Say It Right in Spanish

English Word "Right" Has Many Meanings

road sign in Spain
Vamos a la derecha. (We're going to the right.). Photo by M.Peinado; licensed via Creative Commons.

That's right. Go to the right. It's my right to vote for a candidate from the right. It's just not right. You've got it right.

As the above sentences indicate, "right" is one of those English words that has a multitude of meanings. So you can't simply translate it to Spanish with simple word substitution — while many dictionaries will give derecho as the first choice of Spanish words meaning "right," its use would be absolutely wrong to translate some of the above sentences.

Fortunately, some of the most common translations of "right" are cognates of synonyms, such as correcto (a cognate of "correct") and justo (a cognate of "just"), so there aren't too many words to learn that will take care of a majority of the cases.

"Right" as a direction

The Spanish way to refer to the opposite of left is usually derecho (and its forms for gender and number) when used as an adjective or the phrase a la derecha as an adverb.

  • The technique of using the right hand to play the violin is something that ought to be learned correctly. La técnica de uso de la mano derecha para tocar el violín es algo que debe aprenderse correctamente.
  • Symbolic language is rooted in the right side of the brain. El lenguaje simbólico está radicado en el lado derecho del cerebro.
  • The doctors have to amputate Jorge's right leg. Los médicos tienen que amputar la pierna derecha de Jorge.
  • The car turned right to the end of the street. El coche giró a la derecha al final de la calle.
  • Look right! ¡Mira a la derecha!

A la derecha is also very commonly used to mean "to the right" in various contexts.

  • His political positions often are to the right of those of this rivals. Sus posiciones políticas con frecuencia estaban a la derecha de las de sus rivales.
  • Look to the right side of your screen. Mira a la derecha de tu pantalla.

    "Right" meaning "correct"

    When "right" means "correct," the cognate correcto (or its adverb form, correctamente) can often be used. Other synonymous words or phrases often work well also. Examples include bien or bueno, depending on whether an adverb or adjective, respectively, is needed. "To be right" can usually be translated as tener razón.

    • I think the article is right. Creo que el artículo es correcto.
    • Take the time in order to make the right decision. Tómese el tiempo para tomar la decisión correcta.
    • I want to pick the right curtains. Quiero elegir las cortinas correctas.
    • If the inhaler is used right the aerosol shouldn't drip from your nose. Si el inhalador se usa correctamente el aerosol no deberá gotear de la nariz.
    • Do you have the right time? ¿Tienes el tiempo bueno?
    • The customer is always right. El cliente siempre tiene razón.
    • Fortunately they weren't right. Por suerte no tuvieron razón.

    "Right" meaning "just" or "fair"

    Often "right" carries the meaning of fairness or justice. In such cases, justo is usually a good translation, although in context correcto can have that meaning as well.

    • Many poor people live here. That isn't right. Muchos pobres viven aquí. Eso no es justo.
    • That's true, it is difficult to do the right thing. Es verdad, es muy difícil hacer lo justo.

    "Right" as an entitlement

    A right in the sense of a moral or legal entitlement is a derecho.

    • Civil rights ought to be respected, even during a national emergency. Los derechos civiles deben de ser respetados, inclusive en tiempos de estado de emergencia nacional.
    • I have the right to be free of all types of abuse. Tengo el derecho de estar libre de todas las formas de abuso.

    "Right" used to emphasize

    "Right" is used in many contexts in English as a general word of emphasis. Often, it does not need to be translated into Spanish, or you may have to translate the meaning indirectly or with some idiom that is specific to what you're trying to say. Many variations other than those listed here are possible:

    • What are you doing right now? ¿Qué estás haciendo ahora mismo?
    • If possible, the baby should get milk right after being born. Si es posible, el bebé debe mamar inmediatamente después de nacer.
    • The solution is right here. La solución está aquí mismo.
    • I'll pay you right away. Voy a pagarte sin demora.

    Miscellaneous phrases and uses

    Often you can figure out a way of saying "right" by thinking of an alternative way of expressing the idea in English. For example, to say, "The portrait is just right," you might say the equivalent of "The portrait is perfect": El retrato es perfecto.

    Some miscellaneous phrases will have to be learned separately:

    • right angle, right triangle; el ángulo recto, el triángulo recto
    • right-click (computer use), hacer clic con el botón derecho del ratón
    • right-handed, diestro
    • right of way, el derecho de paso
    • right-shift key, la tecla derecha de mayúsculas
    • right wing (noun), la derecha
    • right-wing (adjective), derechista
    • right-winger, el/la derechista
    • to right (make correct), rectifar, reparar, rectificar
    • to right (make upright), enderezar

    Etymological note

    Although they look and sound quite different, the English words "right" and the Spanish words derecho and correcto are related to each other. They all come from a Proto-Indo-European root word that had meanings related to moving in a straight line or leading. From that root we get words such a "direct" (directo in Spanish), "rectitude" (rectitud), "erect" (erecto), "rule," "ruler," "regal," rey (Spanish for "king") and reina ("queen").

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    Erichsen, Gerald. "Say It Right in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). Say It Right in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Say It Right in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 17, 2017).