15 Unique Spanish Words With No English Translation
“Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda” is a popular Spanish saying.
If you want to learn what that saying means you’ll have to keep reading, as it includes one of the 15 unique Spanish words we’ll learn today.
During your language learning efforts, have you ever found a word that’s hard to translate or doesn’t translate to a single word? That’s normal because languages come from cultures that see things in different ways.
In this post, we’ll talk about how unique languages really are and discover some of the most common and useful unique Spanish words.
The Uniqueness of Languages
Because we use languages to describe the world we live in, you would think that equivalent words exist in every language to describe every object, action, or feeling we experience. However, not all realities are created equal, and that’s how we come to find words such as de German “schadenfreude,” the Portuguese “saudade,” or the 50 words Eskimos use for snow.
Each one of these words describe a concept unique to that culture and language. To fully understand “saudade,” you would have to experience the Portuguese people’s relationship with the sea and the melancholic feeling of seeing their beloved ones setting sail for centuries and never coming back.
Each language describes its unique reality. That’s why a Mexican guy who has barely seen snow in his life can’t imagine using more than one word to describe that white soft thing he calls nieve. But if you ask him about chiles and spicy salsas, he might talk for hours about it.
Just like in the German, Portuguese, and Eskimo languages, several unique Spanish words exist.
Unique Spanish Words or Simply Slang?
However, we shouldn’t confuse unique Spanish words with slang terms. It’s true that slang sometimes also describes unique realities, but it does so in an informal way and its use is limited to a specific region.
When the use of a slang word spreads throughout most of the speakers of a language, it’s because it has stopped being slang. It now belongs on the list of unique Spanish words.
15 Unique Spanish Words
Now, let’s explore a list of 10 nouns and 5 verbs that encompass many different aspects of life.
Unique Spanish Nouns
I love this concept because of what it entails and what it says about the Spanish culture. La sobremesa is what takes place at the dinner table once the meal is over. There’s a good chance some of the most interesting and important conversations you’ve ever engaged in happened after having a delicious meal with the people you love. That’s sobremesa.
2. Concuñado or concuñada
What do you call the brother of your brother-in-law? I know, it’s not as if you have a great relationship with him, but it shows the way Spanish culture works. The family is the cornerstone around which Spanish culture is built, so it’s no surprise that you have a unique Spanish word to name the brother or sister of your brother or sister-in-law. In Mexico, the Canary Islands, and other regions, we say concuño instead of concuñado.
A similar word is consuegro or consuegra, which you use to refer to the parents of your son’s wife or your daughter’s husband. Like I said, family is a big thing in Spanish culture.
3. Compadre or comadre
Compadre is another important word about a personal relationship. In English, the term “godfather” refers to a man who presents a child at baptism. That’s padrino in Spanish, and it refers to the relationship between the adult and the child. But, what do you call the padrino of your children? ¡Compadre! Comadre is the feminine form.
This is one of those unique Spanish words that is super specific. El entrecejo is that all-important area of your face that goes from one eyebrow to the other. It’s neither your forehead, nor your nose. In Spanish, it’s the entrecejo.
This word might be the Spanish answer to the English “brunch.” The difference is that meriendas take place in that undefined part of the day between lunch and dinner, just like brunch takes place between breakfast and lunch. It’s a kind of snack before actually having dinner.
Remember that dinner in Spanish culture takes place at later hours than in the English one, and that’s the reason people might feel the need to eat something. Merendar is the verb that describes the action of having a merienda.
What do you call a person from the United States? American, right? Well, you could argue that Canadians or Brazilians are American too, as they’re from the American continent. Just like French and German people are Europeans, because they’re from the European continent.
So, to avoid confusion we have one more of these useful unique Spanish words: estadounidense. There’s no way to translate that, it would be something like “unitedstatian,” I guess.
In Spanish, the day before yesterday is called anteayer. People in some Latin American countries call it antier. In case you’re wondering, the day after tomorrow is pasado mañana.
Quincena is a period of time that covers two weeks and English has a word for that: fortnight. However, in several Latin American countries people get paid every two weeks, so quincena has come to mean the payment coming every fortnight. As in, me gasté toda mi quincena este fin de semana or “I spent my whole salary this weekend.”
Quinceañera is a similar word also derived from the number fifteen or quince in Spanish. A quinceañera is a girl who’s throwing a big party to celebrate her 15th birthday. Think of it as a Latina “bat mitzvah.”
Provecho or buen provecho is the Spanish equivalent of the French “bon appétit.” You can use it as a greeting or goodbye to someone who’s eating. The meaning is interesting, as you are actually wishing other people to make the best of the food they’re eating. When I was a child, my mom made me say gracias por todo y buen provecho after every meal. That’s “thank you for everything and I hope you enjoyed your food.”
What do you call a person with just one eye, one hand, or one leg? One-eyed person, one-handed person, and one-legged person, right? You use adjectives for that, as you’re describing the physical appearance of that person. In Spanish, we use nouns. A tuerto has only one eye, a manco just one hand (or arm), and a cojo just one leg.
Unique Spanish Verbs
Finally, here is the answer to that cryptic Spanish saying at the beginning of this article. Al que madruga, Dios le ayuda means “ God helps he or she who wakes up early.” So, madrugar means “to wake up early.” It comes from the word madrugada which refers to the early hours of the day.
Trasnochar is the opposite of madrugar. It means to stay up late or all night. You can also use the verb desvelar to express the same idea.
This might be one of those unique Spanish words you never knew you needed in your life, but empalagar is actually quite useful. When food is too sweet, it’s empalagoso or empalagosa. You can empalagar yourself with an overload of chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup on top and chocolate chips.
The opening night of a play or screening of a movie is an estreno. So estrenar is a verb that expresses the action of using something for the first time. It most often refers to clothes, shoes, or accessories, but you can also estrenar a TV, a car, or even a house.
15. Te quiero
You know how some people struggle to say “I love you”? Well, Spanish-speaking people solve that problem by saying te quiero. It’s not as scary as saying te amo, which literally means “I love you,” but it still expresses the idea of love. There is even a pop song that describes how different the verbs querer and amar are.
Enrich Your Vocabulary
By learning these unique Spanish words, you enrich your vocabulary and improve the overall quality of your domain of the language. At the end of the day, speaking Spanish is all about discovering these unique details that make the language what it is.
Now it’s time to introduce these unique Spanish words into your real-life conversations. Sign up for a free class to share your unique knowledge with our native, certified teachers and start speaking Spanish today!
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