|Think of tirar as throwing the door open|
Photo credit: Palabras por Madrid
By the way, why are we discussing tirar again? Weren’t we going to talk about pull instead of throw? Well, the thing is, tirar also means to pull and is actually the most standard option available. This is what the Spaniards prefer anyway, which is why you’ll see tirar on doors out there. Some Latin Americans also prefer tirar over halar in formal settings. But if a Latin American store uses this verb on its door, it’s not as tirar. Instead, you’ll see tire, its imperative conjugation.
Also remember that when used for pull, tirar is always intransitive, i.e. it doesn’t take an object. In other words, you can’t specify what you’re pulling when you use tirar for pull. However, if you must, there’s a hack: Just add a de. See the following example:
El burro tiraba de la carreta.
The donkey pulled the cart.
Without the de, you wouldn’t be able to tell what the donkey was pulling. Speaking of tirar de, it can also translate into draw (as in, draw a knife, etc.) or shoot. The analogy between drawing and pulling and between drawing and shooting shouldn’t be hard to see.
|Imagine pulling this door that opens a large hall|
Photo credit: Ernesto Guerra
In most of Latin America, halar is your friend. While, like most other verbs halar can also have multiple meanings, to pull is the default. Now, Latin America is big. So it pays to be a tad more specific because not all Latin Americans use this verb. Just remember that halar is understood all over Latin America but only used in parts of it. The Río de la Plata region, i.e. Argentina and Uruguay, tirar de still ejnoys better currency than halar and stores out there say tire on their doors indicating you ought to pull to open them. And that’s despite the otherwise vulgar connotations of tirar in the countries north of Panama.
Memorizing halar is way easier than it feels thanks to its history. The verb derives from French haler, the same source that gives us the English word haul. To haul and to pull are not that different if you think about it, now are they? If history bores you, try some visualization. Imagine a door that opens into a large hall; of course, you have to pull it to open it. This large hall will help you remember halar. See what a little imagination can do for you?
|Push if you want but the door is mighty stubborn!|
Photo credit: Burger King
Phew! So much history lesson for something this trivial. Who cares who turned halar into jalar? All you need to remember is that the throaty version, i.e. jalar, is the preferred term in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, and most of Latin America except Uruguay and Argentina.
Jalar is also preferred by folks in Canary Islands as the old-fashioned alternative to tirar. This usage is also common in south and central Spain. Some parents would correct their kids when they use jalar saying it’s the incorrect version of halar. Purists often see the word in this light. On the other hand, if you use halar in a country like Peru or Mexico where they prefer jalar, you’ll quickly be seen as a snob trying to sound sophisticated!
In countries that prefer this variant, you’ll see jale on the doors instead of hale unless someplace that prefers to sound more formal and uses tire. One curious practice in Colombia is that many people prefer halar when writing but jalar when speaking. Now sure if it’s all over Colombia or just some regions. Also, not sure if any other part of the world follows this practice. Nevertheless, Colombia is perhaps the only jalar-leaning country where you can say halar and not sound pretentious.
Jalar is a rich word and can have a whole range of meanings other than to pull. All of these connotations are worth learning if you have the patience. For example, in Mexico, the word can also be used colloquially to mean to function properly. Some Mexicans also use it to mean to exaggerate or to date. The word is not entirely alien to Spain either where it means to eat. In Mexico again, jalar can sometimes mean to give someone a ride whereas in many parts of Latin America, it can mean to work hard, to fail, to get drunk, to perform, to leave, and even to masturbate! Tell me how you don’t find this verb interesting. Remembering this word is as easy as remembering to pronounce halar with a non-silent h-.
This is all you need to know about this simple-looking verb. And just for the sake of completion, to push is empujar in Spanish. Do you know of any variant to this one like halar has? Do share it with us lesser mortals now!