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Are susurro and murmullo interchangeable?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Susurro" Is not necessary something bad/disturbing, is just the fact of speaking something in very low voice, generally directly to the ear of the other person.

"Murmullo" In general, implies some kind of disturbing action. Usually not directly to the ear.

For example:

  • "Pedro y María murmullaban en la reunión" → Implies the speaker was unhappy about the fact.

  • "Pedro le susurró un secreto a María en la reunión" → This is just the fact.

Hope it helps :)

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I'd add that when the sound comes from a person or some people, in "murmullo" you can't understand the words that the other person said while in "susurro" you usually can. As in "murmullo" you can't understand what he/they said that's why it's usually annoying. – Javi Feb 8 '12 at 9:50
@nacho4d: thanks very much! – Cadenza Feb 8 '12 at 12:10

Generally they're not interchangeable but there are some contexts where maybe can be used as synonims (I can't think of anyone right now). As you can see below susurro makes reference to a soft or quiet sound but murmullo has more the meaning of soft and continuous background noise. The difference is really subtle.

According to RAE:

susurro. (Del lat. susurrus).

  1. m. Ruido suave y remiso que resulta de hablar quedo.

    (Soft and quiet noise that results of speaking quietly)

  2. m. Ruido suave y remiso que naturalmente hacen algunas cosas.

    (Soft and quiet noise made naturally by some things)

For example you can say: El susurro de las hojas agitadas por el viento.

murmullo. (Del lat. tardío murmurĭum).

  1. m. Ruido que se hace hablando, especialmente cuando no se percibe lo que se dice.

    (noise made by talking, specially when what's being said it's not understood)

  2. m. Ruido continuado y confuso de algunas cosas.

    (continuous and blurred noise from some things)

For example you can say: el murmullo del agua de un arroyo.

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@Javi thanks for the edit! how do you do the yellow marks? – Laura Feb 8 '12 at 10:36
You can just put the greater than symbol (">") before the line or select the text and press the button "blockquote" which is in the edition toolbar (the buttons over the textarea in the edit mode). – Javi Feb 8 '12 at 10:47
@Laura: thanks very much! – Cadenza Feb 8 '12 at 12:11

The same subtle difference exists in English between whisper and murmur.

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