Top 10 Must-Know Spanish Sayings And Proverbs To Boost Your Fluency
Learning Spanish can be challenging, especially when it comes to idioms.
Given that Spanish sayings and expressions often have figurative meanings that are not immediately obvious, they can be a stumbling block for Spanish learners.
But idioms are an important aspect of the Spanish language and culture, and mastering them can help you improve your fluency, sound more natural, and connect with native Spanish speakers more easily.
If you click on the Spanish sayings in the table below, you’ll instantly go to the explanation!
10 Spanish sayings and proverbs that are used in most Spanish-speaking countries
|Spanish saying||English translation|
|Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando||A bird in the hand is worth more than a hundred flying|
|Al mal tiempo, buena cara||To bad weather, put on a good face|
|No hay mal que por bien no venga||There’s no bad thing from which something good doesn’t come|
|A falta de pan, buenas son las tortas||In the absence of bread, cakes are good|
|Más vale tarde que nunca||Better late than never|
|Dios los cría y ellos se juntan||God raises them and they gather together|
|A caballo regalado no se le mira el diente||Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth|
|Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres||Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are|
|A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda||The early bird catches the worm|
|Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente||Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel|
1. Más Vale Pájaro En Mano Que Ciento Volando (A Bird In The Hand Is Worth More Than A Hundred Flying)
“Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando”, also said as “más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando”, can be literally translated as “A bird in the hand is worth more than a hundred flying”; but its English equivalent is, in fact, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
“Más vale pájaro que ciento (or cien) volando” is a popular idiomatic expression in both Spain and Latin America. Just like its counterpart in English, it means that you should value and/or hold onto what you already have, and not put it all at risk in pursuit of something else. Otherwise, you could lose what you already have and not get the other thing either.
The origin of the Spanish saying comes from the Latin proverb “Est avis in dextra, melior quam quattuor extra”, which can be translated as “It’s better to have one bird in the right hand than four out”.
Let's take a look at the following conversation:
¿Qué tal el trabajo nuevo?
(How is the new job?)
Pues, no está mal. No es el mejor sueldo, pero más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando.
(Well, it’s not bad. It’s not the best salary, but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.)
2. Al Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara (To Bad Weather, Put On A Good Face)
This Spanish saying is used to encourage people to maintain a positive attitude in difficult situations and face challenges with resilience and optimism.
The proverb can be literally translated as “A mal tiempo, buena cara”.
“Mal tiempo” can also refer to bad weather, but this doesn’t really change the meaning of the proverb, as bad weather can represent difficult times, too.
Another Spanish saying that means the same thing is “Si la vida te da limones, haz limonada” or “Cuando la vida te da limones, haz limonada”, which are the most direct Spanish equivalent to “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
See how it works in practice:
¿Cómo estás? Te veo un poco triste.
(How are you? You look a bit sad.)
Es que he tenido una semana muy dura. Pero bueno, al mal tiempo, buena cara.
(It’s because I’ve had a very hard week. But well, you know, to bad weather, put on a good face.)
3. No Hay Mal Que Por Bien No Venga (Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining)
This is another Spanish saying to promote optimism in difficult times.
“No hay mal que por bien no venga” literally means “There's no bad thing from which something good doesn't come.” Its English equivalent is “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
The proverb implies that there is always something positive that can come out of negative situations, which can be a comforting thought during tough times.
Take a look at the following conversation:
Lo siento mucho por lo de tu novio.
(I’m very sorry about your boyfriend.)
Gracias, pero no te preocupes. Al final, no hay mal que por bien no venga. Ahora estoy más tranquila y feliz.
(Thank you, but don’t worry. In the end, every cloud has a silver lining. Now I’m more calm and happy.)
4. A Falta De Pan, Buenas Son Las Tortas (In The Absence Of Bread, Cakes Are Good)
“A falta de pan, buenas son las tortas” means that when there is a lack of something, anything that can serve as a substitute is better than nothing at all, and/or that you should be grateful for what is available instead of being unhappy about what you can’t have.
The proverb intends to provide a sense of resourcefulness and adaptability in difficult situations.
“A falta de pan” translates as “in the absence of bread”. Bread is a basic food staple in Spanish culture, and “tortas” are a type of cake or pastry. Putting it all together, the idiom can be translated as “In the absence of bread, cakes are good.”
It is said that this proverb comes from an ancient time in which, when bakeries ran out of bread, they would offer their customers unleavened cakes (“tortas”), which were quicker and easier to prepare than regular bread. Customers had to settle for tortas then, even if they weren’t what they were looking for initially.
How this works in everyday situations:
¿Qué tal el concierto? ¿Te gustó la banda?
(How was the concert? Did you like the band?)
La verdad es que no mucho. No era el estilo que me gusta. Pero bueno, a falta de pan, buenas son las tortas. Al menos me divertí con mis amigos.
(The truth is that not much. It was not the style that I like. But well, in the absence of bread, cakes are good. At least I had fun with my friends.)
5. Más Vale Tarde Que Nunca (Better Late Than Never)
“Más vale tarde que nunca” is a well-known Spanish proverb that can be translated into English as “better late than never.”
This proverb means that it’s better to do something late than not to do it at all, so it would be appropriate to use it if you intend to motivate someone to take action, even if they think they’ve already missed an opportunity.
For example, your friend wants to study a new career, but she says she is too old to do it. In this case, you can tell her: “Más vale tarde que nunca”.
Let's check out the following conversation:
¡Por fin has terminado el proyecto! Te ha costado mucho tiempo.
(You finally finished the project! It took you a long time.)
Sí, lo sé. Pero más vale tarde que nunca. Al menos lo he hecho bien.
(Yes, I know. But better late than never. At least I did it well.)
6. Dios Los Cría Y Ellos Se Juntan (Birds Of A Feather Flock Together)
“Dios los cría y ellos se juntan” can be translated as “God raises them and they gather together”. A variation of this proverb is “Dios los cría y el viento los amontona” (“God raises them and the wind piles them up”). Both versions can find their English equivalent in the proverb “Birds of a feather flock together”.
The saying means that people with similar interests, values, behavior, and personalities tend to associate with each other. In Spanish, though, the phrase is often used to point out that people with similar flaws or negative tendencies are naturally drawn to each other.
For example, if you have coworkers that are known for gossiping about their colleagues, and they start hanging out together, someone might say “Dios los cría y ellos se juntan”.
In practice, this looks like:
¿Has visto a esos dos? Son unos mentirosos y unos tramposos.
(Have you seen those two? They are liars and cheaters.)
Sí, lo sé. Dios los cría y ellos se juntan. Se merecen el uno al otro.
(Yes, I know. Birds of a feather flock together. They deserve each other.)
7. A Caballo Regalado No Se Le Mira El Diente (Don't Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth)
“A caballo regalado no se le mira el diente”, “a caballo regalado no le mires los dientes”, or “a caballo regalado no se le miran los dientes” are Spanish sayings that mean the same as the English saying “don't look a gift horse in the mouth”.
They come from the practice of examining a horse's teeth to determine its age and overall health.
If the horse is a gift, you shouldn’t mind if it is old or not 100% healthy, as it is still a gift and you should never criticize or question the value of a gift.
Take a look at these sentences:
¿Te gusta el regalo que te hizo tu tía?
(Do you like the gift that your aunt gave you?)
La verdad es que no mucho. Es un poco feo y viejo. Pero bueno, a caballo regalado no se le mira el diente.
(The truth is that not much. It’s a bit ugly and old. But well, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)
8. Dime Con Quién Andas Y Te Diré Quién Eres (Tell Me Who You Hang Out With And I'll Tell You Who You Are)
“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” can be literally translated as “Tell me who you hang out with and I'll tell you who you are.”
Its English equivalent is “you are known by the company you keep”, and it means that people will judge you by the people you surround yourself with.
If you have dishonest friends, for example, you could be perceived as dishonest, too.
This proverb is said by Don Quixote in the second part of the epic novel “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes, one of the most important works of literature in Spanish.
Based on Cervantes' novel, let's look at this short conversation:
¿Qué te parece mi nuevo amigo? Es muy simpático y divertido.
(What do you think of my new friend? He is very nice and funny.)
No me fío de él. Tiene mala fama y se junta con gente peligrosa. Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.
(I don’t trust him. He has a bad reputation and hangs out with dangerous people. Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are.)
9. A Quien Madruga, Dios Le Ayuda (The Early Bird Catches The Worm)
This is the Spanish version of “The early bird catches the worm.” Its literal translation is “God helps people who wake up early”.
Many people use this proverb to say that you are more likely to have good fortune if you start your day early, as you can have more time to get things done or catch opportunities.
But originally, “madrugar” was a metaphor for acting proactively.
Use this Spanish saying in practice:
¿Cómo te fue en el examen?
(How did you do on the exam?)
Muy bien. Estudié mucho y me levanté temprano para repasar. Ya sabes, a quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.
(Very well. I studied a lot and got up early to review. You know, the early bird catches the worm.)
10. Ojos Que No Ven, Corazón Que No Siente (Eyes That Don't See, Heart That Doesn't Feel)
“Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente” literally means “Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel” and can be compared with the English saying “Out of sight, out of mind.”
The phrase implies that if you can’t see or don’t know about something, you can’t be affected by it. It is used in situations where someone avoids or ignores a problem or an unpleasant truth, or hides certain information from someone else to “protect” them.
Check out the example conversation:
¿No te molesta que tu novio salga con otras chicas?
(Doesn’t it bother you that your boyfriend goes out with other girls?)
No, para nada. Él me quiere a mí y yo a él. Lo demás no importa. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.
(No, not at all. He loves me and I love him. The rest doesn’t matter. Out of sight, out of mind.)
More Spanish Sayings To Speak Like A Native
As you can see, Spanish sayings and expressions provide insights into the perspective on life that Spanish-speaking people have, and knowing them can help enrich any conversation that you may have with them.
Learn these Spanish sayings and proverbs to sound more like a native speaker
|Spanish expression||English translation|
|A buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan.||A word to the wise is enough.|
|A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín.||Everyone gets his comeuppance.|
|A quien Dios se la dé, San Pedro se la bendiga.||May God bless you with more.|
|A rey muerto, rey puesto.||The king is dead, long live the king.|
|Al pan, pan y al vino, vino.||Call a spade a spade.|
|Barriga llena, corazón contento.||A full belly makes a happy heart.|
|Cada loco con su tema.||To each his own.|
|Cada maestrillo tiene su librillo.||Every teacher has his own method.|
|Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos.||If you raise crows, they’ll peck your eyes out.|
|De tal palo, tal astilla.||Like father, like son.|
Want to learn more? Here are other common Spanish sayings to add to your vocabulary by the Spring Languages (of which I'm a co-founder of) YouTube channel that always provides great lessons and tips on how to learn Spanish for free, whether you want to talk about Spanish grammar, the days of the week in Spanish or just practice the Spanish numbers.
Learn More Popular Spanish Sayings And Spanish Proverbs With Conversation Based Chunking
We hope you enjoyed learning about these 10 Spanish sayings and proverbs that are widely used in the Spanish-speaking world.
By incorporating them into your conversations, you can enrich your vocabulary, express yourself more clearly, and impress your Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues when you're planning a Spanish travel or you just engage in a small talk about the weather in Spanish.
Remember that idioms are not meant to be taken literally, but rather to convey a deeper or more nuanced meaning.
So don’t be afraid to experiment with them and have fun with the language!
If you want to learn more Spanish idioms and expressions, we have a great method for you: Conversation Based Chunking.
This is a technique that helps you learn Spanish in chunks, or groups of words that naturally go together. Instead of memorizing isolated words or grammar rules, you learn how to use Spanish in real-life situations.
You can find out more about this method and how it can help you speak Spanish with confidence on our website or by signing up down below for our free CBC Starter Pack.
Don’t miss this opportunity to take your Spanish to the next level!