Lento, Despacio, Lentamente

I have always struggled with the words lento and despacio. All that it took was a little bit or research on my part, and I was able to easily distinguish between the two.

The two can be confusing because they both translate to slowly in English. Where in English we only have one work, Spanish uses two. Why? I do not know why, writing several examples of both in context can be very helpful to distinguish between the two.

In English, I would say:

  • I am a little slow today.
  • My computer is slow.


  • He runs slowly

There is a lot going on in these sentences and looking at some simple grammar terms might help to distinguish between lento and despacio.

In the first two sentences, slow is used as an adjective. That is to say that the word slow is describing a noun. What is slow today? The traffic is slow. What is slow? The computer is slow. In this case, we would use the word lento because lento is the adjectival form.

Traffic is slow today.
El tráfico es lento hoy.  

In this example, lento is describing the condition of the traffic.

My computer is slow.
Mi computadora es lenta.

In this example, lento es describing the computer.


It gets a little more complicated because lento can also be used as an adjective.

He runs slowly.
Él corre lentamente.

Notice how the word lento has changed to lentamente to indicate that it is being used as an adverb. This is a common change in Spanish. However, it gets a little more complicated because the word despacio also means slowly and it is only used as an adverb in Spanish. We can then take our previous example and write:

He runs slowly.
Él corre despacio.


We can see that in English there is little to no difference between the two, but is that really the case in Spanish? Doing a little bit of research, I think I have found the answer, and I will try to illustrate it as best as I can.

Despacio (adv.) appears to convey the idea of caution or tranquility. That is to say that if a person runs slowly (La persona corre despacio.) that they may:

  1. Run to enjoy the weather or the environment they are in. There is no need to run faster.
  2. They are running slowly because they may have a sore muscle, or they are perhaps they do not want to over do it. That is to say that they are cautious while they are running. Another reason could be that they have not run in a long time, so it is better to take it easy.
  3. It seems to me that there is more of an implied intention to performing the action slowly.

Lentamente (adv.), on the other hand, seems like it is more inherent in the person. Running slowly is just the nature of the individual. Perhaps he can improve, but at this moment he is just a slow runner. There is no control (for lack of a better word) over the situation. Perhaps is we use the example:

  • El tráfico circulaba muy lentamente.
  • The traffic was very slow moving.

The fact that the traffic moved slowly has no bearing on the driver making the statement. It is out of her control.


Can I get any feedback on my observations? Is there anything I can adjust or are there examples that could help with my understanding?

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