Essential telenovela Spanish

Phrases and expressions you will definitely hear while watching soap operas in Spanish.

Soraya Montenegro telenovela meme
Soraya Montenegro


If you want to try practicing Spanish by watching telenovelas, this is the essential vocabulary you need to know.


¿Qué hace Chuchito José Rodriguez de Anda y López en el cuarto de la sirvienta? What is Chuchito José Rodríguez de Anda y López doing in the maid’s room?. Yes, telenovela characters have many last names. Thanks to Chuchito, the maid is usually the secret mother of at least one family member. (but s/he doesn’t know it!).
¡No puede ser! This can’t be! (this can’t be true, this cannot be possible!).
¡nunca jamás!, ¡jamás de los jamases! never ever!, never everrrrrr!.
¡Qué desgracia! No sé como sucedió. Se rodó por las escaleras. No, nadie la empujó. ¡Parece un accidente!. What a tragedy. I don’t know how it happened. She rolled down the staircase. No, nobody pushed her. It looks like an accident! Desgracia doesn’t mean disgrace. In telenovelas, always somebody rolls down the stairs, and it always looks like an accident Spoiler: but it’s not!.
¿Por qué nunca te maquillas? Why do you never wear makeup? Maquillarse = to put on makeup. Telenovela actors seldom wear makeup. Or they do, but it’s always very subtle. In the past, when characters laughed, the makeup would crack, and when they woke up in the morning, they were already wearing makeup. Also, in the past, they used to wear makeup while in the bathtube, but not anymore…no…
¿qué haces aquí? What are you doing here?
¿Qué significa esto? Te sorprendí. What’s the meaning of this? I caught you red handed.
¿Quién soy yo? No sé. creo que tengo amnesia. Who am I? I don’t know. I think I’m suffering from amnesia. Condition always present in telenovelas.
el galán hero, heartrob
agua oxigenada No, this is not oxigenated water, it’s peroxide. Very important substance in telenovelas.
Alguien trató de desconectarle los tubos del oxígeno. Somebody tried to disconnect the oxygen tubes. In telenovelas, always someone manages to get in the intensive care unit (terapia intensiva) in a hospital, and tries to pull the plug or oxygen supply from the protagonist. Sometimes, they also press a pillow against their faces.
asesino, asesina murderer. Asesino in Spanish is not always assassin in English. But an assassin is un asesino in Spanish.
bastardo, bastarda <no translation needed> Also, hijo ilegítimo, sounds better. In telenovelas, It’s always the maid’s or gardener’s child.
cachetada, bofetada a slap on the face. Cachete is a word for cheek. Bofetada is a slap right on the mouth.
Calorina, eres la deshonra de la familia Calorina, you are the disgrace of this family. Hint: calor=heat.
Doña Ana, Doña Juana, Don Pedro, Don Anastacio Usually an older and respected character called Ana or Juana, or Pedro or Anastacio
el bueno/malo de la historia the good/bad character in the story/plot. Also, el villano, el héroe.
el futuro de nuestros niños está de por medio the future of our kids is at stake. Haber algo de por medio means that something exists in the middle of a situation.
Ella no es tu verdadera madre. Tu madre desapareció cuando tú naciste She is not your real mother. Your mother vanished when you were born. Nacer is not a passive verb like to be born in English.
envenenar to poison. Used when the telenovela is out of budget, and they need to fire some actors. (Either this or the staircase method). Poison is cheaper than crashing a car!
eres una víbora you are a viper
es el mismísimo demonio he is the devil himself. Demonio = diablo.
está en coma. she is in a coma. Coma also means comma.
estoy embarazada I’m pregnant
hacer el papel to play the role
haz que parezca un accidente make it look like an accident. Parecer = to seem. Haz is the (irregular) tú imperative of hacer (to do, to make).
hazme caso listen to me. Hacer caso = to heed, pay attention.
inocente innocent. Inocente also means candid, gullible, naive.
la boda, el casorio the wedding
lo nuestro our love affair (usually), also, our secret.
los pobres the poor
los ricos the rich
madre soltera single mother
mayordomo butler. It’s always the butler.
me faltaste al respeto you disrespected me
me late que Paquito tiene una aventura con la sirvienta I suspect that Paquito is having an affair with the maid. (Me late, I have the hunch, only in MX I believe).
me traicionaste you betrayed me
mentiroso liar
no es mi culpa it’s not my fault. It’s always the butler’s fault.
no les digas nuestro secreto don’t tell them our secret. There are always secretos in telenovelas. Many of them.
no sé de quién es el hijo que espero Esperar in Spanish means to wait for, to await, to hope, and to expect. I don’t know who is the father of the child I am expecting.
papel antagónico the character conflicting with the protagonist, villain (watch out! papel antagónico, papel protagónico, and papel higiénico are not the same,,,,,). Papel means both, role and paper. Papel higiénico? No, in telenovelas characters only eat and drink.
Primer Actor / Primera Actriz First actor. First actress. Usually, an experienced actor or actress who doesn’t have a leading role, but deserves a big, special credit.
protagonista protagonist, main character, leading character (male or female). Nouns ending in -ista could be either masculine or feminine.
se fugó con el jardinero she eloped with the gardner. Fugarse also means to leak, to escape.
se quedó en la calle. He lost everything and ended up on the streets, became homeless. One of the meanings of quedarse is to become, after a loss. Se quedó sordo. He lost his hearing and became deaf.
sirvienta the maid. There is always one or more in every telenovela. They know all the family secrets, just like the doormen in New York. The more secrets they know, the bigger the tip they get. Propina = tip.. In Telenovelas, la gata and la chacha are other ways to call the maid, and it’s pejorative. Only a very mean character would use these words.
te odio con todas mis fuerzas. I hate you with all my might.
te prohibo que andes con él I prohibit you to date him. Prohibir requires the subjunctive.
te quiero pero no te amo I kind of love you but I don’t love you. Querer and amar are a little different.
tu hijo salió a ti your son came out just like you
tu marido te engaña your husband is cheating on you
tú me mentiste you lied to me
Ustedes no se pueden casar porque son hermanos. (dramatic music follows). You cannot marry each other because you are brother and sister. (Believe it or not, common telenovela twist.) Hermanos in Spanish means both, bothers and siblings (brothers and sisters)..
vamos a meterla al manicomio para cobrar su parte de la herencia let’s put her in the madhouse so we can get her part of the inheritance
veneno poison. Like venom.
ya no me amas ya and ya no are different. you do not love me anymore
yo pensé que sentías algo por mí I thought you felt something for me. To feel something for someone requires the preposition por.

Why do telenovelas are a good idea to learn and practice Spanish compared to movies? Because you get used to the same voices, same accents, the same actors, the same plot for 6 months (at least). It’s like an immersion. If you don’t understand the plot the first week, be patient, you’ll understand what’s going in the following week. The super-dramatic acting will help. A movie only lasts 90 minutes and that’s it. Telenovelas usually have captions available. The disadvantage is that the plot may not be good, or it may be stretched out, and you will have to put up with it every evening. Late-night telenovelas are better than early afternoon ones.

Like in every telenovela, somebody *falls down* the stairs. I don’t know why they always die:

One more. No, she didn’t roll down the stairs. She flew down the stairs like Superman! This one has a twist. The guy didn’t push her, but they will blame him for that. If you can make it to the very end of the video, you’ll see what happened to her leg, and her dramatic reaction.

Veneno, envenenar:


This is real, and the news broke right after I wrote this. A Venezuelan telenovela actress and her family were being poisoned by her Argentine assistant in Mexico:

Originally published on 20100821. Latest update 20210427 ( top

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