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Quick answer
"Descansar" is an intransitive verb which is often translated as "to rest", and "acostarse" is a reflexive verb which is often translated as "to go to bed". Learn more about the difference between "descansar" and "acostarse" below.
An intransitive verb is one that does not require a direct object (e.g. The man sneezed.).
1. (to take a break)
a. to rest
Tienes que descansar diez minutos por cada cuatro horas de trabajo.You need to rest ten minutes for every four hours worked.
b. to have off
Últimamente tengo mucho trabajo y solo descanso los domingos.I have a lot of work on lately and only have Sundays off.
2. (to be asleep)
a. to sleep
No pude descansar anoche.I couldn't sleep last night.
b. to nap
Él descansó un rato después de almorzar.He napped a while after eating lunch.
3. (to be buried)
a. to rest
En este lugar las almas desafortunadas pueden descansar en paz.This is a place where unfortunate souls can rest in peace.
4. (agriculture)
a. to rest
El campo descansa un año entero cada tres años.The field rests for a full year once every three years.
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A reflexive verb is a verb that indicates that the subject performs an action on itself (e.g. Miguel se lava.).
1. (to go to sleep)
a. to go to bed
Suelo acostarme a las 10, pero hoy llegué a medianoche.I usually go to bed at 10, but today I got home at midnight.
2. (to recline)
a. to lie down
Se acostó en la arena y se puso la camisa en la cabeza.She lay down in the sand and put her shirt over her head.
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
3. (to put to sleep)
a. to put to bed
Acosté a los niños y luego me acosté yo.I put the children to bed and then went to bed myself.
4. (to set down)
a. to lay down
Acuesta a la paciente y levántale las piernas.Lay the patient down and raise her legs.
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