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So apparently 'acudir' means 'to go to', (No podemos acudir a la fiesta) and 'to come', but that seems very similar to the definitions of asistir and ir. (No podemos asistir a la fiesta)

The sentence I saw was 'acudierien en masa' - "they went in mass" - Couldn't that just be "Fueron en masa?"

When do I use 'acudir' instead of 'asistir' or 'acudir' instead of 'ir'?

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They are related but are not the same:

Acudir entails its hypernym ir, but moreover you go because you know in advance what happens or is gonna happen there: maybe it's an appointment, a public/private service, party or public event.

Asistir prototypical meaning is closer to witness or attend. The verb is frequently used for attending public events or witnessing relevant phenomena:

Asistí a la inauguración / I attended the opening.

Asistimos a un profundo cambio / We are witnessing a major shift.

So, asistir doesn't entail ir: this difference between asistir and acudir it's pretty clear when using progressive aspect:

Estamos acudiendo a la ceremonia / We're going to the ceremony.

Estamos asistiendo a la ceremonia / We are attending the ceremony (but never translated as We're going to the ceremony because you're already there).

Asistir is sometimes close to acudir but, in my opinion, in a passive way. For instance, I would use acudir here but I wouldn't use asistir because you have an active role:

Acudí a la comisaría para denunciar / I went to the police station to report

*Asistí a la comisaría para denunciar / I went to the police station to report

So:

  • acudir entails ir, and sometimes entails asistir (passive role, witnessing). You acudes a an event or to undertake action, and not just to a place.
  • asistir is closer to witness. It entails neither acudir nor ir in every use: you can asistir to some event you did know or didn't know of in advance happening at your current location without involving any movement.
  • With regard to the examples you provided I think you can use any of the aforementioned verbs (acudir, asistir, ir): 1) particularly there is no more information for the event acudieron en masa, so ¿asistir or acudir? 2) it depends on whether you want to be precise or not: in very formal contexts I would avoid ir because it's a very generic verb; acudir and asistir are not extremely formal, and you can hear them sometimes depending on the speaker.

SOURCE: native speaker of central Spain variety, reflecting on my own language use.

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  • 1
    You seem to have a very good grasp on how you use words. Welcome to the Spanish Language forum and thanks for an excellent answer.
    – Gorpik
    Oct 20 at 8:46
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  • Acudir a, acudieran a => x come to sb (for complaining, for support, for help [go to the police/press])

Acudir: 6. intr. Recurrir a alguien o valerse de él.

  • Acudir/ir a la fiesta => to go to the party, to attend the party, come to the party, to show up at the party (aparecer, llegar, venir, ir).

Acudir: 2. intr. Ir o asistir con frecuencia a alguna parte.

In my variety of Spanish, «acudir» does not imply per se that reiteration, in a case like this, you would have to say (in the present perfect continuous or you would need to use an adverb of repeated time in the present tense):

  • Han estado acudiendo a.
  • Han estado yendo a.
  • Acuden normalmente a.
  • Van de vez en cuando a.
  • Pasan yendo a/para.
  • Van re seguido a.
  • Les gusta ir seguido a.

And so we can use it to talk about repeated activities that have been still happening up until now.

Acudían para contemplar/presenciar las pinturas de x => Come to view/witness x's paintings (In other context, which the OP's version didn't include or in my variety of Spanish it doesn't make any difference)

  • Acudieron en masa a y (that's what an well-read person would say) => x are flocking to y, y crowded with, with crowded sth, x went en masse, x came out en masse, x arrive all together, went as a group (to lobby, to put pressure)

  • Fueron en masa a reclamarle (informal) => They went en masse to complain to sb, in droves to complain about sth.

  • Asistir a una/la (premiación, ceremonia, misa, demonstration, wedding, meeting, etc [evento/lugar])

Asistir: 8. intr. Concurrir a una casa o reunión, tertulia, curso, acto público, etc. 9. intr. Estar o hallarse presente.

In my opinion, if you want to recreate an event, you can say(in the past tense) "asistí/concurrí a ese lugar ese día a tal hora" to report and clarify the facts. «Asistir» is a more formal word for me.

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Also "asistir" can mean "to help" someone.

Eg.: Asistí a una mujer con su parto | I helped a woman in labor.

'acudierien en masa' - "they went in mass" -> means "if they go in big numbers". Acudieren in this case means "in case of". They went in mass -> literally: "Fueron/Acudieron/Asistieron en masa" a better translation (for my variety of Spanish (rioplatense, the one spoken in most of Argentina and Uruguay) would be "Fueron/Acudieron/Asistieron en cantidad".

"Acudir" is not used much in the sense of being at an event, the general use is related to "reach someone for help/support", "asistir" is more like RSVP and also formal: "por favor asiste al evento" or "confirme su asistencia" (confirm your attendance).

Finally "ir" is your go to (no pun intended) word when you want to express something that happened in the past "fui a la escuela" (I went to school), "voy a la escuela" (I go to school), "iré a la escuela" (I WILL go to school). Colloquially you are more likely to find the usage of "ir" at least in my flavor of Spanish.

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  • Sí, 'asistir' para confirmar/verificar su asistencia, como diciendo: sí llegaron, cumplieron con, fueron puntuales. También como un instructivo(los alumnos deben/deberán asistir obligatoriamente con) o un informativo(deben asistir a), de nuevo, eventos.
    – cocteau
    Oct 20 at 20:52
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Acudir y asistir, son sinónimos de IR. Acudir se utiliza más cuando vas a un sitio con un objetivo o para hacer algo, en cambio asistir se utiliza cuando estas en un sitio simplemente.

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