Chilean Spanish 101

From Robin Clutters’  blog.

So while I may give Chile/Chileans a hard time for lacking a distinct identity, I will say that if Chile has anything that makes it unique, it would be the Spanish they use. Fondly called chileñol by some, Chilean Spanish is really a language in itself.

To be completely frank about Chilean Spanish, it’s a little vulgar. A lot of the words can be insults if used in the wrong context, and a lot of Chilean Spanish is grammatically incorrect. Chileans also speak ridiculously fast and drop the ’s’ from the ends of words. For example, “mas o menos” is pronounced “maaaah o menoooh.” But regardless, I find a lot of words used here help me express myself very well… and a lot of the slang reminds me of slang used by people my age in English.
Chileans also use the vosotros tense– for those of you that have ever studied Spanish, it’s the verb tense they tell you they only use in Spain that you don’t need to know… yeah, those teachers were wrong. While using any of the other verb tenses is perfectly fine too, vosotros is used here is a very informal way. That’s generally why you’ll only hear people say “Como estai?” (How are you?) as opposed to seeing it written in any textbooks or in newspaper articles.
While you won’t generally find me speaking like Chileans (AKA using the vosotros verb tense or dropping the ’s’ from the ends of words), I have adopted some words into my Spanish vocabulary– the only sad thing is that when I return to the US and speak Spanish no one will probably understand me!

But, so that maybe I can use some of these words around those of you reading this blog, I figured I would teach you a little bit of Chilean Spanish:

al tiro = right away: “Me voy al tiro!”: I’m coming right now (at this moment)!
bacán
= cool/awesome
cachai? = do you get it?/ you know?: Chileans use cachai very informally, pretty much at the end of every sentence in a conversation… the best translation to help you understand how to use cachai is ‘you know?’. For example, “Es un hombre muy amable, cachai?” – “He’s a nice guy, you know?” Also, for those Spanish speakers out there cachai is the vosotros form of the verb cachar which literally means to catch… cachai?
carretear/carrete
= to party/a party. Carreteando (partying) implies alcohol, which is what generally makes it different from the Spanish word most people know, fiesta.
castellano
= Spanish. I only ever learned the word Español for Spanish, so the first time I heard castellano I thought I had mistakenly signed up for an abroad program in a place that spoke a different language than I knew– ends up I was right. Just kidding!
copuchenta
= a person who is nosy/gossipy… my host mom frequently uses it to describe my ever-curious 11-year-old host sister
cuático
= someone who is weird/awkward/bizarre/strange– you get it :)
cuestión = thing: For those of you Spanish speakers, it means the same thing at cosa (which is also used frequently in conversations when you don’t know what a person is talking about: Que cosa?), except I would say cuestión has more of a negative connotation to it, especially when used to describe people
cuico
= snob/upper-class/rich. Cuico is honestly one of my favorite words here. Cuico can be used to describe things like Starbucks, que es muy cuico, or a upper-class neighborhood like Providencia, que es muy cuico, or U. Catolica, which is infamous for being la universidad cuica because of its rich students, and the list goes on and on. I’m a fan of this word, although generally Chileans would describe most people from the US as cuico.
flojo
= lazy
flaite
= sketchy. This can be used to describe a person who is flaite, or a place that is flaite. For example, a guy at a bar who is creepily trying to pick up women can be called a flaite, or a dark alleyway/bad neighborhood can be considered flaite. This word is very colloquial and popular among people my age, which is why I wouldn’t suggest using it with your grandmother.
fome
= boring
Fomingo
= fome + domingo (Sunday) = The Chilean description for Sundays… everything is closed and it is typically the most uneventful day of the week
gringa
= American. Gringa is not a Chilean word by any means, but is a word used in every Latin American country to describe people from the US.
guagua
= baby
guata
= stomach
harto
= a lot. Tengo harta tarea (I have a lot of homework).
Qué lata
= How boring/What a pain/That sucks. My host family loves using this expression, and it’s one of my favorites too. You basically call everything una lata when it sucks… for example: Tengo una prueba en mi clase hoy, qué lata! (I have a quiz in my class today, it sucks).
luca
= 1,000 pesos (roughly a little less than $2). Since the quantities of money are so high here, people use the word luca so they don’t have to constantly say things like seis mil pesos (6,000 pesos) when it’s easier to say seis lucas.
mina
= girl. Generally used to describe young women, in the teenager to young adult age range (like 16-25).
Buena onda
= good vibe. This phrase literally means “good wave” but is used to describe people that you like/get a good vibe from. It generally just means that someone is really nice: Ella es una buena onda (She’s really nice).
Sí, po! = ‘po’ is an expression used that comes from the word ‘pues’ which means “well” (As in, Yes, well I’ll do it tomorrow– or something along those lines). I know I’ve explained the use of po on my blog before, and I will say both “po” and “cachai” win the awards for being the most-used Chilean words. Po is really just used for emphasis when talking. Por ejemplo: Tienes trabajo hoy? Si, po! (Do you have work today? Yeah, of course I do/duh). My goal before I leave Chile is to be able to say both “Si, po” and “cachai?” with a straight face. As of right now, trying to say those phrases still just gives me the giggles.
Pololo/Pololear = boyfriend/to date. I learned quickly not to use the Spanish word I had always learned for boyfriend here, novio, because in Chile, novio means fiancee, while pololo means boyfriend.
la raja = awesome/something really entertaining or fun. You have to be very careful with this expression, which is another one that is VERY informal and again used among people my age. Something is “la raja” or a person can be “la raja” when they’re just all around awesome. But the word “raja” can also mean your behind and can be mistaken for vulgarity which is why it is generally reserved for usage among friends, and again, among people within the 16-25 year old age frame.
Re- = very: “Esta blusa es re-barata” (This blouse is really cheap).
Super- = very: “Carreteando es super-bacan!” (Partying is really cool!). I have also been described as super-gringa, haha.
Taco = the heel of a shoe/traffic jam, depending on the context. No, this does not mean food.
Te tinca = You think?/or it can also mean to like. Tincar actually comes from the English word think, which is why it is generally used when asking someone what they think. For example, “Tengo ganas de ir al mall… te tinca?” (I feel like going to the mall… do you agree/do you like the idea/what do you think?).
weón = actually spelled huevón, but is pronounced weon, this is really where the vulgar Chilean slang comes in. Weon is used in two different contexts: as an insult, and as a term of endearment– and no, I don’t get it either. As an insult, “Oye que eres weon” means ‘Wow, you’re an idiot.’ Among friends (particularly Chilean teenagers), “Que te pasa weon” is the equivalent of ‘What’s up my friend?’ There are alson many variations of weon that include the verb form “we’veando” which in the nicest sense means messing around. Weon and its varieties are really Chilean slang at its best.

So you may think those are a lot of words, but believe me, there are plenty more chilenismos– this is just a list of the basics! And while they may not be so useful in the US, before you plan a trip to Chile you should definitely study these words, and you’ll be a pro at Chileñol in no time!

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40 thoughts on “Chilean Spanish 101

  1. I love this!! I lived in Chile last year. I thought I knew Spanish when I arrived but I quickly fell in love with all of the “chilenismos” they use everyday. The other one that I picked up while I was down there (that’s considered fairly vulgar by the rest of Latin America) was the tendency to put el/la in front of a person’s name.

    It definitely does throw people in the States when you use chilenismos, but don’t lose them. It’s worth having to explain! I’ve found them to be sooo much more expressive…at times I even want to throw them in when I’m speaking English!!

    • I’m sorry, you’re wrong, in Chile we DO using voceo but not in the pronoun (but sometimes we use “vó” instead “tú” or “ustedes” Ej: Y vó qué hací aquí????):

      Qué quereis? (voseo in Spain)
      Qué querí(s) (voceo in Chile)

      En qué andais? (voceo in Spain)
      En qué andai? (voceo en Chile)

      Que hacíais (Spain)
      Qué hacíai? (Chile)

      Amareis (Spain)
      Amarí(s) (Chile)

  2. Que gran articulo! Gracias. Tengo dos amigos Chileños en facebook y aveces me veo muchas palabras inusuales como weon, pololear y mas en sus estados o comentarios de sus amigos. Although I am a Spanish speaker but I have difficulty understand with the words you mentioned. I am more used to Castillian Spanish (note: not all in Spain use vostros. in Andalusian region in Southern Spain, ustedes is more common) & I understand other Spanish variants but I find the Chilean dialect very very difficult. Although my 2 Chilean friends speaks to me in standard Spanish but I would love it if I can connect more to them by learning their version. But thanks to your info, at least I know a little.

  3. Im Chilean and we don’t use vosotros. That change we make for the second person singular is just simply something we use in informal context, but has nothing to do with the vosotros form which is actually correct in Spain, but not at all in Latin America. I would also like to add that because a language is different does not necessarily mean it is vulgar.

  4. This is a fantastic post! 🙂 I spent March-July 2012 at La U de Chile, and I agree with you — at first it was so hard to use “cachai?” (“You know what I mean?”) as a filler word. But, believe it or not, by month #4 I found myself saying it naturally. Language acquisition, especially of colloquialisms, is awesome! 🙂

  5. My Chilean husband and friends do not use vosotros, and they tell me that it is old fashioned. The use of crude slang words in Chile is an indication of someone who is “maleducado” – not very well educated.

    • It used to be but not anymore. Now people of all social status speak the same way informally, with friends and family even on TV shows except for news reporters. When doing business, talking to doctors at their offices, talking to the police, or other civil servants such us the DMV, Bureau of Vital Records, etc. the people speak in a formal manner. The same goes for correspondence. It is always formal. Except for short notes to a friend of family member. It has nothing to do with level of education any more. The well educated use slang and cuss words all the time now in an informal setting and it used to be that mostly men would cuss, now women do it too.

      When I was young I could never even think about calling my elders “tu” the informal you. It was always “Ud./Usted” the formal you. “Ud./Usted” was used to address children also. Not anymore. Most of the new generations all refer to their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and childres as “tu”.

  6. Please, don’t be unfair. I’m a chilean and chilean spanish is not vulgar. It has a lot of modisms but if you speak with an educated chilean in a formal context you would realize that chilean is quite formal among other kinds of spanish in South America. The problem is education. Almost all the expressions you mentioned above are modisms used bu young people who expressed themselves in a informal way. By the way, the word “po” means “pues”, which is equivalent to “indeed” in english. Of course, “po” is rather informal. Some of your other arguments are also unfair. For example, you are right regarding we tend to drop the “s”, but british english tend to drop thr “r”. Don’t confuse accent differences with vulgarity. We do write the “s”, just like british people write the “r”. Cheers!

    • Renzo, I’m sincerely wondering if, “¡Sí, po!” might actually be short for “¡Sí, por supuesto!” In that case, “po” could indicate “indeed”, as you state, as well as “of course” and “duh”, as Robin claims. I’m familiar with the expression “pues sí” but this is the first time I’ve heard of “sí, po”. I’m not Chilean and Spanish is not my first language, so my question is asked out of curiosity and with only respect, and I’d be glad of your opinion. 🙂

      • Hi Andréa. You know, I’m having second thoughts on this issue, perhaps because now I have more experience dealing with English both at speaking and writing. “Pues” in Spanish, has two functions depending the context: conjunction (since, because, for) and adverb (well, then, indeed). Now, I say “Sí po”, which is short for “Sí, pues”, means “Yes, well”, though in English would be said “Well, yes”, where the “well” emphasizes the asseveration. But for sure “pues” doesn’t come from “por supuesto”. They have different roots.”Por supuesto” means “It’s supposed to be”.

  7. ahh i’m so nervous! I’ll be attending Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso from February till the end of July! This article was definitely very helpful; hopefully months of living there will help me adapt to the specific dialect!

    • Hi Kelley! I’m from Chile and I work in the academic field in Santiago, in the University of Chile. If you want, write me 🙂 Maybe I can help you to understand the curious chilean-spanish 🙂

  8. I love this post! I find it very useful and very fun to read. I m 17 years old and i went to chile last year. They have a lot of slangs! and even today i m still confused some of the words. This post help me a lot ! And my memories there just come back when i read this . Thank you for this.Great post ,love it .

  9. Nice list, but let me correct a few things:

    Vosotros isn’t a tense; grammatically it’s under the category ‘person’. And no, Chileans don’t use vosotros—they use rather informally the person vos, which unlike vosotros is singular. Conjugations are quite different.

    Otherwise, great list.

    • Dave Brodhead, thanks for stating that “vosotros” does not refer to a tense. That was so irking me! Any student of language should know that the English word “tense” in this context refers to time, from Old French “tens” and Latin “tempus”. In Spanish, the tenses are: present, imperfect, perfect, future, pluperfect and future perfect. (By the way, it’s the same as in English.)

      In addition, Spanish has moods (often confused with tense): indicative, conditional, subjunctive and imperative. (By the way, again, it’s the same as in English, although the conditional is more prevalent in Spanish than English.)

  10. Spanish is referred to as Castellano a lot in Spain, especially in Galicia and Catalana.
    In Andalusia in the south of spain they also drop the “s”. Chilean spanish reminds me of Andalusian spanish.

    And also Caña means hangover Chile (but I dont know if it’s unique to Chile but it means something completely different in Spain).

  11. I’m going to be attending Universidad Pontificia Catolica next year in Santiago. I didn’t realize that it had the reputation of being cuico. I come from a middle class family in the United States and although I’m privileged with a good education, I’m not rich. I as well as my parents have a lot of debt, and I work three jobs to pay for my rent and food. If I tell people in Chile that I go to PUC, what sort of response should I expect to get? Are the people who go there most snotty?

  12. Hello, everything is perfect but this little mistake: If you say ” Que te pasa weon?” is very agressive. If you say “¿Qué pasa weón?” that could be something like “What´s up my friend”

  13. Response

    I just want to clarify something you said about the vosotros.

    Now it is true that they say things like ‘hablai’ and ‘estai’ and also that they often drop the letter ‘S’, but this is NOT because they are using the vosotros form. What is actually happening is that they are changing the letter ‘S’ to the ‘I’ (on -ar verbs) on the Tú form, making ‘hablas’ become ‘hablai’ and ‘estas’ become ‘estai’, while still only addressing one person. And the accent one the word goes onto the last syllable, which is another similarity with the vosotros tense. ‘Hablabas’ becomes ‘hablabais’ with the accent staying at the end (but not written).

    And that’s just for the -ar verbs. For -er and -ir verbs, the -es at the end of the tú form becomes -i (without a written accent, though it is pronounced with an accent). The other thing with these verbs is that when you change the verb in this manner, whatever stem change usually applies to the tú form does not in this adjusted tú form. ‘Quieres’ becomes ‘queri’, ‘vives’ becomes ‘vivi’, ‘tienes’ becomes ‘teni’ zand one you’ll probably hear a lot, ‘entiendes’ becomes ‘entendi’. ‘Entendi’ is used interchangeably with ‘cachai’, so as a non-native speaker visiting Chile, you’ll hear it a lot.

    This change seems a little silly at first, but it really starts to stick. The same way you’d pick up a british accent if you traveled to the UK, you find youself using these modified verbs withiut thinking. I myself went through a phase where I used them a lot, and then when I got the hang of it, I started using them only where it was easier. When sentences have a lot of S’s, for instance (even though Chileans barely pronounce them anyway), those are times where these verbs come in handy.

    This is a great article and I’m glad you posted it. Almost all these words looked familiar, but for some like ‘la raja’, I didn’t hear them much while I was there but I see them using them online. And when I was staying in Chile, I had the luck of staying with a host brother who was all but fluent in English, so he could answer just abkut any question I had. But kudos for figuring these out on your own!

  14. Yea, I don’t know where you got your information, but as a Chilean, I can say we DO NOT use the “vosotros” form of verbs. SPAIN is the only country that really utilizes that. And we definitely do not say “mahhhhh o menooooh” it comes out more like “mas o meno.” Geez you make us sound stupid. The s is dropped more in the “menos” than in the “mas.” At least we don’t call a friend “mano,” short for “hermano” like some cultures or versions of slang Spanish, which I find really dumb, considering that “mano” is the word for hand. And our Spanish is hardly “vulgar.” I don’t know where you got that from. Next time, get your facts straight.

    • As a Chilean, I get her point about ‘vosotros’. Indeed, we never say the word ‘vosotros’ itself, but a lot of our conjugation for the 2nd person singular IS based on what the ‘vosotros’ person would use in regular Spanish, so to an English speaker who wishes to learn Spanish, I think that’s the easiest way to put it, since they STILL need to learn how the ‘vosotros’ conjugations work to understand OUR 2nd person singular conjugations.

      I’ve heard all three ways of saying it: más o menos, más o meno, ma o meno. Depending on the context and person I’m addressing, I might use any of them.

      And I’d say Chilean Spanish is unnecessarily vulgar, but perhaps it’s just that we’re comparing it to a different standard of what is and isn’t vulgar. I like to jokingly correct my friends in how they could have said what they just said, WITHOUT resorting to throwing in a bad word for its own sake.

      Overall, I’d say this article is pretty good. Gets the point across (Y)

  15. Hello, I am Chilean and I live in Chile, you have some mistakes, for example “FLAITE” it is not meaning that you say. Flaite is like a gangsta and your second mistake is that almost all the word are use for all the people, not only for young people, I was moving in all kind social class and all the people use that slag, weon, flaite, la raja… etc.

  16. Pingback: CHILENISMO – My Favourite Chilean Slang Words |

  17. correction needed for: CACHAI | CARRETEAR/CARRETE | FLAITE | MINA

    CACHAI = means to catch, it’s literally stolen from the English word ‘Catch’, as in “did you catch that”, so your little off.
    CARRETEAR/CARRETE = is more used when you go out and drink, not so much at a ‘fiesta’ (party).
    FLAITE = is a gangbanger, and yes, I have seen 50 old ‘FLAITES’, it does not mean sketcy… its a gangbanger in all meaning.
    MINA = does not mean a young her, it means “mine” in English, as saying that she is a mine of gold… ‘ella es una mina’ means she is hot. Overall the author did do a good job though. 🙂

  18. Funny article! I dated a Chilean woman years ago so this was a fun blast from the past. It is painful reading the comments, people get so technical and offended when it comes to language and culture. Keep in mind this is one person’s perspective and that could be different than yours. There are expressions in English that I think are rude that people I work with use very informally, but this doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily wrong. I think it was firmly established that vosotros is not used in Chile by the 30th comment about it. Good job!

  19. Pingback: La Perla del Pacífico: Valparaíso, Chile – LASSO: Latin American Studies Student Organization

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