What’s the difference between soportar and apoyar?

Introduction

The verbs soportar and apoyar are false friends; although they resemble certain English words, they actually have different meanings. Soportar can be translated into English as tolerate or put up with, while apoyar is, confusingly, translated as support. This means that English speakers often confuse these two Spanish verbs.

Example

Dicen que los aviones vuelan como si se apoyaran en el aire. Son vehículos muy pesados capaces de soportar mucha presión.

soportar

The verb soportar has three basic meanings:

  • tolerate;
    Example:
    No soporto los chistes racistas.I don’t tolerate racist jokes.
  • put up with, stand;
    Example:
    No soporto las duchas con agua fría.I can’t stand cold showers.
  • support in the sense of bearing weight.
    Example:
    Las columnas del porche soportan el peso del techo.The columns on the porch support (the weight of) the roof.

Soportar also has a reflexive form: soportarse. It has a reciprocal meaning.

Example:
Mis padres y los vecinos no se soportan.My parents and neighbours can’t stand each other.

apoyar

The verb apoyar can be translated as support in all senses of the word:

    • support in the sense of being in favour of something;
      Examples:
      Los profesores no apoyan el nuevo proyecto de educación.The teachers aren’t in favour of the new education project.
      Más del 80% de los trabajadores apoyan la causa de la huelga.More than 80% of the workers support the strike cause.
    • rest, lean on or be supported by;
      Example:
      El techo del porche está apoyado sobre cuatro columnas.The roof of the porch is supported by four columns.
    • support in the sense of confirming or backing something;
      Example:
      El experimento apoyó la tesis.The experiment supports the thesis.

Apoyar also has a reflexive form: apoyarse. This form expresses the idea of supporting someone or something and can be literal or figurative.

Examples:
Los amigos están para apoyarse los unos a los otros.Friends are there to support one another.
Mi abuelo se apoya en un bastón para caminar.My grandfather supports himself with stick when he walks.