Spanish Proverbs: Learn the Spanish Culture & Mentality, Not Only the Language!

Spanish proverbs

Learning some Spanish proverbs is a great idea if you want to understand the culture of Spain and many other Spanish Speaking countries.

By studying them, you will quickly learn many Spanish words used in idioms and some Spanish grammar too.

The English translation for “A caballo regalado no le mires el diente” (pictures on the left) is “Don’t look the tooth of a gift horse”, while the English equivalent is pretty similar: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”

Proverbs will help you  to be more expressive when speaking Spanish! For example you can say:

No vendas la piel del oso antes de cazarlo.

Don’t sell the bear’s fur before you hunt it.

or, more prosaically:

“Calma, calma!”

when somebody seems too enthusiastic for something.

Proverbs are very important for the Spanish learner, because Spanish spealers like the a lot and use them commonly.

Yerba mala nunca muere.  –  bad weeds never die.

You will find verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs. Proverbs also will allow you to learn the Spanish verb tenses are used too, and many other aspect of grammar.

But take a look with me at some useful grammar learning with proverbs. Proverbs are, in fact, folk wisdom at your service! With proverbs you have a “learn one, get three” chance in your Spanish learning endeavor:

  • Learn Words
  • Study Spanish Grammar
  • Discover Spanish Culture

In this post we present some Spanish proverbs that will help you to learn the grammar together with the Spanish culture.

Spanish Culture and Proverbs – Cultural diversity with English

Spanish proverbsThe understanding of cultural diversity is crucial in language learning.

Spanish Proverb on the left

 

Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.

 

English Equivalent: A man is known by the company he keeps.

This is especially true when an English speaker begins to study a neolatin language like Spanish.

When teaching we have studied the cultural differences between English, Spanish, German and Italian proverbs.

Thus we discovered that sometimes the same meaning is expressed in different languages with different proverbs and expressions that reflect the environment, traditions and beliefs of different peoples.

So you will find three different types of Spanish proverbs

a) Proverbs very similar or equal to English proverbs. In this case you can literally translate the saying from Spanish to English and viceversa:

b) Spanish proverbs with a slight different wording than their English counterpart:

“Out of sight out of mind.”

becomes in Spanish:

“Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.”

This proverbs is quite similar to the corresponding English proverb, but its literal translation is:

“Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel.”

As you can see, in this proverb the concepts are the same, to see and to feel, but for Latins the corazon substitutes the mind…

Most likely this happens because Latin people are “gente caliente” (warm people), so what matters is the heart, not the mind!

“Manos besa el hombre, que querria ver cortadas.”

English equivalent: Many kiss the hand they wish cut off.

c) Proverbs with the same meaning as the equivalent English proverbs but with a total different wording:

Mas vale algo que nada

  • Translation: Something is worth more than nothing.
  • English equivalent: Better a lean jade than an empty halter.

d) Proverbs without no English equivalent:

“En boca cerrada no entran moscas.”

Translation: Flies don’t enter a closed mouth.
Meaning: Sometimes, it’s best to keep your mouth shut

“Veneno que no mata, engorda.” (Peru)

  • Translation: What does not kill, fattens.
  • Meaning:What doesn’t kill me, strengthens me.

“A mal tiempo, buena cara.”

  • Translation: In bad times,show a good face.
  • Meaning:Face obstacle with your head held high.

Click Here to find more Spanish proverbs with no English equivalent

Video: 10 proverbios en Español – 10 Typical Spanish Proverbs

Some Spanish Pronouns in Spanish Proverbs

One of the most common pronoun used in Spanish proverbs is the interrogative pronoun Quien” (who). Here some example:

‘”Quien mala cama hace, En ella se hace.”

This Spanish proverb has almost its almost exact equivalent in English:

 “As you make your bed, so you must lie.”

However the literary translation should be:

“He who makes a bad bed, lies in it.”

And the meaning is pretty obvious: 

“You must put up with the unpleasant results of a foolish action or decision.”

Another pronoun often used in proverbs is “lo” that means “him”

Al que madruga, dios lo ayuda
God helps the one who gets up early

And here’s the equivalent proverb in English:

The early bird catches the worm.

The verb “madrugar” means to wake up early.

Spanish Verb “Hay” & Spanish Proverbs

The verb form “hay” occurs often in Spanish proverbs in its negative construction“no hay”, meaning “there’s not, there are not”.

No hay cerrudura, si es de oro la ganzua.

Translation: A golden key opens any gate but that of heaven.

No hay tal razón como la del bastón.

The wolf finds a reason for taking the lamb.

Translation: There is no such reason as the cane.

No hay mal que por bien no venga.

  • English Proverb: Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Translation: There is not bad from which good doesn’t come.

No hay regla sin excepción.

  • English Proverb: No rule without an exception.
  • Translation: There exists no rule without exceptions.

No hay que jugar con le salud.

  • English Proverb: Don’t burn the candles at both ends.  
  • Translation: Don’t play with health!

No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.

  • English Proverb: “None so blind as those who will not see.”, or “None so deaf as those who will not hear.”
  • Translation: There are no worst blind people than one who doesn’t want to see.

No hay peor burla, Que la verdadera.

  • English Proverb: Many a true words are spoken in jest.
  • Translation: There is no worse mockery, than the truth.

No hay que dejar lo segur por lo dudoso.

  • English Proverb: He that leaves certainty and sticks to chance.
  • Translation: You shouldn’t leave the secure for something doubtful.

Donde hay humo, hay calor. 

  • English Proverb: Where there’s smoke, there’s heat.
  • Translation: Where there’s smoke there’s fire.

20 Idioms In Spanish And Their Meanings – Video

Other Spanish Verb In Spanish Proverbs

Jugar con fuego es peligroso.

  • English equivalent: Do not play with edged tools.
  • Translation: Playing with fire is dangerous.

Mirar antes de saltar.

  • Translation: Look before you leap.
  • Meaning:The man who thinks before he acts, is most likely to act with discretion, and have no future cause to repent of his conduct; but he who acts blindly, without any foresight, will probably suffer for his rashness.”

El mundo es un pañuelo. 

  • English equivalent: It’s a small world.
  • Translation: The world is a handkerchief.

Spanish Verb “Hacer” (To Make) & Spanish Proverbs

The verb “hacer”:

La unión hace la fuerza.

  • English equivalent: United we stand, divided we fall;
  • Translation: Union is strength.

El hábito no hace al monje. 

  • English equivalent: Clothes do not make the man.
  • Translation: The habit doesn’t make the monk.

Antes de hacer nada, consúltalo con la almohada.

  • English equivalent: It’s better to sleep on it.
    Translation: Before doing anything, check it with the pillow.

Conjunctions & Spanish Proverbs

One of the most used conjunctions in Spanish proverbs is “cuando” (when)…

Cuando barato el Diablo vende, él bien se entiende

  • English equivalent: All that gillters is not gold.
  • Translation: When the Devil sells cheap, he is well understood
  • Meaning: When the Devil sells on the cheap, he knows it; i.e.: what is a bargain now often costs dearly later…

Cuando el gato duerme, bailan los ratones

  • English equivalent: When the cat’s away the mice will play.
  • Translation: When the cat is asleep, the mice dance

Cuando el gato va a sus devociones, bailan los ratones

  • English equivalent:  When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
  • Translation: When the cat goes off to prayer, the mice dance.

Cuando el río suena, agua lleva

  • English equivalent:  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
  • Translation: When the river makes noise, it brings water.

Cuando el río suena, piedras trae

  • English equivalent:  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
  • Translation: When the river makes noise, it brings stones.

Cuando hay hambre no hay pan duro

  • English equivalent: Beggars can’t be choosers.
  • Translation: When hungry there’s no hard bread.

Cuando las barbas de tu vecino veas arder, pon las tuyas a remojar.

  • Translation: When your neighbor’s beards are on fire, put yours to soak.
  • Meaning: You should learn from other people’s mistakes.

Cuando menos se piensa, salta la liebre.

  • Translation: When it is least expected, the hare jumps out
  • Meaning: Things often hapen when you least expect.

Cuánto tienes, cuánto vales.

  • English equivalent: You are worth what you have.
  • Translation: How much you have, how much you are valued.
  • Meaning: Money is what matters. (Mexican saying)

Dios tarda, pero no olvida.

Translation: God is slow, but he does not forget.
English equivalent: Punishment is lame but it comes.

Mexican Sayings – the Video

 

More Resources for Proverb Learning

12 Thought-provoking Spanish Proverbs for Language Learners

37 Popular Spanish Idioms & Proverbs

Zador Spain – Spanish Proverbs

Click here to visit the Wikipedia page dedicated to Spanish proverbs.

Click here for a Spanish proverbs dictionary

 

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