Thursday, April 2, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 4

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 4. Go to Part 3

How to translate the English verb to test into Spanish


Under the influence of the English verb (to) test, which as we saw was derived in English in the mid-18th century from the noun test by conversion, some dialects of Spanish have also developed a verb out of the noun test, particularly in Southern Cone dialects of Spanish (Chile, Argentina, etc.). This verb is much less common and widespread than the noun test, however, and most Spanish speakers have never heard of this verb, something that is not true of the noun test.

Two versions of this verb have been created, namely testar and testear (test‑ar, test‑e‑ar), which are just two variants of the same verb. The former is formed by simply adding verbal inflections such as the infinitive ‑ar ending to the stem test‑, whereas the latter also includes the derivational morpheme ‑e‑ often found in verbs derived from nouns in Spanish, such as humear ‘to smoke’ from humo ‘smoke’ (cf. hum‑o Ž hum-e-ar), agujerear ‘to pierce’ from agujero ‘hole’ (agujer-o Ž agujer-e-ar), cojear ‘to limp’ from cojo/a ‘lame’ (coj-o/a Ž coj-e-ar).

Although the Academy’s dictionary includes both testar and testear as verbs used in countries such as Chile and Argentina, it discourages the use of these verbs and recommends instead to use verbs such as examinar, controlar, analizar, probar or comprobar, depending on the sense.[1] Other dictionaries, however, do not mention that these verbs are dialectal. Thus, María Moliner’s influential dictionary gives us the following entry for testar2: ‘from Eng. “to test”. trans. To try/test the functioning or efficacy of something: ‘to test a cosmetic [or software program]’.[2] For testear, the Academy’s dictionary says simply that it is an alternative to testar, and Moliner’s dictionary gives us the same definition as for testar2.

Despite the fact that the verb testar2 or testear is found in Spanish dictionaries, it is safe to say that these verbs are not known to most Spanish speakers (outside the mentioned countries) and are thus not part of the general standard language, though they may be standard in the dialects in which they are found. Also, we must realize that these verbs do not translate every use of the verb to test in English. If we go by the examples given in dictionaries such as María Moliner’s, it seems that the verb testar/testear are only employed when what is tested is a commodity, such as cosmetics or software, and not, for example, people. In other words, the use of testar/testear in these dialects is much more limited than the use of Eng. to test.
Table 177: Entry for English verb test in Collins English-Spanish dictionary[i]

So, how do we translate the English verb (to) test into Spanish if not by means of the verbs testar or testear? Different English-Spanish dictionaries give as many as six senses for the verb test when giving equivalent words and phrases in Spanish, though for each sense, there can be several subsenses which call for different terms or expressions. This makes this quite a difficult verb to learn to translate, as any learner of Spanish will confirm. In the following description, we follow English-Spanish dictionaries such as Harrap, Oxford, and Collins. In Table 177 above you can see the entry for the verb test in Collins’ English-Spanish dictionary.

Let us start with the intransitive sense of the verb test, which can be paraphrased as conduct a test. By definition, intransitive test does not have a direct object, though one may be implied, such as when one says Testing, testing when testing a microphone. Here the microphone is the implied or understood object. That particular microphone-testing expression translates into Spanish as Probando, probando, using the verb probar.

Often, however, intransitive test is translated with the noun prueba along with a verb, typically hacer ‘to do/make’, as in hacer pruebas or hacer una prueba, as in Hicieron pruebas de la calidad del agua ‘They tested the water quality’. Sometimes, the noun prueba may be used without a verb, as in the following example: It is a method used to test for allergies = Es un método utilizado en pruebas de alergia (Collins). Here the verb test in the English sentence is in a dependent (subordinate) clause, which is translated by a noun phrase in the Spanish version, and thus without a verb.

The English transitive verb test, that is one with an explicit direct object, may have many different possible translations depending on the sense and subsense of the English word. The easiest one is the figurative sense of test as in to test someone’s patience/resolve/friendship/endurance. This typically translates into Spanish by means of the expression poner a prueba, lit. ‘to put to test/trial’, cf. poner a prueba la paciencia/la determinación/la amistad/la resistencia de alguien.

The next sense of transitive test can be paraphrased as to submit to a formal test. In an educational context, this sense can be translated as examinar, as in El profesor examinó a sus alumnos ‘The teacher tested his students’. There are other options, however, such as poner/dar un examen, poner/dar una prueba, etc. In non-educational contexts in which people are put to the test, we also find the expression hacer una prueba, if it is a single test, as in Les hicieron una prueba a los solicitantes del puesto de trabajo ‘They tested the job applicants’, or poner a prueba or evaluar, if more than a single test is involved. Note that the verb probar cannot be used to translate this sense of the verb to test, so that we cannot say something like *El profesor probó a sus estudiantes meaning ‘The teacher tested his students’, a fact that may be related to the fact that probar is polysemous (see the next section).

The English verb test is also often used in medicine, in the context of conducting medical tests or checks, as in They tested my vision/blood pressure. In order to express in Spanish the fact that functions such as sight or hearing are tested or checked, the verbs revisar or examinar are often used, as in Me examinaron (= hicieron un examen de) la vista ‘They tested my vision’ or Me revisaron (hicieron una revisión de) la tensión ‘They tested my blood pressure’. To express the testing of specific substances, such as blood or urine, analizar (= hacer una análisis de) is mostly used, as in Me analizaron (= hicieron un análisis de) la sangre ‘They tested my blood’.

As we have seen in the previous examples, Spanish often resorts to the verb hacer followed by a noun like prueba (or análisis or revisión) in order to convey the equivalent of the verb test in English. That is what we find in translations of the verb test is used in the context to test someone’s something or to test someone for something. The expression hacer una/la prueba is used, for example, when talking of testing reflexes: hacer una prueba de reflejos, or when testing for a specific disease, as in to test somebody for AIDS, which can be translated as hacerle la prueba del SIDA a alguien. This resort to hacer is common especially in cases in which the verb test is used in the passive voice in English, as in He was tested for X. In these cases, the verb in question (examinar, revisar, etc.) is often turned into a derived noun which is then used as the object of hacer, resulting in expressions such as hacer(se) un análisis, hacer(se) una revisión, or hacer(se) una prueba, as in to be tested for diabetes = hacerse un análisis (= una prueba) de diabetes.

Two other senses of the English verb to test are mostly translated by means of the verb probar in Spanish, a polysemous verb that can also mean ‘to taste’ and ‘to prove’, as we will see in detail in the next section. One of the senses of probar can be paraphrased as to conduct trials. Thus, when the verb test is used in the sense to test something on something/somebody, this expression is typically translated as probar algo con/en algo/alguien, as in the following two sentences from the entry in the Collins dictionary above: None of our products are tested on animals = Ninguno de nuestros productos se prueba con/en animals, and Test the cream on an unaffected area of skin = Pruebe la crema sobre una zona cutánea no afectada. This sense of the English verb test can also be translated by means of the expressions hacer pruebas or hacer una prueba.

If the sense Eng. test is ‘conduct a (specific) test (for something)’, then revisar, analizar, or comprobar (see below) are more appropriate, as in the medical sense mentioned above. Thus, for instance, to express the testing of specific elements such as soil or water as to their composition, analizar or examinar may be used, as in the medical context mentioned earlier, e.g. Analizaron el agua ‘They tested the water’ or Examinaron los residuos ‘They tested the residues’.

Finally, the English verb test has another transitive sense, namely the ‘check’ sense, which can be paraphrased to check to see that something is correct or suitable, as in test the water temperature. This too is typically translated into Spanish with probar, as in probar la temperatura del agua. Note that there is an idiomatic expression in English that contains this sense of the verb test, namely, to test the water(s). This expression is perhaps best translated into Spanish by means of the also idiomatic expression tantear el terreno (the Spanish verb tantear means ‘to feel’ (by touch), ‘to size up’, and ‘to estimate, guess’, depending on the context).

Go to Part 5



[1] ‘Por influjo del inglés to test, se han creado en español los verbos testar y testear—este último usado en el Cono Sur—con el sentido de ‘someter [algo] a una prueba o control’. Son calcos innecesarios del inglés, ya que, con ese mismo sentido, existen en español los verbos examinar, controlar, analizar, probar o comprobar. Lo mismo cabe decir de los participios respectivos, testado y testeado. En aquellas zonas donde se usa el verbo testear, se ha creado el sustantivo testeo, que puede sustituirse por voces más tradicionales en español, como comprobación, análisis o examen.’ (Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, 2005).

[2] In the original: ‘testar2 (del ingl. «to test») tr. Probar el funcionamiento o la eficacia de una ↘cosa: ‘Testar un cosmético [o un programa informático]’. The reason for the superscript number 2 next to the entry testar is that Spanish has another verb testar (testar1 in the dictionary), which is homonymous with this one and which means ‘to make/draw up one’s will’, as in Testó en favor de sus hijos ‘He willed everything to his children’ (OSD), cf. the derived noun testamento ‘will, testament’.

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