Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


If you’ve ever had to exchange contact information with a Spanish speaker, you might know that the name of the symbol @ is arroba.  What you might not know, however, is that this symbol is used for way, way, way more than email addresses.  If you read informal written Spanish, it’s absolutely everywhere.

To explain why, I’ll have to backtrack and talk about some fundamental aspects of Spanish grammar.

As you know, Spanish has grammatical gender, which English doesn’t have.  A “friend” can be either a man or a woman, but in Spanish, you have to specify if you are spending time with an amigo or an amiga.

A group of male friends are amigos, and a group of female friends are amigas. However, a mixed group always takes masculine agreement, even if it consists of 99 women and 1 man.  (If you want to know more about this topic, check it out here.)

A lot of folks have dealt with this asymmetry by saying and writing things like amigos y amigas, or amigos/-as.  And this is where the arroba comes in!

Since the arroba, @, looks like an a surrounded by an o, it is used in written Spanish to indicate gender neutrality.  Most commonly, this is used in email salutations, as follows:

Querid@ amig@, Dear friend,
Compañer@s, Classmates/workmates,
Estimad@ cliente, Dear client,

And so on and so forth.  It’s also used in contexts where English speakers would use things like “s/he” to be inclusive.  A letter from schools to parents, for example, might refer to su hij@ (“your child”) to avoid using either hijo (son) or hija (daughter).

That said, this is still a fairly informal usage.  It’s more common in email than in other forms of written communication, and the Real Academia Española (an institutional body that monitors the Spanish language) disapproves of this usage, and so it will remain informal for the time being.