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'Derecho' and 'Derecha'

Similar Words Can Be Confusing


Spanish road sign

Los servicios están a la derecha. (Services are to the right.)

Photo by M.Peinado; licensed via Creative Commons.

Two words that can easily be confused are derecho and derecha. Both words are distant cousins of the English words "right" and "direct," and that is the source of the confusion: Depending on the context and usage, these words can carry meanings such as "right" (the opposite of left), "right" (entitlement), "straight," "upright" and "directly."

These words are easiest to understand as nouns:

  • El derecho is never a term of direction and is used to refer to something that is due a person according to law, moral principle or custom — in other words, a right. When used in the plural, it typically means "rights" such as in the phrase derechos humanos, human rights. It can also refer to a type of "right" that is less abstract. For example, derechos del autor (literally, author's rights) refers to royalties.
  • La derecha refers to something that is on the right (opposite of left) side. It can refer to, for example, the right hand and the political right. The adverbial phrase a la derecha is common and means "to the right" or "on the right."

As an adjective, derecho (and derived forms derecha, derechos and derechas) can mean "right" (the opposite of left, as in el lado derecho, the right side), "upright" (as in el palo derecho, the upright pole) and "straight" (as in línea derecha, straight line). Usually the context will make the meaning clear. Except in bad Spanglish, derecho as an adjective does not mean "correct."

As an adverb, the form is derecho. It typically means "straight ahead" or "in a straight line" as in anduvieron derecho, they walked straight ahead.

Here are some examples of these words in use:

  • No tienes el derecho de iniciar la fuerza contra la vida, libertad, o propiedad de otros. You don't have the right to initiate the use of force against the life, liberty or property of others.
  • Estos cambios pueden tener un impacto negativo contra los derechos al voto de minorías raciales. These changes can have a negative effect against the voting rights of racial minorities.
  • Como consecuencia de este incidente sufrió una herida grave en el ojo derecho. As a result of this incident he suffered a serious injury in his right eye.
  • Siguió derecho por un tiempo. He continued straight ahead for some time.
  • Nunca he negado que hay diferente tipos de derechas. I have never denied there are different types of conservatives.
  • Espero que la pared esté derecha. I hope the wall is straight up and down.
  • Gire a la derecha desde la rampa de salida. Turn to the right from the exit ramp.
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