically described on this page.