Every language has many different sayings that people use in certain situations to express popular wisdom. You’ve probably heard some in your native language. Maybe your grandma told a few when you were a mischievous kid. And maybe now you use some for different life situations.
If you’re learning a new language, like Spanish, it’s important to know at least a few common sayings. Because you’ll probably hear them when talking to a native speaker. And since Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world, we bring you twenty common Spanish sayings.
How are Sayings Different from Idioms?
Just like sayings, languages also have idioms as part of their slang vocabulary. And people use idioms in their everyday lives. So, then, what’s the difference between one and another? Aren’t they synonyms? Well, even though they have one thing in common – being phrases of a language that all natives understand – they’re not the same thing.
Idioms are phrases that mean something different from what their words say. This is, they can’t be understood literally, but rather figuratively. There are many different idioms in Spanish. For example Es de hueso colorado. Literally, this means “it’s of red bone”. But since it’s an idiom it means something metaphorically: that someone is a massive fan of something.
A saying or refrán is a phrase full of wisdom; it can work as advice or teach a lesson. Sayings have been known among native speakers of a language for many years and generations. Usually, people don’t know who was the creator of a refrán. Sayings tend to have many literary devices, like rhyme, metaphors, and analogies.
20 Common Spanish Sayings
- Perro que ladra, no muerde.
Used when someone mean or angry says he/she is going to do something bad, but you know they’re just bragging, they won’t do anything.
Literal translation: Dog that barks, doesn’t bite.
Its English counterpart would be: Someone’s bark is worse than their bite.
- Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.
When someone tells you this Spanish saying, they’re advising you not to be lazy or distracted, or you might miss opportunities.
Literal translation: Shrimp that falls asleep is taken away by the stream.
Its English version could be: You snooze, you lose.
- Quien mucho abarca, poco aprieta.
This means that if you try to do many different things at the same time, you will do none.
Literal translation: The one that covers many things, squeezes little.
Its English version could be: Don’t bite more than you can chew.
- Zapatero a tus zapatos.
This means that every person should stick to what they know and talk just about that. And not to get into controversy by doing or talking about something that is none of their business.
Literal translation: Cobbler to your shoes.
Its English version is: The cobbler should stick to his last.
- No todo lo que brilla es oro.
Used to say that not everything that looks or acts nice is good.
In this case the literal English translation of the Spanish phrase it’s the same as the English saying: Not all that glitters is gold.
- Árbol que nace torcido, jamás su tronco endereza.
This means that if someone wasn’t raised properly, they will never change how they are.
Literal translation: Tree that is born crooked, its trunk will never straighten.
Its English version would be: A leopard can’t change its spots.
- Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.
Used to say that years give someone wisdom.
Literal translation: The devil knows more for being old than for being devil.
Its English version would be: With age comes wisdom.
- Al mal tiempo, buena cara.
This means that we all should stay positive even in the worst of times.
Literal translation: To bad weather, good face.
Its English version could be: Put on a brave face or look at the bright side.
- El que con lobos anda, a aullar se enseña.
Used to say that if you hang around with bad friendships or people, you’ll end up learning their behavior.
Literal translation: He who hangs with wolves, learns to howl.
Its English version is: If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
- A palabras necias, oídos sordos.
Used to say that you shouldn’t pay attention to negative comments, simply ignore them.
Literal translation: to foolish words, deaf ears.
Its English version would be: Turn a deaf ear.
- A la corta o a la larga, no hay matrero que no caiga.
This is particularly from Argentina, and it means that, at some point, criminals will pay for their acts.
Literal translation: Sooner or later, there is no outlaw that doesn’t fall.
- Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos.
Used to talk about people that you did a favor or some good for, but they’re not thankful. It can even be applied to kids; of how you raised them, and they grew up to be unthankful.
Literal translation: Raise crows, and they’ll poke out your eyes.
Its English version could be: Raise no more devils that you can lay down.
- Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.
This means that even if someone changes their external appearance and looks good if his/her personality is ugly, he/she will keep being that way.
Literal translation: Although the monkey dresses in silk, it stays a monkey.
Its English version could be: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
- El valiente vive hasta que el cobarde quiere.
It means that people that bully others are going to keep doing it until the bullied defends himself. It encourages people to speak up.
Literal translation: The brave man lives until the coward wants.
- No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.
Used to say that you shouldn’t rush things, they will happen at their moment. In the end, we can’t change the time.
Literal translation: Not for getting up early it dawns earlier.
Its English version is: The sun is not hurried by early risers.
- Lo que no has de poder ver, en tu casa lo has de tener.
This means that if you criticize something too much, then you probably have it or will have it near you. For example: if you criticize someone’s attitude, someone close to you might have the same personality.
Literal translation: What you are not able to see, you shall have it in your house.
- Candil de la calle, oscuridad de su casa.
Used to say that someone is a great person, with good values, in front of strangers; but in private, he/she is the opposite.
Literal translation: Lamp of the street, darkness of its house.
Its English version is: Street angel, house devil.
- Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr.
This means that if something doesn’t concern you, you should not interfere.
Literal translation: Water that you should not drink, let it run.
- Del plato a la boca, se cae la sopa.
This means that even when you feel that something is secure, it can go wrong.
Literal translation: From the plate to the mouth, the soup falls down.
Its English version would be: There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.
- Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda.
It means that if you’re responsible and on time, your work and everything you need to achieve will turn out fine.
Literal Translation: To the one that gets up early, God helps him.
Its English version is: The early bird catches the worm.
Tips to Truly Learn Spanish Refranes
Just trying to memorize the Spanish sayings won’t help you. You’ll need to truly understand what they mean and in which situations apply them. Even if you read the definitions of each phrase, there are other things you can do to truly learn the use of each saying.
And all of them have one thing in common: context learning. After all, sayings are part of the slang of a language. And it’s better when you acquire that type of vocabulary instead of memorizing it like it’s for an exam.
Reading in Spanish will make you learn through context, and that is the perfect example of acquiring a language. You’ll have an interesting story, with descriptions, characters, situations, and dialogues to help you understand any saying that appears.
Later, when you find yourself in a situation that resembles a moment in the book, you might remember a saying that a character used and that applies to you.
They have become very popular in the last few years, so you might have one or two favorites. What if you look for a podcast in Spanish to listen to? Language learning podcasts could help you, but you can also look at any other topic you like. In fact, other topics might be even more useful because you’ll hear Spanish refranes applied in other contexts outside of the language.
Look especially for podcasts about things you love and always talk about, so you’ll learn vocabulary for your everyday life. The fact that they’re about listening will help understand the proper pronunciation of each saying.
This is another listening tool. If you are not very into podcasts, listen to music. There are many Spanish songs out there. And believe it or not, some have Spanish sayings in their verses. You can even make a Spanish playlist, and play it in the background while you complete your tasks of the day. Little by little you’ll absorb the vocabulary. If you’re a beginner, it’s better if you sit down to listen to the song and follow along with the lyrics.
Choose your favorite streaming platform and watch movies and series in Spanish. You can watch movies in your native language with Spanish subtitles. But it’s even better if the original language is Spanish. This way you’ll not only read the saying but also hear its pronunciation.
YouTube will be a very useful tool for you to acquire sayings in Spanish. Watch YouTubers from different Spanish-speaking countries. This way you’ll hear different accents and different everyday Spanish expressions. Maybe you’ll even get to know which Spanish sayings are most popular in different nations.
You can look for YouTube channels about various topics. Life vlogs could be one of the most useful videos to learn sayings because the YouTuber will be talking and showing you his/her everyday life. So you might hear some refranes every now and then.
Put Your Newly Acquired Spanish Sayings into Practice
Practice makes perfect! At the end of the day, the best way to learn sayings in another language is by speaking. Here are some tips on how to put into practice Spanish sayings:
If you still feel a little insecure about speaking, you can practice first by thinking of a Spanish saying for a particular situation. For example: If you know a person that has made bad decisions because of the people that he/she hangs out with, you can think of a refrán that’s perfect for that case. Most likely you’ll think of, el que con lobos anda a aullar se enseña. You don’t have to say it out loud, just think of it.
First, you can talk with a native speaker of your target language. You might have a friend from Spain or Mexico, and maybe you speak another language, like English, with them. Start taking advantage of your international friendships and ask them to help you with your Spanish by speaking in that language too.
If not friends, then maybe you have neighbors or classmates from a Spanish-speaking country. They can help you too.
If you really don’t know a native Spanish speaker, use a language exchange website. These are websites where you can sign up and practice with a native speaker of your target language. First, you speak in your native language, which would be the other person’s target language.
Then, your language partner speaks in his/her native language (in this case Spanish) which is your target language. This way both of you learn. There are free language exchange websites out there.
Finally, even if you’re already taking classes, you need to keep studying outside school hours. But make it fun! You could enroll in TruFluency online Spanish classes. We have native teachers that will teach you only useful things. Plus, we customized our classes according to your language goals. So, we can help you with whatever you want to learn.
We teach based on the Bellieu Method, which was created to achieve language fluency. This means that you’ll have time to speak in our classes. You can practice all the Spanish sayings that you know with your tutor. And he/she can teach you more. Oh, and don’t stress about making mistakes; it’s okay if you do. You’re learning and we’re here to help.
Choose your own schedule and get started start now with 20% off of your first month of classes with code TF20!