We often find situations we can’t describe accurately in one language, which another language might be perfectly equipped to handle. Maybe you haven’t noticed, so just in case, here are 20 Spanish words that English desperately needs.
It’s very common to sometimes be at a loss for words trying to express something your language simply doesn’t have. Often we have to go through lengthy explanations, killing the mood, or simply live with the inconvenience of having to say multiple words for a sentiment so frequent that we know should have a single succinct term. Spanish, fortunately, has a wealth of vocabulary which most languages would envy, and it has some truly beautiful expressions that are generally near-impossible to translate into English. If you’re trying to improve your linguistic skills, or if you’re merely curious, here are 20 Spanish words that the English language lacks and desperately needs.
This verb is tricky for English-speakers. Spanish distinguishes between ser and estar, both of which would be translated as “to be.” So, estoy molesto and soy molesto would both translate literally as “I am upset,” but there’s a big difference between them in Spanish: the first is “I am angry,” and the second one is more like “I am annoying.” Estar refers to more temporal states, or to rather superficial attributes, whereas ser refers to essential properties or unchanging qualities. For example, Spanish-speakers say estoy molesto, “I am upset (right now)”, and soy bueno, “I am good (always)”—“I am a good person.”
This verb means to use something for the first time. And it can refer to anything whatsoever. It also encompasses several other English verbs such as to premier, or to debut, or to break (something) in.
Estrené vestido means “I wore the dress for the first time,” while estoy estrenando novia would mean something like “I’m debuting a new girlfriend.”
Here’s a particularly useful one. Estadounidense literally means something like “United-statesian,” or “American.” It’s just a succinct, accurate way of referring to someone from the United States. Since America technically refers to the continent, Estadounidense is a far more precise (and politically correct) term than “American.”
Sometimes anteayer, this word refers to “the day before yesterday.” That’s it: one word for what English needs four. Talk about being practical.
It’s so wonderful to have a quick and polite way of greeting or saying goodbye to someone who’s eating (or about to eat). Many are familiar with the French expression bon appétit, which expresses basically the same idea as provecho. However, there’s no single English phrase that conveys the exact same idea. “Have a good meal” or “enjoy your food” do not say quite the same thing.
To say me encanta means something like “I love it,” but that’s merely a vague approximation. I often find it hard to express several feelings in English, especially since the language lacks all nuances between “I like you” and “I love you” that Spanish has. There simply is no translation for me encantas. It’s certainly not “I love you” (te amo), nor “you enchant me,” which would be its more literal translation. It’s used to express fascination for someone or something; but not an intellectual or contemplative fascination. Rather, it’s a far more romantic, intimate kind. “I’m fascinated by you.” It’s indeed hard to express in another language, much like the following word.
7. Querer (te quiero)
Speaking of expressions between “I love you” and “I like you” that English lacks, te quiero is certainly the most well known. Querer means “to want” or “to desire,” but it’s also used to express a feeling of affection, “to cherish.” So the closest translation for te quiero might be “I cherish you,” perhaps. Only vaguely. In any case, it’s a very common phrase in Spanish used for those whom you might not quite love (since that’s a strong word in Spanish), but for whom you do have deeply affectionate feelings.
8. Quincena (also, quinceañera)
Quince is Spanish for “fifteen,” which makes quincena the word for, well, pretty much fifteen of anything. Specifically, quincena refers to a period of fifteen days, and it’s used in Spanish-speaking countries for the bi-monthly salary payment. Each day where wages are given out, most commonly the 15th and the 30th, is called a quincena. Similarly, quinceañera refers to someone who's fifteen years old. You get the theme.
9. Chimuelo (tuerto, manco, cojo)
Spanish has plenty of words to refer to different kinds of disabilities or to conditions where we’re lacking something (especially body parts). Chimuelo, for example, refers to someone who is missing one or more teeth. It’s not necessarily a completely toothless person—even lacking a single tooth makes you a chimuelo. The same goes for tuerto (a one-eyed person), manco (a one-armed or one-handed person), and cojo (a one-legged person).
Whenever Spanish-speakers get tired from an excess of sweetness or sentiment, they become empalagados. A very sweet and filling doughnut, for example, is something that empalaga, that tires or disgusts you after a while because of how sweet it is. The same goes for very corny or overly sentimental things—they are too empalagosas (tiring). Now, English does have a similar word: cloy. However, it’s not very common and perhaps fails to capture all that empalagar does.
A great adjective to talk about things that belong to someone else. Instead of saying a long phrase like “someone else’s house” or “someone else’s car,” we simply say casa ajena or coche ajeno.
Here’s a particularly good one. Tengo ganas de hacer algo is very much untranslatable without going through a rather lengthy explanation. It means something like “I’m in the mood to do something,” but it’s not just that. There is a literal translation for “I’m in the mood”: Estoy de humor para ver una película simply means “I’m in the mood for a movie.” But tengo ganas implies not only a mood or desire; it’s also about having a very active impulse to do it: having the energy and the appropriate attitude.
To hit the target, literally and metaphorically. It’s also used to refer to someone or something that was really prudent or appropriate for a situation. Fuiste muy atinado or tu comentario fue muy atinado means “you were on point” or “your comment was on point.”
To take a stroll, a walk or a ride, this Spanish word covers much more than any single one English translation can encompass. It works both as a verb and a noun: el paseo estuvo agradable means either “the walk was pleasant” or “the ride was agreeable,” and anything in between.
This is a helpful noun that describes someone who is very prone to feeling cold. Soy muy friolento would translate to “I get cold very easily.” It’s always simpler and more convenient to have one word (“friolento”) instead of four (“I get cold easily”).
You know the conversation at the dinner table after a meal is done, before you stand up or go anywhere else?—that’s called a sobremesa. It’s the best time to share stories and catch up on each others’ lives. In Spanish-speaking countries, the sobremesa usually lasts a long time, sometimes hours, and it’s something to truly look forward to.
Desvelado, or desvelada, refers to a person who’s sleep-deprived. So, basically, estoy muy desvelado translates to “I’m really sleep-deprived.”
Family is extremely important in Spanish-speaking countries, and the language surely reflects that. Consuegro is a convenient term to easily explain convoluted or confusing relationships when it comes to political relatives. It refers to the relationship between two different sets of parents-in-law in any given family. Everyone has two sets of grandparents, and consuegro or consuegra is a word that describes how they relate. The father of a groom and the mother of a bride, for example, are consuegros to each other.
Someone who is an early riser or an early bird is someone that madruga, which is a verb to refer basically to the action of getting up early. Madrugada means the period between 12:00 am and around 6:00 am, depending on the region, and encompasses what in English is referred to as the early morning. So, to madrugar means to rise during those hours.
This is a beautiful word that literally means to live together or coexist. However, it’s more commonly used as “to hang out,” or, more precisely, to have quality time with each other.
There you go, 20 words English could most definitely use. What do you think? Would you find these words useful?
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