You know what they say: wisdom is earned, not given. It’s only acquired through reflecting on the process of any hardship and experience. Here are some of the wisest proverbs in the Spanish world for you to learn and try to live your life by.
Translating doesn’t work that well when people want to learn a new tongue but it is even less effective once you’re in front of a phrase that implies interpretation.
We’re talking about proverbs and sayings! They often refer to random subjects, going from daily situations to existentialism and they are passed from one generation to the next.
Spanish proverbs and sayings and their English equivalent so you are not lost
Traveling the world, you’ll find that a language may have a proverb that doesn’t exist in another language. This is if you try to see the phrase as something you can translate.
This is not the case with these words and phrases. The best way to learn them (and that they make sense) is by looking for the meaning and how to use them. Once you get to know those two things, it’s time to find the correct equivalent.
Here is a list to make your Spanish life easier:
Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Spanish proverb meaning you need to better hold to something you already have instead of trying to get something better.
Allí donde fueres, haz lo que vieres
The English equivalent would be “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
The phrase is used when you need to tell people they have to be up to the situation in terms of following the rules of a place.
A palabras necias, oídos sordos
“Let foolish words fall on deaf ears”. Parents love this one.
Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres
When it comes to Spanish proverbs, this one is quite popular. Parents use it with their children when they consider a friend they have is not good for them.
A translation would go with something like “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are” which is a common saying in English.
Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda
The all-time favorite! No matter the country in which Spanish is spoken, they know and use this one a lot.
In English, “the early bird catches the worm”.
By the way, the verb madrugar doesn’t exist in English. La madrugada is the time between midnight and sunrise. Hence, madrugar would be “to get up early”.
Ladrón que roba a ladrón tiene cien años de perdón
Stealing is not something we accept in our society. However, is it acceptable and forgiven if we steal from another thief? This is what this proverb proposes.
I guess that it would be considered righteous if it is done serving a higher purpose like helping others. Don’t you think?
Más vale prevenir que lamentar / En guerra avisada no muere soldado
These two phrases point almost in the same direction but there is some nuance attached.
For the first expression, it’s better to be prepared than to be sorry after something unexpected happened.
For the second expression, you have been advised to be prepared and you had better listen to avoid misfortunes.
El hábito no hace al monje
The literal translation on this one is not going to be understood as the English equivalents never come close to the employed words.
If you want a good phrase to replace it, go with “don’t judge a book by its cover”. With similar meaning, you can also find “no juzgues un libro por su portada” in the Spanish language.
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente
A saying for those who have the bad habit of hesitation. You had better start acting once you’re given the chance to and not waiting to see what happens as you may lose a vital opportunity.
You snooze, you lose!
El que no llora, no mama
Make sure to speak up when it’s required. Some Spanish proverbs are hard and direct but very clear at conveying the message and, actually, people love it that way.
The meaning in English would be “only the squeaky wheel gets greased”.
Mejor tarde que nunca / Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena
Some Spanish proverbs are just like in English. Use the literal translation “better late than never” and you’ll be fine.
People may refer to a good or a bad thing. Depending on the intonation, you’ll know if they are recognizing your efforts or just telling you it’s too late.
Todos los caminos llegan a Roma
More Spanish proverbs in which the literal translation works. Use “all the roads lead to Rome”
It doesn’t matter the path you take, you’ll get the same result.
La práctica hace al maestro
Not so different from its English equivalent “practice makes perfect”.
We often look up to our teachers, they are the highest notch we would like to achieve.
No todo lo que brilla es oro
In life, one thing is true: if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Among Spanish proverbs having the same meaning, this is the most popular one.
The expression is used as a warning for people who love getting themselves carried away by appearances.
A mucha hambre, no hay pan duro / Cuando hay hambre, no hay pan duro
Beggars can’t be choosers is the meaning of this one. You’ll listen to these words many times in life if you complain about the things you get.
It’s a popular saying in the Spanish language along with “a caballo regalado no se le mira los dientes” or “a falta de pan, buenas son las tortas”.
Make sure to be grateful and see that many people are not as lucky as you are.
(El que) or (Quien) mucho abarca, poco aprieta
Proverb meaning “don’t bite off more than you can chew”.
Use it with those who like showing off or those who want to do more than they are capable of.
Haz el bien y no mires a quien
“Do what is right, come what may”. This one is for those who love doing good things for others.
Del dicho al hecho, hay poco trecho
Another one you will love using with those who talk too much but do nothing. In English, it would be “it’s easier said than done”.
Learn to tell when someone is bluffing and if you see the situation fits, do not waste the opportunity to impose the challenge.
En las malas se conoce a los amigos
“A friend in need is a friend indeed”. Never forget about your friends!
Las mentiras tienen las patas cortas / La mentira es un bicho de patas cortas
A funny way to express that lies will be discovered sooner than later.
El mundo es un pañuelo
Make sure to always be decent on the street or in a store because you can find people who know you or the people you work with.
The literal translation doesn’t work here. To make sense in English, use the phrase “what a small world”.
La cara es el espejo del alma
A famous proverb in Spanish meaning your face is very important and needs care. The literal translation is “the face is the mirror of the soul”.
However, we can use “Our face reflects our state of health, our character, and our mood” to better express this phrase.
A veces el remedio es peor que la enfermedad
There are times in which we fight hard to achieve something to just realize that it isn’t worth it when we get it.
So, whenever you decide to go for something in life, be sure it will be fruitful in the future.
Los mirones son de piedra
Don’t you hate it when someone comes to tell you what to do even when you are not asking for help?
Use this expression with no regrets, then.
Hierba mala nunca muere
“The devil looks after his own” is probably the closest meaning for this expression.
La raíz de todos los males es el amor al dinero
We are not saying that money is bad, I mean, it’s pretty useful in our society. However, people who love money usually detach from other humans.
It’s normal if you feel you want to get more money from your time but it’s never healthy to dedicate your life to making money. You need to know when to stop.
Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo
Translating, you get “the devil knows more for being old than for being the devil”.
Parents love this one and they will use it with children as many times as necessary. “There is no substitute for experience”.
Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente
“Long absent, soon forgotten”. It’s kind of sad but true.
Once we separate from someone or something, we start feeling less and less about it. Although this phrase could be seen as tough, there is another one meaning basically the same but in a comforting sense:
“El tiempo todo lo cura” which translates to “time heals all wounds”.
Spanish Proverbs are sometimes a hard pill to swallow
There are many more Spanish proverbs and people love using them. It’s something you need to get with the practice.
Like it was said before in the list, Spanish proverbs are sometimes a little bit hard to swallow. It happens because they are used right at the moment in which the situation occurs and your feelings may not be up to the challenge of facing the truth.
Learn the Spanish proverbs listed here as these occupy a special place in Spanish speakers’ hearts all over Latin America.
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