Beyond “Asistir a…”
Most texts and teachers of Spanish are quick to point out the false cognate asistir – which does not mean to assist, as in to lend someone a hand. It always is used with the preposition a and means to attend, as in to attend class.
Juan siempre asiste a sus clases de química (John always goes to his chemistry classes).
This fact logically leaves some students wondering how to express the idea of helping someone out. The answer vexes many of them, but it needs to be learned as a dull fact of vocabulary: one solution is atender. It is as if the two cognates reversed their roles between the two languages and that is as good a way to remember their difference as any other. Rather like the fact that librería is a bookstore but biblioteca is library, or just as how sopa is soup but soap is jabón (not to be confused with jamón which is the meat portion of a ham & cheese sandwich!). The a used with atender is not used in the same way as the a with asistir – this use is the personal a:
Los dependientes atendieron a los clients en el almacén (The clerks helped/tended to the customers in the department store).
The verb atender can also be used in the sense of tending to or minding one’s affairs . Note that the a is still required, although it is not the personal a, but simply a prepositional marker:
Ellos siempre atienden a sus asuntos sin mirar a nadie (They always take care of their own business without looking at anyone).
Finally, there’s the verb to help: ayudar. It is the generic way of expressing most of the English meanings of the verb to help, but not all.
Ellos me ayudaron cuando no tenía trabajo (They helped me when I didn’t have a job).
- Author’s more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.
This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage
The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Above”
- Using “Actual” and “Actually” in Spanish
- A Problem Preposition: The Ways “About” is Expressed in Spanish
- The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb “to Agree”
- Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say “Again”
- Expressing the Many Meanings of After
- Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say “Ahead”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Anyone” and “Anybody”
- Using “Anyway…” in Spanish
- Let’s Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
- What Do You Use for “Around” in Spanish
- The Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Ask” are Many!
- Beware of False Cognates! How to Express “Attend,” “Assist,” and “Help”
- Are You “Cool” or “Cold”? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
- The Difference Between “Why” and “Because” in Spanish
- The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of “Before”: How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Don’t Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of “Behind” in Spanish
- Get the Low Down on the Preposition “Below” and Say it Right in Spanish!
- Understand Saying “Help” in Spanish
- Translating “Beside” & “Besides” into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
- Not all Meanings of “But” Are Equal!
- Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition “By” in Spanish
- What Can the English Word “Can” Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Corner”
- The Word “Country” in Spanish
- The Various Meanings of “Outweigh” in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
- Expressing the Idea of “Ownership” in Spanish
- How to Express “Time & Distance” in Spanish
- Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need “Tratar”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Having Fun”
- Even a Word Like “Even” Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
- Don’t Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express “to fail”
- Do You Mean “Fair” Weather, a “Fair” Game or a “Fair” Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
- Love, Desire and Wanting – Spanish Style!
- Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
- You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say “Fear” in Spanish!
- Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word “Find”
- Discover the Various Meanings of “Middle” and How to Say Them in Spanish
- Not All Spanish Words Meaning “Worker” Are Created Equal