Grammar Guide
Spanish Sayings with No English Equivalents

Spanish Sayings with No English Equivalents

Quick Answer

As with any language, Spanish comes with an ample variety of dichos , or sayings in English, with nuanced meanings based on context, region, and the background of the speaker. In many cases, these popular sayings cannot be translated into English word-for-word. To master some of these idiomatic colloquialisms is to better understand the more subtle aspects of communicating in Spanish. It may also be a bit of fun to whip them out when talking to Spanish-speaking locals in Latin America or Spain. In this article, we’ve picked some of our favorites to share with you!

A lo hecho, pecho.

The literal translation of A lo hecho, pecho  is in the face of deeds done, present a full chest, but it is used by Spanish-speakers as a way of saying what’s done is done, and you’re going to face the consequences whether you like it or not. Let’s check out how this would look in an actual dialogue between two people:

Ana, por favor. No intenté engañarte. Dame otra oportunidad. 
Ana, please. I didn’t mean to cheat on you. Give me another chance.
A lo hecho, pecho, Pedro. ¡No quiero volver a verte jamás! 
What’s done is done, Pedro. I never want to see you again!

En boca cerrada no entran moscas.

Literally translating to flies don't enter a closed mouth, you’ll most likely hear this phrase, en boca cerrada, no entran moscas  if a friend is urging you to keep quiet. The true meaning of this common Spanish saying would be something like, sometimes, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Check out the dialogue below for an example of how to use it.

¡Uf! Emily huele fatal. ¿Le digo que se ponga desodorante? 
Woah! Emily smells terrible! Should I tell her to put on deodorant?
No creo que eso sea una buena idea, Carlos. En boca cerrada, no entran moscas. 
I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Carlos. Sometimes it’s best just to keep your mouth shut.

A mal tiempo, buena cara.

You’ll most likely hear the phrase, a mal tiempo, buena cara  from a friend or advisor who’s trying to give you a pep talk when you really need one. The literal translation of this phrase, in bad times, put on a good face, is not too far off from it’s actual meaning either, which would be to face obstacles with your head held high.

No lo puedo creer. Perdí mi trabajo y Enrique terminó conmigo, ¡todo en el mismo día! 
I can’t believe it. I lost my job and Enrique broke up with me all in the same day!
A mal tiempo, buena cara, Katrina. ¡Tú superarás esto! 
Chin up, Katrina. You will get through this!

Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.

Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres  literally translates to tell me who you hang out with, and I’ll tell you who you are, which is also a good translation of its meaning. This Spanish proverb is frequently cited by Spanish-speakers all over the Americas and Spain when making reference to discovering one’s true nature.

Desde que empecé a salir con mi novia, mis amigos ya no quieren pasar tiempo conmigo. No entiendo, ¿será que ella no les cae bien? 
Ever since I started dating my girlfriend, my friends don’t want to hang out with me anymore. I don't understand, maybe they don't like her?
Como decía mi abuela, “dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres”. 
As my grandmother used to say, “tell me the company you keep and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león.

If you’ve ever had the feeling that you’d rather be the leader of a small team than a small cog in a giant machine, than you should learn the phrase más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león . While the literal translation is it’s better to be the head of a rat than the tail of a lion, it's used by Spanish-speakers to mean that it’s better to be the leader of a modest community than an insignificantly small contributor in a larger team.

Estoy en la posición más importante en mi departamento pero no siento que estoy aprendiendo nada nuevo. 
I have the highest ranking position in my department but I don't feel like I'm learning anything new.
Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león. En una empresa más grande no tendrás tanta autonomía y responsabilidad. 
Better for you to be leading a small team than a small cog in a giant machine. In a larger company, you wouldn't have as much autonomy or responsibility.

Moro viejo nunca será buen cristiano.

You’ll most likely hear this useful Spanish saying when talking about someone who you wish would change but who’s stuck in their ways. Moro viejo nunca será buen cristiano  literally translates to the old Moor will never be a good Christian and makes reference to the factious history between the Moors and the Christians of 16th century Spain. Don’t worry though, even though this phrase may sound inflammatory, it is used all over the Spanish-speaking world to simply mean that you can’t change someone from who they really are.

¡Odio que mi novio fume! He tratado de razonar con él, pero parece que no quiere parar. 
I hate that my boyfriend smokes! I’ve tried to reason with him, but it seems like he just doesn’t want to quit.
Moro viejo nunca será buen cristiano. Tienes que aceptar que puede que nunca cambie. 
Old habits die hard. You have to accept that he might never change.

A falta de pan, buenas son tortas.

This delicious Spanish dicho is one of our favorites. Literally translated, a falta de pan, buenas son tortas  means if we don’t have bread, cakes will do, however its meaning is more subtle. You should use this saying when resources are short and you have to make do with what you have at your disposal!

¡Chuta! Se me olvidó traer la tienda. ¿Dónde vamos a dormir cuando lleguemos al campamento esta noche? 
Shoot! I forgot to bring the tent. Where are we going to sleep when we get to the campsite tonight?
A falta de pan, buenas son tortas. ¿Por qué no colgamos nuestras hamacas y dormimos bajo las estrellas? 
We’ll have to make do with what we have. Why don’t we string up our hammocks and sleep under the stars?

Zapatero a tus zapatos.

You’ll want to use the saying zapatero a tus zapatos  if you’ve ever found yourself frustrated by someone who talks on and on about a subject they obviously know very little about. This saying literally translates to shoemaker, to your shoes, but is best used as pointed advice for someone to stick to talking about what they know.

Oí que van a despedir a ese jugador porque está usando drogas para mejorar su rendimiento. 
I heard that they’re going to let that player go because he’s using performance-enhancing drugs.
Zapatero a tus zapatos, David. No lo despidieron, renunció del equipo debido a problemas familiares. 
Don’t talk about what you don’t know, David. They didn’t fire him; he quit due to family issues.

Gato con guantes no caza ratones.

If you often find yourself having to roll up your sleeves to get something done, you should likely remember this saying. A cat with gloves can’t hunt mice is the literal translation of gato con guantes no caza ratones , but its true meaning is that sometimes, you have to get your hands dirty in order to get the job done right.

Tenemos que servir la comida en una hora pero ¡aún no ha llegado los cocineros! ¿Qué hacemos? 
The food needs to go out in an hour but the cooks still haven’t arrived! What do we do?
Ponte a picar cebolla y pásame ese sartén. Gato con guantes no caza ratones. 
Start chopping onions and pass me that pan. Looks like we’re going to have to get our hands dirty.

Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.

Repeating this phrase is a great way to assuage your fears. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente  literally means eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel, but its actual meaning can be closely translated as what you don’t know can’t hurt you or out of sight, out of mind.

¿No te preocupa que tu novio pueda estar hablando y saliendo con otras mientras está estudiando en el extranjero? 
Doesn't it bother you that your boyfriend could be talking to and going out with other girls while he’s studying abroad?
Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente. 
Out of sight, out of mind.

We hope this guide has helped you understand how best to use some common Spanish sayings that have no direct English translation. The more you use these sayings, the better you’ll be able to recall them when the perfect moment arises. After all, sometimes things are just better left said in Spanish.

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