Have you ever watched a show in Spanish and heard words that you were not familiar with? Or been surrounded by native Spanish speakers and picked up phrases that you never caught before?
Spanish is a diverse language. It uses a wide variety of expressions, idioms, and slangs to communicate ideas, feelings, and opinions. Some have similar use in English, and some have rough equivalents in English but use different vocabulary and grammar, and therefore don’t many don’t make any sense when translated into English!
These kinds of idioms and colloquialisms form a big part of the Hispanic culture and are continuously used. There are a large number of Spanish expressions. They also vary according to different Spanish-speaking countries. A slang word from one Spanish speaking country can mean something completely different in another country. However, many can be used internationally.
This article will provide a super useful guide to learning useful Spanish expressions and idioms that will help understand and communicate in the language in a flawless way.
There are hundreds of Spanish slang words that vary according to different countries. However, the following will show the most common and useful Spanish slangs.
1. Al toque/al tiro
Al toque is a slang used in Peru, while al tiro is used in Chile. Both have similar meanings. Let’s start with the direct translation of each of them.
Al is a contraction of the two words a and el. It can mean “to the” or “at the.” Toque is a noun that means “touch.” Literally, the phrase means “to the touch.”
Tiro means ”shot” or “throw.” Literally, this means “to the shot.” For native Spanish speakers, both slangs mean to do something immediately or quickly. It is usually emphasized after requesting a task, action, or even a favor. It can also be used when telling an action that we do or did right away. Here are some examples to see their usage:
- ¡Ve a la tienda, compra pan y leche, al toque! – Go to the store, buy bread and milk right away!
- Ayer me desperté y fui a correr al toque. – Yesterday I woke up and went for a run immediately.
- Miguel, ven a mi casa al toque por favor. – Miguel, come to my house right away, please!
- Juntémonos al tiro! – Let’s get together immediately!
Tío and tía mean uncle and aunt, respectively. Yes, they are commonly used with their literal translations when referring to family members. However, they become slang when referring to friends.
Their close translation into English would be “dude.” Generally used between friends when they are hanging out and exchanging conversations. Here are some examples:
- Oye tío cuéntame sobre tu viaje a Brasil. – Hey, dude, tell me about your trip to Brazil.
- Estos tíos están muy cansados. – These dudes are very tired.
3. Me cae gordo
Many Spanish slang phrases don’t make much sense when translated into English. Me cae gordo is one of them.
Let’s see its direct translation, “it falls me fat.” The reflexive verb “cause” means to fall; when an object or a person falls to the ground. However, the verb caerse is also used to express if we like someone or not. Gordo means fat. But when used as slang in this phrase, it is not related to physical weight.
Consequently, when someone says él me cae gordo it means “I don’t like him.” It also slightly conjugates differently when referring to the third person singular of the present tense ella me cae gorda which means “I don’t like her.” We can also use the plural conjugation ellos me caen gordos which means “I don’t like them.
Here some examples:
- Rodrigo es fastidioso. Me cae gordo. – Rodrigo is annoying. I don’t like him.
- Yo no quiero ir a la casa de Jimena porque me cae gorda. – I don’t want to go to Jimena’s house because I don’t like her.
4. Me importa un pepino/pimiento
Me importa derives from the verb importarse, which means “to care”. Me importa is conjugated in the first person singular of the present tense “I care.”
Un pepino is a cucumber, and un pimiento is a bell pepper. We add to “me importa,” a noun (in this case a vegetable), to convey the idea of something of negligible value. Pepino and pimiento are few examples of these nouns.
Consequently, the expression becomes negative. Me importa un pepino/pimiento means “then I don’t care at all”, or, “I couldn’t care less”. It also presents slight changes depending on the subject. For example,* te importa un pepino, which is, “you don’t care at all,” or, *le importa un pepino, which is, “he or she does not care at all.”
Let’s see some examples using this expression.
- Me importa un pepino saber sobre tu vida! – I could care less about your life!
- ¡Lo que tengas que decir de mí, me importa un pimiento! What you have to say about me, I don’t care at all!
- A Maritza le importa un pepino aprender a cocinar.* – Maritza could care less about learning how to cook.
Spanish phrases utilize idioms based on the uses and customs of specific countries and geographical areas. If we compare Spanish vs. English, the literal translation of Spanish idioms into English will normally look a little strange and absurd. Therefore, it is crucial to understand their context.
1. Por si las moscas
This idiom expression is literally translated to “for if the flies.” But it means “just in case.” There are two possible explanations for the origin of this phrase.
One is that it comes from the habit of covering the food in case the “flies” land on it. The other one is that the word mosca (fly) might be used in a figurative way. Mosca (fly) or moscón (blowfly) have always been used to name an impertinent or nosy person.
Consequently, Por si las moscas refers to taking precautions in case something or someone unwanted arrives (just like the flies).Here are some examples:
- No está lloviendo afuera, pero yo traigo mi chaqueta por si las moscas. – It is no raining outside, but I am bringing my jacket just in case.
- Ayer compramos los boletos de avión y usamos el seguro de viajes por si las moscas. – Yesterday we bought the airplane tickets and used travel insurance just in case.
2. Dar gato por liebre
The direct translation of this idiom is “to give a cat for a hare.” It implies to give another animal instead of the one the other person expected.
This idiom came from a long time ago when butchers used to sell meats of cats saying it was hare, as they are similar. Consequently, this idiom means to trick someone giving something with less value than the thing paid for.
The English equivalent for this expression would be “to take someone for a ride.” The verb dar (to give) will adjust when speaking in the present, preterite, or future. Let’s look at some examples:
- ¿Vas a comprar un carro usado? Asegúrate que no te den gato por liebre. – Are you going to buy a used car? Make sure that they don’t take you for a ride.
- En la tienda a Karina le dieron gato por liebre. – In the store, they took Karina for a ride.
- Algunos de esos vendedores dan gato por liebre. – Some of those salesmen take people for a ride.
3. Estar como una cabra
The direct translation of this idiom expression is “to be like a goat.” It is used in the sense of “to be as mad as a hatter.” It indicates that a person is acting strange, or mainly to express that a person is crazy.
Why is craziness associated with goats? Most likely, this expression originated from peasants who observed the behavior of the goats daily. Unlike other animals, baby goats would always excessively run when weaned. Their mothers would also run desperately after their babies to try to protect them. Therefore, when someone is acting crazy or inadequate, people say that él/ella está como una cabra.
These are a couple of examples:
- Quiero que dejes de estar como una cabra por lo menos diez minutos. – I want you to stop being crazy for at least ten minutes.
- El equipo de Marcos perdió el último partido de baloncesto. Él estaba como una cabra camino a casa. – Marco’s team lost the last basketball game. He was acting crazy on the way home.
4. Ser pan comido
This expression literally means: “to be eaten (like) bread.” Bread is included in many Spanish expressions because it has always been an essential food in the Hispanic culture. It is based on knowing that eating bread is easy to do. Therefore, this idiom means that something is very easy to do. In English, it corresponds “to be a piece of cake.”
Let’s check the following examples:
- El examen de historia fue pan comido. – The history exam was a piece of cake.
- Susana dijo que el proyecto era difícil, pero yo pienso que era pan comido. – Susana said that the project was difficult, but I think it was a piece of cake.
5. No tener pelos en la lengua
Literally translates to “not having hair in the tongue.” There is no specific event that tells the origin of this idiom, but there is an explanation.
If a person had hair in the tongue, it would mean they have complications to correctly speak and pronounce words. This condition will cause this person to hardly talk at all.
Now, the phrase, no tener pelos en la lengua is the opposite. Not having hair in the tongue means to speak freely. A loose translation would be someone who is very blunt and direct. A person who says what he thinks without caring what others might think. In English, the expression used is “not to mince one’s word” which has a similar meaning. Let’s review the following examples:
- Camarero, este pastel de fresa está horrible, el peor pastel que he comido en mi vida. Lo siento si soy muy sincero, pero yo no tengo pelos en la lengua. – Waiter, this strawberry cake is horrible, it is the worst cake that I have ever eaten. I am sorry if I am very honest, but I am very blunt and direct.
- Por Juliana está bien. Pero ella no tiene pelos en la lengua y hablará sobre su situación sin problemas. – It is fine with Juliana. She is a blunt person, and she intends to speak very frankly about her situation.
Funny Spanish Phrases
A good amount of Spanish idiomatic expressions are simply hilarious. The Spanish artfully language uses sarcasm when communicating with thoughts through idioms. Here are a few of the most popular.
1. Hierba mala nunca muere
This literally translates to “bad herb never dies.” Better understood as “weeds never die”. It originated from the fact that weeds reproduce quickly and grow fast, despite the efforts of getting rid of them. Sometimes they even kill other plants to survive. Consequently, this saying is used for two things:First, to express that a bad person will never change. It suggests that these people always had this evil behavior and will continue with the same in the future. Consequently, we shouldn’t keep our hopes up for any change.
Second, it is also used when someone is in the hospital. It is said in a jokingly way to the patient as a way to cheer him up. Saying hierba mala nunca muere suggests that this person will get better fast and be alive forever because he is a hierba mala (bad weed).
The English equivalent would be, “the devil looks after his own.”Let’s look at the following examples for more clarification:
- Los criminales dijeron que no lo volverían a hacer. Pero no les creo porque hierba mala nunca muere.* – The criminals said they wouldn’t do it again. But I don’t believe them because the devil looks after his own.
- Roberto tendrá la cirugía mañana. Yo sé que todo saldrá bien porque hierba mala nunca muere. – Roberto will get the surgery tomorrow. I know everything will go well because the devil looks after his own.
2. Dormir a pierna suelta
This idiom directly translates to “sleep with a loose leg.” This phrase is a funny expression that has a story behind it.In the past, prisoners had shackles around their ankles so that they couldn’t escape. If a prisoner behaved well, the reward was the possibility to sleep one night without chains. So, if someone would “sleep with a loose leg” would mean to sleep deeply. The equivalent in English would be “sleep like a log.”This expression is always used when someone sleeps well and feels very energetic in the morning.
Let’s see the following examples:
- Sin ninguna preocupación los muchachos dormían a pierna suelta. – Without any worries the guys slept like a log.
- Francisca durmió a pierna suelta y hoy se siente muy descansada. – Francisca slept like a log and today she feels very refreshed.
- Para Juan Carlos es imposible dormir a pierna suelta porque padece de migrañas. – For Juan Carlos sleeping like a log is impossible because he suffers migraines.
3. Tirar la casa por la ventana
Tirar is a verb that means “to throw.’ La casa means “the house,” and la ventana means “the window.” Literally, this idiom means “to throw the house through the window.”
Its origin comes from the year 1763 in Spain when King Carlos III established the National Lottery. If someone wins the grand prize, he would have enough money to throw all the old furniture out of the window and buy completely new replacements to show off their wealth.
Therefore, this expression is used to describe a large amount of money spent to throw a party. It also implies that a massive amount of money is unnecessarily spent on a celebration. The English equivalent would be: “to spare no expense.”
Let’s check a couple of examples:
- Karina se graduó de la universidad el mes pasado. Su familia organizó una fiesta de graduación y tiró la casa por la ventana. – Karina graduated from school last month. Her family organized a graduation party and spared no expense.
- Marcos votó la casa por la ventana cuando celebró su cumpleaños el año pasado. – Marcos spared no expense when he celebrated his birthday last year.
Spanish Expressions of Love and Friendship
Spanish expressions of love and friendship can vary according to regions and countries. Here a few of the essentials.
1. El/ella me flechó
Flechó is the preterite form of the verb flechar, which is to wound with an arrow. Me *flechó is translated to “he/she wounded me with an arrow.” This expression is figuratively taken when someone inspires love in another person, suddenly and intensely. It is related to being in love right away.
The English equivalent would be “to sweep someone off their feet.”
Let’s use these examples:
- Él me trajo flores, me llevó a cenar y me leyó un poema. Él me flechó. – He brought me flowers, took me out for dinner, and dedicated me a poem. He swept off my feet.
- Melissa me flechó porque fue muy generosa, amigable y atractiva. – Melissa swept off my feet because she was generous, friendly, and attractive.
2. Mi media naranja
Literally translated to “my half orange.” Since oranges have a spherical shape, each half orange only has one possible match. Consequently, this is a famous Spanish expression of love.
It is used to communicate that a significant other makes a perfect match. Something like a soulmate. Native Spanish speakers use it also to refer to “my husband,” “my wife,” “my fiancée,” etc. This phrase has an informal, affectionate, and humorous tone. The English equivalent would be more straightforward: “My better half.”
Here are some examples:
- Mi media naranja y yo celebraremos nuestro primer aniversario de bodas el próximo mes. – My better half and I will celebrate our first wedding anniversary next month.
- Marina vendrá a la fiesta con su media naranja. – Marina is coming to the party with her better half.
This slang comes from the English word “brother.” It is used among friends to indicate a relationship of friendship. Commonly, this expression is used among young people in different settings. Other countries use different words; for example, in Mexico, they say “carnal”, in Venezuela “pana”, in Colombia “parce”, and in Uruguay “pibe”. Despite the different ways of using and phrasing this expression, they all refer to a close friend who will always be by our side.
In English, the equivalents can be best friends, close friends, or even brothers when not talking about blood family members.
Here some examples:
- Carlos y yo nos conocemos ya por quince años. Él es mi bróder. – Charles and I know each other already for fifteen years. He is like my brother.
- ¡Por supuesto que Miguel ira a mi cumpleaños porque él es mi bróder! – Miguel of course will go to my birthday party because he is my close friend.
Spanish Expressions of Excitement
Native Spanish speakers use different Spanish expressions for excitement or anticipation. The following are three of the most practical.
1. Claro/Claro que sí
Claro literally translates to “clear”; que is “that” and sí is “yes.” So, the expression reads: “clear that yes.” It is an expression of excitement equivalent to, “Yes, of course,” in English. Here are some examples of its usage:
- A. ¿Quieres ir a comer con nosotros? ¡Claro que sí! – “Would you like to eat out with us?”; B. “Yes, of course!”
- A: ¿Pasaste el examen de geografía? – “Did you pass the geography exam?”; B: ¡Claro que sí! – “Of course, I did!”
- A: Ella se parece a ti. ¿Es tu hermana? – “She looks like you. Is she your sister?”; B: ¡Claro que sí! – “Yes, of course!”
2. Gracias a Dios/ Bendito sea Dios
This directly translates to “thank God” or “blessed be God” It is used to express excitement about a happy and positive outcome.
The predominant religion of the Hispanic culture is Catholicism. Therefore, native Spanish speakers use God and Saints names to express excitement and gratitude like this idiom. “Gracias a la Virgen Maria” is another phrase related to this one. It means “thanks to the Virgin Mary.”
In English, the equivalent would be “thank God:. Let’s look at the examples:
- ¡Gracias a Dios que llegaste a casa sano y salvo! – Thank God that you arrived home safe and sound.
- Mi hija se graduó de la universidad el verano pasado. Bendito sea Dios! – My daughter graduated from university last summer. Thank God.
3. Qué emoción
It translates to “what excitement.” In English it is, “how exciting”. This expression has the same meaning as in English. Several expressions in Spanish use “Que” instead of “How” to express excitement.
For example, ¡qué bonito! (how cute), ¡qué hermoso! (how beautiful), ¡qué relajante! (how relaxing), among others.Example:
- ¡Te casaste! ¡Qué emoción! – You got married! How exciting!
- ¡Qué emoción verte después de muchos años! – How exciting seeing you after so many years!
Spanish Expressions for Traveling
There are various Common Spanish phrases useful for travel that are more straightforward statements using specific verbs and vocabulary. Here are two examples.
1. Puerta de embarque
“Door of boarding” is the direct translation of this expression. This phrase comes from the vocabulary translated into English as a “boarding gate.” Very practical when traveling and looking for information on the boarding gates. For example:
- ¿Dónde está la puerta de embarque número quince? – Where is the boarding gate number fifteen?
2. Boleto/billete de ida y vuelta
It literally translates to “ticket of going and return.” It refers in English to a “round trip ticket.” Very important to have in handy when buying a ticket or asking for information about it. For example:
- Compré un boleto de ida y vuelta a Madrid. – I bought a round trip to Madrid.
- ¿Cuánto cuesta un boleto de ida y Vuelta a Canadá? – How much does it cost a round trip to Canada?
Spanish proverbs are full of of symbolism and metaphors. Here are some of them.
1. A caballo regalado no se le mira el diente
Its direct translation is: “To horse gifted do not look at his teeth.” This can also be heard as “You can tell the age of a horse by his teeth.” Basically, this expression references a fact about horses: the older the horse, the more inclined the front teeth and the more worn out the molars. So, the expression itself refers to being grateful for being gifted, despite age or characteristics. This proverb teaches that when we receive a gift, we shouldn’t find defects, negative aspects, or criticism. On the contrary, we should accept the present with a kind gesture and be thankful for it.
The English equivalent is: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.Here an example:
- A: Estos pendientes que me regaló Sabrina son muy anticuados. – “These earrings that Sabrina gave me are out of style.”
- B. No lo creo. Además, recuerda que a caballo regalado no se le mira el diente. – “I don’t think so. Also remember, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
2. A palabras necias, oídos sordos
This proverb translates as “to foolish words, deaf ears.”
It is a famous Spanish saying, suggesting that we shouldn’t pay attention to rude or foolish comments that people say. In this sense, this proverb works as a warning or suggestion. When people express themselves with foolish words, our best answer is the most honest indifference.
The equivalent in English would be: “turn a deaf ear to foolish words.”
- A: Los vecinos dicen que nosotros somos una familia de locos. – “The neighbors say that we are a crazy family.”
- B: No les hagas caso. A palabras necias, oídos sordos. – “Don’t listen to them. Turn a deaf ear to foolish words.”
3. Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente
“The shrimp that sleeps is taken by the current,” is its literal translation. This saying uses a comparison. It suggests that we should pay attention and not fall asleep like the shrimp. Otherwise, the current, in this case, many opportunities in life will leave us.
It also suggests fighting against laziness. Life is like the current of the ocean. It is unstable and strong. If we fall asleep or feel lazy to move around, we will be taken by the currents of life.
Lastly, it suggests to stay alert or else circumstances will overwhelm us.
The equivalent in English would be: “If you snooze, you lose.”Here’s an example:
- No me siento muy preparada para el nuevo trabajo. Pero estoy dispuesta a aceptar el empleo y a aprender porque camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente. – I don’t feel fully prepared for the new job. But I am willing to accept the offer and to learn because if you snooze, you lose.
Practice Your Idioms and Expressions
Now that you’ve reviewed some of the most useful Spanish expressions and idioms, it is time to practice. One way on to learn Spanish fast is by practicing Spanish vocabulary and phrases each and every day. Write in your journal and try to incorporate an idiom or proverb based on experiences of your daily life.Also, practice during Spanish tutoring and include these idiomatic expressions during conversations and exercises in the Spanish lesson.
Practicing and learning the language online is rewarding, especially if we have these tools to help us sound more like a native Spanish speaker.
Have fun using these idiomatic expressions in this journey of learning Spanish. ¡Qué emoción!