Polysemy: The Different Meanings of “Way” in English Are Expressed With Distinct Words in Spanish

Let’s Count the Ways…

As a noun, the English word way has various meanings. As you can tell if you've been reading my articles about Spanish usage, this is a common phenomenon in many languages, known as polysemy (poly, meaning many + semy, referring to meaning). When comparing two languages, this feature of language often results in their being many translations of one word into the other language. Although it can be frustrating, it also teaches an important lesson about languages that extends to cultures: each language draws a different linguistic map of the world.

Sometimes way means a road or path. In Spanish, this translates as camino:

Allí está el camino del zoológico. There's the way to the zoo.

It can mean a direction, in which case we use dirección, or sentido, as in

Voy en la otra dirección. I'm going the other way.

Se fue en el sentido opuesto. He took off in the opposite way.

Of course, you should remember that the word dirección is also used to mean address, as in

¿Cuál es su dirección de correo electrónico? What is your e-mail address?

The word way can also be found in the phrase meaning on the way to, or camino de:

¿Sabes qué me pasó camino de la playa? Do you know what happened to me on the way to the beach?

It can also refer to manner, method, mode or style of doing something as in I like the way he speaks, in which way is translated as manera or modo:

No me gusta de manera de hablar. I don't like the way he speaks.

Su modo de vestirse es muy atractivo. Her way of dressing is attractive.

The word way can also be used in the sense of how to do something, in which case Spanish uses cómo:

¿Sabes cómo ella preparó el pastel? Do you know the way she made the cake?