Hey bro, nice abs. Let’s talk biz.
No, I have not gone crazy! I am just showing examples of apocopation by chopping up some words.
All the words highlighted above and many others you use in your daily life are examples of apocopation.
Yeah, many of the words you use in your everyday conversations are apocopated and you did not even know it!
Apocopation is, as you might have guessed by now, when words have a bit hacked off from the end to form shorter, cooler versions of themselves.
Welcome to Grammar Nerds United! Let’s put some words on the chopping block and explore apocopation in Spanish.
What Is Spanish Apocopation?
Apocopation in English
Simply put, apocopation is the shortening of a word. This can happen because someone is using slang or informal speech, like the Spanish boli — short for bolígrafo (pen), but also for grammatical reasons as you will see in this post.
Almost every language has some form of apocopation, English having hundreds of shortened words people use every single day.
Nowadays, guys do not have abdominal muscles, they have abs.
Women do not wear brassieres, they wear bras.
We offer our congrats, instead of our congratulations.
And the list goes on and on.
Apocopation is part of our language, and we are masters at using it.
But English is way better than Spanish at it. Spanish is actually quite poor when it comes to the amount of shortened words it has. Good news for you, I guess!
Apocopation in Spanish
We are not here to write a dissertation on the types of word shortenings found in Spanish. It is enough for you to know that we can have colloquial shortenings and grammatical ones.
Spanish is a language that loves its grammar rules, so today you are going to learn about 15 magical words that get shortened in very specific scenarios.
As we know already, apocopation is the shortening of a word. More specifically, the word loses its final letter or letters in order to give us a shorter version of itself with either the same meaning or a very similar one.
There are some words in Spanish that get compulsorily shortened. These words, which are included in this post, are not colloquial. Their reason for being shorter is grammatical!
Most of them lose their final -o because they are followed by a masculine noun. You may know already a couple of words that undergo this change:
primero (first) → primer piso (first floor)
alguno (some, any) → algún amigo (some friend, any friend)
Other words do not end in -o but also lose their final letter or letters depending on the word they are followed by or their function in the sentence:
tanto (so, so much) → tan + adjective (so + adjective)
cualquiera (any one [pronoun]) → cualquier + noun (any + noun [determiner])
Whatever the reason, when an apocopation is grammatical, its use is required, not optional.
The list of words you will get to know next are all apocopated for grammatical reasons, so bear in mind all these shortenings will always happen, no matter the context!
Want to learn more? Check out FluentU to hear these words and ones like them in use. It is an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Spanish the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary. And once you see these words in action, you will start to notice them all the time!
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And while you do that, enjoy your ride among 15 awesome Spanish words and their apocopations!
15 Examples of Apocopation in Spanish
If you have ever wondered what apocopation looks like in Spanish, you are lucky!
The following list shows the main 15 words that undergo apocopation as well as why and when you would use them.
1. uno / un
Most of you probably know the word uno (one) from learning the numbers in Spanish.
You probably also know un from learning the Spanish articles.
But has anyone ever told you that un is actually the shortening of uno?
When used in its full form, uno is either a numeral or a pronoun:
Dile que necesito uno. (Tell him I need one.)
Queremos uno de fresa. (We want a strawberry one.)
However, if uno is followed by a masculine singular noun, it gets shortened to un and becomes an article:
Dile que necesito un libro. (Tell him I need a book.)
Queremos un helado de fresa. (We want a strawberry ice-cream.)
2. primero / primer
This is another case of a masculine singular noun stealing an -o from a word. How greedy!
When you learn the ordinal numbers in Spanish, you normally memorize their masculine singular form:
Primero, segundo, tercero, cuarto… (First, second, third, fourth…)
This is one of the instances when you use the whole form.
Also use the whole form when it is preceded by el but not followed by a noun:
Juan no fue el último en llegar, fue el primero. (Juan arrived first.) *Note that in Latin American Spanish this sounds odd, while in Castilian Spanish it is commonly used.
Finally, we use the full form primero when it is a time adverb (with the meaning of “first,” “firstly,” “at first”):
Primero corta la cebolla y luego pela las patatas. (First cut the onions and then peel the potatoes.)
When it comes to primer, use it only when it is followed by a masculine singular noun:
Este es el primer libro que he comprado en mi vida. (This is the first book I have bought in my life.)
3. tercero / tercer
Tercero and tercer are very similar to primero and primer except for the fact that the former refer to the number three.
Tercero is used when you are listing numerals: primero, segundo, tercero…
Also use the full form when it is preceded by el and not followed by a noun:
Juan llegó el tercero. (Juan finished third.)
And finally, when you indicate the third step in a series:
Tercero, añade agua fría. (Third, add some cold water.)
On the other hand, tercer behaves like primer, i.e. it can only be used when followed by a masculine singular noun:
Vivimos en el tercer piso. (We live on the third floor.)
4. ciento / cien
Who would have thought the number cien (one hundred ) is an apocopation of ciento? Crazy!
The number 100 in Spanish is a very special one and there are some specific situations where you use the full form and when you shorten it.
First of all, always shortened ciento to cien when it is followed by a noun, either masculine or feminine:
cien libros (one hundred books)
cien camisas (one hundred shirts)
cien amigos (one hundred friends)
Cien is used to indicate the number 100 exactly:
…noventa y nueve, cien… (…ninety-nine, one hundred…)
You also use the shortened form in front of the words mil (one thousand), millón (a million), billón (trillion—Yes! This is a huge false friend!), etc.
It also appears in the expression cien por cien (completely, totally: Es cien por cien español — He is totally Spanish.)
Ciento, on the other hand, is used for numbers other than mil, millón, billón, etc.:
ciento uno (one hundred and one)
Finally, use ciento for percentages:
veinte por ciento (20%)
5. bueno / buen
Bueno and buen are both adjectives and they both mean “good.”
Bueno follows the noun and can even appear by itself:
Es un padre bueno. (He is a good father.)
Es bueno. (He is good, a good person.)
Buen, on the other hand, always precedes the noun and cannot appear by itself in the sentence:
Es un buen padre. (He is a good father.)
6. malo / mal
The pair malo / mal (bad) works exactly like the pair bueno / buen.
If it follows a noun or appears by itself, use malo:
Es un padre malo. (He is a bad father.)
Es malo. (He is bad, a bad person.)
If it precedes the noun, use mal:
Es un mal padre. (He is a bad father.)
7. grande / gran
This pair seems to behave like the two previous ones, but we have a slight change in meaning this time.
You would use grande only after the noun or by itself and gran only before the noun. However, you now have to think about the meaning of your sentence and decide which one to use.
If you use grande (big), you are talking about size:
Es un hombre grande. (He is a big man.)
If you use gran (great), you are giving your subjective opinion about how great/impressive/magnificent a person or thing is:
Es un gran hombre. (He is a great man.)
8. alguno / algún
The difference between alguno and algún (any) is very easy to learn.
Alguno is a pronoun. This means it substitutes the noun and appears by itself in the sentence:
Dame alguno. (Give me any [one].)
On the other hand, algún is a determiner, which means it always has a noun following it:
Dame algún libro. (Give me any book.)
9. ninguno / ningún
Ninguno and ningún (not any) are the mirror negative images of alguno and algún.
They behave in the same exact way, and the only difference from the previous pair of words is in their meaning and in the fact that ninguno and ningún only appear in negative sentences.
Ninguno is a pronoun so it is always by itself:
No me des ninguno. (Don’t give me any [one].)
Ningún needs a noun following it:
No me des ningún libro. (Don’t give me any book.)
10. santo / san
Santo and san (both meaning “saint”) are a very interesting pair of words.
We use santo when we are talking generally about a saint (not naming him) or in expressions like ser un santo (to be a saint), a santo de qué (why on earth) or se le fue el santo al cielo (he/she completely forgot [lit. “the saint went to heaven”]):
Este libro contiene la vida de muchos santos. (This book contains the lives of a lot of saints.)
Additionally, use Santo when the name of the saint starts with To– or Do–:
Santo Tomás (Saint Thomas)
Santo Domingo (Saint Dominic)
On the other hand, use San with the rest of the names of the saints:
San Miguel (Saint Michael)
San Pablo (Saint Paul)
San Francisco (Saint Francis)
11. cualquiera / cualquier
Here we have another couple of words that change depending on their function and their position in the sentence.
We use cualquiera (anyone, any, any one) when it is a pronoun or it follows the noun:
Cualquiera puede hacerlo. (Anyone can do it.)
Dame un libro cualquiera. (Give me any book.)
We use the short form cualquier (any) when it precedes the noun (either masculine or feminine):
Dame cualquier libro. (Give me any book.)
Cualquier taza me vale. (Any mug will do.)
12. cuánto / cuán
Cuánto and cuán (how much, a lot, so much) are normally used only in questions and exclamations.
Cuánto is followed by a noun or a verb:
¡Cuánto has crecido! (You have grown up a lot!)
¿Cuánto es? (How much is it?)
¡Cuánto dinero! (What a large amount of money!)
Cuán (so) can be followed by adjectives and adverbs except for más (more), peor (worse), mayor (older, bigger) and mejor (better):
¡Cuán contento estoy! (I am so happy!)
¡Cuán rápido corres! (You run so fast!)
However, cuán is excessively formal and it is only used in theater plays, poetry and literature in general. During our everyday conversations, we substitute it for qué:
¡Qué contento estoy! (I am so happy!)
¡Qué rápido corres! (You run so fast!)
13. tanto / tan
Tanto and tan (so, so much, so many, as much as) transform depending on the word they are modifying.
If it modifies a noun or a verb, use the full form:
Tiene tanto dinero que puede comprar una isla. (He has so much money he can buy an island.)
María come tanto como yo. (María eats as much as I do.)
If it modifies an adjective or an adverb, except for más, menos (less), mejor and peor, use the shortened form:
Eres tan alta como Pedro. (You are as tall as Pedro.)
¿Cómo puedes correr tan rápido? (How can you run so fast?)
14. mucho / muy
I bet you did not know muy (very) is the apocopation of mucho (a lot)! This pair of words changes its form depending on its meaning and the word the modify.
Use mucho with nouns and verbs:
Tengo mucho dinero. (I have a lot of money.)
Siempre come mucho. (He always eats a lot.)
Use muy with adjectives and adverbs:
Es un parque muy grande. (It is a very big park.)
Mi hermano escribe muy rápido. (My brother can write very fast.)
15. reciente / recién
The last pair of words is a little bit tricky.
On the one hand, reciente is an adjective and it means “fresh, recent.” On the other hand, recién is an adverb and it means “freshly, newly.”
We use reciente to modify a noun (normally after it!):
Es un hecho reciente. (It’s a recent development.)
La crisis económica reciente está fuera de control. (The recent economic crisis is out of control.)
When it comes to recién, in Spain we normally use it before a past participle:
Recién pintado. (Freshly painted.)
Recién casados. (Newlyweds.)
In Latin America, however, it is very common to see it with other verb forms, with the general meaning of “just, not long ago”:
Recién llegó. (He has just arrived.)
Recién desayuné. (I have just eaten breakfast.)
And that’s all for today, folks!
Spanish apocopation may seem intimidating at first but once you take a closer look, you will discover that it is just the short form of common words you use every day.
Spanish is less flexible than English in the use of apocopation. This post is an example of how you have to bear in mind some rules and exceptions if you want to get it right every time!
Follow the rules and you will add these 15 pairs of words into your everyday conversations in the blink of an eye.
Stay curious and, as always, happy learning!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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