How are the Verbs “Tratar” and “Probar” Similar and Different in Spanish?

Spanish has verbs with very similar meanings that work well, but are also used for very specific purposes. This is the case for “tratar” and “probar”.

In Spanish we have verbs with very similar meanings that work well at times, but at the same time are used for very specific, distinct purposes. This is the case of “tratar” and  “probar”.

One of the first things you talk about when you learn a second language is usually food. For example, a very important moment in the life of a foreign student in Colombia is when they eat their first empanada. However, I realized that they often describe this experience in a somewhat confusing way for a native: “Ayer traté mi primera empanada.” That literally translates to “Yesterday I treated my first empanada”. Generally, both verbs “tratar” and “probar”, can be used to express “try an action,”  but in the specific case of empanadas (and other food), they are not interchangeable. That’s why we’re going to see the differences between the verbs “tratar” and “probar” in Spanish.

First of all,  probar is used mainly with food. In this sense, it is equivalent to “to taste.” For example, “Esta arepa está deliciosa, necesitas probarla” (“this arepa is delicious, you need to taste it”).  It also works with clothes, especially when you are buying something for the first time. In this case, the verb is reflective (probarse). For example: “Esta camisa es perfecta para mi, me la quiero probar” (It’s shirt is perfect for me, I want to try it on).” Finally, in legal contexts, probar can mean “to prove.” For example, “Una persona es inocente hasta que se pruebe lo contrario” (“a person is innocent until proven otherwise”).

There are two main uses for tratar. The first is “to treat” a person a certain way,  e.g. “No me gusta el servicio de este restaurante, el mesero no trata muy bien a los clientes” (“I do not like the service of this restaurant, the waiter does not treat customers very well”). The second most frequent use is tratar + sobre, which is used to talk about the content or main theme of a film, a book, or a class. For example: “el documental Colombia Magia Salvaje trata sobre la naturaleza y biodiversidad en este país” (“The documentary ‘Colombia Magia Salvaje’ is about nature and biodiversity in this country”).


Audio to practice

In conclusion, we have two similar verbs but each with different specific uses. And now you know a bit more about the verbs “tratar” and “probar” in Spanish. After reading this article, I hope you “trates” to use both verbs while “pruebas” a delicious Colombian empanada.

For another grammar-related article, check Affection or Psychological Verbs in Spanish: How to Use Them.

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Written by Camilo, one of the super amazing teachers of Whee.

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