Idiomatic Expressions In Spanish

Learn How To Use Spanish Idioms

Although globalisation has led us to broaden our horizons and expand our borders, our challenges have also become more complex. The challenges we face in dealing with new situations have become an opportunity to develop our skills, including the ability to use a new language, in this case Spanish, the third most spoken language in the world.

Here we will give you a brief description of idiomatic expressions in Spanish and introduce a variety of expressions that exist in Spanish-speaking countries such as Spain and Colombia. We will provide their definition, meaning and give concrete examples. For those who are learning Spanish and wish to continue developing their communicative competence in a practical way, this will undoubtedly help you understand, interpret, practice, and memorise a series of expressions (locutions) and use them according to the context in which they are used.

What are idiomatic expressions?

Idiomatic expressions, also called idioms, are fixed expressions that contain a meaning that is not deduced from the words of which they are composed, i.e., they do not have a literal meaning, in fact many of them have a figurative meaning. They are a way to abbreviate an idea and communicate with people who share the same language. The expressions are structured in such a way that they contain fixed compositions of several words.

In Spanish, there is a great variety of locutions, idioms or idiomatic expressions that come from habits or customs and they give you an opportunity to learn more about other cultures, developing your sociolinguistic and communicative competence in Spanish.

Let’s Look At The Following Locutions Or Idiomatic Expressions In Spanish

The following idiomatic expressions, among others, are representative of Spain and Colombia and are useful tools to support the development of your lexical competence, without specifying their class or category in order to make them easier to use and understand.

Idiomatic Expressions In Spanish entrelengua learn spanish

“Lo cogí con las manos en la masa”“I caught him red-handed”

This translates literally to “I caught him with him with his hands in the dough” but it refers to catching a person just at the moment when he is doing something improper or illegal.

“La policía cogió al ladrón con las manos en la masa.”

“The police caught the thief red-handed.”

“La mujer encontró al marido con las manos en la masa.”

“The wife caught her husband red-handed.”

“Me tocó bailar con la más fea”“I had to dance with the ugliest”

This refers to bearing witness to the fact that someone has had the worst part of a job or relationship…

“Al presidente de Estados Unidos le tocó bailar con la más fea al ser precisamente  elegido en medio de una pandemia.” 

“The President of the United States had to dance with the ugliest when he was elected right in the midst of a pandemic.”

“Irse por las ramas”“Beating around the bush”

This refers to a person who deals with a subject in a very indirect way by going round in circles and making unnecessary explanations.

“Mi marido siempre se va por las ramas cuando le pido que me diga la verdad.” 

“My husband always beats around the bush when I ask him to tell me the truth”.

“Cuando le hago preguntas al profesor de español, siempre se va por las ramas y no me contesta lo que le pregunté.” 

“When I ask the Spanish teacher questions, he always goes around in circles and doesn’t answer what I asked him.”

Idiomatic Expressions In Spanish

“Ahogarse en un vaso de agua”“Drowning in a glass of water”

This is used to refer to a person being easily overwhelmed by unexpected changes or small difficulties and not knowing how to solve them and how to proceed.

“En lugar de estudiar más cuando pierdo un examen, me ahogo en un vaso de agua y me pongo a llorar.”

“Instead of studying harder when I lose an exam, I get overwhelmed and start crying.”

 “Mi amiga está agobiada por tantas responsabilidades que tiene, pero yo pienso que siempre se ahoga en un vaso de agua en vez de buscar soluciones.”

“My friend is overwhelmed by so many responsibilities she has, but I think she always drowns in a glass of water instead of looking for solutions.”

“Hacer castillos en el aire”“Making castles in the air”

This expression is used to refer to someone who is a dreamer and does not think about things realistically.

“Mi mamá siempre compra lotería y se hace castillos en el aire pensando que le va a tocar.”

“My mum always buys the lottery and builds castles in the air thinking she’s going to win.”

“Es mejor vestir santos que desvestir borrachos”“It is better to dress saints than to undress drunks”

This is used to indicate that it is better for a woman to remain single than to be exposed to a husband who has a drinking problem.

Cuando las personas me preguntan “¿por qué sigues soltera?”, siempre respondo lo mismo: “es mejor vestir santos que desvestir borrachos”

When people ask me “Why are you still single?”, I always give the same answer: “It is better to dress saints than to undress drunks”.

Idiomatic Expressions In Spanish entrelenguas

“Desvestir un santo para vestir a otro”“To undress one saint in order to dress another”

This locution is used to express that in order to solve a problem, one has had to get into another problem.

“Mi papá le debía dinero a un compañero del trabajo y para pagarle pidió un préstamo al banco. Él definitivamente desvistió a un santo para vestir a otro.”

“My dad owed money to a colleague at work and to pay him back he borrowed money from the bank. He definitely undressed one saint to clothe another.”

“Tirar la toalla”“Throw in the towel”

Is used to indicate that a person has given up on a certain situation, usually a problematic one.

“Tengo tantos trabajos y tareas en la universidad que estoy a punto de tirar la toalla”.

“I have so much work and homework at university that I’m about to throw in the towel.”

“Mi amigo estaba tan cansado en su trabajo que decidió tirar la toalla y renunciar.”

“My friend was so tired at his job that he decided to throw in the towel and quit.”

“Estar en la luna”“To be on the moon”

Similar to the english idiom “to have one’s head in the clouds”, this expression refers to a person who is very distracted or absent-minded and neglects what he or she is doing. 

“Mi amigo no me pone atención cuando le hablo, parece estar en la luna.”

“My friend does not pay attention to me when I talk to him, he seems to be on the moon.”

“Mi mejor amiga está desconcentrada y parece estar en la luna desde que tiene novio.””Mi amigo no me pone atención cuando le hablo, parece estar en la luna.”

“My best friend is unfocused and seems to be distracted since she got a boyfriend.”

“Estar con la soga al cuello/entre la espada y la pared”“To have a noose around one’s neck/ be between the sword and the wall”

This expression is used when a person is in a very difficult situation and does not know how to find a way out or a solution to the situation.

“Me siento entre la espada y la pared desde que mi jefe me pidió que eligiera a dos compañeros de trabajo para que se fueran de la empresa.”

“I have been in such a difficult situation ever since my boss asked me to choose two co-workers to leave the company.”

“Tengo tantas deudas que no he podido pagar que me siento con la soga al cuello.”

“I have so many debts that I have not been able to pay that I feel like I have a noose around my neck.”

“Cantar las cuarenta (España)/ Cantar la tabla (Colombia)”“To scold someone”

his literally translates as “to sing the forty” but it is used to indicate that someone is scolding a person or telling them off for having done something wrong, usually after they have repeated the same bad behaviour several times.

“Mi jefe nos canta las cuarenta siempre que cometemos errores.”

“My boss always tells us off when we make mistakes.”

“Cuando mi hijo no se comporta bien, primero le canto la tabla y después le enseño cómo comportarse adecuadamente.”

“When my child does not behave well, I tell them off and then teach them how to behave properly.”

Dear reader, we hope that you have understood and enjoyed this article and that it will be a great benefit to you as you practice using idiomatic expressions.

These expressions are all commonly used in Spanish so try to add them into your vocabulary and improve your level of Spanish. Check out the Spanish QUIZ on our blog to practice what you have learnt today about the Idiomatic Expressions In Spanish. If you have any questions or if you think you think of any other expressions using the Idiomatic Expressions, leave a comment and let us know!

Juliana Paredes - aprender español entrelenguas

Juliana Paredes

Spanish Tutor in Entrelenguas

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