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Quick answer
"En el fondo" is an adverb which is often translated as "at the bottom", and "al fondo" is an adverb which is often translated as "in the background". Learn more about the difference between "en el fondo" and "al fondo" below.
en el fondo(
ehn
 
ehl
 
fohn
-
doh
)
An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or other adverbs (e.g. to run quickly, very tired).
1. (on the base)
a. at the bottom
¿Viste que hay una grieta en el fondo de la bañera?Did you notice that crack at the bottom of the bathtub?
b. on the bed (of a river or the sea)
Cuando descubrieron el navío, este ya llevaba siglos en el fondo del mar.When the ship was found, it had already been on the sea bed for centuries.
2.
A phrase used as a figure of speech or a word that is symbolic in meaning; metaphorical (e.g. carrot, bean).
(figurative)
(at one's heart of hearts)
a. deep down
Siempre se están peleando, pero, en el fondo, se quieren mucho.They're always fighting, but they love each other very much deep down.
3.
A phrase used as a figure of speech or a word that is symbolic in meaning; metaphorical (e.g. carrot, bean).
(figurative)
(in reality)
a. actually
Sé que tengo que tomar una decisión, pero en el fondo me da igual una cosa que otra.I know I must make a decision, but I actually don't care one way or the other.
b. really
Yo creo que Miguel reprobó el examen porque, en el fondo, no quería ir a la universidad.I think Miguel failed the exam because he didn't really want to go to college.
4.
A phrase used as a figure of speech or a word that is symbolic in meaning; metaphorical (e.g. carrot, bean).
(figurative)
(in essence)
a. at the bottom
El gobierno no lo quiere admitir, pero, claramente, el aspecto financiero está en el fondo de la cuestión.The government won't admit it, but the financial aspect is clearly at the bottom of the question.
b. essentially
A mi parecer, amor y respeto son en el fondo una misma cosa.In my opinion, love and respect are essentially one and the same thing.
c. basically
En el fondo, lo que me estás diciendo es que, si no me dejas, es solo porque te doy pena.You're basically telling me that you won't leave me just because you feel sorry for me.
5. (at the rear)
a. at the back
No encontraba mis zapatos porque estaban en el fondo del armario.I couldn't find my shoes because they were at the back of the cupboard.
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al fondo(
ahl
 
fohn
-
doh
)
An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or other adverbs (e.g. to run quickly, very tired).
1. (not in the foreground)
a. in the background
La escena representa una finca elegante; al fondo, se ve una torre.The picture shows an elegant estate; in the background, a tower can be seen.
2. (not at the front)
a. at the back
Como la sala de conferencias estaba llena, tuvimos que sentarnos al fondo.As the lecture room was full, we had to sit at the back.
b. to the back
Hay tanta gente que no puedo respirar. Vayamos al fondo.There are so many people here that I can't breathe. Let's move to the back.
3. (not at the beginning)
a. at the end
Ve por esta calle. Al fondo a la izquierda verás una iglesia.Go down this street. At the end on the left you'll see a church.
b. to the end
¿Ves el pasillo? Ve al fondo y gira a la izquierda.Do you see the corridor? Go to the end and turn left.
4. (not at the top)
a. at the bottom
Al fondo, el buzo tocó algo metálico.At the bottom, the diver touched something metalic.
b. to the bottom
El perro estaba jugando en el río cuando un cocodrilo lo arrastró al fondo.The dog was playing in the river when a crocodile dragged it to the bottom.
5.
A phrase used as a figure of speech or a word that is symbolic in meaning; metaphorical (e.g. carrot, bean).
(figurative)
(to the truth)
a.
This refers to an idiomatic word or phrase for which there is no word-for-word translation.
no direct translation
Lo que ocurrió es muy grave y no voy a detenerme hasta llegar al fondo.What has happened is really serious, and I won't stop until I get to the bottom of it.
Hay que llegar al fondo pase lo que pase.Whatever happens, we need to get to the bottom of this.
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