Spanish idioms are phrases that have a figurative meaning. In other words, these expressions allow speakers to convey ideas and concepts in a more precise and creative way. So, in short, idioms in Spanish are a must if you’re interested in improving your communication and fluency.
Since these types of expressions are very useful for your conversations, in this article, I’ve compiled a list of 17 common Spanish idioms that you need to know. To help you understand how to use these expressions, I’ll include a small description and examples that you can use as guidance.
Don’t be nervous! These expressions son pan comido! In fact, these are going to take your Spanish to a new level and will impress others.
Here’s a quick peak at the expressions you’ll learn to say by the end of this article:
- Cost an arm and a leg
- To draw the short straw
- Hit the nail on the head
- To blow one’s horn
- To add fuel to the fire
- Be a piece of cake
- To push the boat out
- To talk your ears off
- Turn the tables
- To be exhausted
- Not mince your words
- Give a quick look
- To take for a ride
- Be like two peas in a pod
- Put your foot in it
- There is something fishy
- To stand up
Pretty cool, right?! Let’s jump in…
1. Costar un ojo de la cara – Cost an arm and a leg
Costar un ojo de la cara is a very popular Spanish idiom that we use to express that something is very expensive. As a result, this idiomatic expression is translated as ‘to cost an arm and a leg’. Although in this context you could use the standard term ‘caro’, by using this Spanish idiom you’re already implying that the price you paid was very high.
Now, bear in mind that this expression not only refers to a monetary value but also to the effort and sacrifice you did to obtain something. Costar un ojo de la cara is very popular among Spanish speakers, but you could also hear the variation ‘costar un riñón’.
Here are some examples of how to use this idiom. Notice that if you want to mention who paid the price, you’ll need to use indirect object pronouns (IOP).
[Determiner] + [noun] +(IOP) + [‘costar’ conjugated] + un ojo de la cara
Estos zapatos me costaron un ojo de la cara.
These shoes cost me an arm and a leg.
¿Ya viste el coche de Paco? Le costó un ojo de la cara.
Did you see Paco’s car? It cost him an arm and a leg.
Nos gustan estas flores, pero cuestan un ojo de la cara.
We like these flowers, but they cost an arm and a leg.
If instead of an object, you want to express the cost that you had to pay for doing something, you can use the following structure:
[Verb in infinitive] + (IOP) + [‘costar’ conjugated] + un ojo de la cara
Viajar a Madrid nos costó un ojo de la cara.
Traveling to Madrid cost us an arm and a leg.
Estudiar en Harvard cuesta un ojo de la cara.
Studying at Harvard costs an arm and a leg.
Take Note: Although -ing words are the equivalent of Spanish gerunds, notice that when using ‘-ing’ words to talk about activities (such as traveling) we don’t use gerundio but rather infinitive verbs. Here you can learn more about when not to use Spanish gerunds.
2. Bailar con la más fea – To draw the short straw
In Spanish, bailar con la más fea expresses that someone is at a disadvantage or that he or she has to do the worst or unwanted task that nobody wants to do. As a result, this expression is close in meaning to ‘to draw the short straw’ or ‘to get the short end of the stick’.
This informal expression is very popular in Spanish and can be used in a wide range of situations. Here are some examples of how to use this expression:
[IOP] + [‘tocar’ conjugated] + bailar con la más fea
A Lily le tocó hacer la presentación otra vez, siempre le toca bailar con la más fea.
Lily got to make the presentation again, she always draws the short straw.
Vamos contra el mejor equipo en la primera ronda, nos tocó bailar con la más fea.
We’re against the best team in the first round, we got the short end of the stick.
To use this expression properly, you need to make sure that the context is clear enough. In other words, that the disadvantage or the unwanted task is clear enough.
|Tu amigo: Oye, no tomes, es tu turno de manejar.||Your friend: Hey, don’t drink, it’s your turn to drive.|
|Tú: ¡Ni modo! Me toca bailar con la más fea.||You: Oh well! I got the short end of the stick.|
3. Dar en el blanco – Hit the nail on the head
As a Spanish idiom, dar en el blanco means that someone is right about something or that a person guessed correctly. In its literal meaning, ‘dar en el blanco’ can be used to express that something was spot-on or very accurate. So, this expression can be translated as ‘hit the nail on the head’ or ‘hit the bullseye’.
Although this expression is quite popular, you may also hear its variation dar en el clavo. Here are some examples of how to use this Spanish idiom:
[‘Dar’ conjugated] + en el blanco + [complement]
Dimos en el blanco con la nueva secretaria.
We hit the nail on the head with the new secretary.
La neta diste en el blanco, güey, estoy un poco reocupado.
To be honest, you hit the bullseye, dude, I’m a bit worried.
Hablé con Mario y dió en el blanco con su propuesta.
I spoke to Mario and he hit the nail on the head with his proposal.
4. Echarle mucha crema a tus tacos – To blows one’s horn
In Mexican Spanish, echarle mucha crema a tus tacos is an informal idiom that we use to describe that a person exaggerates something or he or she brags too much about his or her own achievements and actions. Although this expression doesn’t have a direct translation, it’s close in meaning to ‘to exaggerate’, ‘to blow one’s horn’ or ‘to blow one’s own horn.
As an informal idiomatic expression, ‘echarle crema a tus tacos’ is only applied in casual contexts and it doesn’t have a positive connotation. Below are some examples of how to use this expression. Notice that, to customize it, you need to use possessive adjectives.
[Le] + [‘echar’ conjugated] + crema a [possessive adjective] + tacos
No le eches crema a tus tacos, no nos pasó nada.
Don’t exaggerate, nothing happened to us.
Regina no me cae bien, siempre le echa mucha crema a sus tacos.
I don’t like Regina, she’s always blowing her own horn.
El examen no estaba difícil, Paco le echó mucha crema a sus tacos.
The test wasn’t difficult, Paco exaggerated a lot.
5. Echarle leña al fuego – To add fuel the fire
Echarle leña al fuego is a Spanish idiomatic expression that describes that someone is making a situation worse by saying or doing something that is upsetting others. So, this phrase is close in meaning to ‘to add fuel the fire’, ‘to make it worse’ or ‘to make things worse’.
This Spanish idiom is more suitable for informal situations. Here are some examples of how to apply this expression:
[Le] + [‘echar’ conjugated] + leña al fuego
¡No digas nada! ¿Para qué le echas leña al fuego?
Don’t say anything! Why make things worse?
Creo que con lo que dije… sólo le eché más leña al fuego.
I think that what I said… I just added more fuel to the fire.
Si dices algo, le echarás más leña al fuego.
If you say something, you’ll only make it worse.
Additionally, you can combine this expression with verbs such as gustar and querer to express that a person either likes or has the intention of making things worse. In this case, you may need to follow the conjugation rules for each one of these verbs.
[Verb conjugated] + echarle leña al fuego
No voy a decir nada, no me gusta echarle leña al fuego.
I’m not going to say anything, I don’t like adding fuel to the fire.
No le hagas caso a Luis, solo quiere echarle leña al fuego.
Don’t listen to Luis, he just wants to make things worse.
6. Ser pan comido – Be a piece of cake
In Spanish, ser pan comido is used to describe that something is extremely easy to do. So, this idiomatic expression can be translated as ‘be a piece of cake’, ‘be a snap’ or to ‘be a breeze’. As a standard expression, this phrase can be used in all Spanish-speaking countries.
Customizing this expression es pan comido. In fact, you only need to conjugate the verb ‘ser’ in the tense that you need and, if the context is not clear, you’ll have to introduce the thing or activity that you’re referring to. Here are some examples.
[Activity / thing] + [‘ser’ conjugated] + pan comido
El examen de matemáticas fue pan comido.
The maths exam was a piece of cake.
Andar en bicicleta es pan comido.
Riding a bike is a breeze.
Si practican, aprender español será pan comido.
If you practice, learning Spanish will be a piece of cake.
Take Note: When referring to things or objects, you can use the adjective regalado to express that such a thing was super easy to do. This word is an informal replacement for ‘ser pan comido’, but it can only be used with nouns. Keep in mind that, in other contexts, ‘regalado’ also means that something was very cheap.
La verdad, el examen estuvo regalado.
To be honest, the test was a breeze.
7. Tirar la casa por la ventana – To push the boat out
Tirar la casa por la ventana is an informal idiom that describes that someone spends a lot of money on something. As a result, this Spanish idiom can be translated as ‘to spare no expense’.
Although it’s not a rule of thumb, tirar la casa por la ventana is commonly used when talking about the money spent on a party or a celebration. This expression can be applied in both formal and informal contexts. Here are some examples of how to use it:
[Subject] + [‘tirar’ conjugated] + (en) + (celebration)
La escuela tiró la casa por la ventana en la graduación.
The school spared no expense for the graduation.
Miranda y Leo tiraron la casa por la ventana en su boda.
Miranda and Leo spared no expense for their wedding.
¡Qué bonitas decoraciones! Se ve que tiraron la casa por la ventana.
Such beautiful decorations! You can see that they spared no expense.
8. Hablar hasta por los codos – To talk your ears off
In Spanish, hablar hasta por los codos is an idiomatic expression that describes that a person talks too much. In most cases, this expression is used to negatively describe this behavior. Hablar hasta por los codos is close in meaning to ‘to talk your ears off’, ‘to be a chatterbox’, or, simply, ‘to talk too much‘.
[Subject] + [‘hablar’ conjugated] + por los codos
Tu prima habla hasta por los codos.
Your cousin is a chatterbox.
No manches, Cindy habla hasta por los codos.
Jeez, Cindy really talks your ears off.
No le quiero marcar a Tom, es que habla hasta por los codos.
I don’t want to call Tom, he talks your ears off.
Cuando era niño, mi hermano hablaba hasta por los codos.
When he was a kid, my brother talked too much.
9. Dar la vuelta a la tortilla – Turn the tables
Dar la vuelta a la tortilla is a Mexican idiom that we use to explain that the circumstances of a situation changed or reverted. Usually, this change implies that people turn into a position of advantage. So, this idiom is close in meaning to ‘to turn the tables’, ‘to turn it around’ or ‘flip it around’.
This expression can be applied in different situations, but it’s quite popular in contexts where a person is losing something, it can be either money or an argument. Yep, we girls are very good at darle vuelta a la tortilla in a discussion with our significant others..
Here are some examples of how to use this expression.
[Situation] + [Subject] + [le] + [‘dar’ conjugated] + vuelta a la tortilla
Siempre que discutimos, Alice le da vuelta a la tortilla.
Every time we argue, Alice turns it around on me.
Ibámos perdiendo por cinco punto, pero le dieron vuelta a la tortilla.
We were losing by five points, but we turned the tables.
Mamá rompió mi iPad, pero le dió vuelta a la tortilla: me regañó por dejarla en la mesa.
Mom broke my iPad, but she turned the tables: she scolded me for leaving it on the table.
10. Estar hecho polvo – To be exhausted
In Spanish, estar hecho polvo means that someone is extremely tired. In addition to talking about being physically tired, this idiom can also imply that a person is sad or downhearted as a result of something. Estar hecho polvo can be translated as ‘to be exhausted’, ‘to be worn out’ or ‘to be torn apart’.
As a standard expression, it can be used in different countries in both formal and informal situations. Notice that, in this case, hecho is working as a past participle adjective. This means that it will change depending on the gender and number of the person that you’re talking about.
[‘Esta’ conjugated] + hecho polvo
Vamos mañana, estoy hecho polvo.
Let’s go tomorrow, I’m exhausted.
Matt está hecho polvo desde que rompió con Betty.
Matt is torn apart since he broke up with Betty.
Llevo trabajando doce horas, estoy hecha polvo.
I’ve been working twelve hours, I’m worn out.
Mis hermanos están hechos polvo porque caminamos mucho.
My brothers are exhausted because we walked a lot.
11. No tener pelos en la lengua – Not mince your words
No tener pelos en la lengua means that someone speaks their mind in a very forward way without thinking about the other person’s opinion. So, this expression is close in meaning ‘to not mince your words’ or ‘to be outspoken’.
Usually, no tener pelos en la lengua means that you’re not very subtle or delicate when talking or expressing your opinion. So, this idiom is not a positive description, but rather a warning about this person. Here are some examples of how to use this expression:
Doña Laura no tiene pelos en la lengua.
Mrs. Laura is very outspoken.
¡Qué groseros son! ¿No tienen pelos en la lengua?
You guys are so rude! Don’t you mince your own words?
No nos gusta ir de compras con mamá porque no tiene pelos en la lengua.
We don’t like shopping with mom because she doesn’t mince her words.
Ese vestido está horrible, discúlpame, pero yo no tengo pelos en la lengua.
That dress is awful, I’m sorry, but I don’t mince my words.
12. Echarle un ojo – Take a quick look
Depending on the context in which it’s being used, echar un ojo is a way to ask a person to look briefly at something or to keep an eye on something or someone. So, with this meaning, ‘echar un ojo’ can be translated as ‘to give a quick look’, ‘to take a quick look’, ‘to watch’ or ‘to keep an eye on’.
No matter what meaning you’re using, this Spanish idiomatic expression can be applied in both formal and informal contexts. Here are some examples of how to use echar un ojo.
[Subject] + [le] + [‘echar’ conjugated] + a + [determiner] + [noun]
Marta, ¿le echas un ojo a los niños?
Marta, can you keep an eye on the children?
Gustavo, voy a la tienda, échale un ojo a la pasta.
Gustavo, I’m going to the store, keep an eye on the pasta.
Samuel y yo le echamos un ojo a tu propuesta, es muy interesante.
Samuel and I took a quick look at your proposal, it’s very interesting.
When used to express that someone looks at something briefly, you can also use the variation ‘ver por encima’.
Take Note: Oftentimes, Spanish learners confuse the expression ‘echarle un ojo a’ with ‘echarle el ojo a’. Echarle el ojo means that people set their eyes on something or someone that they may be interested in. So this expression is translated as ‘set your eyes on’ or ‘have your eyes on’.
Vanessa le echó el ojo al chico nuevo.
Vanessa set her eyes on the new guy.
Ya le eché el ojo a mi próximo coche.
I already have my eyes on my next car.
13. Dar gato por liebre – To take for a ride
Dar gato por liebre is a Spanish idiom that describes deliberate trickery or deception that is going to be detrimental for another person. Usually, this idiom expresses that a person received a different and low-quality service or product than the one they paid for or expected. So this phrase can be translated as:
- to take for a ride
- to pull the wool over someone’s eyes
- to rip off
- to trick
As you may imagine, this expression is more commonly applied to buying and selling contexts where people are deceived. So, if I see the prettiest dress on an online store and after I buy it I realize that it’s very low quality and it’s not nearly as pretty as the picture, then, me dieron gato por liebre.
Here are some examples and the phrase structure that you can use:
[Indirect object pronoun] + [‘dar’ conjugated] + gato por liebre
El paquete sonaba bien, en realidad, les dieron gato por liebre.
The package sounded good, in reality, they tricked them.
Si vas a comprar aquí, asegúrate que no te den gato por liebre.
If you’re going to buy here, make sure they don’t take you for a ride.
Encargamos esta ropa en línea, pero nos dieron gato por liebre.
We ordered these clothes online, but they tricked us.
Polly gastó muchísimo en su vestido y le dieron gato por liebre.
Polly spent a lot on her dress and they pulled the wool over her eyes.
14. Ser uña y carne – Be like two peas in a pod
In Spanish, ser uña y carne describes that two people are very close to each other at the point that they are inseparable. As a result, this idiom can be translated as ‘be like two peas in a pond’ or ‘joined at the hip’.
This idiomatic expression in Spanish is usually applied when referring to friends and it’s more suitable for informal conversations. Ser uña y mugre is another popular variation that you can use instead. Although they both mean the same, ‘ser uña y mugre’ is more popular in Mexico.
[Person 1] + y [Person 2] + [‘ser’ conjugated] + uña y carne
Hace años, Ángel y yo éramos uña y mugre.
Years ago, Angel and I were like two peas in a pod.
Montserrat y Yadira son uña y carne.
Montserrat y Yadira are joined at the hip.
Janet y Fabio nunca se separan, son como uña y carne.
Janet and Fabio are always together, they are joined at the hip.
15. Meter la pata – Put your foot in it
Meter la pata is an informal idiomatic expression that we use in Spanish to explain that someone made a mistake or said something inappropriate. As a result, this expression can be translated as ‘to put your foot in it’, ‘stepped in it’, ‘to make a mistake’ or ‘to mess things up’.
Although this expression is also used in Castilian Spanish, it’s more popular in Latin American Spanish-speaking countries. Here are some examples of how to use ‘meter la pata’:
[‘Meter’ conjugated] + la pata + [complement]
Creo que metí la pata con Paola.
I think I made a mistake with Paola.
¡Ay! ¿No sabías? Ya metí la pata.
Oh, you didn’t know? I already put my foot in it.
Esta es su última oportunidad, así que no metan la pata.
This is your last chance, so don’t mess things up.
Matt y Lory metieron la pata y le contaron a Delia de su fiesta.
Matt and Lory stepped in it and told Delia about her party.
Take Note: In Mexican Spanish, regarla is a slang expression that you can use as a more informal synonym for ‘meter la pata’. ‘Regarla’ can also be translated as ‘to make a mistake’ or ‘to put your foot in it’.
16. Hay gato encerrado – There is something fishy
In Spanish, the expression hay gato encerrado is used to show suspicion about a fishy situation. In other words, this idiom expresses that something shady is going on. So, hay gato encerrado can be translated as ‘there is something fishy going on’ or ‘something’s up’.
This expression can be used in both formal and informal situations. To customize it, you only need to conjugate the verb ‘haber’ in the appropriate tense.
[‘Haber’ conjugated] + gato encerrado
Ella no se merecía el ascenso, aquí hay gato encerrado.
She didn’t deserve the promotion, something’s up.
Te dije que había gato encerrado.
I told you there was something fishy going on.
El dinero se perdió cuando Pablo estaba aquí, para mí, hay gato encerrado.
The money went missing when Pablo was here, to me something is up.
17. Dejar plantado – To stand one up
Dejar plantado is an expression that we use to describe that someone didn’t show up to an appointment or date and left the other person waiting. So, ‘dejar platando’ can be translated as ‘to stand one up’.
As you may imagine, this idiomatic expression can be applied in all sorts of contexts that refer to a date or an appointment. Although it’s used in all Spanish-speaking countries, this expression is more suitable for casual contexts.
Here are some examples of how to use ‘dejar plantado’. Notice that you’ll use direct object pronouns to explain who is the person that was stood up and plantado needs to agree with the gender and the number of that person.
[Direct object pronoun] + [‘dejar’ conjugated] + plantado
¡Me dejaste plantada! ¿Por qué no llegaste?
You stood me up! Why you didn’t arrive?
La novia de mi hermano lo dejó plantado.
My brother’s girlfriend stood him up.
Te estuvimos esperando y nos dejaste plantadas.
We were waiting for you and you stood us up.
Idiomatic expressions in Spanish are very important to improve your daily communication. For that reason, in this article, you’ve learned 17 common Spanish idioms that you should start including in your conversations.
We’ve also learned what these expressions mean and what is the best way to use them. Of course, there are tons of idioms in Spanish, so use these as a strong starter toolkit and make sure to learn more expressions that will help you with your conversational goals.
Now, you’re ready to start using idioms! No tengas miedo de meter la pata!