Multiple Meanings of aportación

In the terminology of business organizations (Derecho societario), a partner or member’s contributions to partnership or company assets are known as aportaciones, which may include aportaciones dinerarias (“cash contributions”), aportaciones no dinerarias (“non-cash contributions”) or aportaciones en especie (“contributions in kind”), also known as aportaciones in natura. Likewise, aportaciones al capital are “capital contributions,” while the expression aportaciones pendientes often denotes “uncalled share capital.” Aportación has the same meaning in the context of social security law (Derecho de la Seguridad Social): aportaciones sociales (“social security contributions”); aportaciones al plan de pensiones (“pension plan contributions”), etc.

But in the context of procedural law (Derecho procesal) and with respect to the rules of evidence (normas probatorias; normas sobre la prueba), aportación is “production,” as in aportación de prueba (“production of evidence”). Thus, for example, here the expression carga de la aportación refers to a party’s duty to present sufficient evidence in support of a fact or issue asserted at trial. In English this is known as the “burden of production,” and is also often termed “burden of going forward with the evidence.”

Multiple Meanings of letrado

Because letrado has at least three different meanings in Spanish legal usage, this term is sometimes a source of confusion and translation mistakes. Letrado is most often simply a synonym for abogado (“lawyer,” “attorney,” “counsel”) and derecho a la asistencia letrada is the “right to counsel,” while letrado de oficio is “assigned (or) appointed counsel,” sometimes referred to as a “legal aid lawyer.” In England and Wales the preferred term in this context is “duty solicitor,” while in Canada “duty counsel” is used.

Secondly, letrado may also denote a lawyer who “clerks” for a judge, conducting legal research and drafting initial opinions. This is the case, for example, of the Letrados del Tribunal Constitucional and Letrados del Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea, who may be described respectively as “legal counsel” (or “law clerks, “judicial clerks” or “judicial assistants”) to the (Spanish) Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. And in a third meaning, Letrados de las Cortes Generales refers to lawyers who provide legal services to the Spanish Parliament and, as such, may perhaps be described as “parliamentary counsel” or “legal counsel/legal advisors to Parliament.”

Multiple Meanings of cuota

Cuota has no simple correspondence in English and often can’t be translated simply as “quota.” The term may denote “membership fees” or “dues” as in cuota de afiliación or cuota de socio (“membership fee”) or cuota sindical (“union dues”). In the context of social security law, cuota de cotización a la seguridad social is “social security contribution,” and refers either to a worker’s social security contribution (cuota personal) or an employer’s social security contribution (cuota patronal/empresarial). In criminal law contexts, in a day fine system (sistema de días-multa), cuota diaria is a “day-fine unit,” while in the context of tax law cuota often refers generically to “taxes due” as in cuota tributaria, cuota del gravamen or cuota del impuesto. Thus, in Spain deducciones en la cuota are “tax credits” and cuota a devolver denotes “tax refund.” When referring to a lawyer’s contingency fee, the expression is cuota litis, and pacto de cuota litis is a “contingency fee agreement” (or a “no win, no fee agreement”). And the expression cuota de mercado is simply “market share.” Finally, in many expressions cuota may certainly be translated directly as “quota” as in cuota de producción (“production quota”) and cuota de importaciones (“import quota”).

Multiple Meanings: pago al contado

When pago al contado refers to pago en dinero contante, it may be appropriately  translated as “cash payment” or “payment in cash.” But often the expression actually denotes making “immediate payment,” as opposed to pago a plazos (“payment in installments”). Thus, in this context a pago al contado can be made in cash (en efectivo), by credit or debit card (con tarjeta de crédito o débito) or by bank transfer (por transferencia bancaria). As an example, in my work as a freelance translator, when billing my clients my invoices show “contado” as my payment terms. Rather than expecting payment in cash, this denotes my preference for immediate payment, something that I may not get but, hey, as they say, “wishing is free.” In other respects, “payment in cash” may be rendered as pago en efectivo, pago en numerario or pago en metálico.


Multiple Meanings of desistimiento

Although desistimiento generically denotes “withdrawal” or “abandonment,” the appropriate translation of the term depends on the area of legal practice in which it is used. In criminal law, in the context of defining “criminal attempt” (tentativa de delito), desistimiento de la tentativa refers to a criminal perpetrator’s voluntary abandonment of or withdrawal from a crime before it is consummated (desistimiento voluntario antes de consumar el delito). In English this is often formally called “renunciation of criminal purpose.”

In contract law desistimiento de contrato likewise denotes the voluntary, often unilateral withdrawal from a contract (desistimiento unilateral), and in English this may be expressed as a “unilateral cancellation (or) termination of contract.” Likewise, the right to withdraw from or to unilaterally terminate a contract and cancel a purchase (called derecho de desistimiento) is a feature of Spanish consumer protection legislation (Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2007, por el que se aprueba el texto refundido de la Ley General para la defensa de los consumidores y usuarios).

In other contexts, desistimiento (del demandante) is likewise used in civil procedure to denote the plaintiff’s abandonment of a proceeding before a trial of the issues, which does not preclude future prosecution of the claim (declaración unilateral del actor por la que tiene por abandonado el proceso, sin que ello suponga renuncia a la acción). In many US jurisdictions this “abandonment of suit” is known as a “voluntary dismissal” of the action or claim.

For the difference between desistimiento and renuncia in civil proceedings see:

Multiple Meanings of “undertaking”

undertaking; to undertake

In the language of contracts “undertaking” denotes a “promise” or “pledge,” and is most often expressed in Spanish as compromiso. In its verb form, “to undertake (to do something)” is comprometerse (a hacer algo). Thus, for example, in an employment contract there may be a “confidentiality undertaking” (compromiso [or] acuerdo de confidencialidad) in which “Employee undertakes not to disclose Employer’s confidential information” (el Empleado se compromete a no divulgar la información confidencial del Empleador).

But in the language of EU competition law “undertaking” has a very different meaning, being a generic term for “business entity” that encompasses all types of enterprises without reference to any specific corporate form. In this context “undertaking” refers to any entity engaged in economic activity that offers goods or services in a given market, regardless of its legal status. In Spanish this generic term “undertaking” is rendered simply as empresa. Thus the EU competition rules set forth in Article 101 (3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Tratado de Funcionamiento de la Unión Europea) prohibit activities in restraint of trade including “all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices.” In the Spanish version of the Treaty this is expressed as todos los acuerdos entre empresas, las decisiones de asociaciones de empresas y las practicas concertadas.”

And, ¡ojo! Although in this context “undertaking” is empresa, in modern usage “undertaker” cannot be rendered as empresario, as the term has sometimes been mistranslated. Indeed, since the late 1600s (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary), the term “undertaker” denotes “a person whose profession is the preparation of the dead for burial or cremation and the management of funerals; funeral director” (Collins English Dictionary). Thus, “undertaker” may be more properly described as director de servicios funerarios (or with a similar expression) and is definitely not a generic term for empresario.

Multiple Meanings of competencia

Competencia can’t always be translated as “competence”

There are several legal contexts in which competencia does not mean “competence.” In the context of constitutional law and with respect to the legal system in general, competencia often has the meaning of “power,” as in competencia tributaria (“taxing powers,”) competencia legislativa (“legislative powers,”) or “competencia ejecutiva” (“executive powers” or “powers of the executive”). In that regard, an expression such as ámbito de competencias (or ámbito competencial) de las Comunidades Autónimas en materia sanitaria denotes the “scope of the Autonomous Communities’ powers in the healthcare sector.” Likewise, atribuir competencias is to “grant powers, while transferencia (or) traspaso de competencias (ejecutivas o legislativas) is “transfer of (executive or legislative) powers.”

In the context of procedural law, competencia often denotes “jurisdiction,” i.e., the power of a court (or other adjudicating body) to rule on given case. This is the meaning in expressions such as competencia por razón de la materia (“subject-matter jurisdiction”); competencia por razón de la persona (“personal jurisdiction” or “in personam jurisdiction) and competencia por razón de la cuantía del litigio (“jurisdiction based on the amount in controversy (or) the jurisdictional amount”). Competencia territorial is “territorial jurisdiction,” referring to the “forum” or “venue,” i.e., the court in which a case is heard. And competencia funcional (although often translated narrowly as “appellate jurisdiction”) actually determines which court has jurisdiction over each stage in a given proceeding, including the hearing of interlocutory motions, appeals and enforcement proceedings (incidentes, recursos y ejecución de sentencias). In addition, in this sense expressions such as conflicto de competencias, cuestión de competencia (as well as conflicto de jurisdicción) may perhaps be described generically as “jurisdictional disputes.”

In this context the adjective competente means “having jurisdiction.” This is the meaning in expressions such as tribunal competente (“court of competent jurisdiction”), tribunal competente en primera instancia (“court of original jurisdiction”), tribunal competente en última instancia (“court of last resort”) or tribunal competente en primera y única instancia (“court of first and last resort”).

In other respects, falta de competencia denotes “lack (or) want of jurisdiction:” se inadmitió el recurso por falta de competencia (“the appeal was deemed inadmissible for lack (or) want of jurisdiction”). And, when warranted, a judge may “decline jurisdiction,” which in Spanish is declararse incompetente.

In the context of “competition law” (Derecho de la competencia) competencia is logically rendered as “competition” rather than “competence.” This is true in a number of standard expressions including falseamiento de la competencia (“distortion of competition”); política de competencia (“competition policy”); competencia destructiva (“cut-throat competition”); competencia excesiva (“excessive competition”); competencia perfecta (“perfect competition”) or competencia desleal (“unfair competition”). And an expression such as practicas restrictivas de la competencia may often be rendered as “practices in restraint of trade.”

And finally, in the context of employment contracts cláusula de no competencia refers to a “non-competition clause,” likewise known as a pacto de no competencia (“covenant not to compete”).