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Both words mean "to caress" or "to fondle" according to the dictionaries. Is it really so? Are the exactly the same thing? If not, in what way does adding that "a" change the meaning? My question also pertains to several similar Spanish verbs that have a variant with the "a" prefix.

  • Something wrong with the question to warrant a downvote? – TheLearner Nov 16 '14 at 16:55
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Some Spanish verbs are formed by adding the prefix a- and a verbal ending to nouns or adjectives. The a- prefix derived from the Latin prepositions ab ("agent") and ad ("source").

No precise rules on when to use the prefix, but usually is used when the verb formed means "to do something for..." or "the result of acting with..."

For example:

cabo = "end" ------> acabar = "finish, get to the end"
licor = "alcoholic drink" = ----> alicorar = "get drunk"

But I insist it is not a general rule, in most cases the word is historically formed and the prefix has lost meaning.

More examples:

plazo - aplazar
compañía - acompañar
tormenta - atormentar
provecho - aprovechar
pareja - aparejar
manso - amansar
largo - alargar
seguro - asegurar
cierto - acertar
crédito - acreditar
grato - agradar
firme - afirmar
consejo - aconsejar
breve - abreviar
premura - apremiar

In all these cases is wrong to omit the prefix (plazar, compañar, tormentar...)

The consciousness of etymology is lost in words like apagar, admirar, acostar, abrazar and adorar.

A similar situation occurs with the prefix en- (gancho - enganchar).

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  • I never heard of alicorar before. Where is it used? This is a really good answer to the question. You have my +1. – Diego Nov 15 '14 at 15:38
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    Is used in Colombia, sorry for choosing a rare example – Rodrigo Nov 15 '14 at 15:43
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    Sounds like adding liquor to some recipe. – Jaime Nov 15 '14 at 20:31
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I don't thin that cariciar exits as a verb. You have the name caricia and the verb acariciar.

I couldn't find cariciar in the DRAE or RAE's Twiter and only this reference for cariciar online. I'm unsure up to which point the Wiktionary could be trusted more than the RAE. Maybe we have cariciar due to regional differences; Maybe is just misspelled somewhere. It seems that cariciar is actually a verb in Portuguese. Maybe somebody made a mistake while editing the Wiktionary?

Acariciar:

Hacer caricias. Tocar, rozar suavemente

Tratar a alguien con amor y ternura

Caricia:

Demostración cariñosa que consiste en rozar suavemente con la mano el cuerpo de una persona, de un animal

Regarding the second part of your question, in Spanish we have for example Rascar:

Refregar o frotar fuertemente la piel con algo agudo o áspero, y por lo regular con las uñas.

Arañar

I have heard people saying "arrascar" for this action although RAE doesn't contemplate it. I don't think that you can just add that "a" or take it for these verbs. Maybe there is an exception, but as a rule of thumb, I would avoid "arrascar", "cariciar", etc. Problably this is some sort of misunderstanding on the spoken language when you have an "a" in from of the verb.

Voy a acariciar al perro.

sounding like it was "Voy a cariciar al perro", and thinking that there is actually a "cariciar" verb.

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