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Idiomatic expressions: Spanish idioms

Idioms exist in almost all the world’s languages and are words or phrases which play with anglicisms but don´t have the literally meaning of the words themselves.  The meaning has to be deduced for the idea of what we want are trying convey and not of the literal meaning of the sentence.

The Spanish language utilizes many idioms and it´s actually sort of an art.  Most Spanish idioms don´t make sense and do not have a clear translation to another language.  Nonetheless, they are still humorous and usually one of the most difficult parts of the Spanish language to learn. Once you´ve mastered Spanish idioms you´ll be able to consider yourself a native speaker.

We have created a list of some of the most common Spanish idioms from Spain currently in use and which can commonly be heard on the city streets.

We will explain a few idioms at a time utilizing several post. This is the first and we are confident that they will be extremely useful for our expats friends and anyone learning Spanish in Spain or around the world.

1- Echar leña al fuego – to add fuel to the fire

Literally: To throw wood to the fire; contribute to make a problem worse than it is already.

Ej. Vino su madre a cenar y echo un poco más de leña al fuego, ahora no me habla.

2- Ostras! – The literal translation is Oysters (seafood), but we use the expression to express surprise, displeasure, or amazement. It is the fancy way to say fuck! (joder).

Ej. Ostras! Se me ha olvido recoger al niño del colegio.

3- Disfrutar como un enano – enjoy as a dwarf. Real meaning is that you are having a lot of fun.

Ej. Ayer en el cumpleaños de Marta, disfruté como un enano.

4-Irse por las ramas – To go through the branches

English idiom – beat around the bush.To speak about something without mentioning it directly or to speak about something that has nothing to do with the topic/subject.

Ej. Le pregunte que cuando costaba el alquiler y se fue por las ramas, no me quedó claro.

5- Poner/colocar a alguien a dedo en algún sitio – To put someone by finger in somewhere. Meaning: nepotism.Give someone a job without showing the required capabilities, as a gift undeserving.  Usually to friends or family members.

Ej. El ayuntamiento de Madrid ha colocado a dedo a 30 altos cargos.

6- Matar al mensajero – to kill the Messenger

Meaning: To blame a problem on the person who´s delivering the news, instead of the person that caused it.

Ej. No hace falta que te enfades tanto conmigo, ni que mates al mensajero.

7- Ser el segundo plato de alguien – be the second plate of someone

Meaning: play second fiddle (To somebody or something) to be in a less important position than someone or something else. To be the second option when the first fails.

Ej. Él se ha creído que yo voy a ser su segundo plato, y no va a ser así!

8- Ponerse en la piel de alguien – Get in someone’s skin

Meaning: To put yourself in someone else´s shoes.  To see a situation from another person’s perspective or point of view.

Ej. Es normal que no me entienda, si no es capaz de ponerse en mi piel.

9- Estar de morros – to be of snout

Meaning: To sulk / be upset / be angry / to have a frown.

Ej. Jeff esta de morros porque no puede hablar español.

10- ponerle los cuernos a alguien – Put de horns to someone

Meaning: To cheat on someone (be unfaithful).

Ej. Alva le puso los cuernos a Dani, pero ni se lo ha dicho, ni se lo va a decir.

11- No tener abuela – (It has two meanings, one literal: Not to have grandmother) and other meaning is an idiomatic expression: to be full of one self.

Ej. Joder! No tienes abuela!

12- Enterrar el hacha de guerra – to bury the battle axe

Meaning: To bury the hatchet.  To stop fighting or arguing.

Ej. La familia de Rocío al final ha enterrado el hacha de guerra.

13- Entrar a saco – enter to sack

Meaning: To go for it.To say something in a disrespectful way, or to work hard in order to get something.

Ej. Tengo que estudiar a saco si quiero aprobar el examen de español.

Ej. Alberto me entró a saco.

14- Poner los pelos de punta /o la piel de gallina – to put the hair of top/ have the skin of hen.

Meaning: To have goose bumps. it is a manifestation of human skin cold, but also expresses a situation of excitement, fear or pleasure.

Ej. Cuando llegué a España se me puso la piel de gallina, al fin iba a aprender español!

15- Quedarse en pelotas – estar en pelotas – To remain in balls/To be in balls.

Meaning: stay naked, to be naked.

Ej. Si pierdes la apuesta, te quedas en Pelotas!

16- dejarse la piel en algo – let the skin on something.

Meaning: break your back/ work your fingers to the bone/ slog your guts out.One has to do one’s best, to work hard.

Ej. Me voy a dejar la piel, para aprender español.

17- Tener una espina clavada – To have a fixed thorn.

Meaning: have a thorn in your side/ feel bad about something.  To be frustrated with someone or something, to wish for something.

Ej. Siempre he tenido una espina clavada, y al fin voy a aprender español.

18- Mearse de risa/descojonarse – To wet itself of laugh (piss of laughter).

Meaning: Laugh a lot and hard. To piss yourself laughing.

Ej. Cuando se vieron con el disfraz puesto, se mearon de risa/ se descojonaron.

19- La pelota está en su/mi tejado – The ball is in his / my roof.

Meaning:  the ball is in his/her court.

It is used when it is the other person turn or opportunity to respond to a person/situation.

Ej. Yo ya le escribí ayer, ahora la pelota está en su tejado, si quiere que me conteste.

20 – No tener sangre en las venas – not to have blood in the veins.

Meaning: someone who has a very mild disposition, not easily excited.

Ej. Ian era muy guapo, pero no me gusta mucho, es muy soso, no tiene sangre en las venas.