If you’re preparing to move to or even simply to visit Spain in the near future, we highly recommend that you brush up on your Spanish skills (if you have past experience) or at least learn a few key expressions. For the basics for a short trip, check out our articles on Spanish for traveling, Spanish for restaurants, Spanish for directions, and Spanish for shopping at a supermarket.
Keep in mind, however, the Spanish you may have learned in a traditional classroom isn’t always the same as what you’ll hear walking the streets of Spain (or any other Spanish-speaking country). Everyday conversation is full of slang and jargon you may not be so familiar with, which is exactly why we want to equip you with knowledge of some of the most common expressions in Spain!
This ‘The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Expressions’ highlights the expressions that we have found, until this point, to be the most prominent and interesting. We will just share an overview with you here but click through to read more about any one of these expressions you find most interesting—we have posts of each of them!
1.) No Pasa Nada
No list of Spanish expressions would be complete without the one and only no pasa nada! The quickest way to explain this one is to equate it to the also-emblematic “hakuna matata” or “no worries” motto of The Lion King. Of course, there’s a bit more to it so be sure to read the article on this expression or check out our video about no pasa nada on YouTube.
One thing to be aware of is that no pasa nada is more than simply an expression, it’s really a way of life here in Spain. When we first arrived in Spain we thought there could be no wrong in living life from a no pasa nada approach, but with time different scenarios have come up that have tested our patience with the way of life. Read more about how Dani has come to terms with no pasa nada.
Another essential on your list of Spanish expressions is vale. Regardless of what the first thing you say or ask is in Spain, the response is bound to have at least one vale in it! That’s because this simple word is used all the time in Spain and it just means “okay.” What to know more about where the word vale comes from and how it is used in Spain? Check out the follow-up video on vale and how you can incorporate this term in everyday interactions.
3.) Buen Provecho
Commonly used when being served food or eating in a family, this expression might not be as simple as first appears and you might hear different forms of the expression. However, eating and sharing food is one of Spanish people’s most important past-times and, therefore, we suggest really trying to understand the expression and use it in everyday life. Our post on this will give you more insight into the variations you might see and what you will want to know when using the different expressions.
4.) No Hay de Qué
A surprisingly simple expression, no hay de qué can feel confusing when you first hear it. Essentially, it means, don’t worry or you’re welcome (depending on the context). It is a very common expression to hear in bars or less formal situations and, once you get used to it, you will probably hear it in many different places. However, it took us a good long while to wrap our heads around hearing this in different settings too which is why we thought to share it with you.
These two expressions are very similar for non-native speakers, but trust us when we say you don’t want to mix them up! “Echar un polvo” refers means to have sex with someone whereas “estar hecho polvo” means that you are tired! Every language has its things that are difficult for foreigners at first but this is one that you probably want to try and remember. Of course, we understand how it can be easy to confuse the two which is why our post dives into more details and examples.
It’s useful to know the hola and adiós salutations you may have learned in class (or just picked up over the years) but it’s actually much more common to close a conversation with hasta luego here in Spain. Of course, hasta luego is not the only way you can complete this expression and there are many different ways you may want to end an exchange depending on the context. Hasta pronto, hasta entonces, and hasta ahora are three of the main ones. Check out the details on when and how to use each in this article.
7.) Me Cago en…
Although it is a relatively common expression, if you’ve ever heard “me cago en…[insert object/person/place/idea here]” you might be confused at what it means. In Spanish, the word “cagar” means “to poop” and this expression is a good example of when you shouldn’t use the direct translation of something. At the same time, this is quite a harsh expression in our opinion, so you shouldn’t use it without knowing what it really means, so we recommend checking out the full post for examples.
8.) (Me) Da Igual
If you are making plans with an agreeable Spaniard, 9 times out of 10 their response to a “this or that?”-style questions will be me da igual. Literally translated to “it gives me the same” you can think of this expression as a catch-all for “whatever” or “it doesn’t matter.” The connotation of this expression is not generally negative although, if said with attitude, could be interpreted as catty. In general, you can use me da igual whenever you want to leave the decision up to someone else as well as da igual to mean “whatever” or “forget about it” when you want to move onto more important topics.
A rough translation of this expression is “the world is a handkerchief” and we definitely agree. While it is an expression that is used by older generations, we still find that it is appreciated if you know and can use it in context. In addition, when you start making connections among your Spanish speaking connections, you will have reason to express el mundo es un pañuelo.
Spaniards use the word guiri to refer to anyone from a different country. Depending on your physical appearance they may peg you as a guiri immediately (if you have blond hair and blue eyes, for example, or alternatively if you are walking around with an expensive camera and taking pictures of everything) or this may be something they realize once they hear your accent in Spanish, but it’s generally impossible to avoid being called a guiri, regardless of how long you live here. We do not believe you need to immediately take offense if you hear someone call you a guiri! While this (like many words) can be used derogatorily, it is not inherently negative and some of our best friends here call us guiri quite lovingly.
11.) Poco a Poco
This expression is such a lovely one that we use, even in our everyday English lives. Translated directly to “little by little,” it refers not only to how things can be done but shows a really nice approach to life that we think can be extra appreciated during stressful projects or uncertain times. We highly recommend not only getting comfortable using poco a poco but also using it in how you live your life!
12.) ¿Qué tal…?
A question that is often asked between acquaintances and best friends alike ¿qué tal? is a common expression you will hear often while abroad in Spain. Generally speaking, it means “how is…” but can refer to many different things or situations. In the article we dive into ways to use this expression and examples you might see in real life situations.
Tirar la casa por la ventana, when translated literally, means “throw the house out of the window.” However, in Spain it is used to mean “spend a lot of money on something.” It has an interesting history and we highly recommend reading the original post and hearing David from Your Spanish Guide speak about this expression in the interview we did with him on common Spanish expressions.
14.) Menos mal
When it is used in context, menos mal expresses satisfaction that something happened a certain way (or relief that it didn’t happen in a way that the speaker didn’t want). Spanish speakers use it frequently to show that something could have been worse in a situation where they are afraid something was going to happen or when discussing something that almost happened. In all cases, menos mal shows that the situation was more positive than initially expected or could have been.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short list of Spanish expressions and we are planning on bringing you more in the not so distant future. And if there are any expressions that you really want to understand, let us know and we can try to make them our future posts.
P.S. If you are interested in more Spanish expressions, be sure to check out this video where Anthony Banderas explains in a quirky way what several Spanish expressions mean. We find it hilarious because, at the end of the day, we use some of them on a daily basis in Spain and yet they sound so funny in English and make no sense if you translate them literally. We think this highlights an important lesson for all language-learners who may try to use direct translations and fall short of communicating what they mean in a different language and cultural context. And, lessons aside, it’s just a good laugh, so if you’ve ever wondered what the expressions eres un encogío, que chulo, ser mono, me cago en la leche, ser la leche, me importa un pimiento, estoy flipando en colores, mala pata, el puto amo, esmallao, voy a mi bola, or estás alobao mean (or if you know, but just need a good laugh about how Antonio Bandera explains them), check it out!