In short – ‘comer’ means ‘to eat’ in English and ‘tragar’ generally translates as ‘to swallow’. HOWEVER, you might also come across colloquial phrases, such as ‘tragué como un marrano’ (meaning ‘I ate like a pig’), in which ‘tragar’ refers to ‘overeating’.
But please do tread lightly because ‘tragar’ in this sense is obviously unsuitable for all but the most casual of situations!
‘Comer’ is mostly used in the following ways –
1. As a synonym of ‘to eat’.
¿Quieres comer pizza? = Wanna eat pizza?
2. As a synonym of ‘to have lunch / dinner’.
¿Qué trajiste de comer? = What did you bring for lunch?
3. As a synonym of ‘to consume’, as in ‘to eat up’.
¡La escuela se come todo mi tiempo! = School eats up all my time!
‘Tragar’ is mostly used in the following ways –
1. As a synonym of ‘to swallow’.
Tragué mucha agua. = I swallowed too much water.
2. As a colloquial expression, similar to ‘gorge on’ / ‘overeat’.
¡Tragué demasiadas palomitas! = I gorged on popcorn!
3. To talk about ‘believing in’ / ‘buying into’ an untruth.
Me tragué sus mentiras. = I bought into his lies.
4. As a colloquial expression meaning ‘to bear (someone)’ / ‘to stand (someone)’.
No trago al maestro. = I can’t stand the teacher.
‘Tragar’ vs ‘comer’
‘Comer’ is your definite go-to synonym of ‘to eat’, whilst ‘tragar’ (in the context of eating) is mostly considered a rude expression … uh-uh!
‘Tragar’ (in this sense) is used to imply that a person is overeating or eating extremely fast, – hence the use of ‘swallowing’ instead of ‘eating’ – which is why itshould never be used interchangeably with ‘comer’ in regular conversation!
En una comida de trabajo
Melisa – ¿Quieren pedir un postre?
Óscar – No, gracias;
tragué comí bastante.
At a work dinner
Melisa – Do you wanna order a dessert?
Óscar – No, thanks; I ate a lot.
Of course, you might still hear it used in a more amicable way, since in Latin culture it’s quite common to tease family members / friends.
Nonetheless, using it willy-nilly is extremely risky (especially if you don’t know the people you’re talking to that well), and chances are you’ll come across as VERY disrespectful! –
Dan – Tu hermano no deja de tragar papitas.
Emma – ¿Disculpa? ¿Qué dijiste de mi hermano?
Dan – Your brother won’t stop gorging on chips.
Emma – Excuse me? What did you say about my brother?
Irma – ¿Bailaron mucho en la boda de tu prima?
Adrián – La verdad, no. ¡Casi nos tragamos la mesa de dulces entera!
Irma – Did you guys dance a lot at your cousin’s wedding?
Adrian – Not that much to be honest. We ate most of the candy though!
Uses of ‘comer’
As a synonym of ‘to have lunch / dinner’
Even though ‘have’ translates to ‘tener’, Spanish speakers never use this verb when talking about having a meal.
And what do they use?
Well, you can just say ‘comer’ or ‘de comer’ (simple, huh?) –
Hijo – Mami, ¿qué vamos a comer? / ¿qué hay de comer?
Madre – Preparé un pollo asado.
Son – Mommy, what are we having for lunch*?
Mother – I made roast chicken.
*Erika’s note – did you know that the concept of lunch varies across the Spanish-speaking world? Find out more in our epic piece on all the different ways to say ‘lunch’ in Spanish!
As a synonym of ‘to consume’, as in ‘to eat up’
‘Comer’ can also be used to describe something that uses (or ‘eats’) up a significant part of something valuable –
El trámite de mi pasaporte se comió todo mi día.
The paperwork to get my passport ate up my whole day.
Colloquial uses of ‘tragar’
Apart from ‘overeating’, ‘tragar’ has a few other colloquial uses!
To talk about ‘believing in’ / ‘buying into’ an untruth
Instead of ‘buying into’ an untruth or ‘falling’ for a craftily spun yarn, in Spanish you’ll be ‘swallowing’ (or ‘tragando’) it!
¡No te tragues todo lo que dicen en las noticias!
Don’t fall for everything they say on the news!
As a colloquial expression meaning ‘to bear (someone)’ or ‘to stand (someone)’
Finally, ‘tragar’ can also refer to ‘bearing’ or ‘standing’ a person.
You’re basically comparing someone’s personality with something that’s hard to swallow.
Por más que intento, nomás no trago a mi jefa.
I really do try, but I just can’t stand my boss.
Tragar como un cerdo / marrano – To eat like a horse
Speaking of overeating, this fun phrase is the closest we have in Spanish to the English expression ‘to eat like a horse’ … but obviously we refer to a pig instead of a horse!
¡Anoche tragué como un marrano!
I ate like a horse last night!
Comerse a alguien – A euphemism for having sex
Especially in Mexico, ‘comerse a alguien’ (or literally ‘to eat someone’) is a euphemism for having intercourse or intimacy.
This is a rather informal expression, so avoid it in the workplace!
Entonces, ¿ya te comiste a Raúl?
So, have you nailed Raúl yet?
Hopefully you’re now feeling more confident about using these two Spanish verbs. When in doubt, just use them literally: ‘comer’ for ‘eating’ and ‘tragar’ for ‘swallowing’!
Wanna get your mitts on more Spanish vocab? Why not check out one of the following –