Spanish, also known as "Castilian"note , is an Ibero-Romance language, and the second most natively spoken language in the entire world (after Mandarin Chinese) due to the enormous expanse of the Spanish Empire in its heyday. It's the national or official language of 21 countries, as well as one of the official languages of the UN and 13 other international organizations. Even in the United States alone there are over 50 million Spanish-speakers, which is more than the entire population of most Spanish-speaking countries, Spain itself includednote . In short, this is a big language. It's the most widely spoken language in the Western Hemisphere.
Naturally, with all these people speaking it, considerable differences can arise between the various dialects; more on that later.
- Spanish Accents And Dialects
- Spanish Literature
- Latin American Literature (aside from Brazilian Poruguese literature)
- Spanish Naming Conventions
Those who write the rules: La Real Academia EspañolaBefore starting to explain the language, it's worth noting that, unlike English, the Spanish language has a proper institution which officially regulates its rules: the Royal Spanish Academy, or "Real Academia Española". AKA "la R.A.E.", for short.
The institution was created in 1714 following the model from the "Académie française" in France and the "Accademia della Crusca" in Italy. Its function is to gather and approve officially all the changes in the Spanish language in all the Spanish-speaking world to preserve and maintain its proper use. Every year they take care of including in the dictionary new words and removing unused onesnote .
Although the headquarters are located in Spain, every single country with enough Spanish speakers has representation in the academy (usually by local language institutions of said countries), and all the differences between dialects are acknowledged.
Even the United States has representation since 1985 by the North American Academy of the Spanish Language.
NounNouns ain't too complicated in Spanish. Unlike its predecessor Latin, which had a casserole of case endings depending on how the noun was used in a sentence, Spanish has nothing in that regard. Pan (bread) will stay pan no matter where or how it's used.
One thing that does present occasional problems (for English speakers primarily) is the gender. It's mostly an arbitrary attribute of the noun (el palo, "stick," masculine; la mesa, "table," feminine; it depends on usage, too: a hair dryer is masculine ("secador de pelo"), while the clothes dryer is feminine ("secadora de ropa"). However, when it comes to things that have actual gender they cling to that. A male cat is "un gato", while a female cat is "una gata". Not all names of gendered creatures have gendered forms, though, but in those cases the gender is easily identified by the article and/or adjective (i.e.: "bobcat" would be "el lince" and "la lince", respectively).
Gender is quite a bit more intuitive than in many languages as well; in most cases, a noun's gender is clear from its ending; -o/-an/-aje/-ón is almost always masculine, whereas -a/-ión/-ad/-ud is almost always feminine... though not to say that there aren't exceptionsnote . Masculine nouns are more common than feminine ones, so if you're really lost, guess masculine. Plural nouns that contain both masculine and feminine elements are mostly referred to as masculine; los gatos could mean "the [male] cats" or "the [male and female] cats," while las gatas can only refer to "the [female] cats."note
Of course, like any other language with gender, Spanish has its own headache-inducing part of it, and that would be the fact that some feminine nouns take the masculine singular article, while still being feminine grammatically (e.g., declension of adjectives), mostly for "flow" reasons. This occurs exclusively with feminine nouns that have a stressed a sound at the beginning. Thus, though still grammatically feminine, águila ("eagle") takes the masculine article as el águila. For amiga ("[female] friend"), however, la is used, because the a sound is not stressednote . With the plurals, this rule is disregarded, because las does not interrupt the flow.
Finally, a few words actually have different meanings depending on the gender assigned to them. For example, el capital means capital as in money, but la capital means capital as in a capital city. However, there are a few words where gender doesn't matter: el mar and la mar both mean "the sea", although used in different contexts (la mar usually sounds more poetic, and thus it's rarely used).
PronounsPronouns in Spanish are used in a very similar fashion to English; however, subject pronouns are often omitted unless the sentence requires additional emphasis. This is done because the verb already says who is the one acting and the subject pronoun doesn't convey any further information. Addition of unnecessary pronouns easily gives away that the writer has not gone past a few years of Spanish. The sentence Hoy yo como en casa de mi madre (I'm eating at my mother's house today), for example, doesn't seem too fluent because of the first person pronoun yo. The only commonly used subject pronouns are the third person ones, due to the ambiguity lacking a pronoun can sometimes cause, and yo in tenses where the first-person-singular and third-person-singular are identical (i.e., imperfect, conditional, and all subjunctive tenses). However, these are also often omitted if it's clear who the speaker is talking about.
Regarding tú and usted (the singular 2nd person pronouns), it really depends on where you are what pronoun you use in most situations. In Spain, for instance, usted is used mostly in formal speech (people who you don't know and/or are much older than you), while with anyone you already know or someone you meet and want to continue to meet in the future, you use tú, unless it's official business. In many Latin American countries, however, tú is seen as somewhat disrespectful by people who aren't your peers; business colleagues who have worked together for years will still use usted with each other. Note also that in several Latin American countries around the Rio de la Plata, as well as in parts of Central America, vos is used instead of tú. Argentina is the most popular example of this.
On vosotros and ustedes (the plural 2nd person pronouns) meanwhile, vosotros is used only in Spain, and following the same rule of thumb as with tú and usted (as in vosotros in casual speech and ustedes in formal speech). If you use it in Latin America, at best it sounds like "tally-ho, guvnah!" in the United States, but for the most part, it will usually sound like saying "forsooth, ye art thou!" in Modern English. You can get away with it as a nonnative speaker, but try to stick to ustedes even if you're in full-blown ceceo mode (more on that later as well). Also in Spain itself people will always understand you (although it may sound a little weird to them if you manage to make friends with them) so it's a safe bet.
VerbsOf course, like any other language, Spanish has its area that makes nonnatives (and sometimes even natives) want to give themselves a lobotomy. In Spanish, like many other Romance languages, that would be verb conjugations.
The three possible verb endings are -ar, -er, and -ir. Each has its own conjugation patterns (now with 40% more irregulars!) for each tense, of which there are seventeen. Let's have a look at the conjugation tablets for three regular verbs of each type—hablar (to speak), comer (to eat) and vivir (to live)—in present tense, indicative mood:
- yo: hablo, como, vivo
- tú: hablas, comes, vives
- él/ella/usted: habla, come, vive
- nosotros/as: hablamos, comemos, vivimos
- vosotros/as: habláis, coméis, vivís
- ellos/ellas/ustedes: hablan, comen, viven
Having fun yet? And that's just one tense out of seventeen, which are divided in three categories: Indicative (indicativo, which has ten tensese), Subjunctive (subjuntivo, which has six) and Imperative (imperativo, which has only one). Every single tense has a table like this. Oh, and to add to the fun, in the Rioplatense dialect (Argentina, Uruguay, etc.) the pronoun vos has its own separate conjugation! So instead of hablas, it's vos hablás. If you're really curious, here are the full conjugation tablets for the three verbs above: hablar, comer, vivir (we have to confess, though: half the conjugations are composed forms and a few aren't even used).
The seventeen tenses, with usage notes, are as follows:
- Indicative (indicativo):
- Present (presente): Exactly What It Says on the Tin. While the progressive form does exist in Spanish, it's much less commonly used; the basic present form is typically used instead. By far the most important tense.
- Preterite (pretérito): The "once" or "X times" past. Distinct from the imperfect. Also, unlike English, used to describe pictures and the like; to ask "What's she saying?" for a comic panel or somesuch would be "¿Qué dijo ella?" Also often used in speech to replace the perfect tense, somewhat akin to English, especially around the Rio de la Plata. In Spain, on the other hand, is not as commonly used. Only when the action described is considered to be in the relatively distant past.
- Imperfect (imperfecto): The "continuous" past. A tense of considerable importance. Some verbs only retain their past meaning in the imperfect and take on new meanings in the preterite; for example, "Yo ya sabía", (I already knew), but "Supe ayer" (I found out yesterday). Both forms are from saber, "to know." Also used for English past progressive, as in, "El esclavo llevaba la jarra cuando la dejó caer." - "The slave was carrying the jug when he dropped it."
- Future (futuro): Describes future events. Actually considered somewhat "high" speech, something like English "shall"; usually, the ir a + [infinitive] construction replaces it, like English "going to"/"gonna." Also used for certain statements regarding uncertainty or wondering, such as, "¿Qué hora será?", "What time could it be?"
- Conditional (condicional): Used to express things that would happen if a certain condition were met. For example: "Yo iría con ustedes, pero tengo que estudiar." (I would go with you guys, but I have to study.) If you didn't have to study, you'd be going with them, but you do, so you're not.
- Present perfect (pretérito perfecto): Essentially identical to the same tense in English; the best way to explain it is a "past action with present consequences." A compound tense, formed with a present tense form of haber. Often replaced by the preterite in casual speech in Latin American countries (in Spain too, although not as common). "Ya te he dicho lo que pienso." = "Ya te dije lo que pienso." "I [have] already told you what I think."
- Pluperfect (pretérito pluscuamperfecto): Again, essentially identical to the same tense in English. Used to describe something that had already happened before something else did. Another compound tense.
- Past anterior (pretérito anterior): Archaic, essentially replaced by the pluperfect, or in some cases the preterite.
- Future perfect (futuro compuesto): Used to express things that will have happened before something else does, essentially the same as in English, as you can see in this very sentence.
- Conditional perfect (condicional compuesto): Used to express a "hypothetical past action"; something that would have happened had a condition been met. Think of the last line every Scooby-Doo villain says: "And I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for You Meddling Kids!" In Spanish, they would use the conditional perfect. ("¡Y yo habría tenido éxito sin ustedes muchachos entrometidos!")
- Subjunctive (subjuntivo)
- Subjunctive present (presente de subjuntivo): Hoo boy. The subjunctive forms are used when dealing with something that is either a wish, uncertain, or just not necessarily real (which extends to a lot more things than you might think). It's virtually always in a clause with que. The exact peculiarities of the subjunctive mood are very, very complicated, but suffice to say, if it has a que clause and you're not 100% certain it's real, go with the subjunctive. The subjunctive present specifically is used when the preceding clause is in the present or future tense.
- Subjunctive imperfect (imperfecto de subjuntivo): The subtleties of the subjunctive mood were explained above. This one is used when the preceding clause is in the imperfect, preterite, conditional, or the present, past, and conditional perfects. Also used to express the condition used to fulfill the conditional tense: "Yo comería si tuviera hambre." (I'd eat if I were hungry.) Notably, this has two conjugation variants: the nowadays more common one ends in -ra, while the less common, more formal variant ends in -se. Tuviera in the previous example could have been easily replaced by tuviese with no change in meaning.
- Subjunctive future (futuro de subjuntivo): Virtually obsolete, except in legalese. It used to be used when the preceding clause was in the future tense, which has been overtaken by the subjunctive present.
- Subjunctive present perfect (pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo): Used primarily to express subjunctive past actions when the the preceding clause was in the present tense.
- Subjunctive pluperfect (pretérito pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo): Used to express the condition of something for the conditional tense primarily.
- Subjunctive future prefect (futuro compuesto de subjuntivo): Obsolete entirely.
- Imperative (imperativo): Used to give commands. This is actually an incomplete tense; commands can obviously only be given to a "you," or as a "let's [do something]." For the tú and vosotros forms, there are actually two forms, affirmative and negative (both the negative and any extra forms, like for usted or nosotros, are taken straight from the subjunctive; the vos form, like in every other instance, is a deformation from the vosotros form).
Spelling, Sounds, and the LikeSpanish's sound system and especially its orthography aren't that hard to get used to. Spelling gives all the info needed for pronunciation (the opposite is not always true, though) and each letter has one pronunciation (with the exception of c and g); you don't have the long vs. short vowel distinction that can cause a minor fiasco in some other languages like English.
There are digraphs, for the records.
- A: like father
- E: between bed and bay; more towards bay at the end of a word.
- I: like seem
- O: like hole
- U: like rude
Fun fact, Spanish vowel sounds are literally identical to Japanese vowel sounds. So you can use those for reference if you know themnote .
The following letters and digraphs are noticeably different from English pronunciation:
- B: Pronounced like a mishmash of w, b, and v between vowels.
- C: In Spain, before i or e, pronounced like the th in think but drawn out like s. In Latin America, it's s like in English. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, thinco, thinco, seis!
- CH: In most dialects, always like in match, unless the word is foreign. In New Mexico, the Mexican state of Chihuahua and some parts of southern Spain, however, it's generally a sh sound.
- D: Between vowels, often pronounced in Spain like a soft, voiced th, as in this, or not pronounced at all in some New World dialects where, for instance, pescado (fish) is spoken as pecao.
- G: Also before e or i, this changes from the normal goat sound into, depending on the region, either the h in house, the ch in loch or Bach, or (especially in Spain) a voiceless uvular fricative, which sounds like a voiceless French R. Between vowels it is reduced to a very weak sound in virtually all dialects.
- GU: A hard g in front of e or i; gw in all other cases (although the g is removed in some varieties).
- GÜ: Like gw; used before e and i to indicate the u is not silent, as it normally would be per the above rule.
- H: Never, ever said except in loanwords. It's written mostly to prevent two vowels being next to each other when unnecessary (like in ahogandose, pronounced ow-gan-doe-say).
- J: Same as the soft G pronunciation. If you ever see Hispanics on Facebook typing "jajajaja", this is why.
- LL: Its canonical pronunciation is rather like the Italian gl as in figlio. However, in most dialects the pronunciation has become like the y in year or like the J in "jail" (oddly enough, the only strong hold-out of the primitive pronunciation is Catalonia, where the same sound is an important part of the Catalan language and its standard accent). In the area around Rio de La Plata, instead, it's pronounced as the sh in show or the s in measure, in Guatemala, it becomes a sound somewhere between i and j, and in New Mexico, it's generally omitted entirely, such that ellos becomes éos.
- In dialects of Catalan (Català, Aragonés, Valenciana, Menorquinés, etc.) there is the ligature ĿL, which signifies two 'L's next to each other that should be pronounced like two British 'l's: one ending its syllable and the second starting the next, instead of the standard double l sound as in Spanish. As it's only used in the middle of words, you'll only see it as "ŀl" or "l·l". That dot in the middle is called an interpunct.
- The word llama seems to have three different translations into English. "Llama": the domesticated South American Camelid. Llama as a conjugation that can mean "he calls" or "You, call!". And "llama" as in "Flame". note
- QU: Always a k. "Quiero que el queso se quede" is pronounced "Kyero ke el keso se kede." (Incidentally, that means "I want the cheese to stay.")
- R: Flapped, as in the d's in pudding. Being otaku helps here: it's the same Japanese phoneme that is romanized as an "r". However, when it follows a consonant or it's the first letter of a word, then it reads as...
- RR: The famous "rolled r," as in the ridiculously exaggerated ¡Arrrrrrrrrrrriba! Think making a machine gun noise with your mouth. If you don't get it right, don't worry too much: this is one of the most difficult sounds for nonnatives, and natives usually understand that. In some parts of Central and South America it is often not pronounced like the standard, some people pronounce it like almost like the "s" in "pressure", while in other people it comes close to an English r. In several Caribbean dialects, it becomes a guttural ch (like loch or Bach).
- S: In Latin America this sounds just like in English, while in European pronunciation it may sound like "sh" at first, but it actually is a sound between "s" and "sh" that takes some time to learn to make. However, in most Latin American dialects (Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica being notables exceptions) as well as in southern Spain, "s" is often turned into an "h" sound, or even omitted entirely, when it comes before a consonant or at the end of the a word.note
- SH: According to the RAE, this digraph is pronounced like an "s", because the H is mute. In Latin America, due to influence from the superpowerful USA, this digraph is pronounced like an English "sh". You will also hear the "sh" phoneme in places like Argentina, where LL and Y are pronounced this way, or Chihuahua, Mexico, where the CH is slurred into a "sh".
- V: Pronounced like a b. The real difference is tricky, as classical language rules establish they should be pronounced more like the English v between vowels, but common Spanish doesn't really distinguish, and virtually all the forms of the language treat it as a second b.
- X: In standard Spanish it's always pronounced as in "ax." But Spaniards used it to represent several different sounds on Aztec and Mayan languages, so in Mayincatec words that crossed over to Mexican Spanish it can be read like "s", "sh", "j" (That's how you should pronounce it "Mexico", by the way) and also "x".
- Y: Pronounced like LL in most dialects, and like "sh" in the Rioplatense dialect. When ending a word, like a semiconsonantal i. (rey, "king," is read as "ray")
- Z: Pronounced, again only in Spain, as a "th." In Latin America it's an S.
While we're on the z and c sounds...
Lithpth and Shoshos: Spanish Dialects and AccentsThe biggest contrast among the dialects is between the Spanish spoken in Spain* and Latin American Spanish. This is best seen in two features, ceceo/seseo and the vosotros pronoun and conjugation.
Ceceo and seseo refer to how soft c and z are pronounced in various regions. As noted above, in Spain, those two letters are pronounced like an English unvoiced th ("ceceo"). In Latin America, they pronounced both as an s (seseo), which makes learning English phonology slightly more difficult, but also is more intuitive to English speakers learning Spanish. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some regions in Spain, especially in the South, where all "s" sounds are pronounced like th, even standalone S's. So you get things like, "¡Por favor, Theñor Jueth, no mande uthted mi hijo a prithión!" * Thus the famous "Spaniard lisp," that you see in lots of Antonio Banderas movies (him being from Málaga, in Southern Spain).
In Spain, however, ceceo gets a different meaning. As the th pronounciation is spread all over the country, the term ceceo is reserved for the example above in which all the s are also replaced by th. Pronouncing the sounds differently, which would be considered ceceo in Latin America, is called distinción (distinction) in Spain.* For instance, regarding the words casa (house) and caza (hunt):
- For a seseo speaker, both are pronounced casa.
- For a total ceceo speaker, both are pronounced "catha".
- For a distinción speaker, they're pronounced casa and "catha", respectively.
The other major difference is the vosotros pronoun. It is used only in Spain, replaced by ustedes in all of Latin America, though a few isolated areas retain the conjugation but not the pronoun itself. As explained before, vosotros is the second person, plural, familiar register pronoun, essentially a plural tú, and enjoys common usage in Spain, but in Latin America sounds like a thick South London accent and dialect would in the US.
There is a special pronoun that is used in some areas of South America, however, which is amusingly derived from vosotros, vos. This dialect is known as voseo, and is used primarily in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia, and is popular in some Central American countries and the southernmost regions of Mexico. The conjugation of the vos pronoun is a modified form of the vosotros conjugation, resulting in tú puedes becoming vos podés (compare vosotros podéis)* . (Except in Chile, which uses a different conjugation of vos, with the verb poder becoming vos podí or vos podéi)
Voseo happens to be one of the features of the Rioplatense dialect, which takes its name from the Rio de la Plata, the area where it's spoken; this is mainly the countries of Argentina and Uruguay. The other main features of the dialect are the consonantal shift of y and ll to either a sh or zh (measure) sound, hence the "Shoshos" (Yoyos) of the title, resulting in ayer sounding like "ah-SHARE" or "ah-ZHARE" instead of "ah-YAIR"; and also the almost entire elimination of the present perfect tense, which enjoys some usage in most other areas.
In the United States, meanwhile, there is a native Spanish dialect spoken in New Mexico and Colorado by neomexicanos, descendants of Spanish settlers who lived there before the annexation of the Southwest by the States. Generally called New Mexican Spanish, it preserves several features of Early Modern Spanish lost in most other varieties, such as ser being conjugated in the first person as yo seigo, rather than yo soy, and haiga rather than haya being the subjunctive of haber (also used in Mexico, albeit with connotations of poor literacy). It suffered a decline in the 20th century as English came to dominate, but the recent influx of Latino immigrants has ensured the dialect's survival. English has left an unmistakable mark on the dialect, however, and many words are of English origin adapted into Spanish phonology, e.g. troca for "truck" rather than camioneta.
Acentos y tildes: ¡un montón de ñaña! Aparte, ¿qué pasó con la puntuación?One famous feature of Spanish orthography is its diacritics, specifically acute accents and tildes. The acute accents, unlike some other languages, such as Hungarian or Polish, where they distinguish sounds, accents in Spanish are used only to mark stress or to distinguish homonyms. You'll notice, however, that it's not marked on every word, the rules for the marking are very straightforward, so if you learn them, as mentioned before, the spelling gives you all the information for pronunciation. The words are divided as:
- Agudas (Acute): They have the accent on the last syllable. Are marked when they end in n, s, or vowel. Examples: Calor, Beber, Sudor, Lombriz, Camión, Jamás, Rubí, Café
- Llanas/Graves (Graves): They have the accent on the second-to-last syllable. Are marked when they end in consonant different than n or s. Examples. Guerra, Gato, Radio, Flores, Lápiz, Árbol, Cárcel, Difícil, Azúcar.
- Esdrújulas (Em... Esdrujulas?): They have the accent on the third-to-last syllable. They are always marked. Examples: Brújula, Bélgica, Séptimo, Máximo, Ejército, Hígado, Pájaro.
Besides the acute accent, Spanish is also famous for the eñe letter, "ñ." This is pronounced approximately* like "ny," so "ñoño" above would be pronounced "nyonyo" (a word that more or less means "cheesy" in Spain and "nerd" un Mexico). For another example, the English word "canyon" is derived from the Spanish "cañón."
Also used is the letter "ü", with the diaeresis. It is used to distinguish between "gue"/"gui" and "güe"/"güi", where in the latter, the "u" is not silent. Compare guitarra (guitar) and pingüino (penguin), and guerra (war) and nicaragüense (Nicaraguan).
Another difference of Spanish punctuation is their disuse of quotation marks. Dialogue is denoted by long "em" dashes (), and quotes and phrases are surrounded by «comillas angulares.», or angular quotes, used in most Romance languages. If you're from the Americas this might come as a bit of a surprise for you, because despite being the actually correct ones as specified by the RAE, «angular quotes» are in practice pretty much exclusive to Spain; in Latin America, everybody uses American English "quotation marks" (despite that, the use of quotation marks is becoming steadily more prevalent even in Spain).
Decimal separators also depend on the region. In Spain and some countries in Latin America, the thousands separator is a period and the fractional separator is a comma (ten thousand and a half in Spain = 10.000,5); while in other parts of Latin America, just like in American English, the thousands separator is a comma and the fractional separator is a period (ten thousand and a half in Mexico = 10,000.5).
But perhaps the most famous feature of Spanish orthography is the inverted question mark (or "interrogation point," for any Brits reading this) and exclamation point. Like just about any feature of language, this has its usesit helps isolate the question or exclamation in a compound sentence, for examplebut these two marks are so rare among languages that they're often simply called "that Spanish upside-down thing."
The title of this section, incidentally, means "Accents and Tildes: A Load of Crap! Also, what happened with the punctuation?"
No molestar - False Friends, Swear Words, and Other ThingsThe nature of semantic drift naturally ensures that "false friends" will arise. Probably the most famous, as shown above, is molestar, which is a perfectly innocent and mundane word in Spanish meaning "bother," but obviously means something more... extreme in English. This really isn't that difficult, but an English speaker who's sort of half-listening may still be caught off guard by a phrase such as, Aunque él me molestaba a veces, yo le amaba. ("Even though he bothered me sometimes, I loved him." We're not talking Stockholm Syndrome here). Funnily enough, this can also happen with Spanish speaking natives when trying to speak English ("Teacher, teacher! He's molesting me!")
Another potentially hilarious false friend is embarazar, the opposite situation of molestar; it means "impregnate," not "embarrass," which in Spanish is avergonzar or humillar (lit. "shame" or "humiliate"). This led to a rather famous case of Bite the Wax Tadpole where a pen company advertised their product with the slogan, "It won't leak in your pocket and get you pregnant." One has to wonder exactly what sort of ink such a pen would be using...
But the most irritating false friends have to be the troll pair of atender and asistir. They sound like English "attend" and "assist" respectively, so you'd think this would be easy, right? Wrong. Atender means "to assist"...and asistir means "to attend"!*
And on top of that, we have region-specific false friends: "bizarro", according to the RAE, actually means either "brave" or "generous"... but that's only in Spain, because in Latin America, where the language is influenced by American English, "bizarro" is usually taken to mean "bizarre"! However, this meaning started to spread to Spain as well in The New '10s, so many modern Spaniards will let it pass.
Now for the good stuff, though: profanity! We've saved the best for last. Here are all the expressions you need to know to know when to hit someone (when they're said to you) or duck (when you say them). Also convenient for use in non-Spanish-speaking circles.
- Mierda = Shit (chances are you already knew this one). In Spain can also translate as "Damn!" as an interjection.
- Cojones* = Spain only. The more profane word for balls, the usual, milder ones being huevos (which is also the word for eggs) and pelotas (which actually means "balls"). Quite a few expresions arise from this one: the verb acojonar(se) means "to (get) scare(d)" and is generally used to remark how much of a coward the guy who got scared is (it's in fact a deformation of acongojar(se) due to phonetic similarities, but the original verb is now only used in formal situations, by extremely polite people or people with extreme aversion to curse words). Cojonudo roughly translates to "fucking good". The expression tocar los cojones (literally "touching the balls") can either mean "to be a lazy fuck" or "to piss someone off" depending on whether the metaforical balls belong to the person touching them or not. Calling someone a mosca cojonera ("balls-y fly") implies that they are as annoying as, well, having a fly in the balls.
- Carajo = An interjection roughly equivalent to damn, fuck, or in some cases hell ("vete al carajo" can be half-literally translated as "go to hell"). In Venezuela, along with the interjection use, is also used as a sightly more vulgar equivalent of "dude", even having a female and a diminutive version to refer to women and small children. "Estar del carajo", however, means that something/someone is doing very well. May or may not also mean dick in some places.
- Cabrón = "big goat", but meaning "cuckold", equates to asshole, fucker or bastard. Can be used casually among friends, but absolutely not with strangers.
- Capullo = "cocoon" or "flower bud", and (amusingly enough) slang for "prepuce" or "foreskin". In Spain, it's a tamer synonym for "Cabrón", although "¡Eres un capullo!" would more accurately translate to "You're a dick!".
- Pendejo = "pubic hair", roughly idiot or jackass, with an added connotation of willful incompetence. Almost exclusive to Latin America, with Spaniards only using it whenever they want to invoke Latin stereotypes. It's a derogative word for a young person in Chile and Argentina, and for a particularly dumb or mean person in Mexico. There was a scandal in Venezuela when the late politician and intelectual Arturo Uslar Pietri used the word on a TV interview in 1989 to refer to honest everymen, not because the meaning but because at the time the word was considered too strong for broadcasting (while in real life it is relatively mild).
- Joder = "fuck" (used rather like it is in English; estamos jodidos means "we're fucked."). Almost never conjugated in anything but past participle (The expletive "fuck!" would simply be joder! and "That fucking test" would be Ese jodido examen, although most would say puto or something similar instead). "Fuck you!" would be translated as ¡Jódete! or ¡Que te jodan!. It is also a vulgar word for bother (compare "fuck with").
- Chingar = "fuck". Almost an exact synonym for joder. It is used most often in Mexico, whereas joder is practically a comma for the Spanish.
- Follar = synonym for "fuck" as a verb, although only when it refers to the specific biological act of intercourse. Extremely vulgar, it is not usually heard outside of Spain, since most swear-worthy situations are covered by joder or chingar. "¡Que te follen!" would be an alternative translation for "Fuck you!".
- ¿Qué diablos? or ¿Qué demonios? = What the hell? (Lit. "What devils?" or "What demons?"). It's an archaic expression that became Gosh Dang It to Heck! over time, so it is pretty unusual to hear today. A related word that is even more archaic is "demontre", also vaguely meaning demon. All of them can also be used as an interjection ("¡demonios!" = roughly "holy shit!").
- Maldito/a = (God)damn (again, rather used like in English; can be either an interjection or adjective). Very unlike the English equivalent, this word and its religious relatives (like "infierno", meaning literally "hell"; "vete al infierno" = "go to hell") are actually considered pretty tame in Spanish, almost to the point of Gosh Dang It to Heck!. In fact, they are soft enough to be used in television for the youth slot in Spain and most Latin American countries. However, although not archaic like the previous, they still carry a certain old-fashioned vibe that makes them rare to hear in the street.
- Maldición = Literally "malediction" or "curse", but more commonly translated as "damnit" or similar. Also soft enough for TV.
- Malparido/a = Something like saying the person wasn't born right or in the right way. Similar in the usage to the English word "Bastard". Somewhat archaic, it is quite uncommon in modern Spain out of country/rural context.
- Malnacido = same as before, but a bit more common nowadays in Spain. Still old-fashioned, though.
- Tomar = Latin American slang for drinking spirit; literally, "take" (Spain just says beber, i.e. "drink", with no real slang word for it). Completely innocuous for most situations, such as photography (tomar unas fotos). An important exception would be taking a person to a place, for which the verb "llevar" is used. "Tomé a mi hermana al prom", for example, means you and your sister have some explaining to do.
- Puto/a = The female form "puta" means "whore", or more generally "bitch"; "hijo de puta" equates to "son of a bitch." Beware of this in Spain, since it's the worst insult you can say to a person (one of the six traditional palabras mayores, or "major words", the only one directed against females, although only married, and one of the four that's still in use now). The male form "puto", on the other hand, is a very offensive word for "gay" (think "faggot") when applied to people, and something more akin to "goddamned" when applied to objects or situations. Also, as mentioned above, "puto/a" can be used as an equivalent to "fucking" ("el puto coche" = "the fucking car"). It is considered substantially milder in this form.
- Coger = Literally "get or take" but has evolved into "fuck" in most Latin American countries. In Spain, however, it has maintained the literal meaning and is an incredibly common word, which sometimes can cause misunderstandings between Spaniards and Latin Americans. For instance: cogí una magdalena means "I took a muffin" in Spain, but "I fucked a muffin" in Latin America. Recoger is the non-profane version (which in Spain means something similar to "pick up").
- Cagar = The verb form of "shit". Often used to construct colorful oaths like ¡Me cago en la leche! ("I shit in the milk!"), ¡Me cago en la puta! ("I shit in the bitch!"), or even more colorful (only in Spain, and not commonly used), ¡Me cago en la puta de oros! (which is a reference to Spanish playing cards, and when adapted to English cards, it would be something like "I shit in the Jack of Diamonds!"). Mecagüen! and Me cahis en la mar! are the Gosh Dang It to Heck! versions of this. If you want to use these oaths to insult a person in particular, you can use me cago en la cara de tu padre! ("I shit in your father's face!" - very uncommon today, but still effective), me cago en tu puta madre! (I shit in your fucking mother!") or me cago en todos tus muertos! ("I shit in all of your dead relatives!"). Cagada means "shitty" or "full of shit". In some Latin American countries also a slang word for "reprimand", ex: "El profe me cagó por lo del comedor" meaning "The teacher reprimanded me for the cafeteria incident". In Spain, a cagada is something embarrassing, normally used to describe something someone has said with the intention of being funny (but isn't). This is different from "cagarse en alguien" which literally means "to shit on someone" and which basically means to insult somebody with all you've got, and also from "cagarse" which is slang for being scared in some countries. Me cago en Dios ("I shit on God") is still heard in certain areas of Spain, even by religious people, but it's better not to say it if you're in front of someone who is really religious and might get seriously offended.
- Coño = Country Matters. It is not nearly as offensive as that word is in English (ESPECIALLY in North America), and in fact it is often as an interjection, as in "fuck!"; "¿Qué coño ___?" equates to "What the fuck ___?" in peninsular Spanish (see note below on profanity in Spain). Saying that a person is "un coño de madre/un coño de su madre" means not that they're that part of their mother anatomy, but that the person is a bastard, and the expression "¡El coño de tu madre!" is a direct insult, in some places being even worse than calling the person "hijo de puta". There is also the derivate word "coñazo", that in Spain means something among bothersome or annoying (as in "esa persona es un coñazo", that person is very annoying) but in Venezuela means "beating" (te voy a meter un coñazo = I'm going to hit you hard). Nowadays, Spain is the only country that still uses the word on its original sexual context: the rest of the Spanish speaking countries simply see it as another vulgar interjection.
- Culo = Ass, used in pretty much the same situations as in English and then some more. De mi culo is "my ass" in some Latin American countries. In those, a father of a teenage daughter, when she says where she goes with her date, may say "'Vamos al cine' de mi culo." ("'We're going to the movies' my ass."). In Spain it's also used in the construction "de culo" for "screwed"; "Vamos de culo" means "We're screwed." Venezuelan males also use the term to refer to a one-night stand or someone they have a superficial sex-based relationship (but never saying it in front of the person); "ese un culo que me levanté anoche" means "a girl I picked up last night".
- Pajero = Wanker/douchebag/jackoff. Mitsubishi fortunately avoided biting the wax tadpole on this one and sold their model as "Montero" (mountaineer) in Spanish speaking countries. In Chile it's also a pejorative term for a lazy and/or slow person: "Apúrate, pajero!" would mean "Hurry up, stupid slouch!"
- Polla = Literally it would mean female chick, but it is used as a very vulgar synonym of "dick" and should never be used for anything else unless you want to risk ofending someone (at least in Spain). ¡Chupame la polla! means "Suck my dick!"
- Gilipollas = One of the most common insults in Spain, and nowhere else. It doesn't have a literal translation, though the "-pollas" at the end comes from where you think it comes from. It would be a rough equivalent to "dumbass", although its usage is somewhat more offensive, akin to "asshole". This word also has a tamer Unusual Euphemism version in "gilipuertas", which subtitutes "pollas" ("dicks") with "puertas" ("doors"). In Catalonia (North East of Spain) it's also used the short form "Gilí", which is considered a kinda "softer" version of the word. Said shorter version may be the origin of the even shorter "Gil", which is used in Argentina to mean "dumbass".
- Arrecho: Unused in Spain, it means horny in some other countries. In Venezuela and Colombia, however, it means "furious" when applied to people, and "spectacular" when applied to objects (to wit. "Estoy arrecho": I'm furious, "Soy arrecho": I'm awesome).
- Pinche: Originally used to refer to a kitchen helper, which is still maintained in Spain, in Mexico this word has evolved into an interjection to emphasize something, similar to "fucking" in English: "una pinche cerveza" means "a fucking beer".
- Güey: A Mexican corruption of buey, which means "ox", in reference of being dumb like an ox. Being "güey" means being dumb, incompetent or ignorant; "hacerse güey" means pretending to not know about something. Also used in Mexico as a pronoun or an interjection, in which case it's usually slurred into "wey": "me voy con este wey" means "I'm going with this guy", and "¡AY WEY!" means "HOLY SHIT!". This word was popularized by standup comedian and entertainer Adal Ramones, who found out that this word was not blacklisted by official censorship rules, and as a result proceeded to abuse the hell out of it during his TV performances.
- Verga: "Dick" in Mexico, Venezuela and Spain (though increasingly rare to hear in the last). When this word is inappropriate, some radar-safe alternatives include "vaina" (common in Venezuela, known but less common in Mexico), "vértebra", "verdura" (vegetable), "Bergen" (German for "mountains") and "versh" (cf. Youtube animated comedy channel Vete a la Versh).
An interesting note about Spanish is the frequency of Cluster F-Bomb in common speech, particularly in Spain. Spanish speakers tend to use stronger swear words and use them more often, especially compared to English speakers in their own language. The prevalence of this in Spain is said to be due to the Franco regime's oppressive enforcement of clean-mouthed-ness; when that regime fell in the late 1970s, people began cussing left, right, and center. By far the most common word is "joder", the proper inflection and placement of which takes practice, said by everybody from chavales (boys, preteens), to abuelitas (little old ladies).
Actually, the prevalence of profanity in Spain is so extended that, when it's in an informal situation and among friends, swearing on its own may easily be seen as relatively innocent. As a result, Spaniards rely a lot more on voice tone, timing in the conversation and body language to distinguish between playful banter and actual rude behaviour. Getting this right may be a bit tricky at first for non-native speakers , though. However, since this is meant to be done with friends, most likely Spaniard friends will be delighted to teach you the fine art of spicy, swearing-ridden Spaniard chatting.
Truly offensive peninsular profanity relies a lot on creativity and especially blasphemy. Spain is a country with deep Catholic roots, but in the last centuries it evolved gradually into its direct opposite, and nowadays it keeps instead a heartfelt disdain for Christianity and religion in general (another consequence of the Franco regime, though the attitude was already present in the times of The Spanish Inquisition and several Church-sponsored absolute monarchies). As a consequence, there is a ton of swearing based on religious imagery, a bit like the Québecois. Hostias, or "host" (as in sacrament) is somewhat more offensive than "joder", while Me cago en Dios y las tetas de la Virgen (I shit upon God and the Virgin's tits) means you probably just amputated something.
Overtly agressive or profane swearing (even moreso than these latter examples) is possible, but rare and mostly used in derivative works for comedic effect, such as "Te voy a sacar los putos ojos y me voy a mear en los agujeros para que te escueza"* . Spaniard are perceived as more profane than Latin Americans, not because this is fundamentally true, but because there is more swearing on Spanish TV (sometimes even on family-oriented shows on occassion), while most Latin American countries enforce cleaner language on media to very ridiculous extremes (where even Gosh Dang It to Heck! can be considered too much).
Judaeo-SpanishJudaeo-Spanish (djudeoespanyol), also known as Ladino, is derived from Old Spanish and is the diaspora language of Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews, the Sephardim. It has influences from the old Iberian languages - Old Aragonese, Astur-Leonese, Old Catalan, Galician-Portuguese and Mozarabic -, as well as Ottoman Turkish, Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic (in religion, law and spirituality), French and Italian (for modern concepts), and Greek and South Slavic languages (because most Iberian Jews lived in the Balkans).
It absorbed Judaeo-Portuguesenote (a language it mutually influenced), Judaeo-Catalan and Judaeo-Aragonese, all of which are now (mostly or wholly) extinct.
It is mainly written in the Latin alphabet, also in Hebrew (how it was originally written) or Cyrillic, and more rarely in Greek and Arabic.
It is spoken by about 60,000-400,000 people worldwide, and it's considered an endangered language.
Haketia and Tetuani LadinoHaketia, or Western Ladino, was the language spoken by the North African Sephardim. It differed from the version spoken in the Balkans (which may be called Eastern Ladino) because it had a greater influence from Arabic and little to none from the Balkanic languages (since they lived among Arabic people and not in the Balkans).
It is now endangered - even more so than Eastern Ladino - due to two reasons: it did not develop a literary tradition, so it had more difficulties being preserved, and the Spanish and French conquests in northern Africa, as well as large-scale migration of Sephardim to Spain and other Spanish-language countries, made the language being absorved to Spanish.
A special form of Haketia is Tetuani Ladino, historically spoken by Sephardim from Oran, Algeria, who originally migrated from Tetuan, Morocco (hence the name), and is now spoken by a few thousand in mainly Israel.
Haketia is said to have influenced Llanito, the peculiar coloquial form of Spanish spoken in Gibraltar, due to migration by Morrocan Jews.