DOMINICANISMOS: Words That Don’t Mean What You Think

Today we’re going to talk about dominicanismos or the words, expressions, and phrases that are common and unique to Spanish spoken in the Dominican Republic. Like any language, Spanish is subject to regional peculiarities, in the Dominican Republic we’ve adopted Taíno (indigenous) and African words and we’ve also repurposed Spanish words in some pretty interesting ways. These dominicanismos can confuse even the most advanced Spanish student who is used to hearing these words in different contexts. So without further ado, here are four words that don’t mean what you think here in the DR. Use them to add some Dominican sazón to your Spanish!


Guapo is a word that trips up a lot of visitors to the Dominican Republic. Most people are used to this adjective meaning that someone is handsome or good-looking. While a Dominican will understand what you mean if you use it this way, for us, guapo, means angry when paired with the verb ESTAR and brave or someone who is always ready for a fight when paired with the verb SER. The expression comes from the now “obsolete” verb guapear which means to act tough or brave.

1. Claudia está guapa porque su novio no se acordó de su aniversario.
Claudia is upset because her boyfriend didn’t remember their anniversary.

2. Daniel es guapo; él siempre está peleando.
Daniel is aggressive/brave; he’s always fighting.


Who doesn’t want some cualtos (the “r” is pronounced like an “l” in some region). This word which means room or fourth in “standard” Spanish means money in Dominican slang.

“Fulanito es un muerto de hambre; ese tipo nunca tiene cuarto.”
“So-and-so is broke; that guy never has any money.”


I was severely confused the first time I ever saw sweets that were plátano flavoured. Turns out it’s because many other Spanish speaking countries refer to BANANAS as plátanos. In the Dominican Republic we call them guineos (prounounced ghee-neh-ohs). This word is thought to come from the African country name of Guinea from where some people believed bananas originated from (they didn’t). The plátano is so central to Dominican food and culture, that the word aplatanado (more or less translated as plantained, which isn’t a real word in English) means something that has been Dominicanized.

1. “El plátano subió un peso, ¡pronto no tendremos de que comer!”
The price of plantains went up by a peso, soon we will have nothing to eat (aka what my mamá said every time we went to the supermarket).

2. Después de vivir tantos años aquí, ese extranjero está completamente aplatanado.
After living here for so many years, that foreigner is completely Dominicanized.


The word bola has a lot of meanings, most commonly ball (both the kind you play sports with and the kind that would have made you snicker in a high school Spanish class). In Dominican Spanish, though it also means a free ride or “lift”. When friends are going in the same direction it’s not uncommon to get a bola from them. 

1. “Yo voy al centro también, ¿quieres una bola?”
I’m going to the center [of town], too. Do you want a ride?”

Dominicanismos are so interesting, I often gets requests for a one-hour class just on the different sounds, gestures, phrases, and words that make our Spanish so colorful and unique! Click here if you want to learn more about How Dominicans Speak!

6 thoughts on “DOMINICANISMOS: Words That Don’t Mean What You Think”

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