No es conveniente

This recent quote by a Mexican official is a reminder that the Spanish adjective conveniente does not always equate well with the English idea of ‘convenient’. Here the official is quoted as saying “It’s not very convenient for foreign officials [to comment]”, which can sound to English speakers like “commenting would require effort we don’t want to expend,” where what the speaker surely meant is “commenting would not be in our best interest”.

To get a handle on conveniente in Spanish, keep in mind that it derives from the verb convenir, be in one’s interest. No te conviene. It’s not in your interest to do that. No es conveniente means ‘it is not a good idea’. English convenient can express this idea as well, but more frequently it focuses on how easy or well-timed something is. Compare conveniente and convenient in these examples:

  • No es conveniente hablar de ese tema. It’s a bad idea to talk about that. It could hurt you to do so.
  • It’s not a convenient moment to talk. I’m busy right now.

As you can see from these examples, in Spanish, conveniente can focus not only on an action or situation but on its the effect, whereas in English, convenient seems to focus more exclusively on the action or a situation itself.

So when you hear conveniente, don’t assume the speaker is talking about how easy or well-timed something is. Chances are they are referring to an action that is in someone’s best interest, irrespective of ease or timing.

Neighborhood sign, Mexico City

Neighborhood sign, Mexico City

Por tu bien

The related expression por tu bien means ‘for your own good’. Use it when talking about an action, wanted or unwanted, that is undertaken to benefit someone else. Por el bien de la empresa. For the good of the company. Literally, the well-being.