10 Common Spanish idioms you should know

There are a lot of Spanish idioms which are widely used in Spanish daily conversation. Some idioms are quite understandable when they’re translated directly without additional knowledge of cultural characteristics. But other Spanish idioms require further explanation.

Knowledge and appropriate usage of idioms distinguish a native-level speakers from an intermediate speaker. But unfortunately, most Spanish textbooks include some Spanish idioms, which are not commonly used in daily life. That’s why the best way to learn the real live language is learning with a native Spanish speaker. Our website can help you find qualified and experienced Spanish teachers, and take 1-on-1 private lessons at a time and place convenient for you.

In this article, we have prepared for you a list of the 10 most common Spanish idioms and expressions, with detailed descriptions and examples of their usage.

Matar dos pájaros de un tiro

It’s amazing how some idioms travel across cultures. “Matar dos pájaros de un tiro” is very similar to the English idiom “to hit two birds with one stone”, where there is also an almost identical phrase hitting two birds, but with the stone. It means to accomplish two things, or to get two things done at once.

Estamos en una situación muy favorable para matar dos pájaros de un tiro.
There is a very positive situation where we can kill two birds with one stone.

Cuento chino

If you hear this expression, it means that the interlocutor calls something “tales”, “idle talk” or even “fiction”. In English, the closest idiom would be “Chinese whispers”. Sometimes these “tales” may have some basis in fact, but it is usually impossible to track down their origins. By the way, the Spaniards even have a whole comedy show with that name.

Lo de su boda es un cuento chino, no te lo tomes en serio.
Her wedding is a Chinese whisper, don’t take it seriously.

Lo llaman el cuento chino del ocupa, que… no es del todo mentira.
They’re calling it a tall tale of an illegal squatter, which isn’t entirely untrue.

Estar hecho un ají

This Spanish idiom literally means “to be made into a chili pepper” and in English it would translate to “to be hopping mad”.

How would you describe yourself when you are angry? And not even just a little, but very, very angry. It begins to seem that you are literally burning from the inside. The Spaniards compared this feeling with a person, who accidentally swallowed a portion of chili. So use “Estar hecho un ají” when you are overwhelmed with anger that cannot be contained and is about to burst out.

Por qué estás hecho un ají?
Solamente estaba hablando con una amiga.
Why are you hopping mad?
I was just talking with my my girlfriend.

Echar agua al mar

It means “to throw water into the sea” or “to do useless, pointless things”.

Comenzar a estudiar ahora es como echar agua al mar.
Starting studying now is totally useless.

Hablar por los codos

Translates as “to speak with elbows”, but means “to talk non – stop”. In English, it’s the same with the idiom “to talk the pants off somebody”. It is used to describe a talkative person.

Hablaron todos hasta por los codos.
They all talked until they were blue in the face.

Tomarse a pecho

It means taking seriously a situation which is not so serious. In English, this idiom will sound like “to take something to heart”.

No te lo tomes a pecho.
Don’t take it so seriously.

No debe tomarse a pecho nada de lo que le he dicho.
You mustn’t take anything I said to heart.

Meter la pata

Literally this phrase can be translated as “stick your paw.” The Spaniards use this expression when they want to say that someone made a mistake, did something inappropriate or “screwed up”. The exact origin of this phrase in Spanish is not known, but there are two common versions. One is about an animal that has fallen into a trap with its paw, so it has made a mistake. The second is about the devil, because people who make a mistake usually remember the devil.

Es tu último año, también conocido como tu última oportunidad para no meter la pata.
This is your graduation year, also known as your final year not to screw up.

Ponerse las pilas

It means “being more focused” or “get more energy”, depends on the context. If you are doing something slowly, and you have to do it faster, someone could tell you “ponte las pilas!”. We can translate as “put on the batteries”, “activate yourself”.

Es hora de ponerse las pilas y alimentar al monstruo.
It’s time to read the books and find out what kind of monster it is.

Dar bola

It means “to give attention to someone”. If your crush doesn’t talk to you, you can say “El no me da bola”.

No te va a dar bola nunca.
She won’t even notice you.

Se me hace agua la boca

If you’ve already traveled to Barcelona or Madrid, you can imagine this situation: you’ve just spent the whole day walking and sightseeing and have worked up a strong appetite, you start to salivate at the sight of delicious dishes in cafés and restaurants, and you try to quickly take one of the tables, order something… and use this phrase.

An English translation of this idiom is “to be mouthwatering” or “to make one’s mouth water”.

Con sólo mirar los ingredientes de la salsa, se te hará agua la boca.
Just looking at the ingredients of the sauce will make your mouth water.

Quedarse de piedra

Have you ever had this feeling of being so shocked, frozen and unable to move, just like a stone?

For such cases, there is a common Spanish idiom that explains that you are very shocked, stunned, surprised so much that you froze like a stone, literally petrified from what you saw or heard.

Decir que nos quedamos de piedra sería quedarse corto.
I mean, to say that we were shocked would be an understatement.

Ser uña y carne

If we literally translate the phrase “ser uña y carne” – “to be fingernail and flesh” – we can mistakenly assume that it has a negative connotation. In English “ser uña y carne” is the equivalent of “being inseparable.” You can use this phrase like this:

María y Juan son uña y carne.
Maria and Juan are just inseparable.

Sabe, él y Ormond solían ser uña y carne hasta que riñeron.
He and Ormond were true friends until they quarreled.

Every language has idiomatic expressions, and some people believe that it is these expressions that REALLY make the language unique. Just memorizing vocabulary will not help you build fluency. You also need to learn a lot of Spanish idioms. Learning the most common Spanish idioms will allow you to better understand the language and Spanish culture. Learning Spanish online with us can be a great experience for you and develop your skills.