‘Caray’ – Meaning / In English

In short – ‘caray’ is a common interjection used to express surprise, annoyance, or puzzlement. It’s a euphemism for the more vulgar ‘carajo’ and can often be translated to either ‘wow’ or ‘darn it’.

Like it’s brother-in-arms, carajo, ‘caray’ has become “softer” over time, so you’re *unlikely* to offend anyone if you do whip it out. I´ve heard it used frequently on the radio, for example.

You’ll often hear it paired with ‘ah’, ‘ay’ and ‘qué’: ‘Ah, caray’, ‘Ay, caray’ and ‘Qué caray’.

You may also hear people saying ‘Ah, cabrón’, but watch out (‘¡Ojo!’) because this one really is on the vulgar side!

Omar – Ese señor te miró y te guiñó un ojo.

Sergio – ¡Ah, cabrón! Creo que le gusté.

Omar – That man gave you a come-hither look.

Sergio – No sh*t! I think maybe he liked the look of me.

Omar – Ese señor te miró y te guiñó un ojo.

Sergio – ¡Ah, caray! Creo que le gusté.

Omar – That man gave you a come-hither look.

Sergio – Oh, wow! I think maybe he liked the look of me.

Uses / meanings of ‘caray‘ in Spanish

¡Caray! can be used in the following ways –

  • To express surprise
  • To express annoyance
  • To express puzzlement

To express surprise

Let me preface by saying that ‘caray’ has lost a bit of the intensity of yesteryear, perhaps due to the rawness of some of the new expressions coined by later generations (I´m looking at you cabrón).

You will though still hear it being used to express genuine surprise –

Sofía – Te ví en el parque pero no me saludaste.

Andrés – ¡Ah, caray! ¿Cuándo?

Sofía – I saw you in the park, but you didn’t say hello.

Andrés – Really! When?

Roberto – ¿Supiste que Francisco está saliendo con la mejor amiga de su ex?

Ximena – ¡Ah, caray! Cuéntame más.

Roberto – Did you hear that Francisco is dating his ex’s best friend?

Ximena – Wow! Tell me more.

To express annoyance

Feeling annoyed but don’t like to use expletives?

Well, say hello to your new best friend: ‘¡Caray!’.

When annoyed, you can just whack it on the end of a sentence … for maximum effect, make sure you say it loud and clear.

It’s similar to the expressions ‘Darn it!’ or ‘Damn!’ in English.

Cecilia – Te pedí que cerraras la puerta después de entrar, ¡caray!

Emiliano – Híjole*, lo olvidé.

Cecilia – I asked you to close the door behind you, darn it!

Emiliano – I’m sorry, I forgot.

Daniela – ¡Ya dime la verdad, caray!

Joaquín – ¡No fui yo!

Daniela – Tell me the truth, darn it!

Joaquín – It wasn’t me!

*Erika’s note – híjole is another SUPER COMMON Mexican interjection; it’s also used to express surprise, confusion, annoyance, and the like.

To express puzzlement

Expressions such as ‘¡Ay, caray!’ and ‘¡Ah, caray!’ are often used to express bewilderment, kind of like ‘oh, wow’ in English.

Diego – La invitación para la boda es para una sola persona.

Helena – ¡Ah, caray! ¿Entonces no puedo acompañarte?

Diego – The wedding invitation is for one guest only.

Helena – Oh, wow! So I can’t come with you?

Karen – Las flores no tenían remitente pero la tarjeta dice que son para ti.

Paulina – ¡Ah, caray!

Karen – It doesn’t say who sent the flowers, but the card says they’re for you.

Paulina – Wow, how weird!

Ay, caray’ meaning

Just a quick note on ‘¡Ay, caray!’ since I’ve mentioned it so much in this article!

Ay, caray’ can also be used to express surprise, annoyance, and puzzlement. It’s almost always used as a standalone phrase and can normally be translated to either ‘Oh, wow!’, ‘Wow!’ (surprise or puzzlement), or ‘Darn it!’ (annoyance) in English.

Here’s an example –

María – ¡Ay, caray! Pensé que no iba a haber nadie aquí.

Isabella – Es que hoy es puente.

María – Oh, wow! I thought there’d be no-one here.

Isabella – It’s because today’s a national holiday.

‘Caray’ pronunciation

This one’s only two syllables, so shouldn’t prove too troublesome on the ol´ tongue!

The ‘ca’ is said like ‘kah’ and the ‘ray’ like ‘rai’.

Just remember that an ‘r’ between two vowels in Spanish ISN´T rolled (phew!) …

/ kah rai /

Final thoughts

For most Mexicans, ‘caray’ is an oldie but a goodie.

If you want to err on the side of caution or if you’re in a less casual situation, you should probably opt for ‘caray’ rather than ‘carajo’, and ‘ah, caray’ instead of ‘ah cabrón’, which are also very common expressions but not entirely suitable for every occasion!

In the end it all depends on where you are, who you´re with, and how you want to express yourself!

Be sure to check out our article on all the different ways to say damn‘ in Spanish if you’d like to learn even more useful Spanish vocab.

¡Hasta pronto!