spanish exclamations

12 Spanish Exclamations to Add Dramatic Flair to Your Conversations

One big thing that marks you out as a foreigner? A lack of Spanish exclamations.

Native Spanish speakers always have something to say, don’t they?

It doesn’t matter what’s happening, you can count on Spanish speakers to break uncomfortable silences, express everyone’s appreciation or put into words just about any emotion at all.

If you’re missing a lot of exclamations, you’re missing a core part of the language, no matter how many verbs you can memorizehow well you can describe your own homehow many radio stations you listen to or Spanish tongue-twisters you can say

But how can we language learners avoid sticking out like a sore thumb when in casual speaking situations?

By “kitting ourselves out” with a whole toolbox of Spanish exclamations for any occasion, of course!
 


 
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What? You’re Joking! You’ve Never Heard of Muletillas?!

Muletillas are short, casual phrases. Native Spanish speakers have a whole load of them and they use them for a huge range of different purposes (including as filler words while speaking). When you use muletillas as exclamations you can express the whole range of possible human reactions in just one or two words.

For language learners, getting good at using these exclamations is great because:

  • They make you sound really fluent.
  • They show you’ve understood what’s been said or what’s going on.
  • You don’t have to construct any sentences at all! Whew!

Just toss a few muletillas into the conversation and bang!!—you’ve made a contribution without having to sweat over grammar, vocabulary or anything else.

12 Saucy Spanish Exclamations You Simply Must Know

There are just so many muletillas which are used as exclamations that it’s difficult to narrow it down to a list of any size, but here are 12 which are great for a whole load of uses. As you can see, some muletillas have multiple meanings depending on how and where you use them. Pronunciation and usage are explained when they aren’t straightforward.

A quick disclaimer: I learned Spanish in central Spain, so these may or may not be used as exclamations in all Spanish-speaking parts of the world. We’re in the realm of slang here, so muletillas can be quite local. Look out for ones which are most used in your area of the world.

1. ¡Por favor!

As beginner Spanish learners, we were taught that por favor means “please.” It does, but it also can be used as an exclamation to express anger, pleading or exasperation depending on how you pronounce it.

How to Say It and When to Use It:

A short, sharp “¡Por favor!” with the stress on the or sound is like “For goodness sake!” when you’re exasperated and telling someone off.

By stretching the or sound you can use it as a pleading or bored appeal for someone to stop what they’re doing and move on, e.g. “Por favoooor…vamos.” (“Pleeease…let’s go.”)

2. ¡Dios! / ¡Dios mío!

Yes, Dios does mean “God,” but Spanish speakers often use it as an expression of amazement or sometimes disgust (if said with a sneer). The exclamations “My God!” or “Oh my God!” in English are sometimes used the same way as “¡Dios mío!”

How to Say It and When to Use It:

When Dios is used alone, the stress is on the o sound, i.e. “¡Dios! You can also stretch the or s sounds when using this muletilla to express shock, disgust or exasperation, e.g. Dioosssss…¡es una matanza! (“God….it’s a bloodbath!”)

Dios mío is usually said with the stress mostly on the mío. The í sound can be stretched to express exasperation, e.g. “¡Dios mííío! ¡Qué desordenado que eres!” (“My God! You’re so disorganized!”)

3. ¡Qué susto!

“¡Qué susto!” is used to mean “What a surprise!” It’s used to express shock, both to show when you’re shocked yourself and also to show you understand when someone is telling you about a fright they experienced themselves.

For non-native speakers, it can sometimes feel a bit strange saying “What a surprise!” or “What a scare!” out loud, possibly because it sounds insincere in English. However, certain native Spanish speakers use this quite often.

4. ¡Venga!

Venga is one of my favorite muletillas. It literally means “(you) come,” but it’s used in the same way as the English exclamation “come on!”

It’s one of the muletillas where pronunciation and body language can change the meaning from an order to exasperation or to an expression of disbelief.

How to Say It and When to Use It:

A short “¡Venga!” is used as an order, if said strongly. If said softly, it’s more of a suggestion to leave a place or move on to the next thing.

By stretching the final a sound into “¡Vengaaaaa!” you can express exasperation, e.g. when someone’s taking a long time to leave a party (which is often the case in Spain), e.g. “Vengaaa, tío. Vamos a perder el tren.” (“Come on, dude. We’re going to miss the train.”)

Depending on how you say it, stretching the e sound (“Veeenga!”) can also be used to express exasperation, or also express that you think that the other person is talking nonsense, e.g. “Veeenga, no lo creo.” (“Yeah right, I don’t believe it.”)

5. Cállate (hombre)

“¡Cállate!” means “shut up!” and so should be used sparingly. However, it doesn’t always have to be so forceful.

The addition of hombre (man/dude) allows you to use it more softly, kind of how we’ll laughingly say “shut up!” to express disbelief in conversational English.

Also, like “¡Veeenga!” you can use it to mean “bullshit.”

How to Say It and When to Use It:

A short, sharp “¡Cállate!” is a forceful way of using this muletilla to mean “Shut up!”

Stretching the á sound can either make it more forceful (if said louder) or softer (if said at a conversational level).

The most friendly way of using it is to stretch the á and o sounds in a friendly voice: “Cáááállate, hoooombre, por favor!” to mean something like “Please, man, just be quiet.”

Stretching the final e sound, with the stress on the lla, can be done to say “Bullsh*t!” when someone is talking nonsense, e.g. “Cállateee…¡qué tontería!” (“Shut up…what nonsense!”)

6. ¡Ay!

This muletilla is like a verbal sigh or gasp. It’s usually friendly and cariñoso (affectionate), though it can also be used to express disgust or surprise.

How to Say It and When to Use It:

A soft “¡Ayyy!” (stretching the “y” sound) can be used as an affectionate noise, for example, when a child falls and hurts themselves, e.g. “Ayyy…pobrecito” (poor little thing).

To express disgust (in the sense, for example, when someone’s telling you something unpleasant you don’t want to hear) the y sound is also stretched but more forcefully, e.g. “¡Ayyyyy!… ¡No me digas eso!” (Don’t tell me that!).

A shorter, sharp “¡Ay!” can be used to show surprise, especially if you pair it with muletilla #3, as in “¡Ay! ¡Qué susto!” (“Woah! What a shock!”)

7. ¡Porque no!

If you have young, bilingual children (or a badly behaved partner), this is a exclamation you might use very often in Spanish when being asked “Why?”

“¡Porque no!” means “Just no!”

How to Say It:

When you’re barking this as an order, there’s a heavy stress on the word no!

However, you don’t have to shout this muletilla for it to be effective. As it expresses a strong “no,” it works well even if you say it quite softly.

8. ¡Fíjate!

The reflexive verb fijarse means to pay attention. So fíjate means “pay attention to this/that.” You simply can use it to draw someone’s attention to something, but as an exclamation it’s also used to express surprise, like “Look at that!”

How to Say It:

The stress of this muletilla is on the  part of the word, i.e. “¡jate!”

9. ¡Joder!

I can’t have a list of Spanish exclamations without at least one palabrota (curse word). Spanish speakers swear a lot. I’ve chosen one of the most common in Spain, joder, which is comparable to an F-bomb. However, in reality you can arm yourself with many more swear words than just this one.

Swearing is a bit more acceptable in Spanish than it is in English, although it depends on the people around you, so listen out to whether other people are cursing to make sure you aren’t going to offend anyone.

How to Say It and When to Use It:

The stress in this exclamation comes strongly in a short, sharp e sound: “¡Joder!

By stretching the o sound into a long “Jooooder” the feeling of the muletilla changes to one of exasperation.

An even stronger feeling of exasperation can be achieved by stretching the e sound into “Jodeeerrrr” and trilling the r sound, as is done in perro (dog) or carro (cart).

10. ¡Oye!

The meaning of “¡Oye!” is a bit like “Hey!” (when it’s used as an exclamation) and can be used pretty much the same way, either to call someone’s attention or objecting to something they have done or said.

How to Say It and When to Use It:

The stress usually falls on the syllable ye, i.e. “¡Oye!”

You can use it to get someone’s attention, for example, when calling to someone you know.

It’s often used when you’re exclaiming an objection, e.g. “¡Oye! ¡¿Qué haces?!” (“Hey! What are you doing?!”)

11. ¡Hala!

This muletilla is pronounced a bit like like Allah (the Islamic god) and in fact originates from the same word. It’s used a bit like “Wow!” and also to hurry someone up, like “Come on!” This is another muletilla which is used all the time by native speakers in Spain, but not very often by non-natives. (Note that Spanish speakers also do say “Wow,” which they spell “Guau”).

How to Say It and When to Use It:

Usually, the final a sound is stretched out into “¡Halaaa!” when the exclamation is used to mean “Wow!”, e.g. “¡Halaaa! ¡Mira qué chula está la luna!” (“Wow! Look how pretty the moon is!”)

When used to hurry someone up, the word is shorter and the stress is usually placed on the first a as “¡Hala!”, e.g. “¡Hala, venga! ¡Pásame la pelota!” (“Come on! Pass me the ball!”)

12. ¡Olé!

This muletilla isn’t used nearly as often as you would think, given its prevalence in the Spanish stereotype. It’s often associated with Flamenco, where people shout it to express that they’re impressed by the dancing and musical skills of the performers. However, it can be exclaimed during any impressive performance. Interestingly, like hala, it’s also derived from the word Allah.

How to Say It and When to Use It:

¡Olé! is nearly always shouted out loudly, with the stress on the é sound. Use it to cheer someone on when they’re performing. People might think it’s funny that you use it, especially as a non-native, but don’t be embarrassed. They’ll love you for your “buen rollo” (loosely translated as “good cheer,” or, if you’re Irish “good crack”).

Go and Find Your Own Muletillas

There are many exclamations in Spanish, and each Spanish-speaking region of the world will have different exclamations that they use most often. I have provided a few good ones, some of which may be specific to central Spain.

Listen out for muletillas and don’t be shy about adding them to your day-to-day use of Spanish.

Native speakers probably won’t even notice that you’re using them, but subconsciously they’ll use them to recognize that you’re a fluent Spanish speaker.


Alex Owen-Hill is a European freelance writer. He writes about science, travel, voice-use, language and any of the hundred other things he’s passionate about. Check out his website at www.AlexOwenHill.co.uk. Any questions? Connect with him on Twitter at @AlexOwenHill and ask away!
 


 

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