Top Guarani Words to Use in Paraguay

By: Romy Natalia Goldberg

Paraguay is one of Latin America’s most under-the-radar destinations. Perhaps this is in part because we don’t have a lot of large-scale tourist attractions (though Iguazu Falls are just a hop, skip and jump away).  Paraguay is more about the people.  In fact, for many tourists and expats alike, the most enjoyable aspect of Paraguay is their interactions and friendships with the locals.  

The majority of Paraguayans speak two languages: Spanish and Guarani, an indigenous language spoken in this region since before the arrival of European settlers.  In everyday conversation most employ a combination of Spanish and Guarani, commonly referred to as “jopará.”  In rural areas the mix is more Guarani-heavy, in urban areas people tend to speak more Spanish, peppering the conversation with occasional words or phrases in Guarani.  The net result of this is that, as foreigner, you do not need to become conversant or even learn a full sentence in Guarani. Throw in a Guarani word here and there and you’ll send the signal that you are interested in Paraguayan culture. Start practicing with these phrases and you’ll soon find people are eager to teach you more. And, as an expat, what is better than bragging to your friends back home that you’re learning not one but two languages?

“It’s hot!” Part proclamation, part conversation starter, this phrase is uttered throughout Paraguay on a regular basis (temps here are routinely in the 40’s during the summer and the 30’s in the spring). If it is really hot, you can say “haku etere’i.” Exclaiming “haku eterei!” will elicit an affirmative “haku eterei” in response. However, you should take care not to say “Che haku” (I’m hot), as that has a different, sexual meaning. It is also probably best to refrain from saying “Che ro’y” (I’m cold) as the subtle difference in pronunciation between it and “Che ro’u” (I want to have sex) is difficult to master.

Ja’uta la tereré
“Let’s drink tereré.”  “Tereré” is a yerba mate (loose tea) based beverage Paraguayans use to temporarily beat the heat. Drinking “tereré” is a highly social ritual which Paraguayans love to share with foreigners. Sitting around chatting while drinking “tereré” under the shade of a tree (mangos give the best shade) is a great way to cool down and also soak in Paraguay’s laid back attitude.  To learn more about “tereré” check out this segment on “Good Food.”

Paraguayans are generally positive people. In fact, according to a 2012 Gallup poll they are the happiest people on the planet!  Join the positivity by answering “iporã” whenever anyone asks how you’re doing.  Technically it means “pretty” in Guaraní but in this context is understood to mean “good.”  Remember, the emphasis is on the last syllable. If you accidentally say “póra” with an emphasis on the first syllable you’ll end up telling someone they are as ugly as a ghost!

With their starchy cheese breads (“chipa”), fish chowders (“caldo de pescado”), and custardy bread puddings (“budín de pan”) Paraguayan cooks are masters of comfort food.  Whether you´ve been invited to a friend´s house for lunch or are dining in a countryside hotel, the surest way to show your appreciation for the meal is to say “hetereí.” This means “delicious” in Guaraní. Of course, another way to prove you enjoyed the food is to ask for seconds.  This should make most Paraguayan grandmothers just as happy.
This common expression is a combination of the Spanish word “tranquilo” which means tranquil and the Guaraní word for everything, “pa.”  Even when life gets hectic, in Paraguay people will assure you all is calm and good.  This often comes accompanied by a thumbs-up, a gesture that is quite popular here.  Expats in Paraguay will find that both the “tranquilopa” outlook and the thumbs-up habit are contagious.

Ahata ayu
Rather than say good-bye, many Paraguayans prefer to take their leave by saying “ahata ayu,” which means “I’m going to leave and return.”  When you depart Paraguay to visit your home country the promise of an eventual return will be comforting – both to you and your local friends.

A note about making mistakes: Paraguayans get a real kick out of hearing foreigners speak Guarani. Of course, there is always the possibility that you’ll mess up and unknowingly say something dirty.  If you do, don’t worry!  Being willing to laugh at your mistakes will prove you’re a good sport and the incident will make for a funny anecdote to write home about.


About the author

Expat Blog ListingRomy Natalia Goldberg is an American expat living in Paraguay. Blog description: Learn about Paraguay with a travel guide book and blog. Advice on living, traveling and volunteering in Paraguay and information on Paraguayan culture, food, traditions and the Guaraní language.
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Contest Comments » There are 13 comments

Christie wrote 10 years ago:

These are definitely important words! Thanks for the mini-lesson under each word or phrase--They give a great idea of what it's like to live in Paraguay! I'll be sharing your list with visitors who come here and want to throw out a few (probably mispronounced) words in Guarani, which, as you said, always gets a laugh!

Adriana wrote 10 years ago:

Very useful post. Very important and helpful to better your experience in Paraguay to use a few Guarani words here and there. Thanks for the post

Brad wrote 10 years ago:

Yep. I used all those words on a regular basis during my days in Paraguay. Thanks for bringing back good memories.

Manuel Colón wrote 10 years ago:

A simple crash-course into Guaraní is great thing to have before arrival into Paraguay. Dropping any of these in casual conversation will give you major street cred while in the country.

Jeff wrote 10 years ago:

All these words and phrases bring my back to my days in the land of sunshine and peace. I agree: not necessary to be fluent - a few Gurani phrases go a long way in building friendships and showing interest in the culture.

Bob Newbert wrote 10 years ago:

I couldn't even spell Paraguay now I'd love to go there. Thanks for opening my eyes to this wonderful country and people.

Ralph Hannah wrote 10 years ago:

Ahata Ayu is a great phrase, my wife uses it all the time! Good advice surrounding the use of Haku, I learned it the hard way...I find Guaraní is essential to really understand Paraguayan culture, the very make up of the language helps you understand a lot about the country!

Benja wrote 10 years ago:

As an expat in Paraguay for almost a decade now, I attest to the fact that this post is spot on. If you're interested in learning more Guaraní, check out the course on Memrise titled "Basic Guaraní for Paraguay".

Jacqueline wrote 10 years ago:

This post makes me so nostalgic! I still hear/use tranquilopa everyday but I forgot about the others!

Jeff wrote 10 years ago:

Great choice of Guarani words for any visitor to Paraguay - especially "haku" in this heat! Your next post should be about how to curse in Guarani. I've always found 'blue' language to be the most colorful, and Guarani is already expressive.... Shouldn't every expat learn how to say "@#$%&* with a cactus!" in Guarani??

Sara L wrote 10 years ago:

It's true: the Paraguayans are incredibly supportive and forgiving of anyone speaking even the slightest bit of Guarani, especially in the countryside. I can barely speak a simple sentence in Spanish, so I was afraid to attempt Guarani, but the warm responses of the people to my thumbs-up made me brave enough to try a word or two. My favorite word appeared in an earlier post: chulina. It means something like "adorable"-- and when you say it gushingly about someone's baby or pet, you are guaranteed to form a bond with that person.

Raul Gonzalez wrote 10 years ago:

I am retired in Paraguay. But I have not learned much Guarani. Now I have some new arrows in my language quiver.

Alicia wrote 10 years ago:

What a great list of Guarani words (and hilarious mispronunciations)! You really can't go wrong with a Guarani word or two--either you'll impress the Paraguayan locals or you'll make them laugh, and either way you'll make new friends.

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