Bolsa or Bolso?

I have been looking for a new bag for a long time, and this last weekend I finally spotted one that I liked, so I bought it. Now the tricky part. What is the difference between un bolso and una bolsa? This has been one of those questions that rolls around in my head and pops out a different answer each time I have to refer to any type of bag, causing pausing and stammering when trying to speak to the shop assistant in Spanish. When I’m in the bakery they always ask me if I want a bag, and again the possibility of two words to choose from in replying trips something in my brain that stops my answer being as smooth as it should be.

To put it finally to rest here is the definitive definition.

When to use una bolsa or un bolso.

A bag (such as a messenger bag) is una bolsa.
A woman’s handbag is un bolso.
A plastic bag from a supermarket or another shop is una bolsa de plastico.
A back pack is una mochila or un morral.

Un bolso (a woman’s handbag), una bolsa (a more casual satchel type bag)

I think it was the masculine/feminine cross over with the men’s and women’s bags that had me confused. Now it is written down, I will never get it wrong again. And I successfully went shopping and bought myself a nice new bag, all in Spanish of course.

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