Spanish Pronto!: Dichos, Refranes, Sayings, Proverbs

Just a few (41) of the many Spanish sayings (five of my own favorites in blue). For some there are one or more good English equivalents; for some I just wish there were.

Next to each Spanish saying is my close, but inelegant, English translation of the Spanish. Although I think it is more enjoyable to work out the meaning of each saying on your own, I have provided rough explanations of each at the bottom of the page. Click on the [v] next to a saying to go to the corresponding explanation.

For how many of these can you think of an equivalent saying in English? This may be harder to do for some of these. For a few it may even be impossible. By learning a new language, after all, you are also beginning to learn a new culture, and a new point of view.

For more Spanish information and resources, see the Spanish Pronto! main page.


A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando. [v]Praying to God and hitting with the hammer.
A juventud ociosa, vejez trabajosa. [v]To leisurely youth, laborious old age.
A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda. [v]Who rises early, God helps.
Acabándose el dinero, se termina la amistad. [v]The money running out, the friendship ends.
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente. [v]Shrimp that sleeps, the current carries it away.
Como el apóstol 13, come y desaparece. [v]Like the apostle 13, eats and leaves.
Con virtud y bondad se adquiere autoridad. [v]With virtue and goodness authority is acquired.
De dinero y bondad, siempre la mitad. [v]Of money and goodness, always half.
De tal palo, tal astilla. [v]From such a stick, such a splinter.
Del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho. [v]From the word to the deed, there is a great distance.
Despacio voy, porque de prisa estoy. [v]Slowly I go because I am in a hurry.
Donde hay gana, hay maña. [v]Where there is the desire there is the ability.
El que nace pa' tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas. [v]He who is born for tamal, from the sky the leaves fall on him.
El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo. [v]The Devil knows more because he is old than because he is the Devil.
El mal escribano le echa la culpa a la pluma. [v]The poor writer places the blame on the pen.
El que da primero, da dos veces. [v]He who strikes first strikes twice.
El que mucho habla, mucho yerra. [v]Who much speaks, much errs.
El que por su gusto corre, nunca se cansa. [v]Who for his pleasure runs, never tires.
El que quiere baile, que pague músico. [v]Who wants dance, should pay musician.
El que quita la ocasión, evita el ladrón. [v]Who takes away the opportunity avoids the robber.
En boca del mentiroso, lo cierto se hace dudoso. [v]In the mouth of a liar, what is certain becomes doubtful.
Gato escaldado del agua fría huye. [v]A scalded cat from cold water runs.
Hazme las cuentas claras, y el chocolate espeso. [v]Make for me the accounts clear and the chocolate thick.
Honra y dinero se ganan despacio y se pierden ligero. [v]Reputation and money are earned slowly and lost quickly.
La mejor palabra es la que no se dice. [v]The best word is the one that is not said.
La palabra es plata, el silencio oro. [v]The word is silver, silence gold.
Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde. [v]What well is learned never is lost.
Más vale poco y bueno que mucho y malo. [v]It is worth more little and good than much and bad.
Mejor solo que mal acompañado. [v]Better alone than poorly accompanied.
Nadie es profeta en su propia tierra. [v]No one is a prophet in his own land.
No es más rico el que más tiene, sino el que menos necesita. [v]He is not richer who the most has, but who the least needs.
No hay atajo sin trabajo. [v]There is no shortcut without work.
No hay curva mala pasándola despacio. [v]There is no bad curve, passing it slowly.
No tengas como vano el consejo del anciano. [v]Do not consider useless the advice of an old person.
Perro que no camina, no encuentra hueso. [v]Dog who doesn't walk, doesn't find a bone.
Poco a poco se anda lejos. [v]Little by little one goes far.
Por el árbol se conoce el fruto. [v]By the tree the fruit is known.
Querer es poder. [v]To want to is to be able to.
Quien con el lobo se junta a aullar aprende. [v]Who with the wolf associates, to howl learns.
Si quieres el perro, acepta las pulgas. [v]If you want the dog, accept the fleas.
Una buena acción es la mejor oración. [v]A good deed is the best prayer.

A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando.
Praying to God and hitting with the hammer. Covering all the bases. Doing everything necessary to ensure success. Or, as Baltasar Gracián quotes St. Ingnatius of Loyola, one should "Use human means as though divine ones didn't exist, and divine means as though human ones didn't exist."[^]
A juventud ociosa, vejez trabajosa.
To leisurely youth, laborious old age. If you are lazy now, you will have to work harder later.[^]
A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.
Who rises early, God helps. God helps those who get started early.[^]
Acabándose el dinero, se termina la amistad.
The money running out, the friendship ends. Describes those who are your "friends" only as long as you have money.[^]
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.
Shrimp that sleeps, the current carries it away. If you don't stay alert to and act on opportunities, you will miss them.[^]
Como el apóstol 13, come y desaparece.
Like the apostle 13, eats and leaves. Describes guests who come only for the food, or people who stay only for the part of the event that benefits them.[^]
Con virtud y bondad se adquiere autoridad.
With virtue and goodness authority is acquired. People will be more likely to do what you say if they perceive you as being virtuous and kind.[^]
De dinero y bondad, siempre la mitad.
Of money and goodness, always half. In matters of money and goodness, the truth is always half of what is claimed. There are similar sayings regarding claims of quality.[^]
De tal palo, tal astilla.
From such a stick, such a splinter. The way a child behaves is a reflection of the way his or her parents behave.[^]
Del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho.
From the word to the deed, there is a great distance. It is one thing to say something will be done, and quite a different thing to get it done.[^]
Despacio voy, porque de prisa estoy.
Slowly I go because I am in a hurry. Proceeding methodically often gets faster results than rushing.[^]
Donde hay gana, hay maña.
Where there is the desire there is the ability. If you really want to do something, you can find a way to do it.[^]
El que nace pa' tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas.
He who is born for tamal, from the sky the leaves fall on him. My best guess at this one: For what you are born to do, your path will fall into place in front of you.[^]
El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo.
The Devil knows more because he is old than because he is the Devil. Wisdom and knowledge increase with increasing age. (i.e., The Devil owes his knowledge more to his age than to any supernatural powers.)[^]
El mal escribano le echa la culpa a la pluma.
The poor writer places the blame on the pen. People naturally blame their problems on something or someone else, rather than accept any responsibility themselves.[^]
El que da primero, da dos veces.
He who strikes first strikes twice. Whoever is first has an advantage over all who come after.[^]
El que mucho habla, mucho yerra.
Who much speaks, much errs. The more you talk, the more you will make mistakes.[^]
El que por su gusto corre, nunca se cansa.
Who for his pleasure runs, never tires. When you do something for pleasure, it is not tiring.[^]
El que quiere baile, que pague músico.
Who wants dance, should pay musician. The one who wants something done should be the one who takes the responsibility for making it happen.[^]
El que quita la ocasión, evita el ladrón.
Who takes away the opportunity, avoids the robber. If you take precautions, you will avoid problems.[^]
En boca del mentiroso, lo cierto se hace dudoso.
In the mouth of a liar, what is certain becomes doubtful. Once someone has been caught lying, it is hard to believe anything else that person says.[^]
Gato escaldado del agua fría huye.
A scalded cat from cold water runs. People often draw overly broad lessons from their experiences. (i.e., The cat should have learned only to avoid hot water.)[^]
Hazme las cuentas claras, y el chocolate espeso.
Make for me the accounts clear and the chocolate thick. Whatever else might be confusing, the books had better be straightforward. A similar saying is "Las cuentas claras hacen buenos amigos." (Clear accounting makes good friends.)[^]
Honra y dinero se ganan despacio y se pierden ligero.
Reputation and money are earned slowly and lost quickly. Reputation and money are hard earn and easy to lose.[^]
La mejor palabra es la que no se dice.
The best word is the one that is not said. Sometimes, refraining from speaking is better than anything you could say.[^]
La palabra es plata, el silencio oro.
The word is silver, silence gold. Silence is more valuable than words.[^]
Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde.
What well is learned never is lost. If you learn something well, you will never forget it.[^]
Más vale poco y bueno que mucho y malo.
It is worth more little and good than much and bad. More is not always better. It is better to have less and happiness than more and misery.[^]
Mejor solo que mal acompañado.
Better alone than poorly accompanied. It is better to be alone than to be with the wrong person.[^]
Nadie es profeta en su propia tierra.
No one is a prophet in his own land. People place a higher value on exotic things and exotic people than on familiar ones. To quote Baltasar Gracián again: "Everything foreign is held in esteem, whether it came from afar, or because people see it only after it is well formed and has reached perfection. Some people were scorned in their own little corner but achieved worldly eminence. They are honored by their own people because they look at them from a distance and by foreigners because they came from afar."[^]
No es más rico el que más tiene, sino el que menos necesita.
He is not richer who the most has, but who the least needs. Someone who is satisfied with a small amount is richer than someone who is always craving more.[^]
No hay atajo sin trabajo.
There is no shortcut without work. It takes work to avoid doing work.[^]
No hay curva mala pasándola despacio.
There is no bad curve, passing it slowly. You can avoid mishaps by proceeding with caution.[^]
No tengas como vano el consejo del anciano.
Do not consider useless the advice of an old person. Do not ignore the advice of someone who speaks from experience.[^]
Perro que no camina, no encuentra hueso.
Dog who doesn't walk, doesn't find a bone. If you want something, you need to make efforts to get it.[^]
Poco a poco se anda lejos.
Little by little one goes far. Frequent, small steps can accomplish the same result as (or better results than) a one-time Herculean effort.[^]
Por el árbol se conoce el fruto.
By the tree the fruit is known. Children are very much like their parents.[^]
Querer es poder.
To want to is to be able to. If you really want to do something, you will be able to do it.[^]
Quien con el lobo se junta a aullar aprende.
Who with the wolf associates, to howl learns. A person can be judged by the company he or she keeps (i.e., by the people he or she hangs out with).[^]
Si quieres el perro, acepta las pulgas.
If you want the dog, accept the fleas. If you wanted something, don't complain about it once you get it.[^]
Una buena acción es la mejor oración.
A good deed is the best prayer. One's faith is best expressed by one's actions.[^]

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Revised -- 2009-09-07