Spanish Idioms

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

This lesson gives you the most common Spanish idioms, which will enhance your fluency level. The actual meaning of each idiom is fully explained in this lesson so you can effectively use each phrase in daily conversation.

The Importance of Idioms

Idioms are phrases that have a meaning other than the literal words. The reason why Spanish idioms are an important tool to learn is that native speakers use them all the time. You want to be able to use them to express exactly what you mean, but also to understand those who use them.

For practical purposes, the idioms in this lesson are in the infinitive form of the verb when applicable. To use idioms that require conjugation, you would have to conjugate the verb based on the person who is doing the action. If you need a refresher, you can search for other lessons in which verb conjugation is the main focus.

Idioms that Do Not Require Conjugation

  • Aquí hay gato encerrado

The literal meaning is 'here, there is an enclosed cat', but it means the same as 'something smells fishy here.' Pronounced: ah-kee aay gah-toh ehn-sehr-rah-doh.

Gato Encerrado

  • Una mancha más al tigre no hace diferencia

The literal meaning is 'one more stripe on the tiger makes no difference,' but it means that one more problem does not make a huge difference to the already bad situation you are referring. Pronounced: oo-nah mahn-chah maahs al tee-greh noh ah-seh dee-fee-rehn-see-ah.

  • El hábito no hace al monje

The literal meaning is 'the dress doesn't make the monk,' but it means that one should not base their opinions of someone on the way that person dresses. Pronounced: el ah-bee-toh noh ah-seh al mohn-heh.

  • Cuando el río suena, piedras trae

The literal meaning is 'when the river is noisy, stones come with it,' but it means that when rumors are strong, something is going on that triggered those rumors. Pronounced: koo-ahn-doh el ree-oh soo-eh-nah, pee-eh-dras trah-eh.

  • No hay moros en la costa

The literal meaning is 'there are no Moors in the coast,' and this is similar to the meaning of 'the coast is clear.' Pronounced: noh aay moh-rohs ehn lah kohs-tah.

  • En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo

The literal meaning is 'at the blacksmith's home, there's a wood knife', but it means the same as the idiom 'the shoemaker's son always goes barefoot.' Pronounced: ehn kah-sah deh ehr-reh-roh, koo-chee-yoh deh pah-loh.

  • Llueve a cántaros

The literal meaning is 'it rains pitchers,' the same meaning behind 'it's raining cats and dogs.' Pronounced: yoo-eh-veh ah kahn-tah-rohs.

  • No hay mal que por bien no venga

The literal meaning is 'there is no bad that happens without a good upcoming', the same meaning behind 'every cloud has a silver lining.' Pronounced: noh aay mahl keh pohr byen noh vehn-gah.

Idioms that Require Conjugation

  • Tirar la casa por la ventana

The literal meaning is 'to throw the house through the window,' but it means to spend a lot of money on a party. Pronounced: tee-rahr la kah-sah pohr la vehn-tah-nah.

  • Sentirse como pez en el agua

The literal meaning is 'to feel like a fish in the water,' but it means to be totally comfortable in a given work, life, or personal situation. Pronounced: sehn-teer-seh koh-moh pehs ehn el aa-goo-ah.

Como pez en el agua
fish in water

  • No tener pelos en la lengua

The literal meaning is 'to not have hair on one's tongue,' but it means that a person says what he or she thinks without any fear or expresses opinions without a disguised language. Pronounced: noh teh-nehr peh-lohs en la lehn-goo-ah.

  • Dormir como un tronco

The literal meaning is 'to sleep like a log,' which has its equivalent in English. Pronounced: dohr-meer koh-moh oon trohn-koh.

  • Creerse la mamá de Tarzán

The literal meaning is 'to believe one is Tarzan's mom,' but it means that a person is too full of themselves. Pronounced: kreh-ehr-seh la mah-mah deh Tar-sahn.

  • Poner el grito en el cielo

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