Move Beyond Dictionaries: 25 Intermediate Spanish Phrases to Help You Speak Smoothly

If you want to become fluent in Spanish you’ve got to do more than just learn grammar and vocabulary. Practicing speaking what you’ve learned from textbooks doesn’t quite cut it either.

For every literal English to Spanish translation, there’s almost always a colloquial phrase in Spanish that’s used way more often.

Using literal translations (even technically correct ones) is a dead giveaway that you’re a foreigner who hasn’t quite reached fluency.

Luckily, as an intermediate-level learner, you can get one step ahead by mastering just a few handy colloquial phrases.

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25 Intermediate Spanish Phrases to Immediately Boost Your Fluency

You already have the vocabulary and grammar you need to express your ideas, but here you’ll find the colloquial phrases to express them more fluently. Most of these widely-used Spanish phrases are impossible to work out through translation alone. So here they are: 25 intermediate Spanish phrases to immediately boost your fluency.

1. You want to say: “Don’t worry, it’s not necessary to do anything.”

Literal translation: No te preocupes, no es necesario hacer nada.

Colloquial phrase: No te preocupes, no hace falta hacer nada.

 

2. You want to say: “It’s not important.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): No es importante/No importa.

Colloquial phrase: Qué más da.

A similar colloquial expression the Spanish use to express this sentiment is no es para tanto (it’s not a big deal).

 

3. You want to say: “I feel really comfortable here.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Me siento muy cómodo aquí.

Colloquial phrase: Me siento muy a gusto aquí. 

 

4. You want to say: “We’ve finished off all of the ham.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Hemos terminado el jamón.

Colloquial phrase: Nos hemos ventilado el jamón. (note that ventilarse is a reflexive verb)

You can polish off any kind of food with this phrase, for example, nos hemos ventilado las galletas (we’ve finished off all of the cookies).

When you use ventilarse with beverages it means to “down” or to “chug,” e.g., se ha ventilado la cerveza de un trago (he downed the beer in one gulp).

 

5. You want to say: “I can’t cook Spanish omelette well.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): No puedo cocinar bien la tortilla española.

Colloquial phrase: La tortilla española no me sale.

This phrase structuring is similar to “just doesn’t work out for me.” No me sale is such a simple phrase and it can be paired with so much! For example, no me sale el pino (I can’t do a handstand/My handstands don’t turn out right).

You can also use this phrase in other types of situations, for example, no me ha salido el trabajo ese del que te hablaba el otro día. (that job I was talking to you about the other day didn’t work out for me.)

 

6. You want to say: “I’m really excited!”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): ¡Estoy muy emocionado!

Colloquial phrase: ¡Estoy muy ilusionado!/¡Tengo mucha ilusión!

 

7. You want to say: “I really have to pee!”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): ¡Tengo que hacer pis mucho!

The above phrase would actually mean “I usually have to pee a lot” in a general sense, and if this is you then you’re what the Spanish call un meón/una meona.

By the way, hacer pis in Castilian Spanish isn’t considered vulgar at all, although in the context of Latin American Spanish I would be cautious about saying it.

Colloquial phrase: ¡Me estoy meando!

The colloquial phrase literally means “I’m peeing myself,” so you’ll notice we’ve got another reflexive verb here with mearse. 

The first time I heard a Spaniard say this I couldn’t believe my ears. You’re peeing yourself?! Like, at this very moment?! It’s quite an emphatic (if not melodramatic) way to get the point across, but so incredibly common here.

 

8. You want to say: “I feel terrible.”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): Me siento terrible.

The Spanish word “terrible” is not used in this sort of context. The correct context for terrible would be as follows:

Anoche hacía un viento terrible. (The wind was terrible last night.)

Era un monstruo terrible. (It was a terrible monster.)

Colloquial phrase: Me siento fatal/Me encuentro mal.

Me encuentro mal is more formal than me siento fatal, and literally translates to “I find myself unwell.” Rather formal indeed!

 

9. You want to say: “Could I take a look?”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): ¿Podría tomar una mirada?

Tomar una mirada does not exist in Spanish.

Colloquial phrase: ¿Puedo echar un vistazo?

10. You want to say: “I can’t think of anything.”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): No puedo pensar de nada.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Don’t say this—please. This doesn’t mean anything, although de nada by itself means “you’re welcome.”

Colloquial phrase: No se me ocurre nada. 

The colloquial phrase uses yet another reflexive verb (ocurrirse) so it literally means “nothing occurs to me.”

Another thing you might say to express this same idea is “tengo la mente en blanco,” (I’m drawing a blanks).

 

11. You want to say: “I’m sorry but I didn’t understand a thing you just said to me.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Perdona pero no he entendido nada de lo que me acabas de decir.

Colloquial phrase: Perdona pero no me he enterado de nada. (comes from enterarse, which is reflexive)

 

12. You want to say: “I’ve been in Spain for two weeks.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): He estado en España dos semanas.

Colloquial phrase: Llevo dos semanas en España. (Literally: “I carry two weeks in Spain”—kind of hilarious if you ask me)

 

13. You want to say: “The meeting was so boring.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): La reunión fue muy aburrida.

Colloquial phrase: La reunión fue un rollo.

 

14. You want to say: “He doesn’t pay any attention to me.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): No me presta atención.

Colloquial phrase: No me hace caso.

“Hacer caso” is also used to speak of obedience. “No me obedece” or “he doesn’t obey me” is quite formal and not used as often as “no me hace caso.” This phrase can also be used to mean “listen to.”

 

15. You want to say: “I’m exhausted.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Estoy muy cansado.

Colloquial phrase: Estoy hecho polvo.

 

16. You want to say: “The cake looks good!”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): ¡Se ve bien la tarta!

Colloquial phrase: ¡La tarta tiene muy buena pinta!

tener buena pinta = to look yummy/tasty/delicious/scrumptious/mouth-watering

“Se ve bien” is used more when speaking of people—e.g. Hacía mucho que no veía a Juan. Se ve muy bien. (It had been a while since I’d seen Juan. He looks really good.)

 

17. You want to say: “No way!” or “Yeah right! I don’t believe you!”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): ¡No, no te creo!

Colloquial phrase: ¡Qué va! ¡Venga, hombre!

“Venga, hombre” is usually placed at the end of a sentence and can also mean “you have to be kidding.” ¡Qué bobada! ¡Qué disparate! and ¡Qué tontería! are very similar phrases that can be used instead.

 

18. You want to say: “I’m sick.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Estoy enfermo.

Colloquial phrase: Estoy mal.

If you want to be more specific you can say “Estoy mal de(l)_____.” (estómago/stomach, la garganta/the throat, etc.)

 

19. You want to say: “Of course, that’s obvious.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Claro que sí, eso es obvio.

Colloquial phrase: Claro, hombre, eso es de cajón.

 

20. You want to say: “Yes, I didn’t think of that.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Sí, no pensé en eso.

Colloquial phrase: Sí, eso se me había pasado por alto. (Literally: “that passed high over me”)

 

21. You want to say: “That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): Eso no tiene nada que hacer con lo que estoy diciendo.

This sentence is a direct translation that doesn’t make any sense.

Colloquial phrase: Eso no tiene nada que ver con lo que estoy diciendo.

 

22. You want to say: “You have to realize that…”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): Tienes que realizar que… (In Spanish, “realizar” is a false friend with a completely different meaning than realize: carry out)

Colloquial phrase: Tienes que darte cuenta de que…

 

23. You want to say: “You’ve hit the nail on the head.”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): Has pegado el clavo en la cabeza. (No. Just no.)

Colloquial phrase: Has dado en el blanco/Has dado en el clavo/Has dado en el quid de la cuestión.

 

24. You want to say: “I think you’re very confused.”

Literal translation (correct but not colloquial): Creo que estás confundido.

Colloquial phrase: Me parece que te has hecho un lío.

 

25. You want to say: “You are absolutely correct.”

Literal translation (just plain incorrect): Estás absolutamente correcto.

In Spanish, we use the verb “tener” when speaking of people being correct and not “estar.”

Colloquial phrase: Tienes toda la razón del mundo.

 

We’ve covered quite a bit of colloquial phrases and now it’s time to let it all sink in. It takes a while to really learn untranslatable phrases since our first instinct is to literally translate everything we want to say directly from English.

A good way of getting yourself out of this habit is to expose yourself to some real Spanish media. That way, you’ll be thinking more like a Spaniard, rather than an English speaker.

You can find authentic content on platforms like Netflix or YouTube. Focus on the material that shows realistic usage of Spanish. Jot down the specific instances in which you hear the phrases that are likely to harbor a secondary meaning. Based on what you’ve watched, you can try to make a guess as to what the colloquialisms actually mean.

Another option is the language learning program FluentU, which uses a library of Spanish videos that include intermediate-level content. Each clip comes with interactive subtitles that explain words and phrases, including colloquialisms, in context, and you can review what you learn with flashcards and personalized quizzes.

After a good deal of practice, these phrases will be effortlessly sliding off your tongue in no time and you’ll find that native speakers are really impressed by this sort of attention to the nuances of their language.

Who knows—maybe you’ll even be confused for one of them someday!


Constance Chase is a writer and English teacher living in Madrid, Spain with her Spanish husband, Javier. When she is not making hopeless attempts to explain terms like “hipster” and “swag” to her students, she can be found reading on the Metro or wolfing down Spanish ham and two euro wine in old man bars.

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