There are numerous words that exist in Spanish that don’t have a direct English translation.
That means that if you type them into Google for an English equivalent, chances are you’ll come up with a smattering of different words or sentences strung together to get the idea across.
For some, there’s simply not an easy translation. For others, the words may mean something direct in English (literally) but they mean something completely different when spoken in Spanish (context).
By knowing these unique Spanish words, you’ll be giving your brain tons of new ways to express ideas.
- 34 Unique and Untranslatable Spanish Words You’ve Gotta Know
- Vergüenza Ajena
- Te Quiero
- Dar Un Toque
34 Unique and Untranslatable Spanish Words You’ve Gotta Know
So, now it’s time to expand your vocabulary and expand your mind. Here are some wonderfully unique Spanish words that’ll introduce you to a world of new ideas and expressions.
Some of the first things we teach our children are their colors right? Red, purple, black and so forth.
Have you ever seen a car that isn’t quite gray but it isn’t quite brown either? I have one, actually, and whenever English-speaking people ask me what color my car is I just shrug. When Spanish-speaking people ask me, I’ve got an answer.
Pardo — the color between gray and brown.
I have a friend who looks like he’s twelve even though he’s in his thirties. He doesn’t really have substantial facial hair, can’t grow a beard and has evidently found the fountain of youth.
I think we can all agree that we know someone or have seen someone like this. Maybe you can envision a boy in your middle school who was so proud of that one little whisker on his chin.
Lampiño — Hairless, but more specifically a man who cannot grow facial hair or has very thin facial hair.
It’s interesting that we don’t have this word in the English vocabulary. We have words that come close, but most of them are derogatory.
Manco — A one-armed man.
Apparently the Spanish-speakers of the world are much better at describing people’s physical features. I feel like having a word like this in English would make it much easier to describe pirates.
Tuerto — A one-eyed man.
Have you ever heard of the website People Of Walmart?
If not, you should hop on over there once you’re done reading this post. It’s full of pictures of people who decided to go to Walmart with no shame. Some of them are in pajamas. Most are wearing clothes that are too tight, inappropriate or downright scary.
Or, if that’s not ringing a bell, have you seen the TV show “What Not To Wear?” All episodes feature hidden camera footage of someone walking down the street clearly unaware of how ridiculous or frumpy they look. Of course, you can’t say anything if you see something like this in real life. Instead, you just shake your head.
Vergüenza Ajena — To feel embarrassed for someone even if they don’t feel embarrassed themselves. This is sometimes referred to as “secondhand embarrassment.”
Do you love Tim Burton? Or the sight of blood? Maybe you enjoyed reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe. You have a love for something dark and you aren’t sure why because, let’s be honest, it’s a little creepy or gross.
Morbo — A morbid fascination.
This one doesn’t happen to me very often because my sweet tooth is out of control. On a rare occasion, I’ll take a bite of dark chocolate cake with decadent chocolate frosting and think to myself, “Wow! That’s sweet!” Then a minute or two later I’ll regret that chocolate cake because my head is pulsing from sweetness overload.
Have you ever felt a little nauseated after seeing a couple being overly affectionate with each other, perhaps smothering each other in kisses on the street corner? This verb works for that, too.
Empalagar — When something’s sickening or nauseating because it’s too sweet.
Everyone is waiting for the quincena!
That’s the bi-monthly payment that many employees receive in the Spanish-speaking world: Once on the 15th of the month, and once at the end of the month. It’s almost like saying “a fortnight,” but they use 15 days as a marker instead of 14.
For people awaiting paychecks, that first payment of the month always falls on the 15th. Apparently 15 is more significant in Spanish than in English in general!
Quincena — A period of 15 days.
It’s sometimes argued that this is the most difficult Spanish word to translate into English. Why? In Spanish literature, especially poetry, this word is used very often to describe how a person feels about nature. However, especially in Spain, it can be used to describe an indescribable charm or magic that isn’t limited to nature. You might hear about the duende of flamenco singing, for example.
Duende — The feeling of awe and inspiration had, especially when standing in nature. The overwhelming sense of beauty and magic.
I have two daughters that are under the age of two. Naturally, my house is always a mess. I’m always a day behind and a dollar short.
This is a feeling I’m incredibly familiar with, but there’s no real way to describe it in English. Another time I often felt this way was when I was in college and I had two papers, an exam, a project and twenty pages of reading due the next day. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this so often if I were more organized…
We can also use this verb when we hear a piece of news that dumbfounds us or stuns us, leaving us speechless and/or bothered.
Aturdir — When something overwhelms, bewilders, or stuns you to the point that you’re unable to focus and think straight.
While we’re on the subject of my daughters, my oldest daughter becomes very frantic when I leave her. Whether I’m leaving for work or just leaving the room, oftentimes she’ll panic. Even if her dad is still in the room with her, she’ll stress when I’m not with her.
Enmadrarse — When a child is very attached (emotionally) to their mother.
This summer my husband was shadowing a doctor to learn more about his practice. When people asked how we knew the doctor it became really confusing really fast. If only concuñado were a word in English.
Concuñado — The husband of your spouse’s sister or the husband of your sister-in-law.
Another word about family that would solve a lot of confusing explanations.
My daughter has two sets of grandparents, my parents and my husband’s parents. We can clearly explain the relationship of both sets of grandparents to my daughter, to me and to my husband (mom and dad and the in-laws). But what are they to each other?
Consuegro — The relationship between two sets of in-laws. My parents and my husband’s parents are consuegros.
Have you ever held a mirror in your hand, caught the sun’s glare just right and shined it in your older brother’s eyes? Let’s be honest, who hasn’t?
Resol — The reflection of the sun off of a surface or the glare of the sun.
You’ve been sitting on the porch enjoying the evening. But now the sun has set. The yawns are starting to set in. The evening’s coming to an end and you all decide to go indoors.
Recogerse — To go indoors in the evening once the day is over or to go home to rest or go to bed.
After you go shopping, you’re beyond excited to wear your new clothes for the first time. At least, that’s how I always feel. Sometimes I’ll even wait until I know that I’ll be around a lot of people so I can show off my new digs.
Estrenar — To wear something for the first time or to break something in.
In English we often call this “going out for coffee.” But that’s very limiting to just getting coffee. Merendar widens that idea up quite a bit.
Merendar — Going out to have a snack, coffee, brunch or some other small meal.
While living in Argentina, my family loved to go out to eat at the local restaurants. The atmosphere was incredibly different from any restaurant I’ve been to in the United States.
Once the meal is over in the United States, the waiter usually will bring you the check, you’ll pay immediately and you’ll leave. In many Spanish cultures, it’s very common to stay at the table for hours after the meal is over and just talk over a cup of coffee.
Sobremesa — The conversation that takes place at the dinner table after the meal is over.
Much like sobremesa, puente speaks to the Spanish culture. Now, puente does mean bridge but, in some cases, it’s a very specific (and abstract) bridge that we don’t talk about much in English.
Puente — When Thursday is a holiday and you take off Friday to bridge the holiday to the weekend, or, likewise, when Tuesday is a holiday and you take off Monday to extend your weekend.
Technically this word can be translated directly into English, but it’s a lengthy, wordy phrase. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a single word?
Antier — The day before yesterday.
Antier is a bit antiquated, and anteayer is the more common phrase in modern day.
My neighbor’s mom was in town staying with her for a few days. Overall, the weather was pretty nice and sunny. Then all of a sudden it started snowing. She came downstairs and told her daughter, “There’s a flight leaving in an hour, I’m out of here!”
Friolento — Someone who’s sensitive to the cold. The cold can refer to the weather, drinks or food.
We’ve all had those nights when we’ve tossed and turned and tried to sleep but just couldn’t convince the sandman to stop at our mattress.
Desvelado — Unable to sleep or sleep-deprived.
You’re in a new relationship. You’re really starting to fall for this guy/girl. You like them as more than a friend, but jumping from friend to “I love you” is like trying to jump across a wide lake. If only you had a stepping stone.
Te Quiero — More than “I like you,” but not quite “I love you.”
Usted versus tú is a confusing concept for someone who’s just learning Spanish or for someone who speaks no Spanish at all. We don’t have a formal and an informal speech in English.
Tutear — When you speak to someone in the informal tú form.
While I was living in Argentina, I’d have friends ask me about my nationality. “I’m American,” I’d reply. “North American or South American?” “North American…I’m from the States…” would be my unsure reply to that follow-up question.
If only I’d known that Spanish has a more specific word for this than English does!
Estadounidense — Someone who’s from the United States.
Do you remember Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street”? Bert had that fabulous unibrow which was really a fuzzy line across his puppet face. He didn’t have an entrecejo.
Entrecejo — The space between your eyebrows.
Have you ever seen a car that’s literally being held together by zip ties and duct tape? Or maybe someone has made a cake and it looks awful?
Chapuza — A lousy job, a shabby piece of work. When something’s put together poorly.
Dar Un Toque
This phrase was probably more applicable before texting was so widely used. But it’s still something that I find myself doing when I want someone to call me back and I know they won’t answer my initial call.
Dar Un Toque — Calling someone, letting it ring once, then hanging up so the person knows to call you back.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that in English we haven’t needed this word. It makes sense that, with as much political unrest as there has been in Spanish-speaking countries, there would be a specific Spanish word for someone like Franco.
Golpista — The leader of a military coup.
We all know that person who loves hugs and kisses and affection in general. They may even like to be fussed over. We could be talking about our grandma who loves hugging and kissing us, or our cat who wants your constant attention and petting.
Mimoso — Someone who enjoys being given affection or wants to give affection in the form of physical contact.
Sometimes, the mimosos in our lives enjoy pavonearse.
Pavonearse — Strutting around like a peacock, acting like they own the place.
Everyone does this a million times a day without even realizing it. Tying our shoes. Washing our hands a certain way. Pouring our cereal first then the milk.
Soler — Doing something out of habit, doing something that you’re used to doing.
Maybe if we had a fun word in English like this, children would stop being annoyed when someone else has the same name as them.
Tocayo — Someone who has the same name as you.
This isn’t a concept that’s uncommon in any culture worldwide. However, Spanish has consolidated another wordy English phrase into a single elegant word.
Amigovio(a) — Friend with benefits.
Well, there you have it!
There are even more unique Spanish words not on this list. You’re likely to spot them by listening in on conversations between native speakers or by checking out Spanish content made for and by native speakers.
So if you’d like to learn even more, or practice proper usage of the ones listed here, you should expose yourself to authentic Spanish to see these special words in context.
If there’s no native speaker around to chat with, you can read Spanish books or watch Spanish TV and movies. There are also the videos on the language learning program FluentU which come with interactive subtitles that provide expert-vetted word translations, including for more unique vocabulary.
The more unique Spanish words you know, the higher your chances of properly expressing your thoughts in modern Spanish speech. You may even impress a few native speakers when you use the right Spanish term at the right time!
For example: “Oh your name’s Jessica? My name’s Jessica. We’re totally tocayas.”
Try it out!