Calidad vs. Cualidad

Both Words Can Mean 'Quality' but Have Different Meanings

bottles for high-quality wine from Spain
Los vinos de España son de alta calidad. (Spanish wines are high-quality.). Yon Mora/Creative Commons.

Both calidad and cualidad are usually translated to English as "quality" — but the two words aren't used in the same way and aren't interchangeable.

A look at these two words show how the meanings of words can change over time and how corresponding words, known as cognates, in two languages can take different paths.

Calidad, cualidad and "quality" all come from the Latin qualitas, used to refer to categories or kinds of things. (You can still see echoes of this meaning in the word cual.) Cualidad comes close to retaining that meaning and is used to refer to the inherent characteristics of something. In fact, it can almost always be translated as "characteristic" as well as "quality." Here are some examples:

  • El pelo corto tiene la cualidad de mantenerse en mejores condiciones por más tiempo. Short hair has the quality of remaining in better condition for a longer time.
  • Mi mejor cualidad como actor es la autenticidad. My best quality as an actor is authenticity.
  • Antonio posee muchas cualidades deseables. Antonio has many desirable qualities.
  • El magnetismo es una cualidad de algunos metales. Magnetism is a quality of some metals.

Calidad, on the other hand, suggests excellence or superiority:

  • Siempre queremos la mejor calidad para nuestros clientes. We always want the best quality for our customers.
  • Tenemos que consumir nutrientes en cantidad suficiente y de buena calidad. We need to consume nutrients that are sufficient in quantity and of good quality.
  • La mayoría de las ciudades con mayor calidad de vida están en Europa. Most of the cities with a better quality of life are in Europe.
  • La baja calidad del servicio hace perder más clientes que el precio. The low quality of services causes the loss of more customers than does price.

Sometimes calidad, especially in the phrase "en calidad de," can refer to someone's position or status: El representante, actuando en calidad de presidente interino, firmó tres documentos. The representative, acting in the capacity of interim president, signed three documents.

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Your Citation
Erichsen, Gerald. "Calidad vs. Cualidad." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 26). Calidad vs. Cualidad. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Calidad vs. Cualidad." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 1, 2021).