Tricky Translations: Previo/a

I came across this tricky little guy in a recent job. To be fair, this word in normal speech is not so tricky. From the DRAE we get:

(Del lat. praevĭus).

1. adj. Anticipado, que va delante o que sucede primero.

From the María Moliner we get a bit more information on the word:

1 adj. Se aplica a lo que precede y sirve de preparación a algo: ‘Celebró una consulta previa con el director’. Se usa en frases aparentemente redundantes, como ‘tras un examen previo de aptitud…’. – Premiso. – Anterior.

Not too bad, as we should expect; an adjective that describes something that goes before, in front of, or, happens first. We in English have a nice little cognate: Previous.

OK, so here is where I got a bit tripped up. In a contract this little word appeared, seemingly harmlessly in one of the clauses.

“…vigente por el término de duración del contrato más un año contados a partir de la fecha de su expedición previo el cumplimiento de los requisitos de perfeccionamiento.”

On cruise control, my first read-over did not detect any problems. However, like a small fiber of celery that you cannot for the life of you dislodge after eating some good old fashioned ants on a log, a nagging little red flag was stuck in my brain not allowing me to move on to the next sentence. A little thing my professors at Monterey called the BS meter was registering life. Placing “before” for this usage of previo would not make any sense because you can’t start counting one year plus the duration of the contract if the contract is not executed.

A little digging on the forums gave me an adequate answer: that previo in some legal texts (usually Latin American Spanish) can come to mean “subject to”, “providing” or even just simply, “after”. Just the opposite of what your gut tells you. A colleague enlightened me that the previo here carries an implicit conditional “if” and is to be understood as “if previously (something happens)”. I suppose this meaning of previo is aligned with the “…y sirve de preparación de algo” part of the Moliner definition but it’s not crystal clear from that explanation.

Your thoughts?


  1. Nice to see you blog about your work. Can’t you get away with “providing” or “if”? “…if the conditions [of whatever] are met”. How literal does it need to be?

    • I suppose in many cases you can. I actually recast the sentence to reflect a more overall clearness to the clause saying something like, “duration…one year…upon correct execution of the contract” or the like.

  2. M

    “Previo cumplimiento” yo lo entiendo aquí como no sólo en sentido temporal sino en sentido condicional: “con la condición de su previo cumplimiento”, “habiéndose cumplido con anterioridad”.

    • Hola M,

      Gracias por la respuesta. Creo que el sentido condicional que mencionas cabe bien con lo que he dicho sobre “subject to” o “providing”. En estos caso ya hay una condicionalidad innata en la palabra, pero en el caso de “previo” no, por eso me confundió el uso. Claro que el sentido temporal sigue lógicamente porque el cumplimiento de los requisitos precede la ejecución del contrato, así que la temporalidad es innata también.

      ¡Gracias por contribuir!

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