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The Top 30 Essential Spanish Proverbs

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Proverbs are an essential part of popular and oral culture. Often transmitted to children by the elder generations, they are language’s time capsules that carry a lot of history—and unique cultural perspective—with them.

Because proverbs from around the world have very different origins and have evolved from their original meanings over time, they can be difficult to understand without context or a good guide in hand.

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered! SpanishPod101 brings you the top thirty Spanish proverbs and sayings that will help you speak like a local (or at least understand why Spaniards say that the world is a handkerchief). 

Ready? Then let’s get started.

A Little Girl Hugging Her Mother from Behind

From that stick, that chip or like mother, like daughter!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Spanish Table of Contents
  1. Proverbs About Relationships
  2. Proverbs About Opportunity
  3. Proverbs About Personality
  4. Proverbs About Social Situations
  5. Proverbs About Life Situations
  6. Proverbs About Actions and Consequences
  7. Life Mottos
  8. Final Thoughts

1. Proverbs About Relationships

Wherever you live in the world, relationships are an essential part of everyday life. Here are some Spanish proverbs about family, friendship, and love to give you some cultural perspective!

#1

SpanishDe tal palo, tal astilla.
Literally“From such a stick, such a chip.”
EquivalentLike father, like son. / The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
This common Spanish proverb refers to the genetic characteristics or personality traits that sons and daughters inherit from their parents.

Ana tiene los mismos ojos que su madre. De tal palo, tal astilla.
“Ana has the same eyes as her mother. From that stick, that chip.”


#2

SpanishDime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.
Literally“Tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
EquivalentA man is known by the company he keeps.
This saying suggests that you can tell someone’s personality by their friends or company.

Usually, this phrase is used with a pejorative tone. It advises others to be mindful of the personal image they project when going around with “bad influences.”

#3

SpanishUn clavo saca otro clavo.
Literally“One nail drives out another.”
This Spanish proverb means that a new love interest helps one forget a heartbreak. It metaphorically refers to the pain of a romantic breakup as something that’s nailed onto you. 

The fun twist here is that the expression “echar un clavo” means “to have sex,” similar to the English “to screw someone.” So “Un clavo saca otro clavo” suggests that having sex with someone new can help you forget your ex.

#4

SpanishDios los cría y ellos se juntan.
Literally“God creates them and they get together.”
EquivalentBirds of a feather flock together.
Similar to “Dime con quien andas, y te diré quién eres,” this Spanish proverb has to do with the common traits of people who spend time together.

It means that we tend to get together with people who resemble us in personality or interests.

#5

SpanishOjos que no ven, corazón que no siente.
Literally“Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel.”
EquivalentIf you don’t see it, you can’t feel it.
This popular Spanish proverb means that people don’t suffer for what they don’t know.

Nowadays, this saying refers to all types of situations, from politics to work. But it’s most commonly used in reference to romantic relationships in which one of the partners is cheating on the other without them knowing about it.


Two Birds Perched on a Branch

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

2. Proverbs About Opportunity

Opportunity: One of those things we all encounter, but far too often don’t recognize until it’s too late. Following are some common proverbs in Spanish that speak on opportunity and how to make the most of it! 

#6

SpanishMás vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.
Literally“A bird in the hand is more worthy than a hundred flying.”
EquivalentA bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
This Spanish proverb is nearly identical to its English equivalent, and it means that it’s better to make sure you keep what you have instead of taking risks that could make you lose everything.

It’s often used in money- or work-related situations as advice to ambitious people who are thinking of gambling or taking a big risk.

#7

SpanishA caballo regalado, no le mires el diente.
Literally“Don’t check the teeth of a gift horse.”
EquivalentNever look a gift horse in the mouth.
These wise words remind us not to be picky about something we’ve received for free or as a gift, and to be grateful even if you don’t like it a lot.

A: El coche que me ha dado la abuela no corre demasiado.
B: A caballo regalado, no le mires el diente.

A: “The car grandma gave me doesn’t go very fast.”
B: “Don’t check the teeth of a gifted horse.”

#8

SpanishA falta de pan, buenas son tortas.
Literally“In the absence of bread, cakes are good.”
EquivalentHalf a loaf is better than none.
This Spanish proverb emphasizes the importance of being flexible when things don’t go our way and valuing what we do have. 

Its English equivalent is “Half a loaf is better than none,” but it has a more pessimistic point of view. The Spanish expression is not about settling for less, but rather about settling for something different than what was expected.

    → As you can see, the Spanish value those who are grateful. Learn how to say “Thank You!” on SpanishPod101.com.

3. Proverbs About Personality

What do the Spanish have to say about personality and character traits? Here’s just a small sample…

#9

SpanishPerro ladrador, poco mordedor.
Literally“A barking dog, not much of a biter.”
EquivalentHis bark is worse than his bite.
This is one of the most-used proverbs in the world—we can find it, for instance, in the Spanish, Italian, and English languages. It’s believed to have originated somewhere in Eastern Europe.

It refers to people who can be very threatening with their words but won’t ever act on them.

A Monkey

Even if the monkey wears silk, it’s still a monkey!

#10

SpanishAunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.
Literally“Even if the monkey wears silk, it remains a monkey.”
EquivalentYou can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Funny Spanish proverbs are some of the Spaniard’s actual favorites. This one refers to ugly people who, even if they wear nice and expensive clothes and a lot of makeup, are still ugly.

In a more figurative sense, it talks about people who like to pretend they’re something they’re not.

#11

SpanishEn casa del herrero, cuchillo de palo.
Literally“In the house of the blacksmith, wooden knives.”
EquivalentThe shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot.
This Spanish proverb refers to people who don’t follow the advice they give or don’t lead by example. It can also refer to the paradox of lacking something where it should be abundant.

¿Un médico que fuma? En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo.
“A doctor who smokes? The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot.”

4. Proverbs About Social Situations

What would we be without the people around us? Here are a few humorous Spanish-language proverbs regarding people and social situations. 

#12

SpanishÉramos pocos y parió la abuela.
Literally“We were a few and then the grandmother gave birth.”
EquivalentThat was all we needed.
This funny Spanish proverb is often used as a colloquial way to say that a situation got worse. It can also refer to a social situation in which there were too many people in one place, and many more arrived unexpectedly.

This is a sample of typical Spanish sarcasm, where an expression means the opposite of what it says.

#13

SpanishHablando del rey de Roma, que por la puerta asoma.
Literally“Speaking of the King of Rome, that comes through the door.”
EquivalentSpeak of the Devil and he shall appear.
This Spanish saying is very similar to its English counterpart. It’s used on those occasions when someone who is being talked about appears unexpectedly, especially when that person was being criticized. 

Originally, the expression didn’t say “rey, but “ruin” (meaning “mean” or “despicable”), so the connotation of the proverb was clearly negative.

A Woman Holding a Globe in Her Hands

It’s a small world.

#14

SpanishEl mundo es un pañuelo.
Literally“The world is a handkerchief.”
EquivalentIt’s a small world.
This proverb is commonly used as an expression of surprise when running into someone you know in a place you didn’t expect them to be.

Its reference to the handkerchief, however, has puzzled many linguists over the years. The most plausible theory for the origin of this Spanish saying is that the term “handkerchief” seems to refer to the first world maps, which were printed on fabric and could fit in one’s hand.

#15

SpanishCada loco con su tema.
Literally“Each crazy person with their topic.”
EquivalentTo each their own.
This expression can apply to two different situations. 

The first one is when, in a social gathering, no one is paying attention to the others and everyone is doing their own thing.

Its second meaning refers to the different obsessions that every person has. For example: 

A mi madre le gusta ver el fútbol y a mi padre la telenovela, cada loco con su tema.
“My mum likes watching soccer and my dad the soap opera, to each their own.”

5. Proverbs About Life Situations

The following Spanish proverbs about life situations lend us wisdom regarding the many circumstances we often find ourselves in. 

#16

SpanishTodos los caminos llevan a Roma.
EquivalentAll roads lead to Rome.
We can find this proverb in many languages, as it has been inherited directly from the Latin language. It might sound like an exaggeration, but during the time of the Roman Empire, it made a lot of sense. The Romans built a network of roads that could take a person from any point in the Empire to Rome, the capital.

The contemporary version refers to the different ways in which an objective can be reached.

#17

SpanishNo todo el monte es orégano.
Literally“Not all the hill is oregano.”
EquivalentLife is not a bed of roses.
This expression alludes to the difficulties that are presented to us throughout the course of our lives.

For example, one could say this when they really enjoy the college degree they’re studying, but have to take a very difficult exam: 

Normalmente me parecen fáciles las clases de Medicina, pero no todo el monte es orégano.
“I usually find that Medicine lessons are easy, but life is not a bed of roses.”

#18

SpanishUna golondrina no hace verano.
EquivalentOne swallow does not make a summer.
This expression is found in both English and Spanish, and it warns us that an isolated event is not always an indicator of what is to come. 

There are longer versions of this proverb, as well: 

Una golondrina no hace verano, ni una sola virtud bienaventurado.
“One swallow does not make a summer, nor a single virtue a blessed person.”

Ni un dedo hace una mano, ni una golondrina verano.
“One finger does not make a hand, nor does a swallow make summer.”

Three Walnuts, with One of Them Broken Open

Much noise and few walnuts…

#19

SpanishMucho ruido y pocas nueces.
Literally“Much noise and few walnuts.”
EquivalentMuch ado about nothing.
This phrase is the translation of the title of the famous Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing, written in 1600.

It’s a popular proverb about people who make a fuss about something that really isn’t important. 

6. Proverbs About Actions and Consequences

You may have heard the popular quips, “Actions have consequences,” and “What goes up must come down.” But what do the Spanish have to say on the topic? 

#20

SpanishDar en el clavo.
Equivalent“Hit the nail on the head.”
This Spanish idiom is used when something is spot-on, like when a decision has been proven to be the right one.

El regalo le ha encantado a Manuel, hemos dado en el clavo.
“Manuel loved the present; we hit the nail on the head.”

The Spanish City of Seville

Don’t go to Seville, unless you want to lose your chair!

#21

SpanishQuien va a Sevilla, pierde su silla.
Literally“He who goes to Seville, loses its chair.”
This proverb is used in countless situations, and it refers to losing privileges because of abandoning them temporarily. It’s a favorite proverb among children; they use it to claim an actual chair when the person that was using it gets up for a moment.

This expression refers to an historical event that occurred in 1460. The archbishop of Seville Alonso de Fonseca left to solve a dispute in Galicia and left his nephew in charge, who refused to give up the chair once his uncle came back.

#22

SpanishEl que ríe último, ríe mejor.
EquivalentHe who laughs last laughs best.
This common proverb warns us not to declare victory before the war is over, as life can be full of surprises.

Hoy has ganado la partida, pero quien ríe último ríe mejor.
“Today you’ve won the match, but he who laughs last laughs best.”

#23

SpanishTira la piedra y esconde la mano.
Literally“He throws the stone and hides the hand.”
This Spanish proverb is used to talk about someone who does something and doesn’t take responsibility for his or her actions.

It has a very pejorative connotation, as it’s often used to describe someone as cowardly or malicious.

#24

SpanishCría fama y échate a dormir.
Literally“Raise fame and lie down to sleep.”
EquivalentYour reputation follows you.
This saying means that, once you’ve created a reputation for yourself, it will precede you and be difficult to change. It can be used in both positive and negative situations; for example, everyone may think you’re a good person (positive) or the word on the street could be that you’re tight with money (negative).

Spanish proverbs and their meanings are very indicative of the country’s culture. You can see this in the use of “lie down to sleep.” Oftentimes, people who got somewhere without much effort are depicted as lazy (and lazy in Spain is characterized as someone who loves siesta or naps).

#25

SpanishEl que parte y reparte, se queda la mejor parte.
EquivalentHe who distributes ends up with the best part.
This Spanish proverb refers to the fact that someone who has access to something ends up keeping the best for themselves. It’s often used when talking about money-related corruption.

Someone Hitting Snooze on Their Alarm Clock

The early bird catches the worm.

7. Life Mottos

Many people have mottos, expressions, or mantras they use for daily guidance or wisdom. So let’s conclude our Spanish proverbs list with some popular life mottos! 

#26

SpanishA quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.
Literally“He who wakes up early is helped by God.”
EquivalentThe early bird catches the worm.
This Catholic expression is used to encourage people to wake up early so they can make the most of their day. It’s mainly used in non-religious situations and often by non-religious people.

#27

SpanishEl que no llora, no mama.
Literally“He who doesn’t cry, doesn’t nurse.”
EquivalentThe squeaky wheel gets the grease.
This saying means that when you want something, you have to ask for it. Frequently, it’s used when someone complains too late about not having received something they wanted:

A: ¿No me habéis dejado pizza? ¡Yo también quería!
B: ¡El que no llora, no mama!

A: “You didn’t leave any pizza for me? I wanted a slice!”
B: “He who doesn’t cry, doesn’t nurse!”

#28

SpanishQuerer es poder.
Literally“To want is to be able to.”
EquivalentWhere there is a will, there is a way.
This motto states that if you put in the effort to get something, you’ll get it. It highlights the importance of willpower, determination, and perseverance.

#29

SpanishMás vale prevenir que curar.
Literally“Better anticipate than treat.”
EquivalentBetter safe than sorry.
This wise Spanish proverb is a moral lesson on precaution. It means that it’s better to anticipate a bad situation before it’s too late to solve the problem.

A funny variation is: Más vale sudar que estornudar. (“Better to sweat than to sneeze.”) It’s used by parents who cover their children with warm clothes to prevent them from catching a cold.

#30

SpanishNunca digas de esta agua no beberé.
Literally“Never say ‘I won’t ever drink from that water.’”
EquivalentNever say never.
As much as we hate something, we cannot ever be sure that we won’t do it at some point.

This common Spanish proverb has a humorous longer version that says: 

Nunca digas de esta agua no beberé ni este cura es mi padre.
“Never say ‘I won’t ever drink from that water,’ nor ‘this priest is not my father.’”


8. Final Thoughts

Learning Spanish proverbs will not only prove useful in many life situations, but it will also help you get to know the unique Spanish culture and worldview. Did we miss any topics? Let us know, and be sure to share this guide if you enjoyed it! 

If you’re thinking about starting Spanish lessons, why not begin by checking out SpanishPod101.com? We offer different plans to cater to a variety of learning styles, lessons suited for different levels, and a blog with tons of free resources about the Spanish language and culture.

And, if you still need a little push, watch this video on our YouTube channel to discover some great reasons you should learn Spanish. Good luck with your lessons on SpanishPod101.com, and remember that querer es poder!

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