Agujeros, Hoyos y Huecos

It seems as though Spanish has a zillion words for “hole” and, while some of these are interchangeable, each word describes a slightly different type of hole. Today I’ll present six common terms that can be translated in English as “hole.”

agujero:  This might be the best all-purpose word for hole. It generally refers to a hole through which something can pass, such as a hole for shoelaces or a black hole in space (yes, I know that physics hasn’t proven things can pass through a black hole… whatever). Agujero derives from aguja (needle) and describes a hole created by the action of piercing or perforating. That said, many native speakers use this word to describe any kind of hole, including ones that you can fall into.

boquete: This word, commonly used in Mexico, is a synonym of agujero and is probably best translates as an “opening.”

hoyo: Typically, this is a hole through which something cannot pass. It is used to describe the kind of hole which you dig in the ground.

hueco: This word means “hollow space.” It isn’t a hole per se, but rather the empty space inside of a hole.

bacha: This is a Mexican word for pothole.

socaván: Related to the verb socavar, which means “to erode from beneath” or “to undermine,” this word usually refers to a giant hole in the Earth. It’s used on the news to describe the kind of sinkholes which swallow houses in Florida.

Depending on where you go, you may hear native speakers use all these words indiscriminately. In fact, he or she might be hard-pressed to explain the differences. In English we also have a number of synonyms to describe different kinds of holes (“gap”, “perforation”, “orifices”, etc) but we tend to prefer our all-purpose “hole.” Getting used to the subtleties of agujero vs hoyo vs hueco takes some practice, but mixing them up will probably not create confusion since native speakers do the same. The truth is, unless you fall into one of these on a Latin American sidewalk, you’re not especially likely to need these terms. Just be prepared to recognize them in speech…


3 comments on Agujeros, Hoyos y Huecos

  1. I like the word for pothole – bacha. Your in a car with a Mexican and you hit a pothole and he says “¡bacha!”, and you think he said a bad word!

    1. Hi Ron,

      Strictly speaking, a golf course hole would be un hoyo. This is because it has a bottom, where un agujero is more like a perforation. That said, native speakers don’t always pay attention to the distinction so I wouldn’t be surprised if some preferred one term to the other. Great question… ¡Saludos!

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