Just the name brings a Latin American paradise to mind, doesn’t it?
And it should! Uruguay is a situated below the Tropical Zone so while it has four seasons, snow and anything even remotely freezing is unheard of there.
It’s socially appealing (nightlife, anyone?) and visually stunning (oh, those beaches!)—and if that isn’t enough, the cuisine is to die for!
It’s no surprise, then, that Uruguay is a heaven for expats and magnet for travelers. It is, quite honestly, South America’s quiet gem.
It’s also a pretty well-kept secret, so consider this insider scoop a special gift!
Go for the hot springs. Stay for Carnaval in Montevideo.
Whatever your reason for getting that Uruguay stamp in your passport, be sure to talk like a local with these 10 must-have Uruguayan Spanish words and popular local expressions!
Uruguayan Spanish: What You’ll Hear in Uruguay
Although Spanish is the official language of the country, Español uruguayo (Uruguayan Spanish) is slightly different from what most of us learn through mainstream language study.
Uruguayan Spanish is also referred to as Rioplatense Spanish, which is a dialect spoken near the gorgeous Rio de la Plata Basin in Argentina and Uruguay.
There are two distinguishing features of Uruguayan Spanish you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re studying the local lingo or planning to visit:
Uruguayans use the voseo form of verb conjugation rather than the tuteo form. This simply means that vos (you) takes the place of the second person pronoun—instead of tu (you). A few other countries use this conjugation variance, most notably Argentina.
Y and ll are both pronounced harder in comparison to other Spanish-speaking countries, giving them both a distinct “sh” sound. So when you hear them spoken, don’t be surprised! Your ear will become accustomed to the difference.
Of course, there are a few more regional variations in Uruguayan Spanish, most notably some common vocabulary you might not hear anywhere else.
I’ve only been in Uruguay once—and believe me, it’s so beautiful that the place has a spot on my Must-Return-To List—so I pumped a relative for the inside scoop. He was born in Montevideo and still lives in the country. And yes, I’m jealous!
Jealousy aside, he was very helpful, citing an Uruguayan proverb I’d never heard before: “No como un olmo para peras” (“Don’t ask an elm tree for pears”). In other words, to get information about Uruguay, the best thing to do is consult an Uruguayan!
So, I shook the pear tree and down came an awesome list of words and expressions you should acquaint yourself with before flying off to Paradise… um, Uruguay.
Speak Uruguayan Spanish Like a Native with 10 Common Expressions
1. Muy salado (Literally: “Very salty”)
The literal translation of this expression might be all about salt but depending on the context, this expression can mean” tough,” “amazing” or “large.” So, the exact opposite of how an English-speaker might use “salty” as an expression!
It’s one of those great multi-use words that seems to fit almost any situation.
¡El perro rojo es muy salado! (The red dog is very big!)
Ella camina como una bailarina. ¡Muy salada! (She walks like a dancer. Amazing!)
2. Bárbaro (Barbarian)
Barbarians don’t generally get good reputations, but saying “¡Bárbaro!” in Uruguay means you’re in agreement with or in awe of something.
It’s the equivalent to “Great!” and it’s mostly used in Uruguay, though you’ll also hear it in parts of Latin America close to the country like certain provinces of Argentina.
“¿Quieres ir a cenar a ese nuevo restaurante?” (“Do you want to go eat dinner at that new restaurant?”)
“¡Sí! ¡Barbaro!” (“Yes! Great!”)
3. Ta (It is)
Ta comes from está, which means “it is.”
In this case, ta equals the American expression “okay.”
It’s just a general, all-purpose acknowledgement.
“Tu café está muy caliente.” (“Your coffee is very hot.”)
“Ta.” (“It’s okay.”)
4. Nabo (Turnip)
Nabo is a fun word to use as a mild insult that implies stupidity. In other words, you’re saying someone has the brains a turnip (or lack thereof!).
It’s very common and is meant as a light-hearted pseudo-insult, not a mean or offensive one. Even young children use this word in jest!
¿No ves que estás parado en un charco? ¡Nabo! (Don’t you see you’re standing in a puddle? Turnip!)
5. ¡Bo! (Hey!)
There’s no absolute literal translation for this common expression. It’s similar to saying “Hey!” in English but only to the extent that it’s intended to get someone’s attention.
Imagine you’re in a crowded bar and want to get a cerveza (beer). You’ve been waiting for 10 minutes but the bartender hasn’t seen you.
What to do?
Hold up your cash, raise your voice a bit and call, “¡Bo!”
Same thing applies if you see a friend on the street. Waving doesn’t get her attention and you’d really like to speak with her. The best solution? You’ve got it: “¡Bo!”
6. Gurí (Child)
Gurí is a Uruguayan slang term for “child” that comes from the Guarani language, which is spoken by native Paraguayans.
When it’s used in reference to an actual youngster, it’s fine. But when gurí refers to an adult, it’s an insult. And a pretty insulting one, at that! It basically means that the adult is acting childish.
And none of us want to hear we’re acting childish, do we? So while this one seems bland, it actually packs quite a wallop.
“¿Por qué no te disculpas? ¡Compensar!” (“Why don’t you just apologize? Make amends!”)
“Es su culpa. ¡Ella empezó!” (“It’s her fault. She started it!”)
7. Bondi (Bus)
In Uruguay, you won’t be waiting for el autobús (the bus). Instead, you’ll be checking your watch and staring into traffic waiting for el bondi—the slang term for “bus.”
So if you’re looking for directions to the nearest bus stop, remember that very few locals actually say el autobús. Let them know you’re looking for el bondi and you’ll fit right in!
¿Dónde se detiene el bondi? (Where does the bus stop?)
8. Chau (Goodbye)
Chau is derived from the Italian word Ciao, meaning “goodbye.”
The fact that chau is used so widely in Uruguay shows that there was a significant effect on the country by Italian immigrants. Some even go so far as to say Italians helped found Uruguay.
There’s a surprising amount of culture and history behind this small word!
“Me voy a trabajar. ¡Chau!” (I’m going to work. Goodbye!)
9. Re- (Very)
Re- is a prefix used in place of muy (very). When it’s attached to any word, it simply adds the word “very” to whatever it’s attached to.
Sound confusing? An example might help: lindo (pretty) becomes relindo (very pretty). Simple!
Estoy refeliz hoy. (I am very happy today.)
10. -Ito (Small)
The suffix -ito means “small”—and it’s added to anything and everything! It indicates cuteness and likability, and is a part of informal conversation.
This usage isn’t limited to Uruguay but my relative assures me it’s part of day-to-day casual interactions, so it should be included here. He was insistent, so I’m passing it on to you!
Qué lindo perrito. (What a cute little dog.)
Ese es un burrito. (That’s a small burro.)
There are so many reasons for visiting Uruguay it honestly should be on most people’s travel wish-list!
Did you know Uruguay is the birthplace of the tango? ¡Es la verdad! (It’s the truth!) Maybe you can plan a visit to take tango lessons.
Or perhaps you’re just jonesing to see the idyllic vineyards and taste some world-class wine?
Whatever your reason for heading to enchanting Uruguay, learning how to speak Spanish like a local will be a breeze with these 10 must-have Uruguayan Spanish words!
¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)