The verbs jugar and tocar can be confusing for English speakers because of the variety of meanings these verbs have in both languages.

Tocar

These are the meanings of tocar in Spanish:

1. expressing "to touch" literally: to touch something/someone

Soy muy alto y puedo tocar el techo.I'm very tall and I can touch the ceiling.

No puedes tocar la pared; la pintura está fresca todavía.You can't touch the wall; the paint is still fresh.

Alfredo está tocando la pierna de Gema.Alfredo is touching Gema's leg.

2. expressing "to play an instrument"

Mi hermano toca el violín y yo toco la guitarra.My brother plays the violin and I play the guitar.

Nunca he tocado el clarinete.I've never played the clarinet.

As jugar is also used for other meanings of "to play", it's a common mistake to use jugar in this context but it is incorrect.

Do not use "jugar" for playing an instrument:

  • Yo juego el violín.
  • Yo toco el violín.

3.  expressing "to play [a certain type of music]"

 

Mi hermano y sus amigos tienen una banda y tocan pop.My brother and his friends have a band and they play pop.

 

Quiero ir a ese bar. Unos chicos están tocando jazz.I want to go to that bar. Some guys are playing jazz.

4. expressing "to win [a prize, the lottery]"

¿Te ha tocado la loteria?Have you won the lottery?

Nos ha tocado un premio en la tómbola.We won a prize in the tombola.

Note that in this case, we use it with indirect object pronouns (me, te, le...) and the verb agrees with what one wins (similar to the construction of verbs like gustar).

Jugar 

These are the meanings of jugar in Spanish:

1. expressing "to play [a game, a sport]"

Los sábados juego al fútbol y los domingos juego al tenis.On Saturdays, I play football and on Sundays I play tennis.

¿Sabes jugar al póquer?Can you play poker?

Los niños están jugando al escondite en el jardín.The children are playing hide and seek in the garden.

Abuelo, ¿jugamos a las cartas?Grandad, shall we play cards?

Mi abuela prefiere jugar a la petanca.My grandma prefers to play boules.

Remember to always use al/a la/a los/a las with jugar in this context.

These are the most common uses of tocar and jugar. There are also set expressions or phrases using these verbs with specific meanings. Have a look at these lists:

See also Conjugate jugar in El Presente (present tense)

 

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Examples and resources

Los sábados juego al fútbol y los domingos juego al tenis.On Saturdays, I play football and on Sundays I play tennis.
No puedes tocar la pared; la pintura está fresca todavía.You can't touch the wall; the paint is still fresh.
Quiero ir a ese bar. Unos chicos están tocando jazz.I want to go to that bar. Some guys are playing jazz.
¿Te ha tocado la loteria?Have you won the lottery?
Soy muy alto y puedo tocar el techo.I'm very tall and I can touch the ceiling.
Mi abuela prefiere jugar a la petanca.My grandma prefers to play boules.
Nunca he tocado el clarinete.I've never played the clarinet.
¿Sabes jugar al póquer?Can you play poker?
Abuelo, ¿jugamos a las cartas?Grandad, shall we play cards?
Mi hermano toca el violín y yo toco la guitarra.My brother plays the violin and I play the guitar.
Nos ha tocado un premio en la tómbola.We won a prize in the tombola.
Los niños están jugando al escondite en el jardín.The children are playing hide and seek in the garden.
Alfredo está tocando la pierna de Gema.Alfredo is touching Gema's leg.
Mi hermano y sus amigos tienen una banda y tocan pop.My brother and his friends have a band and they play pop.
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