The word "refrán" in Spanish (sayings or proverbs in English) comes from French and means "sententious saying in common use". It is attributed to the words that are repeated at the end of each stanza of a song. Although, you usually speak of a saying when you refer to a traditional proverb of popular use with didactic, moral, or philosophical intention.
These little gems of wisdom transmit the culture, experience, and wit of a language like Spanish in a single phrase. That's why knowing these phrases will help you get right into the language and expand your knowledge of Spanish. Let's get started!
Common proverbs and sayings in Spanish
Here are some of the most common Spanish sayings and proverbs, their meanings and translation:
Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.
Translation: Tell me who you hang out with, and I'll tell you who you are.
Meaning / English equivalent: Birds of a feather flock together.
A caballo regalado no le mires el diente.
Translation: Don't look for faults in a gift.
Meaning / English equivalent: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Al mal tiempo, buena cara.
Translation: Put a good face to the bad times.
Meaning / English equivalent: Be positive even in bad situations.
A falta de pan, buenas son tortas.
Translation: If there's no pan, cakes will do.
Meaning / English equivalent: Beggars can't be choosers.
Barriga llena, corazón contento.
Translation: Full stomach, happy heart.
Meaning: highlights the connection between physical and emotional well-being. When we are satisfied with basic needs, we are more emotionally content.
Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.
Translation: The shrimp that falls asleep is swept away by the current.
Meaning / English equivalent: You snooze, you lose.
Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos.
Translation: Raise crows and they will peck your eyes out.
Meaning / English equivalent: If you take care of indecent people, they will take advantage of you in the end.
Cuando el río suena, agua lleva.
Translation: When the river makes noise, it's carrying water.
Meaning / English equivalent: Where there's smoke, there's fire.
Del tal palo, tal astilla.
Translation: Such is the stick; such is the chip.
Meaning / English equivalent: A chip off the old block
Meaning / English equivalent: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Meaning / English equivalent: Like father, like son.
El que madruga coge agua clara.
Translation: He who rises early gets clear water.
Meaning / English equivalent: Early bird gets the worm.
El que quiera pescado que se moje el culo.
Translation: He who wants fish should get his butt wet.
Meaning / English equivalent. If you want something, get it yourself.
Hablando del rey de Roma...
Translation: Speaking of the king of Rome...
Meaning / English equivalent: Speak of the Devil...
Más vale tarde que nunca.
Translation / English equivalent: Better late than never.
Meaning: This saying reminds us that it is better to do something late than never to do it at all. It emphasizes the importance of action, even if it is delayed.
Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.
Translation: A bird in the hand is worth more than one hundred flying.
Meaning / English equivalent: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Moro viejo nunca será buen cristiano.
Translation: An old Moor will never be a good Christian.
Meaning / English equivalent: You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
No hay mal que por bien no venga.
Translation: There's no bad from which something good doesn't come.
Meaning / English equivalent: Every cloud has a silver lining.
Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.
Translation: Eyes that don't see, heart that doesn't feel.
Meaning / English equivalent: Out of sight, out of mind.
Quién se fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla.
Translation: He who went to Sevilla, lost his seat.
Meaning / English equivalent: Move your feet, lose your seat.
Vivieron felices y comieron perdices (y a mí no me dieron).
Translation: They lived happily and ate partridge (and didn't give me any).
Meaning / English equivalent: And they lived happily ever after.
En boca cerrada no entran moscas.
Translation: Loose lips sink ships.
Meaning / English equivalent: Silence is golden. It advises prudence and moderation in speaking. It suggests that, if a person keeps silent and does not speak unnecessarily, he avoids getting into trouble or saying something inappropriate.
These Spanish proverbs and sayings are little capsules of wisdom that have stood the test of time. As you expand your knowledge of Spanish, keep these sayings in mind, you'll be surprised how much they can enrich your understanding of the language.
If you are looking to learn Spanish in Spain, Enforex has intensive Spanish courses for all levels and ages. Take advantage of the opportunity and expand your knowledge of the language with native teachers who will help you understand the language better and learn many more Spanish proverbs.
Other popular Spanish Sayings
- A la fuerza ahorcan
- De noche todos los gatos son pardos
- Lo bueno, si es breve, dos veces bueno
- "Ya que la casa se quema, calentémonos en ella"
- "The house of the soap-maker is a slippery place"
- "Santo era Pedro y negó a su maestro"
- "Aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada"
- "En Carnaval todo pasa, hasta los novios a las casas"