Eleven Spanish Words With No Exact English Equivalents In Translation

Translation is an art that often requires tons of creativity in addition, of course, to having the ability and talent to accurately communicate in your native language what the original author intended to convey in his/her writing. A good translation is supposed to produce the same meaning of the original text. But there are many words in different languages that do not quite have a counterpart in another.

Here are eleven Spanish words with no exact English equivalents in translation. The reason for that is that exact equivalent concepts in English to these everyday colloquial words do not really exist!    

Let us start with some words that convey relationships. We will explain the meaning and provide a rough translation from Spanish to English when possible.

  1. Compadre

Literally, your male friend or relative who is the godfather of your son or daughter at baptism becomes your compadre.  However, in many Spanish-speaking countries you often call a very close and trusted friend a compadre as well, even though he actually did not sponsor your child at baptism. For this second definition only, the closest Spanish to English translation would be “buddy” or “pal”. This is the first of the eleven Spanish words with no exact English equivalents in translation we are considering today.

There is actually a movie called COMPADRES that defines the meaning in its trailer: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VgGJA8LeMQ

  1. Comadre

This is the female version of the above concept. A rough Spanish to English translation would be “sis” or “sister”.

  1. Consuegro

This word conveys the relationship between individuals whose children are married to each other. It can be of course used in feminine. My mother and my mother-in-law are consuegras.

Below are additional Spanish words with no direct English translation.

  1. Afilador

An afilador is an old occupation that still exists in some developing Spanish-speaking countries. This individual carries a one-wheeled sharpening station with a revolving sharpening or grinding attached. The afilador travels residential streets blowing a whistle or he hangs around markets offering his/her services and his skills at sharpening  knives used at home.  A rough Spanish to English translation would be “knife sharpener”. The English language words are not gender specific. Afiladoras, of course, also exist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEYEYhauNJs

  1. Empalagar

This is a verb. You can say estoy empalagado or ese dulce me empalaga, which means that you are overcome with sweetness, or you find a sweet (or piece of candy) to have too much sweetness.

  1. Fiar

Once again this concept is rarely put into practice in developed countries. A rough translation into English would be “to sell something on credit”, however this credit system is informal and it is based on trust. In other words, your client would take the goods with a promise to pay for them at a later time that is mutually and orally agreed upon.

 7. Friolento

This is one of those words that Spanish-speakers often wish they could easily say or write in English as one word only. But this cannot be done because there is no such a word in English. A rough translation for soy friolento is “to be always cold” or “be very sensitive to the cold weather”.

 8Tanda, Junta

A tanda in México or a junta in Perú is an informal saving system among friends, relatives and/or neighbors. The closest translation into English would be “informal rotating credit and savings group” or “informal loan club”.

  1. Siesta

Who has never heard of siesta? Sure you have, and you have probably taken a siesta, as well. Sometimes siesta can easily be translated to “nap” when it refers to a midday or afternoon sleep for an hour or so. But a real siesta is a 2-3-hour midday or afternoon rest during which local business and shops are closed for business in some Spanish-speaking countries. There is no equivalent word or even concept in English and, in fact, the word siesta is sometimes used by English speakers instead of the word “nap” although the concept of closing the doors of a business is not part of it. 

 10. Sobremesa

Latinos spend a lot of time at the table after eating and this activity can be described with just one word: sobremesa. Once again there is no such word conveying this behavioral concept in English.

 11. Te quiero

Finally, the very popular ¡te quiero! Translating it as “I love you!” is not quite accurate because it is really less than “I love you”. It is closer to “I like you very much”, but it really conveys a stronger feeling. Amar and querer are two different verbs. Amar is used for the person you believe he/she is the love of your life and you intend to marry. You can amar your children as well but you use querer or gustar for everything else.

What about you? Have you found other words or concepts in Spanish that you cannot easily translate into English? Please feel free to share!

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