17 Common Spanish Idioms You Should Know
Have you read our previous post on the importance of Spanish idioms published only a few months back? Have you practiced the list and now you’re ready for more?
As we have established before, idioms in Spanish are essential to explore when you’re learning a foreign language. They require focused attention and plenty of practice in order to master them.
Here are four reasons why learning Spanish idioms is so important:
- They will make you sound like a proper fluent Spanish speaker.
- They are usable in both professional and casual environments.
- They are part of daily speech and allow you to understand native Spanish.
- They will both help you understand the culture or region you’re in and also give you the tools to demonstrate it!
Before we get straight into Spanish idioms, remember that you already know plenty in your native language! This is a good start, let’s see what they are!
Similarities with English Idioms
It might seem hard at first to think of some of the important idioms you use daily in English because we often don’t even realize they are idioms. They form such a big part of the way we express ourselves and communicate with others. To illustrate my point, I’ve picked a couple of common English idioms that you probably use on a regular basis.
For example, the phrase “barking up the wrong tree,” which is likely to be one of the more difficult idioms for English learners, means that you are wasting your energy and time in doing something the wrong way or by taking the wrong approach. It has nothing to do with barking nor with trees!
Another example that you are likely to use in everyday language is “pull yourself together,” which is a way to tell someone to calm down.
As you can see, there is little logic to these examples. As native or fluent English speakers, we know them as common sense, but for a beginner, one of these idioms may just send them “off the rails” and discourage them from any improvement. In most cases, idioms in English cannot be translated literally into idioms in Spanish, although they often do have similar counterparts.
Parallels in Idioms
It’s truly curious that very often idioms in Spanish have their own alternative in English. This tells us how much the internet has influenced different cultures. The fact that we have odd phrases to refer to similar things in our everyday lives in both languages is part of how amazing language can be. It demonstrates how connected we all really are.
To demonstrate these interesting similarities, I’ve compiled a few of the most common idioms in Spanish which have a related alternative in English. Check them out and take note of how they are culturally different but make reference to similar things.
1. Tomar del Pelo
Meaning: To trick or make fun of someone with a harmless lie or joke.
Translation: To grab by the hair
English Version: To pull someone’s leg
¿Me estas tomando del pelo? No pareces de quince años.
Are you pulling my leg? You do not look fifteen.
2. Pan Comido
Meaning: When something is easy or simple.
Translation: Already eaten bread.
English Version: A piece of cake.
Llegar es pan comido, solo sigues recto y después cruzas a la izquierda.
Getting there is a piece of cake, you just need to follow straight ahead and then turn left.
3. Estar más sano que una pera
Meaning: To be very healthy.
Translation: To be healthier than a pear.
English Version: Fit as a fiddle.
La dieta no es necesaria, estás más sana que una pera.
The diet is not necessary, you are fit as a fiddle.
3. Darle vuelta a la tortilla
Meaning: To reverse events or meaning of something.
Translation: To turn the tortilla around.
English Version: To turn the tide.
No le des vuelta a la tortilla, fue tu culpa que la fiesta se cancelara.
Don’t turn the tide, it was your fault the party was canceled.
4. Llover a cántaros
Meaning: When it rains very hard.
Translation: To rain to pitchers
English Version: To rain cats and dogs.
No salgas sin sombrilla, esta lloviendo a cantaros.
Don’t leave without an umbrella, it’s raining cats and dogs out there.
5. Dar a luz
Meaning: When a baby is born.
Translation: Give light.
English Version: To give birth.
Tu madre dio a luz a tu hermanita.
Your mom has given birth to your little sister.
6. Estar frito
Meaning: To have an unfortunate event or outcome.
Translation: To be fried.
English Version: To be doomed.
Mis padres se enteraron, estoy frito.
My parents found out, I’m doomed.
7. Dar en el blanco
Meaning: To be right or assertive.
Translation: To hit the target.
English Version: To hit the bullseye.
Le diste en el blanco, eran justo estos aretes los que quería para Navidad.
You hit the bullseye, I wanted these exact earrings for Christmas.
8. Tener sangre azul
Meaning: To come from a royal or very rich family.
Translation: To have blue blood.
English Version: To be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.
El es de sangre azul, sus padres viven en una mansión.
He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his parents live in a mansion.
9. Encontrar tu media naranja
Meaning: To find your better/other half.
Translation: To find your other half orange.
English Version: To find your soulmate.
Espero algún día encontrar mi media naranja.
I hope someday to find my soul mate.
10. Tener memoria de pez
Meaning: To have a bad memory.
Translation: Having the memory of a fish.
English Version: To have the memory of a sieve.
Tengo memoria de pez, no recuerdo nada de lo que estudie para el examen.
I have the memory of a sieve, I can’t remember anything I studied for the test.
11. Ser la oveja negra
Meaning: To be odd or different to the rest.
Translation: Being the black sheep.
English Version: To be the black sheep.
Siempre he sido la oveja negra, a ninguno de mis hermanos les gusta lo mismo que a mi.
I’ve always been the black, none of my siblings like the same things I do.
12. Ser una gallina
Meaning: To be a coward.
Translation: To be a hen.
English Version: being a chicken.
No seas gallina, el agua no está tan fría.
Don’t be a chicken, the water is not that cold.
13. Ser una rata
Meaning: Being treacherous or a cheat.
Translation: To be a rat.
English Version: To be a snake
¡Que rata! El perro se comió mi almuerzo.
What a snake! The dog ate my lunch.
14. Meter la pata
Meaning: To ruin something.
Translation: To put your paw inside.
English Version: To put your foot in it.
No metas las patas, ella no sabe nada todavía.
Don’t put your foot in it, she doesn’t know anything yet.
15. No pegar un ojo
Meaning: Not being able to sleep.
Translation: Not gluing an eye.
English Version: Without sleeping a wink.
Estoy muy cansada, no pegué un ojo anoche.
I’m too tired, I didn’t sleep a wink last night.
16. Dar en el clavo
Meaning: To be right.
Translation: To hit the nail.
English Version: To be spot on.
Le di en el clavo, era él el ladrón de lápices.
I was spot on, he was the pencil thief.
Beyond Literal Translations
As you can see, some of these are very similar, such as “being the black sheep” and ser una gallina, while others have nothing to do with each other, like “to be spot on” and tener sangre azul. This illustrates that learning a language is not only about being able to translate everything or anything, but it requires a connection to the new culture. Spanish idioms give you a new way of seeing the world and incorporating it into your everyday life. Learning another language is like living more than one life.
Relatability Through Language
In my personal experience as a traveller and native Spanish-speaker in an English-speaking country (I live in England), I’ve realized that learning and using idioms allows you to make a home wherever you go. Especially when I come across these types of similar expressions in both languages that remind me of my own culture or everyday life back home, I feel more comfortable in my current country. It’s like having a piece of home here with me in England.
Culture in Speech
In getting to use these phrases you will not only feel like an advanced or native speaker, but the people around you will also perceive you that way. You will be immersed in the language and in the day-to-day culture. Ultimately, these are the aspects of learning Spanish that will allow you to understand the culture and to find your own place within it.
Learn More Idioms!
Next time you hear a phrase in Spanish that seems to make no sense at all but that everyone else understands, don’t be overwhelmed or discouraged! Now you know it is likely another idiom. Remember to identify whether there is a version of it in English that can help you understand it better. Once you have a hold of these, we encourage you to use them as much as possible, as they will boost your confidence and help you fit in!
Sign Up and Speak Spanish
We invite you to sign up and book a free class with us so you can practice these new idioms along with refreshing the ones you already have up your sleeve. ¡Tú puedes!
Want more Spanish news and culture? Check these out!
- The Ultimate Guide to De and Desde in Spanish: What’s the Difference? - May 7, 2020
- 5 Exceptional Spanish Poems in Latin American Literature - April 8, 2020
- 17 Common Spanish Idioms You Should Know - February 27, 2020