20 Spanish words that have no translation in English

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Spanish words

Did you know that some words in Spanish resist translation into English? Although there may be some approximation, there are terms that simply cannot be encapsulated in another language.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to Spanish; it happens in all languages because there are words that only make sense to a particular community or nation.

In other words, it’s a reminder that languages are constructed to meet the needs of their speakers, reflecting their culture and experiences. That’s why learning a language involves not only memorising words and grammar rules but also immersing oneself in the culture that supports it.

For example, trying to express in English the act of “estrenar” (using or showing something for the first time) won’t be an easy matter, as it’s a word that has no translation in that language.

Spanish words that have no translation in English:

1. Trasnochar

Definition: staying up late into the night, even pleasurably. Despite expressions like “to stay up all night,” the cultural nuance of “trasnochar” escapes literal translation into English.

2. Madrugar

Definition: getting up early, specifically before dawn. The closest equivalent in English, “wake up,” is forced to add the adverb “early” to convey the same idea.

3. Sobremesa

Definition: conversation or chat with family or friends after a meal while having coffee or dessert. Unlike Spanish, where “sobremesa” condenses this experience, English uses the longer “after-dinner conversation” or “table talk.”

4. Botellón

Definition: Party in the street. (Literal translation: “big bottle”). In Spain, it’s rather common for young people to get together to get drunk in a quiet street or in a park, because it’s a lot cheaper than going to bars or clubs. 

5. Anteayer

Definition: the day before yesterday. English limitations require using a longer phrase, “the day before yesterday,” to refer to this time interval.

6. Estrenar

Definition: using or displaying something for the first time. English lacks a single term to encompass the various meanings of “estrenar.” Phrases like “to show for the first time” are used instead.

7. Chapuza

Definition: Something that’s badly made or fixed. This can refer to a lot of things. The most common is something that’s been built or fixed either really fast, without the proper equipment, or without having any idea how to do it. It can be a machine, a car, some sort of object, the new floor… 

8. Vergüenza ajena

Definition: feeling embarrassed by someone else’s actions. Although in English, one could say “to feel embarrassed by someone,” it loses some of the cultural and emotional nuances that “vergüenza ajena” carries.

9. Merienda

Definition: a light meal between lunch and dinner. While “snack” could be an equivalent, it lacks the cultural context that surrounds “merienda.”

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10. Pardo

Definition: a colour between brown and red. This colour nuance between two shades does not have a single word in English.

11. Empalagar

Definition: a feeling of satiation, especially from overly sweet foods. Although “to feel embarrassed” comes close, it fails to convey the specific discomfort implied by being “empalagado.”

12. Entrecejo

Definition: the part of the forehead between the eyebrows. The anatomical specificity of “entrecejo” is lost in the equivalent English words.

13. Consuegro

Definition: Your son or daughter’s parent-in-law. Instead of saying, for example, ‘”your daughter Anna’s husband’s parents,” all you need to say is mis consuegros. To make life easier…

14. Golpista

Definition: a person involved in a coup d’état or political sabotage. While “coup plotter” comes close, it doesn’t fully capture the gravity of “golpista.”

15. Puente (festivo)

Definition: an extended weekend due to a holiday, usually on Friday or Monday. The absence of “long weekends” in English highlights the lack of a specific term for this temporal phenomenon.

16. Tutear

Definition: addressing someone informally using “tú” instead of “usted.” The absence of this distinction in English means there is no precise translation for “tutear.”

17 . Provecho

Definition: a phrase uttered as a wish for someone to enjoy a meal. English resorts to the French equivalent, “bon appétit,” to express what is condensed in Spanish as “provecho.”

18 . Friolero

Definition: a person who is always prone to feeling cold. There is no single word in English to describe this sensation; the closest expression would be “cold-natured,” which is not quite sufficient.”

19. Resol

Definition: The reflection of the sun. People in Spain use this word when the sun’s reflected in a mirror or in a glass, for example. You can use it to say that the reflection is bothering you: ‘Me voy a cambiar de asiento, porque aquí me da el resol en los ojos’. It means ‘I’m going to switch seats, because here I get the resol on my eyes.’

20. Tocayo

Definition: A person who has the same name as you. This used to be more widely used. With it you refer to someone who hsares a first name with someone else.

Also read: Sé verlas al revés: the most beautiful Spanish palindromes

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