‘Carnal’ – Meaning in Mexican Spanish

Did you just get called ‘carnal’ by your Mexican pal and had literally no idea what they were talking about?

Well, a quick search in a Spanish dictionary will probably leave you even more befuddled! Are you ‘lustful’ or ‘blood related’? Errr, not really.

There must be something more to this …

In short – ‘carnal’ is an extremely common Mexican expression, akin to ‘brother’, ‘pal’ or ‘buddy’ in English.

Carnal’ derives from the Latin ‘carnalis’, which means ‘of the flesh’. In Spanish, the expression ‘deseo carnal’ (or ‘carnal desire’) is a synonym of ‘lust’, and ‘primo carnal’ means ‘first cousin’ – think of the expression ‘own flesh and blood’ in English and you’ll get the gist!

In Mexico (especially in Mexico City!), ‘carnal’ does have the above connotations, BUT it’s also used in a non-literal way, to convey closeness and kinship towards someone, even if he / she’s NOT actually a relative.

Anyway, let’s take a look at how to actually use it in everyday conversation!

Uses / Meanings of ‘carnal

In Mexican Spanish, ‘carnal’ is mostly used in the following ways –

  • As a synonym of ‘brother’

  • As a synonym of ‘friend’

As a synonym of ‘brother

Even though the Spanish equivalent of the word ‘brother’ is ‘hermano’, many people in Mexico use ‘carnal’ instead.

And what about ‘sister’?

Well, I’m glad you asked! You’d address / refer to your sister as ‘carnala’.

Un par de amigos adolescentes

Hugo – Oye, ¿tu carnal no nos podría llevar en su coche al concierto?

Mireya – No creo que quiera…anda enojado conmigo desde que lo castigaron por mi culpa.

Two teenage friends

Hugo – Hey, couldn’t your brother take us to the concert in his car?

Mireya – I don’t think he’ll be up for it … he’s been angry with me ever since I got him in trouble.

Braulio – ¿Por qué llegaste a la escuela con Sarahí?

Gabo – Pues porque es mi carnala.

Braulio – ¿Neta? ¡No parecen carnales!

Braulio – Why did you come to school with Sarahí?

Gabo – Well, she IS my sister.

Braulio – Seriously? You don’t look like siblings!

Solo tengo un carnal, pero vive en Brasil desde hace cinco años.

I only have one brother, but he moved to Brazil five years ago.

As a synonym of ‘friend

HOWEVER, as I mentioned previously, ‘carnal’ can also be used to refer to someone who isn’t related to you at all!

It’s generally a synonym of ‘pal’, ‘buddy’ and the likes, and people often use it to seem friendlier when addressing someone they don’t know!

Also, it might be worth mentioning that ‘carnala’ is much less popular amongst women; I normally hear Mexican women addressing one another as ‘amiga’ or wey.

Erika’s note – since Mexico City is the birthplace of ‘carnal’ as a colloquial term, it’s mostly associated with “Chilangos” (i.e., inhabitants of Mexico City)!

Joaquín, Melisa y yo somos carnales de toda la vida. ¡Nos conocemos desde el kinder!

Joaquín, Melisa and I are lifelong friends. We’ve known each other since kindergarten!

Al encargado en una cafetería

Milton – Disculpa carnal, ¿me podrías compartir la contraseña del WiFi?

To a staff member in a coffee shop

Milton – Excuse me, pal; could I have the WiFi password?

Dos viejos amigos se encuentran en el cine

Marcos – ¿Lalo?

Lalo – ¡Qué pedo*, carnal! ¡Qué gusto verte!

Two old friends bump into each other at the cinema

Marcos – Lalo?

Lalo – What’s up, bro! So nice to see you!

*Erika’s top tip – ‘qué pedo’ is a super popular informal greeting in Mexico. It’s akin to ‘what’s up’ and is one of MANY expressions with the word ‘pedo’, or ‘fart’ in English!

By the way, if you wanna top up on your Mexican slang, you NEED to check out our “Master Guide” … it’s everything you need to know all in one place 👇🌵🇲🇽

Erika pointing to the word "Mexican Slang Master Guide"

Mi carnal’ meaning

‘Mi carnal’ basically translates as ‘my brother’ and, as in the examples above, it can be used to refer to a biological brother or just a really good friend –

En el concierto de rock de tu mejor amigo

¡Ese es mi carnal!

At your best friend’s rock concert

That’s my man!

Although it’s less common amongst people who don’t know each other, don’t be surprised if you sometimes find yourself on the receiving end of ‘mi carnal’ from a perfect stranger –

En un puesto de tacos

Cliente – ¿Me da dos órdenes de tacos al pastor, por favor?

Taquero – Claro que sí, mi carnal. Salen enseguida.

At a taco stand

Customer – Can I have two orders of tacos al pastor, please?

Taco vender – Of course, my brother. Coming right up.

Carnal’ pronunciation

The ‘car’ in ‘carnal’ is said like ‘kahr’, and ‘nal’ sounds like ‘nahl’.

/ kahr-nahl /

Similar expressions to ‘carnal

Carnalito / Carnalita

The diminutive of ‘carnal’ is ‘carnalito’ (‘carnalita’ for feminine), and it’s another incredibly popular way of saying ‘bro’ or ‘pal’!

Te presento a Lety, mi carnalita.

This is Lety, my little sis.

Valedor / Valedora

These two words actually translate to ‘defender’ in English (huh?!), BUT in Mexico City they also mean ‘buddy’, ‘pal’ and the likes.

¿Cónoces a Gustavo? ¡Es mi valedor desde que éramos chiquitos!

Do you know Gustavo? We’ve been buddies since we were little!

Wey / Güey

Wey’ (or güey) is probably the MOST POPULAR way of saying ‘bro’ or ‘pal’ in Mexican slang!

¿Wey, dónde andas? Te estamos esperando para ir a la fiesta…córrele.

Bro, where are you? We’re waiting for you to go to the party … hurry up.

Final thoughts

And that’s all you need to know about ‘carnal’ in Mexican Spanish! Hopefully you’ll now start referring to your Mexican pals as ‘carnalitos’; I’m sure they’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Oh, and if you wanna learn more colloquial Mexican Spanish, definitely mosey on down to our article on the meaning of ‘garnacha’! Just make sure to have your favorite food delivery app at the ready, because you’re gonna be craving some Mexican grub afterwards.

¡Hasta la próxima!

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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