20 Spanish Words with No English Equivalent

Sobremesa means chatting with guests after lunch or dinner.

Spanish is a beautiful language with influences from Vulgar Latin and Arabic. It has long, rolling r’s, and its characteristic ñ (eñe). Though found in other languages, such as Galician and Basque, Spanish has given the ñ alphabetical righteousness: The ñ has its own place, after the n, in the Spanish alphabet. The language’s song-like rhythm, phonetic structure, and country-specific uniqueness are perhaps some of the reasons why Spanish is the most sought-after foreign language in the United States. 

Perhaps it is due to the beauty and uniqueness of this language that not all the words are translatable. For language learners looking to expand their vocabulary, here are 20 words that have no English equivalent. You will find an example of its usages right below it. 

1. Estrenar

To wear something new for the first time.

  • Qué zapatos tan bonitos. ¿Estás estrenando? – Those are very pretty shoes. Are they new? 
  • If you want to be more playful: Después de tanto tiempo soltera, ahora estoy estrenando novio – After being single for so many years, I now have a new boyfriend <3. 

*Notice how in the first example, I don’t translate “¿Estás estrenando” as “Are you wearing them for the time?” That sounds odd in English.

2. Tocayo

I don’t think my name, Irma, is very common, so I was very surprised when, in high school, I heard someone in a poetry class who was my tocaya. She had my name. This noun could be either tocayo or tocaya, male and female versions, respectively. 

  • My surprise at finding someone with the same name: ¿Tú también te llamas Irma? ¡Eres mi tocaya! – Your name is Irma also. We have the same name!
  • Hoy conocí a tu tocayo, pero eres mi Juan preferido – Today I met someone with your same name, but you are my favorite Juan.

3. Tutear

In Spanish, there are two ways to refer to someone directly: formal or informally. Usted is formal, and tú is informal. Tutear literally means to use the tú form.  

  • No debes tutear al jefe – You shouldn’t use tú with the boss.
  • Tutéame, por favor – Use tú with me. 

The second example is the imperative form of the verb. It is very common for someone to say this when they would like to have a more informal relationship with you.

4. Merendar

To have an afternoon snack. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not enough for us. The word for snack is merienda.

  • Vamos a merendar ahora – We’re going to have a snack now. 
  • Mi comida favorita es la merienda – Snacking is my favorite meal 😋.

5. Sobremesa

Speaking of food, do you enjoy chatting with friends after having lunch or dinner? In Spanish, that is called la sobremesa. It follows the meal with guests remaining at the table. 

  • Más que la comida, la mejor parte fue la sobremesa – Rather than the meal, the best part was the chat after.
  • Durante la sobremesa, nos tomamos un té – After the meal, we drank tea while chatting.

6. Empalagar

Since you insist on talking about food, here is another (not-so-)delicious verb: empalagar. You know those meals that just make you feel so heavy because you ate in excess? That’s where the verb empalagar comes from: when you end up feeling cloyed and (figuratively) sick or nauseous from what you ate. And usually regret not saying no to the (entire) box of chocolates. 

  • Deja de comer tantos dulces. Vas a terminar empalagado – Stop eating so much candy. You will get sick. 
  • And even more figuratively: Su amor me empalaga. Estoy harto – Her love is sickening. I’m tired up to here with it.

7. Te quiero

Love is everything, isn’t it? Apparently so. Perhaps that’s why Spanish uses two I love yous. The first is “Te quiero,” which is used with friends, loved ones, and perhaps that guy you love but are not yet in love with. The second is “Te amo.” When someone tells you “Te amo,” you know you’ve hit the jackpot. 

  • Quiero a mi perro más que a mi propia familia – I love my dog more than I love my family. 
  • The famous: Te quiero pero no te amo – I love you, just not like that.

8. Tuerto/-a

A man or woman with only one eye. Note, however, that a Cyclop, the one-eyed monster from The Odyssey, would not be considered tuerto. They are born with one eye. Tuerto implies that one of the eyes was lost or impaired. 

  • La miraba tanto que parecía tuerto – He was looking at her so much that he appeared one-eyed. 
  • Los piratas siempre son tuertos, ¿no? – Pirates always have just one eye, right? 

9. Entrecejo

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, what are our eyebrows? In Spanish, the space between the eyebrows is called entrecejo. 

  • Frunció el entrecejo – He knit his brows. 
  • Una de las características físicas de Frida fue su entrecejo – One of Frida’s characteristic physical attributes were her eyebrows. 

Note how in both examples I chose to translate entrecejo as simply brows or eyebrows. It wouldn’t make such sense to say “The space between the brows” in English.

10. Friolento/-a

Someone who is very sensitive to the cold or who always feels cold. 

  • Soy del Caribe; por supuesto que soy friolenta – I’m from the Caribbean; of course I am sensitive to the cold. 
  • Eres muy friolento. ¡Cada vez que te veo, llevas abrigo! – You are very sensitive to the cold. Every time I see you, you are wearing a coat!

11. Desvelarse

To stay up at night. This is different from insomnia, or insomnio in Spanish. Desvelarse could imply that something interfered with your sleep.

  • Me dijo que pasó toda la noche desvelado. Tiene muchos problemas – He told me he stayed up all night. He has a lot of problems. 
  • Él no debe tomar café tan tarde. Va a desvelarse – He shouldn’t drink coffee so late. He will not be able to sleep.

12. Madrugar

To get up at the crack of dawn. The noun, la madrugada, means very early morning, or dawn.

  • Nuestro vuelo es a las 7:00 a. m. Tenemos que madrugar – Our flight is at 7:00 a.m. We have to get up very early. 
  • This is a famous saying in Spanish: A quien madruga, Dios lo ayuda – God helps those who wake up early.

13. Atardecer

To get dark, twilight, dusk. The noun is la tarde. 

  • Es tan hermoso ver el atardecer sobre el Atlántico – It’s so beautiful to see the day darken over the Atlantic.
  • El atardecer es el mejor momento del día – Dusk is the best part of the day.

14. Anteayer/antier

Composed of the words ante (before) and ayer (yesterday), anteayer means the day before yesterday. Antier is synonymous to anteayer.

  • Lo vi anteayer – I saw him before yesterday.
  • Empezamos el proyecto antier – We started the project the day before yesterday.

15. Anteanoche

The night before last night. In other words, two nights ago.

  • Lo conocí anteanoche en la discoteca. Me cae fenomenal – I met him two nights at the club. I really like him. 
  • ¿Fuisteis a ver a vuestros padres anteanoche, como habéis dicho? – Did you guys go to see your parents two nights ago, like you said?

16. Rincón

The corner inside a house, restaurant, or establishment. When referring to a corner, as in the store at the corner, the correct word is esquina.

  • Todos los libros están amontonados en un rincón – All the books are piled up in a corner. 
  • El niño se sentó en un rincón a llorar – The child sat in a corner to cry.

17. Concuñado/-a

Your sister-in-law’s husband, or your brother-in-law’s wife. Believe it or not, this word is also used to refer to your sister-in-law’s brother or sister, as well as your brother-in-law’s brother or sister. Yes, I know: When will you ever use this word? This is still a wonder to me. But here are two examples: 

  • Mi concuñado no me cae muy bien – I don’t like my  sister-in-law’s husband very much.
  • Me llevo muy bien con mi concuñada. Somos buenas amigas – I get along really well with my brother-in-law’s wife. We are good friends.

18. Enmadrarse

To be extremely attached to one’s mother. Like a good Latina, I am guilty as charged. 

  • Se ha enmadrado mucho estos meses. Será un gran dolor de cabeza para la niñera – He has grown excessively attached to his mother. It will be a headache for the sitter. 
  • Está tan enmadrada que será mejor no enviarla de vacaciones solo con su padre – She is so attached to her mother that it’s best not to send her on vacation with only her dad.

19. Comadre/compadre

Your son or daughter’s godmother. Compadre is your son or daughter’s godfather. They are also used to refer to a very close friend.

  • Te presento a mi comadre y cómplice – Let me introduce you to my close friend and partner in crime. 
  • Es mi comadre, la madrina de mi hija – She is my daughter’s godmother.

20. Pena ajena

Feeling someone else’s embarrassment. I know you want to be empathetic, but don’t you have enough troubles already? 

  • Cuando me contó la historia, sentí pena ajena – When he told me the story, I felt his embarassment. 
  • La pena ajena a veces es tan fuerte como la propia – Sometimes we can feel as much embarrassment for others as for ourselves.

Share this article with your network :

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Learn a new language with Diáfano

Tell us a little bit about what you're looking for with this quick form. We will be in touch soon.

* indicates required
Irma Cedeno

Linguist

5/5

(48 Reviews)

About Instructor

Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.

Curriculum

For those with no prior experience with Spanish. 9-week course.

For those who can hold a minimal conversation in Spanish, ask for directions, etc.

For those who are conversational and can express emotions in Spanish

For those who are conversational and can express emotions in Spanish. The course is designed to get you to full fluency.

Upcoming Courses

Beginner
May 1st - May 30th
Advanced Beginner
May 1st - May 30th
Intermediate
May 1st - May 30th
Advanced
May 1st - May 30th