Chilean Vocabulary


Como se dice "stapler" en Chile? By Sarah Jane on Flickr.



If you’ve been following along for a while, you probably already know what I’m about to tell you: Chilean Spanish is different. There are a lot of chileanismos, and some verb forms are even conjugated differently (links to my old blog, apparently it’s one of the five posts that didn’t transfer). However, what I’ve been noticing recently, mostly at work, are those typical vocabulary words that you learn in high school Spanish class that are not very useful here in Chile.

For example, the other day a student came into the office. She asked me if I had a grabadora (tape recorder). The conversation went something like this:

Me: Una grabadora? A tape recorder?

Her: Sí, la mayoría de las oficinas la tienen. Yeah, most offices have one.

Me: En serio? Really?

Her: Um, sí, creo? Um, yeah, I think so?

Then she made the international sign for stapler.

Me: Ahhhh! Una corchetera. Ahhhh! A stapler.

Before you all get your panties in a wad and tell me “It’s not grabadora, it’s grapadora.” I know. We figured that out later and it’s probably why I was so confused.

Lesson number one: not grapadora, but corchetera when you need a stapler. Staples are corchetes.

Here are some more common vocabulary mix-ups in Chile. Can you think of any more?

Auto is car.

In Spanish class, you probably learned coche or carro for car. Not so in Chile. Car is auto, short for automovíl. A coche is a baby carriage and a carro (normally shortened to carrito) is a shopping cart.

Jugo is juice.

When I was studying abroad, a French girl came to live in La Casita, where I later lived before renting this apartment. She would always ask my host mom for zumo…aka jugo. In Spain, yes, it’s zumo. But here in Chile, if you want some juice, ask for jugo.

Bebida is soda.

I distinctly remember loving the word gaseosa in high school Spanish. I’m not sure why. Too bad, because here in Chile soda (or pop) is bebida.

Naranja is orange and orange.

I remember struggling with the word for “orange” (the color) in Spanish classes. Anaranjado…try saying that three times fast! But luckily for me, here in Chile (and other places, I think) the color is the same as the fruit: naranja.

Fruits and veggies.

Fruits and veggies can be tricky. Avocado is palta, peach is durazno, corn is choclo and strawberry is frutilla. Here’s a visual aid.

Duraznos, not melocotones. By La Grande Farmers' Market on Flickr.



Palta, not aguacate. By Elsa4Sound on Flickr.








Choclo, not maíz. By Arthur Chapman on Flickr

Frutillas, not fresas. From CaptPiper on Flickr.


35 thoughts on “Chilean Vocabulary

  1. Good list! I bet it will be useful for newbies in Chile.

    Now that I’m spending a lot of time with Spanish speakers from other countries, I find myself torn between using words that will be most immediately intelligible to the biggest number of people (grapadora) and maintaining my loyalty to chilenismos (corchetera). Sometimes the decision isn’t a conscious one: The other day, a friend asked me if I meant “utilizar” when I said “ocupar

  2. .” I guess I’d picked up on the fact that Chileans say “ocupar” more than other Spanish speakers I’ve had contact with, but I didn’t know it was unintelligible outside of Chile. (Is it?)

    • I actually just saw a tweet about this. I think Chileans use ocupar when they shouldn’t. Like you can only “ocupar” certain things, like a space, but not other things. I can’t exactly remember the explanation, but it’s certainly true that Chileans almost never use “utilizar”. Also, I’ve noticed that they hardly ever use “regresar” and it’s almost always “volver.”

    • I have an Argentinian friend who tried to correct me when I said “micro”. “That´s a colectivo“, he said, and I replied, “Not here in Chile, we call it micro for microbus, a smaller bus. Colectivo is that car over there, pretending to be the spurious son of a micro and a taxi.”

    • Yes! You are absolutely right. I think I kind of forget about micros being different because that’s what they called them in El Salvador (well, the smaller buses were micros and the bigger ones were buses, I think).

  3. In Santiago, people also say “comedia” for “telenovela” (soap opera), “réclames” for “comerciales” (tv addverticing), and, as you say, “grapadora” or “engrapadora” for “corchetera” (stappler).
    Other funny difference is how they call some bread, like “marraqueta” in Santiago, while it´s known as “pan batido” in Valparaíso and “pan francés” in Temuco.

    • Yes! I love the regional differences. That is definitely something I’d like to learn more about…the differences in language throughout Chile. I didn’t know it was called “pan francés” in Temuco. That’s what white bread is called in El Salvador but it’s much different than a marraqueta.

    • Haha they shorten everything here…well, not really shortened the word, but they like to make it cute. Like the word “té” actually becomes longer when you say “tecito”…haha.

  4. good post, Abby! Me encantan las diferencias entre el español y el chileno, y cada vez que voy a Chile vuelvo a España diciendo alguna palabra que mis amigos no entienden!
    En efecto, ocupar en España es solo tomar posesión de un espacio, o en su forma reflexiva, ocuparse, significa “to take care of something”, o “to mind”, como en “ocúpate de tus asuntos” o “ocúpate de tus hermanos esta tarde”.

    Algunos más que se me vienen a la cabeza así al pronto:

    -Beterraga, en español es remolacha. Esta me sorprende porque el chileno es más parecido al inglés.
    -Zapallo y zapallo italiano es español son calabaza y calabacín.

    -Porotos son habichuelas.

    -Banana es plátano.

    -La mayoría de los pescados y mariscos también tienen otro nombre, pero eso da para mucha explicación…

    -Lo mismo pasa con las prendas de vestir..En España casi todas tienen otro nombre! Como polera que es camiseta, polerón es jersey, …

    El chileno es muuuy diferente al español!!

    • Que bueno Luisa! Solo un comentario, en Chile bananas también son plátanos, al menos que querías decir que en España son bananas…Pero es confuso porque de verdad, un plátano es un “plantain” en inglés, que no es lo mismo que una “banana” en inglés! Y en Centroamérica dicen “guineo” para “banana”.

      Muchos de los nombres para frutas y verduras en América Latina vienen de los idiomas indígenas, como Mapundungun o Quechua. Creo que en Chile, remolacha es como un “sugar beet”, y betarragas son los beets que comes en la casa.

  5. This post is great! When I arrived in Spain I was again caught off guard with all the Spanish I thought I knew but no one else could understand. I always liked the word “merienda” which NO ONE understood in Chile but actually has meaning in Spain.

  6. I find the differences between the Spanish spoken in different areas fascinating. My main Spanish is Mexican Spanish, so I did have some fun linguistic moments when I visited Spain (melocoton, for example, as durazno is also used in Mexico).

  7. Very interesting!

    I live in Colombia, and it seems there are many differences between the Spanish used in the two countries. Here, stapler is usually “cosedora,” which is fascinating to me since the obvious connection to “coser” indicates that you are sewing the pages together. A little sleuthing around led me to this page for Colombians living in a Chile- they made a Colombian-Chilean dictionary!

  8. There’s the whole col and repollo thing for cabbage as well, and actually we do say both remolacha and betarraga, but betarraga is used for human consumption, and remolacha is iether a sugar beet or animal fodder, but I can’t remember which. Someplace I lived we called corn elote, but now I can’t remember if it was Ecuador (where we also said guineo for banana) or Central America.

    I love the regionalisms in Spanish, though a coupld of my Chilean friends say they are not as prevalent as they once were because kids watch a lot of TV from Mexico, and are known to use the word, fresa instead of frutilla, for example. I have heard it with my own ears, but I still think frutilla is a sweeter word. Plus what would they call Frutillita (Strawberry Shortcae) if strawberry was fresa?

  9. Eileen, we call frutillita “Tarta de fresa”, hehe…I think is nice too!

    Es verdad Abbey, se me había olvidado que Banana es plátano también en Chile, lo había mezclado con el inglés!!

    Alguna más!

    Frazada es manta
    La feria es el mercado
    Maní son cacahuetes
    Choclo es maíz
    Pararse no es levantarse, es detenerse…

    • Pararse is both levantarse y detenerse.

      Antes del transantiago habían unas micros más pequeñas y les llamaban liebres (como el animal).

      La palabra altiro creo que solo se dice acá.


      • Gracias por el comentario. Sí, altiro es 100% chileno. Siempre tengo la duda si es una palabra o dos? La he visto escrito de las dos maneras. Y no sabía esto de los liebres, llegué a Chile un mes antes de instalaron Transantiago así que solo conocí las micros amarillas un par de veces.

  10. Yikes. I guess I never thought about all the variations of Spanish that occurs in the different countries in South America. I’ll be learning Spanish in Mexico when I first go over there so I guess when I get to South America, everyone will tell me I speak like a Mexican. 😛

  11. Pingback: Where High School Spanish Went Wrong « Abby's Line

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