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I learned that solo in Spanish means both "alone" (the simple fact of not having anyone else around) and "lonely" (feeling sad because of being alone). Is there any way of distinguishing between these two English meanings in Spanish? Or is the context in which solo is used the only way to determine which of the two senses is intended?

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"El está solo" vs "El se siente solo" sounds clear enough to me. Do you have problems recognizing the meaning in some special context? – Dr. belisarius Jan 28 '13 at 4:05
    
@belisarius: Maybe that's the difference then. Does the alone meaning always go with estar and the lonely meaning always go with sentirse? – jrdioko Jan 28 '13 at 4:07
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There are also some not so clear variations. For example: "El se encuentra solo" (literature), "Está solo como un ... (usually dog)". The meaning in those aren't so clear and one could argue that they allude to both English words – Dr. belisarius Jan 28 '13 at 4:17
    
Spanish Language Beta. Still wonder why people speak english here. Por favor, hablad en español. Yo por el contrario no lo uso en un foro en inglés... – JuanRocamonde Mar 30 '15 at 21:01
up vote 15 down vote accepted

Like Belisarius answered, the difference is communicated through the verb:

Yo estoy solo = I am alone (infinitive is estar)

Me siento solo = I am lonely (infinitive is sentirse)

For what it's worth: Verbs are king in Spanish and generally communicate much more meaning than English verbs. If you can dominate verbs and their nuances you're well on your way to being fluent in Spanish.

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Your question was answered by belisarius, but what he last commented is a common issue, to solve it we earlier used the accent over the first o as explained below, but recently the "RAE" (Real Academia Española) decided to remove this rule, anyway most people keep on using it.

3.2.3: sólo/solo. The word solo can be an adjetive: "No me gusta el café solo"; "Vive él solo en esa gran mansión"; or an adverb: "Solo nos llovió dos días"; "Contesta solo sí o no".

Usually as it's a "llana" word ended in vowel it shouldn't have accent but when it could be misinterpreted in a sentence as adverb or adjective, we'll use the accent in the adverb to avoid confusion:

"Estaré solo un mes" (as it doesn't have accent it is interpreted as adjective: alone)

"Estaré sólo un mes" (as it has accent, it is interpreted as adverb: only)

Translation from source

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