Tocar in Spanish: 6 Different Meanings Explained

tocar in spanish

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The verb Tocar in Spanish is one of those verbs that you’ll eventually notice is extremely versatile, as it can be used in multiple scenarios.

As a beginner student, it’s likely that you first learned this verb as “to touch” or “to play”.

For example:

1) To touch

  • Don’t touch my phone – No toques mi celular

2) Play an instrument:

  • I play the guitar – Yo toco la guitarra

In this post, we’ll cover the six most common ways that native Spanish speakers use tocar.

Before doing so, it’s important to review how to conjugate this verb in the most used Spanish tenses.

Personal pronoun Simple present Simple past Future Imperfect Past Tense Imperative
Yo Toco

I play/touch

Toqué

I played/touched

Tocaré

I will play/touch

Tocaba

I used to play/touch

—-
Tocas

You play / touch

Tocaste

You played/touched

Tocarás

You will play/touch

Tocabas

You  used to play/touch

Toca /No toques

Touch/Don’t touch

Él – Ella Toca

He-She plays/touches

Tocó

He-She played/touched

Tocará

He-She will play /touch

Tocaba

He-She used to play/touch

Usted Toca

You play/touch

Tocó

You played/touched

Tocará

You will play/touch

Tocaba

You used to play/touch

Toque / No toque

Touch/Don’t touch

Nosotros Tocamos

We play/touch

Tocamos

We played/touched

Tocaremos

We will play/touch

Tocábamos

We used to play/touch

Toquemos/No toquemos

Let’s touch/let’s not touch

Ellos – Ellas Tocan

They play/touch

Tocaron

They played/touched

Tocarán

They will play/touch

Tocaban

They used to play/touch

Toquen/No toquen

Touch/Don’t touch

Ustedes Tocan

You play/touch

Tocaron

You played/touched

Tocarán

You will play/touch

Tocaban

You used to play/touch

Toquen/No toquen

Touch/Don’t touch

What does tocar mean in Spanish?

And now, the six most common ways that native Spanish speakers use tocar.

1) To talk about the sense of physical touch

The most common use of tocar is for describing touching things, people, or animals with your hands, or any other part of your body.

  • Don’t touch the dogs without asking their owners first – No toques a los perros sin preguntar a sus dueños primero
  • I just touched the boy’s head and he has fever – Acabo de tocar la cabeza del niño y tiene fiebre
  • Can I touch your hair? – ¿Puedo tocar tu cabello?
  • She touched the oven and it burned – Ella tocó el horno y se quemó

Tocar will often require you to use both direct and indirect object pronouns, in order to avoid repetition.

For example:

  • The doctor touched my forehead while measuring my temperature – El doctor me tocaba la frente mientras medía mi temperatura
  • Don’t touch the belly of the cat – No le toques la barriga al gato
  • Something touched my arm – Algo me tocó el brazo
  • Don’t touch my hair – No me toques el cabello

(PS, for a more detailed explanation of direct and indirect object pronouns, read our guide here)

2) To talk about music and sounds

The one may seem strange at first for an English speaker.

The Spanish verb tocar is used as “to play” when talking about playing an instrument, or playing a song with an instrument, or basically, any kind of object that produces sound, such as a doorbell, a bell, etc.

To play an instrument

  • I want to learn to play drums – Quiero aprender a tocar batería
  • My sister will play the main violin at the concert – Mi hermana tocará el violín principal en el concierto
  • All the belly dancers play the cymbals – Todas las bailarinas de danza árabe tocan los crótalos
  • No one plays the guitar like Jimi Hendrix – Nadie toca la guitarra como Jimi Hendrix
  • I’m going to play you a song that I learned today in guitar lessons – Voy a tocarles una canción que aprendí hoy en clases de guitarra

To play a piece of music (pieza musical)

  • The band played my favorite song – La banda tocó mi canción favorita
  • What song are you going to play in the recital? – ¿Qué canción van a tocar en el recital?
  • When they played that song, everyone shouted – Cuando ellos tocaron esa canción, todos gritaron
  • Can you play that song again? – ¿Puedes tocar esa canción otra vez?

When talking about things that generate an auditive alert

  • The church rings the bell every Sunday – La iglesia toca la campana todos los domingos
  • Please don’t honk – Por favor no toque la bocina
  • We whistled when we saw the thief – Nosotros tocamos el silbato cuando vimos al ladrón
  • Someone’s knocking the door – Alguien está tocando la puerta

Tocar in Spanish: Other Uses

Up until this point, we covered the most basic uses of the verb tocar.

However, you’ll quickly notice that tocar is frequently used for a bunch of other scenarios.

3) To touch on a topic

When you barely talk about a topic without giving any specifics, you can replace hablar (to talk) with tocar to say that you touched on the topic.

  • You shouldn’t touch on that subject again – No deberías volver a tocar ese tema
  • She doesn’t like to touch on the subject of her father – A ella no le gusta tocar el tema de su padre
  • Tomorrow we will touch on that topic in the meeting – Mañana tocaremos ese tema en la reunión
  • Political issues are not touched in this house – En esta casa no se tocan los temas políticos

4) To say that it is someone’s turn

Instead of saying “es tu turno” (it’s your turn), you can use the verb tocar to express exactly the same thing.

  • Give the PSP to your brother because it’s his turn to play – Dale el PSP a tu hermano que le toca jugar
  • Who has to play now? – ¿A quién le toca jugar ahora?
  • It’s our turn to enter the doctor’s office – Nos toca entrar a nosotros a la oficina del doctor
  • Today I get the front seat of the car – Hoy me toca el asiento de adelante del carro

5) To explain an obligation

Normally we use “tener que” (to have to) structure to express an obligation. While that’s common, you can also use tocar to express the same thing.

(Additionally, we use direct and indirect objects to specify who will perform the action)

In this sentence, “I have to wash the dinner dishes”, we have two different options of saying it in Spanish without losing context.

  • Tengo que lavar los platos de la cena or
  • Me toca lavar los platos de la cena

Some more examples:

  • I had to dance the most difficult part of the choreography – Me tocó bailar la parte más difícil de la coreografía
  • We have to explain about the fauna of the Amazon – Nos toca explicar sobre la fauna del Amazonas
  • Today I had to take my brother to school – Hoy me tocó llevar a mi hermano al colegio
  • What math exercise did you get? – ¿Qué ejercicio de matemáticas te tocó?

6) To express that something has affected you

Just as you might do in English, the verb tocar is widely used to express that something or someone touched you or moved you, in an emotional way.

  • When I saw that puppy, it immediately touched my heart – Cuando vi a ese cachorro, inmediatamente me tocó el corazón.
  • That song touches my deepest feelings – Esa canción toca mis sentimientos más profundos
  • When the girl danced she touched everyone’s soul – Cuando la niña bailó, ella tocó el alma de todos

Tocar in Spanish: Exercises

Fill the blank space with the right conjugation of the verb Tocar

1. Nadie puede _____ mi comida

(No one can touch my food)

2. La banda _____ esta noche en el restaurante

(The band will play tonight at the restaurant)

3. La película es muy tierna. Realmente ______ tu corazón

(The movie is very tender. It really touches your heart)

4. Por favor no _____ nada

(Please don’t touch anything)

5. Ya casi me _____ entrar a la consulta del odontólogo

(It’s almost my turn to go to the dentist’s office)

6. ¿Qué canciones ______ anoche?

(What songs did they play last night?)

7. Yo _____ el timbre dos veces y nadie abrió la puerta

(I rang the doorbell twice and nobody opened the door)

8. Te _____ lavar los platos hoy

(It’s your turn to wash the dishes today)

9. Les _____ hacer la tarea de nuevo porque estaba todo mal

(They had to do the homework again because it was all wrong)

Tocar in Spanish: Exercises

1. Nadie puede tocar mi comida

2. La banda tocará esta noche en el restaurante

3. La película es muy tierna. Realmente toca tu corazón

4. Por favor no toquen nada

5. Ya casi me toca entrar a la consulta del odontólogo

6. ¿Qué canciones tocaron anoche?

7. Yo toqué el timbre dos veces y nadie abrió la puerta

8. Te toca lavar los platos hoy

9. Les tocó hacer la tarea de nuevo porque estaba todo mal

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