20 Endangered Languages in Europe: Your Complete Guide
February 21st was an International mother language day.
Have you ever heard a Spanish mother call her youngest son the “la oveja negra”?
If you are a beginner language learner, you might have made a quick translation and realized that that phrase translates to “the black sheep”.
You might have patted yourself on the back for “understanding it” before it dawned on you, did it really make sense that she just called her son “oveja”?
Congratulations, you just ran into a Spanish idiom. An idiom, in any language, is a phrase that has a different, figurative meaning, from what the individual words say.
While there may be direct translations of the words used in these idioms, they will rarely match up to what a native language speaker meant when they said it.
The Spanish language contains many idioms that native speakers use daily. Spanish idioms can be awfully confusing for beginner Spanish language learners. While you may be able to translate what the words mean, the context can totally escape you sometimes.
Idioms, along with Spanish slang and Spanish swear words are important to learn. In this post, we’re going to share some common Spanish idioms and what they mean.
If you want to become fluent enough to hold conversations with native Spanish speakers, you need to start familiarizing yourself with some common Spanish idioms and what they mean.
For your entertainment, we’ve also included the literal translations of these idioms as some of them are pretty funny. There are a lot of references to food and animals.
Let’s start with the idiom we used above.
Meaning: Good for nothing
Translation: To be the black sheep
As we mentioned, the literal meaning of this phrase is “to be the black sheep”. If your familiar with the English idiom “black sheep”, this is pretty much the same thing.
A black sheep is someone who is considered a “good for nothing” or unsuccessful compared to their compatriots.
Meaning: To be irrelevant
Translation: Not to matter a cucumber/radish/pepper
When you hear this idiom, it means the speaker is saying that someone or something does not matter.
Meaning: No comparison
Translation: There is no color
When someone says this, they are saying there is no comparison between two different things.
Meaning: Be careful
Translation: To walk with lead feet
When you hear the advice to “andar con pies” someone is telling you to be careful as you might be on the verge of doing something offensive or wrong. It’s the equivalent to the English idiom “tread lightly”.
Meaning: Have good vision
Translation: To have the eyesight of a lynx
This is basically identical to saying someone has the “eyes of a hawk/eagle” in English. The Spanish think lynx have good eyesight and they are not wrong as one of the reasons these predatory cats are good hunters is because of good vision.
Meaning: Have a bad vision
Translation: Not being able to see three on a donkey
If you have bad vision, this idiom implies, you won’t be able to see well enough to count a donkey’s legs.
Meaning: Notice danger
Translation: To see the ears of the wolf
If you “see the ears of the wolf”, you noticed the danger. Being alert to danger means that you can warn other people.
Meaning: It’s easy
Translation: To eat bread
If a Spanish speaker says this to you, they are trying to reassure you that something is easy. It is a descriptive idiom that means to put you at ease, because what’s difficult about eating bread?
Meaning: Deep sleeper
Translation: Sleep with a loose leg
No insomnia for anyone described with this Spanish idiom. This refers to someone who falls asleep easily and deeply.
Meaning: Act crazy
Translation: To be like a goat
This describes someone who is not acting rationally.
Meaning: Act stupid
Translation: To be a melon
When someone says this, they are implying that someone is not acting very smart at the moment. It’s not the same as saying they are really mentally incapacitated, just not thinking straight right now.
Translation: To take the hair
This is basically the equivalent to the English idiom “You’re pulling my leg.” When you hear this, someone is saying that they don’t believe what someone else is saying.
Translation: No hairs on the tongue
This idiom is meant to describe someone who in English is a “straight shooter.” In other words, someone who is straightforward and speaks their mind.
Translation: To have the memory of a fish
This idiom is used to describe someone who has a bad memory
Translation: To be a rat
In what could be a reference to the idea that rats are greedy and grab food for themselves at every opportunity, being like a rat in Spanish means that you are stingy. You keep your money hidden away and hate spending, especially on others.
Meaning: Spent a lot
Translation: Throw the house through the window
Someone who does this is the opposite of a “rat”. They are not stingy and are willing to spend a lot on something they want. No expenses are spared.
Translation: More wool than a lamb
If this applies to someone, they are really capable of saying “tirar la cas por la venta” because they have a lot of money. The equivalent to the English idiom “loaded with cash”.
Translation: To shake like pudding
This means that someone is acting visibly nervous or “shaky”.
Translation: Stay like a stone
When you are so stunned by something that you stand stock-still or are unable to react for a few seconds.
Meaning: To have bad luck
Translation: To have the black
This idiom refers to someone who is down on their luck.
Translation: To turn into a tomato
This means you are turning red or flushed due to emotion. In other words, you are blushing.
Meaning: Good looking
Translation: A piece of candy
You could be blushing because your crush, who is “se un bombón” smiled at you. This Spanish idiom is the equivalent of the English idiom “eye candy”, someone who is good looking.
Translation: To be a hen
When you are “being a hen”, you are acting frightened. This is basically the equivalent to the taunt “Your being chicken” in English, which means you’re a coward.
Meaning: To trick someone
Translation: To give cat for hare
In the old days, when buying meat in the market, people would often ask to see the head of the animal to make sure that they get what they paid for. In the case of hare’s, people would want one with the head attached to be sure it was a hare because the head of a cat could pass for a hare.
Long story short, this means that you tricked or intended to trick someone.
Meaning: Say something you don’t mean
Translation: Said from the lips outwards
This idiom refers to saying something that you didn’t really mean to, either because it’s untrue or because you knew it wouldn’t be well received.
Meaning: To be right
Translation: To throw in the white
This means that someone’s answer to a question or thoughts about a situation turned out to be the right one.
Meaning: To make something more complicated than it is
Translation: To look for the three feet on a cat
This funny Spanish idiom implies that you are thinking too much about a situation and making things harder and more complicated than it has to be.
Meaning: In a bad mood
Translation: To get in bad milk
Bad milk is sour, so, to get in bad milk is to be sour or in a bad mood.
Meaning: To be angry
Translate: To be made a chili
This idiom probably refers to the fact that chili peppers are hot. So if you are “made a chili” you are hot or angry.
Meaning: To make a mistake
Translation: To put the leg on it
This Spanish idiom can be thought of as similar to the English idiom of “stepping into it” or putting the “wrong foot forward.” It means that you made the wrong move and are now potentially in trouble.
Meaning: Do things in the wrong order
Translation: To start the house by the roof
The equivalent to this idiom in English is “to put the cart before the horse”. The implication is that you are thinking too far ahead and not concentrating on what should be your first steps.
Translation: To be healthier than a pear
This idiom is used to say that you or someone else is healthy.
Meaning: Being an angsty teenager
Translation: To be in the turkey’s age
When someone says this about someone, they are comparing them to a moody or angsty teenager. So it’s similar to “ponerse de mala leche” in the sense that you’re saying someone is in a bad mood.
Meaning: To be old and out of touch
Translation: To be from the year of the pear
Another idiom about age, this means that someone is old. Not just old, but also out of touch and clueless to the realities of now. Kids can use it to explain why their parents are confused by their smartphones.
Meaning: Very good friends
Translation: To be fingernail and flesh
This rather odd Spanish idiom basically means “inseparable”. It is used to describe good friends who are almost always together and very close.
Meaning: Not making sense
Translation: Without feet or head
When someone uses this idiom, they are saying you or someone else is not making sense. It can also be used to imply instructions or commands are not clear.
Meaning: To deny responsibility
Translation: To wash your hands
Given that Spain and the Spanish culture is heavily influenced by Catholicism, this idiom probably comes from the story of Pontious Pilate. Before he condemned Jesus Christ to the Cross, he was said to have literally washed his hands and declared that he was not responsible, it was what the crowd wanted.
So now you know some Spanish idioms, now is the time to start using them in everyday conversations. In order to do so, you first need to memorize these idioms and their meanings.
To help you do that, we’ve provided a downloadable PDF file of these 37 Spanish idioms.
Spanish is a rich language and native Spanish-speakers regularly use more than just these idioms, so you should really look around for more.
You can ask your Spanish speaking friends and your online native Spanish speaking tutor about more fun and funny Spanish Idioms that you should learn.
It goes without saying that you should practice using these idioms in conversation with them as well.
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