When to use Solo vs Solamente in Spanish

Let’s talk about when to use Solo vs. Solamente in Spanish. My assistant forwarded an email to me from a customer who wrote:

Hola Patrick,

What’s the difference between ‘solo,’  ’sólo,’ and ‘solamente’ in Spanish? I have trouble understanding when to use each one. Please help me out with this.”

When to use Solo vs Solamente in Spanish

I am glad she sent that email because when to use “solo,” “sólo,” and “solamente” confuses a lot of people learning Spanish.

To begin, “sólo,” (notice the accent mark over the first letter “o”) and “solamente” are “adverbios” (adverbs). “Sólo,” and “solamente” are interchangeable and they both mean “only.” For example:

Sólo faltan dos semanas para que empiecen las vacaciones. (Only a week to go before the vacation starts.)

Yo tengo ocho hermanos y ella solamente dos. (I have eight brothers and she only has two.)

On the other hand, “solo/a,” (notice that there is no accent mark over the first letter “o”) is an “adjetivo” (adjective). “Solo/a’” is NOT interchangeable with “sólo” and “solamente.” Solo/a means alone or solitary. For example:

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Quiero estar solo para poder estudiar sin distraerse. I want to be alone in order to be able to study without being distracted.

Keep in mind that “solo” (alone, solitary) which is an adjective can be masculine or (feminine): solo or sola.

But “sólo” (or “solamente”) which is an adverb only has one form. Look at these examples:

Yo vivo solo/a. I live alone.

Vivo sólo (solamente) por ti. I only live for you.

Vivo solo/a por ti. I live alone because of you.

Of course, in a regular conversation you will not be able to see the accent mark in “sólo” or see the lack of an accent mark in “solo.” So you will have to rely on the context of the conversation to determine which one the speaker intends to use. Here’s an example using both solo and sólo:

Yo tomo solo, sólo cuando estoy deprimido.” I drink alone, only when I am depressed.

I hope this clears up any confusion about when to use “solo,” “sólo,” and “solamente” in Spanish.