If there’s one thing we should know about languages in general, it’s that every language has its own unique words that might not have a direct translation or exist in other languages. That’s what makes every language special and interesting, especially when you’re learning a new language. Although Spanish is considered to have fewer “official” words than English, there are many Spanish words, including verbs, adjectives and nouns whose meanings are so nuanced and specific that it can describe human experience, identity, actions and feelings in ways that English sometimes can’t.
These words are sometimes called “untranslatables,” though that’s not entirely accurate. You can translate them, but there just isn’t a single word in English that is equivalent to the Spanish one. When you learn about them, you might wish that there were. Here’s our guide to 10 of our favorite Spanish words that don’t exist in English.
Definition: the conversation that takes place at the table after a meal.
You know that meeting up for lunch or dinner isn’t the only way people enjoy spending time together. After we finish eating, we stay at the table and have a conversation, gossip, and perhaps drink, in other words participating in a sobremesa. And get ready because we’ll stay at the table talking for about an hour or two.
There’s no word for sobremesa in English, but the closest you might get is a phrase like “after-dinner talk,” but that’s not something you’ll hear in conversation that often.
Example Sentence: Mis papás y mis tíos siempre están en la sobremesa cuando se juntan. (“My parents and my relatives are always at the table talking after they eat when they get together.”)
Definition: a period of 15 days.
Quincena is used in the context where employees receive a salary every 15 days.
In English, the closest translation in a work context is “bi-monthly payment,” and in a more general context the closest word to quincena is “fortnight,” although that’s a period of 14 days, not 15.
Example Sentence: Pagaré la renta de este mes después de recibir mi próxima quincena. (“I will pay this month’s rent after receiving my next bi-monthly payment.”)
Definition: the day before yesterday.
This is one of the most concise Spanish words that easily describes a concept related to time.
It’s translated rather clumsily in English as the four-word phrase “the day before yesterday,” since there’s no single word for it. Another way you could say it in English is “two days ago,” which is shorter and more commonly used, but it’s still a phrase rather than a single word. If you want to look into obsolete words, you could also use “ereyesterday,” but people might give you weird looks.
Example Sentence: Le propuso matrimonio anteayer. (“He proposed to her the day before yesterday.”)
Definition: when you can’t finishing eating something because of its taste or texture.
Have you ever had a dish or dessert that’s so strong in flavor or so sweet that you’ve had enough after two or three bites? And you can’t finish your dessert because another bite just won’t go down your because or you feel like you want to throw up? If so, then you’ve had the experience where the food te empalaga.
A few similar English expressions like “I’m stuffed” or “I’m full” have to do with food, but they have more to do with quantity rather than quality. Empalagar is one of those Spanish words that don’t exist in English because it has to do with being “full” due to the quality of the food.
Example Sentence: Este pastel de chocolate es demasiado dulce que me empalaga. (“This chocolate cake is so sweet that I can’t have another bite.”)
Definition: someone who has the same name as you.
In English, you might say “my twin” instead of mi tocayo/a. “Twin” could be used literally to talk about siblings, but it can also be used figuratively for friendship, either because of similar physical characteristics or because of shared personality traits. It’s a way to show just how deep a friendship is between two people. However, “twin” isn’t exclusively used to refer to people who share the same name, like the word tocayo/a does.
Example Sentence: Me estás confundiendo con la otra Isabella de mi clase, es mi tocaya. (“You’re confusing me with the other Isabella in my class, she has the same name as me.”)
Definition: someone who’s sensitive to cold.
Are you the type of person who gets cold quickly in the slightest breeze, to the point that you put on 2 sweaters, a wool cap, and a scarf? If yes, then congratulations, you’re a friolero/a.
There’s no adjective to describe someone who gets cold easily or for someone who can’t stand the cold, so the common four-word phrase used by English speakers is just “sensitive to the cold.”
Example Sentence: Mi hija es friolera que lleva orejeras de invierno cuando sale de casa. (“My daughter is so sensitive to the cold that she wears earmuffs when she leaves the house.”)
Definition: to talk to someone casually or informally.
Tutear specifically refers to using the informal pronoun tú instead of the formal pronoun usted as a way of talking to someone informally. The nice thing about this word is that it not only tells what it means, but also how to do it. There isn’t anything as specific as tutear in English.
Tutear in English translates as the phrase “address me informally,” giving the signal to change the pronouns you normally use. There’s no single verb related to the act of changing your speech like in Spanish, perhaps because there’s no distinction between the formal and informal “you” in English.
Example Sentence: Puedes tutearme. (“You can address me informally.”)
Definition: to show something for the first time.
It’s a great feeling to buy a new suit or shoes, wear it for the first time, and see how well it fits. You get a boost in our confidence and feel excited to show others how good you look. That’s when you use the word estrenar. Estrenar isn’t usually said when we show something more than once, and it can also be applied to introducing a person for the first time, but that’s not as common.
It’s one of the Spanish words that don’t exist in English, but you can translate it with the phrase “wear/use/show off ____ for the first time.” You might also get creative and use the verb “premiere,” but it’s not exactly the same. Yes, in English you have to mention that it’s the first time something is being worn or shown. It wouldn’t be estrenar if, for example, they see your new car for the second or third time.
Example Sentence: Su amiga estrena su bolso de diseñador en el club. (“Her friend showed off her designer bag for the first time at the club.”)
Definition: to wake up and get out of bed early in the morning
“Get up early” is the phrase often used in English. Or you can say “wake up,” but that’s much more general, while “get up early” and madrugar both have to do with getting up at a specific time of day. Apart from these phrases, this joins the rankings of Spanish words that don’t exist in English.
Example Sentence: Voy a madrugar para ir al gimnasio antes de ir a trabajar mañana. (“I’m going to wake up early to go to the gym before going to work tomorrow.”)
Definition: to stay up and go to bed late at night.
This one is the exact inverse of madrugar, which makes you wonder why Spanish is so specific about sleeping time. “Pull an all-nighter” or “stay up all night” are a few of the four-word expressions used in English, but there isn’t just one word that encapsulates the act of staying awake at night in the way trasnochar does.
Example Sentence: Quiero trasnochar estudiando para mi examen de esta semana. (“I want to stay up late studying for my exam this week.”)