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Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 2/14/2012

There are a few different ways to say "worker" in Spanish and they refer to different socio-economic classes and types of work. Learn more here.

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    How Many Kinds of Workers Are There?

    The most common words in Spanish that refer to a worker are obrero, trabajador, jornalero and labrador. Each has a certain sphere of usage that in many cases is not shared by the other. They all have feminine forms as well: obrera, trabajadora, jornalera and labradora.

    The most generic word is trabajador. It is the word most used to refer to artisans, craftsmen or workmen. It is also the most common word used to express the Marxist concept of the proletariat; however, I have also seen, in Chinese translations of Marx and Lenin, the word obrero used as well (see below).

    The word obrero is used to refer to skilled or semi-skilled workers, such as factory workers. The Spanish translation of the famous slogan of the International Soviet was often rendered using obrero: Obreros de todo el mundo, ¡uníos! (Workers of the World, Unite!)

    It is easy for English speakers to say, mistakenly, unión for a labor union but the proper word is sindicato -- a word which in Spanish has no overtones of criminality.

    When one wants to say that someone is a good worker, one says: Es buen trabajador or trabajadora.

    The word jornalero refers to a day laborer, as in a handy man or hired hand.

    The word labrador only is used to refer to farm or agricultural labor.

    In addition, there are other words that one may encounter. In the US, the word bracero is used to refer to farm labor. The word ganapán is used in Spain to refer to someone who, as the word suggests earns his or her bread.

    Here are some examples, with translations:

    Los obreros salieron huelga ayer. The workers went on strike yesterday.

    Mi tío fue jefe del sindicato de carpinteros. My uncle was boss of the carpenter's union.

    Juana es muy trabajadora. Juana is a good worker.

    Los jornaleros cobran por día. The day laborers charge by the day.

    En la granja hay muchos labradores. There are a lot of workers on the farm.

References

  • The author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.

Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
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  2. Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
  9. Using "Anyway..." in Spanish
  10. Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
  14. Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
  20. Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
  25. The Word "Country" in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
  28. How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with... In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
  31. Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
  33. Do You Mean "Fair" Weather, a "Fair" Game or a "Fair" Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting -- Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing... and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
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  38. Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal