Dominican Essentials, part 2

Dominican Words or Phrase Worth Learning

This is a list of words or phrases that are commonly used in the Dominican Republic. This is by no means a complete list nor meant to be a Spanish dictionary but just some that I have found useful living here. I will add to this over time.

Aguacero (Ah-gwa-ser-oh) — this means a downpour of rain, a frequent event in the Dominican Republic. Rain stops all outdoor activity for Dominicans, including one of their favorite – going out dancing.

Ahorita (Ah-whor-ee-tah) — this is a confusing word which can mean both past and future depending on context such as “I will call soon.” = “Le llamo ahorita.” or “A little while earlier I ate.” = “Ahorita comi.”

Apagone (Ah-pah=goan-eh) — this means “blackout”, when the power goes out in an area, another frequent occurence here.

Aplatanada / Aplatanado (Ah-plah-tah-nah-da / Ah-plah-tah-nah-dow)  — this is a Dominican phrase which means you have become a Dominican because you have eaten your share of plantains. Once you have been here a while, you can surprise them by saying “Estoy aplatanada.” and they will be shocked that you know that phrase.

Basta (Bah-stah) — this means “stop, that is enough” and for further emphasis you can say “basta ya” which is stronger.

Cansado (Khan-sah-do) vs. Casado (Khah-sah-so) — a lot of Spanish words sound the same to the untrained ear but have completely different meanings. Although there are examples of this in all languages, this one is particularly important not to get confused. “Cansado” or it’s feminine form “Cansada” means tired as in “I am tired.” = “Estoy cansada.” “Casado” on the other hand means to be married. “I am married.” = “Soy casada.” When I first lived in the Dominican Republic I used to walk around by myself a lot and often men would ask me “Es casada?” and I would think they were asking me if I was tired because I walk with a limp. Due to my pride, I would always answer “No!” and then could not understand why the men would then want my phone number…

Chin (Chin) — this a Dominican word that means “a little bit” such as “un chin más” = “a little bit more”

China (Chee-nah) —this is another Dominican word that works double duty. Dominicans often refer to people by their nationalities so I am “Americana” which literally means “American woman”. “China”, therefore, can mean “Chinese (or Asian) woman”. But “china” is also they Dominican word for “orange” as in the fruit, not the color. “Naranja” i the word for “orange” but in the Dominican Republic they only use that word for the color itself.

Como tu ta? (Ko-mo-too-tah) — this is the Dominican slang of “How are you?” or “Como tu estas?” Dominicans tend to drop the “s” on words and other letters if they can so “gracias” becomes “gracia” and so on.

Cuarto (Quar-to)— this word means two different things depending on context. It can mean “room” as in rooms in a house or it can mean “money” as in “No tengo cuarto.” “I have no money”

Deja me (Dey-ha mey) — this means “leave me alone” which is useful when someone is offering ‘help’ when you don’t need it or generally bothering you.

Donde puede (Don-dey pwey-dey) — literally means “where you can” and it is used when traveling on local transport and want to be let off.

Embarazada (Em-bar-rah-zada) vs. Pregunta (Pre-goon-tah) — many Spanish words look like English words with a slight variation in spelling. “Tranquila” means almost the same as “tranquil”, “sofá” is in fact a “sofa”, “repetir” (rey-pet-ear) means “to repeat”. But these two words look like English words but mean something totally different. “Embarazada” looks a lot like “embarrassed” but it means, in fact, to be “pregnant” whereas “pregunta” looks a lot like the word “pregnant” but it means “question” as in “Tengo una pregunta.” = “I have a question.” Therefore it is important to be careful about guessing the word’s meaning just by appearance.

Equivocado (Eh-key-vo-ka-doe) — this is by far the most valuable word I learned in the Dominican Republic. It literally means “wrong” so it is useful if you are disputing an issue but by far the best use is when you receive a call meant for someone else. Explaining who you are and that the person they are looking for is not at that number, even if your Spanish is perfect, will not work. The person will keep talking and calling. But if you say “equivocado” they will hang up immediately and leave you be.

Frito (Free-tow) — this word literally means “fried” but is commonly used to describe fried plantains, also called “tostones”.

Galleta (Guy-etta) — this is a confusing word because depending on context can mean something completely different. It means “cracker” when talking about food, such as “galleta salada” = “saltine cracker” but it can also mean a “hit” or “slap” as in “me dio una galleta” = “he hit me”.

Guappo / Guappa (Gwap-po / Gwap-pa) — in all other Spanish speaking countries that I am aware of, this means “handsome” or “beautiful” as in “Un hombre guappo.” = “A handsome man.” but in the Dominican Republic it has a totally different meaning which is “angry”.

Guineo (Gee-nay-oh) —this is the word for “banana” in the Dominican Republic.

Habichuelas (Ah-bay-ee-chu-ay-las) — there are certain words in Dominican Spanish that are originally Taino words from the native people that originally settled this area. “Habichuelas” means “beans”, such as “habichuelas con arroz” = “beans and rice”. In other Spanish speaking countries the word for beans is “frijoles” but in the Dominican Republic “frijoles” is only used for fresh green beans “frijoles verdes”.

Lechoza (Ley-cho-zah)  —this is the word for “papaya” in the Dominican Republic.

Nitido (Nee-tee-doe) — an expression to describe something really nice, perfect.

Que lo que? (Kay-low-kay) — a common greeting in the Dominican Republic. Literally it means “what is what?” but really means “What’s happening?”

Si Dios quiere (See Dee-os key-err-ay) — you hear this one a lot and it means “If God wants.” and it is used all the time when making plans or commitments. Seems more like an excuse to me but if you say to a Dominican “See you tomorrow at 8. ” They will nod and say “Si Dios quiere.” so if they don’t make it then I guess it was not in God’s plan…

Silve (Sill-vey) — this means “function” or “operational” as in “doesn’t work” = “no silve” and is used to explain just about everything that is wrong.

Tigere or Sanky (Tee-grr-ay or San-key) — see previous post, part 1

Tranquilo / Tranquila (Tran-key-low / Tran-key-lah) — this means “relaxed” and it a common answer for “how are you?” You can also combine it as “deja me tranquilo” to say “leave me in peace”.

Vaina (Vie-nah) — this is a Dominican word that is used often to mean “thing” or “that” such as “dar me la vaina” = “give me that thing” or also can mean “What a drag!” as in “Que viena!”

Ya (Jah) — this means a wide range of things from “stop” like if someone was bothering you, it can mean “that’s enough” if someone is pouring you a drink or offering more food, it also means that something is finished or completed like if someone asks if you have had dinner or if you need a taxi but already called one. This is especially useful when you don’t know past tenses of Spanish verbs.

There are also several words that started as brand names that have now become the word for the product no matter the brand, very much like “kleenex” is used to describe tissue in English. Some of these words are:

  • Cloro = bleach
  • Pamper = disposable diaper
  • Mistoline = cleaner
  • Jeepeta = any SUV
  • Cornflake = cold cereal

Also, you will see some bad translations become the mainstream word or phrase used such as “Chicken Gordon Blue” is how “Chicken Cordon Blue” Is always written here and “gastronomy” is the word often used as the English word for “dining”, as the literal translation of the Spanish word “gastronomia”.

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Eliza Alys Young, aka CreativEliza, is a free spirit, world traveler, creative expert, and part of multicultural family… Eliza shares her time between the US, Dominican Republic and beyond. When she is not caring for her high-energy kids, writing her poetry or for her blog, creating art or cooking up a storm, she is designing for her own company, Design Intense.

3 Comments on “Dominican Essentials, part 2”

  1. VIna (Vie-nah) — this is a Dominican word that is used often to mean “thing” or “that” such as “dar me la vina” = “give me that thing” or also can mean “What a drag!” as in “Que vina!”
    Correcion: la palabra es “vaina” Maybe just a typo?

    • Interesting. I always thought the expression came from “ballena,” the word for whale and was used for hyperbole. Like the expression “Que gordo,” Que ballena” always meant to me “What a drag” as in what a huge problem.
      “Vaina” means sheath. The two words are homonyms if vaina is pronounced slightly incorrectly. In many Spanish speaking countries words end up being incorrectly spelled based on pronunciation. The new, or evolved spelling becomes accepted spelling, at least for casual usage. For example: “Silve” comes from verb “servir” as in to serve. No silve = no serve= it does not work. Caribbeans often pronounce “r” as “l.”

      • Not quite lol the Google translate definition of vaina is sheath. Understand these are slang words, and the true definitions are not completely parallel to the words they’re derived from. That includes the spelling.

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