So you’re in a Spanish bar.
It’s loud, but you can make out what people are saying.
You hear a fellow drinker talking about throwing a house through a window…
…another is laughingly accusing his friends of taking the hair…
…and an old man tells you he is healthier than a pear.
What the heck is going on?
You do a double take and scratch your head, wondering why you can translate the words, but not their context or meaning.
Well, you’ve just had your first introduction to Spanish idioms.
Why Learn Spanish Idioms?
Idioms are commonly-used expressions by native speakers that have a figurative, not a literal, meaning. All languages have them. For example, a couple of English idioms are “It’s raining cats and dogs” and “barking up the wrong tree.”
Idioms are essential for speaking a language like a native, and Spanish is no exception.
There are hundreds of Spanish idioms, and while some are common to many Spanish language speakers, others are only used in one or a handful of countries in the Spanish-speaking world. There are even idioms that are only spoken in specific regions.
To hear lots of idiomatic and regional Spanish being used in real life, check out FluentU.
In this post, we’ve compiled some of the most useful idioms that you’re likely to come across while speaking Spanish.
15 Common Spanish Idioms for Sounding Like a Native
15. Tomar el pelo
English: To pull someone’s leg
“Tomar el pelo” literally means “to take the hair,” and is used when someone is tricking or making fun of someone else, but in a good-natured way. So if a friend tells you he won $10 million, you might say: “Me estás tomando el pelo.” (You’re pulling my leg.)
14. Ser pan comido
English: To be a piece of cake
The literal translation of “ser pan comido” is “to be bread eaten,” and it means that something is very easy to do. It’s the English equivalent of saying something is a piece of cake. For example: “El trabajo es pan comido.” (The job is a piece of cake.)
13. Estar como una cabra
English: To be a little crazy
“Estar como una cabra” is a commonly used Spanish idiom for when somebody is doing something bizarre or a little out of the ordinary. The literal translation is “to be like a goat,” and the English equivalent is saying someone is a little nuts or crazy. So if a friend has had too much to drink one evening, and he or she gets up and dances on a table, you might say: “Esta noche estás como una cabra.” (Tonight you are a little crazy.)
12. No tener pelos en la lengua
English: To be straightforward / To tell it like it is
The literal translation of “no tener pelos en la lengua” is “not to have hairs on your tongue.” This Spanish idiom means that someone is a straight shooter and will always speak their mind. For example: “Mi amigo no tiene pelos en la lengua.” (My friend tells it how it is.)
11. Tirar la casa por la ventana
English: To spare no expense
“Tirar la casa por la ventana” is literally translated as “to throw the house through the window,” and it means that no expense has been spared or that money is no object. For example: “Tiré la casa por la ventana cuando compré mi nuevo coche.” (I spared no expense when I bought my new car.)
10. Quedarse de piedra
English: To be stunned
“Quedarse de piedra” is literally to “stay like a stone,” and it means to be amazed. In other words, you’re so stunned by something that you stay like a stone. For example: “Me quedé de piedra cuando me dijo la historia.” (I was stunned when he told me the story.) Another idiom to express surprise and astonishment is “quedarse con la boca abierta,” literally “to stay with the mouth open.”
9. Lo dijo de labios para fuera
English: To say something you didn’t mean
“Lo dijo de labios para fuera” is literally translated as “he said it from the lips outwards,” and it means that a person didn’t mean what they said. For example: “Lo dijo de labios para fuera cuando dijo que era culpable.” (He didn’t mean it when he said he was guilty.)
8. Estar hecho un ají
English: To be very angry
“Estar hecho un ají” is literally translated as “to be made a chili,” and it means to be hopping mad (very angry) about something. For example: “No le gustó el resultado. Está hecho un ají.” (He didn’t like the outcome. He’s hopping mad.)
7. Empezar la casa por el tejado
English: To put the cart before the horse
“Empezar la casa por el tejado” is literally “to start the house by the roof,” and it means to put the cart before the horse, or to have things in the wrong order. For example: “Si empezáramos la construcción sin los fondos, estaríamos empezando la casa por el tejado.” (If we started construction without the funds, we’d be putting the cart before the horse.)
6. Estar más sano que una pera
English: To be fit as a fiddle
“Estar más sano que una pera” is literally translated as “to be healthier than a pear.” The English equivalent is to be as fit as a fiddle, and it means that someone feels great and is very healthy. For example: “Mi abuela tiene 85 años, pero está más sana que una pera.” (My grandmother is 85, but she’s as fit as a fiddle.)
5. Ser uña y carne
English: To be bosom buddies
The literal translation of “ser uña y carne” is “to be fingernail and flesh,” and it means to be inseparable, or to be bosom buddies. For example: “Juan y Pedro son uña y carne.” John and Peter are bosom buddies.)
4. Tener un humor de perros
English: To be in a bad mood
“Tenemos un humor de perros” is literally translated as “to have a mood of dogs,” and it means to be in a bad mood. For example: “Ellos tienen un humor de perros porque no aprobaron los exámenes en la universidad.” (They’re in a bad mood because they didn’t pass their exams at the university.)
3. Se me hace agua la boca
English: To make one’s mouth water / To be mouthwatering
“Se me hace agua la boca” is a common Spanish idiom translated as “it makes my mouth water,” meaning that an item of food or a meal is so delicious it makes the saliva flow in a person’s mouth. For example: “Se me hace agua la boca solo pensar en la paella.” (It makes my mouth water just thinking about paella.)
2. Tiene más lana que un borrego
English: To be loaded [with cash]
“Tiene más lana que un borrego” translates as “he has more wool than a lamb,” and it means that a person is loaded with cash. “Lana” is slang for “cash.” For example: “Él pagó la cuenta en el restaurante porque tiene más lana que un borrego”. (He paid the bill in the restaurant because he’s loaded with cash.)
1. Echar agua al mar
English: To do something pointless / To put a drop in the bucket
“Echar agua al mar” is literally translated as “to throw water into the sea,” a Spanish idiom used in some Spanish-speaking regions to mean that something is pointless. For example: “Tratar de convencerla es como echar agua al mar. Ella nunca va a cambiar.” (Trying to convince her is pointless. She’s never going to change.)
More Resources for Learning Spanish Idioms
It’s one thing to read a list of idioms – it’s another to learn how to use them naturally in Spanish language conversations.
To be healthier than a pear: Funny Spanish idioms: Nice collection of funny idioms here, with many new ones.
9 ridiculously useful Spanish expressions: Great post that also includes embedded sound files. These are just a handful of the many idioms that you’re likely hear. Commit them to memory and start casually throwing them into conversations. They will help you to speak Spanish more naturally and to sound less ‘foreign’ to Spanish ears.
And One More Thing…
If you've made it this far that means you probably enjoy learning Spanish with engaging material and will then love FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
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