Castellano vs. Español


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Castellano vs. Español

Non-Spaniards sometimes affectionately refer to the Castillian "th" pronunciation of the "c" and "z" as a lisp."

Posted by Dreamer

Information about some of the differences between the Castillian Spanish of Spain (Castellano) and Latin American Spanish (Español).

Most commonly, castellano and español both refer to the language of Cervantes, Borges, Lorca, and Vargas Llosa. However, in certain contexts, castellano is used to refer only to the language as spoken in Spain, and español to the language as it is spoken in Latin America.

Are castellano and español really that different? Isn’t Spanish all the same? Well yes, and no. Like English speakers from the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the United States, there are obvious differences but people can still effectively communicate with and understand each other. And that is the function of language.

Yet what sounds right to one native speaker can sometimes sound strange, quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain wrong to a native speaker from another country. In the worst cases, incomprehension, misunderstandings, or arguments can arise as a result of linguistic differences, especially when it comes to slang. Nevertheless, the best rule of thumb is that good, educated language use is more often than not good and educated language wherever you are. Just be sure to allow for the differences that may arise.

Admittedly, talking of “Castillian Spanish” or “Latin American Spanish” can be misleading. Spanish in Mexico is certainly different from the Spanish of Argentina, and Spanish in Galicia diverges from the Spanish of Andalucía. Even so, Spanish as it is spoken in Spain shares many common characteristics that set it apart from Spanish in Latin America, and that is what we will briefly examine here.


Non-Spaniards sometimes affectionately refer to the Castillian “th” pronunciation of the “c” and “z” as a lisp; where in Latin America, this same “c” and “z” is pronounced as an “s”. As such, some words are indistinguishable in Latin American speech, “caza” and “casa” for example. Not so in Castillian Spanish, where their phonetic difference is preserved.

Vocabulary: Verbs

Here are a few examples that illustrate some of the differences in Spanish vocabulary than can arise with respect to verbs:

Castillian Spanish

Latin American Spanish




To take. Example: “Cogí el tren.
Tomé el tren.
I took the train.”
In Latin America, ‘coger’ means
something else, and you would not
be doing that to a train.



to grow up, to be brought up



to get angry



to get ill or sick

pedir prestado


to borrow

Verb Forms

In both Spain and Latin America, the informal, second person singular verb form is (you). (See the chart below.) For example: “¿Quieres () venir a la fiesta conmigo? Would you like to come to the party with me?”

However, when you’re talking to a group of people, that’s when things get more complicated. In Spain, you would use the second person plural verb form, vosotros, so you’d say: “¿Queréis (vosotros) ir a la fiesta conmigo?” But in Latin America, the vosotros verb form is simply not used. There they use the third person plural verb form with ustedes instead, which would be: “¿Quieren (ustedes) ir a la fiesta conmigo?

First person singular = yo quiero.

First person plural = nosotros queremos.

Informal, second person singular = tú quieres.

Informal, second person plural = vosotros queréis.

Third person singular = él quiere, ella quiere.
Formal, second personal singular = usted quiere.

Third person plural = ellos quieren, ellas quieren.
Formal, second person plural = ustedes quieren.


Slang varies widely from country to country and even region to region. To try to keep things clean around here, I’ll limit our discussion to directing you to Spain Expat’s glossary of Spanish Slang.

He insists on using the usted form with me..."

The use of tú vs. usted

In both Spain and Latin America, is the informal, second person singular and usted is the formal, second person singular. Generally, is used among good friends and usted in formal situations or as a sign of respect. However, the use of in Spain is very widespread and is used in many situations that in Latin America would require the use of usted.

As an example, a very well-mannered Mexican friend of mine living in the United States insists on using the usted form with me. To my surprise, he even uses the usted form with his parents, which is fairly common in some Latin American countries. The truth is that I can’t recall ever hearing him use the form. I, a transplant to Madrid, insist that he tutearme (use ) because we’re friends; yet he says that he uses usted precisely because we’re friends. Curious.

Vocabulary: Nouns

Here are a few examples that illustrate some of the differences in Spanish vocabulary than can arise with respect to nouns:

Castillian Spanish

Latin American Spanish


billete (m)

boleto (m)


ordenador (m)

computadora (f)


tortilla (f)

tortilla (f)

In Spain, a ‘tortilla’ is an omelette.
In Latin America, a ‘tortilla’ is a flat bread.

melocotón (m)

durazno (m)


patata (f)

papa (f)


autobús, autocar, bus (m)

guagua (f), colectivo, micro,
ómnibus, bondi, camión, bus (m)


Verb tenses

Castillian and Latin American Spanish tend to make different uses of certain verbal tenses.

If you did something yesterday, you would use the imperfect preterite (also called the simple past). For example: “Fui al supermercado ayer. I went to the supermarket yesterday.” But if you went to the supermarket in the morning, you would hear the present perfect “He ido al supermercado esta mañana” in Spain and the simple past “Fui al supermercado esta mañana” in Latin America.

Castillian Spanish uses the present perfect to indicate not only the recent past, but in many cases where only the simple past may be used in Latin America.

Last updated 02 02 2013

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ricardito_g said:

A very informative article, but I must correct you in one area. The term Castellano is not restricted in reference to the language spoken in Spain. In Venezuela, the language is seldom referred to as Espanol; rather it is called Castellano. It is only called Espanol when listed against other languages, for example Espanol, Frances, Portugues etc. This is the case in many other Latin Amrican countries.

ffcvcn said:

Some Spanish people have the habit of not pronouncing their d's, for example the right way to pronounce aprendido is just as it is spelled aprendido. A lot of Spanish people will say aprendio, which is not correct.Another one not always pronounced is s, sometimes you'll hear someone say basta, but it comes out bata.

And addressing the point brought out in the article about tenses, most Spanish people do say something like "He ido a la tienda" (I went to the store) but that means I have gone to the store, whereas "Fui a la tienda" actually just means I went to the store.

I think the main reason that you hear Mexican people correcting Spanish learned in Spain is that it sounds antiquated and slangy to them. In most Spanish speaking countries, the word haber which when placed in it's subjunctive imperfect form is hubieras, which sometimes in Spain is said as hubieses. Not incorrect but very strange to our ears because it seems old fashioned.

Daniel Joaqu?n Rojas Wilches said:

In Colombia, we use "coger" instead of "tomar", "pedir prestado" instead of "prestar". We don't use "crecerse" (it's the first time I heard that word). We don't use "enfadarse" nor "enojarse", we say "ponerse bravo" or something like that.

SilviaB said:

The pride in one's language goes both ways. I'm Mexican and my daughter's Spanish teacher is teaching them Castellano and insists they pronounce words like her (lisp included). Other parents who are from Colombia and El Salvador are not happy about this either.

It's not that we hate Castellano or find it incorrect, it's just not culturally relative. It's for the same reason we don't teach British English in America. And I think that's what it's all about: Respect for each others language and using it to bridge cultures.

Saludos a todos!

aurum_argentium17 said:

I found this article very interesting. I was searching for an article that could help my sister to understand the differences between Espanol and Castellano. I am from El Salvador and we came to the United States not long ago.
There were some words that in my personal opinion were misused like "coger" I do use "coger" as to "pick up", the other meaning is more slang.
In El Salvador we say "autobus" and "melocoton".

I grew up with nuns and they taught me Castellano and Espanol, I pronounce "c" and "z" with their proper sounds but rarely use them.

As a curiosity, I do use present perfect, I call "tu" to my friends and "usted" to show respect to others [even if they are my age or younger].

katkatc24 said:


This article and the comments are very interesting. I started Spanish with BBC Languages (Castellano). Needless to say, when I started learning with a program (Espanol), I was a bit confused!

I sort of blend them. For instance, I make the "th" sound with some new words and it calms down my over-trilling. I lapse in and out of the "th", and move on to the "s" once I've become comfortable with the word. I have no idea if it's a useful or confusing way to learn, but it works for me (although I completely understand where you're coming from, SilviaB. It doesn't make sense to teach it as the "proper" way, considering this is a Spanish class in the U.S.).

ffcvcn - That reminds me of something my French teachers said about Quebecois. A lot of the vocabulary is antiquated (typical differences from isolation) and they think it sounds odd. For example, the word for car in French is "voiture". In Quebecois "char" is used most often, which in French used to mean horse-drawn cart.

Thank you!

eyePodx said:


The article is plain wrong, sorry. Since castellano and espa?ol are Spanish words (not English words) I looked them up in the DRAE and it confirmed what I already knew. The two words mean the Spanish language. Any distinction between Spain and a different country is just snobbery. Castellano can refer to Spanish in the context of Spain to make a distinction between Spanish and Catal?n, Gallego, Euskadi, etc. But that distinction is rubbish in the Americas. Sorry, the premise of this article is not accurate at all.

Thank you!


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