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What is the difference between verduras and vegetales? In what situations can one be used as a translation for "vegetables" and the other cannot?

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Vegetal (here the new definition according to RAE) is either:

Verdura, on the other hand, refers to edible plants, specially those with green leaves.

In Spanish (in Spain, at least) we make a distinction between hortaliza (any vegetable, in the 2nd meaning of vegetable as a noun in the previous link) and verdura, which are a subset of hortaliza.

So lettuces, spinachs, cabbages, caulifloweres, chards, etc. are verduras, but potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, etc. are just hortalizas. However, when someone says "es bueno comer verdura", we all understand that carrots, tomatoes, etc. are included.

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    Unfortunately, there is a growing trend to mistranslate vegetable (in the edible sense) as vegetal because of the sound-alike. It is becomming common on cheap dubs for children shows (e.g., on YouTube). I've seen lots of kids refering to verduras as vegetales. – Rafael Sep 14 '16 at 13:30
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A "vegetal" is anything relative to plants, and "verdura" is a vegetable. So a "verdura" is a "vegetable", but a "vegetable" is not necessary a "verdura".

From the RAE Vegetal and Verdura.

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My answer can't compete with those already given, but the first thing that came to mind when I read this question was something I read a while back that mentioned "verdura" is the word used for "vegetable" in Spain and "vegetal" is used in Latin America.

I didn't find what I remembered having read so long ago, but I did come across this thread here from Span¡shD!ct:

Difference between VERDURAS and VEGETALES?

It supports what I remember reading, in places, but also adds additional information. I realize Span¡shD!ct is not the RAE, but the RAE is referred to repeatedly throughout the thread.


Since having written the above, I’ve been wondering how best to say something like, “I like to eat vegetables.” Should I use “vegetales” or “verduras?” So I ran a couple of phrases through Google’s Ngram. The results were as follows:

As you can see, in general, “comer verduras” is more common, but I wondered if that was dependent upon region, so I went to Google’s Advanced Search to run these same phrases through a search filtered by country and language (Spanish). What you see below is how many more times “comer verduras” was found on web pages than “comer vegetales.” Numbers below 1.00 indicate the reverse was true.

So, if you really like to eat vegetables and you want to let someone know, go with

Me gusta comer verduras.

Now, apart from pairing “comer” with “vegetal” or “verdura,” there appear to be other common pairings. When word pairings are common enough, we call them collocations in English. I don’t know if the trends I saw with “vegetal” and “verdura” were common enough to be called collocations, but here is what I found (in Spanish newspapers, blogs, and the like). Translations were either retrieved or confirmed with Reverso.

vegetal

as “plant”

diversidad vegetal (plant diversity)

origen vegetal (plant or vegetable origin)
Keep in mind that, unless you’re referring to a specific plant (where “el origen de la planta” might be more appropriate), this is really how you would say “plant origin” in Spanish.

sanidad vegetal (plant health)

as “vegetable”

aceite vegetal (vegetable oil)

caldo vegetal (vegetable broth)
If you go to Reverso, you will see that it lists “caldo de verduras” for this, but you will see examples of “caldo vegetal,” too. Google’s Ngram also indicates that “caldo de verduras” is more common, and by a lot. However, while scanning Spanish newspaper articles, I never saw “caldo de verduras” once, but I saw “caldo vegetal” several times in several different countries. Plus, I saw a lot more images of products using “caldo vegetal,” but you can see versions of both below:

Other words that pair with "vegetal":

fuente vegetal (vegetable platter)
manteca vegetal (vegetable butter)
proteína vegetal (vegetable protein)

verdura

cajón para verdura (crisper)
verdura asada (grilled vegetable)
plato de verduras (vegetable plate)

vegetal, verdura, y/u hortaliza

Some common phrases in English appear to just as easily be translated with either “vegetal,” “verdura,” or “hortaliza.” Below, I've listed some examples, with what appear to be the most common listed first (as indicated by Google's Ngram). (The English is in alphabetical order.) You will notice that in each combination listed below, "verduras" is more common than the other words for "vegetables."

green leafy vegetable: verduras de hoja verde, hortalizas de hoja verde

organic vegetables: verduras orgánicas, hortalizas orgánicas, vegetales orgánicos

raw vegetables: verduras crudas, vegetales crudos, hortalizas crudas

vegetable garden*: huerto, jardín de vegetales, jardín de verduras, jardín de hortalizas
*Google’s Ngram only showed “huerto” and to much lesser degree “jardín de hortalizas,” so I did a general Google search, filtering just for Spanish pages. All four translations you see listed above are in order based off of that search.

vegetable juice: jugo de verduras*
*The only phrase that surfaced in a search using Google’s Ngram. (The others I searched for were: jugo de vegetales, zumo de verduras/vegetales, and jugo/zumo de hortalizas.) I found it interesting that only "jugo de verduras" showed up in a Google Ngram search since I had thought "zumo" was the word for juice in Spain. (Oddly enough, when I expanded the search to just a regular Google search I found more pages for "jugo de verduras" with a Spain and Spanish filter than for "zumo de verduras" (1.24 times as many), but when I add the "News" filter, "zumo de verduras" clearly comes out ahead. (With this additional filter, you'll find three times as many pages containing the phrase "zumo de verduras.") For an example, check out this recent news article: “10 trucos para hacer el zumo de verduras y frutas más sano.”) Such variations are likely to be found throughout the Spanish-speaking world and not just between Spain and Latin America. The images below clearly indicate that you'll find a variety of combinations in real life. Here are a few:


I didn't investigate where each of the images above came from, but I did notice that the can of V-8 — the one that says "jugo de verduras" — is Mexican.

A couple of more "mixed" pairings, but as with the rest in this section, "verduras" seems to be more common:

vegetable seller: vendedor de verduras, vendedor de vegetales

vegetable soup: sopa de verduras*, sopa de vegetales
*Much more common according to Google’s Ngram.

I don’t have a set phrase in English for this last set of images I’ll show you (basically they are newer versions of the triangular-shaped guide known as the "food pyramid"), but clearly, you will find all sorts of places where “verduras” is used instead of “vegetales” and vice versa.

Sample sentences quiz style

And finally, I’ll just close with a few sentence examples with the three words I’ve focused on in this answer — vegetal, verdura, hortaliza. Inevitably, you will encounter many more as you continue your study of Spanish. The ones I’ve included below can show you how interchangeable some of them can be. They come from real Spanish newspapers or blogs and to make it even more of a challenge, I’ve blanked the word out so you can guess which word was used. (To get the answer, either visit the link or see the answer key below.) Translations are either my own or my own with a little help from Reverso.

Hint #1: Each word — vegetal, verdura, hortaliza — is used at least twice.
Hint #2: Pay attention to gender clues. I didn't strip them all out and what remains may help you narrow it down.

1: "La col o repollo, __________________ crucífera, es un/a __________________ verde, fresco y de estación, rico en vitaminas y minerales".
The "col" or "repollo," a cruciferous vegetable, is a green vegetable, fresh and seasonal, rich in vitamins and minerals.
—From "Recetas saludables con col", CUBAHORA, Cuba

2:"El/la __________________, cuyo nombre es Victoria cruziana, …".
"The vegetable, whose name is Victoria cruziana, …"
—From "Reaparece exótica planta acuática que estaba a punto de extinguirse en Paraguay", El Universo, Ecuador

3:"El calabacín es un/a __________________ de verano".
"Zucchini is a summer vegetable."
—From "Un calabacín de récord, en Vízmanos", El Mirón de Soria, España

4:"La Agencia Española de Consumo, Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición recomienda comer 600 gramos de __________________ y fruta por persona y día, …".
"The Spanish Food Safety Agency recommends eating 600 grams of vegetebles and fruits per person and day."
—From "Un truco para comer verdura cada día sin casi darse cuenta", El País, España

5: "La remolacha es un/a __________________ que contiene múltiples vitaminas y minerales súper beneficiosos para la salud".
"The beet is a vegetable that contains multiple vitamins and minerals super benefical for health."
—From "Con remolacha: tres deliciosas recetas ", Hoy Digital, República Dominicana

6: "La zanahoria es un/a __________________ que contiene cualidades benéficas, tanto en la salud como en la estética".
"The carrot is a vegetable that contains benefical qualities, both in health and in aesthetics."
—From "Reinado gourmet de la zanahoria ", Listín Diario, República Dominicana

7: "Venezuela y Turquía cooperaran en el ámbito de producción __________________ y animal …".
"Venezuela and Turkey to cooperate in the field of animal and vegetable production …."
—From "Venezuela y Turquía intercambiaran conocimientos de producción vegetal y animal", El Siglo, Venezuela

And if you’re not thoroughly confused yet about which one of these words for vegetable to use, I’ll leave you with this one last example here:

El gran debate de OT: ¿el aguacate es fruta, verdura, vegetal u hortaliza?

  • Did you make the country break down manually by hand or use a tool/script? – user5389726598465 Jan 29 '18 at 5:38
  • @user5389726598465 Oh, it was done manually. I've never made a tool/script in my life. It sounds kind of fun (and quite possibly much more efficient). Is there a good site out there that you'd recommend for someone wanting to learn how to make one? – Lisa Beck Jan 29 '18 at 8:26
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    Just as impressive either way. Both require serious effort. Python might be the best for the job but if you only do something once it would be faster to do it manually rather than learning a whole language. – user5389726598465 Jan 29 '18 at 8:33
  • +1. You present a lot of actual data instead of just looking up the word in RAE but what is your conclusion? It seems that vegetal and verdura are actually commonly used as synonyms at least in some countries? – snoram Jan 30 '18 at 11:13

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