When you first learned the Spanish verb llever you probably learned that it meant ‘to carry’, as in ‘Yo llevo el bebé‘ or ‘I carry the baby’. But llevar is a verb in Spanish that can take on several different meanings, as you can see in the following examples:
Llevo seis meses en España
I have been in Spain 6 months
Lleva de nombre Juan Miguel
He’s called Juan Miguel
Lleva mucho tiempo
It takes a lot of time
As a student I found this particularly difficult. Let’s take a look at the verb llevar and several of its meanings in Spanish, so you can have better luck at understanding its use in context:
Llevar meaning To Take or To Carry
In a majority of the instances, ‘llevar‘ does mean in some way ‘to carry’. It is also often associated with the meaning ‘to take’ even though in Spanish there is another verb, tomar, which explicitly means ‘to take’ as in ‘yo tomo el autobús‘ or ‘I take the bus’. But if you keep in mind the many ways we use the verb ‘to take’ in English more figuratively, it may help you get a handle on when to use the verb llevar and what it might mean in context. For example:
Pedro nos llevó al aeropuerto.
No puedo llevar nada más.
En ese momento me di cuenta de que no llevaba dinero encima.
Voy a llevar los platos al sótano
Quisiera llevarme la flor
Quisiera dos hamburguesas para llevar
El padre llevó al niño de la mano y le ayudó a cruzar la calle.
Una calle lleva el nombre de José Rodríguez Ramírez
Pedro took us to the airport.
I can’t carry anything else.
At that moment I realized that I wasn’t carrying any money on me
I’m going to take the dishes to the basement.
Take it with you
I’d like to take the flower with me.
I’d like two hamburgers to go.
The father took the boy by the hand and helped him across the street.
A street carries the name of José Rodríguez Ramírez.
Unfortunately, there are still some uses of llevar in which take (or carry or bring) doesn’t work as a translation. Read the following examples and see if you can guess how the verb llevar is being used:
1. ¿Qué dirección llevaban?
To head, as in a direction: Which direction were they heading/going in?
2. La mediación presidencial llevó a la paz entre Argentina y Chile
To lead to: The president’s mediation led to peace between Argentina and Chile
3. Llevo tres días sin dormir
Have been: I’ve gone three days without sleeping
Another example: Llevo seis meses en escuela = I have been in school six months
4. No es necesario llevar el sombrero
To wear: It isn’t necessary to wear your hat
5. A mi madre le gusta todo lo que lleva chocolate
To include (as an ingredient): My mother likes anything with chocolate in it
6. Esta misión lleva consigo grandes riesgos
To entail: This mission entails huge risks
7. ¿Quién lleva cuenta del resultado?
To keep track: Who’s keeping track of the score?
8. Juan lleva muy bien la separación con su mujer
To take something well/badly: Juan took it very well, the separation with his wife
9. Si quires, puedes beber una cerveza, después yo llevo el coche
To drive/take as in transport: If you want you can have a beer, then I drive the car
Special Constructions with the verb llevar
1. Llevar (+ gerundio) + tiempo
Indicates the time during which something is done
Los estudiantes llevan preparando el examen un mes
The students prepared for the exam for a month
2. Llevar (+ participio)
Having realized and action
Llevamos leídos dos capítulos de este libro
We read two chapters of this book
(Note: in this case the English translation doesn’t need a direct translation for the verb llevar)
More on the Spanish verb llevar
As you can see, the verb llevar can have several different meanings. It is also very often used in Spanish, so try to stay aware of when you hear it and it what context it is being used. Over time and with exposure you will get a better feel for what the speaker means when they use the verb llevar.
Keep an eye out for our next article, which will look again at the verb llevar and distinguishing between llevar and its reflexive version llevarse ….