The verb ocupar has a few basic meanings. One is familiar but the others may not be.
Like many cognates, ocupar is not as formal in Spanish as its counterpart is in English. In English, we could say I’m occupied right now but in everyday situations we usually say I’m busy. In Spanish, Estoy ocupado is perfectly neutral and is certainly appropriate for informal situations.
Talachas, repairs, Mexico City
We also use ocupado for the idea of ‘inhabiting a space’. When you’re in the bathroom and someone knocks to get in, just reply ¡Ocupado!, meaning ‘someone is using the bathroom’ right now (and that someone is you). Note that ocupado modifies that bathroom, not the person saying it. Both women and men would answer with ocupado.
In Mexico, ocupar often means ‘use’ in situations where the English sense of ‘occupy’ doesn’ quite fit.
- ¿Ocupas salsa? Do you normally put salsa on your food? (An offer to give me salsa)
- No es muy ocupado. It’s not used very frequently.
Desocupar means ‘become unbusy’.
- ¿A qué hora te desocupas? What time do you get off? When will you be done doing what you’re doing?
- Cuando se desocupe. When he’s done doing whatever he’s doing now and is available.
Desocupar also works for ‘vacate a space’, for example, checking out of a hotel.
Recall that preocupar means ‘worried’.
- No te preocupes. Don’t worry.
- Estoy preocupado por ti. I’m worried about you.
To identify what you’re worried about, use the preposition por. The expression preocuparse que takes the subjunctive.
As you can see from these examples, preocupar is not generally a good translation for ‘preoccupied’, which is closer to the idea of ‘distracted’, distraído.