During your Spanish learning journey, you’ll encounter numerous words that, at first glance, may seem very similar to English words and think that they can be used interchangeably only to later discover during a conversation that, they aren’t!
Can you think of some of them?
Spanish and English are full of cognates; words that are related in origin in both languages or simply they sound the same. And then there are false cognates; a word in one language that sounds the same in another language but has a different meaning. Two such words that are false cognates and often puzzle Spanish learners are “atender” and “asistir.”
While both have English translations that lean toward “attend,” in Spanish they have distinct meanings and usage. In this blog post, we’ll review the different definitions and uses between these two verbs and provide some examples to help you see them in context and use them correctly.
Watch this Quick Tip lesson to learn how to use them!
“Atender” – To look after, to tend to, or Serve (attend to someone or something’s needs): “Atender” is a versatile verb with a primary meaning of “to attend to.” But this is too general and still confusing, so let’s break this down into 3 more definitions:
- To look after, to care for someone or something
- To tend to as in to deal with something or someone
- To provide a service
And here are a few ways that atender is used as an expression in common phrases in Spanish:
- To answer a phone call – “Atiende el teléfono por favor”
- When talking about commerce – “Atiende a los clientes rápido”
- Or “to serve.” It involves paying attention to something or someone’s needs, whether it’s in a professional or personal context. Here are some examples:
- Ella atiende a los clientes en la tienda. (She attends to the customers in the store.)
- Debemos atender a las necesidades de los niños. (We must attend to the children’s needs.)
In these cases, “atender” is about providing assistance or taking care of someone or something.
“Asistir” – To Attend or Be Present (physically attend an event or place): On the other hand, “asistir” also means “to attend,” but it’s more about being present at an event, meeting, or gathering. It emphasizes physically attending rather than serving. Here are some examples:
- Voy a asistir a la conferencia mañana. (I am going to attend the conference tomorrow.)
- Ellos asistieron a la boda el fin de semana pasado. (They attended the wedding last weekend.)
In these sentences, “asistir” implies being at a particular place or event, like a conference or a wedding.
How to Choose the Right One
Let’s simplify things a bit and give you a framework for deciding on which verb to use when… To decide between “atender” and “asistir,” consider whether you’re focusing on providing service or being present. If you’re taking care of someone or something, “atender” is the way to go. If you’re talking about attending an event or being present at a location, “asistir” is the better choice.
Tip: In formal contexts, you might also encounter “asistir a una cita,” which means “to attend an appointment” or “to keep an appointment.” This is another example of “asistir” emphasizing physical presence.
Check out unos ejemplos for each verb:
“Atender” – To Attend or Serve (attend to someone or something’s needs):
- El médico atiende a los pacientes en su consultorio. (The doctor attends to patients in his office.)
- María atiende a su bebé con mucho cariño. (Maria takes care of her baby with a lot of love.)
- El mesero atendió amablemente a la mesa. (The waiter served the table kindly.)
- Siempre debes atender tus responsabilidades laborales. (You should always attend to your work responsibilities.)
- Los bomberos atendieron el incendio de manera eficiente. (The firefighters attended to the fire efficiently.)
“Asistir” – To Attend or Be Present (physically attend an event or place):
- Voy a asistir a la reunión de la junta directiva. (I’m going to attend the board meeting.)
- Marta asistirá a la conferencia en Barcelona. (Marta will attend the conference in Barcelona.)
- El presidente no pudo asistir a la ceremonia debido a un compromiso previo. (The president couldn’t attend the ceremony due to a prior engagement.)
- Todos deben asistir a la misa del domingo. (Everyone should attend Sunday Mass.)
- Los invitados empezaron a asistir al evento a partir de las 5 de la tarde. (Guests started arriving at the event at 5 in the afternoon.)
Una forma clara de recordar las diferencias es esta:
“Atender” is used when you’re attending to someone’s needs, taking care of something, or serving in a broader sense.
“Asistir” is used when you’re physically attending an event, meeting, class, or being present at a particular location.
Take the quiz below to test your knowledge and for more practice download the practice activity.
¡Te toca a ti! Let’s practice…
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Mi abuela _________ a su jardín con mucho cuidado.CorrectIncorrect
El médico ________ al paciente de manera inmediata.CorrectIncorrect
Mañana ________ a la reunión de la junta directiva.CorrectIncorrect
El chef ___________ a los detalles para que cada plato sea perfecto.CorrectIncorrect
Los estudiantes deben _________ a todas las clases para obtener buenas calificaciones.CorrectIncorrect
Ayer, ________ a una exposición de arte en el museo.CorrectIncorrect
Carlos __________ a los clientes con una sonrisa en su restaurante.CorrectIncorrect
Por favor, ________ la llamada telefónica mientras estoy ocupada.CorrectIncorrect
Los invitados empezaron a _________ al evento a partir de las 5 de la tarde.CorrectIncorrect
José siempre _______ a las misas los domingos por la mañana.CorrectIncorrect
Spanish, like any language, thrives on nuance, and the distinctions between “atender” and “asistir” are a great example of this. By understanding their unique meanings and contexts, you’ll be well-equipped to use them accurately in your conversations. So, whether you’re attending a meeting or serving your clients, you can now do so con precisión!