How to Say ‘Stop’ in Spanish: Parar, Detener or Alto?

When learning Spanish, you’re likely to find that multiple words have the same meaning. However, it doesn’t always mean that they can be used interchangeably. A classic example is the word ‘stop’ in Spanish.

So, how do you say ‘stop’ in Spanish? Parar, detener and alto are all words that mean “stop” in Spanish. Parar and detener are verbs; therefore, are almost always interchangeable. Alto means stop, but it’s closer to the word ‘halt’ and it’s used for formal commands like on a stop sign.

Many new Spanish speakers are likely to start using the first synonym they learn and therefore more likely to use it in the wrong context. However, there are some cases where you’ll want to use alto instead of Parar, and the same goes for Detener. Below we go into when to use each synonym based on the context of your Spanish conversation.

How to Use Alto, Parar and Detener

Alto – HaltParar – StopDetener – To stop
– It’s used on stop signs
– It means ‘halt’ or ‘cease’
– It’s used for formal commands.
– In some countries, ‘Pare’ is used on stop signs.
– It means stop a person or object.
– ‘Parar de’ express stop doing an action.
– It means stop.
– It means ‘detain’.
– It’s slightly more formal than ‘parar’.
¡Espera! ¡Está en alto!

Wait! It’s the stop light!
Luis paró el balón

Luis stopped the ball
¡Detén el auto!

Stop the car!

Parar is the closest literal translation to stop. It is used when referring to someone or something (i.e. a noun). It’s most commonly used in casual, verbal communication and since the spoken language has more freedom, you can use it in many situations.

Detener can also be used to stay stop. However, detener has other meanings beyond the word ‘stop’. It’s more commonly used as ‘detain’, ‘hold’ or ‘arrest’. Just as Parar is used in casual, verbal communication, it’s more common for detener to be used formally and in written text, such as books, movies, newspapers and tv.

Alto is the Spanish translation for ‘halt’ or ‘cease’. Just as in English, you will use this word in a more formal context like books, movies, news, and political speech. In many Spanish native countries, you will see Alto on stop signs. But don’t be surprised if you go to South America and see that their stop signs say Pare instead.

Something that can help you understand the difference between these words is to see how you would use them in conversation. As mentioned earlier, the key difference between the three is that detener and parar are verbs and alto could be a noun or an interjection (i.e. a single, standalone expression), when used as ‘halt’, ‘cease’ or ‘stop’.

Parar/Detener phrase structure:

Person + Parar/Detener + Someone/Something

La señora para el autobús The lady stops the bus

Yo detuve al policía para pedirle instrucciones I stopped the cop to ask him for directions

Alto as a single expression:

¡Alto al fuego!” Ceasefire!

¡Alto! Cease!

¡Alto! Te vas a lastimar Stop! You are going to hurt yourself

Take Note: ‘Stop!’ in the above example is used as the only word in the sentence (i.e. an interjection).

Alto as a noun:

Sentence + Un + ‘alto’ + Noun

Hubo un alto a la violencia There was a halt to the violence

The key here is to remember this:

  • Parar is used in verbal communication to stop someone or something. You will use it with friends, family or in informal situations.  
  • Detener is more formal than Parar. It also means stop someone or something, detain, arrest.
  • Alto is either:
    • Used to mean ‘halt’ or ‘cease’.
    • A single expression. You will find it in stop signs or in formal contexts.

Examples and Explanations for Using Parar, Detener and Alto as ‘Stop’

WordWhen to useEnglish ExampleSpanishReason / Explanation
PararUsed before a noun or pronoun

1. To stop someone
2. To stop something
a) Stop him! He has my watch.

b) Stop the car. We are here.

c) The goalkeeper stopped the penalty.
a) ¡Párenlo! Tiene mi reloj.

b) Para el carro. Ya llegamos.

c) El portero paró la penal.
Informal. You would use this word in a verbal conversation with your friends, people that are your same age or you are familiar with.
DetenerSame as parar, used before a noun or pronoun
1. To stop someone
2. To stop something
a) Stop him! He has my watch.

b) Stop the car. We are here.

c) The goalkeeper stopped the penalty.
a) ¡Deténganlo! Tiene mi reloj.

b) Detén el carro. Ya llegamos.

c) El portero detuvo el penal.
Formal. You would say this to a police officer or if you are not very close to the people you are talking to. You are very likely to see this verb in TV, books and newspapers.
AltoAs a single expression or interjection.

As a noun. It’s part of a sentence
a) Stop! You are hurting her.

b) There was a halt on the violence.
a) ¡Alto! La estás lastimando.

b) Hubo un alto a la violencia.
Formal. You won’t use it in a normal conversation. It’s is used as a command by military forces and police officers. It’s used to in newspapers, interviews and political speeches.

If you think a little bit about English, you will notice that you can use the word stop to describe different actions. Up to this point, we’ve discussed using a noun or pronoun after the word ‘stop’. However, there are many cases where a verb will follow after, instead of a noun or pronoun. For instance, ‘stop talking’.

In this case, you can’t use ‘parar’ alone. You’ll have to use ‘parar de’.

When to use ‘Parar de’ instead of ‘Parar’?

One of the most common uses of ‘stop’ is to cease an action that you, someone else, or something is doing.

For example:

Stop talking

I can’t stop laughing

It stopped snowing

If you compare these examples with the ones we saw before, you’ll notice that the elements are quite different. When using ‘stop’ to finish an action in English you need to use the following structure:

Subject + ‘parar’ + ‘de’ + Infinitive Verb

The key to remember here is that you always use ‘de’ between ‘parar’ and the verb after it.

You Can Say ‘Dejar de’ Instead of ‘Parar de’

It’s very likely that you’ve seen or heard some examples with ‘Dejar de’. In the case Parar de and Dejar de are absolutely the same. As a Spanish native speaker, I’ve always felt that Dejar de is more forceful. But you can use both structures to express ‘stop doing something and the rule is the same:

 Subject + ‘dejar’ + ‘de’ + Infinitive verb

There a couple of things that you should keep in mind when using Dejar de/Parar de:

  • Always conjugate Dejar / Parar. To know what tense you need, go back to your verb in English (stop) and identify if you are talking about the past, the present or the future or you’re giving a command. The key is that Dejar needs to have the same tense that ‘stop’.
  • Don’t forget ‘de’. To use it correctly, this structure needs all its elements or otherwise, your idea would be incomplete and it would be hard to understand you.
  • The second verb expresses the activity: this part is very important because it tells you what activity you want to stop doing. So don’t forget to add it.
  • The second verb always goes in the infinitive form: this means it should finish with an r. Remember that you are indicating the tense with Dejar. Notice that in English the second verb always has the same structure:

I need you to stop dancing

It finally stopped raining

They will stop painting at 5

Parar and Detener vs Parar de/Dejar de

WordWhen to use English ExampleSpanish
PararUsed before a noun or pronoun

1. To stop someone
2. To stop something
a) Stop him! He has my watch.

b) Stop the car. We are here.

c) The goalkeeper stopped the penalty.
a) ¡Párenlo! Tiene mi reloj.

b) Para el carro. Ya llegamos.

c) El portero paró la penal.
Dejar de + verb

Parar de + verb
It’s a structure that expresses:

1. To stop doing something
2. Cease an action
a) Stop talking right now!

b) It finally stopped snowing.

c) I’ll never stop learning.
a) ¡Deja de hablar ahora mismo!¡Para de hablar ahora mismo!

b) Por fin dejó de nevar. Por fin paró de nevar.

c) Nunca dejaré de aprender. Nunca pararé de aprender.

Related Questions

Does alto mean tall and high in Spanish? Yes. In this case, Alto describes a person or object’s height. To use it correctly, you need to use the verb Ser (to be).

Sometimes you may hear “Está muy alto”. If you are trying to say that something is in a high place you would use verb Estar + Alto.

How do you say ‘stop it’ in Spanish? Basta or Para. Both words are very common and the main difference is that ¡Para! is the command form of the verb Parar, so it means you are addressing the order to one persona. Basta is an expression used to ask someone to stop doing something.  

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I've been studying Spanish professionally as well as teaching it in Mexico and online for over 10 years. I’ve taught Spanish to a wide array of foreigners from many backgrounds. Over the years, I've made it my mission to work hard on refining many challenging to understand grammar topics to make my students' learning experiences easier, faster and more enjoyable. Read More About Me

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