‘Tratar’ vs ‘Intentar’: A Comprehensive Guide!

In short – ‘tratar’ and ‘intentar’ both translate as ‘to try’ in English, so you can normally use them interchangeably (in the sense of making an effort to do something). The main difference in usage is that tratar‘ is often followed by the preposition ‘de.

Tratar’ also has a plethora of other meanings, including ‘to treat’ and ‘to be about’, which are NOT shared with ‘intentar‘.

So, make sure to stick around if you wanna reach expert status on all things ‘tratar’ and ‘intentar’!

A book with a pirate on the front
El libro se trata de piratas.


1. Both tratar and ‘intentar’  can translate as ‘to try’ (in the sense of making an effort to do something).

Intentó y lo logró. = She tried and she succeded.

Trató y lo logró. = She tried and she succeded.

2. When adding further detail about what exactly someone is trying to do, ‘tratar‘ is ALWAYS followed by the preposition ‘de‘.

Traté de hacerlo bien. = I tried to do it well.

3. ‘Tratar’ has quite a few 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.

¡Ya casi lo logras! Trátalo una vez más.

A mom teaches her son to jump rope

You almost got it! Try again.

Rupert’s pro tip – just remember that if you start elaborating on whatever it is that you’re trying to do, you’re ALWAYS going to need a ‘de’ after ‘tratar‘ … I made this mistake quite a bit when I was first learning Spanish as I’d try to translate “try + to infinitive” (i.e., ‘try to do‘ / ‘try to sleep‘, etc.) literally!

In Spanish the structure is “tratar + de + infinitive”; it’s NEVER correct to omit the ‘de!

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.

*Expert tip – we use ‘ESTOY’ here (NOTsoy‘) because we’re referring to a temporary state (i.e., being nervous).

Finally, having lived in both Spain and Mexico, I would say that ‘intentar‘ is ever-so-slightly more common in Spain than it is in Latin America (where ‘tratar de‘ is favored!).

And guess what?

My hunch has actually been corroborated by data scraped from millions of websites from 21 different Spanish-speaking countries, ‘intentar‘ is indeed used more in Spain than it is in Latin America!

Make sure to check out the excellent Corpus del Español if you wanna find out more!

However, ‘tratar‘ doesn’t always mean ‘to try!

Yep, you heard right!

Tratar‘ also has the following meanings –

tratar = to treat

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/to handle

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

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

tratarse = to deal with/to communicate with

Escuché que Ignacio se trata con algunas celebridades.

I heard Ignacio deals with some celebrities.

And what about ‘probar‘?

Probar‘ actually translates as ‘to try‘ too, but only in the sense of “testing something to see if it’s suitable/useful”.

So, you could say –

Voy a probar el helado antes de comprarlo.

I’m gonna try the ice cream before buying it.

Expressions with ‘tratar’ / ‘intentar

Fácil de tratar

Fácil de tratar‘ literally translates as ‘easy to treat’, but it’s actually a very common way to describe someone easygoing/chilled.

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

My in-laws are very easygoing; I love going over 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’!).

It’s very similar to the colloquial Mexican phrase ‘DAR EL AVIÓN’.

One man looking at another as if he were "loco"

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.

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!

Before you go …

If you’re curious about other oft-confused words/phrases in Spanish, I recommend you check out our article on ‘POR SIEMPRE’ AND ‘PARA SIEMPRE’ next (yep, there is a bit of a difference!).

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

¡Hasta la próxima!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

And some cheeky vids ...

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