Uses of the verb “pillar”

Today we to see the different uses of the verb pillar depending on the context. First of all, we have to remember that the verb pillar is normally used in colloquial and informal speech, so we suggest you use it when talking to your friends and colleagues.

As always, the best way to understand the uses and meanings of a verb in Spanish is to consult the RAE dictionary and understand its basic uses, as well as some typical phrases in which it is usually used, which we are going to tell you about here.

Coger: Among the most common meanings of the verb pillar is “coger”. In many cases, one verb can be replaced by another, as in the following popular expressions: “pillar el bus”, “pillar la gripe”, “pillar un poco de comida de casa”, “pillar una borrachera” (the latter expression means “to get drunk”)

As we have said, in all these colloquial phrases what we mean is that we are going to catch something, whether it is a bus, an illness or food. But apart from this first meaning, the verb pillar has others such as:

Comprar: “Me he pillado un coche” (“I’ve bought a car”), “Me he pillado un bocata de jamón” (“I’ve bought a ham sandwich”). In these two expressions we mean that we have bought something.
Entender: “¿Lo pillas? – No lo pillo. ¿Me lo puedes repetir?” (“Do you get it? – I don’t get it, can you repeat it to me?”) In this short dialogue the verb pillar means “to understand”. A very common informal expression.
Aprisionar, trabar: “Me he pillado el dedo con la puerta” (“I have cought my finger in the door”). In this expression the person has had a problem with his finger since he accidently crushed it with the door.
Sorpresa: “Te he pillado” (“I caught you”). “No me lo esperaba y me pilló una tormenta”(“I wasn’t expecting it and I got caught in a storm”). Both sentences indicates that someone has been caught by surprise. The first of these expressions is used a lot when someone is lying and we detect him/her lying. In the second one, the person did not expect it to rain and the rain caught him/her by surprise.
Atropellar: “A Juan le ha pillado un coche mientras cruzaba el paso de cebra”(“Juan was hit by a car while he was crossing the zebra crossing”). In this particular case, poor Juan has been hit by a car. Let’s look at this set of meanings and think about the differences: “He pillado el bus” – “Me ha pillado el autobús”. Do you know the difference between the two expressions? Discuss it with your teacher in the next class!

Now let’s look at some phrases with other, very interesting meanings:

– “¿Has pillado?” Here we are doing something illegal, at least in Spain. The speaker talks about whether the other person has bought drugs.
“Me ha pillado el toro”. A very Spanish expression and very much related to procrastination and leaving everything for tomorrow. It is used when we don’t do something today and we leave it for tomorrow, until it is too late and we don’t have time to finish the task.
“Hoy me pillas de buen humor”. What better way to start the day than in a good mood. This phrase indicates that the person is in a good mood. By using the verb pillar we emphasise that the moment we are interacting with the other person is a particularly good one for us.
“Estoy con las manos en la masa”. When someone is caught red-handed, it indicates that they are busy or that we have caught them doing something we did not expect. In the case of theft, we can also say that we have caught someone red-handed, i.e., committing a crime.
“No quiero pillarme las manos”. You can also say “los dedos” (the fingers). In both cases we indicate that we do not want to get involved in something if we are not sure that it will turn out well.