Both Google Translate and Spanishdict.com translate silly as tonto. However, both as translate dumb as tonto also. I find this hard to understand because silly and dumb are not synonymous in English, and notably calling someone silly in English is generally fun and playful, whereas calling someone dumb in English is an insult.

How should I understand this? Is it completely context-driven? Is there a safer word for silly for a novice to use to ensure it is not taken offensively?

  • 5
    It always depends on the context... but in general, do not say tonto to someone until you know him/her well.
    – fedorqui
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:39
  • 1
    It is exactly the same as calling someone "fool". Sometimes is offensive and sometimes it is not.
    – DGaleano
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 14:29
  • 'Tonta' I think is a playful word because my ex-sister-in-law calls me 'tonta'. I don't think she is calling me out of my name. Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 22:17
  • Yes, it is context driven. You got that right. Fool in English is always offensive.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


It actually depends on the context, and also depends on intonation a lot. However, I think most of the times we use it (in Spain) in an offensive way, it comes always with some emphasize that makes clear we're talking seriously. If you say it laughing in a non so-serious context it is difficult to offend someone or get misunderstood.

Here in Spain you could use 'bobo' as a translation for silly, since 'bobo' is even more playful. However, it can be offensive too, like you can see here and here, but is really not so common.


En Perú sería una ofensa traducirlo "tonto". Más bien decimos "disforzado" lo cual se aplica a alguien quien se hace el payaso o está haciendo reír a alguien.

  • Bienvenida, Gabriela. Interesante este regionalismo. También "se hace el payaso" que mencionaste funciona bien, yo creo de manera universal. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 3:52

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