Do You Know the Meaning of These Simple Spanish Words?

By: Olivia Cantor
Image: Luis Diaz Devesa / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The Spanish language is one versatile language that has seeped into the global culture for many reasons.

For one, Spanish became widespread due to colonization. While this colonization did not fly well with some nations, some cultures embraced it and even made it their own, to the point of integrating Spanish customs, traditions and language into their own cultures. The term "cultural melting pot" is no joke in many parts of the world, because today's current cultures are actually the result of centuries of culture meshing in various parts of the globe.

And while some cultures vehemently rejected these Spanish influences, we can also see just how much other cultures embraced them, to the point of reinventing some of these Spanish influences. Thus, language is one area of knowledge where we can see and trace the influences of the past in today's world. 

But in recent decades, one other contributor to the spread of the Spanish language is migration. Decades of human movements contribute to the dynamic changes reflected in the languages of the land. Thus, you may be intrigued to see just how many countries have already mixed their own cultures with that of the migrants' cultures, and the eclectic dynamism these subcultures produce is also evident in the languages they speak.

But let's go back to the basics, shall we? Can you actually guess the meanings of these very basic Spanish words? Let's give it a try and see where we will head with it. Let's go, amigos! 

What does “gracias” mean?

"Gracias" is perhaps the most basic Spanish word that a person should learn. It simply means “thanks” or “thank you,” but its expression could make or break an interaction, especially in a foreign land.

"No" still means "no" in Spanish, but what is “si”?

The simple way of agreeing to something or with someone is to say “si” in Spanish, which means “yes.” And yes, the opposite reply of the negative kind is “no,” just like the “no” in English.

“Hola” is pretty much universally understood. What does it mean?

"Hola" is the simplest greeting you could say in Spanish, no matter what Spanish-speaking country or region you visit in the world. It always means "Hello" or "Hi," and is used in the same context of informal greeting as in English.

Arriving travelers are always greeted with “Bienvenidos!” at the airports. What does that mean?

"Bienvenidos" is the Spanish way of saying "Welcome!" That's why you will see this word plastered all around the airports upon your arrival in a Spanish-speaking country, and you will also hear it from all kinds of staff in the hospitality industry as you arrive, like in tour buses, at hotel desk reception and even in restaurants.

An Italian song said, “Tell me quando, quando, quando,” but in Spanish, it's "cuando." What does that mean?

You can use "cuando" when you are asking for a specific hour or even just an estimation of the time of day in a conversation. It sounds awfully similar to the Italian version that is "quando," so careful with the spelling.

A Christmas song asked, “Donde esta Santa Claus?” What did it ask, specifically?

A 12-year-old singer popularized the song "Donde Esta Santa Claus?" back in the 1950s, and this Christmas song remains popular even today. That's why people know that "donde" is Spanish for "where," since that's what the song was asking about Jolly Old St. Nick.

If “siempre” means "always," what does “nunca” mean?

"Nunca" is Spanish for "never," and you can liberally use this word to express strong sentiments of disagreement, with finality. It's somehow the exact opposite of the term for forever, which is "para siempre."

When someone tells you “Vamos!” what does it mean?

"Vamos!" is actually a command for you to get up and go, as it literally means "Let's go!" It can also mean "Come on!" or "Come right now!" or even "Jump in!" which all pertain to one action only, actually.

In drinking sessions, you always hear them say “Salud!” What does it mean?

In English, we say "Cheers!" or "Toast!" when we're drinking for "good health," even if we're drinking alcoholic beverages. In Spanish, they say "Salud!" for that, which means the same thing, and it also means "To good health!"

When someone feels protective of you, they say “Cuidate!” What does it mean?

When someone wants to say "take care" to you, they simply say "Cuidate!" They will say "Cuidate mucho" if they want you to take really good care on your way, and "Cuidate mucho por favor" to tell you to please be very careful. Yeah, they have degrees of saying how much they care, the Spanish, so take heed.

“Adios” is a polite word. What does it mean?

To say "goodbye," "farewell" or even just a simple "bye," the Spanish say "adios." They can also add terms to that, depending on the usage or the degree of relationship they have with the person they're bidding bye to, such as "adios cuidate" which means "goodbye, take care."

When you are asked to go for “una bebida,” what will you be having?

When someone says that you should go out for "una bebida," that means you will go out for a drink. It depends now on what kind of drink you will have: it could be as safe as agua (water) or café (coffee), or it could be as loaded as a cerveza (beer). Take your pick!

You need to count, so “uno” is one, “dos” is two, and “tres” is what?

Thank Ricky Martin for teaching the world to count with his "un, dos, tres" or "one, two, three" count in his hit song "Maria." While there's a little cultural nuance of using "un" instead of "uno," it's practically the same, so "dos" and "tres" also retain their meaning when translated to English, which is two and three, respectively, while un/uno is one.

If they say it’s “picante,” that’s spicy. But what is “dulce”?

If you are served a "dulce de leche" dessert in any Spanish-speaking country, then you know that "dulce" means "sweet." So it's sweet, and "leche" is "milk," so now you know what they're serving you! It's yummy, try it!

If you have a business, you have “negocio.” But what is “el trabajo”?

"El trabajo" simply means " a job" or "work" in English, so it's the generic term, and you use specific terms if you want to refer to a specific type of work or job. For example, to refer to a writer, you say "escritor," or if the person is a teacher, it's "profesor" for a man and "profesora" for a woman.

In French, it’s “un homme et une femme.” In Spanish, it’s “un hombre y una mujer.” What is that?

"El hombre" is "the man," while "la mujer" is "the woman." Note that in Spanish, the articles also follow the gender of the word they are referring to, with "el" for male and "la" for female.

One might feel nationalistic when talking about “el país.” What is that?

When you travel to a Spanish-speaking country, they will always be curious about "el país," or the country where you came from. You could also try to learn the Spanish equivalent of your country to answer back properly. For example, the United States of America is known as "Estados Unidos" in Spanish.

If “el mano” is the hand, what is “el pie”?

You always hear the term "mano a mano," which means "hand to hand." It's also nice to know the Spanish term for a foot, which is "el pie," just to balance things out.

You enter one’s “casa” if you are lucky. What is that?

You always hear "mi casa es su casa" in movies and TV shows, and this means "my house is your house." So "casa" is technically the Spanish term for "house" - but in other countries, it could also mean a brothel, so be careful!

You have to open “la puerta” to go to the next area. What is that, exactly?

If you say "la puerta," that means "a door" in Spanish. Careful not to use "el puerto," because that totally means another thing, which is "a port," like a harbor.

If you ride “un avión,” what are you boarding?

"Un avión" means an airplane, like the one you find in an airport, or "aeropuerto." Make sure you say the right term, because if you say "puerto" only, the taxi might take you to the harbor!

To go left, you can say “izquierda.” To go right, what do you say?

Make sure you get your directions right in Spanish, and remember that "izquierda" is to the left, while "derecha" is to the right. Don't make the mistake of saying "derecho," because that means to go straight!

When you enter “el parque,” what are you going into?

"El parque" means "a park," and this is very basic and universal in many Spanish-speaking countries of the world. But always check twice if the park is open during certain hours, or if it's safe to enter alone if you're a solo tourist.

You typically read “el libro.” What is that?

"Libro" is the Spanish term for "a book," and this is also sometimes the term used for the book in many countries colonized by the Spanish in the past. For example, if you go to the Philippines, which was under Spanish rule for more than 300 years, their Filipino term for "book" is also "libro."

If “el dia” is the day, what is “el tiempo”?

When using the term "el tiempo," make sure you are using it in the proper context. While it usually means "time," it can also refer to "the weather" or even a period in time. Just as with English words, Spanish words sometimes have multiple meanings.

A popular tourist destination is “el museo.” What is that?

"El museo" means the museum, and it's always in the travel brochures of special tourist groups if you join one. Some travelers prefer to visit museums first, to get to know the history and basic culture of the place they are visiting, and that's always a smart move for tourists.

When you pass by “la escuela,” what is that?

"La escuela" is the term for "the school" in Spanish, usually referring to the basic schools for children. If you want to refer to a higher education institution, they call it "universidad," which means "university."

If you enter “el cine,” what will you see there?

The Spanish call their movie theaters "el cine," so you will see movies there. But specifically, when they speak of a particular film or movie, the term for that is "película."

When you want to go swimming, you head to “la playa.” What is that?

"La playa" means the beach, specifically the area where you swim. If you want to go to the beachfront, you say "frente a la playa," so there's some specificity going on there.

Be careful not to switch “los zapatos” with “el sombrero.” What are these items?

Remember that "los zapatos" or your shoes go on your feet, of course, while "el sombrero" or the hat goes on your head. The shoes are always taken in plural form, while the hat term is masculine in nature, hence the use of the male "el" as an article.

You go to different places to see “las personas” or “las cosas.” What are those?

When you visit a new place or "lugar," you're bound to see many people there, or "las personas." These people could be doing many things, or "las cosas," and it's always nice to observe people in their localities when you travel.

If you want to eat red meat, you order “cerdo” or “carne de vaca.” What are those?

For fans of chicken, make sure you order the "pollo," because that could make or break your trip if you eat the wrong thing. For those who want pork or beef, you either order "cerdo" or "carne de vaca." Make sure you say "vaca" to mean "the cow," since the word "carne" means "meat," and there are also some pork dishes that use this term in combination with others on a Spanish-language menu.

If you want bread, you eat “pan.” But where do you buy bread?

It's quite easy enough to see that bread, or "pan," is sold inside a "panadería," or a bakery. The Spanish language is easy in giving clues like that, so you have to beef up on the basic vocabulary to learn the longer words.

People usually eat “jamon” with “queso.” What are these two items?

Jamon and queso are two very popular items in many Spanish-speaking households, especially during Christmastime, as these two items are usually served in holiday meals. "Jamon" is ham, and it usually comes in a huge chunk or is served in slices, while "queso" is cheese. In particular, a popular kind of holiday cheese is "queso de bola," meaning "ball of cheese," popularly sold during the yuletide season.

When choosing “vino,” it’s either “tinto o blanco.” What does that pertain to?

Ever heard of the saying "In vino veritas," which means "In wine, there is truth"? Loosely speaking, it means that when one is drunk with wine, truths always spill out of one's inebriated mouth! So no matter if the vino or wine is tinto (red) or blanco (white), wine is wine, folks - and that's the truth of it!

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