10 Useful Spanish Words that Don’t Exist in English
Language is not just a means of communication; it's a window into the culture and mindset of a community. Different languages have the remarkable ability to capture concepts and feelings that might be missing or expressed differently in another language. That's why, for example, "small talk" in Spanish is just "charla" (talk). Evidently, Spanish-speaking people are more prone to go deep into a conversation than English speakers. But, what about Spanish words that don't exist in English? Are there any?
In a world where Spanish and English-speaking cultures have intertwined and influenced one another throughout history, it's fascinating to discover that there are still linguistic treasures that remain unique to each language. From nuanced emotions to vivid descriptions, Spanish offers a wealth of words that don't have direct counterparts in English.
Here are 10 amazing Spanish words that don't exist in English, but we should all start using!
Table of Contents
Made from the prefix 'over' (sobre) and the noun 'table', "sobremesa" refers to the lingering conversation and bonding that happens after a meal. It's the time spent chatting, sharing stories, and connecting with loved ones around the table long after the plates have been cleared. This word embodies the importance of cherishing meaningful moments with friends and family.
No levantes los platos todavía, hagamos un poco de sobremesa.
“Don't pick up the dishes yet, let's have a little after-dinner conversation.”
When was the last time you wore a great outfit for the fisrt time?
The anticipation and joy of using or wearing something for the first time are captured by the word "estrenar." It encapsulates that feeling of excitement and novelty that accompanies trying out a new possession, whether it's clothing, a gadget, or even a skill.
¿Vas a estrenar el vestido rojo esta noche?
“Are you going to wear (for the first time) the red dress tonight?”
"Antojo" is the irresistible craving or desire for a specific type of food, often something indulgent or comfortingly nostalgic. It's that sudden yearning for a certain dish that cannot easily be satisfied by any other substitute. The great thing about Spanish-speaking cultures is that, even though the word is often associated with pregnant women, everyone is allowed to have those sudden cravings sometimes!
Tengo un terrible antojo de pasas de uva cubiertas con chocolate.
I have a strong craving for chocolate-covered raisins!
"Desvelarse" literally translates to "to stay up until daybreak," and it is often used in the figurative sense to mean staying up late at night or worrying about something. It conveys exhaustion that's both mental and physical because of a particular situation.
-¿Descansaste bien anoche?
-No, me desvelé pensando en el examen.
"Did you rest well last night?"
"No, I stayed awake thinking about the exam."
When you meet someone who shares your first name, you might refer to them as your "namesake" in English. However, Spanish elevates this concept with "tocayo" for males and "tocaya" for females, highlighting the connection and shared identity that comes from sharing a name.
This word, which comes from the Náhuatl term tōcāyoh (“he/she who has your name”), is much more popular in Spanish than in English, as people use it all the time to call those with whom they share the first name.
“What's up, namesake? It's been a while.”
Ever indulged in too much of a delicious treat and ended up feeling sickly full? That's when "empalagar" comes into play. This word captures the sensation of having consumed something (especially something that's too sugary) to the point of overwhelming your senses and stomach.
The term can also be used as an adjective (empalagoso/a) to describe something that produces this feeling, and you can also use the past participle (empalagad/a) to explain how you feel. Yes, from one base word, now we have 3 Spanish words that don't exist in English!
La torta estaba riquísima, pero un poco empalagosa...
“The cake was delicious, but a bit too rich…”
If you've ever taught English to a group of Spanish speakers, you've surely been asked how to say this in English. In Spanish-speaking cultures, 'la merienda' is one of the most important meals of the day.
It's not breakfast, it's not lunch, and it's certainly not dinner; it is a snack typically taken between meals to keep you energized. But "merendar" goes beyond the simple act of snacking. It specifically refers to the afternoon ritual of having a light meal or snack, often involving pastries, sandwiches, or fruits, and lots of conversation!
¿Quieres venir a merendar a mi casa mañana?
“Would you like to come over for an afternoon snack at my place tomorrow?”
8. Friolero/a (Spain) / Friolento/a (Latin America)
These Spanish words that don't exist in English describe someone who is particularly sensitive to cold temperatures. We all know someone who's always bundling up even when others seem perfectly comfortable – that person is a "friolero/a" or "friolento/a" depending on which part of the Spanish-speaking world they come from.
Prendí la estufa antes de que vinieras porque sé que sos muy friolento.
“I turned on the heater before you came because I know you get cold easily.”
Romantic relationships are complicated. Sometimes, you can have romantic feelings for a person but don't feel ready to commit. In Spanish, they have a word for that: "amigovio/a" (amigo + novio) It's someone who is not a friend and not quite a traditional partner.
Depending on the context, it can be used as either an affectionate or mocking term. In Argentina and other Latin American countries, this word gained popularity thanks to the TV show "Amigovios", in the early 1990s.
-¿Cómo está tu novio?
-Te dije que no es mi novio. Es mi amigovio.
“How's your boyfriend?”
“I told you he's not my boyfriend. He's just a special friend.”
While not completely absent in English, the Spanish word "estadounidense" (US American) offers a more precise way to refer to someone from that country. Unlike "American," which can encompass the entire continent, "estadounidense" specifically denotes someone from the United States.
The exchange below is a very common example of why many Spanish-speaking people, particularly from Latin American countries, prefer this term over "americano":
-Tengo una tía americana.
-¿Americana? ¿De qué país, precisamente?-
-Bueno, quise decir que tengo una tía estadounidense.
"I have an American aunt."
"American? From which country specifically?"
"Well, I meant to say she's from the US".
In a world where cultures continue to merge and blend, these Spanish words that don't exist in English serve as reminders of the distinct experiences and perspectives that different languages can offer.
As you explore these linguistic gems, you'll find yourself gaining a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of Spanish-speaking cultures and the unique ways they capture the essence of life.
So, the next time you savour a prolonged "sobremesa" or feel the urge to "estrenar" something new, you'll be reminded of the beauty of language and its ability to enrich our understanding of the world.
Would you like to go beyond curious Spanish words that don’t exist in English and start working on your fluency? At Listen & Learn, we offer customised Spanish courses taught by native speakers that focus on both the language and culture of Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries.
Whether you are a beginner or an advancer learner, our experienced instructors will guide you as you discover all the wonders of the Spanish world, from Castillian literature to Mexican slang.
So, what are you waiting for? Contact Listen & Learn now and mmerse yourself in the vibrant world of Spanish learning!