‘Vato’ – Meaning / In English

In short – ‘Vato’ (or ‘bato’) is Mexican slang for ‘guy’ or ‘dude’, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) still defines a ‘bato’ as a ‘foolish’ or ‘silly’ man.

This is because the word ‘vato’ comes from Caló, a language spoken by the Spanish Romani. Expressions with ‘vato’ in Caló, such as ‘bato fulastre’ or ‘bato fu’, normally describe a ‘bad person’, a ‘swindler’ or someone of “little value”.

Nowadays, the word is so popular in Mexico that people use it in a similar way to the English word ‘bro’!

Wanna know how people use ‘vato’ in everyday spoken Spanish?

Well, let’s get into the nitty-gritty!

Bato’ or ‘vato’, which is correct?

Don’t be surprised if you find this word written with a ‘b’ AND a ‘v’!

But which is the correct spelling?

Well, even though you’ll find it spelled with a ‘b’ in most Spanish dictionaries, the Mexican Academy of Language recognizes BOTH forms as valid. So, if you see it written with a ‘v’, rest assured that it’s not misspelled!

Uses / Meanings of ‘vato

 ‘Vato’ can be used in the following ways –

  • When referring to an unknown man (Mexico)

  • As a synonym of ‘bro’ (Mexico)

  • To describe a young man or teenager (Northwest Mexico)

  • As a synonym of ‘fool’ (Spain)

  • As a synonym of ‘father’ (Spain)

When referring to an unknown man (Mexico)

‘Vato’ can be used in the same sense as ‘dude’ or ‘guy’ when describing an unknown man in casual conversation.

Una llamada telefónica dentro del aeropuerto

Andrés – ¿Ya llegaste? ¿Dónde estás? No te veo.

Pedro – Estoy junto a un vato de chamarra amarilla, no hay pierde.

A phone call inside the airport

Andrés – Have you arrived yet? Where are you? I can’t see you.

Pedro – I’m next to a guy in a yellow jacket, you can’t miss him.

As a synonym of ‘bro’ (Mexico)

But ‘vato’ isn’t only used to describe strangers … in Mexico a ‘vato’ can also be your pal, your best friend, or your ‘bro’.

Dos amigos se encuentran después de un largo tiempo

Manu – ¡Ese vato! ¡Qué alegría verte!

Iván – ¡Wey, a mí también* me da gusto verte! ¿Cómo has estado?

Two friends meet after a long time

Manu – Bro! It’s so nice to see you!

Ivan – Dude, it’s nice to see you too! How have you been?

*Erika’s top tip – ‘a mí también’ is a great way to say ‘me too’ in Spanish.

To describe a young man or teenager (Northwest Mexico)

Particularly in the northern states of Mexico, you’ll hear people refer to younger men as ‘vatos’, kinda similar to the way people use ‘lad’ in English.

Abuelo – A ver, vato, pásame la caja de herramientas.

Nieto – Sí, ¿dónde está?

Grandpa – Hey, lad, pass me the toolbox.

Grandson – Sure, where is it?

As a synonym of ‘fool’ (Spain)

As I explained at the beginning of this article, the word ‘bato’ in Spain often has a bit of a negative undertone.

It normally refers to someone who’s maybe not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

María José – ¿Conoces a Miguel? ¿Sabes cómo es?

Natalia – Ay, Majo, no me digas que te mola. Ese bato solo no pierde la cabeza porque la trae puesta.

María José – Do you know Miguel? How is he?

Natalia – Oh, Majo, don’t tell me you like him. The only reason that idiot doesn’t lose his head is because it’s glued to his neck.

As a synonym of ‘father’ (Spain)

On the other hand, you may also hear people in Spain refer to their dads as ‘batos’.

We can liken it to the way some Mexicans call their fathers ‘jefes’ (or ‘chiefs’), or to the expression ‘old man’ in English.

Daniela – Entonces, ¿podrás ir a la fiesta del* viernes?

Manuel – Aún debo preguntarle a mi bato.

Daniela – So, can you come to the party on Friday?

Manuel – I still have to ask my old man.

Erika’s note –del’ is the union of ‘de’ with the definite article ‘él’. Be sure to check out our article on de’ vs ‘del if you wanna find out more!

Vato’ pronunciation

To pronounce this word correctly, just divide it into two syllables:

/ bah-toh /

Common phrases / expressions with ‘vato

Vato loco

This one literally means ‘crazy dude’ and it’s the perfect way to describe that wild friend who parties like a madman, or that unique guy that always comes up with the wackiest ideas!

Wey, hay un vato loco gritando en la calle; yo creo que está pedísimo.

Dude, there’s a crazy guy screaming in the street; I think he’s really drunk.

Ese vato

This one translates to ‘that dude’ or ‘that guy’.

¡Ese vato me debe una lana desde hace años!

That dude has owed me money for years!

Final thoughts

That´s all for today, folks!

Hopefully next time you hear the word ‘vato’, you’ll be able to work out its meaning through context.

Wanna learn more fantastic Mexican slang? Make sure you mosey on down to our article on the colloquial uses of the verb rifarse (and all its variations!) You’re in for a linguistic treat!

¡Hasta pronto!

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