I was searching for the translation of “capital city”, and Google provided me with “ciudad capital”.

After a bit of research, I found out that the Tagalog language uses the word “kabisera” to describe “capital city”. It descends from “cabecera”, and my Spanish dictionary captures the definition in question.

I study Spanish in school, yet I have never encountered this word before. Is “cabecera” an uncommon word in Spanish-speaking countries, and do people prefer the word “capital” to this?

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    Notice that there is no universal correct answer. The use of the word "cabecera" depends on the country. Argentina is not Spain, Spain is not Mexico, etc ...
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 14:33
  • @RubioRic still, it would be good to at least identify the regions where this word is frequently employed
    – Axel Tong
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 14:34
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    I know, I know. Just commenting. :-)
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 14:35
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    Shouldn't the title of the question make a reference to the type of use?
    – aris
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 15:13
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    Repeating my comment in an answer below: in Spain, cabecera is a common word. Just not for a capital en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cabecera Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 17:46

7 Answers 7


I'd say it depends. For example, in Argentina the country is divided in provinces, which are divided in municipalities or departments. Their administrative centres are called cabeceras, so in that particular case, cabecera is the right word to use.
However, for both countries and provinces (or states), capital should be used instead

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    I can add that this also exists in Mexico. The Municipios have a main city that servers as the cabecera municipal. But for states and countries we use capital as well. Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 23:52
  • Same happens in Spain. The capital of a comarca (shire) is called cabecera, but for bigger demarcations, such as provinces, we use capital.
    – Gorpik
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 13:29
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    @FernandoMata and jmm, please do not use code formatting for emphasis or highlighting—please use it only for text that should actually be understood as code (or other for-computers text fragments). Unlike most formatting options, code formatting has a specific meaning, and alternative browsing technologies—like screen readers for the blind—have to “render” it in a way that makes sense for that context, which can make it harder to understand as regular prose. Bold or italics, or quoatation marks, work fine for this purpose, and don’t have that issue. Thanks for making the site accessible.
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 15:13

I'm from Spain and that term is not commonly used here in the sense that you point.

Capital is the preferred word to mark a city as the principal in a country, a province or a district, where the central government institutions are located.

Cabecera sounds a bit archaic, from the times when Spain was a more rural country and was divided in partidos judiciales and the main city in such division, where the justice courts were located, were named cabeza o cabecera del partido.

That meaning is still registered in the DRAE and may be used in some official documents but it's not commonly used by regular people outside the legal bussiness.

Madrid is the capital city of the country and no one calls it cabecera.

This answer is only related to the use of cabecera as capital. The word cabecera is commonly used in Spain with its other meanings.

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    Note that we use cabecera commonly as a word, just not for the capital. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cabecera Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 17:45
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    @AnderBiguri I tried to indicate that in my first sentence "in the sense that you point" but I've added an additional paragraph at the end now as well.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 11:15
  • We still use cabecera for a comarca, though.
    – Gorpik
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 13:30

Cabecera is what we learned in grade school in Guatemala, for both capital cities and regional capitals like cabecera departamental. It's used in daily language.


Cabecera is a common term in Mexico to refer to the location (city, town or otherwise) of administrative powers within a local government demarcation or municipio, thus the term Cabecera Municipal.


Todo depende del país.

En Colombia, el primer nivel de la división politco-administrativa es el departamento y estos a su vez se dividen en municipios.

Se le denomina capital al municipio que tiene la sede administrativa del departamento.

Y en el caso de Bogotá cumple una doble función es simultáneamente la capital del Colombia y la capital del departamento de Cundinamarca.

Se usa la expresión cabecera muinicipal para referirse al área geográfica que está definida por un perímetro urbano, y corresponde al lugar en donde se ubica la sede administrativa de un municipio.


not in Spain again, that's the very first time I hear of it. I use 'capital', there are other words but they mean something else 'la ciudad principal de Galicia', it refers to the biggest city in terms of population but we can say 'la capital de Galicia'. Another example is 'la capital de Escocia es Edimburgo', but you could say 'la ciudad principal de Escocia es Glasgow' but you need to specify in some way that you're talking about population


Cabecera is also very common in Nicaragua, but not really used to refer to the Capital city of the Country, however, Nicaragua is divided into departments and each department has a Cabecera Departamental, the Cabecera Departamental of each department is pretty much the main city or town.

No one really calls Managua city (the capital city of Nicaragua)the Cabecera of the Managua greater area.

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    Your sentence seems a bit uncomplete. The capital city is?
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 11:16
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    It's a quiz, you're supposed to guess the capital city of Nicaragua: A. Granada. B. León. C. Managua. D. Esteli.
    – PatrickT
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 11:27
  • sorry guys, I thought I had saved this as a draft, didn't realize I posted it. I just fixed it though, thanks. Commented May 6, 2020 at 3:34

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