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The Spanish of Costa Rica 101: Slang, Phrases, & More

Welcome to a world where “Amigo = Mae” everything the eyes can see is a potential “Chunche” and where the one and only “Pura Vida” is lived.

Welcome to the Spanish of the “Rich Coast” - better known as Costa Rica.

A picture of costa rica with the flag that read "The spanish of costa rica"

The Costa Rican dialect is extremely diverse and deserves to be broken down further into smaller dialects.

From the more standard city dialects to the fun rhythm of the countryside, to the Caribbean flow found on the Atlantic side of the country.

Costa Ricans are just as diverse as their speech, including many African American communities, Spanish-descended communities, and Indigenous.

As always, I made (and placed) a Quizlet Flashcard Deck at the bottom of this page so that you can practice your Costa Rican Spanish!

SUMMARY: The Spanish of Costa Rica

The Costa Rican vernacular is fun, expressive, and distinct.

However, the amount of colloquial vocabulary doesn't differ as much as in other dialects such as the Mexican Dialect for example.

Among many others, some of the most notable differences in the Costa Rican Dialect of Spanish are the following:

  • “Mae” is a commonly used word that means “Amigo” (Friend)

  • “Tuanis” & “Qué chiva” are both words that mean something like “How cool!”

  • “Brete” is a job or a workplace

  • “Yodo” is used to say a cup of coffee

  • The diminutive “Tico” is the most commonly used (thus why Costa Ricans call themselves “Los Ticos”)

  • “¡Pura vida!” is used extremely often and can mean everything from “Thank you” to “How are you doing?”

  • Voseo is used heavily in some areas, whereas in others, you’ll be referred to as “Usted”

a picture of costa rica with an explanation of the prhase "pura vida" which is a costa rican phrase

The Unique Vocabulary Used in Costa Rica

The vocabulary of Costa Ricans is rich and full of funny quirks that will surely make you smile if you visit the country.

Let’s hop right into the fun, expressive, and lighthearted vocabulary of Costa Ricans!

Mae - Bro/Dude/Friend 😎

Mae in Costa Rica is used to basically mean “Bro” like in the (very) costa rican sentence:

“Ay Pura vida mae”

(Hey how are you bro/dude)

Tuanis - Qué chévere 👌

Tuanis is believed by some to have come from the word “Buenos” - and somebody tried to explain to me the theory...

It’s just a headache and a half, so Tuanis = How cool. For example in the sentence:

“Ay mira este carro que compré! - ¡Guau..! Tuanis.”

(Hey look at this car I bought! - Wow! How cool!)

¡Qué chiva! - How cool! 🤙

"Que chiva" is used in Costa Rica like the common Latin American “Chévere” meaning “Cool”. For example, a Costarican might say:

“Yo sé hablar chino - ¿En verdad? Qué chiva”

(I learned to speak Chinese - Oh really? How cool!)

Empunchado - Hard worker 👨‍🔧

An empunchado in Costa Rica is a “Super hard-working person”. It’s a bit like in standard Spanish where you would say “Él es muy trabajador” or “He is a really hard worker”

Brete - Job 👨‍🏫

A “Brete” in Costa Rica is a “Job” or sometimes can be translated

as “Workplace” like in the sentence:

“No puedo hablar ahora mismo estoy en el brete”

(I can talk right now I am at work)

Diay - Hmmm let me think… 🤔

This is one of my favorite Costa Rican words,

Diay is kind of like a way of saying “ummm”. For example:

“¿Cómo estuvo tu día? - Diay… bastante bueno, gracias”

(How was your day? - Ummm… it was pretty good, thanks”

Yodo - A cup of coffee ☕️

In Costa Rica, you might hear somebody order a

“Yodo” - which just means “A coffee”

Chunche - Thingy-magig 🪒

If you know the word “Vaina” - a chunche is the exact same thing. Basically a “Vaina” or “chunche” is anything and everything, especially if you don’t know the name for it.

“Tráeme el chunche que usamos para cortar el cabello.”

(Bring me that thingy-magig we use to cut hair)

Costa Rican Spanish Diminutives “itico” 🤏

A diminutive is an ending that goes onto a word to make it sound smaller.

In most places, the normal diminutives would be “ito/ita” like in the word “Poquito” which is “smaller than small”. In Costa Rica they say “itico” at the end of words like in the examples below - this is why they refer to themselves (as Costa Ricans) as “los ticos”.


In Standard Spanish “Pequeño” is small, “Pequeñito” is really small, but in Costa Rica they take it all the way to “Pequeñitico”.


This is the Costa Rican version of the more standard - “Poquito” meaning "Tiny"

Un momentico

Before learning the dialect of Costa Ricans I had heard “un momentito” many times, but they are “The Ticos” so they replace that ending and make it “Momentico”.


In Standard Spanish “Chiquito” is very small, in Costa Rica they say “Chiquitico”.

picture showing the way costa ricans use the diminutive in their dialect of spanish

Unique Phrases Used By Costa Ricans

Costa Rica, like many Central American countries, has its own set of phrases that just hit different.

I mean you got to love these people and their Spanish dialect or you're a psychopath! Let’s take a lot at the Costa Rican phrases I have heard most commonly used.

¡Pura Vida! 🥳

Pura vida can mean almost anything.

I suggest you don’t think about the translation too much because it really doesn't mean that. Here are some examples of its uses:

(You want to say what’s up to your friend and you approach him and say) PURA VIDA!

(Your friend hands you a bag and says “I got you a gift”) You: “GUAU PURA VIDA!

(Your friend looks sad, and in a sad tone you say) “¿Pura vida?”

(street vendor gives you a free item with your purchase - to thank her you say) ¡Pura vida!

Estar ahuevado - To be sad 😔

To be “ahuevado” in Costa Rica means to be sad, down, blue, etc.

For example:

“¿Qué pasó a él? - No sé pero algo le pasó ha estado ahuevado todo el día”

(What happened to him? - I don’t know but something happened, he’s been sad all day)

Al chile? - Really? 😲

“Al chile” is a fun phrase used by Costa Ricans that brings me back to the Mexican Dialect Article that we did. It’s fun, expressive, and a little bit random. This phrase is used like in the sentence:

“Ella no volvió a la casa hasta la medianoche - Noo ¿Al chile?”

(She didn’t return home until midnight - nooo for real?!)

¡Qué Rajado! - How incredible! 👍

This phrase would translate to something like “what a flex” or “what (a thing to show off)”.

It comes from the verb “Rajar” which means to show off.

The best non-literal translation which is what it really means is

“How awesome!” or “How incredible!”.

Differences in Costa Rican Pronunciation

I was speaking with a Costa Rican and he let me in on some extremely surprising secrets of the Costa Rican Pronunciation. These are some of the things I noted down:

The Difference That Will Blow Your MIND! ‘THE Rs’

Sometimes in Costa Rican Spanish, you will hear the “R” pronounced more like it sounds in English.

I have been told this by 3 Costa Ricans that also told me that this is not in all parts, nor does it sound exactly like an English “R”.

But it sounds closer to the English “R” than the Spanish one.

jesse pinkman from Breaking Bad saying "WHATTT?"

For example, there have even been presidents of Costa Rica that instead of saying

“Trabajo” (work) in a standard accent which sounds more like (tda-ba-hoe)

they say it like (schra-ba-hoe) with an English R.

And one Costa Rican said that in some rural towns, the words change drastically.

He said: “In some areas ‘Carro’ is pronounced as ‘Casho’ and ‘Rayo’ as ‘Shayo”

Grammar of Costa Rica

The grammar more or less is not too surprising within the borders of Costa Rica, nothing changes to a real degree.

However, they do use voseo, and if you don’t know what that means I’ll quickly explain it to you now.

The Use of Vose In the Spanish Spoken in Costa Rica

Voseo is utilized mainly in Rioplatense Spanish (Argentina, Uruguay) and in various parts of Central American countries.

So… What is “Voseo”? How do we use it?

Voseo is simple, it replaces the “Tú” with “Vos”.

When using voseo we utilize different conjugations than for “Tú” - but it’s not that difficult, hear me out.

We take the “Vosotros” (Spain) conjugations, and we just take out the last vowel.

For example: “Vosotros pensáis” or “Vosotros sabéis” (The Spanish Vosotros Form)

would become “Vos pensás” and “Vos sabés” (In the Voseo Form)

a chart I made that shows how vos conjugations look vs Tu conjugations in Spanish

Vos and Usted

A Costa Rican once told me that the most common way a Costa Rican will talk to a foreigner will be with “Usted”.

They do this because they are aware that you might not understand the conjugations for “Vos”.

But hey, you’ll score some extra points if you learn “Voseo” and you use their way of speaking.

Conclusion: The Spanish Spoken in Costa Rica

If you are planning on visiting Costa Rica you should definitely learn all of these terms mentioned. Although the Spanish spoken in costa rica isn’t the MOST distinct of them all, you definitely will want to know why everybody keeps yelling “pure life” at you or are calling you “mae”.

Check out the Quizlet below this paragraph to learn the Costa Rican Dialect of Spanish 100%.

If you want to learn about how to choose a Spanish dialect to learn, check out my article "Choosing the Right Spanish Dialect: A Personal Journey"

If you want to get a free lesson with a tutor, click here and Italki will give you a free $10 credit when you schedule your first lesson within 48 hours!

I hope you enjoyed the discussion and I’ll see you soon, byeee! 🥳

- Benjamin L George


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