S450 Cervantes' Don Quijote F. Jehle

Cervantes' Spanish

The Spanish used in the Quijote is quite similar to that used today, almost 400 years later. However, there are a few differences you should be aware of:

  1. Initial f-. This particular feature was not typical usage in Cervantes' day; rather, it was seen in earlier centuries, and Don Quijote adopts it since he is re-living those earlier days. A word which starts with an h- in modern Spanish is pronounced by Don Quijote (and thus written by Cervantes) as having an initial f-, as in Latin:
    fabló = habló     fermosa = hermosa     fecho = hecho

  2. Contraction. The preposition de contracts with the demonstratives ese and este and pronouns like él and ella:
    desa = de esta     destos = de estos     della = de ella

  3. Position of object pronouns. Indirect and direct object pronouns are attached to the end of conjugated verb forms when the verb is the first element in the sentence::
    oyólo = lo oyó     preguntóles = les preguntó     puédese = se puede

    (Reminder: In modern Spanish object pronouns are attached to the end of verbs only in the case of infinitives, gerunds, and affirmative commands.)

  4. Metathesis. The final -d of a vosotros command form and the initial l- of an attached object pronoun are switched:
    leelde = leedle

    (Reminder: The vosotros command form is formed by removing the -r of the infinitive, and replacing it with a -d: hablar > hablad, comer > comed, vivir > vivid.)

  5. The final -d of a vosotros command form often disappears:
    mirá = mirad

  6. The final -r of an infinitive form changes to -l before an attached object pronoun beginning with an -l:
    llo = rlo     remedialla = remediarla

  7. The -se subjunctive is frequently used. This is the same as the other imperfect (or past) subjunctive, except that -se is substituted for -ra:
    hablase = hablara    comiesen = comieran     viviésemos = viviéramos

  8. The future subjunctive also appears in the text. This is formed the same way as the past subjunctive, but the ending -re is used instead of -ra.
    hablare      comiere       viviere

  9. Archaic vosotros forms are used, and in situations where they are not used today. Nowadays, vosotros is the familiar plural form (used almost exclusively in Spain). In the novel, it is used as both as the singular and the plural of "you". In the archaic forms, used primarily by Don Quijote, a -de- occurs in place of the -i-:
    habedes = habéis     amábades = amabais

    (Reminder: Most of the vosotros verb forms can be formed or recognized by the inserting the letter -i- before the final -s of the form: estás > estáis comes > coméis
    Exceptions: the present tense of -ir verbs [vivís], and preterit forms, where an -is is added to the end of the form: hablaste > hablasteis, comiste > comisteis, viviste > vivisteis).

  10. The vowels -e- and -i- are sometimes switched:
    mesmo = mismo     recebir = recibir


The following is a list of expressions occurring in the novel which you probably do not know because they are archaic or deal with subjects you haven't been exposed to before (such as livestock and medieval warfare). The list is certainly not exhaustive, but should prove helpful.
a despecho de = despite, in spite of (same as a pesar de)
a trueco de = in exchange for, in place of
acorrer = to help, aid
ademán (m.) = gesture, movement, expression
agravio (m.) = wrong, injury, offence, insult (which would need to be avenged under the code of honor)
alevosía = treachery
alforja (f.) = saddle bag, knapsack
amo (m.) = master
amorío (m.) = love affair
ama (f.; el ama) = mistress or lady (of the house)
anca (f.) = haunch, rump, behind (usually used in the plural and referring to an animal)
andante = wandering, errant, traveling
armar caballero = to knight, dub a knight, perform the knighting ceremony
armas (f.) = arms (in the sense of weapons); a career in the military
asno (m.) = ass (both the animal, and a person who acts like one)
azote (m.) = lash, stroke, blow with a whip
bacía (f.) = basin
bálsamo (m.) = balsam, balm, (magic) potion
bizma (f.) = poltice
blanca (f.) = a coin, unit of currency in Spain
bota (f.) = leather wine bottle
caballería (f.) = chivalry
caballería andantesca (f.) = knight errantry
caballero (m.) = knight, gentleman
caballero andante = knight errant (a knighted man who wanders around in search of adventures)
caballo (m.) = horse
cabestro (m.) = halter (for an animal)
cabrero, -a = goatherd
canalla = (term of insult, which might be translated as:) rabble, riffraff, trash, low-class
candil (m.) = oil lamp, lantern (not candle)
candilazo (m.) = blow with a lantern
cebada (f.) = barley
celada (m.) = helmet; helmet visor
ceñir (una espada) = to gird or belt on (a sword)
costilla (f.) = rib
coz (m.; pl. = coces) = kick
cuadrillero (m.) = group leader, chief; here, used in the sense of a trooper (member of the Holy Brotherhood)
cura (m.) = parish priest, curate
derribar = knock down, pull down, demolish
desafiar = to challenge
desaforado , -a = lawless, violent, disorderly, outrageous, huge
desaguisado (m.) = offence, outrage
descomunal = huge, enormous
desencantamiento (m.) = disenchantment
deshacer/desfacer tuertos/agravios = to right wrongs, undo injuries
despojar = to strip of, plunder, divest of, dispossess of, etc.
despojo(s) = booty, plunder, loot
do = donde = where
embestir (con algo; e > i) = to charge, attack
en pos de = after, in pursuit of, in search of
encantador, -a = enchanter, enchantress, enchanting
encantamiento (m.) = enchantment
epígrafe (m.) = title, heading (e.g., for a chapter), caption
escudero (m.) = squire, one who serves a caballero andante
escudo (m.) = shield; escudo (de oro) = a coin, unit of currency in Spain
espada (f.) = sword
espaldar (m.) = backplate (piece of armor)
estaca (f.) = stake, stick, stave
estribo (m.) = stirrup
ínsula (f.) = island (Latinism for isla)
fecho = hecho [archaic initial f]
fermosura (f.) = hermosura [archaic initial f]; beauty (often used to mean "beautiful lady")
follón, -a = arrogant, cowardly, good-for-nothing
fuero (m.) = (municipal) charter, (local) law code; de fuero = by law, by special privilege
gallardo, -a = graceful, elegant, splendid, gallant, brave
harriero (m.) = muleteer
he = behold, here is
hidalgo, -a = noble; as a noun: member of the hidalgo class (low nobility)
hincar (de rodillas) = to kneel down
jaez (m.) = harness, piece of harness; kind, sort, type
jumento (m.) = donkey, beast of burden
juramento (m.) = oath
lanza (f.) = lance
legua (f.) = league (a unit of measurement, similar to mile)
majadero, -a = silly, stupid, idiot, fool, blockhead
malandrín, -a = scoundrel, rogue
mancebo = boy, youth, young man
manteamiento (m.) = blanket-tossing
maravedí (m.) = a coin, unit of currency in Spain
menear(se) = to move, stir, shake, swing
menester (m.) = need; haber menester = to need
menesteroso, -a = needy, helpless, unfortunate
merced (f.) = grace (generally used as way of graciously addressing someone: vuestra merced = your grace)
moler = to beat (up), grind, crush, pound
molido, -a = crushed, ground up, beaten (up)
morrión (m.) = helmet
par (m.) = peer, equal; sin par = peerless, without equal; Doce Pares = Twelve Peers (Knights of the Round Table)
peña (f.) = cliff, crag
peto (m.) = breastplate (piece of armor)
plega (a Dios) = may it please God, would to God, etc.
plugiera (a Dios) = (same as above)
polvareda (f.) = cloud of dust
puñada (f.) = punch, blow with the fist
real (m.) = a coin, unit of currency in Spain
recato (m.) = modesty, reserve, discretion
recua (f.) = string of animals
requiebro (m.) = wooing, courting, flirtatious remark
rienda (f.) = rein (of a horse)
ristre (m.) = lance rest (a projection on the side of a suit of armor where the lance rests when a knight has it in the ready position)
rocín (m.) = nag
rodela (f.) = shield
romance (m.) = romance or Latin-based (language); ballad; ballad meter (8 syllables per line, with assonance in the even-numbered lines)
rucio, -a = grey (horse or donkey)
sandez (f.; pl. = sandeces) = foolishness, stupidity
Santa Hermandad (f.) = Holy Brotherhood, a type of rural police force or highway patrol [NOT the inquisition]
sendos, -as = each, individual, respective
senda (f.) = path, road
silla (f.) = saddle
so = underneath, beneath
talante (m.) = will (as in good will)
tamaño, -a = so big, so large
tortas y pan pintado = tarts and gingerbread, a nice/easy situation
trance (m.) = (difficult) moment, (tough) situation
truje, trujo, trujiste, etc. = traje, trajo, trajiste, etc. (preterit of traer)
velar las armas = to stand guard over the arms (a preliminary to the knighting ceremony)
venta (f.) = roadside inn (sort of an ancient motel)
ventero, -a = innkeeper
visera (f.) = visor
yegua (f.) = mare (female horse)
yelmo (m.) = helmet

Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu
Indiana U.-Purdue U. Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499
URL: http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/courses/s450/vocabcer.htm
Home page http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/
Works of Cervantes http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/cervante.htm