Following in the footsteps of EL&U, are there any words that have opposite meanings in different Spanish-speaking regions?

We are looking for words that are the same, but have different meanings in different dialects, and not words which are different between the two dialects.

9 Answers 9



I think I first came across this topic on my favourite language blog and then I discovered my favourite word of this type somehow, which is in fact a Spanish word.


Here are the key definitions from the online DRAE:

1. adj. Que no tiene pelo o tiene muy poco. U. t. c. s.

4. adj. Ec. Que tiene mucho pelo.

And in English without the DRAE abbreviations:

1. adjective "That doesn't have hair or has very litte. (Also used as a noun)

4. adjective (Ecuador) "That has lots of hair.

  • 1
    BTW, the more common words for those meanings ("pelón" is no very common) are "peludo" (lots of hair) and "pelado" (no hair)... that are quite similar, with no obvious cue of which one is which.
    – leonbloy
    Jan 15, 2012 at 1:49
  • 2
    @leonbloy Well, the suffix -udo conveys abundance or big size, and pelado is the participle of "pelar", to cut or remove the hair. So for a Spanish speaker they are quite straightforward, unlike pelón which can have both meanings.
    – MikMik
    May 5, 2016 at 11:00

An example I recently found in Vía Rápida: Cuaderno de ejercicios. In this book, there is a story of a Spanish girl who came to Mexico. Someone told her:

Tome asiento. En un ratito viene el profesor.

The girl prepared to wait for quite a long time, but then she understood that 'rato' was a different thing in Mexico.

The comment from the book:

En España "un rato" significo un espacio de tiempo algo prolongado. En estas situaciones, en español peninsular se diría "enseguida", "en unos minutos", pero nunca se usaria la palabra "rato".

In Spain, "un rato" is quite a long period of time. In Mexico, it's almost right now, just in a few minutes.

  • 2
    I can vouch for the Mexican usage. Nov 18, 2011 at 10:46
  • Ratito have the ending "ito" referred to something small then "ratito" is a little "rato".
    – esdebon
    Apr 16, 2015 at 16:55



From DRAE:

  1. Nunca
  2. Siempre
  3. Algunas veces


  1. Never
  2. Always
  3. Sometimes
  • 3
    I remember hating this word as a student. I also hate dejar for similar reasons. Dejar can mean, well, just about anything, it seems!
    – Aarthi
    Nov 20, 2011 at 2:57
  • 1
    Wow I was unaware of this and only ever use it in the never sense! Dec 17, 2011 at 17:08
  • Omg this was really funny. Looks like DRAE is just trolling you. I, however, can't manage to think other uses different than "never", excepto "siempre jamás", which, since they go together, it is easily recognized. Could you add some examples of each one please?
    – FGSUZ
    Feb 11, 2018 at 1:13

Some others (all definitions taken from the DRAE):

  1. luego.

    1. adv. t. Prontamente, sin dilación.

    2. adv. t. Después, más tarde. Anoche fuimos al teatro, y luego a una sala de fiestas. Estudió derecho, y luego medicina.

  2. lívido, da.

    1. adj. amoratado.
    2. adj. Intensamente pálido.
  3. nimio, mia. (Del lat. nimĭus, excesivo, abundante, sentido que se mantiene en español; pero fue también mal interpretada la palabra, y recibió acepciones de significado contrario).

    1. adj. Dicho generalmente de algo no material: Insignificante, sin importancia.
    2. adj. Dicho generalmente de algo no material: Excesivo, exagerado.
  4. espirar.

    1. tr. Exhalar, echar de sí un cuerpo buen o mal olor.
    2. tr. Rel. Dicho especialmente del Espíritu Santo: Infundir espíritu, animar, mover.
    3. tr. Rel. Dicho del Padre y del Hijo: Producir, por medio de su amor recíproco, al Espíritu Santo.
    4. tr. ant. Atraer el aire exterior a los pulmones.
  • "Acception" is a rare or even obsolete word in English. The usual translations are "sense" and "meaning" though in this case maybe "definition" would be better? Dec 17, 2011 at 11:17
  • @hippietrail: thanks. Yes, definition is better. Dec 17, 2011 at 17:01
  • 1
    I just noticed the OP was specifically asking for words with opposite meanings in different regions but these all seem to have both opposing meanings no matter the region. Dec 17, 2011 at 17:35
  • 1
    @hippietrail: true. Luego has the regional characteristic: in Mexico it's used mainly with the first meaning, but in Colombia it's used with the second one. Dec 17, 2011 at 17:40

Huésped, según el DRAE, es:

Persona alojada en casa ajena.
Persona que hospeda en su casa a otra.




Not opposite meanings, but opposite T-V attitudes: "Vos", second person pronoun, is very informal in those regions with 'voseo' (eg. Argentina), and very formal in other regions (Spain). This latter form, though, is seldom used (it's rather archaic), and hence there is little chance of confusion. One case I recall: "Jesús, en Vos confío" a traditional Spanish christian jaculatory (very short prayer; "Jesus, I put my trust in you") is said verbatim in Argentina, and most people here believe wrongly that the informal "voseo" is used...

PS: This other confusion is not from regional context, rather from the technical, but I experienced it just now, listening to the radio about the "Costa Concordia" shipwreck: Rumbo : its common meaning is "course" (direction, of a vehicle, a ship...), but in naval/marine context it has a specific technical meaning: a dangerous hole in the hull of the ship. So, if you are aboard and happen to hear "¡Tenemos un gran rumbo!"... perhaps you'll think that it's good news, when actually it's very bad.


No son opuestos, pero casi:

calzón: en algunas zonas es prenda interior y en otras exterior.

torta: en Chile es un bizcocho dulce. En otras zonas es una masa salada, (lo que en Chile conocemos como "sánguche"). Esto lo deduzco del Chavo del Ocho.

colectivo: en Argentina es un autobús. En Chile es un automóvil (un taxi). Éste es el más forzado de los tres ejemplos, pero podríamos decir que el de Argentina es grande y el de Chile es pequeño.


Otra más:

Panocho, cha

  1. f. vulg. Órgano sexual de la mujer. U. m. en Am.
  2. f. vulg. Esp. Órgano sexual del varón.

In Mexico, ahorita can mean in a moment, or it can mean some hours from now. And there's no surefire way to figure out which one is meant.

I suspect that in most Spanish-speaking countries, it generally (always?) means in a moment.

Does that count?

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.