If you are learning Spanish, it’s quite likely that you have already heard some confusing expressions. It’s possible that they don’t make sense if you translate them literally into your own language. Maybe you think they don’t seem to make sense in the context of the conversation. Don’t worry, it’s not that you didn’t hear it right, It’s probably just a Spanish idiom.

What is an idiom anyway?

You use them every day but you’re probably thinking, what is an idiom? Idioms are phrases or fixed expressions that are used with a figurative meaning, rather than the literal meaning. It is estimated that the English language has more than 25,000 idiomatic expressions. Since languages undergo a constant evolution, that number is growing every day.

Why you have to learn Spanish Idioms

The Spanish language uses many idioms. Some of them have a direct equivalent in other languages, whilst some of them are almost impossible to translate. In some cases, we could guess the meaning of these Spanish expressions when we hear them in context. However, in many cases it’s impossible to understand them if we haven’t heard them before, even if you speak Spanish at a high level.

Most idioms are very typical to the country or region they are from. For a language as widely spoken as Spanish, that means the number of idioms is huge! The sayings and idioms used by Spanish speakers from Spain are different to those used by the population in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia or Venezuela.

Here we have 40 Spanish idioms typical from Spain (although some of them are used internationally). We have classified them in four different groups with a literal translation, their meaning and  an equivalent in English.

Spanish idioms with animals

Idiom Literal translation Meaning Equivalent
Tener vista de lince To have the eyesight of a lynx Having an excellent vision Have an eagle eye
Ser un gallina To be a hen To be a coward To be a chicken
Estar en la edad del pavo To be in the turkey’s age To be a teenager, to be in puberty To go through teenage angst
Ser la oveja negra To be the black sheep To be good for nothing, to be the unsuccessful one To go off the rails
Estar como una cabra To be like a goat To be crazy To be mad as a hornet, to be crazy as a bat
No ver tres en un burro Not being able to see three on a donkey Having a really bad vision To be blind as a bat
Dar gato por liebre To give cat for hare To trick / rip off someone To take for a ride
Ser un rata To be a rat To be stingy To be a tightwad
Verle las orejas al lobo To see the ears of the wolf To notice danger To see the writing on the wall
Tener memoria de pez To have the memory of a fish To have a bad memory To have a memory like a sieve

 

Ser la oveja negra	means to be the black sheet in Spanish idioms

 

Spanish idioms with food and drinks

Idiom Literal translation Meaning Equivalent
No importar un pepino / un rábano / un pimiento Not to matter a cucumber / radish / pepper To be irrelevant To not give a monkey about it
Ser pan comido To be eaten bread To be very easy To be a piece of cake
Ponerse de mala leche To get in bad milk To get in a bad mood To get bent out of shape
Dar calabazas a alguien To give pumpkins to someone To reject someone To give somebody the brush off
Ser un melón To be a melon To be not very intelligent To be a blockhead
Temblar como un flan To be shaky like a pudding To be very nervous To be a cat on hot bricks
Ponerse como un tomate To turn into a tomato To blush To turn as red as a beetroot
Ser un bombón To be a bonbon To be very good looking To be eye candy
Dar la vuelta a la tortilla To turn the omelette around To turn the situation around To turn the tables
Ser del año de la pera To be from the year of the pear To be very old To be from another era

 

Spanish idioms with body parts

Idiom Literal translation Meaning Equivalent
Lavarse las manos To wash your hands To avoid your responsibility To pass the bucket
Hacer algo al pie de la letra To do something to the foot of the letter Do something exactly as instructed To do something to the T
No tener ni pies ni cabeza Without feet or head Not to make sense Without rhyme or reason
Meter la pata To put the leg on it To make a mistake To put your foot in it
No pegar ojo To not strike an eye Not being able to sleep Without sleeping a wink
Sin pelos en la lengua Without hair in your tongue To be outspoken Without mince words
Estar hasta las narices To be up the nose To be annoyed / tired of something To be sick to death / fed up
Dormir a pierna suelta Sleep with a loose leg To sleep deeply To sleep like a log
Buscar tres pies al gato To look for the three feet on a cat To make something more complicated than it is To take the scenic route
Andar con pies de plomo To walk with lead feet To be very careful To walk on the safe side

 

Spanish idioms with colours

Idiom Literal translation Meaning Equivalent
No haber color There is no colour There is no comparison To be like apples and oranges
Tener la negra To have the black To have bad luck To be jinxed
Dar en el blanco To throw in the white To be right To hit the bulls-eye
Verlo todo de color de rosa To see everything in pink colour To be everything with excessive optimism To see all peaches and cream
Buscar el príncipe azul To look for the blue prince To look for the perfect man To look for Prince Charming
Ponerse morado To get purple To eat a lot To eat like a horse
Estar sin blanca To be without white To be broke To be down-and-out
Poner verde a alguien To turn someone green To criticize / gossip about someone To call someone every name in the book
Tener sangre azul To have blue blood To be from a royal or very rich family To be born with a silver spoon in your mouth
Encontrar tu media naranja To find your half orange To find the perfect partner To find your other / better half

 

Dar en el blanco	means to throw a bullseye in Spanish idioms

When learning a language, it is important to learn not just the formal register, but to be able to understand informal speech. This is the language that we hear in the streets, in social interactions, on TV shows, etc. The best way to learn Spanish online is with a native speaker, as they possess a deep knowledge of their language and how to use it in real life.

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