¿Spanish? ¿Castellano? Unique Characteristics of Argentine Spanish

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Those who come to Argentina to learn the language will find that its interpretation of the Spanish language is every bit as unique as the country itself. 

Visitors quickly find out that those textbook Spanish classes can serve as a comfort, but not a compass, when trying to navigate this country’s Italian-flavored version of Spanish.

The Argentine Accent

A couple lounges in front of Buenos Aires' Casa Rosada, or government house

Argentines call their Spanish ‘Castellano’ (Castilian) – specifying its regional roots in Castile, Spain.

Argentina was rather secluded from the rest of the Spanish speaking world during its over 300 years of Spanish colonization.

As a result, the Spanish spoken in Argentina (and the Rioplatense Spanish spoken in neighboring Uruguay) evolved independently from the dialect spoken in Castile during the colonial days.

And while Argentina may have been conquered by Spain, Italians landed in droves beginning in the late 19th century until well into the twentieth century which made the Spanish more distinct.

The first thing that will jump out at those more familiar with ‘standard Spanish’ is the animated Italian-like accent of the Argentines.

Since many were from different regions of Italian and spoke different dialects of Italian, a pidgin called Cocoliche developed which was a mix of Argentina’s Castilian Spanish with words from different Italian dialects.

The Italian-like intonation and melodic underscoring of syllables stuck, in the River Plate region especially.

Spanish speakers unfamiliar with the accent may have to tune their ears a bit.

The singsong Argentine accent is considered sexy by many native Spanish speakers, so Spanish learners need not worry about picking up the local accent.


Another unique feature of Argentine Spanish is the pronunciation of the ‘ll’ and ‘y’.

Instead of adopting a ‘y’ sound as in the word ‘yonder,’ the ll and y take on a rougher sound that can be likened to the zh in “casual” or “leisure.”  

This particularity is very noticeable in the Buenos Aires, especially posher areas of the city and the northern suburbs.

This can make the pronunciation of some words identical to each other — if someone says ‘se cayó’ (it/he/she fell) you will have to extract from the context the meaning because ‘se calló’ (it/he/she got quiet) is pronounced exactly the same way.

This phonetic difference may take some getting used to, but it shouldn’t hinder communication. 

There are various accents throughout Argentina particularly in the northern provinces, Córdoba and Cuyano wine regions.

Another quirk, seen in Santa Fe around the Rosario area and in lower-income communities of metro Buenos Aires is the dropping of consonants, particularly the letter ‘s.’

Travelers who speak a more standard Spanish normally have a harder time with comprehension than being understood themselves.

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The Use of Vos in Argentina

Another unique feature of Argentine Spanish is the Voseo.

Instead of ‘,’ as the second-person singular pronoun (the informal form of the word ‘you,’) ‘vos’ is used.

Using the vos form may take a bit of practice, but once you figure out how it works the construction is rather simple.

After some effort it turns out to be easier to conjugate because unlike the ‘tú’ form, there are only three irregular verbs.

How to Conjugate Verbs Using ‘Vos’

When ‘’ is used the conjugation of irregular verbs requires a stem change in the second person form. 

With ‘vos,’ however, no stem change is necessary because the stress or emphasis is on the last syllable (i.e. tienes becomes tenés, hablas becomes hablás.)

Chart showing the conjugation on the Spanish Verbs 'ser,' 'poder,' and 'querer' highlighting Argentina's conjugation using 'vos' instead of 'tú.'
Three common verbs: Ser=to be; Poder= can/to be able; Querer=to want.

The imperative form is easy too. Just remove the ‘s’ from the present tense conjugation.

So instead of saying ‘tú ven’ using ‘vos,’ it’s (vos) ‘vení’ to command someone ‘come.’

To tell someone — like you reading this right now — ‘to think’ in the vos imperative form say, (vos) pensá instead of ‘(tu) piensa.’

Irregular Verbs using ‘vos

A great thing about using voseo is that there are only three irregular verbs.

To make things even easier, both ‘ir’ and ‘haber’ are conjugated the same as with using ‘‘.

• Ir = to go

(Tú) vas

(Vos) vas

• Haber = to have

(Tú) has

(Vos) has

• Ser = to be

(Tú) eres

(Vos) sos

The verb ser (to be) is the one that throws people off: ‘(tú) eres’ becomes ‘(vos) sos.’

Argentina travelers should take note because they will inevitably be asked, “¿De dónde sos? “(video, opens in new window) throughout their stay.

Although ‘vos’ is used in the second person in most of Argentina, in the northwest provinces of the country and along the Andes Mountains closer to Chile many people still use ‘.’

Despite using ‘vos in most of the country, the second person plural pronoun ‘vosotros‘ is not used in Argentina; instead ‘ustedes‘ is always used to address a group.

Argentines do not tend to use singular, formal ‘you,’ as frequently as in many other Latin American countries.

While people from Colombia and Ecuador use ‘usted‘ frequently (even to address their dogs!) in Argentina it is reserved mostly for business situations, addressing the elderly and authority figures, and sometimes to jokingly give deference to a friend.

Throughout much of the country Argentina’s Castellano adopts a very informal style heavily peppered with lunfardo, the local slang, particularly in Buenos Aires.

The daily vernacular used by Argentine teenagers would probably land kids in big trouble in most other Latin American countries.

There are also many ‘Argentinismos’ such as the words ‘che‘ ‘birra‘ and ‘boliche.’

When it comes to cuisine, Argentina has a whole world of its own culinary terms.

Learning Spanish in Argentina may be an unusual choice but there are worse things than picking up an accent people find attractive.

Read on to learn some ‘Argentinismos‘ — weird words you’ll only find in Argentina.

→ Continue Reading:  Argentinismos

→ Continue Reading: Lunfardo: Argentina’s Naughty Slang

Unlock the secrets of Argentine Spanish, picture of colorful tenements in Buenos Aires