False Friends: When patrimonio is not “patrimony”

Patrimonio is often translated literally as “patrimony,” but this may sound awkward in several contexts. In that regard, patrimonio often refers simply to one’s “property,” “assets” or “estate.” Thus, for example, the Spanish Criminal Code offense of delitos de falsedad contra el patrimonio y contra el orden socioecónomico may be rendered simply as “offenses against property and economic interests,” since they include crimes such as theft (hurto), burglary (robo con fuerza en las cosas), robbery (robo con violencia o intimidación en las personas), extortion (extorsión) and unauthorized use of a vehicle (robo y hurto de uso de vehículo a motor—often called “joyriding” in English). Likewise, in inheritance law patrimonio del causante denotes the “deceased’s (or) decedent’s estate,” rather than his “patrimony.”

In other respects, in Spain the expressions patrimonio histórico and patrimonio histórico-cultural refer to “cultural heritage assets” protected under the Ley de Patrimonio Histórico Español. And impuesto sobre el patrimonio is simply a “wealth tax,” while incrementos y disminuciones de patrimonio denotes “capital gains and losses.”

The term patrimonio social (in general, “business assets”) warrants a closer look, since its translation may vary according to the type of business entity to which the expression refers. In that regard, the patrimonio social of a sociedad anónima are “corporate assets.” But if, for example, the entity in question is a partnership (sociedad colectiva or sociedad comanditaria), patrimonio social would be better rendered as “partnership assets.”

And as a final example, patrimonio ganancial (also: bienes gananciales) denotes the spouses’ commonly-owned community property in a community property marriage (sociedad de gananciales), in contrast to to their individually-owned property or assets (their patrimonio privativo or bienes privativos).

2 thoughts on “False Friends: When patrimonio is not “patrimony”

  1. Me encanta este artículo. A menudo veo la frase “sociedad conyugal”, y siempre se me ha dificultado traducirla. Por lo que entiendo, sociedad conyugal y patrimonio ganancial son lo mismo, entonces esta explicación sobre “Patrimonio” me ayuda muchísimo. Gracias.


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