10 useful phrases you should know before visiting Argentina

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track

Are you as worried as I were about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? Don't worry this quick guide to 10 usefull phrases you should know before visiting Argentina will help you on track.

The truth is that especially the Argentine pronounciation can be difficult for outsiders. On top of that Argentines have a whole catalog of different words that you don't hear in other Hispanic countries. Hopefully this post will help you get some of the most essential words right from the beginning.

Feel free to share your own experience about Argentine Spanish in the comments below. I would love to hear what you think!

Are you as worried as I were about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? Don't worry this quick guide to 10 usefull phrases you should know before visiting Argentina will help you on track.
1. You speak Castellano - not español

The Argentines don't refer to their language as español as most other Hispanics. No, they speak castellano! Most people will bear over with you if you say that they speak español... And then they will kindly correct you.

Castellano refers to the Spanish from the Spanish region Castile, and it is assumed that Castile is the origin of the Spanish language. Why Argentines insist on using castellano as the term for their language, I still haven't figured out.

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track.
2. Vos is you

One of the most common differences in Argentine Spanish is the use of vos as second person pronoun (e.g. you) instead of . Honestly, for me it has been the most confusing thing in Argentine Spanish.

Firstly, sometimes the verb for the second person changes when you use vos compared to ! According to omniglot.com the verb conjugations with vos is always regular (whereas, with you have many irregular verb conjugations).

For example, the conjugation of the verb pensar (to think) when you use it is tú piensas, but with vos it is conjugated vos pensás. Or the verb dormir (to sleep) becomes vos dormís instead of tú duermes. Easier? Maybe. But for sure not when you are used to the -way

Secondly, some pronouns change according to the use of vos and some don’t! For example, instead of saying contigo when referring to “with you”, Argentines use con vos.

However, they do say tuyo (e.g. yours) as all other Hispanic none-vos-speakers do. Maybe because it would sound too weird to say “vosyo"...?

Confused? Well, I was as well! Thus, I have good news for you; the Argentines do understand you perfectly if you speak with ! So don't you worry; your school Spanish will work perfectly fine.

To make a bit fun of the situation and the obvious fact that I’m foreigner, I started saying to waiters and shop owner; "sorry, I still haven't learned to speak with vos" (Disculpe, todavia no he aprendido hablar con "vos"). Generally, it creates a big smile on their lips – at least I’m trying!

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track.
3. Che is like mate

You properly know the word che from the famous Che Guevara. And if you studied Spanish somewhere else I'm sure your Spanish teacher would have mentioned che as one of words that marks the variety of the Spanish language. At least it was one of the favourite examples of my Spanish teachers.

Thus, che is a very common word to hear in the streets of Buenos Aires. Well, I assume all over Argentina. It is the Argentine way of saying mate, bro, dude etc., and it is used for everybody. Yes, seriously, EVERYBODY! I don't know that person to whom my friends don't use che. However, it should be noted that it is a very informal way of speaking. So, don't throw a "che, qué te pasa?" if you are at a job interview... Just a tip 😉

4. The prefix re- means very

Argentines place the prefix re- infront of almost any word when they want to express that is very something. 

"Está re loco" my friend will say when he wants to express that something is very crazy, or "está re buena la comida" when the food is very good. So this is "re bueno saber" (e.g. very good to know).

5. Coger is to f***

If you like me learned Spanish in Spain, then you are properly used to the fact that the word coger can be used for almost anything to do with "taking"or "catching": to catch the bus (coger el bús), pick up the keys (recoger las llaves), etc.

However, watch carefully out to use coger in Argentina. The meaning is quite different as it refers to having sex! It is harder than one think to change the habit of each words you use in a foreign language. Little by little, and with a good amount of bullying from my friends, I have so far succeed in eliminating coger from my vocabulary.

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track.
6. Tirar onda is to flirt

A common way to express that somebody is flirting with you is to say that they está tirando onda. Onda can best be translated as vibe, so this somebody is actually throwing (tirando) vibes at you. Well, something to think about the next time you go out - and for sure, if you are going out in Argentina!

BONUS: to express good and bad things the Argentines as well use the word onda. Buena onda and mala onda, respectively for good and bad thing. Thus, this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with flirting.

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track.
7. El subte is the subway

I had no clue what my friend meant when he asked me whether the hostel where I was saying was close to el subte. What the h*** is el subte, I thought.

Though, I quickly found out that el subte is the porteños' (citizens of Buenos Aires) name for the subway system. It made even more sense when I remembered that the Spanish translation of underground is Subterráneo.

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track.
 8. Colectivo is bus

The bus in Argentina is another important transportation word to know. The Argentines call the buses in the cities for colectivo. Basically, it means that you are taking the shared or the collective transportation.

In Buenos Aires there are 180 different bus lines which can be differentiated by their number and the colour on the bus. All public transportation in Buenos Aires can only be used with a magnetic travel card, called SUBE (Sistema Único Boleto Electrónico, e.g. Single Electronic Ticketing System). However, the great thing is that this card works for all the different types of public transportation (buses, subway, trains) in the city.

When entering a bus you can either tell the bus driver the direction you are going to or the price. There are three different prices for the bus; $6.25, $6.50 or $6.75, which depends on how far you are going. The most common charge is $6.50 (seis con cincuenta) so if you request a ticket of that, you are more or less sure that you are covered. At least that’s what I have been doing so far.

The colectivos in Buenos Aires runs pretty often, however, forget about figuring out their schedule. They seem to arrive more or less when they feel like it, and it is common to see two of the same bus running one after the other. On the other side, maybe it is for the best that they don’t have any official schedule because that way they are never late and always on time...Right?

Finally you might as well hear the word bondi used among Argentines, bondi is the slang for colectivo. In my head it still doesn’t make any sense… But whatever, not everything has to, does it?

Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track.
9. Anteojos is glasses

It is just strange how certain things change name between Hispanic countries. One of them is: glasses. In Spain they are called gafas which in Cuba means sun glasses, and instead they use espesjuelos. And then I thought that I was settled to be understood... Well, no! In Argentina they call glasses for anteojos! Thus, properly this is the most logic word as it means "before the eyes".

10. Morron is bell pepper

I keep on running into words for fruits and vegetables which are different in Argentina compared to other Spanish speaking countries. For example, a bell pepper is in Argentina called “morron” whereas other places call it "pimiento". A bit nerdy, I admit it. But isn’t it strange that the same vegetables are called differently?

Have you been to Argentina and ran into other examples of different Spanish words? Let me know which ones by leaving a comment below!

 

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Are you worried about not being able to understand a word of Argentine Spanish? This quick guide to Spanish in Argentina will get you on track

13 comments

  1. Diego

    Sarpado! Which can be a positive or negative reaction to a situation/thing you hear/see. In the positive it means VERY COOL, in the negative could mean kind of TOO MUCH (comes from the word “pasado”, which in this case means beyond). ?

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Diego!
      Wow, thanks! I didn’t know that one 😀

      Reply

  2. Rebecca

    Hi Bill,
    Thank you so much for your comment and for drawing my attention to this! It seems like there has been some kind of problem in the codes of my registration forms, and therefore you were not able to see them. I have now repaired the problem. At the bottom of each page you can find the sign up form for the newsletter.
    Thank you once again for drawing my attention to this.
    Cheers
    Rebecca

    Reply

  3. Camila

    Hey there! I’m from Argentina, and I thought you should know: “che” is quite informal. No one would use that with his/her boss, for example. It is common among friends and family, for sure; but not in any semi-formal or formal situation. Cheers!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Camila,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate it!
      Yeah, that’s right! I might not have made it so clear in the description – I will upload it asap 🙂
      Cheers
      Rebecca

      Reply

  4. Eugenia

    Hi Rebecca,
    This was a fun read, however as a native of Argentina (and a linguistics nerd), I thought I’d let you know: Che is really more of a ‘hey’ used when talking with mates rather than meaning mate. As you might have noticed, we Argentines have a tendency to all talk at the same time, so che works well as a sort of ‘hey listen here to what I’m about to say’. I hope that makes sense. Also, just to complicate things a bit further, peppers are ajies, whereas a ‘morron’ is the very popular roasted pepper. We like to eat red roasted peppers so much, that we’ve given them their own separate name 😉 Hope you have a great time in Argentina!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Eugenia,
      Thank you so much for your excellent comment! And interesting points you come it. I get your point about “che”! However, might just be me hearing wrong but I tend to hear it used like “eh/hi/ay che”, where I don’t know, it sounds wierd to use the translation “hey”. So, I did a bit of research 🙂 And Gringo in Buenos Aires (good reliable source 😉 ) put it like this:
      “The word che is ubiquitous in Argentina. It has three uses. First, it’s the equivalent of the English hey or hey you: in other words it’s a way of getting someone’s attention, for example the bartender when you want to order more Quilmes. Second, it’s also used as the equivalent of mate, dude or buddy: it’s a generic word for a person or something to call someone when you forget their name. And third, it’s one of those meaningless interjections that do no more than keep a conversation going.”
      I think that actually catches both of our “translations”. And then again, it is difficult to translate everything exactly to one language to another.

      Oh, very interesting about the morron! Then it is “el boliviano a la vuelta de casa” that got it wrong! He puts morron on the signs by the bell pepper… Thank you for making me clever!
      Once again thank you for this very interesting comment! And I’m so happy to hear that you found it funny to read
      Ciao!

      Reply

  5. Marcelo

    You missed “boludo”.

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thank you Marcelo! Actually, working on a post about swearing in Argentina, so “boludo” will for sure get a place there! Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

  6. Daniela

    Great article, Becci. I like the “vos” but don’t think I’ll ever use it. I had a very unfortunate love affair with an Argentinian in Lima, so I’m familiar with some Argentinian Spanish. He used to call me “petisa” because I’m quite small (especially for German standards). And I’m looking forward to the subte and it’s generally great that all public transport can be paid with the same card. Makes life a lot easier.
    Daniela recently posted…Do you know the cats of Lima’s Parque Kennedy?My Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thank you so much, Daniela! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the post! Haha, I said the same thing, when I just arrived to BA.. buuut now I use “vos” only, and I have to force the “tu” 😉 Ooh, been down that road too! Watch out when you get here! They can be very pushy those Argentines! Yeah, it is super smart with the SUBE card. Working on a good introductional piece to public transporation in BA. Will it be your first time in BA?
      Looking forward to seeing you here! Keep safe – and pet the cats for me 😉

      Reply

  7. Audrey

    This post made me smile! I can hear the porteño accent in my head with each of these words and expressions. 😉
    Audrey recently posted…Soaking in the Magic of GdanskMy Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thank you for the visit, Audrey! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the read! Yeah, one can just hear those porteños saying these phrases 😉

      Reply

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