10 animal idioms with pictures
Language Resources

10 Easy to Use Animal Idioms

People use a lot of animal idioms in Spanish when talking with their friends or in informal situations. And a surprising number of them can be translated pretty literally into English – the same animals are used and everything. Some concepts in Spanish, however are completely different than their English language equivalents. Take a look at the infographic to help you learn and remember some of these funny animal idioms in Spanish.

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How many of them do you recognize? We’re sure you know a lot of them already, but just in case...

Here are some long version explanations to make sure you understand when and how to use all of these animal expressions:

1. Ser un/a gallina (to be chicken):

We’ve all heard this one before (bawk, bawk, bawk). It’s used in Spanish in the same way it is in English, to say someone is a coward, like chickens are, and that they are scared to do something. For example, if your friends want you to go talk to that girl/guy you like from another class and you’re too shy to do it, they could say, “Anda, no seas gallina y dile algo!” (“Come on, don’t be chicken, say something to her/him”).

2. Estar como el perro y el gato (to fight like cats and dogs):

This idiom is used in Spanish in more or less the same way it is in English; it’s used to talk about people that never stop fighting, just like cats and dogs would.

3. Estar como una cabra (to be crazy as a loon):

This Spanish expression uses a different animal than its English equivalent. In Spanish “being like a goat” means you are acting a little crazy, but in a funny way, because goats can sometimes seem pretty crazy. The expression in English compares people to loons, but comes more from a variation of the language than from a direct comparison to the bird (although some people say it’s because loons howl in a way that sounds like a madman crying out). In both languages however, the expression is used lightly. Although in Spanish it could be seen as insulting if used overzealously, so be careful how you use the expression and don’t go overboard when you’re joking around.

4. Estar como un toro (to be strong as an ox):

This animal expression is more or less the same in both languages and means to be physically strong, like an ox or a bull. If someone tells you, “estás como un toro” (literally: “you’re like a bull”) it’s probably because you’ve been working out. The only difference between the expressions in the two languages is the usage. In Spanish, the expression is used to talk about someone’s physical fitness at a specific time (note the use of the verb “estar”), usually because they’ve done something, like workout a lot, to get in shape; in English on the other hand, the expression is used more commonly to talk about someone in a permanent way.

5. Estar pez (to be clueless/to be a fish out of water):

You can use this expression to explain that you have no clue about a specific topic or area. For example, if you say, “estoy pez en física, pregunta lo que quieras que no voy a saber contestarte” (“I’m clueless when it comes to physics, ask me whatever you want, I won’t be able to answer”). In Spanish, the idiom uses a fish to express this idea because in the Spanish culture people think fish don’t know anything (the poor little things). In English, the expression doesn’t translate literally, although our expression “to be a fish out of water” can be used very similarly to talk about someone who is very out of their element in a specific area.

6. Hablar como una cotorra (be a chatterbox):

A “cotorra” is a bird that “talks” a lot (a parrot). Many times they don’t stop talking when you want them to, and can be quite irritating if there are a lot of them. In Spanish, the animal is used to describe someone who talks so much they can be annoying. The concept makes sense in English too, and the expression “to be a chatterbox” although more literal is a little less visual and descriptive than its Spanish counterpart.

7. Ser un/a rata (to be a penny pincher):

Don’t worry, this Spanish expression has nothing to do with personal hygiene, or with eating garbage or carrying diseases. But be careful! It is negative. If “eres un/a rata” (“you are a rat”) in Spanish, it means you are very stingy, you don’t like to share or spend money. Although the same animal imagery is not used in the English expression, the concept does make sense in both cultures.

8. Tener memoria de elefante (to have an elephant’s memory):

This Spanish expression has a direct and literal translation into English. It means, as it does in English that someone has a great memory and that they remember just about everything. In the Spanish culture, as in many English speaking countries, it is commonly believed that “an elephant never forgets” and even though no one’s ever asked one, the expression is used quite frequently in both languages.

9. Comer como un pajarito (to eat like a bird):

This one translates quite literally into English. And we can all understand why. Little birds peck away at little bits of food because they simply don’t need more.

10. Ser mono/a (to be cute):

This one isn’t the same concept in English. It is used to say someone or something is cute or adorable, like a monkey, which are considered nice, cute animals in the Spanish culture. Whereas in English we might say, “you’re cute as a button” and say someone is a monkey if they’re acting silly, in Spanish “being cute as a monkey” is a compliment. So if someone tells you, “eres muy mono,” don’t worry, it’s not an insult, it’s the perfect time to smile and say thanks.

See, these animal idioms in Spanish aren’t so hard after all. We’re sure that from now on you’ll be able to understand all of the Spanish friends you’ve made during your stay at Enforex when they say, “eres muy mono” or “estás como una cabra”. So jump right in there and start using these expressions too!

Popular expressions in Spanish