20 Colombian Spanish Phrases You Definitely Want to Know
When you hear the words parce, vaina, and rumba, you know you are talking to a Colombian! These words are not usually taught in a regular Spanish class and might throw you off if you are trying to have a conversation in Spanish.
It’s crucial to learn some key Colombian phrases if you are planning to travel to Colombia or would like to hold a Spanish conversation with your Colombian friends. Check out this handy list of the 20 most common Colombian phrases and learn to talk like a local!
What Makes Colombian Spanish Different?
If you learned Spanish in school, you probably learned Mexican Spanish or a generic central American Spanish just because these countries are closer to the United States. When you cross into South America, though, the Spanish there may seem like a completely different language.
When I first arrived in Colombia, I felt like a level A1 Spanish student again, completely lost and confused. Not only is the accent different, but much of the vocabulary in South America is unique. What I’ve found is that the countries closer to the US have embraced more americanismos, or Spanish adaptations of English words. I’m accustomed to using these americanismos in my Spanish, but they don’t exist in the Colombian vocabulary. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked for something using normal Central American Spanish and the other person and I just stare at each other in confusion. Even my husband, a native Spanish speaker, has had a steep learning curve.
However, the key to learning Colombian Spanish dialect is to not be embarrassed to ask questions if you don’t understand something or would like to know why they use a certain word or phrase. Hopefully, you won’t have to ask quite as many questions as us since we have compiled a list of the 20 most essential phrases in Colombian Spanish.
20 Essential Phrases to Master Colombian Spanish
If you are planning on traveling to Colombia, be sure to write each of these phrases and example sentences down in a notebook. Always keep it with you to remind you to practice and listen for each phrase.
1. ¿O qué?
¿O qué? is a question that is used at the end of a sentence to basically ensure the person you are talking to is on the same page as you. It literally translates to “or what?” and is used in the same way as the English question, just much more often. This phrase is particularly common in Medellín and is often preceded by the phrases sí or todo bien.
Pronunciation: oh kay
Examples: Sí ¿o qué? – Yes, or what?
Todo bien ¿o qué? – Everything good, or what?
Una chimba ¿sí o qué? – That’s great, or what?
2. De una
De una is short for de una vez, or “at once.” This phrase is used to express that you want to do something at once or get it over with “already.” People also use it when they want to do multiple things at once, or take advantage of the situation to complete a task.
Pronunciation: day oo-nah
Examples: Hágale de una. – Do it now (at once, already).
¿Y por qué no hacemos las dos cosas de una? – And why don’t we both things at once?
En lugar de ir al banco y hacer cola, haz todo en línea de una. – Instead of going to the bank and waiting in line, do it all online at the same time (at once).
3. Todo bien
Todo bien means “all good” and is usually used as a greeting. However, it can also be used to tell someone that things are fine.
Pronunciation: toh-doh byain
Examples: ¿Quihubo parce? ¿Todo bien? – What’s up, dude? All good?
¿Qué me cuenta? ¿Todo bien? – What’s new? All good?
Hágale, que todo bien. – Go ahead, it’s all good.
4. ¿Estás amañado aquí?
This question is unique because amañado translates to “rigged,” but the question means “Do you like it here?” To make the connection between the two translations, you can think of it more as “Are you hooked on Colombia?”
Pronunciation: ay-stahs ah-mah-nyah-doh ah-key
Examples: ¿Cuánto tiempo llevas en Colombia? ¿Estás amañado aquí? – How long have you been in Colombia? Do you like it here?
¿Cuando llegaste? ¿Estás amañado aquí? – When did you get here? Do you like it here?
¿Qué te parece Colobmia? ¿Estás amañado aquí? – What do you think of Colombia? Do you like it here?
5. Muy juicioso
Juicioso basically means “well-behaved” or “sensible.” It is often used to describe the behavior of children or the work-ethic and decisions of adults. Parents want their children to be muy juiciosos—study hard, make good decisions, and make something of themselves!
Pronunciation: moy jwee-syoh-soh
Examples: Mira a los niños trabajando en sus tareas, muy juiciosos. – Look at the kids working on their homework, so well-behaved.
Los quiero muy juiciosos, ¿oyeron? – I want you very well-behaved, do you hear me?
He sido muy juiciosa con todas mis responsabilidades. – I’ve been very sensible with all my responsibilities.
Fue una decisión juiciosa quedarme en la universidad. – It was a wise (sensible) decision to stay in college.
6. No seas bobo
Bobo (or boba for a girl) means silly, foolish, or naive and is a synonym for the Central American word tonto. The phrase no seas bobo means “don’t be silly.” This phrase is used in other South American countries, as well.
Pronunciation: no say-ahs boh-boh
Examples: Ay, no seas bobo. – Oh, don’t be silly.
No seas bobo. Come, por favor. – Don’t be silly. Eat, please.
No seas bobo. Están aprovechando de tí. – Don’t be naive. They’re taking advantage of you.
7. ¿Quihubo parce?
The quintessential paisa (from Medellín) phrase is ¿Quihubo parce? or “What’s up, dude?” Use this phrase as a greeting and you’ll sound like a local! It’s a common phrase throughout Colombia, too.
Pronunciation: key-oo-boh pahr-say
Examples: ¿Quihubo parce? ¿Qué más? – What’s up, dude? What’s new?
¿Quihubo parce? ¿Todo bien? – What’s up, man? Everything good?
¿Quihubo parce? ¿Todo bien o qué? – What’s up, dude? Everything good, or what?
8. Parar bola
Parar bola, literally translated as “to stop ball,” actually means “to pay attention.” This can be used in the affirmative or negative form, depending on the situation.
Pronunciation: pahr-ahr boh-lah
Examples: ¡Paráme bola! – Pay attention to me!
Dejá de ver el teléfono y paráme bola. – Stop looking at your phone and pay attention to me!
No me pares bola. – Don’t mind me.
9. ¿Sí pilla?
Pillar is a verb that literally means “to catch.” In Colombian Spanish, it is used more in the sense of “to see” or “to get.” ¿Sí pilla? is a question asking if the person sees or notices something.
Pronunciation: see pee-yah
Examples: Y ¿usted sí pilla eso? – And do you see that?
¿Sí pilló ella lo que pasó? – She saw what happened, right?
¿Sí pilla el acento del presentador? – Did you notice the presenter’s accent?
10. Hacéme un catorce, Hacéme un dos
Hacer un catorce and hacer un dos are both common phrases in Barranquilla to refer to doing someone a favor. The two conjugated forms above translate to “Do me a favor.”
Pronunciation: ah-say-may oon kah-tohr-say
Examples: Hacéme un catorce y entregá mi tarea. – Do me a favor and turn in my homework.
Hacéme un dos y pasáme esa vaina. – Do me a favor and pass me that thing.
Hacéme un catorce, por favor. – Do me a favor, please.
11. ¡Qué nota!
Qué nota or es una nota is a fun way to say that something or someone is amazing.
Pronunciation: kay noh-tah
Examples: ¡Qué nota la fiesta! – The party was amazing!
Él es una nota tocando la guitarra. – He is amazing at playing the guitar.
Eso suena genial. ¡Qué nota! – That sounds great. How amazing!
12. Cobrar vacuna
Colombia’s reputation in the past has been quite negative thanks to the drug trade. While the country has made great strides of improvement, there are still gangs that control different areas. They often extort business and people on a regular basis as a type of “rent.” This is called a vacuna or “vaccine.” Cobrar vacuna is “to charge extortion.”
Pronunciation: koh-brahr bah-koon-ah
Examples: Aparta dinero para cuando vengan a cobrar vacuna. – Set aside money for when they come to collect the extortion.
¿Aquí cobran vacuna? – Do the gangs extort here?
Tenga cuidado porque por aquí cobran vacuna. – Be careful because the gangs extort people here.
13. ¡Oigan a este!
Oigan a este means “Listen to this guy!” This Colombian Spanish phrase connotes mockery and incredulity, inviting others to listen to the craziness that the person is talking about.
Pronunciation: oy-gahn ah ays-tay
Examples: ¡Oigan a este! Usted piensa que uno es bobo, ¿o qué? – Listen to this guy! Do you think that we’re stupid, or what?
¡Oigan a este! Ya se cree superior. – Listen to this guy! He believes himself to be superior.
¡Oigan a este! Ya se amañó, ¿sí o qué? – Listen to this guy! You already settled in, right?
14. Por si las moscas
Por si las moscas literally means “for if the flies.” While it sounds a bit strange, this phrase translates to “just in case.”
Pronunciation: pohr see lahs moh-skahs
Examples: Por si las moscas, hay que llevar agua. – Just in case, we need to bring water.
Por si las moscas, hay que mercar de una. – Just in case, we need to go shopping at once.
Baja la ropa por si las moscas. – Take down the clothes just in case.
15. ¡Que pena!
Qué pena literally means “what a shame,” and it is not only a Colombian Spanish phrase. However, it is used much more often in Colombia than some other countries. They have a culture of pena, in which people feel pena (shame or embarrassment) for many things. The phrase ¡qué pena! is also used as an apology for causing an inconvenience.
Pronunciation: kay pay-nah
Examples: ¡Qué pena con usted! – I’m so sorry!
No le puedo decir la verdad. ¡Qué pena! – I can’t tell him the truth. How embarrassing!
¡Qué pena con usted! Gracias por esperar. – I’m so sorry! Thank you for waiting.
16. ¡Qué pereza!
Pereza literally means “laziness.” Qué pereza means something similar, like “what a bummer” or “I don’t feel like it.” While it doesn’t necessarily mean you feel lazy, it does show that you don’t want to do something.
Pronunciation: kay pair-ay-sah
Examples: Ay, ¡qué pereza! – Ugh, what a drag!
Son tantas tareas. ¡Qué pereza! – I have so much homework. What a bummer!
Ya me cansé de hacer aseo. ¡Qué pereza! – I’m tired of doing chores. I don’t feel like doing it anymore!
When used as an exclamation, gas has nothing to do with gasoline, but instead means “yuck” or “ew.”
Examples: ¡Gas! Algo huele feo. – Yuck! Something smells bad.
¡Gas! Me paré en popo. – Ew! I stepped in poop.
¡Gas! Ese mango se pudrió. – Yuck! That mango is rotten.
18. Claro, Cierto
Claro and cierto are by no means only used in Colombia. However, the way they are pronounced and used is unique. Instead of saying just klah-roh like in other countries, the pronunciation is extended to klaaaaah-roh. Likewise, cierto has a long accent on the e. Both words are used more commonly in conversation than other countries. Claro means “of course,” and cierto is used as a question at the end of a sentence meaning “right.”
Pronunciation: klah-roh, syair-toh
Examples: Claro, se supone que el gobierno lo haría. – Of course, the government was supposed to do it.
Ustedes ya entendieron, ¿cierto? – You understand, right?
La cultura es distinta, ¿cierto? – The culture is unique, right?
19. Te caigo
Te caigo is literally “I fall you.” However, it is translated to “I’ll drop by.”
Pronunciation: tay kai-goh
Examples: Mañana te caigo por la tarde. – I’ll drop by tomorrow afternoon.
Te caigo más tarde, ¿listo? – I’ll drop by later, okay?
Te caigo en una hora con tu vuelta. – I’ll drop by in an hour with your change.
20. No dar papaya
No dar papaya doesn’t mean anything like what it looks like. Dar papaya is to put yourself in a compromising situation where someone can take advantage of you. No dar papaya is a warning to avoid such situations.
Pronunciation: noh ais-tays dahn-doh pah-pie-oh
Examples: Esa situación me parece rara. Ten cuidado. No des papaya. – That situation seems weird to me. Be careful. Don’t put yourself in a compromising position.
No quiero dar papaya. – I don’t want to let them take advantage of me.
Ojo, parce. Estás dando papaya. – Watch out, man. You’re putting yourself in a compromising situation.
A Tip about Formality
Some of the phrases above use verbs, but they are not all conjugated in the same form. While pronoun usage varies across the country, there are still some general rules to keep in mind.
- The “you” pronoun tú is not that common.
- Usted is used more widely, especially in the center of Colombia.
- In areas like Bogotá, they also use su merced, or “your grace,” which is even more formal than usted.
- Vos is popular between friends and family, but many people still choose to use usted with those people.
- Responding with sí, señor (“yes, sir”) and sí, señora (“yes, ma’am”) is common courtesy.
Time to Practice!
As you plan your trip to Colombia, start practicing these phrases. If you have any questions or would like to add some more Colombian Spanish phrases to our list, comment below! We’d love to hear from you!
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