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English describes landforms that rise above the surrounding land as "mountains" or "hills." What words in Spanish describe a mountain or a hill? What are the differences between them (i.e. what size mountain gets classified as which word)?

Here are the words in alphabetical order:

  • cerro
  • colina
  • collado
  • cordillera
  • loma
  • montaña
  • monte
  • otero
  • sierra
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closed as not constructive by Flimzy Jan 24 '12 at 1:36

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I'm closing this question as it appears to be asking for simple dictionary translations. If the true question is more subtle (perhaps "how big is a 'cerro' before it becomes a 'montaña'?"), please clarify and flag for moderator attention to have it re-opened. – Flimzy Jan 24 '12 at 1:37
@Flimzy: My main question was the differences between montaña, colina, cerro, etc. (in terms of size or whatever else), but your call as to whether that's nuanced enough. – jrdioko Jan 24 '12 at 3:35
I would suggest making the question more specific then; rather than asking for a list of words, and their relative sizes, ask for a comparison/contrast of two specific words (assuming a standard dictionary definition of those words doesn't give you a reasonable answer). – Flimzy Jan 24 '12 at 4:09
@Flimzy: I think that might make the existing answers seem out of place. I'll leave it closed for now. – jrdioko Jan 24 '12 at 4:39
I think this is a perfectly good question. The easiest way to make improve it against the complaint it was closed over is to explicitly include the list of words in the question. – hippietrail Jan 24 '12 at 10:37
up vote 3 down vote accepted

These are all words that you can use for mountains. Some have slightly different uses than others. The distinction between a hill and a mountain I would say is the same as English (correct me if I'm wrong)

  • Montaña - Mountain

    A lone mountain

  • Monte - Mount

    As in 'Monte Everest' (You wouldn't say 'Montaña Everest')

  • Cerro - Hill

    As in El Cerro de los Siete Colores ( In Argentina =P )

  • Sierra - Mountain

    A mountain that is part of a mountain range

  • Cordillera - Mountain range

    Pretty self explanatory, a range of mountains

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I'd say sierra is a series of mountains, usually linear, that is part of a cordillera. For example, the Cordillera Penibética in Spain comprises several "sierras". In fact, the definition of sierra is "parte de una cordillera" or "cordillera de montes o peñascos cortados". – MikMik Jan 24 '12 at 11:43
I would add colina, which is also hill. However, RAE points a slight difference between cerro and colina. They are the same (elevación natural de terreno, menor que una montaña) but for cerro they add "aislada". – MikMik Jan 24 '12 at 11:48

There are lots of terms, with varying and imprecise meanings. From bigger to smaller:

montaña (mountain)



colina (hill)


and there are others (collado, otero, sierra...) The ordering is debatable (specially between cerro-monte, and colina-loma). "Colina" usually also implies green pastures. And, confusingly, "monte" also means a small forest (this meaning is slightly more usual in Argentina).

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For the longest time I only knew loma (learned Spanish in Mexico) and only later did I come across cerro and I have also wondered what the difference is. Even later I came across colina and thought I looked up that its meaning is more like hillside... – hippietrail Jan 24 '12 at 10:36

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