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Gringa Guide to Spanish: Lime vs Lemon

by Amanda La Gringa
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Lesson 10: Lime vs Lemon in Español.

How do you say lime and lemon in Spanish? Seems like a simple question, right? Wrong! Like many other gringos and gringas…I was taught the very simple translation of limon = lemon and limon verde = lime. Seemed simple enough to me….until I moved to Mexico, where they don’t even have lemons and then things got ever more complicated in Miami where latinos from all over claim their own version of the lemon/lime debate. So…today, I will try my hardest to get to the bottom of this sour situation!

So..I asked around, searched online and this is what I found:

Limón:

  • Small-ish, green, goes well with tequila and salt
  • Sour, yellow fruit (what we consider a lemon in English)
  • “ón” ending indicates it’s a larger fruit

Lima:

  • Sweeter fruit, pale green
  • Large yellow fruit, not sour…can eat it like an orange

Geeeez- seems like a bunch of contradictions….well, apparently there is no simple solution. Maybe our Spanish teachers were right in teaching us the over-simplified translation. From what I can find out, this mess is a result of the fact that different varieties of lemons/limes exists across Latin America…and what we know as the citrus lemon doesn’t even exist in some countries (like México).

Lemon Lime Spanish

Since I’ve come to no solid conclusion…I want to hear from you! How do you translate lemon and lime? Ayúdanos please!

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14 comments

Habla Escuela de Español June 6, 2012 - 4:18 pm

Me gustó su blog, muy bien hecho. Creo que voy a postearlo en nuestra página: http://www.facebook.com/habla.spanish.

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David Leal September 25, 2012 - 2:37 am

For Me Limon is the Yellow one and Lima is the Green One…..But saying Limon can be used for both, unless they are both present in the basket you are scooping from and need to specify….jejeje.

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Rafael Anaya December 3, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Lima = lime is another fruit for us,, very different from lemon, but awesome in flavor. You can make agua fresca de lima with it.

Lime = lima
Lemon = limon verde y limon amarillo ..

There you go..

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Rafael Anaya December 3, 2013 - 12:50 pm

Oh and I am Half-mexican Half cuban.. So yeah I pretty much know what I am talking about. hope this help.

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John Walter February 14, 2014 - 7:25 pm

I've heard it both ways while on vacation down south, just returned from Cozumel, Mexico, where was a Lime was Limon – ie Cerveza con Limon por favor, pero, en Cuba o Republica Dominicana quesas… Cerveza con Lima por favor (?) Best to ask first – or if in doubt I would think specifying the color – Limon Verde or Limon Amarillo would avoid confusion…

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Bryan Rozman April 15, 2014 - 7:54 pm

I can't say when the great citrus definition diaspora took place in colonies of the Spanish Empire. Spaniards would argue on the side of the limes being green and lemons yellow. Limun being the Persian antecedent to the Medeival lemonium that the famous traveler Christopher Columbus would have used to describe the seeds he brought to Hispaniola in 1492. It is interesting to note that these sorts of shifts in meaning are fairly common (such as cojer, a common verb for grab or get in European Spanish, which has obscene implications in Mexico). Purists will continue to point to the Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española (Dictionary of the Spanish Language of the Royal Spanish Academy or DRAE), as the authoritative source, which plainly chooses yellow for lemon and green for lime in the common interpretation (less genus and species with unique characteristics producing green lemons, etc.) Either way, of the existing 21 Hispanophonic academies, roughly 17 of them err towards limes being green.

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Tracey Booth-South June 26, 2014 - 3:17 pm

if you ask someone from Mexico as I have, the green lime is what they call limon. as far as I can tell, there is no word for lemon, because they don't have them there.

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Loraine April 15, 2016 - 3:37 pm

I always thought that a ‘lima’ is a lemon and a ‘limon’ is a lime, in other words, it just sounds the opposite of English. I thought that because of Sprite, the lemon-lime soda is lima-limon in Spanish,. But if I ask anyone about limas, they say they are sweet, and that doesn’t sound like the sour yellow lemons I am familiar with in the US. I have not been able to find lemons in Mexico except in certain cities like Tampico and only in certain stores like HEB. (I haven’t looked for lemons all over Mexico, though.) But I have just discovered some news articles that say that lemons are being grown in Tamaulipas and will be exported. Hopefully they start selling them here locally, too. Then it would be interesting to see what the locals call them.

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Carla September 28, 2014 - 8:54 am

In Quintana Roo I have seen lemons (when the limes ran out in the spring) and I have been told they call them limon Francesa. And they don’t like them much – no flavor. So as with many things, different Spanish-speaking countries and regions have different words for them.

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Lemon and lime May 26, 2015 - 5:02 am

[…] of Figure 1, which I call “Lemon and Lime.” I’ll let it speak for itself, since some languages do not distinguish lemon from lime.  For most of us the eye does and the two colors are glorious, intense, and […]

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Daniel January 21, 2016 - 7:43 am

In Paraguay the yellow lemon is a “Limon Japones” or Japanese Lemon.

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Jason April 13, 2016 - 11:50 am

Hello. I grew up in Tijuana and it may just be because we are so close to the border but we call limes – “limones” and lemons – “limones california” because that’s where they come from.

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Ulises Aguilar April 20, 2016 - 1:06 pm

Hi, I´m a 53 year old mexican and this is the first time I stop thinking about this.
I grew up in mexico city and there we call “limones” to limes and lemons. There are varieties of limones, called for example limon verde, limon amarillo, limon sin semilla, limon criollo, limon agrio etc. and there we call “lima” to a yellow fruit that it is more sweet than sour. Limas are sold only in de winter season and are usually put into “piñatas” and can be eaten as a fruit, because they are not acid.
I have lived in different regions of mexico and there its allways the same , we call limon verde or limon amarillo or limon sin semilla, or limon ingerto to limes and lemons, generally you can find allways more green limones than yellow ones, may be because the type of plants that easily grow at this altitudes.
Green lemons turn yellow in mexico when they are mature.
The variety of yellow lemons you have there are not very common here.
So if it is,sour is limon and
if it is sweet lima. ( limas normally are bigger than lemons and have to nipples at the ends)

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Michael August 1, 2016 - 9:17 am

My name is Michael and am currently living in Oklahoma. Previously lived in California, where I had very good friends from Acapulco. I spent many hours at their dinner table through the years and became aware of the cultural difference surrounding this topic. The reason I looked it up this morning, thus discovering your article which I found entertaining and informative, was this: I am currently using a dried lime product for my work. However the shipper calls it a lemon. She assured us that it is indeed what we call a .”lime”. I found this curious and am interested to study the topic further. Thank you for helping me a long the way to solving this mystery..

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