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I always knew that tengo ganas de is the way you translate "feels like" into Spanish. For example:

Tengo ganas de ir al cine

I feel like going to the movies

But today, I came across the following sentence somewhere:

¿Por qué cuando tomas se antoja fumar?

Why do you feel like smoking when you drink?

Are they exactly the same thing? If so, what's the preferred usage in regular speech? If there's any regional variance, what's the preference in Mexican Spanish?

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Antojarse is of the olvidarse/perderse group of reflexive verbs where the subject is at fault. The subject of the sentence is the desire. It is an overwhelming, enveloping, or even possibly a far-fetched way to express a desire. It is a desire that occurs, that affects, that comes over you.

When it's cold, you often feel like putting on a jacket.

When you're sick, you crave something like an aspirin to help.

When you're starving; famished, you feel like eating.

  • Se me antoja manejar mi carro
  • Se me antoja tocar la guitarra.
  • Se me antoja cocinar
  • Se me antoja una cerveza
  • Se me antojan encurtidos metidos en helado.

A gana is a desire, literally. So it isn't any kind of idiom when you slap tener in front of it. So translated, it is literally I have desires to.... It's a bit more personal, it's more long-lived, it's a personal goal.

I want to go to Disneyland! --indicates a set goal.

  • Tengo ganas de hacer paracaídas.
  • Tengo ganas de ver esa película.
  • Tengo ganas de bailar
  • Tengo ganas de irme de aquí

Ultimately though, they are more or less interchangeable.

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  • "Se me antoja manejar mi carro." What is the "se" for in this sentence? In the sentence I read, which I also quote as my example in the question, it just says, "...se antoja fumar." If antojar is like gustar, shouldn't it just be "Me antoja manejar mi carro"? – TheLearner Dec 1 '14 at 0:16
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    Maybe I shouldn't have assumingly gruped it into the gustar family. It's just a reflexive verb. It is more of the olvidarse/perderse group; where the fault lies upon that which is forgotten, or lost. – dockeryZ Dec 1 '14 at 0:22
  • Other than the syntax, both seem to translate as an expression of desire to me. Is there any preference when it comes to regular conversation? What are you more likely to use when speaking of what you feel like doing? Should I assume that "antojarse" is preferred when the goal is more immediate (i.e. I feel like doing something right now) and "tener ganas de" is preferable when expressing a long term bucket list (i.e. I wish to do it someday)? – TheLearner Dec 1 '14 at 0:38
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    Yes, exactly! More immediate. You wouldn't feel like doing something in 20 years; you would think about it. I added more English examples if that helps. – dockeryZ Dec 1 '14 at 0:41
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En primer lugar, no queda claro si lo que estás queriendo es traducir del inglés al español o del español al inglés. En particular no pensaría que la traducción directa de "tener ganas de" es "feels like". En mi opinión, feels like se relaciona mucho más con lo sensorial mientras que "tener ganas de" está en otro plano que lo relaciono más con el querer. Por eso pensaría que si pregunto

"¿Tienes ganas de ir al cine hoy?" Lo traduzco como

"Do you want to go to the movies today?"

Manteniendo la forma en la que te expresaste, la traducción directa sería

Why do you feel like smoking when you drink?

¿Por qué cuando tomas se te antoja fumar?

Me parecen equivalentes, aunque el "antoja" encierra cierta connotación negativa.

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