Defective Verbs Rain Down
"It's raining, it's pouring! The old man is snoring" So goes the old rhyme in English. English speakers seldom stop to ask what the subject of the verb to rain is. Who is "It"? in these little clauses? When teaching Spanish, I like to tell my students that the It in English is a reference to Mother Nature.
After all, "it" is third-person singular and that is the form that is used in Spanish to express all weather phenomena, from precipitation to temperature or cloud cover.
It's sunny: Hace calor. Who makes it sunny? Why, Mother Nature!
It's raining: Llueve or Está lloviendo. Either way, it's Mother Nature and She makes the rain come down.
Today it's cloudy: Hoy está nublado. OK. I might admit that this one is describing the sky — but it belongs to Mother Nature and she has made it to be "clouded" over.
Nieva, nevaba, or nevó — It's snowing, it was snowing or is snowed, all are third person singular.
The lesson here is that precipitation verbs and other verbs when they refer to weather phenomena cannot be used in any other person and number than the third-person singular. This being so, they are known as defective — because in other persons and numbers not only are they not used, but are meaningless. A poet might get away with saying he was raining down tears, but then, poetry is very special language, working on the edges of the sensibilities and in the lofty realms of invention.
Speaking of the lofty realms of invention, the verbs of precipitation are:
llover (ue) — to rain, gives us: llueve, llovía, llovió, for the most common of circumstances (subjunctives aside)
nevar (ie) — to snow, gives us: nieva, nevaba and nevó.
lloviznar — to drizzle, gives us: llovizna, lloviznaba and lloviznó.
The progressive forms are common, particularly in the present: está lloviendo/nevando/lloviznando.
Besides precipitation, the climactic phenomena of temperature, wind, sun and so forth are all in the third-person as well:
With hace, one forms: viento, sol, calor,frío, fresco…
With está, one forms: nublado, despejado…
One good way to acquire good weather vocabulary is to go to Yahoo in Spanish and observe the weather reports.
- Author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.