spanish-core-vocabulary

Getting to The Core: 110 Spanish Core Vocabulary Words for a Solid Foundation

Did you know that out of the 283,000 words we have in Spanish, we only use around 300?

Seriously!

A normal person uses about 300 words in their daily life, an educated person around 500 and a professional writer about 3,000.

Of course, this does not mean that we do not know other words or that you should not know more than 300 Spanish words.

It means that to be able to have a conversation with a Spanish speaker, you only really need to know a few hundred words.

That sounds easy enough, right?

You may be wondering now why teachers give learners long lists of words to memorize or why you should even bother to learn 20 new Spanish words every day if you only need 300 hundred speak comfortably. Franko, give us the list and go home!

Well… you are looking at it in the wrong way!

A native speaker is able to survive with around 300 words because of something you are going to learn today: core vocabulary.
 


 
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What Is a Core Vocabulary?

Simply put, a language’s core vocabulary is a small list of words that are used very frequently and are able to “adapt themselves” to many different situations.

The frequency and versatility of these words allows us to use them time and time again in many of our sentences every single day of our lives, making them the core foundation of our communication.

Take as an example the word “you.”

Every time you are talking directly to someone, you use the word “you.” That “you” can be your mom one time, your brother the next one and a few seconds later, your best friend. It can be used in many different situations referring to many different people, and that makes it a versatile word that we use very frequently.

That is why “You” is one of the main English core words.

Now let’s take the word “futhark.” Yes, that is an English word. It is the name of an alphabet of runes.

How many times do you think you need to use this word in your daily, normal life? Unless you are a scholar whose research projects revolve around futharks, you most likely will never use this word in your life. For that reason, “futhark” might be a cool word to know, but it is not a part of your core vocabulary.

In short, the more often we use a word, and the more situations it can adapt to, the more important it is to include it as part of our core vocabulary.

If a word is somewhat specialized or used only in certain contexts, it will then belong to the fringe vocabulary of a language, which is what we call non-core vocabulary.

Just so you understand how important core vocabulary is, keep in mind that 95% of the words we use every day are part of our core vocabulary, while only 5% belong to the fringe vocabulary.

That is the reason why we need to learn many words. We have our sweet core vocabulary consisting of around 300 words to let us say a million things, but we need to load a lot of fringe words into our brains just in case we need them to complete the other 5%.

Why a Solid Spanish Core Vocabulary Is Key to Language Learning Success

It would be impossible to learn all the fringe words of a language. Not even native speakers of Spanish know every Spanish word! However, learning core vocabulary is an easy and useful way of increasing your knowledge.

Why? Here are just a few reasons:

Core vocabulary helps you communicate.

A large part of the core vocabulary of any language is comprised of articles, pronouns, prepositions, verbs and adverbs we use every day.

Words like yo (I), (you), a (to), ser (to be) or siempre (always) are part of this group.

By learning this small list of words you will be able to have a conversation about almost anything, especially when you combine them with non-core vocabulary.

It groups words together in a way that is easier to remember.

When you learn a core word, you sometimes find out that you have really learned four!

For example, if you learn the word uno (a, one) together with its siblings (una — a/one, unos — some, unas — some), you have increased your vocabulary by four words in one second.

Group families of words together (like we did below) and make the learning process even easier!

It focuses your learning on the most crucial skills.

By focusing on core vocabulary, you are learning useful information.

Studying different kinds of words is great— The bigger your vocabulary, the better! But if you start by learning the most common words of a language, you will feel that you have accomplished something because you will come across them very often in Spanish books, movies and other authentic media.

It can be discouraging to work hard to memorize lists of vocabulary or phrasal verbs and never find them actually being used. By learning the most common words of a language, you are learning the words native speakers really use, and that will give you a boost of confidence.

It can help you find parallels between Spanish and other languages you know.

Most languages have a lot of core words in common—like personal pronouns and the verb “to be,” for instance. The good news is that English and Spanish have plenty of cognates (words that sound similar and mean similar things).

Thanks to this, a lot of the Spanish core vocabulary words may look familiar to you. For example: parte — part, gobierno — government, durante — during.

This means that you can save time while acquiring new words, and that is awesome.

There are many more reasons why learning core vocabulary is so easy and useful, but I bet you catch my drift.

How to Study Spanish Core Vocabulary Words

How you study these words is honestly up to you and your preferences, but I recommend you use one or more of the following techniques:

  • Make your own flashcards with the different families of words and add at least one sample sentence. This will give you context, which will make your learning much easier.
  • Use online dictionaries like SpanishDict to get lots of examples sentences for the word you are working on. The more versatile a word is, the more different examples you are going to find. Learning the words in context is a great way to never forget them.
  • Record your own audio lessons! You can record yourself on your phone reading these words and their meanings. You will be practicing your pronunciation and then listen to the recording anywhere you go. Simply delicious!
  • Create your own learning method. If you do not like me giving you instructions on how to learn these words, create your own way of memorizing them! You are the most important person in your language path, and you need to do what suits you best.
  • Use FluentU’s authentic videos (like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks) to hear the words in use by real Spanish speakers.

    The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable. Personalized flashcards, interactive subtitles and adaptive quizzes complete the learning package!

And now, without further ado, here are the top 110 core Spanish vocabulary words!

110 Spanish Core Vocabulary Words for a Solid Foundation

In this post, I have gathered the 110 most common words in the Spanish language and I have divided them into parts of speech and families of words (when possible). These 110 words are are crucial for creating a solid foundation to build your Spanish knowledge on.

Take this post as a “starter pack” then move on to the next 200 words. Once you have learned these words perfectly, check out the list of the 500 most used words in Spanish, ordered by frequency, to continue your learning. Group them thematically like we did in this post and I guarantee you will be impressed with the results.

Each word below has an English translation and many of them have been used in sample sentences.

Get ready to master Spanish core vocabulary and be one step closer to fluency.

Enjoy!

Tiny but Powerful: Spanish Articles

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1. el/la — the (masculine/feminine, singular)

2. los/las — the (masculine or mixed gender/feminine, plural)

Finding the definite articles among the 110 most common Spanish words should come as no surprise. I always recommend that my students learn new words with their appropriate article, so they can remember the gender easier.

Here is a sentence that includes all four of them:

El hombre y la mujer cuidaban de los niños y las niñas. (The man and the woman looked after the boys and the girls.)

3. un/a — a/one (masculine/feminine)

4. unos/as — some (masculine or mixed gender/feminine)

When we deal with unknown things, we use the indefinite articles. They are almost as common as the definite ones and also come high in the top-110 list. The singular forms mean “a” or “one,” while the plural forms mean “some”:

Tengo un hermano y una hermana. (I have a brother and a sister.)

He comprado unos melones y unas sandías. (I have bought some melons and some watermelons.)

He Said, She Said: Spanish Pronouns

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5. uno (one)

6. dos (two)

7. tres (three)

Yes! Numerals can be pronouns! I could have added them to the group of nouns or adjectives, but I wanted you to learn something new. If a numeral is by itself, it is working as a pronoun. Have a look:

Quiero uno en rojo y uno en azul. (I want one in red and one in blue.)

Necesito dos. (I need two of them.)

8. yo — I

9. tú — you (informal, singular)

10. ella — she

11. nosotros/as — we (masculine or mixed gender/feminine)

12. vosotros/as — you (masculine or mixed gender/feminine, plural)

13. ellos/as — they (masculine or mixed gender/feminine)

I bet you were expecting to see Spanish personal pronouns in this list. We use them to refer to people all the time! No wonder they are among the most used words in Spanish:

Yo lavo los platos, haces las camas y ellos riegan las plantas. (I wash the dishes, you make the beds and they water the plants.)

14.  — me

15. ti — you

and ti are two prepositional pronouns (me and you). They are always preceded by a preposition, hence the name:

¿Es esto para ? (Is this for me?)

Sí, es para ti. (Yes, it is or you.)

16. me — myself

17. te — yourself

18. se — himself/herself

19. nos — ourselves

20. os — yourselves

21. se — themselves

The words included in this subgroup are also pronouns. They are part of every reflexive verb, which is why they are called reflexive pronouns:

me ducho (I take a shower)

te duchas (You take a shower)

se ducha (He/She takes a shower)

nos duchamos (We take a shower)

os ducháis (You take a shower)

se duchan (They take a shower)

22. lo/a — it (masculine/feminine), him/her

23. le/les — him or her/them

Lo and la are singular direct object pronouns. Le and les are indirect object pronouns:

Quiero el libro. Lo quiero. (I want the book. I want it.)

Les digo la verdad. Se la digo. (I tell them the truth. I tell it to them.)

24. este/a/os/as — this/these

25. ese/a/os/as — that/those

26. aquel/lla/llos/llas — that/those over there

To keep the translations from stretching for lines, the words above and all that follow correspond to the following genders and numbers: masculine/feminine singular/masculine or mixed gender plural/feminine plural.

Just remember, usually words ending in -a/-as are feminine while -o/-os are masculine. (This is not always true, but it is a good rule of thumb if you are just starting out!)

Demonstratives like the ones above can be adjectives or pronouns (you will notice a lot of the words in this list are very flexible when it comes to the part of speech they belong to… That is why they are core words, after all!).

When demonstratives are functioning as pronouns, they act like any other pronoun, (in other words, they replace nouns):

Quiero este. (I want this one.)

Aquel es de María. (That over there is María’s.)

27. todo/a/os/as — all, it all, them all

28. otro/a/os/as — other one, another, others

29. cada uno — each one

30. mismo/a/os/as — the same

There are many other pronouns in Spanish. The words in this group can belong to different categories, but when substituting a noun, they are all obviously pronouns:

Me gustan todos. (I like them all.)

Necesito otro. (I need another one.)

Cada uno de vosotros tiene uno. (Each one of you has one.)

Uso el mismo a diario. (I use the same every day.)

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Spanish Verbs

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31. ser — to be

32. soy — I am

33. eres — you are (singular)

34. es — he/she/it is

35. somos — we are

36. sois — you are (plural)

37. son — they are

38. era — he/she/it was

39. fue — he/she/it was

40 sido — been

One of the two most important Spanish verbs, ser and its forms (especially the present ones) are high up in the list.

Ser is a verb that helps us identify ourselves and the world around us:

Soy un chico español. Soy profesor. (I am a Spanish guy. I am a professor.)

Era muy tarde ya. (It was already very late.)

41. estar — to be

42. estoy — I am

43. estás — you are (singular)

44. está — he/she/it is

45. estamos — we are

46. estáis — you are (plural)

47. están — they are

Estar is the other basic verb no student of Spanish can ignore.

If you do not know it already, this is your chance! Have a look at a couple of examples:

Estoy en casa. (I am at home.)

Estamos muy contentos. (We are very happy.)

48. haber — to be, to have

49. hay — there is/are

50. había — there was/were

51. ha — has

52. han — have (3rd. person plural)

You may not know it yet, but haber has a personality disorder. Sometimes it thinks it is an impersonal verb, and so it only adopts forms like hay or había. Other times it feels like an auxiliary verb and helps main verbs form perfect tenses.

No matter which of the two personalities you like the most, both of them appear in the list, so they are worth remembering:

Hay un niño en el parque. (There is a boy in the park.)

Antonio se ha roto la pierna. (Antonio has broken his leg.)

53. poder/puede — to be able to

54. tener/tiene — to have

55. hacer/hace — to make/be (with weather expressions)

56. decir/dijo — to tell

There are four more verb forms among the top-110 Spanish words. They are all third person singular forms, so I guess Spanish people are not so egotistical after all and talk about other people more than about themselves!

Try to memorize these four verbs anyway, because they are really helpful and are used every day:

Mi hermano puede ir a la fiesta. (My brother can/is allowed to go to the party.)

Juan tiene dos hijos. (Juan has two children.)

Hace mucho calor en verano. (It is very hot during summer.)

Ana me dijo que no quería venir. (Ana told me she did not want to come.)

Person, Place or Thing: Spanish Nouns

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57. vez — time (as in “five times”)

58. parte — part

59. tiempo — time

60. vida — life

61. gobierno — government

62. día — day

63. país — country

It may come as a surprise that there are only seven singular nouns among the top 110 Spanish words. That is because nouns are not really very flexible.

Granted, you can have nouns you use more often than not, but even polysemous nouns have two or three meanings at most.

There are a lot of theories that say that at the beginning of the history of language we did not have words for many objects, so we normally used demonstrative pronouns and pointed at them. Maybe this explains why most of this list is made up of different ways to refer to people and things, and so few nouns.

No matter how little this group is, it is equally important to learn it. Here you have a couple of sentences to help you with that:

Es la primera vez que lo veo tan enfadado. (It is the first time I see him this angry.)

Tenemos una vida muy tranquila. (We have a very calm life.)

64. años — years

Curiously enough, años is the only plural noun in this list. Maybe Spanish speakers are not afraid of asking other people’s age, and because of that, I feel obliged to include the following example:

¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?)

It’s All Relative: Spanish Prepositions

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I have divided prepositions into four groups just to make your learning process easier.

The first subgroup contains very common prepositions present in almost every language’s core vocabulary.

The second group contains the two heavyweights among Spanish prepositions (por and para), the third group contains four prepositions that can refer to both time and space, and the last group contains two less known prepositions.

65. de/del — from

66. en — in/on/at

67. a/al — to

68. con — with

69. sin — without

These are, without a doubt, the most common prepositions in Spanish (together with por and para). Prepositions help us express the relation between nouns or pronouns and other parts of the sentence. In other words, they make our speech more fluent and more precise.

Check out some examples:

Esto es una botella de plástico. (This is a plastic bottle.)

Vamos al colegio. (We go to school.)

El vaso está en la mesa. (The glass in on the table.)

70. por — for (among other meanings)

71. para — for (among other meanings)

Por and para are two of the most common Spanish prepositions, and they normally are the ones that cause the biggest headaches among learners.

Take the time to learn the difference so you do not get confused!

Lo hago por ti. (I do it for you.)

Para mí, no es sincera. (In my opinion, she is not honest.)

72. sobre — around/about

73. entre — between

74. hasta — to/until

75. desde — from/since

These four prepositions can be used, among other things, in order to express time and situate people and objects in space.

Their flexibility makes them perfect examples of multifaceted core words:

Volvió sobre las 8. (He came back around 8.)
El avión vuela sobre la ciudad. (The plane flies over the city.)

Estaré fuera entre las 10 y las 11. (I will be out between 10 and 11.)
La TV está entre la mesa y la silla. (The TV is between the table and the chair.)

Corrió hasta su casa. (He ran to his house.)
El banco está abierto hasta las 8. (The bank is open till 8 p.m.)

Esperó desde las 7 hasta las 9. (He waited from 7 to 9.)
Vengo desde Polonia. (I come from Poland – I am not Polish, my trip started in Poland.)

76. según — according to

77. durante — during/for

Although they are not given much attention by learners, según and durante are actually very common in our daily lives. I highly recommend you add them to your lexicon:

Según él, lloverá mañana. (According to him, it will rain tomorrow.)

He leído 2 libros durante mis vacaciones. (I have read 2 books during my holidays.)

Connecting Thoughts: Spanish Conjunctions

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78. y — and

79. e — and

80. o — or

81. ni — nor

You probably know these four coordinating conjunctions already. They are used in Spanish as often as they are in English and no core vocabulary list is complete without them:

Ana y María vinieron. Pedro e Ilena, no. (Ana and María came. Pedro and Ilena, did not.)

Dame 2 o 3 bolígrafos, por favor. (Give me 2 or 3 pens, please.)

Mi madre ni bebe ni fuma. (My mom neither drinks nor smokes.)

82. pero — but

83. aunque — though, even though, even if

These two conjunctions clearly show our true nature: We like expressing opposition and contrast. Here they are in use:

Está lloviendo, pero no hace frío. (It is raining, but it is not cold.)

Iré aunque no quieras. (I will go even if you don’t want me to.)

84. como — since, because

85. porque — because, for

These two are some of the most commonly used explanatory conjunctions. As their name suggests, they are use in order to give explanations:

Como no estaba cansado, fui a dar un paseo. (Since I was not tired, I went for a walk.)

Llamó porque se había perdido. (He called because he got lost.)

86. si — if

87. cuando — when

Si is a conditional conjunction mainly used in conditional sentences (“if→then”).

Cuando can transform itself into an adverb of time or different types of conjunctions. I have decided to add it here so you can see its conditional meaning:

Si vas al gimnasio, házmelo saber. (If you go to the gym, let me know.)

Cuando es impossible, es impossible. (If it is impossible, it is impossible.)

How Things Are Done: Spanish Adverbs

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88.  — yes

89. no — no

Who doen’t know these two little words? They are the shortest way to answer any Yes/No question in Spanish. I think they do not need any other explanation as to why they are here:

¿Te gusta cocinar? / No (Do you like cooking? Yes, I do / No, I do not.)

90. ya — already

91. ahora — now 

92. siempre — always

93. después — later

Some adverbs help us talk about time, and we talk about time… well, all the time!

Ya he terminado de estudiar. Ahora estoy cocinando y después me ducharé. (I have already finished studying. Now I am cooking and I will take a shower later.)

94. muy — very

95. más — more

96. solo — only, just

97. tan — so

98. menos — less, fewer

Other adverbs help us to talk about quantity. Who needs numbers when we can just give approximations?

Está muy bueno, dame más. (It is very tasty, give me more.)

Solo tengo uno. No puedo tener menos. (I only have one. I can’t have fewer than that.)

99. así — this way, like this, like that

100. también — too

102. bien — well, good, correct

These three words are adverbs of manner, which help us describe how an action is done. All the adverbs that end in -mente (-ly) are also adverbs of manner.

No puedes hacerlo así, no está bien. (You can’t do it like that, it is not correct.)

103. donde — where

There is the only adverb of place we will mention. We like knowing where things are, and it would be difficult to talk about them without using this word:

Siempre viajo donde quiere mi madre. (I always travel where my mum wants.)

Beautiful Words: Spanish Adjectives

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104. gran — great, large

I will be the first to admit I was completely shocked by the super small number of adjectives among this top 110 list. It is true that we do not always need adjectives in order to know what people are talking about, but I was expecting more.

The only descriptive adjective in the list is gran which, unlike grande (big), always precedes the noun:

Eres un gran padre. (You are a great father.)

105. mi/s — my

106. tu/s — your (singular)

107. su/s — his/her

108. nuestro/a/os/as — our

109. vuestro/a/os/as — your (plural)

110. su/s — their

Closing this post we have possessives. Possessive adjectives modify nouns and give us information about the owner of an object or the relationship between two or more people.

Spanish would look very messy without them, so their presence here is justified:

Mis padres y tus padres viven en España, pero sus padres viven en América. (My parents and your parents live in Spain, but her parents live in America.)

 

And that’s all for today, my friends. As you can see, Spanish core vocabulary is of paramount importance.

It includes many different types of words, but we can all agree they are not random at all. Each of these words is used by all of us in our mother languages every single day, so there is no better way to improve our knowledge than by making them the foundation of our learning path.

As I suggested at the beginning, once you master the first 110 words, you can go for the next 100. At the end of the day, the fact remains that Spanish native speakers use the same 300 words every day. This is too beautiful not to give it a try.

Stay curious and happy learning!

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