Speakin' The Truth: Spanish Discourse Markers

Artwork by Boomalang Featured Speaker, Fabiola Granados, de Heredia, Costa Rica

#SpeakinTheTruth is a series of tips from Boomalang's team of native speakers. By exploring how spoken language is used where they live, we aim to enrich your conversations with them.

Discourse Markers

For many of us learning a new language, we study grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation in order to effectively communicate with native speakers. No matter how much you study a language, however, there are many uses of words/phrases you might not encounter frequently unless you're in (or listening to) authentic conversation.

I'm not referring to slang or colloquialisms, but rather very common words, used by practically all speakers of Spanish.

...I'm talking about discourse markers!

You've probably heard some of them. Perhaps you didn't even notice them, because I assure you that we say them all the time.

Discourse marks are used for connecting sentences, and each one of them has a particular use. They have a meaning and can express the speaker attitude. A ver, pues, o sea, bueno, este, among others are examples of discourse marks that all native speakers around Latin-American and Spain use at some point in speech.

If you still don't know what I am talking about, don't worry. My hope it to be more aware and comfortable with them, perhaps having a better ear for them in future conversations and even trying them yourself.

Here you have a list of the most common discourse marks. You will see their uses and some examples in context. I invite you to choose at least two of them and practice them during your conversations:

  • O sea, pues, la cosa es que, quiero decir: Used to explain or clarify something

A: "María me dijo que tenía que viajar la próxima semana, o sea, no creo que pueda venir para la ceremonia."

B: "Pues, considero que es una grosería de su parte porque la ceremonia tiene meses planificándose y la cosa es que ella debe estar aquí porque es la dama de honor. Quiero decir, si ella no viene, la novia estará muy decepcionada."

  • A ver, pues, entonces: Used to continue the previous idea and are usually interposed as a short pause, generally when what is meant at the moment doesn’t come to mind

A: Mi mamá debe llegar el domingo en la tarde, como a las 4pm, entonces debemos tener todo listo para que no se dé cuenta de la sorpresa.

B: Ok ok me encargaré de preparar todo, pero no sé qué falta aún por planificar. A ver, ¿en dónde buscamos la torta de chocolate?

A: Pues… ¡En su pastelería favorita! Vamos a llamar para pedirla.

  • Vale, ya, ajá, dale:  Markers to confirm something or to say that you understood

A: Recuerda que la profesora dijo que primero el examen y luego la exposición.

B: Ahh ya. ¿Te parece si nos vemos mañana en la tarde para estudiar?

A: Vale, me parece bien. Nos vemos a las 3pm, pero una pregunta ¿nos reunimos en tu casa te parece?

B: Ajá, no hay problema. Te veo mañana entonces.

A: Dale, nos vemos.

  • Este, bueno: Interposed as a long pause, generally when what is meant at the moment doesn’t come to mind

A: ¿Por fin si quieres que invite a Lucia a la fiesta?

B: Este... podría ser, no sé. Bueno… mejor no. Creo que es una mala idea.

  • Más o menos, así que: Used to explain something

A: Raúl, ¿Estás listo para la presentación?

B: Más o menos. Considero que debo estudiar un poco más.

A: Entiendo. Además, la presentación es en una semana, así que tienes tiempo. No te preocupes.

  • Ay: To show exclamation

A: Estoy tan enferma que no he podido terminar mi tarea.

B: ¡Ay! lo siento mucho. Si quieres te puedo ayudar.

All of these discourse markers are part of our daily speech with friends, family and when we are at the university. We use them frequently to make sense of and connect our ideas. Therefore, I encourage you as a Spanish student to use them and search for other discourse markers because, as my grandma says, “Hay mucha más tela que cortar.”

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Yeneiza Baptista, Mérida Venezuela (currently in Bogotá, Colombia)

Director of Featured Speaker Training




P.S. Would you like to hear the above examples read aloud? Click below.