If you’re at an intermediate level in Spanish, then exploring some common Spanish idioms is highly recommended.
As with Spanish slang expressions, idioms are key to understanding informal conversations.
Spanish speakers use them a lot, and they’re occasionally used in some formal dialogues as well, so you’ll hear them frequently in Spanish-speaking countries.
Spanish idioms can be a bit tricky for various reasons.
If you’re feeling a bit lost, don’t tirar la toalla (give up) just yet!
This post will shed some light on the nuanced meanings implied by native speakers when they use those puzzling Spanish idioms.
What are Spanish idioms and how do we know when to use them?
Spanish idioms are expressions that, as opposed to being taken literally, are used to convey a figurative meaning.
The reason they’re so complex is that using Spanish idioms is more subtle than using a common Spanish phrase to express a certain viewpoint or perspective.
If we were to take a Spanish idiom and try to interpret it literally, the meaning would be lost, and the phrase wouldn’t make much sense.
To know when to use a Spanish idiom, it’s important to first familiarise yourself with the idioms that exist and then listen, listen and listen some more.
Exposing your ears and mind to the expressions and idiomatic phrases commonly used by native speakers is essential.
It will give you an indication of the best time to use an idiom and give you a sense of the potential meaning behind it.
Why is it important to understand Spanish idiomatic phrases?
Knowing the meaning behind Spanish idioms is important.
Without studying them, understanding the precise meaning of Spanish speakers becomes practically impossible.
Not only does understanding Spanish idioms help you to understand the more nuanced connotations implied by Spanish speakers, it also enhances and enriches your understanding of how a speaker personally feels about the topic you’re discussing.
It also helps because different idioms are used in different Spanish speaking cultures around the world.
With knowledge of Spanish idioms, you’ll be able to adapt to a range of Spanish cultures and fit right in.
And, of course, by studying your Spanish idioms you’ll be able to use them flawlessly, which will help you gain bonus points when you’re speaking to the natives!
How can we begin to understand Spanish idioms?
To begin understanding Spanish idioms we need to avoid direct translations.
It’s important to understand that if you translate a Spanish idiom directly, you’ll end up being as confused as when you initially heard the phrase.
But it’s when we begin to analyse the context in which certain Spanish idioms are used that we start to gain insight into what they mean.
This means that learning what is meant by a Spanish speaker when they use an idiom is just as important as knowing when they have used it and why.
Here’s my list of the top 25 Spanish idioms that you need to know.
I’ve included examples and the meaning behind the phrases, which should give you some clarity.
Dive in and see which ones you could start using to spice up your Spanish conversations.
Top Spanish idioms that feature food
There are so many Spanish idioms that feature food!
Check out this list, think about which ones you’ve heard recently and see which ones you can use with your friends and family.
Es pan comido
Literal translation: It’s eaten bread.
Definition: It’s simple/easy/straightforward.
Corresponding equivalent in English: This is a piece of cake.
The Spanish idiom es pan comido is used in a similar way to the English phrase ‘it’s a piece of cake’. It means a task is incredibly easy and can be achieved with hardly any difficulty.
Este examen es pan comido para ti. Has estudiado bastante ya.
Dar la vuelta a la tortilla
Literal translation: Turn the omelette the other way.
Definition: To swap places and gain the upper hand/advantage.
Corresponding equivalent in English: Turn the tables around.
When someone has dado la vuelta a la tortilla, it means they have changed a situation, usually from a bad position into a good one.
They have gained the advantage over someone or put themselves in a better position.
¡El Real Madrid ya ha dado la vuelta a la tortilla con cuatro goles! ¡Madre mia!
Ponerse de mala leche/me puso de mala leche
Literal translation: To become bad milk.
Definition: To be in a bad mood.
You’ll hear this Spanish idiom from your partner or family members typically when you’ve irritated them.
It means their mood has changed and, where they might have been feeling positive before, they’re now slightly upset.
Antes, estaba contento, pero con esta noticia me has puesto de mala leche.
Estar más sano que una manzana/estoy más sano que una manzana
Literal translation: To be healthier than an apple.
Definition: To be in good health.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be as fit as a fiddle.
If you’ve been feeling under the weather and have subsequently recovered from an illness you might say that you are más sano que una manzana.
It means you’re now feeling fine and that you’re in good health.
Que va, no estoy enferma y no tengo el Covid. Estoy mas sana que una manzana.
Es tu media naranja
Literal translation: He/she is your half orange.
Definition: He’s/she’s your significant other.
Corresponding equivalent in English: He’s/she’s your other half.
Have you found your soulmate? You’ll probably need this Spanish idiom to tell all your friends that you’ve found your other half.
In Spanish, we say that he or she is your media naranja.
Era obvio. Desde el momento de la conocí, supe que era mi media naranja.
Ponerse como un tomate/ponerse rojo como un tomate
Literal translation: To become a tomato.
Definition: To blush/to turn red.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To become as red as a beetroot.
This Spanish idiom is used to describe those moments where you’re suddenly overcome with shyness or shame.
The word tomate is used here to describe the deep red you turn when you can’t help but blush.
En este mometo, estaba muy nerviosa. La situación me puso como un tomate.
Ser un bombón
Literal translation: To be a chocolate truffle/bonbon.
Definition: To be attractive.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be a hottie.
We use the Spanish idiom ser un bombón to describe someone very attractive or good-looking.
In English, we would describe them as a ‘hottie’.
Sin duda, chica. Es un bombón.
Darte las uvas
Literal translation: Give you the grapes.
Definition: Hurry up!
Corresponding equivalent in English: Get a move on!
If you want someone to get their skates on or hurry up, using this Spanish idiom will get them out the door quickly.
The idiom darte las uvas comes from the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve and is used to warn people of the consequences of tardiness.
¡Date prisa! Si no salimos a tiempo, nos van a dar las uvas.
Top Spanish idioms that feature body parts
As in English, various Spanish idioms use body parts as metaphors to convey emotions, reactions or feelings about a certain situation. Take a look at these!
No pegar un ojo/no pegué un ojo
Literal translation: To not stick an eye.
Definition: To have slept badly.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To not get a wink of sleep.
The Spanish idiom no pegar un ojo means that you haven’t slept very well or that you didn’t get a wink of sleep.
If you’ve been up all night because of your neighbour’s party, you can say no pegué un ojo.
Pues yo nunca duermo bien. Anoche no pegué un ojo.
Estar hasta las narices
Literal translation: To be up to your nose/to have it up to your nose.
Definition: To be annoyed with something or someone.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be fed up/to be sick and tired.
If you’ve been irritated by a situation that happens repeatedly, you can use the Spanish idiom estar hasta las narices to describe how frustrated you are.
It’s similar to saying ‘I’ve had it up to here! in English.
Estoy harta de eso. Estoy hasta las narices de tu actitud.
Hablar sin pelos en la lengua
Literal translation: To speak without hairs on the tongue.
Definition: To speak frankly.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To speak without mincing your words.
Hablar sin pelos en la lengua is a phrase that means you are about to be very direct and frank with what you say next.
It means you’re not about to beat about the bush or mince your words.
Bueno, voy a hablar sin pelos en la lengua. No has trabajado suficiente para conseguir el puesto.
Lavarse las manos
Literal translation: To wash your hands.
Definition: To forego responsibility for something/to wash your hands of something.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To pass the buck/ to cop-out.
You can use the Spanish idiom lavarse las manos when you intend to give up responsibility for something.
If you’ve done all you can for someone and you aren’t capable of more, you can say me lavo las manos de este.
A pesar de que la gente está muriendo, los politicos se han lavado sus manos de la situación.
Echar una mano
Literal translation: To introduce your hands in a place.
Definition: To help someone/to help out.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To lend a hand/give someone a hand.
This idiom is used in a similar way to the English phrase ‘give someone a hand’.
It means you’re going to help them out in some way to make a task easier.
Te echo una mano en un ratito. De momento estoy ocupado.
Meter la pata
Literal translation: To put the foot/leg on it.
Definition: To mess up/to screw up.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To put your foot in it.
I’ve all had those moments where we have said the wrong thing or made the wrong decision.
The idiom you’ll need to describe that moment in Spanish is meter la pata.
Sí, chica, has metido la pata. Tienes que pedir perdón. Todo saldrá bien.
Top Spanish idioms that feature colours
The range of Spanish idioms that feature colours also convey emotions, with many of them emphasising a person’s feelings or state of mind.
Explore this selection of Spanish idioms that use colours.
Tener sangre azul
Literal translation: To have blue blood.
Definition: To have been born into a rich family.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To have a silver spoon in your mouth.
This idiom is used to describe someone who has been born into a rich family and has had the luxury of living a privileged life.
Este hombre tiene sangre azul. No tiene que trabajar — nunca.
Literal translation: To put yourself red.
Definition: To be embarrassed/to feel awkward or self-conscious.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To become as red as a beetroot.
If you are about to give a speech and you’ve suddenly become very nervous, this is the Spanish idiom you’ll need.
Ponerse rojo means you have turned as red as a beetroot because you are feeling self-conscious or embarrassed.
No te pongas rojo. No fue tu culpa.
Quedarse en blanco
Literal translation: To stay blank.
Definition: To fail to have an adequate response.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To draw a blank/to go blank.
This idiom is used to describe those moments where you suddenly have no appropriate words to describe how you feel, or are stuck for a response to a situation.
The equivalent term in English would be ‘to go blank’.
Antes de explicarte el motivo de despedirte me quede en blanco.
Verlo todo de color rosa
Literal translation: To see everything in pink.
Definition: To always remain optimistic no matter what.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To view life through rose-coloured glasses/to see the glass as half full.
We use the idiom verlo todo de color rosa to describe a person who is too optimistic or sees the best in everything despite the potential flaws.
Hombre, no es necesario verla todo de color rosa. Ella es humana.
Literal translation: To become/turn purple.
Definition: To eat or drink too much.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be stuffed.
If you have eaten too much food — like the time you stuffed yourself full with the Christmas dinner you ate last year — you can use the idiom me he puesto morado to describe how full you are.
¡Ya has comido suficiente! Te vas a poner morado.
Literal translation: To be green.
Definition: To be inexperienced/to lack experience or to be a novice.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be a greenhorn.
Used with the verb estar, the idiom estar verde refers to a person who is either naïve, is a novice, or lacks experience in something.
Es muy joven. También, no tiene mucha experiencia. Entonces está verde.
Verlo todo negro
Literal translation: To see everything in black.
Definition: To be a pessimistic person/to lose hope.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To see the glass as half empty.
This Spanish idiom has the opposite meaning of verlo todo de color rosa.
It refers to pessimistic people who generally see life in a glass-half-empty sort of way and lack optimism in many situations.
Esta chica está tan dispuesta a verlo todo negro. Es porque murió su madre hace dos años.
Top Spanish idioms that feature animals
Some of the Spanish idioms that feature animals are quite funny, while some of them have other connotations and mean different things. Have you heard of these?
Ser una gallina/¿eres una gallina?
Literal translation: To be a hen.
Definition: To be cowardly/to be a coward.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be chicken.
We use the Spanish idiom ser una gallina to describe someone who, in a similar way a hen, is frightened by something or is a bit of a coward.
As an English equivalent, we might describe them as a chicken.
¡Que no seas una gallina! Es pan comido. El surf es un deporte muy divertido.
Tener memoria de pez
Literal translation: To have a fish’s memory.
Definition: To be very forgetful/have a terrible memory.
This phrase is similar to the English idiom ‘to have the memory of a fish’. It means a person is very forgetful or always forgets to do things — no matter how many times you have reminded them!
Te lo dije la semana pasada. Vaya, tienes memoria de pez, mujer.
Estar como una cabra
Literal translation: Being like a goat.
Definition: To be mad.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be as mad as a hatter.
Someone who is a little bit quirky, hyperactive or does peculiar things can be described as como una cabra. Used with the verb estar it means they’re behaving in a crazy, uncharacteristic way in that precise moment.
Estás como una cabra, ¿sabes? Cálmate y estudia.
Ser la oveja negra de la familia/es la oveja negra de la familia
Literal translation: He’s the black sheep of the family.
Definition: To be different from the rest of the family.
Corresponding equivalent in English: To be the black sheep of the family.
A person who is different from the rest, who doesn’t belong with the group or doesn’t fit in can be described as la oveja negra de la familia.
It has a similar meaning to the English idiom ‘the black sheep of the family’.
Qué pena. Estaba siempre muy feliz, pero recientemente se ha aislado mas. Creo que es la oveja negra de la familia.
Get to grips with Spanish idioms!
Even though you might just be starting with Spanish idioms, there are plenty of tricks that can help you understand when someone is using one.
But it’s also important to read Spanish books.
Reading can help you back up your knowledge of Spanish idioms and expand your range of Spanish expressions.
It can open your mind to idioms that you might not have known existed and, unlike speaking, is a more relaxed way of building your vocabulary.
By reading and then doing a little research, you’ll soon find yourself understanding the meaning of various Spanish idioms and knowing exactly what your Spanish natives are saying. Then, when you’re ready, you can start using them in conversations.
Remember to keep revising the idioms you’re least comfortable with to retain your knowledge and use them as often as you can.
Es pan comido. 😄
Did I miss any good Spanish idioms?