40 funny Spanish idioms you need to learn
by Lingoda Team
September 29, 2020

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

IdiomLiteral translationMeaningEquivalent
Tener vista de linceTo have the eyesight of a lynxHaving an excellent visionHave an eagle eye
Ser un gallinaTo be a henTo be a cowardTo be a chicken
Estar en la edad del pavoTo be in the turkey’s ageTo be a teenager, to be in pubertyTo go through teenage angst
Ser la oveja negraTo be the black sheepTo be good for nothing, to be the unsuccessful oneTo go off the rails
Estar como una cabraTo be like a goatTo be crazyTo be mad as a hornet, to be crazy as a bat
No ver tres en un burroNot being able to see three on a donkeyHaving a really bad visionTo be blind as a bat
Dar gato por liebreTo give cat for hareTo trick / rip off someoneTo take for a ride
Ser un rataTo be a ratTo be stingyTo be a tightwad
Verle las orejas al loboTo see the ears of the wolfTo notice dangerTo see the writing on the wall
Tener memoria de pezTo have the memory of a fishTo have a bad memoryTo 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

IdiomLiteral translationMeaningEquivalent
No importar un pepino / un rábano / un pimientoNot to matter a cucumber / radish / pepperTo be irrelevantTo not give a monkey about it
Ser pan comidoTo be eaten breadTo be very easyTo be a piece of cake
Ponerse de mala lecheTo get in bad milkTo get in a bad moodTo get bent out of shape
Dar calabazas a alguienTo give pumpkins to someoneTo reject someoneTo give somebody the brush off
Ser un melónTo be a melonTo be not very intelligentTo be a blockhead
Temblar como un flanTo be shaky like a puddingTo be very nervousTo be a cat on hot bricks
Ponerse como un tomateTo turn into a tomatoTo blushTo turn as red as a beetroot
Ser un bombónTo be a bonbonTo be very good lookingTo be eye candy
Dar la vuelta a la tortillaTo turn the omelette aroundTo turn the situation aroundTo turn the tables
Ser del año de la peraTo be from the year of the pearTo be very oldTo be from another era

Spanish idioms with body parts

IdiomLiteral translationMeaningEquivalent
Lavarse las manosTo wash your handsTo avoid your responsibilityTo pass the bucket
Hacer algo al pie de la letraTo do something to the foot of the letterDo something exactly as instructedTo do something to the T
No tener ni pies ni cabezaWithout feet or headNot to make senseWithout rhyme or reason
Meter la pataTo put the leg on itTo make a mistakeTo put your foot in it
No pegar ojoTo not strike an eyeNot being able to sleepWithout sleeping a wink
Sin pelos en la lenguaWithout hair in your tongueTo be outspokenWithout mince words
Estar hasta las naricesTo be up the noseTo be annoyed / tired of somethingTo be sick to death / fed up
Dormir a pierna sueltaSleep with a loose legTo sleep deeplyTo sleep like a log
Buscar tres pies al gatoTo look for the three feet on a catTo make something more complicated than it isTo take the scenic route
Andar con pies de plomoTo walk with lead feetTo be very carefulTo walk on the safe side

Spanish idioms with colours

IdiomLiteral translationMeaningEquivalent
No haber colorThere is no colourThere is no comparisonTo be like apples and oranges
Tener la negraTo have the blackTo have bad luckTo be jinxed
Dar en el blancoTo throw in the whiteTo be rightTo hit the bulls-eye
Verlo todo de color de rosaTo see everything in pink colourTo be everything with excessive optimismTo see all peaches and cream
Buscar el príncipe azulTo look for the blue princeTo look for the perfect manTo look for Prince Charming
Ponerse moradoTo get purpleTo eat a lotTo eat like a horse
Estar sin blancaTo be without whiteTo be brokeTo be down-and-out
Poner verde a alguienTo turn someone greenTo criticize / gossip about someoneTo call someone every name in the book
Tener sangre azulTo have blue bloodTo be from a royal or very rich familyTo be born with a silver spoon in your mouth
Encontrar tu media naranjaTo find your half orangeTo find the perfect partnerTo 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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