To Try in Spanish – Tratar vs Probar


In Spanish, tratar and probar mean ‘to try’, as a result, many new and even experienced learners have difficulties applying these words correctly. Although these verbs share the same translation, they refer to different things, therefore, we apply them in different contexts. As a result, many Spanish learners wonder what’s the difference between ‘tratar’ and ‘probar’. 

‘Probar’ means ‘to try’ and it’s a synonym of ‘try on’, ‘taste’ and ‘test’. It is used when talking about trying food, drinks, clothes, or when testing something. ‘Tratar’ refers to an attempt to do a certain activity. In this context, it could be translated as ‘to try to’ or ‘to attempt to’.  

People learning Spanish tend to use ‘tratar’ for all the context mentioned above, as a result, they diminish their command and fluency in Spanish. That’s why the following sections will explain the contexts where you need to use these words as well as the structures you need to follow. You’ll also find some real-life examples that will give you some guidance with using these words in real-world conversations and situations. 

By the end of it, you won’t confuse ‘tratar’ and ‘probar’ anymore.

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What’s the difference between ‘probar’ and ‘tratar’ in Spanish?

Even though both ‘tratar’ and ‘probar’ can be translated as ‘to try’, these Spanish verbs are not synonyms. In fact, these words are applied in their own contexts. So, if you want to avoid making mistakes in your speech, you need to understand how ‘tratar’ and ‘probar’ work. 

We use tratar when we want to express that someone (or ourselves) is attempting to do an activity. Therefore, ‘tratar’ will be translated as ‘to try to’ or ‘to attempt to’. In this context, ‘tratar’ always works with infinitive verbs. 

Linda, trata de llegar más temprano, por favor
Linda, try to arrive earlier, please

Depending on the context, ‘tratar’ can also be used as a synonym of ‘to cure’, ‘to treat’ and ‘to address’. 

Probar also means ‘to try’, but more specifically, it’s used as a synonym for ‘to taste’, ‘try on’ and ‘to test’. We use ‘probar’ when talking about trying food, clothes, drinks or things. In a sentence, ‘probar’ always works with nouns. 

Linda, prueba la sopa a ver si le hace falta sal
Linda, taste the soup to see if it needs salt

Here are some keys points to keep in mind:

Uses & MeaningsTratarProbar
It works with infinitive verbs. YESNO
It is used to express that you or someone else will attempt to do a certain activityYES NO
Works with nounsNOYES
It is used to refer to clothes, food, drinks or any other productNOYES

Now that you have a quick overview of the differences between these verbs, let’s see how and when to apply them. 

When & How to Use ‘Tratar’ in Spanish?

In Spanish, we use ‘tratar’ to express that we or someone else tries to do a certain activity. In this context, ‘tratar’ is translated as ‘try to’ and it’s also a synonym of ‘to attempt to’. Here is the phrase structure you need to use for this context, notice that you can conjugate ‘tratar’ in any tense you need

Tratar de + [infinitive verb]

Traté de llamarte ayer, pero no me contestaste
I tried to call you yesterday, but you didn’t answer

Casi siempre trato de estudiar español en las noches
I almost always try to study Spanish in the night 

Mis amigos siempre tratan de hacer que todos se sientan cómodos
My friends always try to make everybody feel comfortable

¿Tratamos de organizar nuestro viaje o quieres contratar a una agencia?
Should we try to organize our own trip or do you want to hire an agency?

¿Sabes si tu hermana trató de probarse la ropa que le compré?
Do you know if your sister tried to try on the clothes that I bought for her?

Take Note: Even if they sound weird in English, in Spanish, we can build sentences that contain both ‘tratar’ and ‘probar’ since they are two different verbs. 

Additionally, ‘tratar’ can also be used as a response to a question. In this context, it’s important that the activity you’re talking about is clear. Here are some examples:

SpanishEnglish
Tú: ¿Vas a ir a la playa con nosotros el fin de semana?You: Are you going with us to the beach this weekend?
Tu amigo: No sé, voy a tratar. Tengo mucho trabajo. Your friend: I don’t know, I’ll try. I have a lot of work. 

‘Tratar de’ de vs ‘Tratarse de’

Some verbs have different meanings in their reflexive form. For instance, ‘tratar de’ means ‘to try to’ or ‘to attempt to’ while ‘tratarse de’ is translated as ‘to be about’.

Traté de leer este libro, pero está muy aburrido I tried to read this book, but it’s very boring

¿De qué se trata el libro que estás leyendo? What’s the book you’re reading about?

When & How to Use ‘Probar’ in Spanish?

‘Probar’ is another Spanish word for ‘to try’. However, we only use ‘probar’ when referring to trying food, clothes, drinks or things. ‘Probar’ is very close in meaning to verbs like ‘to taste’, ‘to try on’ and ‘to test’. Here are some common contexts when you can use ‘probar’. 

When referring to food, drinks or products

Here is the structure that you need to use when using ‘probar’ to talk about food and drinks. Notice that in this context, ‘probar’ will also be a synonym of ‘to taste’ or ‘to test’ if you’re talking about products. 

Probar + [article/pronoun] + noun

¿Ya probaste la paella que trajo Fátima?
Did you already try the paella that Fatima brought? 

Alex, ¿quieres probar el pastel de carne?
Alex, do you want to try the meatloaf?

Carlos probó mi bebida, pero creo que no le gustó
Carlos tried my drink, but I don’t think he liked it

Este fin de semana vamos a tratar de probar algunos platillos mexicanos
This weekend we’ll try to taste some Mexican dishes

Related Resource: Spanish verbs for the 5 senses 

When talking about clothes and shoes

In Spanish, we also use ‘probar’ as a synonym for ‘to try’ or ‘try on’ when talking about clothes or shoes. However, in this context, ‘probar’ will become ‘probarse’. Here is the phrase structure you need to use as well as some examples:

Probarse + [article/adjective/pronoun] + noun

Señorita, ¿puedo probarme estos zapatos?
Miss, can I try these shoes on?

¿Nos probamos los vestidos que compramos?
Should we try on the dresses that we bought?

Pruébate las camisas que te regaló tu tía a ver si te quedan
Try on the shirts that your aunt gave you to see if they fit

¿Se probaron esos pantalones? Se ven muy chicos
Did you try those pants on? They look too small

Katherin se prueba muchas blusas antes de decidir qué comprar
Katherine tries a lot of blouses before deciding what to buy

Take Note:  Probarse is exclusively used when referring to clothes, shoes or objects that people need to ‘try on’. Although it doesn’t change its meaning, using the reflexive form of ‘probar’ lets speakers know that you’re referring specifically to this context. 

Related Resource: Reflexive verbs in Spanish

Wrapping Up

When learning Spanish, many people tend to use ‘tratar’ all the time since they assume this is the only direct translation of ‘to treat’. However, some contexts will require you to use ‘probar’ instead of ‘tratar’. In this article, we mentioned that these words have other English synonyms. So for instance, ‘tratar’ can be translated either as ‘to try to’ or ‘to attempt to’ while ‘probar’ could also mean ‘to taste’, ‘to test’ and ‘to try on’. 

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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