Worldly Translations

Learn 10 idioms in Spanish to communicate better

For fans of world languages ​​and their singularities, idioms are particularly interesting and fun expressions to know and analyse. These “habits” or “idiomatic customs” that are present in all languages ​​have the function of abbreviating an idea and are usually inspired by metaphors and analogies. This last attribute is the one that especially confuses those who are not native speakers of the language in question, since the literal translation of idioms usually has absolutely nothing to do with their real meaning.

Beyond giving us the possibility of communicating more fluently with speakers of other languages, knowing their idioms is also a way of getting closer to the culture of a country or region, the ways of its speakers and their customs. As we analysed in our article on the parts of grammar, language is not something given and static, but the rules and principles that regulate the language are modified by the speakers in their continuous use of it. Due to their popular origin and their link with oral transmission from generation to generation, idioms are part of the study of descriptive grammar, the branch of linguistics that attempts to describe the actual use of a language in the speaking community.


What are the most used Spanish idioms?

Previously, on this blog we shared 10 idioms in English that are widely used by their speakers in  colloquial language, now it is the turn of the idioms in Spanish that every foreigner must incorporate to feel at home even when away from it:

  1. Meter la pata

Literally means “to get the foot inside”. However, this idiom in Spanish is used to express that someone made a mistake or did something inappropriate, especially if it results in an indiscretion.

Example: “Carolina metió la pata, le preguntó a Federico a qué hora era su fiesta de cumpleaños y resulta que era una fiesta sorpresa”

(“Carolina screwed up, she asked Federico what time was his birthday party and it turns out it was a surprise party”)


  1. Irse por las ramas

Literally means “to go through the branches”. However, this expression is used when a person deviates from the topic of conversation and starts talking about something else.

Example: “Mi hija adolescente está muy dispersa, cada vez que le pregunto algo sobre la escuela se va por las ramas para evitar el tema”

“My teenage daughter is very scattered, every time I ask her something about school she beats around the bush to avoid the topic”


  1. Tomar el pelo

Literally means “to pull the hair”. However, it is used to express that someone is joking and trying to make another person believe something that is not true.

Example: “Mi abuelo siempre me toma el pelo, ayer me dijo que había ganado la lotería”

“My grandfather always pulls my leg me, yesterday he told me that he had won the lottery”


  1. Tirar la toalla

Luterally means “to throw in the towel”. Popularly, this idiom means “surrender.” It is used when someone tires of a situation and gives up, even before achieving a goal.

Example: “Estefanía se cansó de estudiar y tiró la toalla justo antes del examen final de inglés”

“Estefanía got tired of studying and threw in the towel just before the final English exam”


  1. Hablar hasta por los codos

Literally means “to talk even through your elbows”. However, this expression is used to refer to a person who talks too much, to the point that it is annoying to hear.

Example: “Mi vecino habla hasta por los codos, cada vez que me lo encuentro en el hall del edificio termino con dolor de cabeza”

“My neighbour talks up to his elbows, every time I meet him in the hall of the building I end up with a headache”


  1. Encontrar a alguien con las manos en la masa

Literally “to find someone with their hands on the dough”. This idiom in Spanish is used to express that someone was found doing something that should not be, incorrect, illegal or secret.

Example: “Encontré al novio de Karen con las manos en la masa y ahora no sé cómo hablar del tema con ella”

“I caught Karen’s boyfriend red-handed and now I don’t know how to talk about it with her”


  1. El horno no está para bollos

Literally means “the oven is not ready for buns”. It is an expression that is used to refer to a person or a situation that does not admit more complications, tensions or conflicts. Therefore, it is better not to force it more to avoid exceeding it.

Example: “Mi mamá encontró el boletín de mi hermano menor y sus notas son muy bajas, en mi casa el horno no está para bollos”

“My mother found my younger brother’s report card and his grades are very low, in my house the oven is not for buns”


  1. Ser una gallina

Literally means “to be a chicken”. When a person is branded a “chicken” it means that she is a coward or is afraid to face a certain situation. A peculiarity of this idiom in Spanish is that it is often said that someone is “un gallina” when the term “gallina” should be accompanied by the feminine pronoun (the masculine is “gallo”).

Example: “¡El agua no está tan fría como parece, no seas gallina y vení a la pileta!”

“The water is not as cold as it seems, don’t be chicken and come to the pool!”


  1. Cuesta un ojo de la cara

Literally means “to cost an eye out of your face”. This expression is used to refer to something very expensive that is very difficult to pay for.

Example: “El auto nuevo de Nicolás es automático y de alta gama, según nos comentó le costó un ojo de la cara”

“Nicolás’s new car is automatic and high-end, as he told us it cost him an arm and a leg”


  1. Tirar la casa por la ventana

Literally means “to throw the house out the window”. This idiom has different uses, all linked to something that is done in excess. On the one hand, it is used to express that a lot of money is being spent without control, wasting it. On the other hand, it is also associated with a celebration of extraordinary dimensions.

Example: “Para los 18 años de Sofía sus padres tiraron la casa por la ventana, había un catering de primer nivel, una barra de tragos junto a la piscina y un DJ que pasó música toda la noche”

“For Sofía’s 18 birthday, her parents went all out, there was a first-class catering, a drink bar by the pool and a DJ who played music all night”

We hope you have enjoyed knowing these idioms in Spanish to communicate better and more fluently with the speakers of this language. Until next time!