Jugar vs. Tocar – How to say PLAY in Spanish

How do you say PLAY in Spanish?
Well, there are two different Spanish verbs for play: JUGAR and TOCAR.

What is the difference between JUGAR and TOCAR?

The Spanish verbs Jugar and Tocar frequently confuse English speakers since they can both be translated as To Play in English. However, these verbs are NOT interchangeable as they have different meanings and uses depending on context.

Let’s look at the difference between the two verbs.

When to use Jugar

A) Jugar is generally used when you are playing a sport, playing a game, or participating in other forms of amusement.

  • Juego al fútbol todos los sábados. (I play football every Saturday.)
  • ¿Quieres jugar cartas con nosotros? (Do you want to play cards with us?)
  • Esta noche voy a jugar con mis amigos en línea. (Tonight I’m going to play with my friends online)

Be careful: Not all sports use jugar. For example:

  • Hago natación. (I go swimming.)
  • Hago equitación. (I go horse riding.)

Remember, the J in Spanish is pronounced like an H in English… Jugar (sounds like who-gar)

You can also jugar in the following expressions:

  • Jugar sucio = (To play dirty … which can also mean to cheat.)
  • Jugar limpio = (To play fair or by the rules … literally means to play clean.)

¿ Jugar fútbol o jugar al fútbol?

Sometimes you see AL written before the name of the sport. Why?

En European Spanish, AL (or A LAS etc.) is used between the verb jugar and the thing they are playing.
In Latin American Spanish, the AL is normally omitted.

  • Juegan al fútbol. (Spanish from Spain)
  • Juegan fútbol. (Spanish from Latin America)
  • Vamos a jugar a las cartas. (Spanish from Spain)
  • Vamos a jugar cartas. (Spanish from Latin America)

When to use Tocar

A) Tocar is used when you are playing an instrument, playing a song or a style of music.

Tocar un instrumento = To play an instrument

  • Me encanta tocar la guitarra. (I love playing the guitar.)
  • Estoy aprendiendo a tocar el piano. (I’m learning to play the piano.)
  • En el concierto tocaron música clásica. (In the concert they played classical music.)
  • Están tocando mi canción favorita. (They are playing my favorite song.)

You NEVER say “jugar la guitarra”.

B) Tocar also means to touch.

  • El niño tocó la ventana con las manos sucias. (The boy touched the window with his dirty hands.)
  • Me encanta tocar la suave textura de esta tela. (I love touching the soft texture of this fabric.)
  • No toques la olla, está caliente. * (Don’t touch the pot, it’s hot.)

* Toques – We will see more about using the imperative for commands in another lesson.

C) Tocar also means to knock on a door or ring a bell.

  • Los niños tocaron el timbre de la casa y salieron arrancando. (The children rang the doorbell and ran away.)
  • Parece que alguien tocó la puerta. (It seems that somebody knocked on the door.)
  • Tocaron la campana para entrar a clase. (They rang the bell to enter class.)

Next Activities

See the complete conjugation of the verbs Tocar and Jugar with examples in each tense.

Try our interactive game online to practice the difference between Jugar and Tocar.

Spanish Resource

We have the following Spanish task cards to practice the difference between Jugar and Tocar:

Jugar vs. Tocar - Spanish Task Cards

These Spanish task cards are ideal for Spanish teachers, parents or self-study.

Lesson tags: Al, Fútbol, Jugar, Latin America, Preposiciones, Prepositions, Regional Differences, Spain, Tocar, Verbos, Verbs, Vocabulario, Vocabulary
Back to: Spanish Course > Spanish Verbs - Present Tense

Pin It on Pinterest