‘Tratar’ vs ‘intentar’

In short – ‘Tratar’ and ‘intentar’ both translate as ‘to try’ in English, so you’ll sometimes hear them used interchangeably by Spanish speakers. Tratar’, however, also has a plethora of other meanings, including ‘to treat’ and ‘to be about’.

For example, you might hear someone say “Me tratas muy bien” (“You treat me well”) or “El libro se trata de piratas” (“The book is about pirates”) and, well, ‘intentar CANNOT be used instead of ‘tratar’ in either sentence.

Definitely stick around if you wanna reach expert status on all things ‘tratar’ and ‘intentar’!


Tratar and ‘intentar’  can be used in the following ways –

1. As synonyms of ‘to try’ or ‘to attempt’

Hizo el intento y lo logró. = She tried and she succeded.

2. ‘Tratar’ has other meanings not shared by ‘intentar’, such as ‘to deal’, ‘to treat’, ‘to address’, ‘to process’ and ‘to be about’.

Tratar´ vs ´intentar´

Whenever you talk about making an attempt or effort to do something (i.e., ‘to try’), you can use ‘tratar’ and ‘intentar’ interchangeably –

Una mamá enseña a su hijo a saltar la cuerda

¡Ya casi lo logras! Inténtalo una vez más.

A mom teaches her son to jump rope

You almost got it! Try again.

Alumna – Estoy* muy nerviosa. ¿Qué pasa si se me olvida mi discurso?

Profesor – Trata de hacer pequeñas pausas y respira profundamente en cada una de ellas.

Student – I’m so nervous. What if I forget my speech?

Teacher – Try to take small breaks and breathe deeply during each one.

*Erika’s note – we use ‘estoy‘ here (NOTsoy‘) because we´re referring to a temporary state (i.e., being nervous)

Nevertheless, ‘tratar’ doesn’t always mean ‘to try’.

It can also mean the following –

tratar = to treat

Durante una encuesta

Encuestador – ¿Cómo fue el servicio al cliente?

Cliente – Me trataron muy bien y aclararon todas mis dudas.

During a survey

Pollster – How was the customer service?

Client – They treated me very well and cleared up all my doubts.

Armando no se trató el esguince adecuadamente y ahora necesita una operación de rodilla.

Armando didn’t treat the sprain properly and now he needs a knee operation.

tratar = to be about

La profesora nos mostró un documental que trata sobre la conservación marina.

The teacher showed us a documentary about marine conservation.

tratar = to address

El candidato dijo que tenía propuestas radicales pero ni trató el tema de la delincuencia durante la entrevista.

The candidate said that he had radical proposals, but he didn’t even address the issue of crime during the interview.

tratar = ‘to process’ or ‘to handle’

El algoritmo está diseñado para tratar una enorme cantidad de datos.

The algorithm is designed to process a huge amount of data.

tratar (se) = ‘to deal with‘ or ‘to communicate with

Escuché que Ignacio se trata con algunas celebridades.

I heard Ignacio deals with some celebrities.

In this context, ‘tratarse’ can also be used as a euphemism for having an intimate or romantic relationship with someone.

It translates to something along the lines of ‘to see each other’ –

Se me hace que Roy y Alessa se tratan de novios. La otra vez los ví agarrados de la mano.

I think Roy and Alessa are seeing each other. I saw them holding hands the other day.

Expressions with ‘tratar’ / ‘intentar

Fácil de tratar

This one literally translates as ‘easy to treat’, but it’s actually a very common way to describe someone who’s easygoing.

Mis suegros son muy fáciles de tratar; me encanta ir a su casa.

My in-laws are very easygoing; I love going to their house.

Tratar de loco

This phrase is used to describe the action of purposely ignoring or disregarding someone, as if they were ‘loco’ (or ‘crazy’ in English).

Siento que mi jefe siempre me trata de loco. Ignora todas mis ideas y propuestas.

I feel like my boss always just brushes me off. He ignores all my ideas and proposals.

‘Tratar de loco’ is similar to another great phrase in Spanish: ‘dar el avión’.

If you wanna find out more, be sure to check out our article on all its different uses!

Volver a intentar

‘Volver’ normally means ‘to return’ or ‘to go back’, which makes the expression ‘volver a intentar‘ a tricky one for us language learners (at least at first!) because it actually means ‘to try again’.

Siempre que sientas que fracasaste, vuelve a intentar. ¡No te rindas!

Whenever you feel like you’ve failed, try again. Don’t give up!

Final thoughts

I hope you now better understand the differences between ‘tratar’ and ‘intentar’.

Just remember that they’re ONLY interchangeable when used as synonyms of ‘to try’.

Oh, and if you’re curious about other similar words in Spanish, I recommend you check out our article on por nada’ vs ‘de nada, it’s sure come in handy!

Keep practicing your new acquired knowledge and be mindful of Yoda’s wise words, ‘no hay intentos’ (or ‘there is no try’).

¡Hasta la próxima!

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