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!)?

  • 2
    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." Jan 26, 2012 at 0:49

2 Answers 2


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.


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.

  • 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
    Aug 4, 2013 at 7:28

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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