Arrested Development #26
Context: Because of the heatwave, Michael wants to use his dad’s car (his dad’s in jail). He heard his brother, Gob, had been driving it. So Michael went to confront him!
Michael: I asked you two weeks ago, whether we should use dad’s car, and you said it would be bad form.
Spanish Translation: Te pregunté si se podía usar el auto de papá y dijiste que no.
ISSUE #1: TOTAL RECONSTRUCTION
1) “I asked you two weeks ago” is completely omitted in the Spanish translation. That’s okay. It doesn’t materially affect the idea behind the sentence. Maybe it produces a slightly less vivid image, but it’s inconsequential.
2) “Whether” is a weird word and doesn’t exist in Spanish. But it’s not hard to see (in this context, at least) that “whether” means “if”. And that’s the norm. Usually “whether” can be replaced by “si”. Though there are other ways to say “whether”.
...WHETHER we should...
= IF we should...
= SI se podía...
3) They used “poder” for “should” even though “should” is normally “deber”.
“Deber” was an option here too, and it would’ve been fine. But using “poder” for “should” is quite common. Because when Michael uses “poder” this way (we do the same in English) he’s not questioning if they COULD physically use the car (physically able to use it) or if they knew how to use it. He’s questioning whether it was WISE to use it. Whether they SHOULD use it. It was a moral issue.
In both English and Spanish, “could” often means “should”.
...whether we SHOULD...
= whether we COULD...
= si se PODÍA...
4) “...you said it would be bad form” was reduced to “you said no” -- “dijiste que no”. While some richness was lost in translation, the change doesn’t materially affect the idea behind the sentence.
“Mala forma” would mean “rude” or “bad mood” or “bad physical shape” so it doesn’t really work for this. They could’ve gone with something "de mal gusto” -- “of bad taste” or “in bad taste”. I think that’s more like what “bad form” means in the original English.
ISSUE #2: THE PASSIVE “SE”
“Se podía” here is an example of the passive “se” or the passive voice. “Se podía usar” (passive voice) is like saying “should be used” instead of “we should use” or “should we use”.
We do this in English too, but a lot less! They use the passive voice a lot in Spanish.
And they do it with the pronoun, “se” (se podía usar). We tend to do it with the past participle (should be used).
...whether WE SHOULD USE dad’s car...
= whether dad’s car SHOULD BE USED...
= si SE PODÍA USAR el auto de papá...
ISSUE #3: PRETERITE VS. IMPERFECT
There are three verbs conjugated in the past tense (two in the preterite, one in the imperfect). The two preterite verbs describe WHAT HAPPENED, and the one imperfect verb describes HOW THINGS WERE.
“Pregunté” and “dijiste” are both preterite tense conjugations (of “preguntar” and “decir” respectively).
Because of its nature, “to ask” or “preguntar,” is in the preterite tense more often than the imperfect tense. When you ask a question, you do it, and it’s over. It’s WHAT HAPPENED. “I asked you...” -- “Te pregunté...”
“Decir” is similar. Because of its nature, it tends to be said in the preterite tense more often than the imperfect tense. When you say something to somebody, you do it, and it’s over. It’s WHAT HAPPENED.
I asked you... (what happened)
= Te pregunté... (preterite)
...you said... (what happened)
= dijiste... (preterite)
Then “podía” is an imperfect conjugation of “poder”. The imperfect is used now because “whether we SHOULD” or “whether we COULD” is HOW THINGS WERE, over a period of time. Before the conversation, during the conversation, and after the conversation.
Their moral obligations were their moral obligations (should or shouldn’t). It’s HOW THINGS WERE, when SOMETHING HAPPENED (they “asked” and “said” or “pregunté” and “dijiste”).
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Te pregunté si se podía usar el auto de papá y dijiste que no
= I asked you if it could be used the car of papa and you said that no
= I asked you whether we should use dad’s car and you said no
= I asked you two weeks ago, whether we should use dad’s car, and you said it would be bad form