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‘Tratar’ is not ‘to try’

It’s not unusual to think that ‘tratar’ and ‘to try’ are perfect equivalents; after all, they look and sound similar, and they do share one partial meaning. However, there’s more to both these verbs.

The verb ‘to try’ has two main uses and equivalents:

1. As in ‘attempt to do or accomplish something’ we can translate it as ‘intentar’ o ‘tratar de’:

    • Ellos intentan romper un nuevo récord. They’re trying to break a new record.
    • Ella trató de abrir la puerta, pero estaba cerrada. She tried to open the door, but it was closed.

2. On the other hand, if we’re talking about ‘to try’ as in ‘to sample, to taste, to test’, it’s Spanish equivalent is ‘probar‘:

    • Prueba la ensalada; ¡está deliciosa! Try the salad; it’s delicious!
    • Vamos al parque a probar la bicicleta nueva. Let’s go to the park to test the new bike.


Meanwhile the verb ‘tratar’ can have a variety of equivalents depending on context, such as:

1. ‘Tratar’ as in ‘to address, to discuss a topic or issue’:

    • La conferencia tratará varios proyectos medioambientales. The conference will address several enviromental projects.

2. ‘Tratar’ as in ‘to provide treatment, to cure’:

    • Ellas están trabajando en una nueva droga para tratar el cáncer. They’re working on a new drug to treat cancer.

3. ‘Tratar’ as in ‘to treat someone in a certain way’:

    • Su familia me trata como a su propio hijo. Their family treats me as their own son.

4. ‘Tratar’ as in ‘to handle’:

    • Debes tratar las copas con cuidado; son muy delicadas. You must handle the glasses with care; they’re very fragile.

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