Gringa Guide: 12 Spanish Proverbs and Sayings Explained

Today I want to take the time to explore some common Spanish sayings and proverbs, also known as dichos and refranes. Every culture has their own version of these words of wisdom. In Spanish-speaking cultures, they are often espoused by our grandmothers and ingrained in our minds since birth.

Those of you who are not native Spanish speakers might be caught off guard the first time you hear some of these phrases. To ensure you’re not lost in translation, I will explain the meaning of 12 common sayings and try to analogize each to a common English phrase with which most people are familiar. Let’s get started!

Ver más: 10 Questions Americans Have About Hispanic Heritage Month (And Hispanics in General)

 

1. “Para atras ni para tomar impulso.”

Literally translated, it means “go back not even to gain momentum.” Basically, this is the Spanish equivalent of “keep moving forward” or “never look back.” This saying is meant to encourage us to try new things and step out of our comfort zones.

 

2. “Camaron que se duerme so lo lleva la corriente.”

This phrase translates to, “shrimp that sleeps gets taken away by the current.” It is the Spanish equivalent of “you snooze, you lose,” and reminds us to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

 

3. “Mejor sola que mal acompañada.”

Better to be alone than in bad company. This saying translates perfectly, evidence that it is a universal truth. It is always better to be by yourself than to be surrounded by people (or a certain person in particular) that you can’t stand.

 

4. “Lo esta pa ti, nadie te lo quita.”

Literally translated, it means, “what’s meant for you, no one can take away.” Basically it’s an, “if it’s meant to be, it will be” that is offered often to console those who have their eyes on a specific goal.

 

5. “Un clavo saca el otro.”

Literally translated, this means, “one nail gets out the other.” This is the Spanish equivalent of “the best way to get over a man is to get under another.” Nuff’ said. Moving on!

 

6. “No dejes para mañana lo que puedes hacer hoy.”

In another case of perfect translation, this saying means, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, something we all aspire to but rarely do in practice.

 

7. “Calladita te ves mas bonita.”

Literally translated, this phrase means, “silent you look prettier.” It’s the Spanish of equivalent of “it’s better to be seen than heard” and is usually directed at children, though Hispanic parents have been known to use it on their offspring long into adulthood.

 

8. “Vistame deespacio que tengo prisa.”

Literally translated, this phrase means “dress me with space because I’m in a hurry.” It is the Spanish equivalent of “haste makes waste” and is meant to remind us that we often get sloppy when we’re in a hurry, requiring us to revisit our work and hindering our timely progress. Therefore, we should ask for space when we’re in a hurry so that we can take the time to do things right the first time around.

 

9. “Las aparencias engañan.”

This means, “looks can be deceiving,” a lesson we all learn, no matter our backgrounds.

 

10. “El ojo del amo engorda el caballo.”

Literally translated it means, “the master’s eye fattens the horse.” There’s no real English version of this phrase—it’s like the inverse of “when the cat’s away the mice will play,” sort of like when the cat is there, the mice are productive. The saying is meant for business owners, a friendly reminder to take the time to watch over their businesses if they want to see them grow.

 

11. “El que tiene tienda, que lo atienda. Y si no, que la venda.”

“He who has a store, should look after it. If not, he should sell it.” This is meant for both men and women in relationships to remind them to put time into a relationship or move on if they don’t want to. In English, it would be the rough equivalent of “take care of what’s yours, or someone else will.”

 

12. “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.”

“He who rises early, God helps.” This is the Spanish equivalent of “the early bird gets the worm.” There’s so much more that can get done if we wake up early, so up and at ’em people! These are just a dozen common Spanish proverbs and phrases—there are hundreds! I hope you’ll continue to celebrate this month and explore all aspects of Hispanic cultures, fun phrases included. Hasta luego!

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