These are but a few out of the many famous Spanish sayings we Spanish-speakers use in our daily conversation to make it a bit spicier...and to sound wiser!
You are invited to learn their meaning and do likewise!
As you´ll see, each of the following famous Spanish sayings is followed by its literal translation into English and its explanation.
Alpujarras - Capileira
José Luis Suárez Suárez
A buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan
To someone with good understanding, only a few words are necessary
An insinuation is enough for an intelligent person or a good listener to understand what is meant and act accordingly. This is used when one wants to direct someone’s attention to something without mentioning it explicitly, usually in the presence of others whom one does not wish to “let on”.
A lo hecho, pecho
In the face of deeds done, present a full chest
Even though the literal meaning of pecho is “chest” or “breast”, here it connotes courage, strength, constancy and effort. The saying is telling us that what is done is done, and lamentations are of no avail. One should face the consequences of one's actions with fortitude and courage.
A mal tiempo, buena cara
In bad times, a face held high
We are advised to face adversity with valor and good spirits, and not to let disappointment show and prevail over us.
A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda
God helps him who rises early
In Spanish we have a special verb to say “to get up early”: madrugar.
For those wishing to attain success, diligence is in good order. Exert yourself and help from Above will follow, says this famous Spanish saying.
It´s related in meaning to the saying:
A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando
Begging to God and working hard with the mallet
One’s prayers do not obviate the need of making due effort.
-and talking about “madrugar”:
No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano
Getting up very early won´t make the sun rise any sooner
Your effort will only take you so far. Not everything is in our hands. Know when it´s time to let go, relax and let things take their course!
Cada loco con su tema
Each madman on his high horse
Each person has his own inclinations and passions which may at times be regarded by other, not-like-minded people, as “insanity”. This very famous Spanish saying is commonly used in situations in which two or more people are, although formally conversing, not in fact interchanging thoughts. Rather, each of them is soliloquizing and listening only to himself.
Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres
Tell me who you are friends with and I´ll tell you who you are
Much can be inferred about a person´s character and tastes by noting who his friends are and in what circles he moves. Also, we are reminded that whom to chose as friends is not a matter to be taken lightly, as the people we socialize with won't fail to influence us, for good or ill…
Más vale solo que mal acompañado
Being alone is preferable to being in bad company
Barriga llena, corazón contento
A full belly and a happy heart
After eating well, things don’t seem half as bad and concerns not half as urgent. We see things in a brighter light and feel content… hopefully not to the point of losing our good aspirations…
Consejos vendo y para mí no tengo
Advice I sell and for myself have none
This one reproaches the person who has advice for everyone except for himself. Also, some people would do well by heeding the excellent advice they so generously extend to others.
Del árbol caído, todos hacen leña
Everyone cuts firewood from the fallen tree
When someone “falls” there´s usually no lack of opportunists who will swiftly look for ways of deriving personal profit from the circumstances.
En casa del herrero, cuchara de palo
In the blacksmith´s house, a wooden spoon
It notes that in the place where it would be most expected to find something it´s often absent. It´s used as well when children don´t follow on their parents´ footsteps.
En boca cerrada no entran moscas
Flies don´t enter a shut mouth
By abstaining from unnecessary talk one prevents many evils.
En tierra de ciegos, el tuerto es rey
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king
Even a mediocre person can stand out if surrounded by lesser people.
Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león
Better to be a mouse´s head than a lion’s tail
According to this famous Spanish saying, it is preferable to lead at a more modest level than to be one-among many in higher circles.
En todas partes se cuecen habas
”Habas” everywhere are cooked
Habas are a type of broad bean. They used to be regarded as food for the poor as well as for animals.
No one and no place is exempt from problems and unpleasantness.
Errando se aprende a herrar
By making mistakes (errar: “to make mistakes”) one learns the blacksmith's trade (herrar)
By trial and error we learn.
Gato con guantes no caza ratones
A cat with mittens cannot hunt mice
One cannot knead dough without getting one’s hands into the thick of it. To get a task properly done one must forgo elegancies and refinements that are out of place.
Hierba mala nunca muere
Weeds never die
This refers to the fact that weeds, although generally unwanted, are often very resilient. They proliferate even in poor conditions, in contrast to many finer plants which require special care to thrive. Ranking very high in the popularity list, this famous Spanish saying is used referring to bad people and vermin to point out that evil dies hard.
Mucho ruido y pocas nueces
Lots of noise and little substance
Much bragging and little to brag about.
Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando
Better a bird in hand than a hundred in the sky
This saying has an English equivalent: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". What we actually have is worth more than what we possibly could have...but don't!
The message is to "stay real" and not go looking for "pie in the sky".
Nunca es tarde cuando la dicha es buena
It´s never too late for joy
When good fortune finally strikes, one doesn’t mind having waited.
Quien mucho abarca poco aprieta
He who takes too much upon himself can't do justice to all of his assumed duties
Abarcar: “to encompass”
This saying refers to a person who, for trying to carry out many things at once, doesn´t do any of them well.
Zapatero a tus zapatos
Shoemaker, to your shoes!
A person should express his opinion and give advice only within the realm of his competence. When in doubt, he cannot go wrong by minding his own business.
These are but a few out of the most common among famous Spanish sayings. You´ve made a couple of them your own? You´ll find many more famous Spanish sayings, along with other less well-known ones, elsewhere in this site...
And, of course, the Practical Rules for Living offered by these other Spanish sayings are also a must! You'll find among them some really famous Spanish sayings, like Cobra buena fama y échate a dormir, Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr and many, many others...
Return to Explore the Spanish Language
Our thanks to Mikhael Zemtsov and Enno Voorhorst for delighting us all with their original arrangement and interpretation of Asturias by Isaac Albeniz!
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