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Spanish Idioms – The Best Way to Sound Like a Native

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How to Use Spanish Idioms in a Conversation

Imagine that you have been invited to a lunch work meeting in Madrid. You know that a colleague has started a new business and you ask him how it’s going. He answers:

Estoy con un humor de perros. Como creía que esto iba a ser la gallina de los huevos de oro, tiré la casa por la ventana en este negocio por querer matar dos pájaros de un tiro. Pero metí la pata hasta el fondo, me dormí en los laureles, y ahora estoy con la soga al cuello.

Did you hear that? Literally, your colleague said:

“My mood is that of dogs. As I thought that this would be the golden eggs hen, I threw the house through the window in this business because I wanted to kill two birds in one shot. However, I inserted my leg until the bottom, I rested on my laurels and now my neck has a rope on it.”

What he really means is:

“I am in a very bad mood, because I thought this business was going to be really successful, I spent a lot of money, taking advantage of another business. But I completely screwed up, did not pay much attention and now I am in trouble.”

Idioms are figurative expressions in a language that mean a completely different thing than the literal words they contain.

Their origin is normally historic and they are very common both in formal and informal language. Sometimes, people speak with so many idiomatic expressions that a foreigner cannot understand a very simple conversation.

In Spanish, idioms are used very often. There are universal idioms, general idioms, and regional ones. However, we need to make the difference between expressions that are frequently confused:

Spanish idioms

The 2 Types of Spanish Idioms

Modismos

Common expressions whose literal meaning is different from the figurative.

For example: Tener más cara que espalda.

Literally: “To have more face than back.”

Meaning: “to be cheeky”

Refranes:

Sayings or proverbs.

For example: Quien a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija

“Whoever leans close to a good tree is blanketed by good shade.”

In Don Quixote you can read about 500 sayings, mostly said by Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s squire.

This article, though, will be devoted to idioms that can be useful in a basic conversation. Let’s start with the ones in the conversation above:

sayings from Don Quixote Spanish idioms

15 Common Spanish Idioms To Use in Conversations

1. Estar con un humor de perros.

Literally: “My mood is that of dogs.”

Meaning: To be in a bad mood.

2. La gallina de los huevos de oro.

Literally: “The goose that laid the golden eggs.”

Meaning: Something that is a very good source of money or business.

3. Tirar la casa por la ventana.

Literally: “I threw the house through the window.”

Meaning: To spend a lot of money, or invest much time.

The origin of this expression is set back to the 17th century when the lottery games were first organized by the estate, and the people that won the first games renovated their houses, throwing their old furniture through the window.

4. Matar dos pájaros de un tiro.

Literally: “To kill two birds with one shot.”

Meaning: To do two things at a time, without analyzing the consequences.

This is a reference to an old hunting technique.

5. Meter la pata.

Literally: “To put an animal’s leg/foot in it.”

Meaning: To mess up, make a mistake, or say the wrong thing.

The origin of this idiom is also from hunting, as when an animal gets its leg caught in a trap.

6. Dormirse en los laureles.

Literally: “To rest on one’s laurels.”

Meaning: This one has equivalent in English! As you may know, crowns made of laurel wreaths were given to distinguished citizens in ancient Greece and Rome. If the honored person did not continue to strive, then he “rested on his laurels.”

7. Estar con la soga al cuello.

Literally: “To be with the rope to the neck.”

Meaning: To be in trouble, to be very stressed.

By the way, to continue with the hanged man theme, there are other very common expressions:

8. No nombres la soga en la casa del ahorcado.

Literally: “Do not name the rope in the house of the hanged man.”

Meaning: Don’t mention a sensitive or controversial subject.

9. Dios aprieta pero no ahorca.

Literally: “God squeezes but does not hang.”

Meaning: Life can be difficult but not deadly.

Continuing the Conversation with Spanish Idioms

You pick up the previous thread and say to your colleague:

Pareces estar hecho polvo, pero seguro que no era pan comido. Dime si te puedo echar una mano, y si ves que te va a salir un ojo de la cara, pues borrón y cuenta nueva. De verdad, no te lo digo con la boca pequeña.

“You seem to be made of dust, but I’m sure it was not eaten bread. Tell me if I can throw you a hand, and if you see that it is going to cost an eye of your face, then erase it and new account. I truly say I don’t speak with a small mouth.”

Muchas gracias, pero el horno no está para bollos. Quiero mantener los pies en la tierra y no perder los estribos, pero tampoco quiero quedarme de brazos cruzados. Lo que pasa es que no puedo pegar ojo.

“Thank you, but the oven is not for cupcakes. I want to keep my feet on the ground and do not lose the stirrups, but neither to keep my arms crossed. It happens that I can’t paste eye.”

10. Estar hecho polvo

Literally: “To be done dust”.

Meaning: To be very tired or worried.

11. Ser pan comido.

Literally: “To be eaten bread”.

Meaning: To be very easy.

12. Echar una mano.

Literally: “To throw a hand.”

Meaning: to help.

13. Salir un ojo de la care.

Literally: “To get an eye of the face”.

Meaning: To be very expensive or costly.

14. Borrón y cuenta nueva.

Literally: “A big erase and a new account”.

Meaning: To start from the beginning.

15. Decir algo con la boca pequeña.

Literally: “To say something with a tiny mouth”.

Meaning: To say something unintentionally.

Keep The Conversation Going!

Learn Spanish idioms

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