You can learn all the Spanish words that you want, but unless you understand common Spanish idioms, you’d still be at a complete loss when talking to Spanish speakers.
I mean, how would you know that a Spaniard is flirting with you when they refer to it as throwing disks at you (te tira los tejos)? And how are you to understand that a funny guy is also a horny person (es un cachondo)?
Learning about Spanish idioms will not only make you truly understand real Spanish as it is actually spoken by native speakers….it will also make you sound a little more natural.
Sounds like a great deal, huh? So today, we’ll take a look at 20 common Spanish idioms and discover what they mean.
1 . Dar en el clavo
Literal meaning: Hit on the nail
What it really means: To be assertive
Aggressive, assertive, unyielding….hard-hitting. This one’s pretty easy to understand.
Example: ¡Nuestro gobierno nunca parece dar en el clavo con sus decisiones! Our government never seems to hit on the nail with their decisions!
2. Dormirse en los laureles
Literal meaning: Fall asleep in the laurels
What it really means: To cease to make an effort after achieving success
This is quite similar to the English version “to rest on your laurels”.
Example: Nuestro equipo simplemente se ha dormido en los laureles. Our team has simply fallen asleep on the laurels.
3. Entre la espada y la pared
Literal meaning: Between the sword and the wall
What it really means: Having to choose between two equally bad things
Does this remind you of “a rock and a hard place”? It’s basically the same thing.
Example: Mi amigo me ha puesto entre la espada y la pared, ¡quiere que elija entre gatos o perros! My friend put me between the sword and the wall, he wants me to pick a favourite between cats or dogs!
4. Con la soga al cuello
Literal meaning: With the rope to the neck
What it really means: To be in a situation of a lot of pressure
A noose around your neck. That sure feels like a whole lot of pressure, doesn’t it?
Example: Cuando mi novia quiere salir de compras conmigo me siento como con la soga al cuello. Whenever my girlfriend wants to go out shopping I feel as if I have a rope tied to the neck.
5. Le falta un tornillo
Literal meaning: Missing a screw
What it really means: To be crazy
To put it nicely, someone with a screw loose is an eccentric person. Or a nutjob and a wacko, if one can be so blunt about it.
Example: Está comprobado que las personas que odian el chocolate sufren de una rara enfermedad: ¡les falta un tornillo. / It has been scientifically proven that those who hate chocolate suffer from a rare disease: they're missing a screw!
6. Dos pajaros de un tiro
Literal meaning: Two birds with one shot
What it really means: To get two things done at once
Similar to its English counterpart, when you hit two birds with one shot (or with one stone), you are accomplishing two things at once! (hey, good for you)
Example: Al quedarme dormido maté dos pájaros de un solo tiro: ahorre energía y mis empleados tienen tiempo extra para terminar sus obligaciones. By falling asleep I killed two birds with one stone: I saved some energy and my employees have extra time to finish their obligations.
7. La gallina de los huevos de oro
Literal meaning: The hen that lays the golden eggs
What it really means: A source of wealth
Example: ¡Algún día encontrare mi gallina de los huevos de oro! Someday I will find my chicken with the golden eggs!
8. Meter la pata
Literal meaning: Put the foot in
What it really means: To screw up/ to mess up/ make a blunder
Example: Cuando me preguntan si poseo alguna habilidad especial yo siempre hago alarde de mi talento para meter la pata. Whenever I'm asked if I have any special skill I always brag about my talent to screw up
9. Pasarse de la raya
Literal meaning: To cross the line
What it really means: To do something that can't be tolerated
I’m pretty sure you already know what crossing the line means, right? Same as with English, this one means that you have reached a point where you can no longer be tolerated.
Example: Nunca me paso de la raya, pero siempre busco estar encima de ella. I never cross the line, but I always try to stay on top of it.
10. Pedir peras al olmo
Literal meaning: Asking for pears from the elm
What it really means: Expect something that is impossible
This one is somewhat similar to the English counterpart “getting blood from a stone” or “trying to squeeze blood from a stone”. Either way, what you’re asking for is impossible.
Example: Pedirle a nuestro gobierno transparencia total es como pedirle peras al olmo. Asking our government for total transparency is like asking pears from an elm tree.
11. Poner el dedo en la llaga
Literal meaning: To put your finger on it
What it really means: To be straightforward about the source of a bad situation
Example: No le preguntes sobre su ruptura con su novio, eso sí es poner el dedo en la llaga. Don't ask her about her breakup with her boyfriend, now that's really putting the finger on the wound.
12. Salirse con la suya
Literal meaning: Get away with it
What it really means: To succeed at getting something through obnoxious methods
Example: Nuestra mascota siempre logra salirse con la suya. Our pet always manages to get away with it.
13. Ser pan comido
Literal meaning: to be eating bread
What it really means: to be easy
Example: Para mí, todas esas actividades son pan comido. To me all of those activities are eaten bread.
14. Ser un cero a la izquierda
Literal meaning: To be a zero to the left
What it really means: To not have any influence
Example: Tus comentarios negativos son un cero a la izquierda para nosotros. Your negative comments are just a zero to the left to us.
15. Tener agallas
Literal meaning: to have guts
What it really means: To be brave
Example: Tener las agallas para decir que no a una pizza gratis es una acción respetable... ¡y muy tonta! Having the guts to say no to a free pizza is a respectable action... and a very foolish one too!
16. A duras penas
Literal meaning: At tough hardship
What it really means: To barely achieve something
Example: Pude terminar todo mi trabajo pendiente a duras penas. I was barely able to finish all of my pending work.
17. Costar un ojo de la cara
Literal meaning: To cost an eye of the face
What it really means: Something very expensive
In English, it would cost you an arm and a leg. The Spanish version, however, is an eye. Either way, it means that something would cost you a fortune.
Example: Salir con mi familia casi siempre me cuesta un ojo de la cara. Going out with my family almost always cost me an eye off my face.
18. Perder los estribos
Literal meaning: To lose the stirrup
What it really means: To get angry
When you “lose the stirrup”, you’ve basically lost your temper. It is also similar to the English idiom “to fly off the handle”.
Siempre pierdo los estribos cuando hablan mal de Derrick Rose. I always lose it when people talk badly about Derrick Rose.
19. Echar leña al fuego
Literal meaning: To throw wood to the fire
What it really means: To raise the intensity of something
When something is already burning and you add more wood to it, you are making things escalate further. This is quite similar to the English version “to add fuel to the fire”.
Example: Echar leña al fuego cuando otros discuten es malo, ¡debemos asegurarnos de echar suficiente gasolina primero! Throwing wood into the fire when others argue is bad, we should always make sure to put enough gasoline first!
20. De buena fe
Literal meaning: Of good faith
What it really means: To do something with good intentions
This one is self-explanatory. Doing something in good faith means you have clear intentions and aren’t up to something shady.
Example: Todo lo que hago por mis amigos es de buena fe. Everything I do for my friends is in good faith
Spanish idioms are fun and easy enough to learn. They also make conversations so much more colorful. Which idiomatic expression is your favorite so far? Share it with us in the comments!
Try using one of the Spanish idioms above in a sample sentence. Share it with us in the comments!