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Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish

By Eric W. Vogt

The Beatles never said it better, but in Spanish there are a number of words that answer to the various ways in which "help" is used in English!

Help is On the Way... !

Let's start with a short list of various verbs or verb phrases that answer to the one English word help. After that, we'll see some examples and also a few common errors in translating help into Spanish. The primary meaning of all these words or phrases is to help, but with the added nuances as indicated below:

ayudar: to help -- this is the most generic and safe translation of help, but it isn't applicable in each case, just most!

Juan me ayuda con la tarea (Juan helps me with homework).

apoyar: to support, assist, aid -- this verb covers a lot of the same situations as ayudar, but with the added dimension of moral support. Watch out not to use asistir -- which means to attend (as in to attend class or a meeting).

Ella siempre apoya a sus amigos (She always supports her friends).

respaldar: to back up, support -- this verb is used in many contexts, such as to back up an investment or to give someone the political backing he or she needs. It is easy to visualize -- the root word is espalda (the back -- of one's body)

Los senadores respaldan los esfuerzos del Presidente (The senators support the efforts of the President).

echar una mano: to lend a hand -- this phrase is used often in a situation of physical work, or figuratively, when one needs a hand in accomplishing any task.

Oye, échame una mano con esto (Hey, lend me a hand with this).

Finally, among the most common verbs and phrases that mean help, there is socorrer -- to rush to the aid of a person, mostly used in the context of a life-threatening emergency. A person in danger would not yell ¡ayúdame!, but rather ¡socorro!

I must mention soportar, because unfortunately, many lazy translators and non-language experts who have been on the Internet have grabbed hold of this verb because it looks and sounds like support -- as in tech support. This is a major error in Spanish!! I've seen línea de soporte over and over (in an attempt to translate support line) and I usually send a note to the webmaster to point out that soportar means to stand, as in to tolerate. No lo soporto means I can't stand it. The noun soporte refers to an architectural support in a building to keep it from falling down. A far cry from what support means in English, at least in the context of tech help. The best translation for tech support line would simply be línea de apoyo técnico.