From the moment we arrived in an Argentinian airport and saw a sign saying “Arribos” rather than “Llegadas”, I knew that I’d be spending more time than I expected wrapping my head around Argentinian Spanish and its differences with Spanish as it’s taught traditionally.
To the average Spanish learner, Argentinian Spanish presents the same challenges that any form of Spanish would: It’s spoken quickly, it has a complex conjugation system, and many false friends.
But if you’re learning or improving your Spanish in Argentina, you need to be aware that there are a few things that are different from Spanish as it’d be taught by a language teacher, app, or textbook. If you have a teacher from Argentina, they would try to teach you Spanish as it’s more universally spoken, but still, when you’re speaking with everyday people, it’s hard to not absorb these.
Anyway, if you learn to speak Spanish like an Argentinian, everyone around the world will understand you — other than the vos form, but any good teacher will teach you the tú form at the same time.
General disclaimer — I’m not a native Spanish speaker, nor an academic. I learned Spanish in Spain, have spoken it on and off for decades, and I’m mostly familiar with Spain as it’s spoken in Europe, Mexico, and Colombia. So the below is best for other non-native speakers. If you’re a native speaker, I welcome your feedback!
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Argentinian Spanish Differences — An Overview
Generally speaking, Spanish language learners learn of two major kinds of Spanish — Continental Spanish vs Latin American Spanish. Argentinian Spanish falls into the latter, but has its own set of differences.
At that broad level, you could say that people in Spain use the vosotros/as (you plural) form, and pronounce “z” and “c” before a vowel as English speakers would pronounce a soft “th”, whereas in Latin America, people use ustedes for the “you plural” and pronounce the “z” and “c” before a vowel as an “s”.
Argentinian Spanish, being a variant of Latin American Spanish, doesn’t involve the “vosotros/as” form and pronounces the “z” and “c” before a vowel as does every other Latin American country.
However, Argentinian Spanish has many additional differences in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
An important note is that these features are not necessarily unique to Argentina. For example, Uruguay uses the voseo, and some of the words are heard in other countries.
But the things I discuss below are used in Argentina, and they’re not “universal” — by which I mean they contrast with Spanish as it’d be taught by a Spanish textbook, whether in the European or Latin American style.
Pronunciation and the Argentinian “Lilt”
One of the first things many think about when they think of Argentinian Spanish is the sing-song lilt with which people speak. This intonation, along with the way Argentinians speak with their hands, is influenced by historical Italian migration, and some aspects of it are common to Italy.
Aside from the lilt, there are a few other ways in which Argentinian Spanish is pronounced differently from standard Latin American Spanish.
Firstly, the pronunciation of “ll” or “y”. Students normally learn to speak this like a “y” or sometimes like a hard “y”. But in Argentina, it sounds like the French “g” in “rouge” or the “s” sound in “measure”.
Secondly, omission of the “s” at the end of a syllable. Often, Argentinians will not really pronounce this “s”. They either aspirate it or omit it. So someone asking you to eat will ask what sounds like “¿Vo’ quere’ comer?” (See below about the vos form.)
Actually, Argentinians will often aspirate or omit the final consonant of many words. It’s strange but eso e’ la “verda’!” (verdad, “truth”).
Greetings / Goodbyes in Argentina
There are two things I had to get used to in Argentina when it came to greetings and goodbyes.
Firstly, the kiss-hello. In Argentina, the kiss-hello isn’t just between men and women or women and women, it’s also between men and men, and it’s quite affectionate. As far as I can tell, it’s unique in Latin America to Argentina and Uruguay.
Secondly, the greetings follow a different rhythm in Argentina. People rarely respond to “How are you?”. You just say it, like a friendly statement.
- “Hola, ¿qué tal?”
- “¿Cómo andás?”
The response to an Argentinian greeting question is usually another greeting question. Very rarely (maybe 1/20 times) will I hear “Bien, ¿y vos?”.
A few common greetings I hear in Argentina are, aside from the above:
- “¿Que hacés?” (Kind of with the tone down, like a statement. Not literally “What are you doing”. Actually I hear this brevity as “WTF are you doing” so it was really confusing the first time)
- “Cómo va [todo]?” You don’t need the last word.
- “¿Todo bien?”
- “Tudo bom?” I guess people sometimes use Portuguese phrases, for fun. (Could just be the people I know!)
Among the people I interacted with, by the way, I very rarely/never saw the “¿” used in text messaging. People would only ever say “Que tal?” just like that.
The Voseo — ¿De Dónde Sos Vos?
Once you’re past the accent, you’ll quickly notice the main difference of Argentinian Spanish, which it shares with Uruguayan Spanish (together academically referred to as Rioplatense Spanish), is the vos form, also referred to as the voseo.
You’ll probably hear this first, as I often still hear it early in conversations, as “¿De dónde sos [vos]?”, which means “Where are you from?”. Or a few other basics like “¿Cómo te llamás?” (accent on the last syllable) or “Pasá, por favor” to be invited inside. More on all of this before.
The vos form replaces tú in Argentinian Spanish. The vos form is used to a different extent in different Latin American countries, and I’ll leave that to linguistic and regional experts. But in Argentina at least, the vos form completely replaces tú, and co-exists with usted.
Happily, the voseo doesn’t fundamentally change all of Spanish, it just changes the second informal person for two main situations: the present tense and the imperative.
The voseo is very widely used in Argentinian Spanish, though. I hear it frequently when talking to people roughly my age (from ten years younger), and older people aren’t shy about using it. Also, it’s used frequently in ads and signs — I think more often than the usted form.
A very simple summary of how to conjugate verbs in the vos form:
- Present tense: Take the “r” off the present tense, replace it with an “s”, and put an accent on the final vowel to remind you of emphasis there. For example, “you speak” is vos hablás, or “you eat” is vos comés.
- Imperative: Same, but without the “s”. For example “Come!” is ¡Vení!” and “Chill!” is ¡Quedate tranquilo! (Note, in the tú form it’d be ¡Quédate tranquilo!, with emphasis on the first syllable.
There’s only one irregular common form in the vos form — the conjugation of ir, “to be”. Rather than become [vos] is, it becomes [vos] sos. This is the basis of that the first phrase you’ll hear from many: ¿De dónde sos?
Here’s a quick table with some common examples.
|Verb||Tú form (present / imperative)||Vos form|
|ir (to be)|
Are you Argentinian?
(Imperative “ir” is rarely used.)
|hablar (to speak)|
Do you speak English?
|venir (to come)|
Are you coming tonight?
Come here please.
¿Vienes esta noche?
Ven aquí por favor.
¿Venís esta noche?
|comer (to eat)|
Do you eat meat?
Eat this, it’s delicious!
Eat it up!
¡Come eso, está muy bueno!
¡Comé eso, está muy rico!
|decir (to say)|
What are you saying?
Tell me what you want.
Dime que quieres.
Decime qué querés.
You also use vos as a pronoun, for example “This is for you” is Esto es para vos, and “I’m going with you” becomes Voy con vos (which is easier to remember than contigo for the tú form).
However, the possessive pronoun in vos form is still tú.
If you’re confused and worried about using the voseo in Argentinian Spanish, here are two things that might assuage you:
- For most first-time situations, like buying bread at a bakery or ordering food, use usted anyway. You can’t go wrong with usted. At worst, you’ll seem too formal, which is never bad, just funny! (E.g. if you talk to your very young Argentinian cousin in usted it’d be comical.)
- If you use tú, it’s 100% OK. At worst, you’ll seem like a visitor from another Spanish-speaking country. There’s no direct English equivalent, but it’d be a bit like someone saying “Thanks, pal” vs “Thanks, mate”. Depending on where you’re from, one sounds more local.
That’s just a quick intro to the voseo in Argentinian Spanish. Understanding it conceptually is one thing. It takes a little while to get used to saying intuitively! (But once you do, the “tú” form starts to sound weird and foreign.)
Everyday Argentinian Words that are Different
There are a number of words that Argentinians use for everyday things that I hadn’t come across in Spanish in other countries.
These aren’t slang, because you’ll see them in official language and signs, and there’s nothing rude about using them — they’re just commonly accepted words.
Again, these aren’t entirely unique to Argentina, and many are shared with immediate neighbours. But they’re not words I learned out of books or dictionaries. I learned them out of experience, like saying “no” to someone offering me “invoices” (facturas) with my coffee, until I learned after a full month that I was turning down delicious pastries.
If I come across more common words, I’ll add them! There are obviously loads more, but this is just a snapshot of common words I’ve come across in everyday life.
|English||Argentinian Spanish||Other Spanish variations|
|Avocado||Una palta||Un aguacate, una cura|
|Buenos aires resident||Un porteño / una porteña||Don’t know…|
|Bus||Un colectivo||Un autobús / bus|
|Computer||Una computadora (this is common in Latin America), la compu for short||Un ordenador|
|Car||Un auto||Un coche, Un carro|
|Chin||La pera (no idea why)||El mentón|
|Corn||El choclo (sounds much more delicious!)||El maíz|
|Grab / take||agarrar. Do not use the European Spanish word “coger” as it has a vulgar meaning.||Coger (don’t use this in Latin America)|
|Here, there||Acá, allá|
These are also standard Spanish, but they’re the only words for here or there used in Argentina
|Fridge||Buenos aires: La heladera (“the ice box”)|
Argentina elsewhere: La conservadora (They think it’s weird that porteños say this
|El frigorífico, el refrigerador, la nevera|
|Jacket / windbreaker||Una campera|
(Like a North Face or Patagonia style functional coat)
|A suitcase / luggage||Una valija / las valijas||Una maleta / el equipaje|
|Nectarine||Un pelón||Una nectarina|
|Pastries (e.g. croissants)||Las facturas|
(No, not “the invoices”)
|Las masas (or just the names of the pastries)|
|Peach||El durazno||El melocotón|
|Peas||Las arvejas||Los guisantes|
|Pineapple||El ananá||La piña|
|Polo shirt (t-shirt with collar)||Una chomba||Camiseta polo|
Note that a “calabaza” is more a “gourd”, e.g. from which a “mate” cup is made.
|Una calabaza, una auyama|
(also means “slippers”)
More often used elsewhere to mean to start a car or vehicle. Used in Argentina as a synonym.
|Strawberry||Una frutilla||Una fresa|
|T-shirt||Una remera||Una camiseta|
(“little” zapallo, pumpkin)
|Un calabacín, una calabacita|
This is, at best, a snapshot of the words people use in Argentina every day. There are obviously many more that I haven’t come across. Consider it an example of how different variations of Spanish can be.
The many uses of “Che”
Che is quite an informal word. People say it’s probably the most Argentinian word. You might hear it if you’re a Spanish speaker and are plunged into an Argentinian environment, but otherwise, you might have to make some informal connections before anyone says che to you.
Mostly, che is used to mean “Hey!” or “Hi!”. In this way, it’s similar to other words you might know like ¡Oye!
It can also be a stand-in for a name, like ¡Hola, che!. I’ve seen some references claiming it’s an onomatopoeia of “psst”.
- ¡Che, flaco!
- ¡Che, maestro, como andás!
- ¡Che, vení acá!
- Che, ¿que hacés? (Note, this is “Yo, what’s up?”, not “Hey, what are you doing?”)
- Che, una preguntita…
You can also use che to emphasise something, or express surprise, similar to hombre, mira, or vaya.
- ¡Que calor, che!
- ¡Che, qué cara está la pizza!
As for the origins of “che”… I’ve read multiple theories, from it coming from the Italian cioè, to coming from Guaraní, a South American language spoken by millions, to being derived from a similar-sounding particle from Valencian. I don’t know which is true, but seeing there’s no consensus, it seems to have taken on a life of its own in Argentinian Spanish.
Argentinian Slang / Swear Words
Beyond Argentinian common words, there are slang words in Argentinian Spanish. These words range from the casual to the impolite, and you wouldn’t expect to hear them from strangers or see them used in official writing.
Below are the words that I’ve heard used. I’ve read about others, but I don’t know if they’re current or commonly used.
|English||Argentinian Spanish||Other Spanish variations|
|Annoy / Bother||Joder, e.g. no me jodas ahora. This is a much more serious swearword elsewhere.||molestar|
|Beer||birra (from Italian)||cerveza|
|Buddy / pal||Flaco / maestro|
Como andás, flaco
|Corner store||El chino. Named because they’re all run by Chinese, allegedly controlled by a “Chinese Mafia”|
Voy al chino para comprar leche
|Dude||Boludo. This word has many uses|
Che, boludo, ¿viste eso?
Dude, did you see that?
|Flirt / chat up||chamuyar / un chamuyo||coquetear|
Note: In Spain this is “to take”, a very common word. Never use this in this way in Latin America; use “agarrar” or “tomar” for “take”.
|Girl / Woman||Una mina||Una chica|
|Greengrocer||Una verdu||Una verdulería|
|Guy||Un chabón||Un tipo|
¿Qué hacés, boludo? (friendly, or possibly vaguely offensive)
!Como andás, boludo! (friendly)
This is a friendly term — you can also use it to refer to friends.
|Hey / Yo / Sup||Che|
Che is a generic word with lots of uses, but I generally understand it as “Hey”, “Yo”, or “‘Sup”
|Money||plata / pasta, guita, mango, gamba|
E.g. No tengo la pasta, or eso vale cien mangos
E.g. Un chabón vino pidiéndome guita
Also note plata and pasta are widely used in the Spanish-speaking world.
|To screw around||Boludear. Related to “boludo”. E.g. ahora solo estamos boludeando|
Related: boludeces, loosely “sillinesses”. E.g. “No digas boludeces!”
|“Very”||“Re” before a word. E.g. estoy re bien, or hace re calor hoy. You can also just say “Re” for “great”, but I’ve only seen that on TV.|
I’ve also seen “re” in front of a noun, but that’s even more slangy. E.g. some guy on Reddit advising on cheap eats: Vas a la verdu te pedís una bandeja para sopa, caldo al agua y tenés un re sopa
|Work / job||Un laburo / El laburo|
From Italian “lavoro”. Refers to work that’s not necessarily pleasant to do, like “the grind”.
As we spend more time in Argentina I’ll add to this list, but I’m trying to be conservative with it. If you have any you think need to be added, let me know!