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I have read three different words with seemingly no difference in meaning: panza, barriga, and vientre. Are there regional differences in usage? Or do they differ in degrees of formality? I am not referring to estómago because it’s the external body part that I am talking about here.

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"Vientre" is the most formal or technical. It's also quite ample: it can be used for the external as for the internal ("dolor de vientre" = "dolor de estómago") and also for the viscera. "Ir de vientre" is an euphemism (usual in medical conversation) for "defecate". It can even mean "womb" (but this is an archaism, from the latin: the christian prayer "Ave Maria" reads "Bendito el fruto de tu vientre").

"Barriga" is most informal-coloquial. It refers mainly to the visible exterior, specially when it's prominent (belly).

"Panza" is similar to "barriga", it's more used here (Argentina; I rarely say or hear "barriga"). In case of a stomach-ache, a kid would say "Me duele la panza".

For example: one might say "Juan tiene panza" as an equivalent "Juan tiene mucha panza" (John is fat - abdominally obese). One would never use "vientre" here.

In some places (Spain, I believe) the word "tripa" is used instead of "panza". That sounds strange in Argentina, where "tripa" means basically "viscera" or "intestine".

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Yes, "tripa" can mean "panza" as well in Spain. It's typical for kids to say "me duele la tripa" for bellyache. –  JoulSauron Nov 7 '13 at 10:00
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I would use «vientre» as the anatomical description of the area (both interior and exterior and without consideration of size), similar to «abdomen», while «barriga» and «panza» would be more used for a slightly rounded or greatly over-sized one from an external point of view.

For the official definitions:

vientre.
(Del lat. venter, -tris).

  1. m. Anat. Cavidad del cuerpo de los animales vertebrados, en la que se contienen los órganos principales del aparato digestivo y del genitourinario.
  2. m. Anat. Conjunto de las vísceras contenidas en esta cavidad, especialmente después de extraídas.
  3. m. Anat. Región exterior del cuerpo, correspondiente al abdomen, que es anterior en el hombre e inferior en los demás vertebrados.
  4. m. Feto o preñado.
  5. m. panza (‖ de las vasijas).
  6. m. Cavidad grande e interior de una cosa.

So «vientre» does refer to the anatomical cavity (1.), the external anatomical region (3.), and the bowels in the abdomen (2.), although I have not seen much or would use this meaning.

barriga.
(Quizá de barrica).

  1. f. vientre (‖ cavidad del cuerpo de los vertebrados).
  2. f. Parte media abultada de una vasija, columna, etc.
  3. f. Comba que hace una pared.
  4. f. coloq. vientre (‖ conjunto de vísceras).
  5. f. coloq. Región exterior del cuerpo humano correspondiente al abdomen, especialmente si es abultado.

So meanings 2. and 3. of «barriga» refer to a bulky part or a warp in some objects., while meanings 1. and 4. refer to anatomical «vientre» (meanings 1. and 2. respectively). Personally I would seldom use them in those anatomical contexts but mainly as in meaning 5.: “external region of the human body equivalent to abdomen, especially if bulky.” - the fact that is the fifth meaning might suggest a regional variation but I have probably heard it in rather this context than referring to the bowels or the anatomical cavity.

panza.
(Del lat. pantex, -ĭcis).

  1. f. Barriga o vientre, especialmente el muy abultado.
  2. f. Parte convexa y más saliente de ciertas vasijas o de otras cosas.
  3. f. Zool. Primera de las cuatro cavidades en que se divide el estómago de los rumiantes.

So «panza» does mean the bulky «barriga» or «vientre», as well as the bulky part of other objects. (and the cow's stomachs.)

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So, if I am being formal and want to refer to the abdoman or the stomach, I should use vientre? Will it not be the same as estómago then? –  Amit Schandillia Nov 5 '13 at 14:49
    
Besides, I already understand that both panza and barriga can be used to refer to the external portion or the belly. What I am trying to find out is which one is used in which context. Is one more formal than the other? Or is it just a matter of regional colloquialism? –  Amit Schandillia Nov 5 '13 at 14:52
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according to how I'd use it and have heard it used it (which differs a little from RAE definitions): for the inner part use «vientre» both colloquially and formally. If you complain on pain, use any (but probably prefer «vientre» for menstrual pain, and «barriga» when overeating). For the external bulky feature use «panza» or «barriga». –  Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Nov 5 '13 at 20:10
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I'm missing tripa in the answer. It's basically the same as barriga, though it can mean also intestine. –  MikMik Nov 6 '13 at 7:02
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Regarding estómago, it's generally used to mean the part of the alimentary canal between the esophagus and the duodenum. So, in general, it's not used to mean the belly. However, you might hear someone say "me duele el estómago", when the pain is anywhere in the belly. –  MikMik Nov 6 '13 at 7:03
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Here in Chile we often refers as "Guata"; very informal and very common.

Usages:

"Me duele la guata" (referring to stomach ache).

"Le pegó un combo en la guata" (referring to a punch in the stomach).

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