Las Vegas and Los Angeles are both popular cities in the western United States with Spanish names. One can’t help but notice that Los Angeles starts with the word “Los” while Las Vegas begins with the word “Las”. Shouldn’t “Las Vegas” be spelled “Los Vegas”, so is it LOS or LAS Vegas?
The correct spelling is “Las Vegas”. It is called Las Vegas because the Spanish word “vega”, which means “plain, or meadow”, is feminine, thus having the feminine definite article “la” instead of the masculine “el”. The plural of “la” is “las”, while the plural of “el” is “los”.
Interestingly enough, for a number of years “Las Vegas” was incorrectly referred to as “Los Vegas”. Keep reading to find out why, how Las Vegas got its name and what exactly is the correct pronunciation.
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Why Is it LOS Angeles but LAS Vegas?
A lot of American cities and towns have Hispanic names. Two of the most famous ones are Los Angeles, located in California, and Las Vegas, located in Nevada. California and Nevada are neighboring states and they are also close to the Mexican border, which accounts for the Hispanic influence in the names of the towns. Heck, there’s even a nearby state called New Mexico, so it’s no wonder that many towns in the region have Hispanic names.
The “Angeles” in Los Angeles, means “Angels” in Spanish. The word “ángel” is a masculine noun in Spanish, meaning its definite article is “el” (el ángel). Since the name of the city uses the plural form, it had to be “Los ángeles”, as the name plural form of “el” is “los”. This is why the city is called Los Angeles.
So, why is it not the same with Las Vegas? Well, it’s because of the way that nouns in Spanish grammar are denoted as either masculine or feminine.
“Las Vegas” and Not “Los Vegas”
The city of Las Vegas got its name in 1829. The name was chosen by a Spanish tradesman, Rafael Rivera. He was traveling with the explorer Antonio Armijo, who was exploring a route from New Mexico to Los Angeles and stopped for water where Las Vegas is today.
(You can find out all about how Las Vegas got its start in our article here)
The small settlement, back at the time, contained several artisan wells surrounded by large green plains, or meadows. This is why Rivera chose the name Las Vegas, which means “the meadows” in Spanish. The word “vega”, which means “meadow, or plain”, is a feminine noun in the Spanish language.
The definite feminine article in Spanish is “la”, whose plural form is “las”. Due to Rivera choosing the plural form, “vegas”, the town became known as Las Vegas (The Meadows), rather than Los Vegas. The latter would be grammatically incorrect.
The Post Office Changed the Name to LOS Vegas For a Time
In the late 1800’s, the Postmaster General of the United States decided to change the name from Las Vegas to “Los Vegas” due to some confusion with another town in New Mexico that was also named Las Vegas. This didn’t change the name of the city officially but mail started being addressed to “Los Vegas”.
It took around 10 years before the postmaster relinquished and finally changed the name in the postal system back to the correct spelling of “Las Vegas” in 1903.
How Las Vegas is Pronounced in Spanish
The proper English pronunciation of the name Las Vegas is [lɑs vɛɡəs], according to the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA system. This is a very simple pronunciation and there should be no difficulties in getting this part right. Still, people quite often pronounce it wrongly. Why is that?
The most common mistake heard is people saying [veɪgəs] (VAY-guss) instead of [vɛɡəs]. This is not a proper way to say it, but due to different dialects and accents within the United States, local folk often tend to pronounce it wrongly.
In fact, [veɪgəs] is the proper pronunciation of the word “vagus”, which is an important nerve in our bodies. So, in this case, don’t believe the local people when they try to persuade you to use [veɪgəs] instead of [vɛɡəs].
Still, due to the city’s growing population and the language being a very fluent phenomenon, [veɪgəs] is becoming more and more common so it wouldn’t surprise us if it completely replaced the proper pronunciation in due time.
As for the first part of the name, the word “las” has to be pronounced [lɑs] and there is really no debate there. Still, due to the presence of different dialects, local and other southern folks quite often pronounce the word in a way that it sounds like “los”.
It’s not the same issue as with the word “vegas”, since [vɛɡəs] and [veɪgəs] are completely different ways to use the word. Here, even the locals know it’s [lɑs] and they are actually saying [lɑs], but due to their specific dialects, it just sounds like “los”.
This might also be the source of the confusion about the town’s name, i.e., why people think it’s Los Vegas and not Las Vegas.
And that covers our analysis of the etymology of the name Las Vegas. You’ve seen how and when the city got its name, what that name means and how it should be pronounced, but also how it is commonly mis-pronounced.
You’ve also found out the difference in the spellings between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and why it’s not Los Vegas but Las Vegas.
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