Spanish idioms to make you sound like a native
For all those reading this who are thinking what’s an idiom? Then let me explain. An idiom is a commonly used phrase or expression that does not make sense with the literal meaning of its words. For example, in English we say it’s raining cats and dogs for when the rain is heavy. It’s not literally raining cats and dogs but it’s an expression that’s developed over time and now everyone understands the meaning.
And as strange as we have them in English, the Spanish have some equally strange expressions. Some you will recognise as they have an equivalent translation in English and some you’ll probably think ‘why don’t we use this in English?’
These are the kind of things that will change your Spanish into sounding more natural.
20 Spanish idioms
Tomar el pelo
Translation: Pulling my leg
Meaning: This Spanish idiom is the equivalent to ‘are you pulling my leg?’ We use this when we think someone is teasing us or trying to prank us with a joke.
Mucho ruido y pocas nueces
Translation: All talk and no action
Meaning: This expression is used when someone keeps talking about doing something but never actually does it. Normally someone who does this with one thing is the type of person who does it with everything. They talk about getting fit and joining the gym but they never do it, they say they want to start a business but they talk about the specifics without actually doing anything.
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente
Translation: You snooze you lose
Meaning: This means when you are indecisive, lazy or you just wait on an opportunity for too long then you might find it’s passed you by. This can be used in reference to things like getting a position at your company or a girl you like, but it can also be as simple as not taking the last piece of cake before someone else.
El amor es ciego, pero los vecinos no
Translation: Love is blind but the neighbours aren’t
Meaning: When we love someone we can’t see their flaws, ‘el amor es ciego’ signifies that we look past problems or flaws when we’re in love. Couple that with but the neighbours aren’t is a reminder that regardless if you can’t see it, that flaw it there.
De tal palo tal astilla
Translation: Like father like son
Meaning: I think this is a pretty common phrase in English so you probably shouldn’t have too much trouble with it. It’s pretty straightforward in that children don’t just share their physical appearances with their parents but elements of their personality.
Cada loco con su tema
Translation: To each their own
Meaning: It pretty much means everyone has their own tastes and preferences and that’s just fine.
Donde hay humo, hay fuego
Translation: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
Meaning: This usually means if you think you have a reason to be suspicious, you’re probably right. For example if your husband is protecting his phone and staying out late (the smoke), then there’s probably another woman (the fire).
Borrón y cuenta nueve
Translation: Let bygones be bygones
Meaning: This is used when you decide to let things go. If something unpleasant happened between you and another person in the past but you both decide it doesn’t matter anymore and you want to get on with life then you use this phrase.
Consejos vendo y para mí no tengo
Translation: Do as I say not as I do
Meaning: This is something parents normally say to their children when they tell their children to do something but instead do otherwise. We use it when we know we are being a hypocrite but we still want someone else to change their behaviour.
Estar más sano que una pera
Translation: To be as fit as a fiddle
Meaning: It essentially means to be very healthy and strong. We normally use it when we are talking about an old person or someone who has been sick.
Soldado avisado no muere en guerra
Translation: Forewarned is forearmed
Meaning: If you have been forewarned then you are in a position to arm yourself and therefore protect yourself better. It gives you a tactical advantage.
Entre la espada y la pared
Translation: Between a rock and a hard place.
Meaning: This phrase means you are in a situation where you’re between two difficult choices, you really don’t want to do either.
Más vale tarde que nunca
Translation: Better late than never
Meaning: This is normally used when something happens after it’s desired time. It’s better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.
Tener un humor de perros
Translation: To be in a foul mood
Meaning: It’s pretty much the equivalent of it’s English translation, we use it when someone is in a very bad mood.
En la tierra de los ciegos el tuerto es el rey
Translation: In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king
Meaning: Although we have this phrase in English, I don’t think it’s actually used that often. Among a group of people who have a disability or are all disadvantaged, it is the person with the lesser disadvantage who will lead this group even if they aren’t that qualified or able.
Ser pan comido
Translation: It’s a piece of cake
Meaning: Just like the English phrase ‘ser pan comido,’ means something is very easy or requires little to no effort.
Tirar la casa por la ventana
Translation: Spare no expense
Meaning: We use this phrase when someone is buying something or spending money and they don’t want the cost to be an issue. It doesn’t matter what it takes or how much it costs, you want the product or event and the money just isn’t important.
Dar la vuelta a la tortilla
Translation: To turn the tables
Meaning: This expression is used when the situation changes to the advantage or disadvantage or someone, normally unexpectedly.
Sin pelos en la lengua
Translation: Without mincing words
Meaning: ‘Sin pelos en la lengua’ signifies someone who talks without worrying about hurting someone else’s feelings. They’re not going to beat around the bush and be nice to you, but rather talk straight to the point and if they hurt your feelings then so be it.
Dar en el clavo
Translation: Hit the nail on the head
Meaning: This expression means you’ve gotten something spot on. For example, you’re faced with a problem that you can’t figure out and someone tells you what’s wrong immediately and it’s completely correct.
Some of these Spanish idioms might take a while to get used to, but when you start dropping them into conversation, you’ll know you’ve reached a new stage of proficiency.
Good luck with these Spanish idioms and keep learning!