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Spanish compound words

One of the practical ways to increase your Spanish vocabulary is to learn compound words.

A compound word is formed by joining two separate words together.

In Spanish, compound words are made of a verb and a noun and they are called “palabras compuestas”. By concentrating on a compound word, you can learn one new word and review the meanings of the verb and the noun which it is composed of. If you don’t know any of the words which it is made of that means you can learn three new words.

Compound Nouns

How to form a compound noun

Take a verb in the third person singular and add a plural noun. Compound nouns are very rarely singular.


For example “abrecartas”, which means letter opener, is composed of

abrir: to stop which is abre in the third person singular (i.e. for él and ella)


cartas: which is the plural form of (la) carta, letter.

It is interesting to note that despite the fact that a plural noun is used to form the compound noun, it refers to a singular noun at the end. Moreover, most of the compound nouns are masculine so that “the” or “a” letter opener, i.e. in its singular form, is “el” abrecartas and “un” abrecartas. Only the definite and indefinite articles are changed when you refer to more than one letter opener, hence you will say los or unos abrecartas.

Another well-known example is (el) rascocielos which means skyscraper. Note that it is composed of the plural of “cielo” which is sky in Spanish. Rascar is to scrape. Hence, the Spanish counterpart of skyscraper is formed with exactly the same logic.

Let’s take another example. The verb “cumplir “ refers to reach an age when it is used with noun año (year). For example;

¿cuántos años va a cumplir? (how old is he going to be?)

Take the verb cumplir in third person singular, it is cumple and add the plural of año, you get the word (el) cumpleaños. It means birthday.

In the vocabulary section below, more examples are given.


Learn some examples of Spanish compound words

parabrisas: windshield - from parar: to stop and (la) brisa: breeze              

parasol: sunshade – from parar: to stop and (el) sol: sun

paraguas: umbrella – from parar: to stop and (la) agua: water

calientamanos: handwarmer – from  (la) mano: hand

abrelatas: can opener – from abrir: to open and (la) lata: tin, can

tocasdiscos: record player – from tocar: to play and (el) disco: record

calientaplatos: dishwarmer - from calentar: to warm up and (el) plato: plate, dish

cuidaniños: babysitter – from cuidar: to look after and niños: children

salvavidas: lifeguard – from salvar: to save and (la) vida: life

secamanos: hand dryer – from secar: to dry and (la) mano: hand

tocacasetes: cassette player – from tocar: to play and casete: casette

tiralíneas: drawing pen – from tirar: to throw and línea: line

trabalenguas: tongue twister - from trabar: to wedge and lengua: tongue

sacapuntas: pencil sharpener- from sacar: to take out and punta: point

sacamanchas: dry cleaner - from sacar: to take out and mancha: mark

sacacorchos: corkscrew - from sacar: to take out and corcho: cork

rompecabezas: puzzle – from romper: to break and cabeza: head

portaplumas: pen holder – from portar: to carry and pluma: pen

portamonedas: purse – from portar: to carry and moneda: coin

portacartas: letter bag –from portar: to carry and carta: letter

portaaviones: aircraft carrier - from portar: to carry and avion: airplane

matasellos: postmark –from matar: to kill and sello: stamp

limpiabarros: scraper – from limpar: to clean and barro: mud

limpiabotas: shoeshine – from limpar: to clean and bota: boot

limpiachimeneas: chimneysweep –from limpar: to clean and chimenea: chimney

limpiacristales: window cleaner – from limpar: to clean and cristal: glass

limpiaparabrisas: windshield wiper - from limpar: to clean and parabrisas: windshield

limpiapipas: pipe cleaner - from limpar: to clean and pipa: pipe

limpiauñas: fingernail cleaner - from limpar: to clean and uña: nail

lavamanos: bathroom sink - from lavar: wash and mano: hand

guardarropas: clothes closet – from guarder: to keep and ropa: clothes

cascanueces: nutcracker – cascara: to break and nuez: nut

catavinos: winetaster – catar: to taste and vino: wine

Let's Practice

Write the meaning of the following vocabulary words in English.

All Exercises