7

Spanish has several words for referring to children:

  • niño/niña
  • chico/chica
  • muchacho/muchacha
  • joven

Some dialects add others like chavo or chavalo.

What are the approximate age ranges these words refer to? For example, could you call an 11 year old a niño, a muchacho, a joven? I'm sure this varies from person to person and place to place, but in general what group of children do each of these words refer to?

  • Where I am in Mexico, joven seems to be often used very much like señorita. That is to say, it is often used to refer to an unmarried man, of practically any age, or when the marital status of a man younger than, say, mid-40s, is unknown. – Flimzy Nov 22 '11 at 2:09
  • Must of the time It depends on your age. If you're an 80 years old person you could call a 25 person a "niño" and there's no problem. – razpeitia Nov 23 '11 at 5:15
  • "Chaval" and "chavala" are very used here in Spain, specially for teenagers (under 20) and sometimes for young adults (under 30). – rsuarez Nov 23 '11 at 8:44
  • @rsuarez Note that the British English word chav (a word unknown in North America), which seems cognate to the commonly heard chaval/chavala of Spain, has a despectivo or pejorative aspect in English that chaval doesn’t have in Spanish. – tchrist Feb 27 '12 at 3:49
  • en Nicaragua la gente a veces dice chiguin para referirse a los niños – cayerdis Nov 17 '12 at 6:55
4

This is very region-specific, but here's a take:

  • niño/a: 2 - pre-teen
  • chico/a: 2 - teen
  • muchacho/a, joven: teen - 30

So, a 11 year old is definitely a niño/chico (there are regional preferences for one or the other, but they mean the same in this context). Muchachito could also be used.

  • 1
    as side note: "muchacho" isn't much used in Spain. – vartec Nov 22 '11 at 16:25
  • @vartec you're right; mozo is used there instead (which means waiter in Latin America) – Diego Mijelshon Nov 22 '11 at 19:35
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    I'm not sure I've heard "joven" and "mozo/moza" in Spain in any other than humourous context. They're a bit dated, in my opinion. We use "moza" in galician to refer to one's girlfriend or to young girls in general (look for "Domingo das Mozas" here: lugoturismo.com/fiestas/?idioma=i&pag=interesnacional), but it's pretty regional. – rsuarez Nov 23 '11 at 8:48
  • In Argentina "niño" is a little formal, "nene/a" is more used. – leonbloy Jan 25 '13 at 23:15
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    From personal experience (Spain, Andalucia) i can say the word mozo is usually only used by elder people, and maybe by people from extremely rural regions (or in a joking fashion). – Brian H. Sep 6 '17 at 14:25
6

This answer is primarily Spain based, particularly south Spain (Andalucía), although there are a few words included here that i don't usually hear in my surroundings.

Diego mijelshon's answer is pretty good, but i'd like to add that i believe it is less about absolute ages and more about relative ages, this is further explored at the end of the answer, first let's see where we can "objectively"(?) place each word.

The words i'll be categorizing are these (please comment any word i may be missing):
niño/a, nene/a, chico/a, chaval(a), muchacho/a, mozo/a, joven, señorito/a, señor(a), tío/a.

  • Niño/a and nene are usually used for very young people, i'd say it starts to become weird once the 12/14 years old barrier has been passed.
  • Chaval(a) is mostly used for teens, let's say between 12 and 18/20 years old.
  • Chico/a can be used as long as either niño/a or chaval(a) are appropriate.
  • Muchacho/a will usually be used for any age up to 25/30, this isn't the most commonly used word though, and I personally only use it to address people of my own age group (20-30), and use other words for the younger people.
  • Mozo/a is, as fas as I know, pretty uncommon, and mainly used in rural areas or by elder people, that being said, this word basically includes any age as long as the person is not perceived as "old".
  • Joven is used in similar contexts as mozo/a, except it's a bit more common.
  • Señorito/a is a special case: señorito is very rarely used, and you'd most likely hear it in movies which imply a buttler talking to a very young master, however señorita is more common, and is used for full grown adults but implying that she is still young.
  • Señor(a) this one is very straight-forward, any person perceived as a full grown adult can be called señor(a). Please note thay conventionally, señor and señora used to imply that the person is married, this is no longer the case for as far as I know.
  • Tío/a may be the most special case of them all. this is the most informal way to address someone out of this list, and is only used between people of the same age group. This can range from little kids among eachother to full grown adults in their 40s and even older.

Now let's see what happens when these different groups interact:

Let's say a "niño" meets a "muchacha", he probably won't be calling her like that, instead you might hear "señora" or "señorita".
Now let's have an elder person (say 70 years old) meet a 40 years old man, 40 years old should probably be "señor", yet this elder person may call him "muchacho" because of the difference in age.

  • This is a good comment but why don't you add a little more info. It could be a good answer. You should try it. – DGaleano Sep 6 '17 at 14:55
  • 1
    well, that escalated quickly... – Brian H. Sep 7 '17 at 8:39
  • I disagree with Tío/a (...) is only used between young people of the same age group. I hear all the time older people (in their 40 maybe?) saying so one to each other. – fedorqui Sep 7 '17 at 9:36
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    now that you mention it, you're absolutely right. editting atm. – Brian H. Sep 7 '17 at 9:41
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    I knew you could do it. :-) +1 – DGaleano Sep 7 '17 at 13:25
4

Throughout Central America joven is often used as a polite way to get the attention of any working server (no matter their age, really.. even old people), such as a waiter or waitress or someone working in a toy store.

Example:

Joven, agua por favor

Joven, cuanto cuesta este juego?

2

Muchacha is a weird one in Guatemala at least, and I believe at least Honduras and El Salvador too. It's usually used to describe a servant or maid of the household. Not when addressing her (we addressed them by name), but when referring to them in general.

Mi cuñada está buscando muchacha, pero cuesta encontrar estos días.

Muchacho is seldom used, if at all. The equivalent would be something like patojo. Which I've never heard outside of Guatemala to be honest.

There's also nene/nena, usually when referring to smaller children, but also when talking with affection towards a person, mostly younger one.

  • This is the same case in México, "muchacha" o reducido a "chacha" significa "sirvienta", "empleada doméstica" y "criada". So you have to use "chava", "señorita" or "jovensita" for young adult women. – user478249 Jan 18 '14 at 15:33

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