The difference between mastering Spanish vocabulary and grammar and being able to hold a fluid, casual conversation in Spanish is quite vast. That’s because – just like in English – a lot of the nuance and fluidity in a conversation is due just as much to little, seemingly meaningless words as it is to vocabulary and proper verb conjugation.
These little ‘meaningless’ words and phrases are also known as linking words or transition words. As a native English speaker, I had no idea just how important they were until I realized that I had no idea how to say them in my host country’s language. A fact which often left me frustrated and frequently caused me to either: 1) come to a dead stop mid-sentence, or 2) simply insert the English word in place of the Spanish word I didn’t know, leaving whoever was listening to me totally confused or amused.
To spare you and your listeners the same amusing confusion and frustration, I decided to compile a list of 30 essential Spanish words that helped me take my conversations from stilted to fluid.
30 Essential Spanish Transition Words and Phrases
Aunque – even though, although
Además – furthermore, in addition to
Mientras – meanwhile
Por lo menos – at least
Entonces – then
Pues – well
Como – like, as
Al principio; al final/por ultimo – to start, in the first place; to finish, in the end
Desde luego – of course, certainly
Ya / todavía – yet, already / still
Asi que; por lo tanto – that’s why; for that reason
Por si acaso – in case
Lo/la que sea; donde sea; cuando sea; cualquier – whatever; wherever; whenever; whichever
Por ejemplo – for example
Sobre todos – above all, especially
Por fin – finally
Un rato, un ratito – A little while
Luego – next, then
De repente – suddenly
Sino – rather, but, instead
Apenas de – barely
De todas formas, de todas maneras – in any case
Por otro lado – on the other hand
Sin embargo – nonetheless
De hecho – in fact
Pues nada, venga – anyway…
Sabes – y’know
Es que – honestly, I have no translation for this one, but it’s one of those non-meaning albeit ubiquitous conversational words like ‘like’ in English. As in, “Like, so are we gonna go to the movies, or maybe, like, get some food, cuz I’m, like, hungry as hell.”
A ver – let’s see
Qué va – no way! I dun beleevit. Yeah, right.
Of course, the list above isn’t a comprehensive collection of all Spanish transition words – click here and here for more.
What are some Spanish transition words and phrases that you’ve found useful? Share them in the comments!
On a recent one with some Spanish friends, I learned just how important cojones are to Spanish people.
It happened just after we passed Toledo heading southbound. Tio Pepe blurted out from the back seat, “Tocame los cojones! Que me voy a Bargas! Y si no me los toca… a Menasalbas!”
While my three Spanish compadres were laughing among themselves, I was once again left scratching my head at some vulgar Spanish expression whose meaning completely escaped me.From what I could gather from Pepe’s explanation, the expression had something to do with two towns we’d passed – Bargas and Menasalbas – south of Toledo. I’d never heard of those towns before, but I’d heard plenty of expressions using that oh-so-familiar Spanish word for testicles.
“Spanish people talk about cojones a lot,” I intimated to my friends.
They all agreed. Eager to impress upon me just how essential cojones are to Castellano, my travel companions took the opportunity to school me on several uses and variants of the word. And I took notes. Here are some of my favorites:
que cojones…? – used as part of a rhetorical question, as in, ‘que cojones es esto (what the hell is this)?
hasta los cojones – (to have had it) up to here; to be fed up. Literal translation: up to the balls.
acojonante – fabulous, amazing.
vas como los cojones de los galgos – used when someone lags behind. A galgo is a Spanish greyound. Approximate translation: you’re moving like greyhounds’ balls.
par de cojones – when someone is brave or fearless they are said to have a par de cojones or to have done something con dos cojones. Literal translation: a pair of balls.
cojonudo – awesome, amazing, great
cojonazos (aka, huevasos) – guy who is henpecked, or a guy who sits around ‘tocando sus cojones’ (touching his balls / doing nothing) all day.
un cojon – a whole lot. (e.g., ‘te quiero un cojon’)
mil pares de cojones – with a lot of force, effort, or difficult. Literal translation: A thousand pairs of balls.
And that’s just a short list. Turns out there are dozens more uses for the word cojones in Spain. Which means that cojones could quite possibly be the most versatile word ever.
In Spain they say ‘rastas’ instead of dreadlocks. Imagine my surprise when arranging to meet someone new for the first time, and they send me a text saying they’ll be the one ‘con rastas’ (with rastas), and when I show up, I’m like… “Oh. It’s just you by yourself…. Nice hair.”
As is my usual habit on Thursdays, I go have a coffee and a churrito in the cafeteria at school after my first and only class of the day. Today, the churritos weren’t yet ready when I arrived and ordered my coffee. The guy who runs the cafeteria set out a mini muffin for me to eat while the churritos finished cooking.
“Oh, no…” I protested, “Yo puedo esperar por el churrito.” (I can wait for the churrito.)
“Tu eres grande,” he replied. “Te cabe!” (You’re big. You have room for it!)
Stories about travel, food, expat life, and teaching English in Spain