Generally the Spanish word maleducado more often means rude, rather than unschooled. In light of this, how would one describe someone who is polite and intelligent, but has never been formally schooled and hence is ignorant of most technical subjects? I looked it up on SpanishDict and found these:

  • Falto de educación
  • sin instrucción
  • ignorante
  • inculto(a)

What are the precise differences in implication between each of these? Are there any other ways to translate 'uneducated' in the manner I've described? Which seems to most closely fit the definition of someone who is very capable of learning, but has never been taught very much?

(A little more digging didn't produce the fine distinction I was looking for, so I decided to come here :)

  • maybe you can add to the list "analfabeto" (someone who can't read or write because he has never gone to school).
    – Javi
    Mar 15, 2012 at 8:08
  • Si se trata de falta de estudios en un tema o materia en particular, a menudo se emplea la palabra "lego" Lego. Definición Real Academia
    – roetnig
    Sep 5, 2017 at 9:56

6 Answers 6


In a general way I would use "Sin estudios" and if I want to make it more exact:

  • Sin estudios básicos (uneducated)
  • Sin estudios secundarios (without High school education)
  • Sin estudios universitarios (without university education)
  • +1; Still, I wouldn't assume that everyone understands that "college" is the proper translation for "universidad"; please see spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/432/… A better way of putting "sin estudios universitarios" in English is, in my opinion, "with no tertiary education" or even "with no university education.
    – CesarGon
    Mar 15, 2012 at 20:02

First off, since you will be commenting on the level of someone's education, you'll usually want to be cautious in the words you choose, since no one would like their level of intelligence to be made fun of! ;)

Anyways, since you are looking for a polite way to express this, I probably wouldn't lean in the direction of ignorante or inculto. These words aren't totally rude per se, but they might come off as being a little too blunt. You could probably get away using them in a joking or playful manner, but caution is still advised. Other words that could probably fall into this category might include bruto (brute), and necio (roughly: uneducated fool.)

Now, falto(a) de educación would probably work, but it could also be interpreted in a way similar to maleducado, that is rude. It would really depend on the context.

In my humble opinion, I think that a good (and unambigious) way to express the lack of education, would be to use an expression meaning without. In this case the preposition sin or a negative of the verb tener work well. These patterns also allow you to specify the type of education a person lacks (e.g. escuela secundaria (high school), colegio (college), etc.)

For Example:

  • Ella está sin colegio.
  • Ella no tiene (un título del) colegio.

She doesn't have a college education.

That more-or-less should cover all the basic and general expressions that would be used. In general, the same principles that you would use to choose how you'd express this in English will apply here. Just try to be sensitive and smile. Hope this helps! :)

  • 1
    +1. Another example would be "Ella no tiene estudios." Mar 15, 2012 at 18:58
  • 1
    Spanish "colegio" is not a good translation for English "college", at least in Spain and other regions; see spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/432/… @Laura 's answer on this page avoids this issue and is, IMHO, a much better answer.
    – CesarGon
    Mar 15, 2012 at 19:59
  • @CesarGon I understand your concern, but in such a trivial case as this, I doubt it really makes that much of a difference. The point of my answer was to try to emphasize patterns of "without" (e.g. sin & no tiene) and @Laura's answer does so as well. I simply chose a word that came to mind quickly and that I would typically use in these types of context. Even if the word isn't 100% universal, I think the point still gets across. That said, you may always edit my answers to help improve them... :)
    – Miguel
    Mar 15, 2012 at 20:31

A polite word often used for people lack of academic education is iletrado. The RAE dictionary defines it as a synonym of analfabeto, but usually, analfabeto is intended to describe someone who can't read/write, or lacks of the most basic education skills. Iletrado sounds less rude.

  • 1
    At least in Spain, I'm sure that many people wouldn't even know what "iletrado" means, because it's not a word widely used by an average native speaker.
    – Javi
    Mar 15, 2012 at 10:24
  • @Javi: Well, I have never found with this situation. And usually is taken as less offensive as the analfabeto alternative. Mar 15, 2012 at 10:40
  • I disagree with both of you; with Javi, because iletrado is a very common word, and with Tomas, because iletrado is not an appropriate word to refer to someone that lacks formal schooling, which is what the question is about. I would even argue that calling someone iletrado, unless you are referring to a person that can't read and write, is a very rude word to use. For example: Eres un iletrado is just as rude as calling someone ignorant: Eres un ignorante. The author of this blog: gazapping.blogspot.com never finished grammar school and you couldn't call him iletrado
    – Icarus
    Mar 15, 2012 at 13:45
  • @Icarus I'm referring just to Spain not in general. It may be used widely by the average speaker in other countries.
    – Javi
    Mar 15, 2012 at 16:33

In case of formal education, alternative word you can use instead of educación is formación (it does have slightly different meaning that "education", it's rarely used in context of primary schools, and it's also used for "professional training").

Thus when talking about a person who isnot qualified for the job because of lack of eg. college education, you can say:

Le falta la formación para este puesto


How would one describe someone who is polite and intelligent, but has never been formally schooled and hence is ignorant of most technical subjects?

Some choices are:

  • Falto de formación técnica
  • Falto de educación formal

Maleducado is used to refer to someone that lacks good manners. You can have a post doctorate degree in astrophysics from Princeton and still be a maleducado.


Here are some gentle ways of describing such a person, that work well in Mexico:

No tiene mucha escuela

No pudo hacer mucha escuela

No ha hecho mucha escuela

[She hasn't had much schooling / She wasn't able to get very far along with formal education]

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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