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Recently I came across two words – "lastimar" and "herir" – that, according to my dictionary, both translate to "to hurt".

After some research I found out that some people believe that one simply is stronger than the other, while other people are convinced that one can only be used for physical damage and the other only for emotional damage.

I found another person saying that "lastimar" is very old-fashioned and hardly used anymore and "herir" is the word to use for both types of "to hurt".

Now, what exactly is the difference and when would you use which one? Are they really synonyms and I can pick either one? And are there any differences regarding these two words between Spanish spoken in Spain and Spanish spoken in Latin-America?

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Answering first to what you were told about herir and lastimar:

«Some people believe that one simply is stronger than the other.»

True, in general herir and its related words imply a physical wound, while lastimar might refer to a scratch. Herir tends to be used more in medical/technical speech, where lastimar is a bit more informal, so naturally herir is associated with serious injuries. Note however that you can say Se lastimó mucho al caer and La caída le provocó una herida superficial, which inverts the usual connotations.

«Other people are convinced that one can only be used for physical damage and the other only for emotional damage.»

Not really. Sus palabras me lastimaron is synonym with Sus palabras me hirieron. There's an idiomatic expression, una herida abierta, that can be used figuratively to refer to a deep emotional hurt, in a way where lastimar cannot, but that's it.

«I found another person saying that "lastimar" is very old-fashioned and hardly used anymore and "herir" is the word to use for both types of "to hurt".»

Definitely false. Both words are used, in different contexts to be sure.

Some differences:

  • When used informally, herir is usually active: Lo hirieron en la cabeza.
  • Lastimar tends to be passive or reflexive, in form or meaning: Me lastimé la mano or Salió muy lastimado de esa relación.
  • At least in my dialect (Argentina/Rioplatense) it's not done using herir in the impersonal passive (Se hirió la mano).
  • Newspaper headlines do use herir in the passive: Dos personas resultaron heridas or Un guardia de seguridad fue herido durante el asalto al banco.

Some derivatives:

From herir you have

  • herida "wound, cut",
  • herido/a (noun) "wounded person, victim with a wound",
  • hiriente "hurting, piercing" (figuratively: comentarios hirientes).

From lastimar you have

  • lastimadura "slight wound, scratch" and
  • lástima "pity" (not semantically close).

If there's an accident, you say there were e. g. tres heridos, or un herido de gravedad. You can't say there are *lastimados.

If something is hurtful, it is hiriente, not *lastimante.

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They are mostly synonyms. To me the subtle difference would be that I understand an herida as a open wound.

Herida

  1. f. Perforación o desgarramiento en algún lugar de un cuerpo vivo.

So I (as a Spaniard) would favor "herir" or "herida" for those situations in which "there's blood". Otherwise I tend to use "hacer(se) daño" or "lastimar" for other sources of pain (like a contusion, a pich, a bruise, etc.).

No pellizques a tu hermano, que le vas a hacer daño. Si sigues haciédole eso le vas a lastimar (in this context I could even use "hacer sangre" but I would not use "herir", since it might convey a more serious wound).

Me he hecho una herida en la rodilla (there is a scrape or scratch, thus, there's blood)

Me he lastimado la rodilla (I hit it and ther is a bruise, but no open wound)

Also, when translating "you hurt my feelings" I would favor "herir" (Hieres mis sentimientos) to convey that more "piercing" nature of the (metaphorical) wound.

For physical damage maybe you could understand "lastimar" as "to hurt" and "herir" as "to wound".

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  • 1
    Also, notice that "lástima" comes from "lastimar", and its more subjective than "herida", which would be its equivalent from "herir". Even though "lástima" would be more like sorrow rather than physical pain – Theia Jul 24 '17 at 18:03
  • I'd also add to Diego's good answer that, where both words are interchangeable, lastimar and its derived terms tend to be more colloquial than herir and its variants. – Gustavson Jul 24 '17 at 20:12

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