How to Use the Spanish Verb ‘Fregar’ Without Being Vulgar in Latin America
Every language has a word like fregar. You know it’s there, you know what it means, but you also know that it means a whole lot of other things—and not all of them are nice!
That’s the thing with words. They seem to have a life of their own, and even when they already have a well-defined function in the language, they start developing a new meaning without anyone knowing exactly when or how it happened.
Fregar is a prime example of this phenomenon.
The word fregar in Latin America has plenty of meanings, and some of them are considered “bad words.” In this blog post, I cover all the meanings you need to know and then discuss how you can approach bad words as you master the Spanish language. I also cover the conjugation of fregar, some synonyms, and common expressions that you can use.
Who Says Fregar?
Fregar is an official Spanish verb recognized by the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (RAE), and as such, it’s spoken in most Spanish-speaking countries. However, depending on where you are and with whom you talk, it can have different meanings.
I can tell you for sure that Mexicans, Guatemalans, and most Central American nationals say fregar a lot, with different meanings that we’ll see in a minute. Venezuelans and Colombians also use this word, although in slightly different ways, and from there it starts to get harder to track the usage of this verb.
What Is Fregar?
The uniqueness of the verb fregar comes from its different meanings, and specifically from its use as a slang word in some countries. It can mean “to scrub,” “to wash,” or “to annoy,” among other things.
Due to its slang variations in meaning, this Spanish verb requires a special consideration.
Here at Homeschool Spanish Academy we strive in providing quality Spanish content in a family-oriented environment. It’s editorial policy to avoid topics not suitable for children who, in many cases, are our direct users, readers, or students. This policy extends to terms considered “bad words” or those which convey vulgar, sleaze, or sexual meanings.
The Spanish verb fregar is one such word. In some cases, it could be understood as a “bad word.” However, its study is important and I’ll try to approach it from an academic-only perspective to show you that words are just words, that there aren’t good or bad words, and that with an open mind we can learn from them too.
A Nobel Prize Winner Approach to Curses and ‘Bad Words’
Here, I’m going to rely on one of the most important Latin American intellectuals of the last century, Literature Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz. In his famous book El Laberinto de la Soledad or “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” Paz dedicates a whole chapter to talk about la chingada and the verb chingar.
These terms are “strong bad words” in Mexico particularly, but the way he analyzes the origins of the term and its different connotations, showed us that we shouldn’t be afraid of any word, and that we can learn a lot from them and from ourselves by studying them.
Well, the verb fregar and la fregada are “soft bad words,” in the sense that they act as substitutes for the verb chingar and la chingada. Consider the way Americans use the word “freaking” to avoid using another “f word”—this gives you a good idea of how fregar is understood in some Latin American countries.
Once cleared that, let’s get into the different meanings and connotations of the verb fregar.
As said before, the verb fregar has some original and positive meanings such as “to scrub,” “to wash,” but also some more recent slang connotations such as “to annoy,” and “to harm.”
This is the first meaning mentioned by the RAE, and its original one. In this sense, the verb is still used in Spain, where it has no other negative connotation.
Tienes que fregar bien el piso.
You have to scrub that floor very well.
This meaning is strongly related to the first one and you can see why. You can scrub the dishes, while also washing them. So, it’s just normal that sometimes these two different actions aren’t differentiated from one another.
Voy a fregar los platos.
I’m going to wash the dishes.
When someone is annoying someone else, bothering them all the time, or just doing something specifically to irritate them, you can say that that person is fregando a lot. This is slang, but a soft one. Its use derives from the next meaning, as the subject is performing a negative action onto someone else, but in a harmless way.
Ya no estés fregando, ¡qué molesto eres!
Stop bothering me, how annoying you are!
To Harm, To Hurt
This is the most negative slang meaning of fregar and the one most related to the verb chingar. You use it when you want to express that someone has caused harm to another person. This harm can occur in many different ways:
- a teacher can fregar a student by giving them a bad grade
- a football team can fregar another one by beating them on the pitch
Example Sentences in Spanish
El Real Madrid se fregó al Barcelona.
Real Madrid beat Barcelona.
Mi jefe me fregó.
My boss screwed me.
Let’s now learn the present, past, and future tense conjugations for the verb fregar.
|yo friego||I scrub|
|tú friegas||you scrub|
|él/ella friega||he/she scrubs|
|nosotros fregamos||we scrub|
|ustedes friegan||you scrub|
|ellos/ellas friegan||they scrub|
|yo fregué||I scrubbed|
|tú fregaste||you scrubbed|
|él/ella fregó||he/she scrubbed|
|nosotros fregamos||we scrubbed|
|ustedes fregaron||you scrubbed|
|ellos/ellas fregaron||they scrubbed|
|yo fregaré||I’ll scrub|
|tú fregarás||you’ll scrub|
|él/ella fregará||he/she’ll scrub|
|nosotros fregaremos||we’ll scrub|
|ustedes fregarán||you’ll scrub|
|ellos/ellas fregarán||they’ll scrub|
Along with the synonym I discussed above (for which fregar functions as a “soft version” of it), other verbs are also considered synonyms of fregar.
Here are the most common ones:
restregar – to scrub
frotar – to rub
lavar – to wash
trapear – to mop
limpiar – to clean
fastidiar – to annoy
molestar – to disturb
esforzarse – to put in some effort, to work hard
Common Phrases Using the Spanish Verb Fregar
The verb fregar in Spanish is so commonly used that many phrases and expressions exist with this verb. The following list introduce you to some of the most common ones:
los guantes de fregar – scrub gloves, exfoliating gloves
el brillo de fregar – steel wool, wool scrubber
es una friega – It’s hard work.
como fregar el suelo – like mopping the floor
Para Aprender Español, Hay Que Fregarle
This is my favorite one, it means: “to learn Spanish, you have to work hard.” And it’s true! In order to learn any new language you need to invest your time and put some effort to keep progressing. Today, you learned a lot about a new verb with multiple meanings so try to include it in real life conversations in Spanish.
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala and start using the verb fregar in Spanish today!
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