‘Allí’ vs ‘allá’ | The Battle of The “Theres”

‘Allí’ and ‘allá’ are tricky customers as they both mean ‘there’ …

Let me share a story.

Feeling a little peckish and thirsty for beer, I once sent a WhatsApp to a friend – Juan Pedantic, who works for the Real Academia Española (RAE) – to see what he was up to.

He told me he was in a Wingstop. All right, I told him, “Voy pa’llá” (a contraction of ‘para’ and ‘allá’) – “I’m on my way there.

Where to? he asked. To Wingstop, I said.

Duh! I said no more but the nagging doubts began to creep and crawl around my dormant brain. What had I done wrong? How could there have been any confusion? The context was clear. ‘Allá’, ‘there’, had to mean Wingstop, but for some reason Juan Pedantic hadn’t understood!

But what does this all mean?

If curiosity be the food of love, read on, read on.

In short – allí’ means ‘there’, when ‘there’ is a specific place (for example, “Sit there at that table.” – “Siéntate allí en esa mesa.”). ‘Allá’ means ‘there’ or ‘over there’ in a more general sense (for example, “It’s too far away. I can’t walk there.” – “Está demasiado lejos; no puedo caminar allá.”).

When to use ‘allí

Spanish speakers use ‘allí’ when the “there” in question is specific and *sometimes* visible (although it doesn’t HAVE to be visible).

The RAE defines ‘allí’ to literally mean a/en aquel lugar – ‘to/in that place’. 

Some examples –

Daniela – Irene y yo vamos a ir a la Cineteca en la tardecita para ver esa peli artística. ¿Te late?

Guillermo – ¿Cómo no? Nos vemos allí.

Daniela – Irene and I are going to the Cineteca in the evening to see that art movie. You fancy it?

Guillermo – Sure thing. See you there.

Where is “there” exactly? Why the Cineteca of course! It’s a specific place.

A group of friends are in downtown Mexico City and are looking for a famous cantina to quench their thirst. One of them finally spots it and says:

¡Allí está!

There it is!

Our ‘there’/ ‘allí’ is clearly visible and, in this case, it’s a known place that they’re headed towards.

Getting there? Hehe. Everything falling into place?

When to use ‘allá

Speakers tend to use ‘allá’ when “there” is less specific and more figurative.

The RAE has six definitions for it, but in a nutshell ‘allá’ is more like ‘thereabouts’ and can also emphasize distance in both space and time.  

Additionally, you’ll often hear and use it in combination with ‘para’ (‘to’), thus making it ‘pa’ya’ or ‘pa’llá’, always indicating movement.

Check out these examples with ‘allá’ –

Una madre está fuera y llama a su hijo. Le contesta y le dice que tiene mucha hambre.

Mamá – Te dejé comida allá en la cocina, pero no me acuerdo dónde exactamente.

Hijo – Ah bueno, ahorita la busco. Gracias, ma.

A mother is out and calls her son. He picks up and tells her he’s starving.

Mum – I left some food out (thereabouts*) in the kitchen, but I don’t remember where exactly.

Son – Ah ok, I’ll look for it. Thanks, mum.

*In this example using ‘there’ might sound a little odd in English.

A child standing on a beach on the Pacific coasts of Mexico looks out and points west.

Japón está allá.

Japan is over there.

So, the child obviously can’t see Japan, but she knows it’s there, way out there – or thereabouts – beyond the horizon. 

A chef is talking about how he got so good at making Caribbean food.  

Entonces, me fui pa’allá (el caribe) y aprendí a preparar los mejores platillos de la región.

So, I went there (the Caribbean) and learnt how to make the best regional dishes.

Jamaica? Haiti? Puerto Rico? Who knows? The chef doesn’t specify exactly where in the Caribbean. It’s more general and he’s not thinking of super specific places. He’s just telling you that he went there to learn his craft.

Más allá’ and ‘el más allá

If you combine the word ‘más’ (more) with ‘allá’ you get ‘further away’.

For example –

Vivo más allá.

I live further away.

And ‘el más allá’ literally means ‘the beyond’; it’s basically a way of referring to the afterlife/spirit world/hereafter.

Espero no encontrarme con Juan Pedantic en el más allá.

I hope I’m not reunited with Juan Pedantic in the afterlife.

But does it really matter?

With the exception of ‘más allá’ / ‘el más allá’, no, not really.

So, if you say to someone, “Te veo allá en el Wingstop”, well, that’s fine and you’ll hear people saying the same to you. 

I mentioned earlier that my Wingstop amigo was called Juan Pedantic – and he really does live up his name. Whether you HAVE to use ‘allí’ or ‘allá’ is the business of grammar sticklers and employees of the RAE.

Don’t worry about it too much – it’s unlikely you’ll cause any real confusion or even be confused … unless you spend too much time with Juan Pedantics (I don’t anymore!).

In fact, using ‘allí’ and ‘allá’ is actually a really good way of differentiating between the different “there’s”.

Let me explain …

One person might say –

Vamos a sentarnos allí. ¿Te parece?

Let’s sit down there. What do you reckon?

And the other person might not like the idea, point to a different area, and say –

No, mejor nos sentamos allá.

No, let’s sit there.

In this example ‘allí’ and ‘allá’ are bang on identical in meaning, but the second speaker has a different ‘there’ in mind so uses ‘allá’ to make that crystal clear.

Final thoughts

Don’t sweat it with ‘allí’ and ‘allá’, you’ll get there eventually 😉. They both mean ‘there’ after all. ‘Allí’ is more specific and ‘allá’ a tad more general and that can be important to some but not to most, and a lot of the time they’re just used to distinguish between the different “there’s” being discussed.

In the mood for more Spanish grammar? Well, check out one of the following –

‘era’ vs ‘fue’

‘podría’ vs podía’

‘comer’ vs ‘comerse’

‘has’ vs ‘haz’

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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