What is the difference between "cerebro" and "seso"? Also, when would you use one over the other?

From a quick Google search I see that seso refers to the flesh of the brain and cerebro refers to the organ. However, I'm still confused because brain and flesh of the brain is the same thing.

These examples taken from spanishdict.com don't show any differences:

Sé que puedes resolver el problema; nada más usa tu cerebro. I know you can solve the problem; just use your brain.

Tienes que usar el seso si quieres resolver esta situación. You need to use your brains if you want to resolve this situation.

  • 1
    Please be aware that googling stuff is not the way to properly translate anything. The meaning that is the same in Spanish for the expression use your brains does not contain the word seso o cerebro in Spanish. In English, "use your brain" is an idiomatic expression meaning: think about something in order to deal with it. Spanishdict is just machine translation and therefore will only provide literal junk. – Lambie Aug 19 '18 at 15:59
  • There is no "flesh of the brain" in English. It's brain tissue or mass or, for crimes, matter. – Lambie Feb 17 '20 at 17:39

The difference in meaning is strictly as you've found: cerebro is the organ and seso is the tissue it's made of. But then you have figurative meanings and things get complicated fast.

Cerebro is mostly a countable noun, i.e. you say un cerebro, dos cerebros, etc. If you have a collection of preserved brains in jars, you say

Tengo una colección de cerebros.

Figuratively you can use cerebros to mean "minds" in the sense of "thinking people", so you can say e.g.

Los cerebros de la operación fueron Alice y Bob.

meaning "the minds of (=behind) the operation were Alice and Bob". This is more or less a fixed phrase or idiom.

You can use cerebro as a mass noun, but that's not really common.

Seso works both as a countable and a mass noun. If you go to a butcher's and you want brains, you ask for sesos, not cerebros. You'd say e.g.

Quiero un kilo de sesos.

meaning "I want a kilogram of brains".

Some people would use seso as a mass noun in this meaning (Quiero un kilo de seso.) That's OK too.

If someone comits suicide by blowing his brains out, you say:

Se voló la tapa de los sesos.

meaning literally "He blew off the lid of his brains" (this is also a fixed phrase).

Both seso and cerebro can figuratively mean "intellectual power", but for the meaning intended in "use your brains", you would only use either el cerebro or la cabeza. There are some idioms that employ this meaning, though:

  • tener poco seso means "to be dumb, to be unthinking"
  • sesudo is an adjective meaning "sensible" or "wise", but also "cerebral (as in an academic paper)"

Note that the English word cerebral is not easily translatable in Spanish. The Spanish word cerebral only means "of or related to the brain" (though some of the English meaning has crept up on it lately).

  • What's the English meaning that's creeping in? Can you give an example? I'm not sure what you mean. Thanks. – aparente001 May 10 '19 at 3:29
  • cerebral: appealing to intellectual appreciation; primarily intellectual in nature - I see it all the time in Netflix's descriptive tags for films and series. – pablodf76 May 10 '19 at 10:21

Used in a serious way, with a neutral tone, "cerebro" has the focus on the activity that the brain carries out: thinking. "Seso" or "sesos" has the focus on the morphological organ located in the head. This is the term used in the butcher shop.

However, if one wants to admonish someone to use their head, one can ironically choose the term seso or sesos intead of cerebro:

¡Usa los sesos! or ¡Usa el seso!

This could across as critical or even confrontational. It's only to be used with people one knows well, or when you don't mind offending someone.


Los científicos estudian el cerebro.

La Real Academia dice para seso:

  1. cerebro (‖ centro nervioso del encéfalo). [brain]

  2. Seso "Masa de tejido nervioso contenida en la cavidad del cráneo." U. m. en pl.

Seso, brain tissue (mass)

Pues bien, se comen sesos de cordero (lamb brains), y no cerebro de cordero, en español.

También, "use your brains" es una expresión idiomática que quiere decir pensar un poco o usar la cabeza. Ni seso ni cerebro.

  • "Los científicos estudian el cerebro." - no todos. Algunos estudian otras cosas, como los planetas o los idiomas. – Joseph_Jaroslav Mar 30 at 14:21
  • @Joseph_Jaroslav ¿ Como hubiera podido olvidarme de esto ? – Lambie Mar 30 at 16:09

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