When you’re learning Spanish it’s fun to be able to use some idiomatic expressions. Using common Spanish idioms will also make you sound more like a native speaker. The difference between knowing your way around idioms and not can be huge because it’s a form of expressing your personality.
To help you sound like a native Spanish speaker, here are 28 common idioms that you can use in both Spain and Latin America.
The first thing you’ll notice in this list is that many of them start with the Spanish preposition ‘a’. Notice the diversity of idioms that begin with Spanish preposition ‘a’. Let’s begin?
Common Spanish Idioms that start with ‘A + …’
The expressions below can be used at the beginning of a sentence. You can also add them after an introductory clause. In general, you cannot use them alone. You can usually consider them to take the place of adverbs when constructing a sentence in Spanish.
The following come after ‘A…’ (ex. A Chorros)
Chorros, literally this means, ‘in streams’. This idiom means ‘in great quantities.’ If you want to say there is a lot of something, try using the Spanish idiom a chorros. This idiom makes great sense when you are already talking about a liquid.
For example: Hoy hace mucho calor, estoy sudando a chorros. This means, “it’s really hot today, I’m sweating streams”
Dos pasos, literally this means, ‘two steps’ away, so this idiom is used to indicate that something is nearby. This idiom is very common. Next time somebody asks you where something is, see if the expression, ‘está a dos pasos’ might work. In English people sometimes say something is ‘just around the corner’ and you may hear Spanish-speakers saying a dos pasos in this context as well. The expression a dos pasos also means two-step verification in IT. Some Internet platforms require you to log in a dos pasos for security purposes.
Duras penas, literally this means something like ‘in difficult pains’, and you can often use it when you have a hard time accomplishing something. For example, if you wanted to say in Spanish, ‘we barely managed to find water.’ You could say A duras penas logramos a encontrar agua.
Fin de cuentas, literally this means ‘at the end of stories.’
It means ‘when all is said and done.’ You can use it to start off a sentence such as: A fin de cuentas, no hubo daño. It would be like saying, ‘in the end there was no damage.’
La carrera, would literally mean ‘at the race’ and you can use it when something is not done thoroughly. Use it to describe something done hastily. If you wanted to say that she did a hasty job you could say lo hice a la carrera.
Lo mejor This may be the most common Spanish idiom on our list. While it literally means ‘at best’ and is used to mean ‘the best outcome’, native Spanish-speakers often use it to indicate possibility. Some native Spanish speaker place all three words together as alomejor, which according to the Real Academia Española is incorrect. Anytime you think that something might happen, consider starting your sentence with a lo mejor. Two examples are: 1) A lo mejor puedo quedar con mis amigos en Madrid. This means ‘maybe I can stay with my friends in Madrid.’ 2) A lo mejor estoy equivocado means ‘maybe I’m mistaken.’
Pesar de, means ‘in spite of’ This is another common Spanish idiom. You can use it to sound more like a native. Some examples are: A pesar del mal tiempo, vamos a la playa. You can also say a pesar de que… The grammar you use depends on whether you are talking about a fact or a possibility.
Take a look at the following examples with this idiomatic expression 1) It is raining: Vamos a la playa, a pesar de que llueve. 2) It might rain: Vamos a la playa, a pesar de que llueva. The previous examples show that we are going to the beach. Notice the grammatical difference when raining is a fact rather than a possibility.
Toda costa, at all costs Quiero evitar un fracaso a toda costa. I want to avoid a failure at all costs.
Trochemoche, helter-skelter, disorderly. Sometimes you’ll see it written as a troche y moche. Consider the example: el niño a dejado sus juguetes a trochemoche por el suelo. This means the boy left his toys scattered around the floor.
última hora, This literally means the last hour. You can use it in expressions such as ‘during the last hour.’ Durante la última hora. You can also use this expression to mean at the last moment, at the eleventh hour, or late (in the day, in the night, etc). Some examples include: Hubo una reunión anoche a última hora. There was a meeting late last night. Las noticias llegaron a última hora, which means ‘the news arrived at the last minute.’
Voz en grito / a voz en cuello These expressions are interchangeable. The first one literally means ‘at voice in shout.’ The second one means ‘at voice in neck.’ An equivalent English expression would be ‘at the top of one’s lungs.’ An example of how to use this expression is the following sentence: No debes cantar a voz en grito, vas a hacer daño a tu voz. This means ‘you mustn’t sing at the top of your lungs, it will damage your voice.’
Stand alone Spanish Idioms
You can use these Spanish expressions completely on their own. Practice using them in the right context next time you have an opportunity to talk with a native Spanish speaker.
Abrir la caja de los truenos / destapar la caja de los truenos means to open a box of thunder / to take the lid off a box of thunder. You can use it to mean ‘to open a can of worms’. You can also say ‘caja de Pandora’ as with in English. Both English and Spanish use Pandora’s box from Greek mythology. Prefiero no abrir la raja de los truenos means “I prefer to not open a can of worms”.
Encontrar tu media naranja, to find your soul mate. Por el internet hay un monton de sitios que reclaman que pueden ayudarte a encontrar tu media naranja. On the Internet there are many sites claiming to help you find your soul mate.
Estar sin blanca, means to be penniless. This expression likely originates from a coin called the Blanca del Agnus Dei dating from 1386. It was at first a coin made of silver and copper. Later it was a copper coin of little value. So if somebody in Spanish says estoy sin blanca or no hay ni blanca. They are saying they are penniless.
Meter la pata, literally means to ‘put the foot.’
Spanish-speakers use this idiom to say ‘to make a mistake.’ The expression originates from the idea of an animal that gets its foot caught in a trap. You can use this expression next time you goof something up, reveal a secret you weren’t supposed to, or make a mess of things.
No andar(se) por rodeos, this literally means to not go on detours. Use this Spanish idiom when you want to tell somebody to not ‘beat around the bush.’ ¡Dimelo directamente, no andar por rodeos! Tell me directly, don’t beat around the bush!
No pegar ojo is hard to translate word for word, since the verb pegar has many meanings in Spanish, such as: to beat, to catch, and to hang, among other meanings. Ojo means eye. This expression means to not sleep a wink.
Perdir el norte, literally means ‘to lose the north’. If you don’t know which way is north, then you’ve lost your way.
Poner en tela de juicio, literally this is to ‘put in cloth of judgment’. You can use this Spanish idiom to say that you want to challenge something or when you want to express doubt about the legality of something. This is an old expression in Spain. It stems from the days when people closed off an area with a cloth so they could engage in legal discussions in private.
Poner el dedo el la llaga, this literally means to put the finger in the wound. You can use this Spanish idiom to say ‘To touch a sore spot’. Another version of the idiom is renovar la llaga which literally means to revive the wound. Use this expression to say ‘to open up an old wound.’
Quedarse de piedra, this literally means to turn into stone. Use this expression as ‘to be stunned.’
Ser pan comido, literally ‘to be eaten bread’. It’s easy, right? This expression means ‘to be a piece of cake.’
Ser un melón, this isn’t the nicest of Spanish idioms on the list and we hope you won’t find a reason to use this one. The literal translation is ‘to be a melon’ and means ‘to be a blockhead.’
Ser un bombón, literally this expression means ‘to be candy’ and you can use it for ‘to be eye candy.’
Taparse los ojos, means to cover one’s eyes. Use this expression to say ‘to turn a blind eye.’
Tener la negra, literally to ‘have the black’ means ‘to be jinxed’ in English.
Tomar el pelo, literally ‘to take the hair’, means ‘to pull somebody’s leg’
Va viento en popa, literally this means that the ‘wind goes from aft’ of a sailing vessel, or going with a tailwind. So if you are in a boat and the wind is coming from behind you, it pushes your boat toward your destination. So you can use it instead of todo va muy bien. In other words, ‘things are going well’.
Verle las orejas al lobo, literally to see the ears of the wolf. Use this Spanish idiom to say, ‘to notice danger’ or ‘to see the writing on the wall.’
Now that you’ve got 28 new Spanish idioms to get you sounding like a native, get some practice with them. You can put them in your Anki or Memrise deck and study them so they will roll off your tongue next time you have the chance to use them in the right context.