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¡Hola, amigas y amigos de SpanishCompadres.com! Welcome to a new amazing post. On this occasion, we’ll share with you the most popular Spanish idioms. If you are a Spanish learner, idioms are a great way to move upwards in your level of Spanish, since their correct use implies a deep knowledge of vocabulary and previous conversational practice. Since idioms can’t be translated word by word, you’ll have to use them as frequently as possible in every opportunity you use your Spanish, so they really stick in your mind.

Spanish idioms are groups of words whose meanings are different from the meanings of the individual words. “Tomar el pelo” (literally “take the hair”) is a Spanish idiom equivalent to the English “Pull someone’s leg”. “Pan comido” (literally “eaten bread”) means “piece of cake”, as in “El examen fue pan comido” (The exam was a piece of cake). “Sin pelos en la lengua” is equivalent to “tell it like it is”, as in “Él no tiene pelos en la lengua” (He tells it like it is). Learning how and when to use these idioms correctly will help you sound like a native Spanish speaker. 

 

Table of contents

 

What is an idiom? What are idioms called in Spanish?

Idioms are groups of words in which the overall meaning is different from the meaning of the individual words in the group. Some examples of idioms in the English language are “to kick the bucket”, “to spill the beans”, “to chicken out”. In Spanish, idioms are called “modismos” /mo-dis’-mos/.

 

Benefits of learning popular Spanish idioms

Learning Spanish idioms will take your Spanish to the next level, since the correct use of idioms requires previous knowledge of vocabulary and contextual elements, thus activating your overall Spanish language skills. There are five main benefits of learning Spanish idioms:

  • #1 Learning Spanish idioms will greatly improve your concentration, since landing the right idiom at the precise moment requires paying attention to what the other participants in interaction are saying.
  • #2 Learning Spanish idioms will significantly expand your vocabulary. The fact that idioms can’t be translated word by word makes them unique units of meanings.
  • #3 Using Spanish idioms adequately will make you sound or look more like a native speaker, since using idioms in a foreign language requires an advanced language level.
  • #4 Using Spanish idioms will improve your speaking skills, since you’ll be able to make your point with less words and in a much more straightforward way.
  • #5 Spanish idioms will improve your communication skills in general, since idioms are shared by practically every native speaker of Spanish. 

Popular Spanish idioms A to Z

 

Popular Spanish idioms #A

Idiom: Acostarse / levantarse con las gallinas

  • Literal meaning: To go to bed / get up with the hen
  • Real meaning: To go to bed / get up very early
  • English equivalent: To get up at the crack of dawn / to go to bed very early
  • Example: Mi abuelo se levanta con las gallinas. (My grandpa gets up at the crack of dawn)

        

Idiom: Andar con pies de plomo

  • Literal meaning: To walk with lead feet
  • Real meaning: To be extremely careful
  • English equivalent: To walk on the safe side
  • Example: Están despidiendo a muchos trabajadores, por lo que hay que andar con pies de plomo. (Many workers are being fired, so we must walk on the safe side)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #B

Idiom: Buscar el príncipe azul

Literal meaning: To look for the blue prince

Real meaning:  To look for the perfect man

English equivalent: To look for prince charming

Example: Aún no se casa, ya que está esperando a su príncipe azul. (She’s not married yet, since she’s waiting for prince charming)     

 

Idiom: Buscar tres pies al gato

  • Literal meaning: To look for three feet in a cat
  • Real meaning: To overcomplicate a situation
  • English equivalent: To take the scenic route 
  • Example: Hazlo simple; no le busques los tres pies al gato. (Make it simple; don’t take the scenic route)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #D

Idiom: Dar a luz

  • Literal meaning: To give to light
  • Real meaning: To give birth  
  •     English equivalent: To give birth
  • Example: Ella dio a luz a un hermoso bebé. (She gave birth to a beautiful baby) 

 

Idiom: Dar calabazas a alguien

  • Literal meaning: To give pumpkins to someone
  •     Real meaning: To reject someone
  • English equivalent: To give somebody the brush off  
  • Example: El le pidió matrimonio, pero ella le dio calabazas. (He propoposed to her, but she gave him the brush off)

        

Idiom: Dar en el blanco

  • Literal meaning: To throw in the white
  •     Real meaning: To be right
  • English equivalent: To hit the bull’s eye
  • Example: Dio en el blanco con su comentario. (He hit the bull’s eye with his comment)

 

Idiom: Dar gato por liebre

  • Literal meaning: To give cat for hare
  • Real meaning: To rip someone off
  • English equivalent: To take for a ride 
  • Example: Fue a comprar un celular y le pasaron gato por liebre. (He went to buy a cell phone, but they took him for a ride)

 

Idiom: Darle vuelta a la tortilla

  • Literal meaning: To turn the omelette around
  • Real meaning: To turn the situation around
  • English equivalent: To turn the tables 
  • Example: Él se equivocó, pero intentó dar vuelta la tortilla haciéndose la víctima. (He made a mistake, but he tried to turn the tables by playing the victim)

 

Idiom: Decir algo de labios para afuera

  • Literal meaning: To say something from the lips outwards
  • Real meaning: To say something without really meaning it
  • English equivalent: To just say something 
  • Example: Me saludó con palabras cordiales, pero sé que es solo de labios hacia afuera. (He greeted me with cordial words, but he was just saying them.)

 

Idiom: Dormir a pierna suelta

  • Literal meaning: To sleep with a loose leg
  •     Real meaning: To sleep deeply
  • English equivalent: To sleep like a log 
  • Example: Dormí a pierna suelta después de la fiesta. (I slept loke a log after the party)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #E

Idiom: Echar agua al mar

Literal meaning: To throw water into the sea

Real meaning: To do something pointless

English equivalent: To beat your head against the wall  

Example: Intentar convencer a mi abuelo es como echar agua al mar. (Trying to convince my grandpa is like beating your head against the wall)

        

Idiom: Empezar la casa por el tejado

Literal meaning: To start building a house by the roof

Real meaning: To look for an immediate solution instead of going through the process

English equivalent: To put the cart before the horse  

Example: Resuelve el problema desde el principio. No empieces la casa por el tejado. (Solve the problem from the beginning. Don’t put the cart before the horse.)

 

Idiom: Encontrar tu media naranja

  • Literal meaning: To find your half orange
  • Real meaning: To find the perfect partner
  • English equivalent: To find your other half  
  • Example: Quizás en este viaje encontrarás a tu media naranja. (Maybe you’ll find your better half on this trip)

 

Idiom: Estar como una cabra

  • Literal meaning: To be like a goat
  •     Real meaning: To be crazy
  • English equivalent: To be mad as a hornet, to be crazy as a bat  
  • Example: Ese hombre está como una cabra. (That man is crazy as a bat)

 

Idiom: Estar en la edad del pavo

  • Literal meaning: To be in the turkey’s age
  • Real meaning: To be a teenager, to be in puberty
  • English equivalent: To go through teenage angst  
  • Example: Juan anda muy distraído; debe estar en la edad del pavo. (Juan is so distracted; he must be going through teenage angst)

 

Idiom: Estar hasta las narices

  • Literal meaning: To be up the nose
  • Real meaning: To be fed up with something
  • English equivalent: To be fed up  
  • Example: Estoy hasta las narices con la situación del país. (I’m fed up with the country’s situation)

 

Idiom: Estar hecho un ají

  • Literal meaning: To be made a chili pepper
  • Real meaning: To be very angry
  • English equivalent: To be hopping mad
  • Example: Estaba hecha un ají porque le dijeron “fea”. (She was hopping mad because she was called “ugly”)

 

Idiom: Estar más sano que una pera

  • Literal meaning: To be healthier than a pear
  • Real meaning: To be very healthy
  • English equivalent: To be as fit as a fiddle
  • Example: Mi abuela está más sana que una pera pese a su avanzada edad. (My grandpa is as fit as a fiddle despite her old age)

 

Idiom: Estar sin blanca

  • Literal meaning: To be without white
  •     Real meaning: To be broke
  • English equivalent: To be down-and-out
  • Example: No puedo ir al cine porque estoy sin blanca. (I can’t go to the movies because I’m drown-and-out)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #H

Idiom: Hablar por los codos

  • Literal meaning: To talk through the elbows
  • Real meaning: To be excessively talkative
  • English equivalent: To be a chatterbox
  • Example: Es simpática, pero habla hasta por codos. (She’s nice, but she’s a chatterbox)

 

Idiom: Hacer algo al pie de la letra

  •   Literal meaning: To do something to the foot of the letter
  •   Real meaning: To do something exactly as told
  •   English equivalent: To do something to the T
  •   Example: Le di las instrucciones y lo hizo al pie de la letra. (I gave her the instructions and she did it to the T)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #I

Idiom: Importar un pepino / un pimiento / un rábano

  • Literal meaning: To care a cucumber / a pepper / a radish
  • Real meaning: To not care at all
  • English equivalent: To give a damn
  • Example: Le importó un pepino que estuviera el presidente. (She didn’t give a damn the president was there)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #L

Idiom: Lavarse las manos

  • Literal meaning: To wash your hands
  • Real meaning: To avoid your responsibility
  • English equivalent: To pass the bucket
  • Example: Se lavó las manos cuando le preguntaron por su responsabilidad. (He passed the bucket when he was asked about his responsibility)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #M

Idiom: Meter la pata

  •   Literal meaning: To put the leg on it
  •   Real meaning: To make a mistake
  •   English equivalent: To screw something up
  •   Example: Quise hacerlo bien, pero metí la pata. (I wanted to do it well, but I screwed up)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #N

Idiom: No pegar ojo

  • Literal meaning: To not strike an eye
  • Real meaning: To be unable to sleep
  • English equivalent: To not sleep a wink
  • Example: Mi vecino estaba taladreando, así que no pegué ojo. (My neighbor was drilling, so I couldn’t sleep a wink)

 

Idiom: No tener ni pies ni cabeza

  • Literal meaning: Without feet or head
  • Real meaning: To not make sense
  • English equivalent: Without rhyme or reason
  • Example: Su propuesta no tenía ni pies no cabeza. (Her proposal didn’t have rhyme or reason)

 

Idiom: No tener pelos en la lengua

  • Literal meaning: To not have hair on the tongue
  •     Real meaning: To speak bluntly
  • English equivalent: To tell it like it is
  • Example: Él no tiene pelos en la lengua cuando se trata de dar su opinión. (He tells it like it is when it comes to giving his opinion)

 

Idiom: No ver tres en un burro

  • Literal meaning: Not being able to see three on a donkey
  • Real meaning: Having really bad eyesight
  • English equivalent: To be blind as a bat 
  • Example: Le pedí que leyera, pero no veía tres en un burro. (I asked him to reas, but he is as blind as a bat)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #P

Idiom: Poner verde a alguien

  • Literal meaning: To turn someone green
  • Real meaning: To say negative things about someone
  • English equivalent: To call someone every name in the book
  • Example: Pusieron verde a su profesora cuando se juntaron a hacer la tarea. (They called their teacher every name in the book when they got together to do homework)

 

Idiom: Ponerse como un tomate

  • Literal meaning: To turn into a tomato
  •     Real meaning: To blush
  • English equivalent: To turn as red as a beetroot
  • Example: Se puso como un tomate cuando le dijeron piropos en la calle. (She turned red as a beetroot when she was catcalled on the street)

 

Idiom: Ponerse de mala leche

  • Literal meaning: To get in bad milk
  • Real meaning: To get in a bad mood
  • English equivalent: To get bent out of shape
  • Example: Las bromas lo ponen de mala leche. (Jokes get him bent out of shape)

 

Idiom: Ponerse morado

  • Literal meaning: To turn purple     
  • Real meaning: To eat a lot
  • English equivalent: To eat like a horse
  • Example: Se puso morado en la cena de aniversario. (He ate like a horse in the anniversary dinner)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #Q

Idiom: Quedarse de piedra

  • Literal meaning: To stay like a rock
  • Real meaning: To be paralyzed or shocked by something
  • English equivalent: To stop dead in one’s tracks
  • Example: Se quedó de piedra cuando le dijeron que estaba embarazada. (She stopped dead in her tracks when she found out she was pregnant)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #S

Idiom: Se me hace agua la boca

  • Literal meaning: My mouth turns into water
  • Real meaning: To activate salivation by thinking of food
  • English equivalent: To make someone’s mouth water
  • Example: Se me hace agua la boca cuando pienso en chocolate. (Thinking of chocolate make my mouth water)

 

Idiom: Ser del año de la pera

  • Literal meaning: To be from the year of the pear
  • Real meaning: To be very old
  • English equivalent: To be very old
  • Example: Este libro es del año de la pera, pero aún sirve. (This book is very old, but it still works)

 

Idiom: Ser la oveja negra

  • Literal meaning: To be the black sheep
  • Real meaning: To be considered of less value in a group (e.g. family)
  • English equivalent: To be the black sheep
  • Example: Esteban es la oveja negra de la familia. (Esteban is the black sheep in the family)

 

Idiom: Ser pan comido

  • Literal meaning: To be eaten bread
  • Real meaning: To be very easy
  • English equivalent: To be a piece of cake
  • Example: Mi examen de español fue pan comido. (My Spanish exam was a piece of cake)

 

Idiom: Ser un bombón

  • Literal meaning: To be a bonbon
  • Real meaning: To be very good looking

English equivalent: To be eye candy

  •     Example: Ella es un bombón. (She’s eye candy)

 

Idiom: Ser un gallina

  • Literal meaning: To be a hen
  • Real meaning: To be a coward
  • English equivalent: To be a chicken
  • Example: Él nunca se atreve. Es un gallina. (He never dares. He’s a chicken)

 

Idiom: Ser un melón

  • Literal meaning: To be a melon
  • Real meaning: To be not very intelligent
  • English equivalent: To be a blockhead
  • Example: No sabe ni cuanto es 2+2. Es un melón. (He doesn’t even know 2+2. He’s a blockhead.)

 

Idiom: Ser uña y carne

  • Literal meaning: To be nail and meat
  • Real meaning: To always hang out with the same person
  • English equivalent: To be joined at the heap
  • Example: Esos dos son uña y carne. (Those two are joined at the heap)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #T

Idiom: Temblar como un flan

  • Literal meaning: To be shaky like a pudding
  • Real meaning: To be very nervous
  • English equivalent: To be a cat on hot bricks
  • Example: Se puso a temblar como un flan en su examen. (She was a cat on hot bricks during her exam)

 

Idiom: Tener memoria de pez

  • Literal meaning: To have the memory of a fish
  • Real meaning: To have a bad memory
  • English equivalent: To have a brain like a sieve 
  • Example: No le des recados, ya que tiene memoria de pez. (Don’t give her messages, since she has a brain like a sieve)

 

Idiom: Tener sangre azul

  • Literal meaning: To have blue blood
  • Real meaning: To be from a royal or very rich family
  • English equivalent: To be born with a silver spoon in your mouth
  • Example: Ellos fingen tienen sangre azul, pero no es así. (They pretend to have been born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but it’s not like that)

 

Idiom: Tener un humor de perros

  • Literal meaning: To have a dog’s mood
  • Real meaning: To be in a very bad mood
  • English equivalent: To be in a very bad mood
  • Example: No molesten al jefe porque tiene un humor de perros. (Don’t bother the boss because he’s in a very bad mood)

 

Idiom: Tener vista de lince

  •   Literal meaning: To have the eyesight of a lynx
  • Real meaning: Having an excellent vision
  • English equivalent: Have an eagle eye
  • Example: Puedo ver desde aquí con mi vista de lince. (I can see from here with my eagle eye)

 

  • Idiom: Tirar la casa por la ventana

Literal meaning: To throw the house out the window

  • Real meaning: To throw a great party or celebration
  • English equivalent: To throw a big party
  • Example: Mis papás se fueron de viaje, así que tiraré la casa por la ventana. (My parents went on a trip, so I’ll throw a big party in my house)

 

Idiom: Tomar el pelo

  •   Literal meaning: To take the hair
  •   Real meaning: To fool or trick someone
  •   English equivalent: To fool
  •   Example: ¿Me estás intentando tomar el pelo? (Are you trying to fool me?)

 

Popular Spanish idioms #V

Idiom: Verle las orejas al lobo

  • Literal meaning: To see the ears of the wolf
  •     Real meaning:  To notice danger
  • English equivalent: To see the writing on the wall
  • Example: No salgas de noche, a menos que quieras verle las orejas al lobo. (Don’t go out at night unless you want to see the writing on the wall)

 

Idiom: Verlo todo de color de rosa

  • Literal meaning: To see everything in pink colour
  • Real meaning: To be everything with excessive optimism
  • English equivalent: To see all peaches and cream
  • Example: Ahora que encontré pareja, veo todo color de rosa. (Now that I’ve found a couple, I see everything peaches and cream)

 

Conclusion

Spanish idioms are a great way to blend in among native Spanish speakers. When used appropriately, idioms can sum up a situation and clarify communication for all the participants in interaction. Learning Spanish idioms will help you move up the language level ladder, since mastering them requires being able to use a wide range of words and phrases, which can only be acquired through regular practice.

 

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