Let me ask you a question: Do you know these words in English that sound very similar but have totally different meanings? Well, something similar (no pun intended) also exists in Spanish!
Knowing the difference between these words that sound very similarly will really improve your comprehension of Spanish and avoid some embarrassing moments… like accidentally complimenting someone’s body hair!
In this article we will go over algunas palabras muy similares en español (some very similar words in Spanish). I advise you to stay until the end because the last one will blow your mind.
Same pronunciation, different spelling
In Spanish, words that have similar or the same pronunciation but have different meanings are called homónimos (homonyms). There are three ways that words may differ: spelling, meaning, and accentuation.
So let’s see some examples of words that sound the same, but are written differently:
- Haber / A ver (To have/ Let’s see)
This one is really easy to spot since the second is actually two words and their meanings are rather different.
- Haz / Has (Beam or make / have you)
This one might be tricky if you’re in Latin America, since we don’t really differentiate the Z from the S. But in Spain, however, you can tell the difference by pronunciation.
- Asia / Hacia (Asia / locative “To”)
Asia es un continente (Asia is a continent) and hacia is similar to the preposition “to”, as in: Este vuelo va hacia Asia (This flight goes to Asia).
By the way, hacia has another homónimo: hacía and the accentuation is different.
- Bello / Vello (Beautiful / Body hair)
There’s a slight difference in the way we pronounce the B and V, but mainly you’ll spot the meaning from context. Y, amigo, son muy diferentes (And boy, are they different!)
- Votar / Botar (To vote / To toss or throw)
Again, it’s a very Latin American thing to pronounce both words identically, but the right pronunciation should stress the type of B you’re using.
Same spelling, different meaning
In Spanish, una lima puede ser lima (a nail file can be lime-colored), una cara puede ser cara (a face can be expensive) y yo río cuando estoy en el río (and I laugh when I’m in the river).
You have no idea of what’s happening here, right? Well, that is because in Spanish, there are some words that are written the same, but have different meanings! Let’s see some more examples of this:
- vino (came / wine)
- traje (I brought / suit)
- cura (priest / cure)
- llama (flame or fire / llama / call) ―So when your Peruvian landlord tells you que bajes la llama de la cocina (to turn down the flame in the kitchen), you may want to check what kind of llama they’re talking about.
Accent marks make a difference
Now, one of the trickiest parts of Spanish is los acentos (accent marks) and they change many things in the way you speak ―meanings are one of those things. There are words that are written similarly, but adding an accent mark somewhere can change the meaning greatly.
Remember when we talked about hacia? Well, if you add an accent mark on the I and say hacía, the meaning changes completely! Instead of “where to”, now you’d be saying “there was”.
Now, let’s see more examples with accent marks:
- Bebe / Bebé (Drink / Baby)
- Papá / Papa (Dad / Potato or Pope)
- Mamá / Mama (Mom / Suck or breast) ―Yep, you’ll thank me for this one. Trust me!
- Ejército / Ejercito / Ejercitó (Army / Work out / Worked out) ―That’s right! By just changing the stressed syllable, we even have three different meanings! Cool, isn’t it?
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So, what do you think? Are you ready to use similar words like a pro? If you feel a little overwhelmed, remember: si alguien comete un error, cómete un tomate y tómate con calma la situación.(If anyone makes a mistake, eat a tomato and take it easy!) If you understood this chunk please let me know in Spanish in the comments section and I’ll make sure to check it out.
And don’t forget to sign up for our free Spanish training, where you’ll learn all about these chunks and how they bypass learning grammar and word lists.