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Quick answer
"Encender" is a transitive verb which is often translated as "to turn on", and "prender" is a transitive verb which is often translated as "to catch". Learn more about the difference between "encender" and "prender" below.
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
1. (to activate)
a. to turn on
Lo primero que hace cada mañana es encender la televisión.The first thing he does every morning is turn on the television.
b. to switch on
Creo que es hora de encender el aire acondicionado.I think it's time to switch on the air conditioning.
2. (to illuminate)
a. to light
Ella encendió una vela para que pudiera ver dónde caminaba.She lit a candle so that she could see where she was walking.
b. to ignite
Una vez que enciendas la llama, añade leña para aumentar el fuego.Once you ignite the flame, add kindling to build the fire.
A pronominal verb always uses a reflexive pronoun. (e.g. Te ves cansado.).
3. (to ignite)
a. to turn on
Las luces se encienden cuando sienten movimiento en el cuarto. The lights turn on when they sense movement in the room.
b. to light
Se encienden las linternas antes de cada servicio. The lamps are lit before every service.
A reflexive verb is a verb that indicates that the subject performs an action on itself (e.g. Miguel se lava.).
4. (to get red)
a. to blush
Mi hermano se encendió cuando ella le dio su número. My brother totally blushed when she gave him her number.
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A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
1. (to apprehend)
a. to catch
La policía prendió al sospechoso mientras huía de la escena del crimen.The police caught the suspect running away from the crime scene.
b. to arrest
La policía lo prendió por el robo del banco.The police arrested him for the bank robbery.
c. to capture
La FBI prendió a los delincuentes mientras intentaban abordar un buque.The FBI captured the criminals while they were trying to board a ship.
2. (to ignite)
a. to light
Puedes prender el carbón con un fósforo.You can light the charcoal with a match.
3. (to activate)
Regionalism used in Latin America: all the countries in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Does not include Spain.
(Latin America)
a. to turn on
¿No quieres prender la luz para poder leer mejor?Don't you want to turn on the light so you can read better?
b. to switch on
Hace mucho calor. - Prende el aire acondicionado.It's really hot. - Switch on the air conditioning.
4. (to put on)
a. to attach
Diego prendió un ramillete al vestido de su novia.Diego attached a corsage to his girlfriend's dress.
b. to pin
Mike prendió una rosa a su solapa antes de la boda de su hermano.Mike pinned a rose to his lapel before his brother's wedding.
c. to fasten
Anita prendió una flor a su vestido y se fue a la fiesta.Anita fastened a flower to her dress and left for the party.
An intransitive verb is one that does not require a direct object (e.g. The man sneezed.).
5. (botany)
a. to take root
Las semillas prendieron fácilmente en la tierra fértil de la granja.The seeds took root easily in the farm's fertile soil.
6. (to become popular)
a. to catch on
Nuevos avances en la tecnología prenden rápidamente.New advances in technology catch on quickly.
7. (to receive)
a. to take
Él recibió la vacuna contra la gripa, pero no prendió y se enfermo de igual manera.He got the flu vaccine, but it didn't take and he got sick anyway.
A pronominal verb always uses a reflexive pronoun. (e.g. Te ves cansado.).
8. (to burn)
a. to catch fire
El sofá estaba demasiado cerca de la chimenea y se prendió.The sofa was too close to the fireplace and caught fire.
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