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Spanish accent is not everything – no matter whether it’s European or Latin American. Sure, it does help you sound more like a native. But first, you should focus on expanding your vocabulary in order to become fluent. Go with practical and popular notions such as Spanish sayings, expressions or idioms that the natives use all the time. This way, you’ll add substance and humor to your discourse and sound more believable, authentic and surely – more like a Spanish native. After all, this is your main goal when learning Spanish.
Oxford Languages defines “saying” as a short, pithy and commonly known expression that offers wisdom or a piece of advice. Hence, Spanish sayings will not just make you sound like a native, but will also provide insight into Spanish history and culture. This is why learning the most popular sayings is definitely a win-win situation. So let’s dive in and see what Spanish sayings and expressions you can use to sound as if you were Spanish-born.
Spanish sayings with English equivalents
Spanish sayings are like salt and pepper to your discourse. And like the margarita, the Spanish language is better with a pinch of salt on the rim of the glass. Don’t be too overzealous though. As the English saying goes: one can have too much of a good thing. If you use too many sayings in your discourse, you could come off as… peculiar.
Speaking of English sayings, let’s begin with a list of the most popular Spanish sayings that have a clear English correspondent or equivalent. This way, you’ll easily understand how sayings work in Spanish and know right away what is the proper context to use each of them.
1. Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.
Literal translation: Tell me who you hang out with, and I’ll tell you who you are.
English equivalent: Although in English we often use the literal translation too, we are more familiar with the ‘official’ version of this saying: “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are”. In addition, “birds of a feather flock together” has a similar meaning and can be used as an alternative.
2. No hay mal que por bien no venga.
Literal translation: There’s no bad from which something good doesn’t come.
English equivalent: “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
Absolutely the best Spanish saying you can use to encourage someone to be hopeful even when things are not great.
3. Más vale tarde que nunca.
English equivalent: “Better late than never.”
This one is pretty straightforward as the literal translation is the same as the English equivalent.
4. Cuando el río suena, agua lleva.
Literal translation: When the river makes noise, it’s carrying water.
English equivalent: “There’s no smoke without fire.”
Did you know this one? It means that if there are unpleasant rumors about someone or something, there is probably a good reason for it. Meaning that the rumors are almost always partly true.
5. Del tal palo, tal astilla.
Literal translation: Such is the stick, such is the chip.
English equivalent: “Like father, like son.” / “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
6. A falta de pan, buenas son tortas.
Literal translation: If there’s no bread, cakes will do.
English equivalent: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
Who wouldn’t prefer cakes over bread though?
7. El hábito no hace al monje.
Literal translation: The habit doesn’t make the monk.
English equivalent: “Clothes do not make the man.” / “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Don’t ever judge a person solely by appearances because this is not a reliable indication of the true character of that person. No matter if it’s a positive or a negative bias. You might be surprised.
8. Mucho ruido y pocas nueces.
Literal translation: Lots of noise and few nuts.
English equivalent: “Much ado about nothing.”
That’s… interesting, Spanish. We bet Shakespeare would find this funny.
But it’s not entirely absurd though. Think about the moment you break a nutshell. If it’s empty, it made the loud noise for literally nothing.
9. El que no arriesga, no gana.
Literal translation: The person who does not risk cannot win.
English equivalent: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Put your neck on the line, take a leap in the dark, sail close to the wind or run the risk of doing something. It may be worth it.
10. En casa del herrero, cuchillo de palo.
Literal translation: In the blacksmith’s house, a wooden knife.
English equivalent: “The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot.”
This saying illustrates the ironic absence of an object or virtue in a place where it should not be lacking.
General Spanish sayings with no direct English equivalent
Now, let’s move on to more tricky business: Spanish sayings with no direct English equivalents. To help you fully understand these, we’ll give you some examples.
Oh, and don’t tell anyone you know it from us, but learning sayings to sound like a native it’s kind of a gimmick. Or a shortcut – to put it more elegantly. Lucky for you, Mondly is all about language learning gimmicks, so don’t hesitate to check out the app and speak Spanish with ease in just 10 minutes a day.
1. Al mal tiempo, buena cara.
Literal translation: To bad weather, good face.
Meaning: Be positive even in bad situations.
How to use it
– Estoy pasando por una mala racha. Tengo que terminar un informe para el lunes y aún no he llegado a la mitad. (“I’m going through a rough patch. I have to finish a report by Monday and I’m not even halfway through yet.”)
– Oye, no te desesperes. Al mal tiempo, buena cara. (“Hey, don’t despair. It’s important to remain positive even in difficult situations.”)
2. El que tiene boca se equivoca.
Literal translation: Whoever has a mouth makes mistakes.
Meaning: Nobody’s perfect.
How to use it
– Me preocupa no haberlo hecho bien en el examen de ayer. Estaba realmente nervioso. (“I’m worried I didn’t do well in yesterday’s exam. I was really nervous.”)
– No te preocupes. El que tiene boca se equivoca. La celebraremos si apruebas. (“Don’t worry. Nobody’s perfect. We’ll celebrate if you pass.”)
3. A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.
Literal translation: God helps those who get up early.
Meaning: The importance of being diligent and responsible in what we do.
This Spanish saying has also been found in literary texts such as ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’. Slightly changed but keeping the same meaning, the phrase appears in the second chapter: “He who does not get up early with the sun does not enjoy the day”.
How to use it
– Estoy un poco nervioso para mañana, pero espero que todo salga bien con el nuevo proyecto. (“I’m a little nervous for tomorrow, but I hope all will be well with the new project.”)
– ¡Buena suerte! No olvides que a quien madruga, Dios le ayuda. (“Good luck! Don’t forget that God helps those who are determined to get the work done.”)
4. Como Pedro por su casa.
Literal translation: Like Pedro in his house.
Meaning: Someone who behaves comfortably in a house that is not his own.
The phrase has a ‘pejorative’ or negative tinge when applied to a person with a haughty and arrogant attitude. The origin of this popular Spanish saying is the conquest of Huesca by King Pedro I of Aragon in the Battle of Alcoraz. It is said that the monarch conquered the city with little resistance from the Muslim troops who had already killed king Sancho Ramírez, Pedro’s father.
It was an unbelievable victory considering the siege had begun some two years earlier, which is why they praised the ease with which Pedro won this battle. Thus, the Spanish saying ‘entróse como Pedro en Huesca’ (“enter like Pedro through Huesca”) was born and, consequently, the expression ‘como Pedro por su casa’.
How to use it
– Tu suegra lleva aquí un tiempo. Supongo que se siente cómoda aquí. (“Your mother-in-law has been here for a while now. I’m guessing she feels comfortable here.”)
– Si, como Pedro por su casa. (“Yes, like Peter in his house.”)
Spanish sayings about animals
Sayings about animals are common in any language and Spanish makes no exception. Here are some of the most common Spanish sayings about animals.
1. A caballo regalado no se le mira el diente.
Literal translation: A gift horse does not look at the tooth.
English equivalent or meaning: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
You probably already know in which contexts to use this saying, but do you know its origin story? Back in the day, when horses were the most reliable form of transport for everyone, selling and buying a horse was a tough job. Since horses’ teeth change over time, buyers would check the horse in the mouth to make sure the seller is not lying about the age. Naturally, such practice was considered a sign of mistrust towards the seller.
2. Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando.
Literal translation: A bird in the hand is worth more than one hundred flying.
English equivalent or meaning: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
In other words, don’t risk losing everything by seeking to get more.
3. En boca cerrada no entran moscas.
Literal translation: Flies do not enter in the closed mouth.
English equivalent or meaning: Silence is golden. Be discreet and keep your mouth shut. Otherwise, get ready to face the consequences.
How to use it
– Sospecho que Alejandro está mintiendo sobre su título. ¿Debería decírselo a nuestro jefe? (“I suspect that Alejandro is lying about his degree. Should I tell our boss?”)
– No es asunto tuyo. En boca cerrada no entran moscas. (“It’s none of your business. Don’t risk it.”)
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