As far as I know, those two are the only exceptions. Is there a particular reason for this?

  • When I was a kid, I thought that the name of "that" saint was San Totomas. For me, it is far easier to say "San Tomas" rather than "Santo Tomas" because of the doubling of the syllable "to". Calling him "San Tomas" contributes more to clarity, rather than ambiguity. Aug 3, 2020 at 7:34

2 Answers 2


The Diccionario Panhispánico de dudas says that "Santo" must be used with Domingo, Tomás, Tomé and Toribio. (Thanks Gonzalo Medina for pointing this out)

The reason to prefer to use "Santo" is to avoid confusion in oral speech. Quoting a WordReference thread:

Technically, any male saint, or "santo", could be called "Santo", and it would not be strictly wrong (although it would be very uncommon) to say "Santo Pedro" or "Santo Juan". However, the custom for male saints is to abbreviate the title "Santo" to "San".

The exception to this rule is when the first syllable of the name is "To" or "Do". Under those circumstances, if one said "San Tomás", it would be unclear whether the man's name was Tomás or just "Mas" -- because you could be saying "Santo Mas". In the same way, if you said "San Domingo", it would sound very much like "Santo Mingo", and again confusion would result.

  • 5
    The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas: buscon.rae.es/dpdI/SrvltGUIBusDPD?lema=santo says that only santo must be used for Domingo, Tomás, Tomé, and Toribio. Jan 16, 2012 at 0:31
  • On the other hand, it's a silly rule. What if they invented another saint called "Toño" (or you want to called that way a "Antonio"), "Tobaldo" or "Tontolín". You keep the same problem with the pronuntiation as in "Tomás" or "Toribio". As native speaker, I would say "Santo Tobaldo", "Santo Toño" y "Santo Tontolín" cause sound better, but "San Tontolín" is not bad either.
    – Ricardo
    Jan 16, 2012 at 8:58
  • @Ricardo: every rule is silly to a certain extent and on a certain level ;-) Jan 16, 2012 at 18:23
  • 2
    Maybe, but I live in San Jose, CA and there are streets and an expressway named San Tomas and San Tomas Aquino (Tomas pronounced by everybody in the Spanish fashion, not like "Thomas"). So the rule is not observed here.
    – Marc
    Sep 21, 2018 at 22:13
  • 3
    I'm curious why santo is retained for these four and not for any other male saints beginning To-/Do- e.g. San Doroteo, San Torpetes, San Torcuato etc.
    – jacobo
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:21

The expected apocope in these names is omitted (as dusan says), to avoid ambiguity in parsing the saint's name when spoken:

  • San Tomé = /ˈsantoˈme/ = Santo Me
  • San Tomás = /ˈsantoˈmas/ = Santo Mas
  • San Toribio = /ˈsantoˈribjo/ = Santo Ribio
  • San Domingo = /ˈsandoˈmingo//ˈsantoˈmingo/ = Santo Mingo

Traditionally these are the only four saints treated as such, but there are others with an initial unstressed To-/Do-. Some of these would not require such a rule because the break is mid-syllable and would leave an unpermitted onset consonant cluster (e.g. San Torpetes, San Torcuato), but others have similar phonetic contexts to the four above, yet are not treated as such, possibly due to them simply being less popular (e.g. San Doroteo).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.