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Points of the Compass

Expressing Directions in Spanish

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Points of compass

¿Qué dirección? (Which direction?) Foto de Gijón, España. (Photo from Gijón, Spain.)

Photo by Alquiler de Coches; licensed via Creative Commons.

The directions of the compass in Spanish are vaguely similar to those of English and ultimately come from the same Indo-European roots. However, Spanish also has synonyms for some of the directions as well as special adjective forms that also should be learned.

The four points of the compass are as follows:

  • norte — north
  • este (or, less commonly, oriente) — east
  • sur — south
  • oeste (or, less commonly, occidente)— west

As in English, the directions can be combined to indicate intermediate points:

  • nornoreste — north-northeast
  • noreste — northeast
  • estenoreste — east-northeast
  • estesudeste — east-southeast
  • sudeste — southeast
  • sudsudeste — south-southeast
  • sudsudoeste — south-southwest
  • sudoeste — southwest
  • oestesudoeste — west-southwest
  • oestenoroeste — west-northwest
  • noroeste — northwest
  • nornoroeste — north-northwest

In some areas, the use of sur- as the stem meaning "south" is preferred, so you'll also hear the variations such sureste and suroeste alone as well as in combination forms such as sursureste. Combinations using oriente and occidente, such as suroccidente for "southwest" and nororiente for "northeast," are also used.

Adjective forms — such as the equivalents of "northern" and "eastern" — can be made by preceding the direction with del (literally, "of the") as in del norte and del sur to mean "northern" and "southern," respectively. These are indicated below along with the special adjective forms:

  • del norte, norteño, septentrional — northern
  • del este, oriental — eastern
  • del sur, sureño, austral, meridional — southern
  • del oeste, occidental — western

To indicate direction of movement, forms such as del oeste for "from the west" and hacia el oeste for "toward the west" are used. Thus, an easterly wind (one coming from the east) is a viento del este, while to say that a door faces east, for example, you could say "la puerta mira hacia el este."

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