In Spanish, both poco and pequeño can be translated as ‘little’. So even though these words refer to different qualities they’re still easily confused by Spanish learners. Since these words are not synonyms, many people wonder what the difference is between ‘poco’ and ‘pequeño’ in Spanish.
‘Poco’ is used to talk about amounts. It works either as an adverb or an adjective of quantity and means ‘little’, ‘few’ or ‘a little bit of’. ‘Pequeño’ is always an adjective and it describes the size or the age of a person or an object. It means ‘little’, ‘small’, ‘short’, ‘tiny’ or ‘young’.
Since they’re referring to different things, confusing ‘poco’ and ‘pequeño’ will affect both your fluency and conversational skills. For that reason, in the following sections, we’ll provide you with rules as well as some examples to see them in real-world conversations. By the end, ‘poco’ and ‘pequeño’ will no longer be a vocabulary problem for you.
What’s the Difference Between ‘Poco’ and ‘Pequeño’?
As synonyms of ‘little’, ‘poco’ and ‘pequeño’ may seem synonymous. However, these words not only describe or refer to different qualities / quantities but also they work with different elements. In the following table, you’ll find the key differences between these two words.
- Gina es mi hermana pequeña.
Gina is my little sister.
- Dora tiene pocas cosas en su casa.
Dora has few things in her house.
- Los zapatos que compré están muy pequeños.
The shoes that I bought are very small.
- Mi vecino habla un poco de español.
My neighbour speaks a little bit of Spanish.
Now that you have a general and quick understanding of the differences between ‘poco’ and ‘pequeño’, let’s talk about the contexts and the rules you need to follow to use these words.
How & When to Use ‘Poco’
In Spanish, ‘poco’ allows us to refer or to talk about amounts. Depending on the context, ‘poco’ could be working either as an adjective or as an adverb of quantity. Therefore, ‘poco’ is a word that measures objects or actions. As a result, it can be translated as:
- A little bit
- Not much / not many
Measuring Actions - Little / A little bit
When working as an adverb, ‘poco’ measures the actions expressed by a verb. In this situation, ‘poco’ is placed after the verb and it can be translated as ‘little’, ‘a little bit’ or ‘not much’. Here are some examples of using ‘poco’ in this context:
Sé muy poco español.
I know very little Spanish.
¡Comieron muy poco! ¿No tienen hambre?
You guys ate very little. Aren’t you hungry?
La verdad estudié poco para el examen.
To be honest, I didn’t study much for the test.
¿No crees que tu ropa es un poco pequeña?
Don’t you think that your clothes are a little bit small?
Kim es bastante tímida y habla muy poco con otras personas.
Kim is very shy and talks very little with other people.
Take note: You can intensify your sentence by adding ‘muy’ between the verb and ‘poco’. However, adding this word is completely optional.
Measuring People and Objects - Few / Little
As an adjective, ‘poco’ can be used to talk about measuring or describing the amount or number of objects or people. Therefore in this situation, ‘poco’ would be translated either as a ‘few’ or ‘little’. In this context, ‘poco’ is quantifying a noun, as a result, it needs to use plural or feminine forms when needed.
En mi clase hay muy pocos estudiantes canadienses.
There are very few Canadian students in my class.
Quedan pocas maletas y no veo la mía, tal vez se perdió.
There are few suitcases and I don’t see mine, maybe it’s lost.
Hoy hay muy poca gente en la calle, ¿es un día feriado?
Today there are very few people on the street, is it a holiday?
¡Ándale! ¡Dame mis cosas! Tengo poco tiempo para llegar al trabajo.
Come on! Give me my stuff back! I have little time to get to work.
Mi cocina tiene muy pocos utensilios porque no sé cocinar muy bien.
My kitchen has very few utensils because I don’t know how to cook very well.
Note: When using ‘poco’ to measure objects or groups of people, this adjective needs to match with the gender and numbers of the noun. As a result, you need to choose between ‘poco’, ‘pocos’, ‘pocas’ and ‘poca’.
What Does Poquito Mean in Spanish?
Many Spanish learners get confused when hearing the word poquito. However, ‘poquito’ is only the diminutive form of ‘poco’ which means we use these words in the same contexts and with the same rules. Depending on the context, ‘poquito’ could be translated as:
- So little
- Little bit
Even though it’s not a rule of thumb, many Spanish speakers use ‘poquito’ as a way to intensify their sentence.
¡Qué poquito dormí!
I slept so little!
Hay muy poquita gente en el avión.
There are very few people on the plane.
Estoy un poquito aburrida, ¿quieres hacer otra cosa?
I’m a little bit bored, do you want to do something else?
Emma lleva muy poquitas cosas en su maleta.
Emma has very few things in her suitcase.
¡Chicos les queda poquito tiempo para terminar su proyecto!
Guys you have little time left to finish your project!
How & When to Use ‘Pequeño’
In Spanish, ‘pequeño’ is an adjective that describes an object’s or person’s size. It can also be used to describe someone’s age or youth. Depending on the context, ‘pequeño’ could be translated as:
As an adjective, ‘pequeño’ has plural and feminine forms and they need to match to the noun that you’re describing. Here are some examples to see it in practice:
Laura es mi hermana más pequeña.
Laura is my youngest sister.
La novia de David es muy pequeña.
David’s girlfriend is so small.
Jason y yo tenemos dos perros pequeños.
Jason and I have two small dogs.
¡Me encantan las casas pequeñas! ¡Son tan lindos!
I love tiny houses! They’re so cute!
¿Tiene otra talla? Este pantalón es demasiado pequeño.
Do you have another size? These pants are too small.
‘Pequeño’ can also be used to build expressions, such as when you start you sentences with ‘qué’:
¡Mira! ¡Qué pequeños son esos zapatos!
Look how tiny those shoes are!
¡Qué pequeña eres! Te ves más alta en tus fotos.
You’re so short! You look taller in your pictures.
¡Qué pequeño es el mundo! No sabía que Marco es tu hermano.
What a small world! I didn’t know that Marco is your brother.
Take note: ‘Pequeño’ has multiple translations and meanings, but they’re all referring to size or age. Determining the meaning of this adjective will depend on the context.
Using ‘pequeño’ in expressions is similar to what we saw earlier with ‘poco’:
¡Ay, mira! ¡Qué perrito tan pequeño!
Oh my God, look! What a small dog!
Mariana, ¡qué letra tan pequeña tiene tu libro! Te vas a lastimar los ojos.
Mariana, what a small font your book has! You’re going to hurt your eyes!
Since they can be translated as ‘little’, poco and pequeño are easily confused by Spanish learners. However, as we discussed in this article, these words are not interchangeable because they’re referring to different things.
We established that ‘poco’ is used to talk about amounts while ‘pequeño’ describes size or age. Here are some important key points to remember when using these two words:
- It can be either an adjective or adverb of quantity.
- Describes or measures amounts.
- As an adverb, qualifies the action presented by the verb. It means ‘little’, ‘a little bit’ or ‘not much’.
- As an adjective, measures the amount of a certain object, number of objects or group of people.
- When working as an adjective, ‘poco’ has feminine (poca) and plural (pocos / pocas) forms.
- It means ‘few’ or ‘little’. Poquito is the diminutive form of ‘poco’.
- It’s an adjective and it describes nouns.
- Qualifies or describes the size of a person or an object.
- It can be used to talk about the age or the youth of a person.
- Depending on the context, it means ‘small’, ‘little’, ‘short’, ‘tiny’ or ‘young’.
- Has feminine (pequeña) and plural (pequeños / pequeñas) forms.
Hopefully, now these words are un poco más fáciles for you and you’re ready to start applying them in your conversations.