The basic meaning of the verbs aplastar and aplanar is "to flatten." You will hear many Spanish speakers using these as synonyms, though aplastar is way more common. There's a subtle difference, however, between these two verbs, since aplastar may imply a more drastic action and is sometimes better translated as "to crush," while aplanar involves a more controlled and careful activity. So, for example, you want to say aplasté a la cucaracha (I crushed the cockroach) rather than aplané a la cucaracha (I flattened the cockroach), right? In a similar (but less icky) way, our friend Meli prefers to use aplanar when giving instructions for her crafty projects:
Y aplanas para que quede uniforme.
And you flatten it so that it's even.
Caption 25, Manos a la obra - Postres de MinecraftPlay Caption
The following example is enlightening, for it shows how aplastar may be okay for smashed potatoes but not for picatostes (croutons):
Cuando le das con el cuchillo se aplasta.
When you stick it with the knife, it flattens out.
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As we mentioned before, aplastar is more frequently used than aplanar, especially when used figuratively, and so you can find several videos using aplastar in our catalog. Here's one example:
...y no dejándose aplastar por el poder del día.
...and not letting the power of the day crush you.
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But there's a third verb that is close to aplastar and aplanar. It's a funny-sounding word (and one with a very polemic etymology by the way: here's a good article about it) that's perfect for crushing gooey, crunchy bugs because its sound is actually reminiscent of squeezing/smashing. We are talking about the verb apachurrar (to smash, to crush). A purist would say that Meli is not being extremely precise with language by using apachurrar in the context of making crafts:
Ya que tenemos una esferita como ésta, la vamos a apachurrar.
Now that we have a little sphere like this one, we are going to press it down.
Captions 41-42, Manos a la obra - Borradores y marcatextosPlay Caption
You can see that she actually pressed down the little sphere quite gently, so maybe using aplanar or even aplastar would have been more accurate to describe what she is doing. But hey, who wouldn’t want to say apachurrar when you have mastered rolling your R's as nicely as she has!
You may have noticed that all three verbs, aplanar, aplastar, and apachurrar, start with the prefix a-. This is because they belong to a group of Spanish verbs (verbos parasintéticos) that are created by adding the prefix a- or en- to nominal or adjectival forms. Some common examples are enamorar ("to fall in love" or "to inspire love"), apasionar (to be passionate about), encarcelar (to incarcerate) and atemorizar (to frighten). One verb in this group is alisar (to make smooth or straight), which has some resemblance in meaning to the verbs aplanar, aplastar, and apachurrar:
Además me acabo de... de alisar el cabello.
Besides I just finished... straightening my hair.
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This is the end of this lesson. But ¡no te apachurres, no te aplanes, no te aplastes! ("Don't get depressed," get it?) We have many more lessons on the site!