More on how to use Spanish in your novels

Continuing with Spanish terms, cultural notes, grammatical curiosities and examples that writers can use to add some spice to their novels.


te amo [action/v.] – I love you. There are many expressions in Spanish to say I love you – much Latin fire. Te amo denotes tenderness. It’s used for love within a romantic relationship vs. the expression te quiero, which also means I love you as well as I want you (more passion, less romantic). Juan looked into Teresa’s eyes. “Te amo,” he whispered.

malcriada [adj.] – A spoiled young girl. Also a woman with bad manners. Tomás grabbed Isabel’s arm. “¡Malcriada!” his voice wheezed through his clenched teeth. “I don’t care if your father fires me. No one owns me. Not you. No one. Get that?”

hermosa [adj.] – beautiful.  The term comes from the Latin formosus. Quite a few Spanish words changed the old f of its Latin origin for a silent h. In old Spanish literature, this adjective still has the f: fermosa. She was hermosa. Alberto’s eyes were captivated by her lovely semblance, porcelain hands, and creamy skin.

¡por fin! [expression] – finally! “¡Por fin! declared la señora Nati placing her hands on her waist. “I couldn’t take that horrible woman any longer. She is gone, ¡por fin!


Juan José [first and middle names, male; Spain and Latin America] – Nickname: Juanjo (Spain).   An interesting historical carácter, Juan sin Miedo, from Spain´s royalty, translated as John the Fearless (d. 1419), duke of Borgoña, son of Felipe el Atrevido, Philip the Audacious, and grandson of Juan el Bueno, John the Good One. Sounds like the beginning of a comedy, doesn’t it?

Briceño [last name; Spain and Latin America] – Good last name for a character whois a general, a comandante, or someone in authority. Francisco Briceño (d.1575) a Spanish politician, General Captain of Guatemala. Manuel Briceño, a Colombian general and writer. Pedro Méndez Briceño, friend and Secretary of Simón Bolívar, a great hero in South America.


el blanqueo [indigenous tradition; Colombia] – the bleaching. A guajira custom. La Guajira is a peninsula in Colombia bordering Venezuela. The indigenous inhabitants used to take their young guajira girls into retreat as soon as they started to develop. This seclusion lasted a few years, and usually ended at the time of marriage. During this time, guajira girls went through a complex ritual that starts with the cutting of their hair, and the donning of long robes. They drink a tea from the leaves of the guayacán plant – a vomitive – and start a diet of fastening. The rite represents internal cleansing. During this stage of their lives, the young girls are constantly chaperoned and kept away from men. Perhaps a good story for a heroin who escapes her blanqueo to face the world?


¡ … ! ¿… ? [exclamation/question marks] – in Spanish, we place exclamation and questions marks at the beginning and the end of the corresponding sentences. It is not an upside down question mark (some Hispanics are very sensitive about this). It´s the opening question mark. The same goes for opening exclamation marks.

2 comments for “More on how to use Spanish in your novels

  1. Ian
    May 20, 2014 at 8:57 am

    I always wondered what the question mark (I won’t call it an upside-down question mark) at the beginning of a Spanish question was called. Opening question mark – good to know! What is it called in Spanish?

    • Nieves
      May 31, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Wow, Ian. I have to confess that your question, albeit simple and clear, stomped me. Sometimes we don’t give much thought to familiar stuff, such as what we really call question marks in our language. I went to my faithful basic orthography book and can confirm that we refer to these marks as beginning and ending question signs – or beginning question sign (¿) and ending question sign (?). Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

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