Por Nick Potter

In  this series we look at real-life examples of the most common mistakes in English by native Spanish lawyers. These and lots more invaluable tips are available in a new e-book/paperback, here: 50 English Tips for Spanish Professionals.

any, either, both

What’s the problem with cualquiera and ambos? There are differences between the two words, of course, but they’re both very simple. Surely nobody would mistranslate either of them?

Question: Which ONE of A – F below is correct? (Warning! There may appear to be two correct answers…)

A Spanish law does not expressly prohibit the payment to Bondholders of any of the two incentive fees described
B Transactions that do not fall into any of the two categories described above
C The audit firm appointed to act as the Independent Expert cannot be the auditor of any of the Parties at that time
D This Agreement may be terminated by either party giving at least three months’ written notice to the other party
E In the event of discrepancy between both versions, the Spanish version shall prevail
F Perhaps the most important difference between both types of auctions is what happens if there are no bidders
  • Before you read the answer, remember:

Some translations of simple words are probably hardwired in your mind, so you don’t think about them; “todo” means “all”, “cualquiera” means “any”, that kind of thing?

Unfortunately, nothing is quite that simple.

Todo can mean “all” as in “all day” (todo el día) but also “everything” as in “to have everything prepared” (tener todo preparado).

Examples where cualquiera would translate as any:

  • This agreement may be terminated by any of the three parties
  • It is valid in any of the countries of the European Union

What do you notice? These examples refer to “any of” three parties or 28 Member States (at the time of writing, UKIP’s efforts notwithstanding).

What about when there are two of something?

In these cases we say either:

  • This agreement may be terminated by either of the parties
  • Either team could have won the match

“Cualquiera” (de las partes) means either when there are two parties; any when there are three or more.

Another mistake is when ambos is mistranslated as “both” when it should be “the two”.

But what’s the difference?

Both is used to refer to two things together.

  • Both teams played well

When we are talking about disagreement or differences between two things, we say “the two”.

  • There wasn’t much difference between the two teams, until Nottingham Forest imploded

However, in Spanish, both “both” and “the two” in the above examples could be translated as ambos.

  • So:

In each of A and B, we are talking about two things. Cualquiera means either, not any:

A Spanish law does not expressly prohibit the payment to Bondholders of any either of the two incentive fees described
B Transactions that do not fall into any either of the two categories described above

Why is C wrong?

It appears correct, but C is the reason it is important to translate cualquiera correctly. Read out of context, “any” means there are three or more parties. But in fact this was taken from an agreement with two parties. Not something you want to create confusion about!

C The audit firm appointed to act as the Independent Expert cannot be the auditor of any either of the Parties at that time

D is the correct sentence. There are two parties.

D This Agreement may be terminated by either party giving at least three months’ written notice to the other party [CORRECT]

E and F are examples of where ambas in Spanish means “the two”, not both.

E In the event of discrepancy between both the two versions, the Spanish version shall prevail
F Perhaps the most important difference between both the two types of auctions is what happens if there are no bidders

Note: Similarly, ninguno de translates as neither when referring to two things and none when referring to more:

  • Neither of the two countries can be considered a mature democracy
  • None of Nottingham Forest’s players appeared to have played football before
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