How to translate the word “agreement” in Spanish in a legal context.

First, let’s find out what an agreement actually is. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the following definitions are provided: 1.a. the act or fact of agreeing; 1.b. harmony of opinion, action or character: concord; 2.a. an arrangement as to a course of action; 2.b. compact, treaty; 3.a. a contract duly executed and legally binding; 3.b. the language or instrument embodying such a contract.

In Spanish, there are several translations of the term in Spanish, namely: contrato, convenio and acuerdo.

Now, lets analyze the definitions of these three terms:

1. Contrato: from Latin contractus. The Real Academia Española dictionary (RAE) tells us that it is a written or verbal agreement between parties that are bound to a specific item or matter and are obligated to comply with it. A second meaning of the word is a document that includes the conditions of such agreement.
2. Convenio: from the word convenir in Spanish. The RAE tells us that it is a settlement, convention or a contract.
3. Acuerdo: from the verb acordar in Spanish. The RAE provides several meanings of this term: 3.a resolution that is made in court, in companies, communities or associated agencies; 3.b. a premeditated resolution by one or several persons; 3.c. agreement between two or more parties; 3.d. reflection or maturity when making a decision; 3.e. knowledge or sense of something; 3.f. opinion, report, advise; 3.g. use of the senses, understanding, clarity; etc.

As we can see, the three terms reflect the idea of agreement as it is used in legal texts. They are so tightly connected that one right after the other is defined and can be used interchangeably according to the context.

But now, we want to highlight the differences between these terms. Convenio and acuerdo emphasize the right to freedom of contracts; the idea of a consensus is very clear. However, for some contracts that we sign on a daily basis adhesion contracts are being used more frequently, meaning that contracts that are already pre-printed in which one of the parties decides the relationship conditions and the other party can only accept (sign) the contract or not (the relationship is not established). In this case there is no room for negotiation. Here we are referring to contratos de adhesión (adhesion contracts) (and not convenios or acuerdos). This is currently one of the most commonly used contracts.

Within the sphere of private law, we usually find contratos under the scope of convenios which is the voluntary agreement to create and transmit obligations and rights. On the other hand, through a convenio, not only are these rights and obligations created and transmitted, but they are modified or dissolved.

Within the sphere of international public law, the term convenio or acuerdo is used instead of contrato. Internally, we can make the distinction that contrato aims for a specific material end while convenio can have institutional objectives.

This summary of concepts can help us to clarify the meaning of each of these words, but as translators we should always respect the author’s general meaning of the text.