I recently caught así acting like aunque, and it was bewildering to say the least. He had seemed a nice enough guy, kept to himself mostly but was always there when you needed him, appeared to be an upstanding citizen, no funny business, en fin. A word that said what he meant and meant what he said, and I never thought to look at him askance. And then one day everything changed. I caught him unawares, dressed like aunque, flamboyant and raucous when I’d always thought he was a regular family man, and then there was the moment when our eyes met. I felt embarrassed and looked away; he met my gaze defiantly, seeming to taunt me for being so simplistic. As if I could really come to know a word solely by calling out greetings at the mailbox. I have a life, you know, his look admonished me. I get bored doing the same old thing day in and day out. Besides, I like to throw you for a loop. It’s fun. Dazed, it took me a while to make sense of that strange encounter. I turned to the dictionary, turned to friends, and here’s what I’ve taken away from the whole thing.
Aunque is “although,” “even though.” Check. It can also be “even if.” Now, my memory is more like a cloth trap than a steel one, but I’m pretty sure I was never taught that. Not that anyone is being blamed here. So, for the longest time, I would say aun si or incluso si for “even if.” That’s fine and all, don’t get me wrong, but according to my experience, people almost always say aunque + subjunctive instead. I’m not saying that you can’t do it. But maybe you shouldn’t. Searching through my thousands of emails and chats in Spanish, I did find a few instances of aun si and incluso si. I was always the one to say them, though, never the native speaker. But you can look into that on your own sweet time.
Aunque + indicative is supposed to be “even though” + a fact; aunque + subjunctive is supposed to be “even if.” It doesn’t always line up quite so prettily, but it’s a handy guide. Colloquially, I find that people often use aunque + subjunctive even when it’s a fact. Sometimes it’s because it’s a contradiction of what you expect. Aunque sea mujer, no me gusta el maquillaje. Even though I’m a woman, I don’t like makeup. OK, it’s a fact that I’m a woman. No one has their doubts, at least I hope not. But it’s a contradiction of what you usually expect. I liken it to saying in English, “I might be a woman, but . . .” Aunque Obama sea presidente, eso no quiere decir que el racismo ya no sea un problema en este país. Obama might be president, but that doesn’t mean that racism is no longer a problem in this country.
So that makes sense. But then I’ll hear aunque with the subjunctive for things that are clearly facts to say “even though” and it’s not a contradiction of expectations, and I put it down to it simply being more idiomatic and colloquial. It just sounds better. If you really want to stress that what follows is indeed a fact, use the indicative. Otherwise, you can go either way. It’ll keep you on your toes, eh?
Así does this as well. I first noticed a few “unconventional” uses of así masquerading as aunque while watching Yo soy Betty la fea. As always happens, I then saw it everywhere.
Jamás sería una mujer prefabricada, así eso me condene a la soledad. I would never be a prefabricated woman, even if that condemns to spinsterhood. (Yo soy Betty la fea) (talking about plastic surgery)
Hoy quiero reafirmar, como presidente de Colombia, que estamos prestos, que estamos decididos, que estamos determinados a atender este llamado, y a transitar, así duela, el camino de la verdad y de la memoria. As the president of Colombia, I want to reaffirm today that we are ready, we are resolute, we are determined to attend to this call and to travel down, even if it’s painful, the path of truth and memory. (Juan Manuel Santos, newspaper article)
Por eso me gusta lo que hago todos los días con mis estudiantes así hayan días difíciles. That’s why I like what I do every day with my students even if there are hard days. (Friend’s Facebook status. Don’t get hung up on hayan. Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, some people say it anyway.)
Digging through some older emails, I found more.
Yo quiero ciudadanos para que sean los ciudadanos concientes los que repudien a las FARC, y no un cúmulo de militares adoctrinados para dar positivos así sean falsos. [. . .] to give positives although they’re false. (The supposed bodies of guerrilleros/paramilitares killed in combat who were actually innocent civilians who had been murdered by the army and dressed in rebel uniforms.)
[. . .] comprendí que cuando uno se va de un lugar así sea por un segundo, es difícil volver a entrar [. . .] I comprehended that when one leaves a place, even if for only a second, it’s difficult to re-enter.
As you can see, it’s used exactly like aunque to mean “even if” in cases of future/unknown and contradictions. All the examples come from Colombia. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Most of my communication is with Colombians, after all. The Colombian friend that I asked about it said that aunque usually goes at the beginning of a sentence and así after a pause. Her examples were Aunque la gente diga que Colombia es peligroso, amo mi país. and Amo mi país, así la gente diga que es peligroso. She swore that they’re exactly the same and that there’s no difference in formality between them. One key difference, though, that she pointed out was that you would never use así for the past like you can with aunque. Así subiste 20 kilos, todavía te amo. Nope. Just don’t do it.
According to WordReference, así has to be followed by the subjunctive when used as a conjunction. Their examples are Lo encontraré, así se esconda en el fin del mundo and No pagaré así me encarcelen.
So, that was the strange case of así playing aunque. I guess así got a little bored with his humble life and thought the part of speech was greener on the other side of the fence. Who knows. I don’t pretend to have these hairy even though/even if differences down pat, but I’d thought I’d tip you off to this phenomena anyway. My rule of thumb is: when in doubt, use subjunctive. Use así for aunque just to switch it up now and again. Fake it till you make it. When you’re really in doubt, start a Spanish blog and start presuming to teach others, always keeping one lesson ahead of your students, although even that’s not always strictly necessary.
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with así being used like aunque? 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?
While pseudo-lamenting the other day with friends about the dearth of blog comments despite lots of daily visitors, they told me that they often feel that they have nothing to say besides something “stupid” like, “Great post.” (Which, I should add, is not stupid at all. All comments are welcome and appreciated. All comments.) That they don’t have any experience with the word and aren’t in the position to correct my Spanish. “What do you want me to write? ‘Um, nope, never heard the word because I’m a dolt; not a native speaker so I can’t tell if you made any mistakes.’ ?” Point taken. I also have people regularly “confess” to me that they read my blog but feel bad because they just lurk. Well, no need for guilt, but do throw me a bone every once in a while. Say something, anything! It doesn’t even have to do with Spanish. Or maybe I’ll put one of those PayPal buttons on the side so you can appease your guilty consciences and avoid the awkward small talk you so dread with a donation from time to time.