25 Most Confusing Spanish Word Pairs of All Time

When studying Spanish, there are some simple words that can be easily confused. Some of these word pairs sound similar but have very different meanings, while others have similar meanings.

To tackle this challenge, I’ve put together this handy post that covers 25 Spanish confusing word pairs and how to differentiate between them.


Spanish Word Pairs That Sound Similar 

1. Mierda (Excrement) / Miedo (Fear)

Despite their similar pronunciation, it does help that these two words will generally be used in completely different contexts. Try to avoid using mierda in your everyday conversations, as the word can come off as vulgar or rude.

Here are some examples of these words in use:

El niño manchó el pañal de mierda. (The baby stained the diaper with sh*t.)

Esta comida es una mierda. (This food sucks.)

Me dan miedo las películas de Freddy Krueger. (I find Freddy Krueger films scary.)

Solo una cosa vuelve un sueño imposible: el miedo a fracasar. (Only one thing can destroy a dream: the fear of failure.)

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2. Pulpo (Octopus) / Pulpa (Pulp)

pulpo pulpa

I was in Southern Spain in the coastal town of Huelva. I had acquired a decent level of Spanish by that time and I was terribly sick, so I decided to buy some orange juice with pulp from the corner store.

I walked up to the shopkeeper and said, “Señor, busco zumo de naranja que tenga pulpo” (Sir, I’m looking for orange juice that contains octopus). Despite using the subjunctive tense correctly in “que tenga,” I screwed up the noun pretty badly.

He gave me a cheeky smile and responded in typical Andalusian fashion “Bueno, zumo sí tenemos pero tendrás que ir al mar por el pulpo” (Well, we have orange juice, but you’ll have to go to the sea for the octopus).

To avoid a mistake like this, try to remember that octopus starts with o and pulpo ends with o. Look at these example sentences:

Me gusta el pulpo a la parrilla. (I like grilled octopus.)

El pulpo tiene ocho brazos con los cuales nada. (Octopuses have eight legs with which they swim.)

Prefiero el zumo con pulpa. (I prefer orange juice with pulp.)

La pulpa gruesa da un sabor distinto a los zumos.  (Thick pulp adds a particular flavor to juice.)

3.  Agujeros (Holes) / Agujetas  (Sore Muscles)

The Spanish language has a curious way of expressing the feeling of pain following any form of physical activity. In Spain, the word agujetas means soreness, stiffness or muscle pain.

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The word can also mean “shoelaces” in Spain and Mexico and “knitting needles” in several Latin American countries, so watch out for those, too. Check out these examples of these words in use:

Mi bolso tiene agujeros. (There are holes in my bag.)

Hago agujeros en la arena para que salgan burbujas de agua. (I make holes in the sand so that water bubbles pop up.)

Me gusta montar a caballo pero siempre tengo agujetas después. (I like to go horseback riding but I’m always stiff afterwards.)

Es probable que te salgan agujetas si vas al gimnasio después de no haber ido por mucho tiempo. (You’d probably get muscle pain if you go to the gym after not having gone for a while.)

Mi abuela me hace vestidos con su aguja de punto. (My grandmother makes me dresses with her knitting needle.)

4. Pelas (Money) / Pelos  (Hair)

Across the Spanish-speaking world, there are many informal words to say “money.” Plata is common in Latin America, whereas pasta is the equivalent in Spain, but there are also regional variations.

In Madrid, the word pelas is often used for money between friends when casually talking about lending each other some cash. Let’s make sure not to confuse this with pelos (hair), because no one wants to lend or pay with anyone’s hair.

Here are a few examples:

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¿Tienes pelas? (Do you have money?)

¿Me dejas pelas? (Can you lend me some cash?)

No tienes ni un pelo. (You don’t have any hair.)

Los pelos de mis piernas son largos. (My leg hair is long.)

5.  Cocer (to Boil) / Coser  (to Sew)

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This word pair is tricky because depending on the country and region you’re living or traveling in, the verbs cocer (to boil) and coser (to sew) are pronounced exactly the same and both are used in domestic contexts.

In Latin America and some parts of Southern Spain, no sound distinction is made between the letters s and c. This means you have to rely on context to determine which verb someone is using in spoken Spanish. 

Check out these example sentences:

Has cocido demasiado el huevo y se ha hecho muy duro. (You over-boiled the egg and it became too hard.)

Algo se está cociendo en esta oficina. (Something is brewing in this office.)

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Le coso un botón a la bufanda que hago para mi novio. (I’m sewing a button onto the scarf I’m knitting for my boyfriend.)

No te olvides coserlo a mano. (Don’t forget to sew it by hand.)

6. Papá (Dad) / Papa (Potato, Pope)

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This next word pair only differs by where you place the stress of the word. Papá is a casual word for “father,” similar to the word “dad.” 

If we put the stress on the first half of the word (which is what the lack of accent mark tells us to do) and it’s capitalized, we get the Spanish word for the Pope: Papa.

Also, keep in mind that lowercase papa means “potato” in Latin America (patata is “potato” in Spain), and “chips” in Spain.

Here’s that distinction in this pair of example sentences:

El Papa dio un discurso en el Vaticano. (The Pope gave a speech in the Vatican.)

Mi papá es ecuatoriano. (My dad is Ecuadorian.)

        Mi comida favorita son las papas(My favorite food is potatoes.)

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7.  Caro (Expensive) / Carro  (Car)

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If you’re a native English speaker, it’s very important that you learn how to roll your r’s in Spanish. After all, it’s the only difference between this word pair: caro (expensive) and carro (car).

If you’ve never been able to trill your r before, it’s a skill that can be learned. But it uses some tongue muscles that native English speakers don’t usually use, so try these methods to strengthen them.

Here are some examples of these words:

El carro que quiero comprar es negro. (The car I want to buy is black.)

Ese restaurante es muy caro. (That restaurant is very expensive.)

Tu carro es muy caro. (Your car is very expensive.)

8.  Hombro (Shoulder) / Hombre (Man)

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Yes, hombres have hombros, but they’re obviously not similar in any other way. Here are some example sentences:

El hombro me duele bastante. (My shoulder really hurts.)

El hombre de la esquina es guapo. (That guy in the corner is good-looking.)

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Cuando ese hombre tiene mucha hambre, le empieza a doler el hombro. (When that guy is really hungry, his shoulder starts to hurt.)

9. Cabello (Hair) / Caballo  (Horse)

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Once while I was getting ready with a friend for a night on the town in Barcelona, I blurted out “Tienes caballo muy bonito” (You have really nice horse). This was indeed another language blunder.

For this word pair, try to associate the word bello (beautiful) with the second part of cabello (hair) to make sure your vocabulary doesn’t run wild.

Check out these examples:

Mi cabello es liso. (I have straight hair.)

Me gusta montar a caballo. (I like horseback riding.)

Ella se hizo una cola de caballo con el cabello. (She pulled her hair into a ponytail [lit. horse tail].)

10.  Mayor (Older) / Mejor  (Better)

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The word pair is quite different in pronunciation but can be confusing because the two words are both comparative adjectives and could easily be used in the same sentence or context.

The trick here is that mayor (older) will most often be used to describe someone’s age, whereas mejor (better) is used in comparisons with other things and people. Mayor is also the word you’d use to differentiate your older sister, hermana mayor, from your younger sister, hermana menor.

Here are some examples of these words in action:

Se le dan mejor las matemáticas a mi hermano que a mí. (My brother is better at math than I am.)

Mi abuela tiene 95 años, es bastante mayor. (My grandmother is 95 years old, she’s quite old.)

Cuando sea mayor, seré mejor persona. (I’ll be a better person when I’m older.)

Spanish Word Pairs with Similar Meanings

11. Conocer / Saber (To know) 

This verb pair commonly trips up English speakers learning Spanish. Think of saber as “to know (a specific fact or detail).”

¿Sabes a qué hora vas a llegar? (Do you know what time you’ll arrive?)

Conocer, on the other hand, means “to be familiar with.”

No conozco nada de la política de la India. (I don’t know anything about Indian politics.)

Conocer also has a few other useful meanings. Depending on context, it can mean “to meet (a person)” or “to know (a person).”

¿La conoces(Do you know her?)
Sí, la conocí ayer. (Yes, I met her yesterday.)

Finally, to conocer a place means to have visited there.

Llevo mucho tiempo en Alemania, pero no conozco Berlín. (I’ve been in Germany for a long time, but I’ve never been to Berlin.)

12. Ver (To see) / Mirar (To look)

Both of these verbs refer to perceiving something visually. However, there’s a subtle difference in their meanings. It may be helpful to think of mirar as a translation of the English verb “to look” and ver as a translation of “to see.”

Mirar implies actively focusing on something, whereas ver is a more passive verb that implies that you just happened to be looking at something. We also use it to talk about watching TV (ver la tele)

Lucía me miró asombrada. (Lucía looked at me astonished.)

Siempre veo a Jorge en la universidad. (I always see Jorge at university.) 

13. Vez / Hora / Tiempo (Time)

These three words can all be translated to the English word “time,” but they’re by no means interchangeable.

Vez means “time” when talking about a moment or an instance.

He visto esa película mil veces. (I’ve seen that movie a thousand times.)

Use hora to ask about the time of day (and to say “hour”). 

¿Qué hora es? (What time is it? [lit: What hour is it?])

Tiempo refers to a duration of time or to the concept of time more generally.

¿Cuánto tiempo vas a estar en Hawaii? (How much time will you spend in Hawaii?)

Mucho tiempo ha pasado. (A lot of time has passed.)

Of course, to make everything more confusing, tiempo also has a few other meanings: weather, tempo, verb tense or a part of a sporting event.

14. Muro / Pared (Wall)

The difference between muro and pared depends on size and function.

A muro generally refers to a larger wall that has bearing capabilities; the outdoor walls of a house or building, for example, are muros. A stand-alone wall, such as the Berlin Wall, is also a muro (el muro de Berlín, specifically).

A pared is a smaller wall. Generally, walls inside of houses (such as those that separate two rooms) are paredes.

15. Preguntar (To ask) / Pedir (To ask for)

The easiest way to differentiate between these two similar verbs is like this: Are you asking a question? Use preguntar. Are you asking for something? Use pedir, which also means “to order” or “to request.”

That’s why you preguntar a alguien sobre su familia (ask someone about their family) but pedir información (ask for information) or pedir perdón (ask for forgiveness).

And don’t forget about the false friend cuestionar, which is a less-commonly-used verb and loosely translates to “call into question” or “refute.”

16. Estación / Temporada (Season)

Estación refers to the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter. However, to use the word “season” in almost any other context, you must use the word temporada.

Temporada, for example, refers to a season of television, or to fashion or food being “in season” (de temporada). Any time you want to say that it is the “season for” something or the “season of” something, use temporada.

Mi estación preferida es la primavera. (My favorite season is spring.)

Es la temporada de huracanes en Florida. (It’s hurricane season in Florida.)

17. Rincón / Esquina (Corner)

If you’re talking about the corner of an object (a book, a table) or a street corner, use esquina. To talk about an inside corner of a room, or a metaphorical corner, use rincón.

Quedamos en la esquina al lado de tu casa. (Let’s meet on the corner next to your house.)

La silla está en el rincón de la sala. (The seat is in the corner of the living room.)

18. Libre / Gratis (Free)

I remember once hearing a foreign friend in Spain talking about how he loved getting “comida libre” along with his beer at bars. I knew what he meant—free food—but a few of the Spaniards in the group seemed puzzled.

Libre and gratis both translate to the English word “free.” However, libre refers to the state of being free, as in not restricted. Gratis, on the other hand, means free as in not costing any money.

Therefore, you can describe America as un país libre (a free country) or tell someone to siéntete libre (feel free), but “free food” is comida gratis.

19. Mudarse / Moverse (To move)

The difference between the two reflexive verbs mudarse and moverse is very straightforward.

Moverse means to move one’s body.

Las tortugas se mueven lentamente. (Turtles move slowly.)

Mudarse specifically means to change your house.

Me he mudado a España este año. (I moved to Spain this year)

20. Intentar / Probar (To try)

Both of these verbs mean “to try,” but in different situations. Generally, use probar to talk about trying something new, such as a food or an activity you’ve never done. You can also use probarse to talk about trying on clothing, which is why fitting rooms in stores are called probadores.

On the other hand, intentar means “to try” in the sense of attempting to do something. Another way to say this is tratar de

¿Me dejas probar tu sopa? (Will you let me try your soup?)

Voy a intentar llegar a las 8. (I’m going to try to arrive at 8.)

21. Jugar / Tocar (To play)

These two words commonly confuse English speakers. Jugar means “to play,” and you can jugar con tus amigos (play with your friends) or jugar al fútbol (play soccer). But you can’t jugar la guitarra unless you have a very creative imagination.

The correct verb to use when talking about playing musical instruments is tocar, as in tocar el piano (play the piano).

Tocar also means “to touch,” and you can use it with an object pronoun to talk about it being someone’s turn: ¿A quién le toca? (Whose turn is it?)

22. Llevar (To bring) / Traer (To take)

This word pair is the bane of my existence; even though I now fully understand the distinction between the two words, I still mix them up in everyday speech.

In colloquial English, when talking about a group dinner, you could say “I’m going to bring a pie to the dinner,” regardless of your physical location when speaking and the physical location of the party.

In Spanish, this is not the case. If you want to talk about somebody bringing something to the location where you currently are, use traer. For example, while you’re sitting at your table, you could say:

¿Me puedes traer un vaso de agua? (Can you bring me a glass of water?)

However, if you’re talking about bringing something to a location where you’re not currently at, use the verb llevar. In the previous dinner party example, you could say:

Voy a llevar una tarta. (I’m going to bring/take a pie.)

Unless, of course, you’re currently at the location where the dinner party is to be held—in which case you’d use traer: Traje una tarta (I brought a pie).

23. Mantener / Apoyar / Soportar (To support)

These three words are especially tricky because they all have a number of different meanings. However, the meaning that they all have in common is “to support.”

First, apoyar refers to support of a metaphorical or emotional nature. You might apoyar an argument with facts, or apoyar your friend in their latest business venture.

Mi amiga siempre apoya mis decisiones. (My friend always supports my decisions.)

Soportar, on the other hand, means to physically support something, as in supporting the weight of something.

El puente no soportó el peso del camión. (The bridge couldn’t support the weight of the truck.)

Finally, mantener means to support financially, to provide money, food and resources. Mantener means support in the way that parents financially support their children.

Mis padres me mantienen. (My parents [financially] support me.)

24. Divertirse (To have fun) / Pasarlo bien (To have a good time)

This word pair is the odd one out on this list: divertirse and pasarlo bien are actually synonyms. Both mean to have fun or to have a good time. The difference lies in their grammatical structure.

Divertirse is a reflexive verb, so it might be helpful to think of it as similar to the English phrase “to enjoy oneself.”

Nos divertimos mucho en la fiesta. (We enjoyed ourselves at the party.)

Pasarlo bien literally translates to pass it well, but it also means to have fun or enjoy oneself.

Lo hemos pasado muy bien en la fiesta. (We had a really good time at the party.)

Remember that “to have fun” is a phrase that definitely does not translate directly into Spanish. Tener divertido does not make sense in Spanish.

25. Acordarse (To remember) / Recordar (To remind)

Acordarse and recordar can be used almost interchangeably to mean “to remember.” The only difference is the verb form. Acordarse is a reflexive verb and needs to be accompanied by the preposition de. Recordar stands on its own.

No me acuerdo de tu nombre. (I don’t remember your name.)

No recuerdo tu nombre. (I don’t remember your name.)

Although the verbs are interchangeable in this sense, recordar also has a second meaning: to remind. Acordarse doesn’t share this second meaning.

So, you can tell someone, “Recuérdame que tengo que ir al banco” (Remind me that I need to go to the bank) or “Tú me recuerdas a mi hermano” (You remind me of my brother), but you can’t use acordarse in these situations.

My Spanish Slip-Up Story

My first exposure to Spanish was on a solo trip to Costa Rica during the summer of 2009. I was in a crowded bar in a small port town, squished between Ticos (Costa Ricans) of varying sizes.

At one point in the night, I found myself stuck beside a bizarre-looking man who insisted that I try a fried pig’s ear from a small plastic bag he was holding in his left hand. “Toma…está muy rica” (Try it, it’s very delicious).

Finally, I looked down at his plastic bag and noticed the little ears had little hairs sticking out of them. “Qué asco” (yuck) I thought, it was time to let this Tico know that I wasn’t interested in him or his hairy pig ears.

I looked at the man square in the eye with all the confidence in the world and blurted out, “Tengo mierda” (literally: I have sh*t). You can imagine how I felt once I realized what I had said.

The Tico man slowly put the pig’s ear away in his pocket and pointed down the halls towards the bathroom: “Allí… los baños” (The bathrooms are over there).

In case it’s not obvious, what I meant to say was “Tengo miedo” (I’m afraid). Still, I amazingly managed to scare the guy off—perhaps a language success story after all.


Go ahead, make mistakes! When you do, remember that your slip-ups take you to the next scene, and a few steps closer to linguistic and cultural understanding.

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