Similar expressions and idioms in English and Spanish

Have you ever seen a literal translation into English of a Spanish expression? If you have, you were probably puzzled, wondering about the meaning and maybe why Spanish people are so crazy. If you haven’t, I recommend that you run a quick search on the Internet (or Buzzfeed), where you will find a lot of these funny expressions translated into English. Believe me, they are more than weird!

One example you might find is the company Superbritánico, which produces merch using literal translations of funny Spanish expressions, coming up with things like this (yes, this is a common Spanish expression, meaning “I don’t care at all.”):

En Superbritánico traducen expresiones del español al inglés con resultados muy graciosos.

But, have you ever wondered if there actually are expressions that are almost identical both in English and Spanish? Well, there are quite a few.

Expressions are related to the cultures and living conditions of the people that speak a certain language. Same as with myths and legend, some expressions are common to several languages.  Sometimes, it’s even possible to translate them literally. If we bear in mind the fact that languages have common ancestors and the contact between different cultures through history, then it’s not so strange. Spanish and English, having been related and influenced by each other, share some of their expressions and proverbs, and many others are too similar not to notice.

Being able to use expressions, idioms and even some slang naturally will make you sound fluent in the language you’re speaking. That’s why they play an important role in the learning of a foreign language. How many lists of idioms and expressions did I go through over and over again while learning new languages?  Sure, it’s a bit boring, so why not avoid wasting time by using those expressions we are already familiar with in English when we’re speaking Spanish? People will think we’re pros.

In this post, we will look at some expressions that you will find are very similar in both English and Spanish, so you will be able to use them without being afraid of making silly mistakes or sounding a bit crazy (unless you care a pepper, to quote a popular expression in Spanish; it looks like we have a lot of expressions to say that we don’t care at all :D).

  • Más vale tarde que nunca.

Better late than never. It may look like a literal translation, but this expression is actually quite frequent in Spanish. Quite straight forward, this one 😉

  • Una imagen vale más que mil palabras.

It seems that in Spanish, a picture = 1,000 words wasn’t strong enough. So, an image is worth “más que” (more than).

  • Matar dos pájaros de un tiro.

In English, we kill the two birds with stones, in Spanish, with guns (tiro=shot)

  • Hay más peces en el mar.

You have more options, so don’t give up, there are plenty more fish in the sea (or other fish in the sea)!

  • Pasarse de la raya.

If someone says “te estás pasando de la raya” (don’t forget our beloved conjugations!), you better be careful, you are crossing the line and someone may not be too fond of you right now. On the other hand, it’s a very useful expression to use when someone is making you upset or uncomfortable.


If you are familiar with British slang, you may know the expression “to be skint”, meaning having no money, or “being broke”. You may find this one useful when your friends are insisting on going to an expensive restaurant and you haven’t been paid yet. The good news is you can also use the very same expression in Spanish: “Estoy pelado/a” (again, don’t forget about gender when speaking Spanish!).

I’ll leave it here for today because I roll more than a blind (if you know what I mean :D).


More information:

Cambridge dictionary

The Free Dictionary

Refranero multilingüe del Centro Virtual Cervantes

About Xerezade Ansedes López

Graduate Degree in Translation and Interpreting from Universidade de Vigo, Spain. Degree in English Language and German from Bangor University, UK. English teacher and translator and proofreader in the German and English to Spanish combinations. Published author.

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