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8 Untranslatable Spanish Words to Improve Your Social Interactions

Social Interactions
8 Untranslatable Spanish Words to Improve Your Social Interactions
on July, 23 2015

When you learn a new language, you’ll notice that there are some specific words and phrases that can’t simply be translated because they’re unique to the new language, and therefore don’t have an equivalent, or mean something completely different if you try to translate them literally.

Spanish language is not an exception. When you translate Spanish to English, you see that some Spanish words can only be “explained”, not translated. Some of those words are specifically used in social contexts, and if you don’t know what they mean, you may feel left out of the conversation, or even offend someone without meaning to.
Learn what these unique Spanish words mean and avoid awkward misunderstandings in social situations.

Pena ajena

The phrase “pena ajena” is used when something embarrassing happens to a person, and you feel identified with the feeling, as if it would’ve happened to you. For example, you may feel “pena ajena” for the defeated team, when the soccer match ends up with a score of 20 goals to 0.


Concuño o concuña designates the brother or sister of your brother/sister in law. Yes, latino families are really extended.


Similar to concuño/a, the word consuegro/a helps to describe a relationship between two people that are not actually related, because “consuegros” are the parents of someone’s daughter or son in law. This is another example of the saying “when you marry, you don’t marry one person, you marry the entire family”!


The term “hacer sobremesa” refers to the time spent at the table after you finished eating, to enjoy of a pleasant conversation over a nice glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Spaniards are known for enjoying good food, and taking the time to do it, and it’s almost rude to leave the table immediately after finishing your meal. Sobremesa is all about enjoying the company of others for anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour (it could even be extended until dinner time), and it’s as important as the meal that was just served. So, next time you sit at a Spanish table, relax and spend some time after your meal. Your hosts will be very pleased.


The word merendar means to eat a light snack during the afternoon. The merienda consists of a small pastry or sweet bread, yogurt, fruit, and coffee or other beverage. This small meal is common in various countries, mostly in Southern Europe. For Spanish people, for example, the merienda is served at around 6 pm, and it’s intended mostly for children and seniors to have an extra pump of energy, as dinner is served until as late as 10 pm. However, the latest trend for Spaniards to go out with friends to have merienda after work, as an opportunity to go out to a nice place and catch up, without spending as much money as they would in a lunch or dinner.


Another term related to food is the expression “provecho” or “que le aproveche”. The word “provecho” is the equivalent of “bon appetite”. The person who tells you this expression wishes that the meal you’re about to enjoy is tasty and satisfying, and it’s polite to reply with “thank you”.


The word “tutear” refers to the act of treating someone in an informal way, as you would treat a friend or close relative. This term specifically refers to the word “tú”, which is less formal than the word “usted”. When you talk to someone like your boss, an authority figure, an older person, or someone that you just met in a formal context, you should use “usted”; therefore you should not “tutear” that person.

Te quiero

This expression could lead to a lot of confusion if you don’t know exactly what it means. The phrase “Te quiero” is used in a romantic context, and it can be explained as the preamble for “I love you”, which may come at a later stage in the relationship. When someone says “te quiero”, they mean there are some feelings going on, but those feelings are not as strong as love. We could say it’s middle ground between “I like you” or “I care”, and “I love you”, which is quite handy if you’re not ready for the big “L” just yet.

With these 8 unique Spanish words and expressions, in your arsenal, you’ll be ready to face any social situation as a native Spanish speaker.

Now it’s your turn: have you faced any embarrassing or confusing situations because of untranslatable words or phrases? Share it in the comments section below and let us learn from your experience.

Day Translations Team

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