You might not have caught it, but my Argentinian friend Daniel made a comment on my last post, expressing what was essentially a yawn that he didn’t even try to stifle. ¿Y qué? he asked, his shoulders shrugging. There’s nothing particularly interesting about por el estilo . . . blog about something a little more scintillating! I was happy to hear that I’d bored him. As I knew full well, the phrase is so . . . normal, so workaday and routine that it wouldn’t even occur to a Spanish native to classify it as something as a must-know for foreigners. It just is. You use it and get on with it already. You don’t stop to dwell on it. But! I retorted. The key detail he wasn’t privy to was that it’s not something that usually gets taught to Spanish learners. These run-of-the-mill phrases are actually like little bricks of gold for us, helping us slowly but surely sound more natural and understand the Spanish around us. If I get nothing but yawns from all my Hispanic readers, I’ll be as happy as a clam. We Spanish learners love the humdrum, don’t we?
Today’s nothing-special phrase is del todo. It means completely, entirely, totally. It’s usually used with the negative and modifies either verbs or adjectives. (Ahh! I never use this kind of linguistic “jargon” around here.) It’s not Colombian Spanish– once again, I’ve stuck with something universal. Let’s look at some examples. First three with adjectives and then three with verbs.
Creo que es de Suecia pero tampoco estoy del todo segura.
I think she’s from Sweden, but I’m not quite sure.
No es del todo mala su relación, pero igual hay problemas.
Their relationship isn’t all bad, but, still, there are problems.
Bueno, no era del todo falso lo que dijo.
Fine, there was a grain of truth to what he said.
Sigue sin entender del todo el tema, no sé por qué será.
He still doesn’t entirely understand the topic–I don’t know why.
Es interesante, eso sí, pero tu argumento no me convence del todo.
It’s interesting all right, but I’m not fully buying your argument.
Todavía no me he recuperado del todo de mi operación.
I still haven’t fully recovered from my operation.
I remember when I first learned this phrase a while back. I would see it all the time online and for some reason my eyes would automatically skip over it. I could tell that something was going on there, but I was too lazy to delve into it. I thought, “Oh, I have my whole life to look up that del todo thing! Besides, it’s probably not even useful.” It kept assailing me left and right, however, and I finally had to give in. And once I realized how useful it is (and it really is extremely prevalent), I couldn’t help it– I too became an acolyte. When I finally tuned into it in writing, my ears also perked up and started picking it up in conversations all the time (my brain had just blocked it out before). Lord only knows how I’d managed to scrape by without it for so long.
Here are some examples of it being used with the affirmative.
¿Se puso feliz al leer mi correo? Quería cogerla de sorpresa. -Del todo.
Was she happy when she read my email? I wanted to surprise her. -You did, totally.
Pongamos la carne en la nevera para que se descongele del todo.
Let’s put the meat in the refrigerator so it can completely thaw out.
Viví los últimos dos años en Colombia y acabo de regresar del todo.
I lived in Colombia the last two years and just moved back for good.
I hope this post has been helpful. Not just a little bit . . . ¡del todo!
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this phrase? Had you heard it before? How have you heard it used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?