Apenas is an adverb frequently used in the Spanish language, and one that has a multiplicity of meanings and applications.It’s one of those words that require you to use the context to determine which meaning the speaker intends.My Spanish students would often complain about this phenomenon, until I reminded them how context-driven oral English is: just think of how confusing “two”, “too”, and “to” is!So, it is not my intention to confuse or frustrate you, but here are the four main meanings of the fickle yet utterly useful word apenas.
The first translation of apenas is “barely”, “hardly”, “just”, “scarcely”; used in a negative way to express limitation or nearly not doing or having something.My English-Spanish dictionary provides the apt synonym casi no: “almost not”. This seems like a good way to think about it.
Apenas alcancé el autobús. — I barely caught the bus. (I almost didn’t catch it.)
Apenas hay suficiente pizza para todos. —There’s just enough pizza for everyone. (Our supply of pizza is limited, we almost don’t have enough.)
Apenas podía oirte. — I could hardly hear you. (I almost couldn’t hear you.)
The second use of apenas is “just” in the sense of something happening recently. The time period you are referring to could vary in length.
Apenas subí al autobús. — I just got on the bus.
Apenas lo vimos hace una hora. — We just saw him an hour ago.
Similarly, you can use apenas to mean that something has just begun, and is currently in progress, “just” or “just now.”For example:
Apenas están saliendo del trabajo. — They’re just getting out of work.
Ya son las ocho, y apenas estamos comiendo. — It’s already 8 o’clock, and we’re
just now eating.”
The fourth meaning of apenas is “at the same time as” or “just as I (you, he, it, etc)…….something happened.”These constructions involve two actions, separated by y. For example:
Apenas salí de la casa y me llamaste por teléfono — Just as I was leaving my
house, you called me.
Apenas vi a Madonna y me desmayé. — As soon as I saw Madonna, I fainted.