The Difference between bonos and obligaciones

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

bonos vs. obligaciones

It is customary to see bonos translated as “bonds” and their counterpart obligaciones rendered as “debentures.” But this translation may be misleading. In some jurisdictions a bond is a debt security secured by specific assets of the issuing corporation, while a debenture  (also known as an “unsecured bond”) is a debt security that is not secured by specific assets, but rather by the issuing corporation’s general creditworthiness. In contrast, in Spain the difference between bonos and obligaciones is merely their maturity dates. Bonos mature in less than five years, while obligaciones are longer-term bonds. Thus, rather than rendering obligaciones as “debentures,” perhaps it is more appropriate to translate bonos and obligaciones respectively as “medium-term bonds” and “long-term” bonds.

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