‘Derecho’ and ‘Derecha’ in Spanish

Similar words can be confusing

Spanish road sign
Los servicios están a la derecha. (Services are to the right.).

M.Peinado / Creative Commons.

Two easily confused Spanish words are derecho and derecha. Both are distant cousins of the English words "right" and "direct," and that is the source of the confusion: Depending on the context and usage, these words can carry meanings such as "right" (the opposite of left), "right" (entitlement), "straight," "upright" and "directly."

‘Derecho’ and ‘Derecha’ Explained

These words are easiest to understand as nouns:

  • El derecho is never a term of direction and is used to refer to something that is due a person according to law, moral principle or custom — in other words, a right. When used in the plural, it typically means "rights" such as in the phrase derechos humanos, human rights. It can also refer to a type of "right" that is less abstract. For example, derechos del autor (literally, author's rights) refers to royalties.
  • La derecha refers to something that is on the right (opposite of left) side. It can refer to, for example, the right hand and the political right. The adverbial phrase a la derecha is common and means "to the right" or "on the right."

As an adjective, derecho (and derived forms derecha, derechos and derechas) can mean "right" (the opposite of left, as in el lado derecho, the right side), "upright" (as in el palo derecho, the upright pole), and "straight" (as in línea derecha, straight line). Usually the context will make the meaning clear. Except in bad Spanglish, derecho as an adjective does not mean "correct."

As an adverb, the form is derecho. It typically means "straight ahead" or "in a straight line" as in anduvieron derecho, they walked straight ahead.

Sample Sentences

Here are some examples of these words in use:

  • No tienes el derecho de iniciar la fuerza contra la vida, libertad, o propiedad de otros. (You don't have the right to initiate the use of force against the life, liberty or property of others.)
  • Estos cambios pueden tener un impacto negativo contra los derechos al voto de minorías raciales. (These changes can have a negative effect against the voting rights of racial minorities.)
  • Queremos el derecho a decidir para toda la gente. (We want the right to decide for all the people.)
  • Como consecuencia de este incidente sufrió una herida grave en el ojo derecho. (As a result of this incident he suffered a serious injury in his right eye.)
  • El coche es caro, pero no me funciona la luz de cruce derecha. (The car is expensive, but the right turn signal doesn't work for me.)
  • El espejo derecho no es obligatorio salvo que algo nos obstaculice el uso del espejo interior. (The right-side mirror isn't mandatory unless something blocks our use of the interior mirror.)
  • Siguió derecho por un tiempo antes de que parara. (She continued straight ahead for some time before she stopped.)
  • Nunca he negado que hay diferente tipos de derechas. (I have never denied there are different types of conservatives.)
  • Espero que la pared de la cocina esté derecha. (I hope the kitchen wall is straight up and down.)
  • Gire a la derecha desde la rampa de salida. (Turn to the right from the exit ramp.)
  • Por tradición el águila de la bandera mira a la derecha. (Traditionally, the eagle on the flag looks to the right.)

If You Need To Say ‘Left’

Whether referring to physical direction or politics, the noun form for left is izquierda. The adjective form is izquierdo and its variations for number and gender.

Zurdo is the adjective usually used to refer to someone who is left-handed.

Some sample sentences:

  • Sufro de constante inflamación en el ojo izquierdo. (I constantly suffer from inflammation in my left eye.)
  • Se dice que un partido es de la izquierda cuando tiende a buscar una mayor distribución de las riquezas. (They say that a party is from the left when it tends to pursue a greater distribution of wealth.)
  • La imagen a la izquierda muestra la rotación del planeta. (The image on the left shows the planet's rotation.)
  • Fue designado como mejor atleta zurdo del país. (He was named the country's best left-handed athlete.)

Key Takeaways

  • As an adjective, derecho (and its feminine and plural forms) can mean the opposite of left as well as upright or straight, and it can also serve as an adverb to refer to action straight ahead.
  • But as a noun, el derecho never refers to a direction. but to an entitlement.
  • The noun form for something on the right (opposite of left) side is derecha.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "‘Derecho’ and ‘Derecha’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/derecho-and-derecha-3079578. Erichsen, Gerald. (2020, August 27). ‘Derecho’ and ‘Derecha’ in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/derecho-and-derecha-3079578 Erichsen, Gerald. "‘Derecho’ and ‘Derecha’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/derecho-and-derecha-3079578 (accessed March 20, 2023).

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