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“Severe” doesn’t mean “severo”

When you first see or hear the Spanish word “severo” you immediately think to yourself “oh, it must mean “severe”! They are spelled and pronounced almost identically.” Well, in fact that’s where the similarities stop; their meanings are quite different.

“Severo” is an adjective that we use to describe the personality of someone who is strict, stern, harsh; or to describe a stringent set of guidelines or laws.

  • Sus padres son muy severos; los niños están castigados a menudo. Their parents are very strict; the kids are grounded often.
  • Por los casos recientes de violencia escolar, el director estableció reglas mucho más severas para los estudiantes. Due to the recent cases of school violence, the principal has enforced more stringent rules for the students.

To convey the same meanings of “severe” we have more suitable terms such as:  “grave” (to talk about medical issues and situations); “serio” or “sobrio” (to talk about someone’s appearance or personality); or “duro”, “difícil”, “extremo” (to talk about weather conditions).

  • Su condición todavía es muy grave, pero los médicos son optimistas. His condition is still pretty severe, but the doctors are optmistic.
  • Su apariencia es siempre muy seria, pero en realidad es una persona muy agradable y divertida. Her exterior is always very severe, but actually, she is a very nice and fun person.
  • Las condiciones climáticas del último año fueron muy duras. The weather conditions this past year were very severe.
  • Acaban de emitir una alerta de tormentas intensas y recomiendan que las personas permanezcan bajo techo. They’ve just issued a severe thunderstorm alert and they recommend that people remain indoors.

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