The other day, I was attending a Spanish Duolingo event. During this event, the host used the word "autóctono." It got me to thinking What's the difference between "autóctono" and "indígeno"? So, I ran these two words through Google's Ngram viewer:

and then also tried to find some collocations for these two words on linguatools. 161 were found for "autóctono," but none for "indígeno." This made me very curious, so I decided to look these two words up in a few different online dictionaries and ultimately wound up consulting the Diccionario de la lengua española (DLE) (which is where I should have started). Oddly enough, the DLE told me that the word "indígeno" was not in its dictionary. So, I thought That's odd and then went to the entry for "indígena" instead (as the DLE suggested). For that, an entry was returned. This discovery is somewhat backed up by what I found via Google's Ngram Viewer, but, as you can see, some usage of "indígeno" does exist:

For the record, I examined some of the books that contained the word "indígeno" and many of them appear to be books written in Spanish by native speakers.

Obviously, "indígeno" is being used, but is this considered a correct use of Spanish? If so, how does it differ from "autóctono," or are they completely interchangeable?

As a side note, I went back to linguatools and searched for "autóctona" and "indígena." This time, only 86 collocations were found for "autóctona" and 1,507 for "indígena."

¿Es "indígeno" una palabra en español y, si es así, en qué se diferencia de "autóctono"?

El otro día, asistía a un evento de Duolingo en español. Durante este evento, el anfitrión utilizó la palabra "autóctono". Me hizo pensar ¿Cuál es la diferencia entre "autóctono" e indígeno"? Así que pasé estas dos palabras por el Ngram Viewer de Google:

[Véanse arriba en la parte inglesa.]

y luego también traté de encontrar algunas colocaciones para estas dos palabras en linguatools. Se encontraron 161 para "autóctono", pero ninguna para "indígeno". Esto me dio mucha curiosidad, así que decidí buscar estas dos palabras en varios diccionarios en línea y finalmente terminé consultando el Diccionario de la lengua española (DLE) (que es por donde debería haber empezado). Curiosamente, el DLE me dijo que la palabra "indígeno" no estaba en su diccionario. Así que pensé que era extraño y fui a la entrada de "indígena" en su lugar (como el DLE sugería). En este caso, sí que aparecía una entrada. Este descubrimiento se ve respaldado por lo que encontré a través del Ngram Viewer de Google, pero, como se puede ver, existe algún uso de "indígeno":

[Véanse arriba en la parte inglesa.]

Obviamente, se está utilizando "indígeno", pero ¿se considera un uso correcto del español? Si es así, ¿en qué se diferencia de "autóctono", o son completamente intercambiables?

Traducción realizada, en parte, con la versión gratuita del traductor www.DeepL.com/Translator.

  • 3
    in Spanish we have indígena, an adjective that does not change to "indígeno" when applied to masculine nouns. Example: "En el barrio indígena de Relizan se han derrumbado varias casas." That's why you can hardly find the word "indígeno". On the other hand, it seems to have the same exact meaning as autóctono.
    – Charlie
    Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 9:58
  • 1
    The word indigeno exists in Italian and Portuguese, though it is currently unusual in the latest. Are you sure your search results are not contaminated by these two languages?
    – Gorpik
    Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 12:53
  • 1
    @Gorpik I don't have much to say about the prevalence of indígeno in Italian and Portuguese, but on closer inspection, I discovered that many of the 2,100 pages that come up in a Google search filtered by "Books" and the time span 2001 - 2008, are combinations where indígeno is hyphenated with another word (e.g., indígeno - mestiza).
    – Lisa Beck
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 12:45
  • 1
    Ah, that makes sense. In this case, indígeno is a compositional element derived from the adjective, and that is the reason for the termination. For instance, if you were writing about relations between France and Britain, you would write relaciones franco-británicas or relaciones britano-francesas; notice how the adjective termination is only applied to the second element in the composition, while the first one is not exactly the same as the original adjective.
    – Gorpik
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 13:27
  • 2
    Lisa, I remember from the very first times of Stack Overflow, and I think this is also true here, that writing and accepting an answer to your own question is totally kosher. If youwant to put all the info together and write that answer, it is completely fine for me.
    – Gorpik
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


As you can see in the figure below, using indígena instead of the inexistent indígeno gives a different result. You can uses both "indígena" or "autóctono/a" to refer to people/objects originaries from one country, but "indígena" is used more in the context of colonization.

google search


Indigeno is a mistake with gender of the noun. Some words in Spanish only have one gender (male or female) but not both, for example the word: Pediatra exists in Spanish but Pediatro doesn't make sense. It's pretty complex because nouns don't have any rule to deduce what is the correct form.

  • Indigena is given in the DLE as an adjective, also used as a noun, so your answer seems to only give half the story.
    – mdewey
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 11:16
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    And indigena can be used as a masculine name, even if it ends in -a: "un indígena". That's different from words that are always femenine even when they refer to a male person: "la víctima es un hombre".
    – Pere
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 19:44
  • 1
    @Pere: Indeed. For that matter, the same is true of the other example in this answer, pediatra (un pediatra, una pediatra). The answer seems to confuse the concept of a noun's gender with the question of whether the noun ends in -o or -a.
    – ruakh
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 23:29

There is a subtle difference between them according to the definitions give by the DLE

Del lat. indigĕna.

  1. adj. Originario del país de que se trata. Apl. a pers., u. t. c. s.


autóctono, na
Del fr. autochtone, este del lat. autochthŏnes, y este del gr. αὐτόχθων, -θονος autóchthōn, -thonos.

  1. adj. Dicho de una persona o del pueblo al que pertenece: Originarios del propio país en el que viven. Apl. a pers., u. t. c. s.
  2. adj. Que ha nacido o se ha originado en el mismo lugar donde se encuentra.

Notice that autóctono has an extra meaning (2) which is not restricted to persons unlike the others. I remember eating a piece of beef in a parador in Extremadura which was described as autóctono. Fortunately I did know what autochthonous means in English so was saved the embarrassment of having to ask what it meant. The only other context of which I am aware in which that word is used in English is in the context of autochthonous delusion but the Spanish equivalent intuición delirante does not use the term although the Wikipedia article does use the term autóctono to describe some forms of delusion.

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