In this guide, you will learn important expressions, greeting, common Argentinian phrases and slang vocabulary. You will discover why Argentine Spanish is deep, rich, and full of interesting turns of phrase. One major factor in the development of the Argentine accent and colloquial use of Spanish is the fact that immigration from Italy and other European non-Spanish speaking countries accounts for a large percentage of the population today. Argentine culture is a mix of Spanish traditions, Italian traditions, and of course the different native cultures such as Mapuche, Tehuelche, Guaraní. And let’s not forget the famous gauchos of the pampas (countryside).
The Tango, sensual dance with nostalgic words, holds deep cultural importance too. Its impact on the language can’t be understated. Tango introduced slang or “lunfardo” to the street language of Buenos Aires. Tango was born among the lower classes of both Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay. The dance is an expression of the fusion of elements from the Afro-Argentine and Afro-Uruguayan cultures, authentic criollos, and European immigrants.
The culture of a country is often expressed best through its informal vocabulary
⚠️ Before we go any further, I should point out something that will save you embarrassment. When visiting Argentina, take care when using the verb “to take”. In the Spanish of other Latin American countries and Spain, “coger” is used when talking about taking the bus or grabbing something. That simple word, used in the wrong context, will get a big laugh among Argentinians. In Argentina, it means “to have sex”. Many Spanish books will only talk about the former usage. Don’t commit social suicide by announcing that you want to have sex with an object!
Argentinians are very warm, close and familiar, and they build trust with each other easily. It’s not uncommon to spend an entire day at a friend’s house, or even multiple days. This is all normal behaviour in Argentina. As soon as you get to know somebody, their mother will adopt you as a new son or daughter.
In the culture of drinking maté, a herbal caffeinated, infused beverage, sharing is central. While drinking this simple beverage of hot water and maté herbs (similar to tea), everyone shares the straw.
These rituals of sharing, and the easy forming of close personal connections, have influenced the informal language.
Argentine Informal Greetings
It’s important to emphasize just how important the act of greeting is in Argentina. It’s pretty much expected that you kiss someone on the cheek at the beginning and at the end of a conversation. However, in some regions of the country, it’s common for men to greet each other with a handshake, and women with a cheek kiss.
Most conversations will start with someone asking how their family is doing, or the dog, or your house. “Oh, you changed that beautiful bookcase that you wanted to remove”. A tip is to be friendly and familiar (not formal). It shows Argentinians that you care about them and that you are interested in their lives.
So let’s start with some examples of informal greetings.
|“Hola, ¿cómo estás?”||Hey, how are you?|
|“¿Que contás?”||Whats up?|
|“¿Qué hacés? / ¿Qué onda?”||What are you doing?|
|“¡Buenas!”||Hello! / Hi!|
|“¿Qué es de tu vida?”||How it’s life going?|
|“¿Todo bien, boludo?”||What’s up dude?|
We have to talk about this word if we’re going to discuss typical conversations in Argentina Boludo is a common expression to refer to someone in a very colloquial way. The literal translation is “someone with big genital parts”. But in common use, it’s not mean in a flattering way. When you describe someone as “un boludo”, you don’t consider them to be cool. They are silly, dumb, an idiot, or possibly even an asshole. But you can also use the term in a friendly, joking way with friends. The subtle variations depend on how you express them and to whom is directed.
“Dale, boludo” means something like “hurry up, silly boy”. But if you say “sos un boludo” it’s more aggressive and is an insult. Watch out! this expression it’s only accepted with a very close friend or a relative. Using it with someone you don’t know can get you in trouble.
|“¡No boluda, no sabés lo que me pasó!”||No girl, you don’t know what happened to me!|
|“¿Dónde estás boluda?”||Where are you, girl?|
|“¡Dejálo! Es un boludo.”||Leave him, he is an asshole.|
|“¿Vamos boludo?”||Let’s go buddy?|
|“Boluda, no puede tratarme así.”||Girl, he can’t treat me that way.|
|“¡Qué boludo!”||What a dumbass!|
|“Me olvidé las llaves como un boludo.”||I forgot the keys like an idiot. As I said, “boludo” may be insulting, but it’s not always the most aggressive either. If we’re talking about insults, the Argentinians have a long list of them.|
|“Andáte a la mierda”||Go fuck your self|
|“La concha de la lora”||The parrots pussy (literal translation). Fuck! (most common equivalent in english)|
|“Sos un forro”||You are a moron|
|“Chupáme un huevo”||Suck me a ball|
Now it’s time to turn the page and think about how to greet in a formal situation. Many foreigners move to Argentina for work or study (education is public and free). These environments require another type of approach, at least people get to know you (which won’t take too long in Argentina).
Let’s look at some examples.
|“Hola, ¿cómo estuviste?”||Hi, how are you doing?|
|Buen día, ¿cómo estás?”||Good day, how are you?|
|“¿Qué tal?”||How are you? / What’s up?|
|“Disculpá, ¿puedo hacerte una consulta?”||Excuse me, can I ask you a question?|
When you meet someone for the first time
Hola! Mi nombre es Alex, soy de Inglaterra y estoy en Buenos Aires por un intercambio estudiantil.
Hi! My name is Alex and I am from England. I’m here in Buenos Aires for a scholarship.
As you see it’s not a huge difference between formal or informal greetings.
It’s respectful to use usted (formal “you”) when you refer to someone important, like your boss or a business partner. They might quickly ask you to use “vos” or “tu” but start off with usted. If they want to change to the more familiar form of address they might say por favor, tuteame which means “please talk to me in an informal way”. Here some examples with USTED:
– Buen día señorita, ¿cómo se encuentra?
Good day misses, how are you?
– Le debo una disculpa
I owe you an apology
Remember you use the pronoun le (le debo una disculpa) instead of te (te debo una disculpa). Everyone on a first name basis treats each other informally.
How to ask for something
It’s very useful to know some local ways of asking for help, ordering in a restaurant, or asking for directions. Buenos Aires it’s a great city with plenty of cool neighborhoods and interesting places to visit. Palermo, Recoleta, Colegiales, and Chacarita are full of young people, gastronomic treats, and shopping. Those barrios (neighborhoods) are located in the heart of Buenos Aires, near subways, trains and major avenues that will take you through the rest of the city.
Getting to these suburbs from the more touristy, but typically Porteño neighborhoods, of San Telmo and La Boca requires navigating the public transport. At some stage you will need to ask how to get somewhere? You’ll definitely want to visit downtown to feel the “city porteña” full of people working and see the beautiful avenues. But how to get there? Asking for directions is sometimes a stumbling block for Spanish learners. And when you’re visiting a big city it seems that everyone is in a hurry. But don’t worry, Argentinians will try to help you. Here are some simple and common phrases to take with you in your notebook (or phone app)
|“Disculpame, ¿te hago una consulta? ¿Sabés dónde está la entrada al subte?”||Excuse me, can I ask you a question? Do you know where the subway entrance is?|
|“¿A cuantas cuadras queda la avenida Santa Fe?”||How many blocks away is Santa Fe avenue?|
|“¿Sabe cómo llegar al museo Malba?”||Do you know how to get to the MALBA museum?|
|“Disculpa, ¿dónde puedo cargar la SUBE?” (SUBE is the Argentine metrocard)||Hey, where can I charge the SUBE?|
|“Tengo que ir para Once, ¿sabés si la zona es segura?||I have to go to Once, do you know if it is a safe area?|
Someone said food?
Without a doubt, pizza, beer and empanadas are the Argentinian national anthem. Food is the core of each meeting, or social gathering. Pizzas are known for having generous mozzarella and diverse toppings. So if you want a big cheese pizza go straight to the point. When the waiter arrives, you could say…
“Una grande de muzza con una cerveza de litro, por favor”
A big mozzarella pizza, with a bottle of beer please
As I mentioned, Argentines share everything, even beer. You can directly buy one-litre bottles to share in most restaurants or cafes. It’s an amazingly friendly place to be.
Argentinian sayings / lunfardo / slang language
Argentina is a country built by people of various different cultures. Colloquial expressions and common phrases are a mix of the languages of these places and peoples. On one hand, Argentina has the influence of European Spanish from Spain. On the other hand, colloquialisms derived from the interaction of city dwellers, native people, and gaucho culture have blossomed. This mix of cultures creates the famous Lunfardo, the name of slang in the Spanish form of the Rio de la Plata ( La Plata river). Note that Lunfardo is very much the same in Argentina and Uruguay, two countries on either side of the river.
For example, “laburo” which means work, comes from the italian word “Lavoro”. The same for “birra” the italian word for beer. There are about 6000 expressions in Lunfardo in use today. “Pibe” which means boy, and “mina” for a woman are common ways to describe people. Porteños (the word to describe people from the city of Buenos Aires) can be charming and persuasive, and sometimes their chatty, over-confidence can lead people to describe them as “chamuyeros”. A chamuyero is someone who says whatever needs to be said to achieve their goal. A guy who lies, and talks himself up to impress a girl, might be called a chamuyero.
“Che”, a word that may be familiar to people who have never visited Argentina, has many uses and meanings. You will hear it a lot. Che can be added to a particular sentence to give it importance, as in “Dale, che!” (Come on!).
It can be used to start a conversation, “Che, como andas?” (Hey, how are you doing?)
You can also use it to call someone’s attention “Che, me traes la cuenta?” (Hey, could you bring me the check?)
Expressions you must know to truly understand Argentine Spanish
En pedo is used when you go out to have some drinks and get drunk.
– No podes creer lo que me pasó! Salí con unos compañeros de la universidad y me puse re en pedo!
You can’t believe what happened to me, I went out with some college friends and got really drunk.
¡Ni en pedo voy! refers to something you would not do, even when drunk.
|Un picadito.||A soccer match.|
|Los pibes.||The guys.|
|Aguanta.||Hang on, or wait a minute.|
|Que mala leche.||Bad luck, or bitchiness.|
|No me cabe una.||I don’t like it at all.|
|Ahicito no más.||There, super close ( without much specification). This expression is more commonly used in the countryside.|
|La gilada.||The crowd, or the people in a negative way.|
|Mas claro echale agua.||It’s obvious|
|Acá el que no corre, vuela.||Here, who doesn’t run, flies.|
|Siempre buscando la quinta pata al gato.||You are always complaining.|
|Pegame un tubazo.||Call me.|
|Anda a cobrarle a Magoya.||Nobody is going to pay you.|
|No hay tu tía||There is no excuse.|
|Le tira los galgos.||Someone is hitting on someone.|
|¡De toque!||Easily or close in distance.|
|¡Dale, no más!||Yeah, let’s do it.|
|Uh me colgué.||I got distracted.|
|A ponerle garra.||To put energy into something.|
|¡Que quilombo!||What a mess!|
|Tomar el bondi.||To take a bus.|
|Chamuyo.||Lie or to persuade.|
|¡Que zarpado!||That´s edgy.|
|Haceme la segunda.||Can you do me a favor?|
|¡Me re cagaron!||I have been busted! / I was tricked!|
|Me cabe.||I like it.|
|Que rata que sos.||You are really cheap / miserable.|
|No seas ortiva.||Don’t be an asshole.|
Argentina is more than just Buenos Aires
While Buenos Aires is the capital and center of commerce and politics, the language of the rest of this huge country has differences to that of the language used by Porteños. The expression “Argentina no termina en la General Paz!” is used to make clear that Argentina is much more what is inside of the limits of Buenos Aires City. And it is really accurate.
Argentina is the 8th largest country on earth, and is filled with different landscapes, from glaciers, to desert, from jungle to the pampas. Many different cultures spread across its highly diverse geographical territory. This of course translates into different uses of the language, and singular accents. In many parts of argentina is common that people don’t enunciate the final “s” in some words
¿Que hace? Vamo pa lo del Juan? What are you doing? Let’s go to Juan’s place?
Furthermore, some regions have a very distinct accent. The people of Cordoba, in central Argentina, favor a particular pronunciation of vowels in the syllable preceding the stressed syllable. The accent of Mendoza, a province in west argentina and the region of Cuyo, is often distinguished by how locals pronounce the double “rr” as “sh”. For example, tierra (Land, earth) is pronounced tiesha.
I hope you enjoyed this post and will visit Argentina soon!
For even more Argentinianisms, lunfardo, slang, and hilarious local words, check out the Argentinian Dictionary Instagram account. It’s not only entertaining but a great way to learn Spanish and understand how expressions are formed.