Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. That’s why learners of this language will not only have a better chance of advancing professionally but will also have more opportunities to network with millions of Spanish speakers around the world.
However, conversing with natives and other proficient language learners takes more than knowing the vocabulary and grammar. To sound like a true native, you need a firm grasp of the popular sayings, idioms, and local phrases.
Excited to see what Spanish idioms are all about? You have come to the right place. Here’s a list of the 10 most popular Spanish idioms you need to know to sound like a native speaker.
Additionally, if you want to get an even better understanding of the Spanish language, take a look at our list of the best learn Spanish online courses (opens in new tab). Or, if you're trying to master a broader range of skills, take a flick through our round-up of the best online learning platforms (opens in new tab).
1. Dar la vuelta a la tortilla
English translation: To flip the tortilla (turn the tide, change the game)
Ever wanted to talk about the time your life completely changed, about how you turned the tide against all odds? That’s when you can use Dar la vuelta a la tortilla. While it literally means “to flip the tortilla,” it figuratively translates to changing a situation. Maybe you have experienced a miracle or overcame something major in your life - when the tide changes, you can flip the tortilla!
2. Ser pan comido
English translation: To be bread eaten (being too easy, a piece of cake)
You think learning Spanish is a piece of cake? Well, then you can say it’s Ser pan comido. It translates to be bread eaten, and it’s used to indicate something is too easy. For instance, maybe your new job is Ser pan comido or the vocabulary your friends find difficult is Ser pan comido for you.
3. No tener pelos en la lengua
English translation: Not having hairs on the tongue (to say it like it is)
Sometimes you just need to call a spade a spade. In Spanish, this is called No tener pelos en la lengua and it means to be straightforward or to say it like it is. Say you want your friend to be honest about your new haircut or need straightforward advice from a mentor, that’s when you can use No tener pelos en la lengua.
4. Lo dijo de labios para fuera
English translation: Say it with lips outward (to not mean what you say)
Sometimes people do the opposite of calling a spade a spade - they don’t mean what they say. In Spanish, it’s called "Lo dijo de labios para fuera", literally translated to saying something with your lips outward. In English we call this “lying through the teeth,” and it can mean somebody is saying something because they think that’s what you want to hear, or just lying to protect themselves.
5. Empezar la casa por el tejado
English translation: Putting the roof before the house (doing things in the wrong order)
In English, if someone is rushing something or messing up the order of things, we say they are putting the cart before the horse. In Spanish, this is called Empezar la casa por el tejado and it means you’re making a mistake by doing things in the incorrect order. For instance, if someone is spending money before they earn the next paycheck, you can use Empezar la casa por el tejado to say they are building their house without a solid foundation or starting at the wrong step of a process.
6. No hay color
English translation: There’s no color (it pales in comparison)
Have you ever seen something so beautiful that everything else seems dull in front of it? You can express that in Spanish by using No hay color which means something is incomparable. While it typically expresses a positive intent by saying something is so good, it can’t be compared to others, occasionally it could also be used in a neutral sense to say something is so different, it can’t be compared with anything else.
7. Ser un ave nocturna
English translation: To be a night owl (to stay up late)
Imagine you have a roommate who stays up all night, what would you call her in Spanish? Ser un ave nocturna! The phrase literally translates to be a night bird and it’s the closest you can get to saying someone is a night owl.
8. Se me hace agua la boca
English translation: To be mouth-watering (to be delicious)
This is one of the most commonly used idioms in Spanish and it is used to convey that something is so delicious, it’s making your mouth water. The idiom is quite similar to its English variation so it’s also one of the easiest to learn. It’s mostly used to appreciate food but you can get creative!
9. Echar agua al mar
English translation: To throw water into the sea (to be pointless)
Like the English saying “a drop in a bucket,” or “a drop in the ocean," this expression means that something won't make the least bit of difference to a situation. It literally translates as "to throw water into the sea."
10. Encontrar tu media naranja
English translation: To find your half orange (to find love or ideal soulmate)
When you find the perfect person for you, you can say you have found your half orange or Encontrar tu media naranja in Spanish. It’s a cute, romantic expression to say you have found your other half and can be a great phrase to know if you are really trying to find love in Spain.