In short – ‘Flaco’ and ‘delgado’ are BOTH synonyms of ‘thin’ or ‘slim’ when describing human bodies of slender build. However, just like their English counterparts, they can both be used to describe other nouns.
If you want to up your Spanish game, understanding the subtleties of common words like ‘flaco’ and ‘delgado’ is essential!
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!
‘Delgado’ and ‘flaco’ can be used interchangeably the following way –
- As a synonym of ‘slender’ or ‘thin’ as in ‘small or narrow in circumference or width in proportion to length or height’ (Mi hermano es muy delgado/flaco = My brother is very slim)
‘Delgado’ can also be used as a synonym of –
- ‘Fine’ or ‘slender’ (¡Tus manos son tan delgadas! = Your hands are so slender!)
- ‘Thin’ (Esa tela es muy delgada = That fabric is very thin)
- ‘Clever’ (Spain) (Sus delgados comentarios estaban a la orden del día = Her clever comments were the order of the day)
‘Flaco’ can also be used in the following ways –
- As a synonym of ‘skinny’ (Muchas adolescentes sienten presión por ser hiper flacas = Many teenagers feel pressure to be super skinny)
- As a synonym of ‘weak’ (Tenía un flaca voluntad para afrontar la vida = He could barely conjure up the will to face life)
- As a pet name (¡Hola, flaco! ¿Cómo has estado? = Hey, flaco! How have you been?
- As a synonym of ‘guy’ or ‘girl’ (South America) (Ese flaco me debe dinero = That guy owes me money)
- In its feminine form it’s used as a euphemism for ‘la Santa Muerte’ or ‘the holy death’ in Latin America (Mucha gente le reza a la Flaca = Many people pray to the Flaca)
‘Flaco’ vs ‘delgado’
When used interchangeably, ‘flaco’ and ‘delgado’ are used to describe a person of slender build –
Mi hijo es igual de delgado/flaco que su padre cuando tenía su edad.
My son is just as thin as his father was at his age.
HOWEVER, even when used as a synonym of ‘slender’ or ‘slim’, each word has specific connotations. ‘Flaco’ is often used derogatorily, whereas ‘delgado’ is much more associated with neutral, positive or even flattering overtones.
Te veo muy delgado. ¿Hiciste dieta?
You look so thin. Did you diet?
¡Estás bien flaco! ¿Estás comiendo bien?
You’re too skinny! Are you eating well?
That said, you WILL sometimes come across examples of ‘delgado’ being used pejoratively and ‘flaco’ as a complement, but not as often.
Other uses of ‘flaco’ and ‘delgado’
As you can see in our key takeaways section, there are quite a few other ways to use these adjectives! A good way to understand them is by looking at their noun forms:
‘Delgadez’ = ’thinness’ / ‘fineness’
La delgadez de la tela era tal que casi era transparente.
The fabric was so thin that it was almost transparent.
‘Flaqueza’ = ‘weakness’ / ‘frailty’
Es fácil juzgar la flaqueza en los demás.
It’s easy to judge weakness in others.
This explains why ‘delgado’ is also used as a synonym of ‘fine’ or ‘delicate’ –
El bebé nació con el cabello delgado y cobrizo.
The baby was born with fine, auburn hair.
‘Flaco’, on the other hand, can be used to mean ‘skinny’ or ‘weak’ –
Aldo se ve bien flaco, pero es más fuerte de lo que imaginas.
Aldo looks skinny, but he’s stronger than you imagine.
‘Flaco’ and ‘delgado’ in slang
Apart from their more formal associations, these Spanish adjectives are also used in a number of slang / colloquial expressions in certain countries.
Mostly in Spain, for example, ‘delgado’ can be used to describe someone or something ‘clever’ or ‘witty’ –
¿Qué me recomiendas? Podría usar alguna delgada idea para salir de este embrollo.
What do you recommend? I could use some clever idea to get out of this mess.
Now let’s move onto ‘flaco’, which actually has a lot of interesting uses in colloquial language!
In South America – especially in Paraguay – ‘flaco’ is used to describe any young person, akin to ‘wey’ in Mexico and ‘tío’ in Spain –
Bianca – ¿Te gusta ese flaco?
Alexis – Sí, me parece lindo.
Bianca – Do you like that guy?
Alexis – Yeah, I think he’s cute.
In Central and North America, the feminine form ‘flaca’ is used as a euphemism for either ‘death’ or the religious figure ‘la Santa Muerte’ (or ‘the holy death’ in English) –
En ese barrio viven muchos santeros que le rezan a la Flaca.
There are many ‘santeros’ in that neighborhood who pray to the Holy Death.
Erika’s note – The diminutive of ‘flaca’, ‘flaquita’ is also a very common euphemism for this religious figure.
Finally, in Latin America – especially in Mexico – ‘flaco’ is also used as an affectionate pet name used between couples, relatives and even friends! –
Voy a preguntarle a mi flaco si quiere ir al cine conmigo esta noche.
I’m gonna to ask my beau if he wants to go to the movies with me tonight.
Expressions with ‘flaco’ / ‘delgado’
Un flaco favor
A ‘flaco favor’ translates literally as a ‘thin favor’ and it’s a Spanish expression that actually describes a ‘disservice’ –
Me hiciste un flaco favor el día que decidiste exponer cosas que te dije en confidencia.
You did me a disservice the day you decided to expose things I told you in confidence.
Hopefully you’ve now mastered the subtle –and not-so-subtle – differences between ‘flaco’ and ‘delgado’ in Spanish. I did my best not to do you a ‘flaco favor’ in the process!
Ready to expand your Spanish vocab even further? Well, look no further than our piece on ‘qué pasa’ and ‘qué pasó’.