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40 Famous Spanish Proverbs to Inspire You

Native speakers use Spanish proverbs all the time, and I’ll bet you use them in your first language, too.

This is because proverbs exist in every language. For example, one popular English proverb is “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” which has nothing to do with grass!

Proverbs are short phrases that mean something profound, wise or inspiring, but if translated literally, they can often be confusing or not seem to make sense.

Read on to learn 40 famous and inspiring Spanish proverbs (proverbios). You may just feel more inspired by these wise and beautiful sayings by the time you get to the end of this post!


Inspiring and Famous Spanish Proverbs

1. Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando

Image by Hans from Pixabay

Meaning: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Literal translation: A bird in hand is worth more than a hundred in flight

This Spanish phrase means what you already have is more valuable than what you don’t.

You can use this phrase when you realize that what you have now is of greater importance than something you may be considering.

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2. Cuando el gato va a sus devociones, bailan los ratones

Meaning: When the cat’s away, the mice will play

Literal translation: When the cat goes to his devotions, the rats dance

You might pull out this phrase when you notice someone doing something you know they’d never do in the presence of an authority figure, such as an unattended child diving headfirst into a chocolate cake.

3. Del dicho al hecho hay un buen trecho

Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

Meaning: Talk is cheap

Literal translation: From speech to deed there is a good stretch

A reference to the time-wasters in life, this phrase is a way to say that someone “talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.”

Or if someone makes a lot of promises but has a track record of not fulfilling them.

4. El hábito no hace al monje

Meaning: Don’t judge a book by its cover

Literal translation: The habit does not make the monk

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This phrase is the same as “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in Spanish, it’s literally “the habit does not make the monk.” It’s excellent to use when a person, place or thing is worthy of being judged by its substance instead of its outward beauty (or lack thereof)

5. De tal palo, tal astilla

Image by Karsten Paulick from Pixabay

Meaning: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Literal translation: From such a branch, such a twig

Yes, these branch-centric proverbs mean essentially the same thing—if one person or thing comes from the other, they’re bound to be similar in some ways.

This phrase is mostly fit for pointing out familial similarities (appearance or otherwise), like if someone bears a striking resemblance to their mother.

6. Hablando del rey de Roma, por la puerta asoma

Meaning: Speak of the devil and he shall appear

Literal translation: Speaking of the king of Rome, he’s appearing at the door

In English, if you say “speak of the devil” when you see someone, it simply means: Hey, we were talking about you!

But in Spanish, this phrase describes that uncomfortable moment when someone you’re speaking ill of suddenly appears.

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7. Echar margaritas a los cerdos / Arrojar perlas a los cerdos

cute pig with wearing a pearl necklace

Meaning: Cast your pearls before swine

Literal translation: Give daisies to the hogs. / Cast pearls to the hogs

This is a good proverb for when people don’t appreciate you or your efforts.

Spanish versions of the Holy Bible use the proverb “arrojar perlas a los cerdos” or “cast pearls to the hogs.”

“Echar margaritas a los cerdos” translates to “give daisies to the hogs,” and it’s commonly used to express the same sentiment as the biblical phrase.

8. No es tan bravo el león como lo pintan

Meaning: His bark is worse than his bite

Literal translation: The lion is not as fierce as he is made out to be

Just like in English, this proverb implies that a person who seems fierce might not be so tough.

Or, you could apply this to a situation—like your friend losing their keys, maybe—to say that things aren’t as serious as they seem.

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9. El que no llora, no mama

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Meaning: The squeaky wheel gets the grease

Literal translation: The one that does not cry, does not get mom

In other words, the baby who doesn’t cry doesn’t get nursed.

You’d apply this proverb to a situation where you need to speak up about something to get what you need.

Maybe your office is too hot, but you never mention it to anyone. Your coworker, however, complains about the heat every day. Eventually, the boss gives your coworker a new fan, not you. Speak up!

10. A río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores

Meaning: There’s good fishing in troubled waters

Literal translation: At troubled waters, fishermen gain

This proverb implies that there’s always someone waiting to profit from the disadvantages of others.

It’s interesting that the word revuelto also means scrambled and disorganized. Throughout Latin American history, cultural chaos has triggered dictatorships. Thus, the “fishermen” gain power from disorder.

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11. A las mujeres bonitas y a los buenos caballos los echan a perder los pendejos

woman riding a white horse in water

Meaning: Women and horses are wasted on idiots

Literal translation: Beautiful women and good horses are corrupted by idiots

This one comes from Mexico, a country with several proverbs about women and horses. This saying reminds us that bad people often misuse good people and good resources.

12. Lavar puercos con jabón es perder tiempo y jabón

Meaning: Some things are a waste of time

Literal translation: To wash a pig with soap is to lose time and soap

Like the English version, this popular Spanish proverb means that some things waste time.

A similar English quote comes from George Bernard Shaw: “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

You can pull out this phrase the next time someone suggests a task that is ultimately meaningless.

13. El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho

man lying on the beach reading a book

Meaning: Reading and traveling is knowledge

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Literal translation: He who reads a lot and walks a lot, sees a lot and knows a lot

The proverb encourages travel and scholarship. The more you walk, the more you’ll see, and the more you read, the more you’ll know.

14. ¿Qué locura o qué desatino me lleva a contar las ajenas faltas, teniendo tanto que decir de las mías?

Meaning: People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones

Literal translation: What madness or folly leads me to count the faults of others, having so much to say about mine?

This saying asks us to consider how quickly we judge others for their faults without looking at ourselves.

Miguel de Cervantes uses this proverb in El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha” (Don Quixote).

15. La senda de la virtud es muy estrecha y el camino del vicio, ancho y espacioso

rock path in between green bushes in the forest

Meaning: The good path is small while the self-indulgent one is wide

Literal translation: The path of virtue is very narrow and the road of vice broad and spacious

The virtuous road is small and the road of vice is not. It’s much easier to follow the path of indulgence and vice than to have excellent morals.

16. A caballo regalado, no se le miran los dientes

Meaning: Never look a gift horse in the mouth

Literal translation: Don’t look at the teeth of a gift horse

By looking at a horse’s teeth, you can estimate its age. If you received a horse as a gift, opening its mouth and checking its age would be incredibly rude.

So this phrase means you should accept a gift or good luck without criticizing, looking for faults or judging how much it cost.

17. Como agua para chocolate

silver pot of boiling water on a stove

Meaning: Boiling mad

Literal translation: Like water for chocolate

In certain Latin American countries—especially Mexico—hot chocolate is made with water (instead of milk).

Because water for chocolate is boiling, the phrase describes an emotional state when you’re boiling over in anger or (sometimes) in passion.

18. Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso

Meaning: Short reckonings make long friends

Literal translation: The accounts clear and the chocolate thick

In English, you want to return what you’ve borrowed (“clear your accounts”) quickly to maintain good relationships.

In the Spanish phrase, you want to keep your money matters clear and your chocolate drink thick and frothy. Think of it like meaning you don’t want murky business relations, just like you wouldn’t want watered-down chocolate.

19. Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena

circular clock on a blank white wall

Meaning: Better late than never

Literal translation: It is never late if happiness is good

You can often substitute the Spanish phrase here for “better late than never,” but a slightly more accurate translation would be “a happy outcome is worth waiting for.”

Imagine you and a friend aren’t on speaking terms, but it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten the problem! Use this proverb to remind yourself that setting things right is never too late.

20. Donde hay gana, hay maña

Meaning: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Literal translation: Where there is desire, there is ability

If you really want to do something, you’ll do it. It doesn’t matter how difficult the task is.

21. Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres

To birds of the same species gaze at one another

Meaning: Birds of a feather flock together

Literal translation: Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are

This proverb suggests that one’s character can be judged by the company they keep.

22. Ladrón que roba a ladrón tiene 100 años de perdón

Meaning: Two wrongs don’t make a right

Literal translation: A thief who steals from a thief has 100 years of forgiveness

This saying implies that committing a wrong deed in response to another wrong deed doesn’t justify the action.

23. Cada uno sabe donde aprieta el zapato

A pair of red canvas sneakers

Meaning: To each his own

Literal translation: Everyone knows where the shoe pinches

This proverb implies that everyone is aware of their own problems or difficulties.

24. El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta

Meaning: Jack of all trades, master of none

Literal translation: He who grasps much, holds little

This saying suggests that trying to do too many things at once often results in accomplishing none of them effectively.

25. No hay mal que por bien no venga

Dramatic grey and white cloud formations

Meaning: Every cloud has a silver lining

Literal translation: There’s no evil that doesn’t come for good

This proverb implies that even negative situations can lead to positive outcomes in the end.

26. A falta de pan, buenas son tortas

Meaning: Beggars can’t be choosers

Literal translation: In the absence of bread, cakes are good

This proverb implies that in a difficult situation, you should be grateful for whatever is available.

27. Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente

A shrimp being held up in front of the ocean

Meaning: You snooze, you lose

Literal translation: The shrimp that falls asleep is carried away by the current

This proverb warns against being inactive or careless, as opportunities may slip away from your grasp.

28. En boca cerrada no entran moscas

Meaning: Silence is golden

Literal translation: Flies don’t enter a closed mouth

This saying advises against speaking unnecessarily, as it may lead to trouble.

29. No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano

A busy street scene in Rome, Italy

Meaning: Rome wasn’t built in a day

Literal translation: No matter how early you get up, the dawn won’t come sooner

This proverb reminds us that some things take time to accomplish, regardless of how much effort is put in at once.

30. Quien siembra vientos, recoge tempestades

Meaning: You reap what you sow

Literal translation: He who sows winds, reaps storms

This saying suggests that actions have consequences, and negative actions lead to negative outcomes.

31. Cada loco con su tema

A person posing in a mask, holding a drink

Meaning: To each their own

Literal translation: Every crazy person has their own subject

This proverb implies that everyone has their own interests or preferences.

32. No hay que buscarle tres pies al gato

Meaning: Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill

Literal translation: There’s no need to look for three feet on a cat

This saying advises against overcomplicating or overanalyzing a situation that doesn’t need to be.

33. A buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan

A man holding his hand up to his ear, listening

Meaning: A word to the wise is enough

Literal translation: To a good listener, few words are enough

This proverb suggests that intelligent or perceptive people can understand something with minimal explanation.

34. Más vale prevenir que lamentar

Meaning: Prevention is better than cure

Literal translation: It’s better to prevent than to regret

This saying emphasizes the importance of taking precautions to avoid problems or regrets later on.

35. El que no arriesga, no gana

Two people jumping triumphantly up at sunset

Meaning: Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Literal translation: He who doesn’t risk, doesn’t win

This saying encourages taking risks in order to achieve success or progress.

36. A palabras necias, oídos sordos

Meaning: Don’t pay attention to nonsense

Literal translation: To foolish words, deaf ears

This proverb advises ignoring or disregarding foolish or irrelevant remarks.

37. Dame pan y dime tonto

A stack of freshly baked baguettes

Meaning: Bread and circuses

Literal translation: Give me bread and call me stupid

This proverb implies that people can be easily satisfied with material comforts or distractions, even at the expense of their intelligence or dignity.

38. A donde te quieran mucho, no vayas a menudo

Meaning: Familiarity breeds contempt

Literal translation: Where you are loved much, don’t go often

This saying suggests that spending too much time in a place where you are highly valued or loved can lead to diminishing appreciation or respect.

39. El tiempo lo cura todo

Maroon sand falls through an hourglass

Meaning: Time heals all wounds

Literal translation: Time cures everything

This proverb implies that with time, emotional or physical pain will eventually fade or be resolved.

40. Cuando hay hambre, no hay mal pan

Meaning: Beggars can’t be choosers; Be grateful for any help you can get

Literal translation: When there’s hunger, there’s no bad bread

This saying suggests that in times of scarcity or need, you should be grateful for whatever is available, regardless of its quality.

How Can Proverbs Help You Learn Spanish?

  • Gain deeper insight into how Spanish works. Proverbs are often written differently than other Spanish phrases, which might take you by surprise when you hear them thrown in conversations or literature. By learning them, you’ll be prepared for lots of different structures.
  • Understand proverbs and cultural references in Spanish media. Like slang, proverbs appear throughout a country’s media and literature, and knowing them will help you understand these references. A good way to hear proverbs (and learn them at the same time) is by using an immersion program like FluentU, which lets you learn Spanish in context through short videos.

    FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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  • Deepen your knowledge about Spanish-speaking cultures. Proverbs teach you how different cultures view certain issues differently, which lets you better understand the cultures of each Spanish-speaking country.
  • Fit in with the native speakers. It’s no secret that each country has different slang, customs, idioms and more. Knowing proverbs will help you blend in with (and impress!) native speakers just as much as using slang.


These proverbs can help you better express yourself in Spanish-speaking communities.

After all, many native Spanish speakers have been using these phrases for their entire lives!

And you know what they say: When in Rome…

And One More Thing…

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