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Central American Spanish

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Central American Spanish

Linguistic variations of Central American Spanish.

Central American Spanish (Spanish: español centroamericano or castellano centroamericano) is the general name of the Spanish language dialects spoken in Central America. More precisely, the term refers to the Spanish language as spoken in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. For Panama see Caribbean Spanish.


While most vocabulary is common, each country has its variations, for instance, for "corner store" and "soft drink": In Guatemala, they are tienda and agua (water is agua pura). In El Salvador, they are tienda and gaseosa. In Honduras, they are pulpería (in the north called trucha informally) and fresco. In Nicaragua, they are venta or pulpería and gaseosa. In Costa Rica, they are pulpería and gaseosa although they could also be abastecedor and refresco or fresco, in Panama they are tienda and soda.[1]

Phonetics and phonology

Some characteristics of Central American phonology include:

  • /s/ at the end of a syllable or before a consonant is pronounced like [h], except in Guatemala and in Costa Rica.
  • j (/x/), is aspirated except in some areas of Costa Rica; it is soft as the /h/ in English (e.g.: Yahoo).

All of the phonological features of Central American Spanish are similar to Andalusian, Canarian, and Caribbean, and other Latin American Spanish dialects.


In this map of voseo countries, the spread of the dialect is clearly illustrated. Nicaragua, represented in dark blue in Central America. Although other countries like Argentina, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Paraguay also are represented by dark blue on the map, Rioplatense Spanish is spoken in these regions. It varies in pronunciation compared to the Central American dialect.
Poster using voseo form in El Salvador (translation: "Order your cold one here!")
The most common form for the second person singular in Central America is vos . However, usted is the dominant second person singular pronoun. 'Vos' is used in Spanish-speaking Central America, with the exception of Panama, among family members, close friends, and in informal contexts. When addressing strangers, 'usted' is used. The Panamanian department of Chiriquí and the Mexican state of Chiapas are two regions were 'vos' is commonly heard.

People say "Vení" for "Come here" or "Pedí tu cosa" for "Order your thing" (see picture).
The imperative is formed by dropping the final -R of the infinitive, and then adding an acute accent to the final vowel to retain the stress.

Verb Meaning Vos
ser "to be"
ir "to go" andá
hablar "to speak" hablá
callar "to become silent" callá
soltar "to release/let go" soltá
comer "to eat" comé
mover "to move" mové
venir "to come" vení
poner "to put" poné
salir "to leave" salí
tener "to have" tené
decir "to say" decí
pedir "to ask/order" pedí

The only irregular conjugation in the imperative is the verb ir and ser.

The conjugation of the present tense follows the pattern of replacing the final -R of the infinitive with an -S and adding an acute accent to the previous vowel.

Infinitive Vos
oir oís oyes
venir venís vienes
decir decís dices
dormir dormís duermes
sentir sentís sientes
salir salís sales
concluir concluís concluyes
poder podés puedes
querer querés quieres
mover movés mueves
tener tenés tienes
pensar pensás piensas
contar contás cuentas
jugar jugás juegas
cantar cantás cantas
errar errás erras

Note how the conjugation of vos presents fewer irregularities compared to .

The main difference of the voseo in Argentina is the conjugation of the subjunctive. Rioplatense Spanish prefers the subjunctive forms of , whereas in Central America, the vos forms are retained.

The pronoun usted is used when addressing older, unfamiliar or respected persons, as it is in all Spanish countries; however, in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras it is frequently used with younger people, and in Honduras between husband and wife, and friends. In Nicaragua, the pronoun is only used among youth during special or formal occasions or when addressing unfamiliar individuals in a formal manner. It's also used with most, if not all, profanities familiar to the region.[1]

The use of in Costa Rica is considered pedantic except in the south, where it is preferred.

Pronouns and verb conjugation

Shop front in Honduras

As previously mentioned, one of the features of the Central American speaking style is the voseo: the usage of the pronoun vos for the second person singular, instead of . In some Spanish-speaking regions where voseo is used, it is sometimes considered a non-standard lower-class sociolectic or regional variant, whereas in other regions voseo is standard. Vos is used with forms of the verb that resemble those of the second person plural (vosotros) in traditional (Spain's) Peninsular Spanish.

Some people prefer to say "tú" instead of "vos" but conjugating the verbs using the vos forms; for instance: tú cantás, tú bailás, tú podés, etc.

The second person plural pronoun, which is vosotros in Spain, is replaced with ustedes in C. American Spanish, like most other Latin American dialects. While usted is the formal second person singular pronoun, its plural ustedes has a neutral connotation and can be used to address friends and acquaintances as well as in more formal occasions (see T-V distinction). Ustedes takes a grammatically third person plural verb.

As an example, see the conjugation table for the verb amar in the present tense, indicative mode:

Inflection of amar
Person/Number Peninsular C. American
1st sing. yo amo yo amo
2nd sing. tú amas vos amás
3rd sing. él ama él ama
1st plural nosotros amamos nosotros amamos
2nd plural vosotros amáis ²ustedes aman
3rd plural ellos aman ellos aman
(²) Ustedes is used throughout all of Latin America for both the familiar and formal. In Spain, it is used only in formal speech for the second person plural.

Although apparently there is just a stress shift (from amas to amás), the origin of such a stress is the loss of the diphthong of the ancient vos inflection from vos amáis to vos amás. This can be better seen with the verb "to be": from vos sois to vos sos. In vowel-alternating verbs like perder and morir, the stress shift also triggers a change of the vowel in the root:

Inflection of perder
Peninsular C. American
yo pierdo yo pierdo
tú pierdes vos perdés
él pierde él pierde
nosotros perdemos nosotros perdemos
vosotros perdéis ustedes pierden
ellos pierden ellos pierden

For the -ir verbs, the Peninsular vosotros forms end in -ís, so there is no diphthong to simplify, and Central American vos employs the same form: instead of tú vives, vos vivís; instead of tú vienes, vos venís (note the alternation).

The imperative forms for vos are identical to the plural imperative forms in Peninsular minus the final -d (stress remains the same):

  • Hablá más alto, por favor. "Speak louder, please." (hablad in Peninsular)
  • Comé un poco de torta. "Eat some cake." (comed in Peninsular)
  • Vení para acá. "Come over here." (venid in Peninsular)

The plural imperative uses the ustedes form (i. e. the third person plural subjunctive, as corresponding to ellos).

As for the subjunctive forms of vos verbs, most speakers use the classical vos conjugation, employing the vosotros form minus the i in the final diphthong. However, some prefer to use the subjunctive forms.

  • Espero que veas or Espero que veás "I hope you can see" (Peninsular veáis)
  • Lo que quieras or (less used) Lo que querás "Whatever you want" (Peninsular queráis)

In the preterite, an s is often added, for instance (vos) perdistes. This corresponds to the classical vos conjugation found in literature. Compare Iberian Spanish form vosotros perdisteis. However, it is often deemed incorrect.

Other verb forms coincide with after the i is omitted (the vos forms are the same as ).

  • Si salieras "If you went out" (Peninsular salierais)


In the old times, vos was used as a respectful term. In C. American Spanish, as in most other dialects which employ voseo, this pronoun has become informal, displacing . It is used especially for addressing friends and family members (regardless of age), but may also include most acquaintances, such as coworkers, friends of one's friends, etc.

Usage of tenses

Nicaragua uses the voseo pronoun more frequently than the other countries of Central America. The signage reads: Nicaragua communicates with you, with vos replacing the tú pronoun.

Although literary works use the full spectrum of verb inflections, in C. American Spanish (as well as many other Spanish dialects), the future tense has been replaced by a verbal phrase (periphrasis) in the spoken language.

This verb phrase is formed by the verb ir ("go") followed by the preposition a and the main verb in the infinitive. This is akin to the English phrase going to + infinitive verb. For example:

  • Creo que descansaré un pocoCreo que voy a descansar un poco
  • Mañana me visitará mi madreMañana me va a visitar mi madre
  • Iré a visitarla mañanaVoy a ir a visitarla mañana

The present perfect (Spanish: Pretérito perfecto compuesto), just like pretérito anterior, is rarely used, so it's replaced by simple past.

  • Juan no ha llegadoJuan no llegó todavía
  • El torneo ha comenzadoEl torneo comenzó


There are also many words unique to Central America, for example, chunche or chochadas means thing or stuff in some places. Also the words used to describe children (or kids) is different in various countries, for example in Nicaragua they are called chavalos (similar to chavales in Spain); or sipotes; while in Guatemala they are called patojos. In Honduras they're called güirros, chigüin, and cipotes is used in both Honduras and El Salvador, while in Costa Rica they are called güilas or carajillos. In Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador money is called pisto, a term coming from the Spanish dish 'pisto'.[2] However, a common slang word used for money is "plata". In addition, chucho in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras means dog.


  1. ^ a b Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring by Tom Brosnahan, Carolyn Hubbard and Barbara Reioux
  2. ^ Honduras slang

External links

  • History of Voseo
  • [1] Lexicon of Nicaraguan Spanish]
  • in word endings in Nicaragua.SDropping of
  • voseo in El Salvador source

See also

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