One of the most challenging aspects of learning Spanish is finding the right translations for seemingly simple English words. The English word “handle” is a perfect example of a word which doesn’t translate easily, as the many Spanish equivalents require us to know what kind of “handle” we are talking about. Are we talking about a door handle? The handle of a broom? The handle of a pan? Of a cup? The sort of handle you hold onto when riding a bus? What about figurative uses of the word, such as person who can’t get a handle on reality?
I have accumulated a number of Spanish terms which are used to say “handle.” Many of these are not interchangeable, and it may take some practice and the help of a native speaker to know which term applies to which situations. Although this sounds complicated, none of these terms are really essential to daily communication- unless, of course, you happen to be in construction or design door handles for a living. Here are the terms which, from my experience, are the most common in speech:
Asa: This is typically a small handle, such as the one on your coffee mug. Its closest relatives on this list are agarradera and asidero. Note that, while this is a feminine word, it is preceded by the article el in the singular… this is simply because it is supposedly easier to say “el asa” than “la asa.”
Agarradera: This word encompasses just about anything that you can grab or hold onto. This is the word you’re looking for when describing the handles on the bus or the ones you use to carry a case of cerveza. The verb form is agarrar, which itself is an extremely common word in Mexico.
Asidero: Although it serves as a synonym for agarradera, this word is often used figuratively. A person “sin asideros en la realidad” is someone who doesn’t have a handle on reality. Someone who believes in God has the “asidero de su fe” to hold onto.
Mango: This is usually the extended part of a pan or utensil. The common saying “tener la sartén por el mango” (to have the pan by the handle) is used to describe someone who has everything under their control.
Palo: A palo is basically a long stick. It is used to refer to a broom or mop handle.
Palanca: This word actually means lever, but translates as “handle” when referring to the gear handle of a stick shift vehicle. I’ve also heard the latter referred to as “los cambios.”
Puño: This is usually used to refer to the head of a cane or a sword.
Perilla / Pomo: Both of these words mean “door knob”, although perilla can also mean “dial” and pomo can mean “perfume bottle.”
Manilla / Manija: These words, spelt differently depending on where you are, can double as door knob or door handle but also sometimes serve as synonyms for most of the words listed above. These words are related to mano and thus describe any kind of handle you grab with your hands.
Manivela: The best translation of this word is “crank” and it refers to the sort of handle that you turn. Think of the handle you use for putting up your car windows.
Tirador / Jaladera: A tirador is basically the kind of handle you grab to open drawers or furniture. The verbs tirar and jalar both mean “to pull,” so a tirador would be a handle that you pull. The word jaladera isn’t really dictionary-approved but is a common term in Mexico.
Don’t get too frustrated by all the different possibilities here. Although these terms are relatively common, you’ll probably only need them for your passive understanding. In most encounters, the context will make clear what kind of “handle” is being described.
Native speakers are also welcome to chime in here, as there are undoubtedly more uses of these words than I know or could convey in this article. “¡Buena suerte” getting a handle on all of this!