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Colombian Spanish 101: Slang, Phrases, And More

We’ve always been good llaves, right? Let me tell you something about a country where B’s and V’s are W’s, D’s don't exist, and S’s sound like H’s.

This marginal place is called Colombia. Also known as the beautiful country that inspired people to make the movie “Encanto”!

picture of the Encanto (movie) intro

Before anybody hates me - I am just kidding, I know that not all Colombians speak with the features I'm going to describe. That’s just not the point of an article like this one.

This article is to prepare you for what you might and (probably will) hear if you speak with many Colombians.

This is about what makes Colombia different, nobody wants to read an article about all of the things that make Colombian Spanish unsurprising and mundane. 😂

That aside, let’s prepare you for what you have to come if you are going to be interacting with Colombians!

graphic with colombian characters and colombian flags and the shap of colombia with text that says "The colombian dialect of spanish"

Summary Of The Colombian Spanish:

Colombian Spanish has influenced Latino-American Spanish in many ways. For this reason, understanding Colombian Spanish is extremely important because it will help you understand many other dialects!

From its words that have spread beyond all borders such as “Chévere” and “Tacaño” to the cutting of D’s and S’s.

Colombian Spanish is a good representation of “Standard Latino-American Spanish” because it's a bit far from “standard Spanish” (Castilian Spanish) but is not at the "Puerto Rican Dialect's Level".

The Unique Vocabulary Used in Colombia

I know this might sound controversial, but the vocabulary of Colombia is not that unique, especially when compared with countries like Mexico. The thing is, the vocabulary used in Colombia that is “non-standard” can be found in most of the surrounding countries.

However, there are some words on this list that are unique to Colombia. Let's hop right into the vocabulary used in Colombian Spanish!

Chévere - Cool/Nice/Good 😎

Chévere is a word that is used in many other Latin American countries but is probably used most in Colombian Spanish. Chévere, meaning “cool”, can be heard in just about any conversation between Colombians.

Ese carro que tiene es super chévere

(That car he has is super cool)

Bacano - Nice/Good 🤙

The word bacano is used a bit less than “Chévere” but means the exact same thing, for example in the sentence:

El paseo estuvo muy bacano

(The walk was really nice)

Tacaño - Cheap/Stingy 🤏

Living down here in Panama, I have heard this word a ton! And not surprisingly it is used in Colombia a lot too, like in the sentence:

Mi novio me llevó a una cita a Mcdonalds porque es muy tacaño

(My boyfriend took me on a date to Mcdonald's because he is really stingy)

Pollo - A young boy 🧍

A “Pollo” (Chicken) in Colombian Spanish can mean a “Muchacho” (A young boy). Like in the sentence;

Ese pollo siempre está jugando en la calle

(That boy is always playing in the street)

Tombo - Police 👮

The word “Tombo” means police in Colombia, and many other Latin American countries as well. For example in the sentence:

Ay, ya llegaron los tombos

(Uh-oh, the police just arrived)

Parce - Friend/Bro 🤝

This is another word that is used in some regions of other countries. Parce, meaning “Friend” can be heard often and is kind of like the word “Pana” in the Dominican Republic, but for Colombians.

Ey parce, ¿cómo te fue la exposición?

(Hey bro, how did the presentation go?)

Llave - Good Friend 👭

A “llave” meaning key, has a special meaning in Colombia. It’s kind of like saying a really close friend with whom you go back many years (usually). For example in the sentence:

Yo lo he conocido desde que tenía 3 años, Juan es mi llave

(I have known him since I was 3 years old, Juan is my good friend)

Pachanga - Fiesta/Party 🥳

I can’t lie until I asked a Colombian what this meant, I had no freaking clue. 😂

He told me that when he says “Pachanga” he’s referring to a “Fiesta” - or a party.

So you don’t have to feel lost when somebody invited you to a “pachanga”, here you go!

Ellos van a montar una pachanga esta noche ¿Quieres ir?

(They are going to throw a party tonight, do you want to go?)

The Diminutives Used In Colombia (Tico/Tito)

If you don’t know what a diminutive is, it’s just an ending that goes on a word that makes the word seem smaller. For example instead of saying “a small house” (una casa pequeña) most Spanish-speakers just say “casita,” for example, which means the same thing.

The most common diminutives used in Colombia are “Tico” and “Tito” which are not super surprising or different from many surrounding countries and are worth knowing.

So for example you might hear somebody saying “un momentico” or “un momentito” to say “Give me a moment please”. Or if somebody wants to say “a little cat” they can say “un gatito” or “un gatico”

its says Diminutives used in Colombia: with pictures - next to a cat it says "Gatito/Gatico" next to a picture of an hourglass it says "Momentico/Momentito" and next to a picture of a house it says "Casita"

Unique Phrases Used By Colombians

Colombia has some extremely fun and unique phrases that I have never heard be used outside of Colombian vernacular. Let’s go over the most common ones and a couple of bonus phrases that will make you laugh!

¿Qué hubo, parce?

The phrase "Qué hubo, parce" means "What's up, bro?" in Colombian Spanish. This phrase is often used to greet a close friend that you're happy to see. For example:

¿Qué hubo, parce? Hace un tiempo que no nos vemos

(What's up bro? It's been a while since I've seen you)

De una - Quick 🌠

I remember the first time I heard this phrase I said to my girlfriend “¿qué carajo significa de una?” (what the hell does “of one” mean).

She responded “tipo, muy rapido” (like, really quick) and I kind of felt stupid because it more or less makes sense 😂

So “de una” is used like this:

Yo la buscaba y había muchas otras personas, pero por suerte de una yo reconocí su vestido azul.

(I was looking for her but there were a bunch of other people, but luckily I quickly recognized her blue dress)

Más amarrado que un tamal - Super Cheap 🤏

This is probably my favorite Colombian phrase. It means (literally) “more tied than a tamale” and metaphorically it means somebody is super cheap or stingy.

Makes sense right? They’re tight, reserved, and have no slack - like a tamale. This phrase can be used like:

Su novio no va a llevarla aquí - él es más amarrado que un tamal

(Her boyfriend is not going to take her here, he is tighter than a tamale)

¡Nos pillamos! - See you later 👋

This phrase literally means “we’ll catch each other” which makes a lot of sense for us as Americans because we say almost the exact same thing - “we’ll catch each other later”.

Pasar por la galleta - To disobey a request or order 🍪

This phrase paints a funny picture by literally saying that somebody “went for the cookie” and it means that they disobeyed an order or request. For example:

Sí Juan nunca escucha, le dije ayer que no debe caminar en esa calle pero como siempre él pasó por la galleta.

(Yeah Juan never listens, I told him yesterday that he shouldn’t be walking on that street but as always he “went for the cookie”)

colombian cartoon man saying: "Pro-Tip: Instead of saying “Rápido” (Fast) say “De una vez” to sound native"

Common differences in Pronunciation of Colombian Spanish

Colombians in general have a very beautiful pronunciation, but by no means is it the “most standard pronunciation” you’ll ever hear.

I think that as beginners we hear videos of Mexican, or Colombian teachers on YouTube speaking Spanish and we say “Wow her accent is so neutral” and then we think that about their country.

The truth is, teachers and YouTubers in general have to speak clearly because if they spoke like they do with their friends, tons of people from outside of their country would have a hard time understanding certain things they say.

This is the same with Colombian Spanish. Let’s take a look at how it might differ in real-life conversations.

The Soft Colombian “D”s

It is not uncommon to hear Colombians soften the “D” or even neglect to say it completely.

For example, I was hanging out with a Colombian one time and he said:

¿Qué están haciendo ustedes? (What are you guys doing?)

But he said it like this - “Quétán acien’o utee”

Some other examples of how this might sound are:

Posibilidades (Possibilities)


Complicado (Complicated)


Ella estaba muy enojada (She was very angry)

“Ella estaba muy enoja’a”

The aspirated “S” or the ghost “S”

The two most common unique “S” sounds that you will hear from Colombian Spanish are the aspirated “S” and the ghost “S”. Let’s take a look at what this means and how it sounds.

The aspirated “S”

In my experience, this is a very common thing in Latino America in general.

Even some dialects in Mexico do this. Basically the aspirated “S” trades out the “S” for a breathy “H” sound. For example:

Ella está muy enojada por lo que hiciste (She is very angry because of what you did)

“Ella ehtá muy enoja’a por lo que hicihte”

The Ghost “S” In Colombian Spanish

The ghost “S” is a super common trait in the Caribbean Spanish Dialects, and guess what? Colombia has its fair share of Caribbean Dialect speakers!

This is because there are about 1,900 miles of Colombia's coast that meet the Caribbean Ocean.

The Ghost “S” just means that it is invisible - I mean it, GONE! 😭

For example:

Ella estaba hablando conmigo y de la nada aparecieron sus tres amigas

(She was talking to me and out of nowhere three of her friends showed up)

Ella e'taba hablando conmigo y de la nada aparecieron su’ tre’ amiga’

So yeah... just like that the "S" will disappear 🤣

For Some Colombians B&V=W

Now personally I think this sounds so cool! I hope you’re not getting overwhelmed! 😂

People who pronounce the “B/V” as “W” don’t pronounce it like that for every word.

For example, they’ll say the word “Bravo” (Bug) with a normal “B”. But for example, you might hear:

Bueno, no sé porqué me estabas hablando así

(Well, I don’t know why you were talking to me like that)

Wueno, no sé porqué me estawas awlando así

Another example would be: La navidad = La nawi’a’

The Colombian “Y/LL” - JOE

In general, Colombians will say the “Y/LL” like the “J” in the name Joe. This is pretty common in Latino America in general and sounds extremely pleasant.

For example, most people don’t pronounce it “Mede-yín” but rather “Mede-jín”

recap of the pronunciation rules of colombian spanish

The Spanish Grammar Of Colombia

There is really only one notable difference in grammar in Colombian Spanish, and it's in their use of "voseo".

Colombia is very particular in this aspect, I have heard Colombians try and explain when to use Vos, Tú, and Usted - and their answer summed up is… “I don’t know”.

It turns out, it really depends on where you are in Colombia.

But let’s try and understand it a little better.

Vos / Usted / Tú ? ❓❓❓

Colombia, depending on the region, uses all of these and unfortunately, there is no way to explain with certainty that “this is how it works”.

If you don’t know, “Vos” is usually a replacement for “Tú” (meaning - you) and “Usted” is a formal version of “Tú”.

But in Colombia how they are used (or not used at all) completely depends on the region.

graphic showing where they use "voseo" in colombia and where they use "TU"

This a map to show you where "Vos" is used. As you can see it's most of the country.

So I would advise you to learn the “Usted” and "Vos" form well if you are planning on going to Colombia.

These will be the two most common ways to refer to people in Colombia.

If you want to become a Colombian dictionary check out this website - they have a huge list of Colombian words and expressions!

Frequently Asked Questions About Colombian Spanish

picture of colombian streets

How is Colombian Spanish different from standard Spanish?

Colombian Spanish has many notable differences. From the use of Vos instead of Tú, to incredibly fun and expressive sayings like "¡Nos pillamos!"

The Colombian Spanish is unique, beautiful, and balances its distinctions while still speaking a very comprehensible Spanish dialect.

What is a popular saying in Colombia?

"¿Qué hubo, parce?" is one of the most common Colombian sayings. This phrase means "What's up. bro?" and is often used by two friends who are happy to see each other.

How can I learn Colombian Spanish?

By reading Blog posts like these, you'll get introduced to the many expressions, slang terms, and pronunciation differences. This will help you whenever you start listening to Native-Colombian speech.

For input, watch Colombian YouTubers like PlanetaJuan, or even better, watch some of the many Colombian Netflix shows & movies such as: The Unbroken Voice, The Final Score, Eva Lasting, or The Prince Of Glory.

Conclusion: The Spanish Spoken In Colombia

The Spanish spoken in Colombia definitely has its differences when compared with “standard Spanish” (which doesn’t really mean much).

The vocabulary that is unique or has originated in Colombia is extremely important to learn for real-life scenarios, because whether you are going to Colombia or not you will hear it!

Some of the biggest differences in the everyday speech of Colombian Spanish are the disappearance of the “D” and “S” as well as the change of the “B/V” to a “W” sound.

I hope this helped you understand better the Spanish spoken in Colombia! If you want to learn about other Spanish dialects check out my "Spanish Dialects Playlist" on the site.


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