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What is the difference between santo and sagrado in translating the English religious word "holy." How are the two words used in religious contexts in Spanish-speaking countries?

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As far as I can tell holy=santo/a sacred=sagrado – Laura Jan 31 '12 at 20:07
Is there a question here that can't be answered by reading the dictionary definitions of santo and sagrado? – Flimzy Feb 1 '12 at 2:29
@Flimzy: My dictionary lists "holy" as a translation for both words. I'm trying to figure out when you'd use which when translating "holy" from English. – jrdioko Feb 1 '12 at 2:31
A translation dictionary probably is not sufficient in this case. I liked to the RAE definitions (in Spanish) of both words above. The definitions there are much more in-depth than a translation dictionary can provide. Let me know if those help answer your question. – Flimzy Feb 1 '12 at 2:33
@Flimzy: Those do help clarify some. It sounds though from Janoma's answer that there's no easy rule... some set phrases (like Holy Family) probably just need to be memorized. – jrdioko Feb 1 '12 at 2:38
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Holy means sagrado and santo in the sense of sacred:

Holy Land : Tierra santa

Holy Spirit : Espíritu santo

Holy Bible : la santa biblia (common) or la sagrada biblia (uncommon)

Holy Family : la sagrada familia (as in Gaudí's masterpiece)

Holy Grial : el santo grial

It's also translated as bendito(a):

Holy water : agua bendita

However, santo is the word used for a saint:

Saint Patrick : San Patricio. Patricio es un santo.

Saint Mary : Santa María. María es una santa.

All Saints' Day : día de todos los santos.

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