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"Box" in English can be translated into Spanish as caja, cajón, or estuche. What exactly is the difference between these three words? What types of boxes are translated as each? Which would best describe a shipping box used for sending something in the mail?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

The most common one, at least in Spain, is "caja".

"Cajón", though it is defined as "caja" by the Real Academia Dictionary, refers usually to big, sturdy boxes. Like made of wood, instead of cardboard. But in Spain, "cajón" is usually used in its "drawer" meaning.

And "estuche" generally refers to small boxes, for storing pens, jewels, etc. In some cases it used for bigger things. For example, music instruments, like guitars, are kept in "estuches". But those are quite specific cases.

So, summarizing, and generalizing:

  • Caja: generic box
  • Cajón: big, sturdy box
  • Estuche: small (in some cases big, too) box, with a specific use.

For the shipping box, I would say "caja". And, when in doubt, use "caja grande", "caja pequeña", "cajita" ...

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In some countries in Latin America, Cajón could also be used as Coffin. – Icarus Dec 27 '11 at 10:15
@Icarus Well, a coffin is a big, sturdy box, isn't it? :) – MikMik Dec 27 '11 at 10:19
yes, it is. I mentioned it just because RAE makes that distinction about the definition of Cajón and I don't know whether in Spain is also common to use cajón as a synonym for ataúd (coffin). I don't think box can be used to refer to a coffin in English, but I am not sure either. I've never been to a funeral or spoken about funerals with a native English speaker. Perhaps someone reading this can tell me. – Icarus Dec 27 '11 at 11:01
I don't think cajón is used in that sense in Spain. At least, I've never heard it. However, caja de pino is colloquialy used to mean coffin. – MikMik Dec 27 '11 at 11:41

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