Vocabulary to help with Spanish conversation
Elsewhere on these web pages you’ll find guidance about how to ask questions in Spanish, but if that’s all you’re doing, then it’s more of an interview than a conversation. Flowing and immersive conversation is an exchange and, whilst you’re not always in control, you can guide its direction, making it that much more enjoyable and worthwhile. Learning the art of conversation in a second language is given its own page for more general insights.
This ‘Spanish Conversation’ section includes some important words and phrases you can use, and that you can expect to hear. These are the cues and clues referred to in the more general section on conversation. Cues and clues that you can give and receive. I’ve also included nouns describing types of conversation, some verbs used to describe the non-verbal and verbal ways we communicate such as smiling or frowning, shouting or whispering. This vocabulary can be useful either when describing a conversation ‘second-hand’ or when reading fictional or real life accounts of conversations.
In fact, to develop your conversational repertoire, reading or listening to stories in your target language (in this case Spanish) can be helpful, as long as you take account of any stylised language. Just as in English we seldom speak like Shakespeare’s characters, the modern Spaniard doesn’t talk like Don Quixote de La Mancha. And it’s always helpful to use the question ¿Como se dice en español …? to ask how something is said or what it’s called in Spanish, or simply ¿Como se dice? when you’re struggling to find a word. This will help you expand your own personal vocabulary.
An interesting side point is that Spanish people also often use a diminutive form of a word, when in English we’d see something like ‘a little bag.’ or ‘a wee dog’. This frequently involves dropping any vowel there might be at the word, and adding -ito/ita. If the word ends in a consonant, an extra ~c (or ~ec for one syllable words) is added before the suffix, e.g. ~cita instead of ~ita. Hence una bolsa becomes una bolsita, un perro becomes un perrito, a little coffee is un cafecito, and a little light (luz) becomes lucecita. In some cases -ico/ica, -illo/illa or -ín/ina are added instead. It’s worth knowing this so that you can recognise the noun at the root of what is being talked about.
When used with adjectives (e.g. guapito, pobrecito) this can enhance the meaning in some way. In these cases the meaning changes from good-looking to hot, or from poor to ‘poor baby’ (often sarcastically). (Un) poquito is a useful word though, meaning ‘just a little’ or ‘a little bit’. The form in general can make your spoken Spanish sound more natural and varied, if not over-used of course.
Verbs – speech and conversation
The list below includes some verbs used to describe what we do in conversation, like arguing or agreeing, being right or wrong.
to speak – hablar
to chat – charlar
to agree – acordar
to disagree (with) – no estar de acuerdo (con)
to argue – discutir
to discuss – debatir
to explain – explicar
to believe – creer
to think – pensar
to stress (an idea) – subrayar
to be right – tener razón
to be wrong – no tener razón
to make a mistake – equivocarse
to mix up – equivocar
to ask (a question) –preguntar
to ask for – pedir
to feel like / fancy (doing something) – tener ganas de … + infinitive
to feel like / fancy (something) – apetecerse (algo)
to complain (about) – quejarse (de)
to shout – gritar
to whisper – susurrar
Verbs – Non-Verbal communication
This is a list of some useful verbs describing the non-verbal responses, like to shrug, smile or laugh, that people give to what’s going on or what’s being said.
to smile – sonrir
to frown – fruncir en ceño
to shrug – encogerse de hombros
to wink – guiñar
to laugh – reír
to cry – llorar
to shake one’s head – negar /sacudir (con la cabeza)
to nod (one’s head) – asentir (con la cabeza)
Making your point
Pues is the equivalent of the ubiquitous ‘well’ or ‘so’ in English conversation. Use this if you’re summarising what someone has just said, or just to start talking about something as a polite way of getting attention. So…
Entonces means ‘then’, as in ‘in that case’, if you’re following on from an argument, or if interrupting to offer an alternative or exception, simply pero… (but…).
En mi opinión is (unsurprisingly) ‘in my opinion’ and might be a useful way of introducing your own points, whether you agree or disagree. However you might want to use variety of agreeing and disagreeing words and phrases for variety.
Where in English you would say ‘I think…’ to venture your opinion, you would use creo (I believe), or pienso (I think), although pensar is more about the act of thinking than belief or opinion. So ¿Qué piensas? is more ‘What are you thinking?’ than ‘What’s your opinion?’.
Claro (clear, of course) is a really useful way to show that you’re listening and understand generally what a speaker is saying. You’ll hear it a lot, accompanied by nods of the head, amongst native speakers. If you agree, te acuerdo means ‘I agree with you’, or just acuerdo is ‘I agree’. Another neat phrase to show agreement is ‘that’s what I think’ or eso creo yo, and creo que sí means ‘I think so. Even an extended síiii can indicate a thoghtful or more emphatic agreement.
¡Pues claro que si! is a more emphatic ‘Of course!’ or ‘Of course it is!’ if, for example, something becomes clear. Por supuesto is a much more usual ‘of course’ , and again is useful like claro to show you are following and understand or agree.
Seguro is ‘sure’ or I’m sure, and ‘you’re right’ is tiene(s) razón depending on how familiar you are with the other person. Verdad, as a question or statement translates as ‘really’ or ‘truly’, and if you want to reassure someone they (or you) are right ‘without a doubt’ is sin duda.
Emphasising and extending points
Emphasis can be added, or points highlighted, with familiar words like especialmente, particularmente, or en particular, meaning ‘especially’, ‘particularly’ or ‘in particular’ respectively. ‘Mainly’ (or principally) is principalmente, with sobre todo (‘above all’) an alternative.
Además translates as the English ‘furthermore’, or ‘moreover’ and can be used to add weight or evidence to an argument. Clave is the adjective ‘key’ so ‘the key question’ is la pregunta clave. Clave also a noun meaning a password or secret code, e.g. a wifi password would be una clave.
Por ejemplo is ‘for example’, which can be used to go on to illustrate something or to ask for an example: ¿Por ejemplo? ‘Consequently’ or ‘as a result’ is por consiguiente , and if you want to reach a conclusion this llegar a una conclusión.
Disagreeing or questioning
‘I don’t think so’ or ‘I think not’ is creo que no, as a statement, but if suggesting something else, the simplest word to use here is pero (but). Alternatives for ‘however’ (or ‘nevertheless’) are sin embargo or no obstante. I suggest you learn one or the other to use yourself. Sin embargo seems more common and no obstante is closer to the English ‘notwithstanding”.
‘Although’ is aunque, with aun así meaning ‘even so’. [ Note that aun means ‘even’ in the sense of ‘even worse’ (aun peor) and aún with stress on the ú means ‘still’ (or yet) as in ‘I still don’t believe it’ – Aún yo no lo creo. ]
Alternatively translates as the phrase o bien, although una alternativa is an alternative, and the adjective ‘alternative’ is alternativo/a. So don’t be caught out by the potential false friend of
alternativamente, which simply does not exist in Spanish.
If you’re questioning why something is or might be the case, a simple ¿Por qué? (why) should do the trick, or ¿Por qué es? – why is it? ‘What for?’ as in ‘for what purpose? is ¿Para qué? ‘Let’s see’ is vamos a ver, and can be a useful way to ‘agree to differ’!