In many parts of the Spanish-speaking world, describing a person who is "shy" can be done with at least four different words:

  • tímido
  • reservado
  • vergonzoso
  • penoso

What is the difference between these words, and what exactly does each one refer to? Which is the most general translation of "shy"?

2 Answers 2


There are many meanings with these words:

  • Tímido and vergonzoso: their main difference could be that with vergonzoso you emphasize the fact the person you're talking about feels (or could feel) shame when doing something. With tímido you only say he/she will be more reluctant to behave in a more "direct" way, someone without "personality".

  • Reservado: is someone who doesn't talk too much. A bit silent. A person who only speaks when he feels he has to.

  • Penoso: According to RAE's definition, in Cuba, El Salvador and México it means Tímido (I've just learned this today). Here in Chile, on the other hand, it means someone who makes the other people feel sorry for him, in a very bad way.

  • +1 "Penoso" means something completely different from "shy" also here (Argentina).
    – leonbloy
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 19:52
  • "Penoso" in Spain is more like awful for a person or a situation and labourious or difficult for a task or a job (and this meaning is kind of out of use)
    – Laura
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 21:20

I learned from the Miami Cubans that penoso meant shy. Have I been misinformed? Am I going around telling Spanish people that I am messed up?

  • 1
    Penoso derives from pena, which has different meanings, some of them depending on the country. Pena: sadness, punishment, pain, difficulty, shyness,... Penoso: arduous, pitiful, afflicted, unfortunate, flamboyant, shy. The last two meanings are contradictory! Take a look at the links,
    – aerobiomat
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 15:07

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