Using the Spanish Verb ‘Tratar’

Common meanings include to treat and to try

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La mujer trata de cocinar. (The woman is trying to cook.).

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It may not seem logical that the same Spanish verb might mean "to try" and "to treat," but such is the case with tratar.

Tratar is a fairly common verb that also has other meanings that don't seem particularly related. In general, though, the word has to do with dealing with a person, activity, or thing.

Often, the meaning of tratar depends on the preposition that follows, although even that isn't always a sure guide. Perhaps more so than with most verbs, you need to rely on the context of the sentence to determine the meaning.

Common Meanings of Tratar by Itself

One of the most typical uses of tratar is to refer to treating someone or something in a specified way:

  • Nos trataban como a animales y en ocasiones peor. (They treated us like animals and sometimes worse.)
  • Siempre he estado en paz debido a la forma en que mi madre me trató. (I have always been at peace because of the way my mother treated me.)
  • ¡No me trates como a un niño! (Don't treat me as a child!)

More specifically, tratar is often used to refer to medical treatment.

  • La enfermedad de Lyme se trata con antibióticos. (Lyme's disease is treated with antibiotics.)
  • Los médicos van a tratar de detener la hemorragia con medicamentos. (The doctors are going use a treatment of stopping the hemorrhage with medications.)
  • Trataron el dolor con morfina por casi una semana. (They treated the pain with morphine for almost a week.)
  • El hospicio trata al paciente como a una persona en su totalidad. (A hospice treats the patient as a person in his or her totality.)

Using Tratar With De

When tratar is followed by the preposition de and an infinitive, it meant to try or attempt:

  • Aquí no tratamos de ganar mentes y corazones, porque es irrelevante. (Here we are not trying to win hearts and minds, because it is irrelevant.)
  • Trate de nadar por lo menos una hora y quince minutos. (Try to swim at least an hour and 15 minutes.)
  • Los participantes del estudio que fotografiaron sus alimentos perdieron más peso que aquellos que simplemente trataron de comer más sanamente. (The study participants who photographed their food lost more weight than those who simply tried to eat more healthily.)
  • Trataré de esturiar todos los días que pueda excepto los lunes. (I will try to study every day I can except for Mondays.)
  • Trata de ponerte en mis zapatos. (Try to put yourself in my shoes.)

When the reflexive form tratarse is followed by de, it indicates the subject of something or what it's about.

  • "Fahrenheit 451" trata de una sociedad totalitaria donde los libros están prohibidos. ("Fahrenheit 451" is about a totalitarian society where books are banned.)
  • Se trata del coche de mi padre, doy una opinión de primera mano. (On the subject of my father's car, I am giving a firsthand opinion.)
  • ¿De qué trata? What's it about?
  • La vida se trata de contentamiento y gratitud. (Life is about contentment and gratitude.)

Using Tratar With Con

When either tratar or tratarse is followed by con, the preposition usually meaning "with," it can refer to a relationship between two or more parties. Note that in some contexts, tratar con can instead me "to treat with."

  • Este cambio afectará la manera en que usted trata con su compañía de teléfonos. (This change will affect the way you do business with your phone company.)
  • Con respecto al amor, no me trato con gente mayor que yo. (When it comes to romance, I don't have relationships with people older than I am.)
  • Sin embargo, muchas veces se trató con él. (Nevertheless, I often had dealings with him.)
  • Los compañeros tratan con mucho respeto. (The companions treat each other with great respect.)

Key Takeaways

  • Tratar often means "to treat," as in treating someone or something a certain way, or in providing medical treatment.
  • Tratar de when followed an infinitive usually means to try or attempt.
  • Tratarse de is used to indicate what something is about.