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'Muchacho/a' or 'Chico/a': What's the Difference?

Words Have Slight Regional Variations in Meaning

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Question: I am a high school Spanish 1 student and I am confused as to when muchacho/a should be used instead of chico/a and vice versa. Are they interchangeable? I don't see chico or chica used very much in discussions, chat rooms, etc. I am really lost on this subject! Any help would be much appreciated.

Answer: Chico and muchacho are pretty much interchangeable, although there are some regional differences, and there can be some slight differences in connotation, again depending on the region:

  • In Cuba, chico is frequently used to address friends. It roughly has the same meaning as "hey man" or "buddy" in English.
  • In many areas, chicos is used more often for younger boys, and muchachos is applied to young men. However, chicas and muchachas are used for teen girls, while younger girls are called niñas.
  • In Spain chico is used more, except maybe in the Canary Islands and the south.
  • In Mexico and some parts of South America, muchacho is preferred.
The good news is that whichever word you use, you will be clearly understood. Listen to those around you, and you'll soon find yourself using the vocabulary the people who live there use.

Note: This question was adapted from a discussion on the bulletin board, and the answer is a composite of several answers that were given. To read the original discussion, go here.

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