‘Oído’ vs ‘oreja’

In short – whenever a Spanish speaker refers to ‘ear’ or ‘hearing’, they’ll use either the words ‘oído’ or ‘oreja’. Technically, ‘oído’ refers to the inner and middle ear and ‘oreja’ the outer part, but there’s some overlap in usage.

If you’re in Mexico, you might also hear someone saying that they’re craving an ‘oreja’ or be intrigued by the fact that there are doctors specialized in ‘oídos’ but never in ‘orejas’.

Hey, no one said Spanish was a piece of cake!

The good news is that you’ll find all there is to know about these Spanish words right here in this article, so keep scrolling!


‘Oído’ and ‘oreja’ can be used interchangeably when used as a synonym of –

1. ‘Ear’, as in the outer ear.

Gilberto tiene oídos pequeños /orejas pequeñas. = Gilberto has small ears.

Only ‘oído’ is used when referring to –

1. The sense of ‘hearing’.

Marina tiene excelente oído. = Marina’s hearing is excellent.

2. The middle and inner ‘ear’.

Le duele el oído desde ayer. = He’s had earache since yesterday.

3. ‘Ear’, as in the sense or act of hearing.

¡Tienes buen oído para la música! = You have a good ear for music!

Only ‘oreja’ is used when referring to –

1. A ‘handle’.

Se rompió la oreja de la taza. = The cup’s handle broke.

2. A ‘palmier’, as in the pastry (Latin America).

Las orejas son muy ricas. = Palmiers are very tasty.

3. A ‘cloverleaf highway interchange’ (Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru).

Toma la oreja para salir a la avenida principal. = Take the exit ramp to get to the main street.

4. A ‘spy’ or ‘informer’ (Mexico and Central America).

Lo tacharon de traidor por ser oreja de otro gobierno. = They called him a traitor for working as an informer for another government.

5. ‘Listening’ in certain colloquial expressions.

Para bien la oreja. = Listen carefully.

Oído’ vs ‘oreja

Strictly speaking, ‘oído’ and ‘oreja’ refer to specific parts of the ear as an organ –

  • ‘Oído’ = the middle and inner ear

  • ‘Oreja’ = the outer or external ear

The reality is that many people use ‘oído’ to refer to the whole ear, which is why it’s oftentimes used interchangeably with ‘oreja’

Lucía tiene los oídos perforados.

Lucía tiene las orejas perforadas*.

Lucía has pierced ears.

*Erika’s note – ‘oído’ is a masculine noun and ‘oreja’ is feminine. The adjective ‘perforados’ (or ‘pierced’ in English) changes to ‘perforadas’ when accompanying ‘orejas’ because Spanish adjectives must ALWAYS agree in number and gender with the nouns they describe.

‘Oreja’, on the other hand, is NEVER used to describe the inner or middle ear. If you speak about the internal parts of the ear you must use ‘oído’

Tengo un zumbido en la oreja el oído izquierdo.

I have a ringing in my left ear.

If you wanna refer to the sense or the act of ‘hearing’, you must also use ‘oído’ instead of ‘oreja’

Los perros tienen un sentido del oído hasta cuatro veces más agudo que el de los humanos.

Dogs’ sense of hearing is up to four times more acute than that of humans.

Sara – ¿Qué dijiste? No te escuché.

Carlos – ¿Estás mal del oído? Sería bueno que fueras con un otorrino.

Sara – What did you say? I didn’t hear you.

Carlos – Are you having trouble hearing? It’d be good if you went to an ear specialist.

Mi maestra de música tiene un oído excepcional.

My music teacher has an exceptional ear.

Other meanings of ‘oreja

‘Oreja’ has A LOT of different uses / colloquial meanings that vary from country to country.

And when I say a lot, I mean it; the following are the most common / important for you to know, since the full list is slightly beyond the scope of this article.

A cup’s handle

Also known as ‘asa’ in Spanish, the handle on a cup or a bottle is often referred to as an ‘oreja’ (and if you think about its shape, it kinda makes sense!) –

¡El café está* muy caliente! Agarra la taza por la oreja.

The coffee is very hot! Grab the cup by the handle.

Erika’s note – make sure to check out our article on está’ vs ‘es if you sometimes muddle up these two super common conjugations!

A palmier

Those delicious French biscuits made of puff pastry are known as ‘orejas’ in many Latin American countries (I bet you’ll picture them as ear-shaped from now on!).

If you visit Mexico, make sure to visit a local bakery; you’re sure to find many different types of oreja!

Bruno – Les traje orejas de mi panadería favorita.

David – ¡Gracias! ¿Trajiste cubiertas de chocolate?

Bruno – I brought you palmiers from my favorite bakery.

David – Thanks! Did you bring chocolate-dipped ones?

A cloverleaf highway interchange

In many countries the “cloverleaf” turns that take you on/off highways are known as ‘trébols’ (or ‘clover’ in English), but people in Venezuela, Colombia and Peru refer to them as ‘orejas’.

Voy a tener que tomar la oreja que lleva de vuelta a la avenida principal.

I’m going to have to take the exit ramp that leads back to the main avenue.

A spy

In Mexico and certain countries in Central America, ‘oreja’ might refer to a double agent or informer.

Dicen que Valeriano era oreja de la policia, y por eso tuvo que huir del país.

They say Valeriano was a stool pigeon, and that’s why he had to flee the country.

Listening / Paying attention

Finally, ‘oreja’ is also sometimes used when referring to ‘listening’, but in a colloquial way –

Cuando estés en la escuela aguza la oreja para que no pierdas detalle de lo que diga la maestra.

When at school listen carefully so you don’t lose the thread of what the teacher says.

Expressions with ‘oído’ / ‘oreja

Con las orejas gachas

This literally translates as ‘with one’s ears down’, but it’s actually the Spanish equivalent of ‘crestfallen’ or ‘with one’s tail between one’s legs’.

Llegó con las orejas gachas a pedirme que regresemos.

He came back with his tail between his legs to ask me to get back together.

Hacer oídos sordos

This phrase is like saying ‘to turn a deaf ear’

Creo que hizo oídos sordos del consejo que le dí.

I think she turned a deaf ear to the advice I gave her.

Final thoughts

I hope you now feel much more confident when using these Spanish words and, who knows, maybe you’ll even try one of the colloquial phrases and expressions with your Spanish-speaking friends!

Ready to master more Spanish vocab? Good, let’s explore the differences between flaco’ and ‘delgado next!

¡Hasta pronto!

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