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The verb esperar (e.g. Estoy esperándolo.) can be used in at least three senses:

  1. to wait for
  2. to hope
  3. to expect

In English, these all mean very different things:

  1. I'm waiting for you to arrive.

  2. I hope you will arrive.

  3. I'm expecting you to arrive.

Is there any way to distinguish which of the three is meant by esperar other than context? Are there any other ways in Spanish to express these three English senses that is less ambiguous than esperar, when you want to make clear that you mean one as opposed to the others (for example, a boss telling an employee, I expect you to be here by 9am sharp!)?

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    An excellent question. And, just to complicate things further, "expect" can function not only much like a command, as in your example, but also as a statement of anticipation: "I expect that he'll show up at 9am sharp, because he's very punctual." Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 0:49

3 Answers 3

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Correct it mostly depends on context to difference them. But you can also tell by tone and sometimes even by sarcasm. For your example with your boss, he could say in spanish with a strict tone:

¡Espero que estés aqui a las 9 en punto!

It is absolutely clear he meant expect. But then if you say

(Wondering tone)

Espero que llegue pronto...

You know it is in the sense of hope. And if you say

Espero que llegue.

or

Estoy esperando a que llegue.

It's inferred that is about waiting. You can see that in these cases there is no ambiguity, you just have to watch out for the tone and the context. If you do you will have no trouble distinguishing one from the other.

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  • Spoken tone is easier to transmit. Written is tougher, and I've found myself struggling to set the appropriate tone in formal writing in order to use "esperar" in a way that won't be misinterpreted by the reader. But this is true with anything written vs. spoken.
    – neizan
    Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 7:28
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If you think about these words as follows:

To wait --> Esperar
Hope --> Esperanza    
Expectation --> Expectativa

You could translate your examples as so:

"I'm waiting for you to arrive."--> Estoy esperando que llegues

"I hope you will arrive."--> Tengo la esperanza de que llegues

"I'm expecting you to arrive."--> Tengo la expectativa de que llegues (a tiempo por una vez en tu vida)

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  1. "i'm waiting for you to arrive" is literally "estoy esperando que llegués". you could technically use "espero que llegués", but this does sound more like "i hope you'll arrive". it's kind of like english where it's more common to say "i'm waiting for you to arrive" than "i wait for you to arrive", as well "i hope you'll arrive" probably being a bit more common than "i'm hoping you'll arrive"

  2. "i hope you'll arrive" might technically be able to be translated as "me esperanzo que llegués". prescriptively, esperanzar is a transitive verb basically meaning "to give hope", so if you use it pronominally, it could mean "to give oneself hope". "i give myself hope you'll arrive" is basically the same as "i hope you'll arrive", but if the former makes you wonder about the details behind what motivated and allowed you to give yourself hope, well those are just as unspoken as in the latter (that is, what caused you to hope in the first place). transitive esperanzar lists transitive "ilusionar" as a synonym, whereas transitive esperar lists pronominal "ilusionarse" as a synonym. i also feel like "esperanzar" may be an uncommon enough word so as to allow for using it as a synonym of "esperar" with the sense of "to hope", especially because both transitive esperanzar and transitive esperar list "desesperanzar" as an antonym. spanishdict.com explicitly lists pronominal "esperanzarse" as "to become hopeful" and "to become encouraged"; the former is, again, basically the same thing, whereas the latter does have a bit of nuance, but i think it's a tolerable amount of deviation

  3. "i'm expecting you to arrive" could be, apparently according to wiktionary, "expecto que llegués" (or more literally "estoy expectando que llegués"). wiktionary lists "expectar" as a literary word whose etymology is derived directly from latin, tho it doesn't list any sources. but as far as i can tell, "expectar" is a valid backformation from expectante since as far as i know, every verb in the dictionary ending in "-ar" has a form ending in "-ante"; sometimes the conjugation has a dedicated word entry (like "abundante" from "abundar"), other times it'll just link you to the verb's word entry, even if the -ante conjugation doesn't appear on the word entry's webpage at all (like "tomante" from "tomar")

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    Hola. En tu publicación encuentro varias expresiones que un hispanohablante no diría, tal como "me esperanzo que llegués", (espero que llegues o tengo esperanza que llegues serían lo natural). Otra es "expecto que llegues", al menos en los sitios que conozco, nunca he escuchado tal expresión, ni el verbo "expectar" que menciona la entrada del Wiki. En el diccionario de la RAE no existe. Sería natural decir "tengo la expectativa que llegues", o complementar con una expresión temporal, tal como espero que llegues a tiempo, espero que llegues pronto, etc.
    – jachguate
    Commented May 14 at 9:52
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    Commented May 14 at 15:25

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