20 Inspiring Spanish Proverbs About Life, Love and Everything in Between
If you ever plan to talk to native Spanish speakers, knowing Spanish sayings is a must.
Not just so you can impress your friends with your fluency, but also so you’ll understand when you hear them in Spanish media and conversations.
Today we’ll look at 20 famous (and sometimes funny!) Spanish proverbs (proverbios), and compare them with their closest English counterparts.
- Thought-provoking Spanish Proverbs
- 1. Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando
- 2. Cuando el gato va a sus devociones, bailan los ratones
- 3. Del dicho al hecho hay un buen trecho
- 4. El hábito no hace al monje
- 5. De tal palo, tal astilla
- 6. Hablando del rey de Roma, por la puerta asoma
- 7. Echar margaritas a los cerdos / Arrojar perlas a los cerdos
- 8. No es tan bravo el león como lo pintan
- 9. El que no llora, no mama
- 10. A río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores
- 11. A las mujeres bonitas y a los buenos caballos los echan a perder los pendejos
- 12. Lavar puercos con jabón es perder tiempo y jabón
- 13. El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho
- 14. ¿Qué locura o qué desatino me lleva a contar las ajenas faltas, teniendo tanto que decir de las mías?
- 15. La senda de la virtud es muy estrecha y el camino del vicio, ancho y espacioso
- 16. A caballo regalado, no se le miran los dientes
- 17. Como agua para chocolate
- 18. Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso
- 19. Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena
- 20. Donde hay gana, hay maña
- What Are Proverbs?
- How Can Proverbs Help You Learn Spanish?
- And One More Thing…
Thought-provoking Spanish Proverbs
1. Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando
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.
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
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
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
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.
7. Echar margaritas a los cerdos / Arrojar perlas a los cerdos
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.
9. El que no llora, no mama
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.
11. A las mujeres bonitas y a los buenos caballos los echan a perder los pendejos
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
Meaning: Reading and traveling is knowledge
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
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
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
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.
What Are Proverbs?
Proverbs exist in every language. They’re short phrases that mean something (usually) profound or inspiring, but if translated literally, they can often be confusing or not seem to make sense.
Some proverbs are only found in literature, but others are used by native speakers in daily life.
For example, here are a few proverbs English speakers use quite often:
“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
“Better safe than sorry.”
“Not all that glitters is gold.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers.”
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.
- 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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