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Is a “cartera” really a “purse?”

A week or two ago, I was going through a Spanish Duolingo lesson when I came upon a thread that had me questioning how well I really knew what the following words meant:

bolsa – cartera – bolso – billetero – monedero

The truth of the matter was, my notions of each of these were a little fuzzier than they should be at this stage, so I took the time to correct that using various online tools. I’ll share with you what I discovered.

In large part, I used translations of the words above as found at Reverso. I’ll describe in detail what I discovered there:

“bolsa” and “bolso” and their counterparts

The words “bolsa” and “bolso” are rarely, if ever, translated as “wallet,” “billfold,” “money clip,” or “change purse”; their closest counterparts in English — “bag,” “purse,” and “handbag,” on the other hand, are sometimes translated as

bag: “maleta” (suitcase), “cartera” (wallet), “maletín” (briefcase), “valija” (valise)
purse: “cartera” (wallet), “billetera” (wallet), “monedero” (coin purse)
handbag: “cartera” (wallet), “maletín” (briefcase)

Just so nobody gets confused, for all purposes here a “bag” can be a handbag or a purse (among many other things). A purse is a small bag used to carry personal items and is typically worn by women. A handbag is the same thing as a purse; it’s just a less frequently used word for it. I suppose if you wanted to split hairs, one might consider a purse a small bag of any type and a handbag a purse designed to be carried by hand. I’ll try to keep that in mind going forward, but the sources I’ve looked at thus far indicate the two words — purse and handbag — are synonymous and interchangeable. I must say that, from personal experience, the word “handbag” often seems to be associated with refinement and luxury. It’s been quite some time since I’ve visited a high-end department store, but if memory serves me correctly, the word “handbag” is more commonly used in such a place than is the word “purse.” For the purposes of this post, I’ll try to treat the two terms equally.


The word “bag” sometimes gets translated as “saco,” but “saco” more often refers to a “jacket,” “sports coat,” or “blazer” than it does to a “bag,” unless that “bag” is a “sleeping bag.” The word “saco” can also refer to a “boxing bag,” or a “sack” as in a “sack of food.” It looks as if some might refer to it as a “purse,” but that appears to be uncommon. When “saco” is translated as “bag,” its meaning appears to be rather generic. Some examples:

bag of bones
saco de huesos

to put it in the bag
ponerlo en el saco

bag of wind
saco de viento

bag full of money
saco lleno de dinero

The word “bag” also sometimes gets translated as “maletín” whose translation in bilingual dictionaries, and in images that surface for it, indicate this is usually referring to a briefcase of some sort.

The word “bag” is also sometimes translated as “valija,” whose closest etymological match appears to be the English word “valise” which means small case or suitcase. It was borrowed from the French and at one time referred to a “soldier’s kit bag.” Via images, it now appears to be used to refer to carry-on luggage.

You might be wondering if there exists any differences in meaning when “bag” is translated as “bolsa” and when it is translated as “bolso.” If you’re referring to a bag in general, the short answer is “no,” but it appears that “bolsa” is more commonly used for such things. To paint a clearer picture, however, here are some examples so you can see what I mean:

The cells highlighted in green indicate which of the variants is more frequent — the one with “bolsa” or the one with “bolso.” If you are having difficulty viewing this image, right click on it and open it in a new tab or window.

Clearly, as you continue your study of Spanish, some things are going to make sense to you and others you’ll just have to learn as you go. With regard to “bolsa” and “bolso,” however, here are some things commonly formed with “bolsa” and others commonly formed with “bolso.”

And then sometimes English uses the word “bag” in a way that doesn’t involve the use of “bolsa” or “bolso” at all. Some examples of what I mean:

When your “bags” aren’t interchangeable: a few words on collocations

Spanish, like English, has its own collocations. Sometimes these collocations can be interchanged with similar words. For example, “paper bag” is a collocation in English, but so is “paper sack.” Of the two, however, one is more common than the other. If you’re a native speaker of English, you probably already know which one. Can you guess? Yeah, it’s “paper bag.” If you refer to this:

as “paper sack” instead of a “paper bag,” people will know what you mean and probably not even notice that you used the less common pairing. But, if you always call it a “paper sack” instead of the more common “paper bag,” or don’t ever use both names alternately for it, it becomes a peculiar speech pattern or tendency. Furthermore, if you insist that it is a “paper sack” and not a “paper bag,” others will find your insistence on one or the other completely ludicrous because, in this instance, the word “bag” and “sack” are completely interchangeable. This won’t always be the case, but as a native speaker of English, you’ll know when these two words are interchangeable and when they aren’t simply from the exposure to the English language you’ve had since birth.

The same can be applied to Spanish, which is already partially addressed in the chart above where the frequency of “bolsa” is compared the frequency of “bolso” in some common phrases. Just as English has some collocations with “bag” that “sack” does not (e.g., paper bag/sleeping bag vs. potato sack/hit the sack) “bolsa” has some collocations that “bolso” does not and this also checks out with what I found over at the Real Academia Española.

Regarding collocations for “bolsa,” it appears that “plastic bag” is almost always “bolsa de plástico” (more than four times as common as “bolso de plástico” on web pages found via a Google search) and “paper bag” is almost always “bolsa de papel” (more than three times more common than “bolso de papel”). Those phrases and other collocations with “bolsa” do not appear to be all that interchangeable with the word “bolso.” Collocations with “bolso” appear to be fewer and less solidified than those for “bolsa.”

The same thing could be said of “sack” with respect to “bag.” In other words, collocations for “bag” seem to be more numerous, more entrenched, and less interchangeable than those for “sack.” In the first two collocations WordReference provides, 12 examples are provided for “bag.” Of those 12 examples, nine are really not all that interchangeable with “sack” (e.g., leather, carrier, tote, messenger, sleeping, shopping, golf, diaper, travel, camera). WordReference provides six examples of collocations for “sack” (in its first two listed collocations), but only one sounds really odd if used with “bag” instead. (We say “potato sack” and not “potato bag,” (“potato sack” is three times more common) even though “bag of potatoes” and “sack of potatoes” sounds perfectly fine and, in fact, “bag of potatoes” is more common.)

With regard to “bolso,” the only collocations I can think of off the top of my head are “bolso de mano,” “bolso de hombro,” and “bolso de viaje.” If you know of others please add them to the comments section. As for collocations with “bolsa,” you’ll find several. Here are some of them:

If you’re having difficulty viewing this chart, right click on the image and open it in a new tab or window, and you should be able to see it just fine.

Let’s simplify and clarify

A “bolso” is a “purse”

From El Palacio de Hierro, a department store in Mexico

The word “purse” can be translated with both “bolso” and “bolsa,” but it appears that the preference is for “bolso.”
From the Spanish department store El Corte Inglés and the Mexican department store El Palacio de Hierro

Via images that surface in a search, the word “bolsa” appears to be a more generic term that can refer to any number of things to include purses, shopping bags, as well as grocery sacks and lunch sacks.

Where do they use “bolsa” instead of “bolso” to refer to a “purse?” Well, according to one comment I saw in a WordReference forum, “bolsa” is the word for “purse” in Guatemala. It is true that I did visit at least one Guatemalan website that used “bolsa” to refer to “purse,” but I also took a look at both “bolsa” and “bolso” on Guatemalan websites, in particular, news sites — Guatemalan news sites. In the first three stories I found that discussed “purses” or “handbags,” none used “bolsa” to refer to “purse”; they used “bolso.” The headlines and links to these stories follow:

“Muere Kate Spade, la artista de los bolsos retro”

“Estos bolsos guatemaltecos están causando furor en Nueva York”
—Soy 502

“El increíble precio de uno de los bolsos de Blue Ivy, la hija de Beyoncé”
—Publinews Guatemala

Tureng also mentions that “bolsa” is the word for “purse” in Mexico, and that may be true in some parts of Mexico, but at least according to what I’ve seen offered in its department stores, that doesn’t seem to be the case. When it comes to Mexican newspapers, however, that’s a different story. In fact, I’d say it’s a “mixed bag.” Here are some examples:

“Bolsas con perlas: la elegancia llega al street style”
—Glamour México

“Maravillosos inventos para conservar tus bolsos perfectos”
—Diario La Verdad

“Entre colores y tradición potosinos tejen futuro con bolsas de ixtle”
—El Universal

But as far as where people use “bolsa” exclusively to mean “purse,” I haven’t found it. In discussion threads I’ve read where some claim that the word for “bolsa” is purse, I sense that this is true on a colloquial level, but not in standard Spanish. And if a newspaper has chosen to use the word “bolsa,” I would suspect that it is a reference to a specific type of purse as in bolsa de ixtle, or an attempt to be less formal, or for stylistic reasons. For example, “bolsas con perlas” has a better “ring” to it than “bolsos con perlas,” because the endings are similar. (In fact the full article for “Bolsas con perlas” does revert back to “bolsos” to refer to “purses” in the body of the story.)

Even so, there are several indications that other words besides “bolso” are used to mean “purse.” In fact, this is what you will find at Tureng:

chauchera (P.R.) – cartucho (Pan., P.R.) – tanque (Spain) – monedero

or handbag:

cartera (Lat. Am.) – faltriqueralimosobre (America) – bulto (Mex.)

P.R. = Puerto Rico, Pan. = Panama, Lat. Am. = Latin America, Mex. = Mexico

But don’t take what you find at Tureng (or anywhere else) as gospel truth about which term to use where. For example, Tureng will tell you that a “chauchera” means “purse” in Puerto Rico. Well, that may be true, but images I saw of it made it look more like a coin purse. A “cartucho” in either Panama or Puerto Rico is more likely to mean “cartridge,” as in the kind a printer needs. Again, not a purse. A “tanque” is more likely to mean a “tank” in Spain, or anywhere else. And with “monedero,” again, most likely it is referring to a coin purse. With “cartera” there’s a little more evidence that it can exclusively mean “purse,” but I’ll get to that in a bit.

As for a “faltriquera,” it is a purse, but a very specific type of purse, not a generic term for purses in general.

A “limo” has many different meanings in Spanish (e.g., “silt,” “slime,” “mud”) and among them is “handbag” according to at least a couple of dictionaries, but it doesn’t appear to be its first meaning. In fact, WordReference doesn’t even include it as a definition for “handbag” or “purse.” Collins does list it after “slime” and “mud,” but also adds that it is “very informal.” Also, don’t think that “limo” is the word you can substitute in Spanish for the shortened version of a “limousine” (but this may be becoming true for Spanish speakers in the United States where some convergence of languages surely must be occurring). Although many images of a limousine will surface in a search for “limo,” and even if you filter for Spanish pages only, you’ll notice that most of the images that surface are from American limousine rental companies. Furthermore, according to the Real Academia Española, the word “limo” still only means “mud” or “silt.” A “limousine” is a “limusina” and it doesn’t look as if it is shortened in Spanish. (If you know differently, please add it to a comment.)

A “sobre?” It’s more likely to refer to an “envelope, not a purse.
You can find “sobres” like the ones you see above by visiting this link. It will take you to a page of purses in this style at Amazon for Spain.

If “sobre” does refer to a purse, it’s likely to be one of those types of purses that resembles an envelope, (also known as a “clutch” purse in English), but clues to other common uses can also be found on the disambiguation page for “Sobre” on Spanish Wikipedia:

According to Collins, “sobre” is a Latin American reference to “handbag,” but obviously you can find purses of this type and described by the same name on Amazon for Spain, so perhaps this meaning is a bit more universal and not just restricted to one side of the pond.

And finally, there’s “bulto.” For starters, I’m just going to say that an image search for “bulto” may not be something you should attempt if you’re younger than 17, even if you have “safe search” on, but if shirtless men with tight jeans (or other less than fully clad images) don’t bother you, and your parents are okay with it, by all means, take a look for yourself. As you will see, none of these are images of a “handbag,” but if you do a specific search for a “bolso bulto,” or a “bulto bolso” you will see that it clearly refers to a certain style of “handbag” … perhaps one like these:

If you’re in Venezuela, however, “bulto” appears to be a reference to a “child’s backpack.” Either way, the word “bulto” isn’t a generic term for “handbag” or “purse,” and if I were to present all the many types of “handbags” or “purses” you’ll find in the Spanish-speaking world, I could probably write a book. Since some of you may find this too long as it is, I’ll leave it at what you find in this section here and only because I want to clear up some confusion the entries for “purse” and “handbag” may have given you if you looked the word up on Tureng.

To wrap this section up, suffice it to say that regardless of Spanish-speaking country, and in most cases I’ve seen thus far, “bolso” refers to an item you wear or carry to transport personal items, often this includes money of some sort. It may be big or it may be small, but usually, the word “bolso” is what you call it. The word “bolsa,” on the other hand, is a more generic term that can be made more specific with the addition of more qualifiers (e.g., “de deporte,” “de playa,” “de naranjas”).

A “cartera” is a “wallet”

The words “cartera” and “wallet” have a very close association, but sometimes, “cartera” is translated as “purse” and vice versa (at least as found on Reverso). You’ll find slightly more translations of “purse” as “cartera” (1,031) than “cartera” as “purse” (1,016), but a lot of different things can be attributed to translations from and to a language and this discrepancy — 1,031 vs. 1,016 — is extremely small. Furthermore, an image search for “cartera” returns results that start off with what can be safely called “handbags” (or “purses,” if you prefer). Until now, I personally have always associated “wallet” with “cartera.” In fact, until I read the Duolingo discussion thread that led me to write this article, I had not known it was a fairly common translation of “purse.” Despite the numerous translations of “cartera” as “purse” at Reverso, a scan of Spanish news headlines and books reveals that “cartera” is much more likely to be used to mean either “wallet” or “portfolio” (as in “financial portfolio”). But again, I’ll return to the subject of “cartera” later.

A “billetera” isn’t just for men

The word “billetera” seems to have a tighter connection to the word “wallet,” than does “cartera.” In other words, “billetera” usually means “wallet” and not much else, even if there might be a few different translations of it (e.g., billfold). That said, it is not nearly as common of a word as “cartera.” However, the preference to translate “cartera” as “wallet” and “wallet” as “cartera” (instead of “billetera”), at least as seen via Reverso, is so slight as to almost not be worth mentioning. They look pretty interchangeable. Here are some examples:

I was walking behind you, and you... dropped your wallet.
Caminaba detrás de ti y... se te cayó la cartera.

You dropped your wallet.
Se le cayó la billetera.

He found your wallet on the sidewalk.
Encontró tu cartera en la acera.

I found your wallet and I wanted to return it.
Encontré su billetera y quería devolverla.

When I saw my picture in your wallet, my heart fluttered.
Cuando vi mi foto en su cartera, mi corazón se agitó.

There's a picture in my wallet.
Hay una foto en mi billetera.

Although some will tell you that “billetera” is something for men and images that surface for “billetera” are often images of wallets that look more like those men would want to purchase, technically, they can be for any gender.

Here are some images from a store that specializes in accessories of this type in Venezuela:

As you can see, the style of “billeteras” for women appears to be slightly different than that for men, but the same is true for wallets here in the United States. We still call them wallets, rather than some special name for the version created, designed, and marketed for females.

You can read more about “billeteras” at the Spanish Wikipedia entry for:


Don’t worry, “billetera” is covered in this Wikipedia entry. You can also switch to the English version of the page, which takes you to the page for “Wallet,” but it isn’t exactly the same thing. If you want to know about a “billetera” specifically, stick with the Spanish Wikipedia page and translate it yourself and/or with the help of a machine translator (e.g., Google Translate) or, even better, a native Spanish speaker who is fluent in English.

Your best word for “coin purse”

The word “monedero” is most often translated as “purse” (at least in Reverso translations). This is followed by “wallet” and “change purse” (although “coin purse” appears to be more common for most users of the English language). For various reasons, the association “monedero” has with “coin purse” seems to make sense, but how is it used when it is translated as “purse” or “wallet?” Pretty much the same way you’d see it used for “bolso” or “cartera.” In fact, the translations I saw of it were somewhat loose, so I’d probably reserve the word “monedero” for “coin purse” and let “bolso” suffice for “purse.”

Though some words have more than one meaning, most are related to money

Some of these words in this post have more than one meaning as has already been seen, but some stray even beyond what has been mentioned already. For example, “monedero” can mean “purse,” as in a sum of money awarded as a prize, and “bolsa” can mean “stock exchange.” Clearly, both additional meanings are related to money of some sort, but they aren’t literally referring to a bag or sack in which money is held.

Other examples of words that have more than one meaning include the word “billetera,” which can also refer to a “female lottery ticket seller” and again “monedero,” the word you have learned for “coin purse,” but here I want to point out that “Monedero” is also a Spanish surname. In fact, some may be more familiar with the Spanish politician Juan Carlos Monedero than with the association of “monedero” to “coin purse.” (I sense there’s a joke in there somewhere.)

In case any of you are confused already, I made this chart that may help you keep all of these terms straight:

Back to “bolsa” and “bolso”

A while back I was compiling a list of nouns that ended in –o and those that ended in –a. Occasionally, I would come across a noun that took both endings with different meanings for each. Oddly enough, I kept coming across examples where the variant ending in –o would refer to something larger than the variant ending in –a. I think I may have even been told that this is a loose rule of thumb one can apply, but after reading this article here:

“Doubly Gendered: Nouns Whose Meanings Change With Gender,”

I no longer think that. But no rule of thumb, especially a loosely created one is ever without exceptions. As far as this article goes, though, I’m only thinking about this loose rule of thumb with regard to “bolsa” and “bolso.” Does it apply? Well, it is true that things like “bag of chips” (bolsa de papas fritas) and “tea bag” (bolsa de té) would certainly be considered small and things like “diaper bag” (bolso de pañales) and “weekend bag” (bolso de fin de semana) are on the larger side. But oftentimes, the word “bolsa” is just a generic term for the word “bag” as can be seen in the Spanish Wikipedia article for “Bolso,” where you’ll find the following:

En Argentina el sustantivo ‹bolso› designa una bolsa de grandes dimensiones usada como maleta (similar a lo que en España, bolsa de viaje).

In Argentina, the noun “bolso” refers to a large-sized bag used as a suitcase (similar to that of the travel bag in Spain).

Supporting this information about Argentina, is something I recently saw in a headline on one of its newspapers. The headline was “Bolsos y carteras,” and, after reading the article, I imagine this would be best translated as “Bags and purses.” Clearly, the article was not discussing wallets.

Furthermore, the quote above about Argentina clearly shows that “bolsa” is the variant used to refer to a “bag” in general (as in “el sustantivo ‹bolso› designa una bolsa de grandes dimensiones”), but as far as which term is typically used to refer to a “purse” or “handbag,” most of the department stores in Spain and Latin America appear to use “bolso” for this item. You’ve already seen an example of this earlier in this article.

In all fairness to those who refer to a “purse” as a “cartera,” there does seem to be some evidence that this is actually practiced in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world. In Spain, for example, (according to the Wikipedia page for “Bolso,” there’s a special type of bag called a “Cartera TCS,” that is described as a bag made of leather or cloth and is used by schoolchildren to transport books and other items. Those would be some mighty slim books if they were doing this with a wallet. Even so, I could not find an image of these bags. If you know of the existence of these and can add a photo or a link to one, please add it to the comments section.

But an even stronger reason to acknowledge that “cartera” can be a word for “purse” is this here:

From La Polar and Falabella’s, department stores in Chile

I don’t know which other countries, besides Chile, tend to use “cartera” for “purse” rather than “bolso,” but the fact that at least one major department store in Chile returns results for the word “bolso” and even includes it as a filter option indicates at least one department store is clearly aware others are using a different term for it. Heck, a department store would know this simply by the various names merchandisers use for their products. So, why would Chile or other countries (like Argentina) have a different term for “purse?” I can’t answer that fully because I don’t know how the word “cartera” came to mean “purse” in Chile, Argentina, or any other country that uses “cartera” instead of “bolso” to mean “purse.” Has “cartera” always been the word for purse? After seeing it in this resource here, I’m guessing that its use as a word for “purse” developed on or before 1968. This again raises the question, What did Chileans call a “purse” before they started calling it a “cartera?” Again, I’m not sure how it came about, but I also discovered that in Chile (and a few other countries, namely, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic), “bolso” can mean:

“imbecile,” “slow-wit,” or “dunce”

(at least that’s what Tureng tells me). Like the origins of “cartera,” I do not know how it came to be in Chile that “bolso” became synonymous with “imbecile.” If you happen to know and want to share that story with us in the comments, I’m sure many of us would love to read about it. Until then, I’m going to guess that the development of “cartera” as a reference to “purse” may have coincided with the development of “bolso” as a word meaning “imbecile.” Sounds like a good question to post at Spanish StackExchange. If I wind up posting it there, I’ll add a link to it in this post here.

I did wind up posting a question about this over at Spanish StackExchange. If you’d like to follow it to see if anyone answers it, click on the link below:

Where is “cartera” used to mean "purse” or “handbag” and why is that the word for “purse” (or handbag) instead of “bolso?”

You’ll find that certain items (e.g., tool bags, makeup bags, …) might be referred to with both “bolsa” and “bolso,” so, if it helps you to think that a “bolsa” is smaller than a “bolso” and that helps you to decide which one to use, keep it in mind, (even though it is not always true). It may also be helpful to know that “bolsa de mano” redirects to “bolso” on Spanish Wikipedia, so, on some level, those two terms are considered synonymous. While I’m at it, I should add that Spanish Wikipedia refers to the item in this photo:

Burberry Vintage Signature Logo Tote

as both a “bolsa” and a “bolso,” so keep in mind that the definitions of each aren’t carved into stone like a monogram on a handbag.

If this rule of thumb — Spanish words ending in –o might be larger than Spanish words ending in –a — doesn’t appeal to you, toss it aside and come up with your own rule of thumb or go without. The choice is yours. When it comes to learning, your own personal bag of tricks is the only one that is truly important and will only ever be limited by your own imagination. Even so, sometimes there’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned straightforward definition, like this:

Hay un tipo de bolsa pequeña que se puede llevar en una sola mano y que recibe el nombre de bolso o bolsillo.

There is a type of small bag that can be carried in a single hand that is called “bolso” or “bolsillo.”

—Source: Spanish Wikipedia entry for “Bolsa”

Even going beyond that, or any of the previous examples already given, if you take a look at Spanish Wikipedia’s disambiguation page for “Cartera,” you will see, plain as day, that one of the entries listed under the term “cartera” is “un bolso”:

There’s also this:

If you can't see this image clearly (or any of the other images in this article), just right click on the image and open it in a new tab or window and you should be able to see it just fine.

And finally, if all of that weren’t enough to establish that “cartera” can be used to refer to a “purse,” there’s this (also from the Spanish Wikipedia article on “Bolso”). (Formatting added for emphasis.)

… en España la palabra bolso se utiliza para referirse a la bolsa de mano con dos asas que usan las mujeres (en Argentina y Venezuela, cartera).

... in Spain, the word “bolso” is used to refer to a handbag with two handles worn by women (in Argentina and Venezuela, “cartera”).

Thus, according to Spanish Wikipedia, you can add Venezuela to Chile and Argentina as countries where “cartera” means “purse.”

So, yes, “cartera” is really a “purse,” at least in a few countries, but in most Spanish-speaking countries, “cartera” is the word you use for “wallet.”

So what do you call a “wallet” in a country that uses “cartera” for “purse?” You guessed it. You call it a “billetera”:


  1. If you’re referring to a bag in general, the generic go-to for “bag” is “bolsa,” not “bolso.”

  2. The plastic bag you see at a grocery store is a “bolsa.”

  3. The word “bolso” on its own typically refers to a bag of some sort that you wear (e.g., a purse, a shoulder bag, even a gym bag).

  4. Usually if you specify the type of bag with “de" as in "de deporte," you form that phrase with "bolsa" as in bolsa de deporte/de playa/de té.

  5. If you don’t know whether to use “bolsa” or “bolso,” and you can only remember one thing from this post, go with “bolsa.” You’ll still be understood if you get it wrong, through context whoever you’re talking to will know you’re not referring to the stock exchange, and, it is twice as common.

  6. In some countries, (Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, and perhaps others) you use “cartera” instead of “bolso” to refer to a purse; in all others, it is a wallet. In those countries that use “cartera” for “purse,” you refer to a “wallet” as a “billetera.”

  7. In most Spanish-speaking countries, “cartera” = “wallet.”

  8. Though it can refer to other things, in most Spanish-speaking countries, a “monedero” is a “coin purse.”

The discussion thread that led to this post:

Yo necesito una cartera.

As always, HTH, and please leave a comment below if you’ve got something to add.

November 4, 2018



Wow! You really went all the way with this. Just a small correction, you said:

In some countries, (Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, and perhaps others) you use “cartera” instead of “bolso” to refer to a purse; in all others, it is a wallet. In those countries that use “cartera” for “purse,” you refer to a “wallet” as a “billetera.”

Venezuela is an exception to that last part, we use cartera to refer to both a purse and a wallet, we don't use billetera. Also, we use bolso to refer to a backpack.


Thank you for the reply! Your comment is exactly the type of thing I was hoping for. To be honest, I thought I was going out on a limb with that statement, but I figured that if I was wrong, someone out there would tell me ... and you did, so thank you!

BTW, I decided to take a look at some Venezuelan newspapers and discovered that they support what you've mentioned in your post. For me, it helps to learn words in a real world context, so I'll post links to these articles:

This first one actually uses both "bolso," "bolso de mano," and "cartera" to refer to a purse/handbag:

La versatilidad del bolso

The next article in which I came upon some form of reference to wallet or purse wasn't in an article about purses or wallets, but it did contain this sentence:

"Luego lo despojaron de su cartera y celular."
"Later they stripped him of his wallet and cellphone."

This translation is mine, but I checked it against a machine translation just to be sure. The "lo" in this sentence is referring to a guy, so it makes more sense that "cartera" is a wallet in this context.

In this next story, you kind of have to watch the video to know for sure whether or not a wallet is being referred to or a purse. Actually, now that I think about it, context favors one over the other just for the sheer logistics of doing something like this, but I don't want to spoil the surprise for you. So I'll let you watch it yourself and decide whether or not "cartera" refers to a "purse" or a "wallet":

Captaron a una señora robando el teléfono de otra de su cartera

Again, thanks for your input, alezzix. Had you not added your comment, it's likely I wouldn't have looked at terminology for Venezuela any more closely than I did, but I definitely have a better understanding of these terms in that country now.


Wow you put a lot of effort into this! Thanks for the info!


For Chile: bolsa is bag in general, bolso can be a very diverse group of bags that you carry on shoulders, back or hands, mochila is backpack or schoolbag, cartera is a typically female accessory, carried on shoulder or one hand, billetera is a wallet that allows to carry banknotes, cards and documents, monedero is for coins (chorito and sapito are small types with both animal and genital connotations).


Fantastic explanations - thank you. Ever since starting Duolingo Spanish I have been confused about cartera being translated as purse and not handbag. In the UK we use "handbag" rather than "purse" for the main bag most women carry and within the handbag the smaller item that holds the money and credit cards is called a "purse" or "wallet" but obviously the Duolingo folks are more influenced by American English rather than British English - and if we want to get a correct answer we just have to swallow our British pride and answer accordingly.


This is golden, just golden.


Thank you very much. I even like the summary because all the information you collected is a bit overwhelming. As a non-native speaker of English, words such as purse can be very confusing, so I'm glad you explained its meaning. I personally avoid it and always use bag or wallet. What's difficult is that the words aren't always translatable one to one from Spanish to English and even the English words aren't translatable one to one to my native language.

By the way, what I'm most interested in is Spain Spanish, so I'm curious if it has any exceptions to the rules you posted.


Let us not forget that there is British English and American English. Duolingo uses American English. Thus we get pants (trousers), movies (film), purse (handbag), soccer (football), mom (mum) etc. etc.


First of all, thank you for your comment. I, like you, am interested in the variants used in Spain itself, but I realize that Duolingo, for a lot of good reasons, goes with the Spanish spoken in Latin America, and I try to keep that in the back of my mind when I write a post. So, while I may mention a Peninsular Spanish "variant" if I know of one, I try not to go overboard with it. Even within Spain, you'll find variants. Some break it down by Castilian (spoken in northern and central Spain), Andalusian (spoken in southern Spain), and Murcian (spoken in southeastern Spain). Here's a link to an article that covers those and a few other dialects of Spanish:

10 Spanish Dialects: How Spanish is Spoken Around the World

It's from the Beyond Words language blog. If you don't have a lot of time, it's short, and should take you all of five minutes to read.

As for the major differences between Peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish, this article from FluentU gives you a good overview on some of the more significant differences:

Do You Know the 8 Differences Between Castilian and Latin American Spanish?

As far as "words for "purse" or "handbag" exclusive to Spain, however, the only one that jumped out at me was "tanque," which was listed on Tureng and I really can't be certain that its use as a word to mean "purse" is really all that common. My guess would be that it is really informal because if you check with the Diccionario de la Academia Real Española (DRAE), none of the meanings seem to be referring to a "purse" or "handbag."

Another thing to keep in mind is that Spanish spread from Spain to Latin America and the Spanish in Spain was and has been exposed to fewer external influences than, say, the Spanish spoken in the United States (although this may be debatable to some degree). Even so, variants to the original Spanish language will be found in Latin America (and/or Equatorial Guinea), not the other way around. The only reason I bother mentioning this is that, for this reason, I would assume that what you find in the DRAE, especially in those first few meanings listed and not the variants that sometimes surface further down the list, is what you'll see and hear in the country of Spain itself. I would think this to be especially true since the Academy makes great efforts to standardize the Spanish language and thereby ensure that the Spanish spoken in Spain is the same Spanish that can be understood in Equatorial Guinea, or Bolivia, or Mexico or any of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries in the world. That said, as you have already noticed, variations occur because Spanish is a living language and all living things are constantly changing.

So, in addition to the FluentU article I suggested, I wanted to leave you with a couple of other resources. The first is straight from English Wikipedia. It gives you some straightforward examples of a few commonly used words:

Castilian Spanish: Vocabulary

If you want a more comprehensive treatise of the subject, this book looks like it does a pretty good job:

Variation and Change in Spanish

I don't know of any resource on this subject that is both comprehensive and geared toward the beginning student of Spanish. More often than not, the type of book that might have what you're looking for isn't going to restrict itself to Spain. And what you're looking for might be best described as colloquial Spanish — the kind you hear on the street among friends or in a text chat, not the kind on a television news broadcast or in the classroom. Years ago, I bought this book here:

Cassell's Colloquial Spanish

It is one of the best I've read on this subject, so I can see why it got a 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon, but it's dated. It was originally published in 1981 and again in 1993, but I don't know that it's been updated since it was initially published. Surprisingly enough, it looks as if people are still buying it. It focuses on Latin American Spanish, but if memory serves me correctly, words and phrases are compared to what is used in Spain, at least for some entries. I don't know if there's anything similar (but more up-to-date) available for purchase. If any of you reading this can make a suggestion, or two, I'm sure we'd be interested in your recommendation.


Great article and great post. Just a small anecdote on the use of "Peninsular Spanish". I was recently at a conference by Mr Guillermo Rojo, member of the RAE, who repeatedly corrected a South American lady using that term. He insisted on calling it "'español de España', pues las Baleares y las Islas Canarias también son España."


Thank you for the compliment and thank you for the comment. I have to admit that I haven't heard the term "Peninsular Spanish" all that often. I am mostly aware of it from Wikipedia, but now that I know that there's a preference by the Academy for "español de España," I'll be sure to use it. In fact, I like it a whole lot better because it's a lot more specific.


Guau gracias para la informacion.


You mean "Gracias por la información". Anyway, I am glad you are learning my native language ;)


Since having posted this, I've noticed an error (in addition to some formatting I'd really love to tweak just a bit), but for some reason, my changes are no longer taking effect. It is a small error, but one I want to address.

The formatting will just have to do, as is, unless I can figure out why my latest changes aren't taking effect. I've been away from Duolingo for a while so maybe some changes have been made. Is there now a time limit for editing comments and posts?

Regardless of why my changes aren't taking effect, let me address the error I made. if you take a look at the chart where I lay out various example sentences and show you Google hits for variants with "bolsa" and then again with "bolso," you may notice a typo in the first line where I meant to compare,

"¿Necesitas una bolsa?"


"¿Necesitas un bolso?"

Somehow, "un bolso" was turned into "una bolso," which, we all know is incorrect. Afraid that maybe I did my search with "una bolso" instead of "un bolso," I reran the search and based on the similarity of returns, it looks as if the search was performed correctly with ''un bolso." To wrap this up, though, I'll include the corrected image in this reply here:

Again, if you can't see the chart very well, right click it and open it in a new tab or window.

Granted the ratio changed a bit —it dropped from 1.3 to 1.2 — but if I had run that search with "una bolso" instead, that ratio would have been off the charts. (Only 6 pages were returned when I did the search with "una bolso.")

If you didn't notice the error, I really don't mind. If you did and it cast doubt on any of the other figures I use in this or any of my other articles, it shouldn't. Even if my mathematical approach to something might not be one you would use, I'm usually very careful with my infographics and if I notice errors in them, I try to correct them right away, typically to the original post, but in this case, since I don't seem to be able to further edit it, this addendum of sorts will have to do.


BTW, it does look as if changes are getting made to my original post, but they appear to be trickling in, and some have taken affect, and others are still unchanged. Either way, the only correction that had previously needed revision was to the chart you see in my reply above. If you see any others, please let me know.


wow, that was a great article, I should say. you've put a massive effort. thanks for sharing .


That's quite an essay! I'm bookmarking it since I only had time to skim it just now, but you made me wonder something.

bag of wind saco de viento

Would describing someone as a saco de viento be the same as saying they're a windbag in English?

I wonder why I'd be thinking of windbags on November 6th.


To answer your question, yes, I have seen translations of it as "windbag."

As for the rest, I'm trying to stay somewhat apolitical, especially here at Duolingo, but I must say that your subtle approach to humor reeled me in and had me LOL by the end of your post.


Massive effort. I congratulate you.

For your future research, I recommend amazon in spanish speaking countries. So far amazon.mx and amazon.es are the only ones I have found. You are given a good idea of what things are called.


That's a very clever idea. Perhaps you would like Mercado Libre. It is present in many (most?) Latin American countries and looks like a cross between Amazon and Ebay.


Thanks for the suggestion. It's taken me a while to get to the point where I feel comfortable on Spanish language sites, but I definitely feel as if I'm getting there now.

In addition to that, I recommend doing the same thing for YouTube videos. The videos that show up in your search results won't always be that different, but it's worth a shot if searching through the English version isn't bringing you what you're looking for.

If you're reading this and would like to try it, just open up your YouTube menu (should be a column that opens to the left after clicking on the three horizontal bars next to the YouTube logo in the upper left corner of your screen). Scroll down to "Settings" and then go to the bottom of the page where you can adjust language and location settings. In addition to Mexico and Spain, you can set your location to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Puerto Rico. I have found the ability to change these settings very helpful in the research process.

BTW, congratulations on your streak. I had one that was longer than a year and then I lost it, took a break from Duolingo, and have just recently started again, but am having trouble getting traction on the streak, so good for you. Maintaining one is harder than it looks.

In case you haven't noticed, I took you up on your suggestion and even revised my original post to include something I found on Amazon's site for Spain. Its options for filtering are endless. I thoroughly enjoyed mixing and matching various keywords, brands, and colors. Again, thank you for the recommendation.


Pretty overwhelming and thorough, massive research that you posted..Of course many thanks for your effort! May I just ask one very small question..? How long did it take you to compile all this and to write/type this post? Whenever I see posts of this extraordinary length always makes me wonder..You must have lots of spare time?:-)) Thank you for sharing such an amazing knowledge and for the tips, much appreciated..


Well, the short answer is both "not enough" and "too much." Truth be told, it does take more than a minute to put something of this length together. Half the time is spent doing research for the article and the other half is spent proofing and adding things to it that I think would be helpful for me to research and beneficial for a language learner to read. Most of the time, I never intend for my posts to be quite this long, but even when they are, I can see areas that could have been more fully studied or explained. Believe it or not, once it gets to be this length, I start looking for ways to cut corners a bit.

Do I have lots of spare time? Well, more than I'd like to have at the moment, but I never want to let that stop me from learning something new and trying to help others in the process.

Thank you for the questions. Your inquisitiveness is the sign of an intelligent mind, but so, too, are the number of languages you are fluent in. Good golly! I just visited your profile and you seem to be quite gifted with the ability to learn languages. Impressive.


Lisa, thank you for your answer, very kind of you and I really like the way you explained yourself. Also thank you so much for your nice words and for the compliments

I studied linguistics and always had interest/skill for languages..However it took a lot of hard work over the years ..

Your post about your research of the word "cartera" has a detailed , entertaining, thorough, thoughtful and visually interesting approach I really like how you took two very common Spanish words (cartera and bolsa) and found a depth of possibilities in what varieties of meanings these words come in various Spanish speaking countries..

In particularly i loved the graphs and the pictures demonstrating how even shopping ads can teach us a lot about language.. Bravo , best wishes on your journey, wherever that might take you..! :-))


I have a problem with Duolingo using terms like “wearing a purse”. I do not think it is possible to “wear” a purse any more than one can “wear” a suitcase or an umbrella.


Why? A purse, in my mind, goes over your shoulder...do you wear a backpack? If so, why is a purse any different?


A purse in England is a small bag usually with no strap. However whether is has or not, one carries it, one doesn’t wear it. Neither does one wear a backpack or a suitcase.


Speaking only for the American dialects I'm familiar with, but here are my thoughts:

1: Wearing a purse sounds awkward and perhaps even wrong. Carrying a purse sounds better and is much more common whether it's slung over a shoulder or carried in one's hand.

2: I would say if you put a backpack on your back with both shoulder straps in place you're wearing it rather than carrying it, especially if it's one of those heavy duty backpacks with a belt as well.

3: I would never say anyone is wearing a suitcase. I still think of the old hard-shell ones with handles. When I travel I carry something more like a duffel bag although I'm not actually sure what "duffel" means.


Excellent answer and I couldn't agree with you more.

BTW, you've got an awesome avatar.

Since you mentioned it:

duffel bag

Collins translates it as "bolsa de lona." The word "lona" is often translated as "canvas." And FWIW, when I think of a duffel bag, I think of a bag made of canvas.


Hahaha....I now have a hilarious mental image of a person wearing an old-style suitcase. I know everyone has the "wheelie" ones now, but I still think of a suitcase as the ones I had when I was younger - rectangle-shaped, soft-sided, no wheels, just a handle. I never had or saw the hard-shelled ones until I was a lot older. The ones from when I was a younger adults were soft-sided....like, leather, or thick material. I had a plaid one, as a kid (hello, seventies!).

Anyway, I agree. I would never say I wear a purse. I'm Canadian. Mum is American. I lived briefly in the UK once. Never heard anyone in any of those three places say "wear" a purse, ever.

I don't think I'd naturally ever say "wear" a backpack, I'd say he "had a backpack on" or something similar. But I can see where you're coming from, with the wearing a backpack thing. It does make more sense to me than then "wearing" a purse, but, still, I'd never naturally say it....it makes me feel like the person cut a hole in the top of it for their head to go through, and put it on like a shirt. :-)


I don't know about you, but duolingo uses american terms. here in the us, purses have long straps and are slung over the shoulder


No, that's wrong. A purse is not one particular thing. It can have straps or not, be small or big, have zippers or not, buttons or not, etc. I'm Canadian, my Mum is American, I've spent a ton of time in the States because of that, and never would anyone "wear" a purse like it's an item of clothing, and purse can be anything, big or small, straps or not, like I said - you made it sound like it has to have straps to be called a purse, and that's not true.


You're right. I would never say "wear my purse", that's ridiculous. And it's not an American vs British English issue, like some say - it sounds stupid no matter where you say it. I'm Canadian, you could say we speak American English (although I have a problem with the phrase American English, because there are so, so, so very many different types of American English....how can anyone think that American English is a thing? Alabama vs North Dakota vs California, etc.)....anyway, you could say we speak American English, and nobody here would ever "wear" their purse, and I've been to the States a lot of times, all over the place, and have never once heard anyone say they "wear" their purse there, either. I never heard it in the six months I lived in the UK, either. It's not a thing. You don't wear a purse.


Why is cartera so general, like really.

"Cartera." could mean purse, wallet, portfolio, briefcase, bag, handbag, satchel, saddle bag, pocketbook, schoolbag, billfold, notecase, dispatch box, pannier, or pannier bag.

This may be annoying, but it might be nice if you forget the name of all of those variations of bag.

But seriously, wallet of all things?

[deactivated user]

    this is basically a essay on 'cartera' no hate, just surprised


    Well, I'm glad there's no hate (and just so we're clear, none from me in return). In my defense, this post goes a bit beyond just "cartera," but you're right: This isn't a typical essay topic. However, since I was doing some of the research I put into this for my own sake in order to 1) confirm that "cartera" really is a commonly used word for "purse" and 2) find out where "cartera" was used like this, I decided to share what I discovered with others. I find that this method — learning and then attempting to describe/explain/teach others what you've learned — is one of the best ways to learn something well.

    Could I have spent less time and written a shorter post on this one word (and the others I became much more familiar with in the process)? You bet. But, I can assure you, these words won't confuse me again. Even if I don't think about any of them for several months, a year from now, I will have remembered the finer distinctions between them. Heck, after this, I don't think I'll ever forget what the subtle distinctions are between them again.

    Your surprise is understandable, though. It isn't as if this were a complicated subject like the "verbal periphrasis," but as a casual user of Duolingo, I don't put a lot of thought into weighing the relative importance of a topic with the length of time I study it or research it. I study or research it until my curiosity about it has been sated (or at least a good portion of it). If I were a teacher or a paid employee of some sort somewhere, I’d have to take into consideration the amount of time spent on something with its relative value to the client or customer or student. But, as it is, if I see a discussion thread that shows a lot of uncertainty about something, especially if it makes me realize my understanding of a word or topic isn't what it could be, I take the time to iron out any gaps in my knowledge on it. And, if that process is something I can use to help others clear things up as well, then I compile what I've found in some sort of organized fashion and try to present it in a way that'll be something a bit more interesting and fun than, say, an academic paper.

    Would I like to be writing about something more important than the meaning of "cartera?" Sure, who wouldn't, but I suppose there's a time and place for everything. In the meantime, the important thing is to practice like you train and train like you practice. In other words, if you don't do the little things well, you won't do the big things well either.

    Thanks for the comment. Again, no hate from me ... just an explanation. Best wishes to you with your language learning here at Duolingo.

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