Want to know the secret to really appreciating the Spanish language?
Are you ready to bare witness to its power to reach both hearts and minds at exactly the same time?
Want to finally feel what it’s like to be in the shoes of a native speaker?
If you answered “Yes” to these three questions, then do this:
Learn Spanish sayings.
Learning a language will never be complete without diving into the wonderful world of sayings. And in Spanish, we’ve got plenty of colorful and insightful ones.
Sayings are a culture’s way of passing distilled wisdom to the next generation. They reflect where a culture has been and allow the inquiring language learner a deeper appreciation of the language.
Why Language Learners Should Study Spanish Sayings
Spanish sayings are a great way to learn vocabulary because they provide context for the words you’re trying to learn. A student will readily forget a memorized word when not enough memorable context has been provided for it. You immediately solve the context problems with sayings because they come packaged as a whole nugget of wisdom–with words reinforcing each other for better recall. Like fifth phrase on our list, “Más ven cuatro ojos que dos” (Four eyes are better than two), for example.
In addition to vocabulary, sayings are great teachers of efficient grammar–where every word not only counts, each word is placed where it’s supposed to be. Sayings are clichéd wisdom, and they become such not only because they teach practical wisdom, but also because they do it in a grammatically efficient way. Spanish sayings, in short are, perfect examples of how to create grammatically correct sentences with maximum impact.
The structures of these sayings are so exceptional, that they bear the seal of approval of native speakers in that the Spanish have been using them for decades and for generations.
If you look and listen carefully, Spanish sayings have a certain cadence and melodic quality. Sometimes they even rhyme. Sometimes they follow a certain structure, like when two things are juxtaposed with each other. Number nine below, “Hoy por ti, mañana por mí,” is an example.
All these things tickle the memory glands and make the Spanish language not only memorable but also meaningful.
Next time you’re hanging out with Spanish-speaking friends, you’ll be able to speak more naturally and bring a smile to their faces. If you don’t already have a friend to speak with in Spanish, you might want to look into a finding one online via italki. Another excellent option for practicing your sayings with a native is to get a Spanish tutor online. This tutor can teach you new, authentic sayings and listen to you use them in context.
If you’re in the market for a Spanish tutor, Verbling is perhaps the best online resource for finding the right one for you. This unique site allows users to have access to both private tutoring and group classes 24/7 via two-way video chat. You’ll have professional, highly qualified native teachers from all over the world delivering your lessons—including your new, awesome sayings—to you.
So let’s go ahead and take a look at 15 widely-used sayings in the Spanish world. Along the way, we’ll also pick up some historical tidbits and grammar lessons. And because the journey of learning a new language has its ups and downs, I’m peppering the sayings with words of encouragement and advice for you language learners.
15 Spanish Sayings for the Language Learner’s Soul
1. Año nuevo, vida nueva.
Literally: New year, new life.
This saying is all about renewal, a new beginning. Although often used around the start of the year, one may use the expression to mean starting something new, starting a new page, turning a new corner or a clean slate.
You might have made the decision to learn Spanish as a New Year’s resolution.
So, how are you doing? Are you still at it?
Regardless of how studying Spanish went in the past, start anew. If you lost steam once, begin again. It’s a new day! You don’t have to wait for January to have a fresh start.
That being said, let’s look at this saying a little bit closer.
“Año nuevo, vida nueva” is a great example of how, in Spanish, the different parts of speech must agree with each other in gender and number. Here, “new” is used in both its male singular form (nuevo) and the female singular form (nueva). Since año is masculine, the adjective that describes it is masculine too. Since vida is feminine, the adjective that describes it is feminine too.
And this is one of the reasons why Spanish is one of those languages with such great meters and rhyme schemes!
2. A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín.
Literally: Every pig has her Saint Martin.
Here’s a little bit on Spanish culture: On the feast of St. Martin of Tours, November 11, a traditional slaughter of pigs happens in different townships and villages in Spain. Also known as “La Matanza” (the slaughter), this time of the year is perfect for curing meat, as the first frost arrives. A family would kill 1-3 pigs to store enough food (sausages, salami, blood pudding, etc.) for the winter.
It’s like saying “Every turkey has her Thanksgiving.”
The expression is essentially about bad behavior being punished in the end. You will get what you deserve in the end. An English equivalent could be “You reap what you sow.”
3. El que la hace, la paga.
Literally: He who does it, pays for it.
People for whom this expression is affectionately appropriate would be: corrupt politicians, scrupulous businessmen, greedy corporations and also unfaithful partners.
Expressions like this highlight the “moralizing” function of sayings, which aims to maintain a peaceful and harmonious society. This saying, like the previous one, underscores the strong belief in Spanish cultures that ultimately, justice will be served–via divine intervention or otherwise.
“What goes around comes around” and the evil that you do to others, will ultimately be your own undoing.
4. A mal tiempo, buena cara.
Literally: In bad weather, a good face.
The expression talks about the proper attitude a person should have in the face of adversity. It’s more than just “putting on a brave face” or “keeping a stiff upper lip.” It’s an attitude of hope and optimism, that “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So that while you may not change your situation, you can definitely change your attitude.
That being said, let us now focus on the Spanish word mal (bad). The word represents anything terrible, evil or generally undesirable. Several Spanish words that begin with mal- : maltratar (mistreat), malhablado (foul-mouthed), malentendido (misunderstanding), malsonante (vulgar, rude) and maleante (criminal).
And guess what, English has the “mal” words too, which practically signify something bad or undesirable: malady, maladaptation, malfunction, malevolence, malfeasance, malign and mall. (Oh, maybe not that last one. Malls are good!)
This is because both the Spanish and English languages borrowed the prefix from the same source: Latin.
5. Más ven cuatro ojos que dos.
Literally: Four eyes are better than two.
An English equivalent could be “Two heads are better than one.”
The idea is that the point of view, perspective or opinion of another person is vital to a more complete thorough consideration of a problem or situation. So rather than making a decision solo, enlist the help of others. A fresh pair of eyes can unveil approaches and angles you haven’t considered before. Doing this will result in an enriched understanding of any problem or situation.
But don’t overdo it. Otherwise, muchas manos en la olla echan el guiso a perder. (Too many cooks spoil the broth.)
6. Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.
Literally: Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are.
“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are,” as the English version would say. It’s indeed true, you can know a man by the company he keeps. If you associate with the wrong crowd, you will not only be judged poorly by others–but by osmosis, you will in fact absorb the ways of your friends.
But if you happen to find the right crowd, keep them close and don’t ever let them go. They’ll take you higher like never before.
This is all in the way of saying that in learning Spanish, you don’t have to walk that lonely road. Find partners, tutors, friendly natives, a whole community of like-minded individuals who—just like you—are improving their lives by learning Spanish as a second language.
The journey was never meant to be taken alone, so if you find these individuals in language exchange sites like italki, keep them. They will expand your horizon, lift your spirit and accelerate your learning.
7. Dios los cría, y ellos se juntan.
Literally: God breeding them flock together.
People who share the same characteristics, tendencies or interests often become bonded in their commonality. “Dios los cría, y ellos se juntan” is often said in a disapproving manner to refer to people who share a negative characteristic (like a group of rowdy boys who got sent to the principal’s office). “Birds of a feather flock together” may be a close English translation.
And just as you don’t have to finish the whole English expression and simply say “Birds of a feather…,” you can also just say, “Dios los cría…” and the Spanish folks would know what you mean.
8. Donde hay confianza, da asco.
Literally: Where there is familiarity, it’s disgusting.
The closest English equivalent would be “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The perks of friendship are broad and many. Being friends means you have a shoulder to cry on, a helping-hand to help ease the burden and a buddy to share the good times with. But closeness can also bring with it drawbacks.
For example, your friend might not make a big deal about running late to meet up with you because, hey, you’re friends. He knows you’re still going to wait for him. While he may be more time-conscious when meeting with a total stranger, he may take your wasted time for granted because… hey, you’re friends!
Indeed, “Donde hay confianza, da asco.”
9. Hoy por ti, mañana por mí.
Literally: Today for you, tomorrow for me.
This expression is about reciprocity and the golden rule. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” might also resemble it in meaning, but “Hoy por ti, mañana por mí” has a bit more of a positive spin. It’s less of a “quid pro quo” type, instead the actions come from a sense of generosity. It’s like paying the bill at the restaurant and saying to your friend, “Let me get this one. You get the next one.”
One of the cool features of some sayings is that they are clicking on so many levels. They not only carry with them the wisdom of the ages, but they teach via a catchy rhyme scheme and a snappy juxtaposition of elements. This expression is one of them.
“Hoy por ti” and “Mañana por mí” don’t only rhyme, they have similar structures–rendering them highly memorable. They also juxtapose the paired concepts of “today and tomorrow” with “you and me.”
And being able to do all that in one fell swoop is simply amazing!
10. Desgraciado en el juego, afortunado en amores.
Literally: Unlucky in the game, lucky in love.
The concept of luck is often found deeply embedded in human cultures, and Spanish is no exception. By the way, this saying could also go the other way around: Afortunado en el juego, desgraciado en amores–which means being lucky in the game, but this time, unlucky in love.
The assumption here seems to be that nobody can have everything in life. If you have found great love, then that is already so much to be thankful for. And if you’ve found great wealth, you’re better off than those struggling masses. Having one of two is not bad.
The expression is often used to console the person who loses (or never finds) either love or material wealth. If one never finds material wealth, it can still be said that he has found love–and vice versa.
So, how about you? Do you want to be lucky in love or in material possessions?
11. El amor es ciego.
Literally: Love is blind.
In the throes of passion, one can hardly see the defects and shortcomings of one’s beloved–everyone knows that. This is a universal experience and you can easily find equivalent sayings in different languages around the world:
- Bulag ang pag-ibig. (Filipino)
- Kärleken är blind. (Swedish)
- Buta ang gugma. (Cebuano)
That said, did you notice that Spanish uses four words for something that requires other languages only three? What’s going on here?
Spanish (just like French and German) has gendered nouns. Spanish needs one extra word (el) because it needs to identify the grammatical gender of the noun. In this case, it’s masculine so el is used as a definite article. (For feminine nouns, la is used.)
In order to construct a grammatically correct Spanish sentence, one of the first things you will have to check are the nouns. You need to know two things about the nouns: gender and number (singular/plural).
12. Obras son amores, que no buenas razones.
Literally: Facts are love, and not good reasons.
They say “love” is an action word. This Spanish expression would definitely agree. If “actions speak louder than words,” then the Spanish are the loudest proof of what it’s all about.
The Spanish are a passionate bunch, and I’m not just talking about young lovers eloping, fighting in the rain or kissing in public parks like there’s no tomorrow. I’m talking about their language. It would only make sense that Spanish reflect this passion.
Some words that come to mind are: querer (desire), encantar (bewitch) and aventura amorosa (affair).
Spanish could rival any Romance language in terms of expressions of love, passion and desire.
13. Mucho ruido y pocas nueces.
Literally: Lots of noise, very few nuts.
Interestingly, “Mucho ruido y pocas nueces” was used as the title for the Spanish translation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
This saying has something to do about talking a big game and having next to nothing to show for it. Imagine the loud cracking nutshells under the force of a nutcracker. You expect to find something inside, right? Lo and behold, it’s vacuous. There’s nothing inside.
Think of politicians promising heaven and earth during the election campaign and doing nothing after winning. All talk and no action. Think of an overhyped concert that falls flat, or a highly anticipated movie that doesn’t deliver. All bark and no bite. All these situations warrant the expression, “Mucho ruido y pocas nueces.”
14. No es oro todo lo que reluce.
Literally: It’s not gold everything that glitters.
This saying encourages us to always see deeper into things—to look beyond the flashes and brilliance, and into the real substance. Things are not always what they seem and an attitude of healthy skepticism may give us the ability to make sound decisions.
Of course the opposite is also true. Just because something doesn’t glitter doesn’t mean it isn’t precious. A bleak situation may turn out to be a blessing, an unassuming person might just become a wonderful friend, food that looks awful may just make your list of favorites. Things are not always what they seem to be.
“No es oro todo lo que reluce” can be read positively or negatively. But ultimately, it speaks of the substance of things, persons and situations that the eyes cannot see.
15. A caballo regalado, no le mires el diente.
Literally: A gift horse, don’t look at the tooth.
The equivalent saying in English is “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Caballo (horse) figures in many Spanish sayings because the animal was the main mode of transport up until the 19th century. The number of horses owned also signify a person’s or a family’s wealth.
This saying is rooted from the practice in livestock markets where buyers look inside the mouth of a horse they’re interested in. The buyer can check the age and health of a horse by the state of its teeth. (Older horses generally have more inclined front teeth and worn out molars.)
The expression is about gratitude–of receiving gifts with the appreciation of the giver’s generosity, instead of highlighting the gift’s imperfections and shortcomings. Say a heartfelt, “Thank you!”
You’ll not only make the giver happy, you’ll also feel happier for it. Try it!
So there you go. Fifteen common sayings to enrich your knowledge of the Spanish language. Try incorporating them into your conversations and you’ll sound like a native speaker in no time.
And One More Thing for Your Arsenal of Spanish Sayings…
If you like learning Spanish sayings, then you’ll love FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Spanish learning experiences. In these videos, you’ll see your newly-acquired sayings in action.
In the real world, you may not pick up on new vocabulary and sayings straightaway. FluentU is designed for you to become familiarized with everyday Spanish, by combining all the benefits of total immersion and native level conversations with easy-to-read subtitles.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos – topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies, and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
And FluentU isn’t just videos – it’s a complete language learning program. Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on. You’ll be able to create vocab lists and track your progress as you advance through video after video.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the App from iTunes or the Google Play store and bring FluentU’s innovative language-learning experience to your iOS and Android device. Become a master of Spanish sayings faster than you ever thought possible!
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