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If I want to refer to a bus, would I use the term 'colectivo' or 'autobús'? I assume it would depend on where I am. Is 'colectivo' more appropriate in South America or Spain?

I guess that 'colectivo' is a reference to a collection of people in a bus as oppose to one or two which might be more of a car than a bus.

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Colectivo is the most common term to refer to an urban bus in Argentina, and a common term for buses of different kinds in Paraguay, Ecuador and Venezuela. (For more details see the Wikipedia article autobús.) In Argentina colectivo specifically means "urban bus" in Buenos Aires, while micro is used for the long-distance buses. In other parts of the country colectivo is used for both types.

Bus, autobús and ómnibus should be understood everywhere, but the preferences vary. In some countries there seem to be half a dozen or more modes of mass public transportation on roads, each with its own particular name.

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  • In Dominican Republic we say guagua for a bus. The bus service in the capital is referred to as "la omsa" (Oficina Metropolitana de Servicios de Autobuses). It's common to say something like, "Voy a tomar una omsa." – DanM87 Oct 19 '20 at 17:57
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Pablo's answer is right, I'll just add that in Chile, "la micro" (unlike Buenos Aires where it's "el micro") is an urban bus, "bus" is a long-distance bus, and "colectivo" is some weird kind of taxi that has some more or less predefined route and is shared by up to 4 passangers (and if there are less than 4, they'll just wait there until more people arrive).

Trust me, asking for the colectivo there will be confusing for everybody!

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    In Mexico a colectivo is similar to what is described here, a van which takes around 4 - 8 people along a somewhat flexible predefined route. A city bus or inter-city bus is a camión. – el_menjurje Oct 21 '20 at 3:04
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A small remark to add to the previous answers. It is an interesting word, since as you probably know, bus is the abbreviation of Latin omnibus "for all", dative plural of omnis "all". So colectivo is actually a direct translation of omnibus, but it is only used in S. America, whereas the original Latin omnibus or bus, are used everywhere.

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I agree with Pablo's answer. Bus, autobús and ómnibus should are widely understood.

Only use local terminology or slang if you're definitely sure your target audience will be "in-the-know."

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