Spanish sentences are always interesting. But learning where they come from can make them even more interesting! In fact, you’ll even be able to make more sense of them. So I’ve decided to give you 10 typical Spanish sentences and tell you about their origins.
It’s pretty much impossible to look up where words or phrases come from all the time. But today I can help you learn 10 common expressions by looking at their history. And I’m sure by doing this you’ll remember them much easier than if you were to only hear them in context.
So here we go! Let’s dive into some Spanish sentences.
1. Otro gallo cantaría - Things would be different
This is quite a popular phrase for grandmothers to let us know that things in life could be different. This expression got its saying in a story when a rooster sang after something bad happened. The saying comes from the idea that if it hadn't happened, then otro gallo cantaría (another rooster would sing).
- This one is very common to hear. When you come back from school with a bad test score, and if your mother was Spanish, you probably would have heard something like this:
- Eso es porque no estudias nada, si estudiaras más en vez de estar en la calle con tus amigos otro gallo cantaría.
- This is because you do not study at all, if you would study more instead of staying out on the streets with your friends, then things would be different.
Marks? Rooster? Is it only me who thinks that the English version is more direct?
2. Estar en Babia - To be distracted
Or, in other words, to have your head in the clouds. We use this phrase when someone looks distracted.
Babia is actually a Spanish village in León that the kings used to go to in the old times in order to relax and forget about their busy duties. That is why we still use Babia to mean something recreational where we do not pay that much attention to something.
- Imagine a friend is telling you a story that you do not really care about, or even if you do care but it is too early in the morning to be bothered. If he realizes that you are not listening, he will probably get your attention by shouting this at you:
- ¿Me estás escuchando? Porque parece que estás en Babia.
- Are you listening to me? Because you look distracted.
You can also be the person who realize you're in Babia and apologize for it, like this:
- lo siento, ¿puedes repetirlo? Estaba en Babia y no te he escuchado.
- I am sorry, can you repeat it? I was distracted and I did not listen.
3. No hay tu tía - Nothing to do
We use this when something is not going to happen. Long ago they used atía (a zinc mineral) as a remedy for everything. So, when something was lost, people would say no hay tu tía because their wasn’t a mineral to heal it.
- If a couple is getting divorced, they need to reach an agreement. Both lawyers may be trying but it seems to be impossible to suit both sides. This will be the perfect situation to say:
- María y José se están separando y aunque los abogados les han recomendado llegar a un acuerdo, ¡no hay tu tía!
- María and José are getting divorced and despite the lawyers recommending them to make a deal, there is nothing to do!
4. Montar un pollo - To make a scene
This phrase comes from the word poyo, which is a kind of podium that's used to be located in the main square of cities. People who wanted to claim something went to the poyo and made a scene.
- If your friend is angry because you are late and they are overreacting and shouting, you can complain:
- Relájate, te está mirando todo el mundo, no montes el pollo, son solo 10 minutos tarde.
- Calm down, everyone is looking at you, do not make a scene, I am only 10 minutes late.
5. Sánseacabo - That's the end of it
We use this to put an end to a conversation. The origin is a little confusing, but most people believe it can be traced to a Spanish saint that used to put an end to conflicts.
- If you do not want to go out but your friend is being quite insistent, you can bring the discussion to an end by saying:
- Te he dicho que no voy a salir, tengo muchas cosas que hace y Sánseacabo.
- I've told you that I'm not going out, I have too much to do and that is the end of it.
6. Dorar la píldora - To sweeten / sugar the pill
In the past (well… they often do nowadays too!) medicine used to taste bad. So sometimes doctors would cover them in sugar to make them more appealing. Today we use this phrase to mean that we want to make something more pleasant.
- If a friend asks you if you like his horrendous new outfit, one of your friends might start with a soft “well, it is not something I would wear, the colour is nice…”. If you are more straight-forward, you might say:
- No le dores la píldora, ¡es horrible!
- Do not sweeten the pill, it is horrible!
7. La ocasión la pintan calva - Seize opportunity by the forelock
This comes from a famous painting of the Greek God Caerus, who represented opportunity and luck. He only had one lock of beautiful hair on his head - and the rest was bald. So the phrase means that even if the situation is harsh, if you tackle it head on, you might be able to deal with it.
When should you use it? When a situation is difficult but you still have a chance to beat it if you face it, so do not hesitate: just go for it!
- If you have been invited to a super cool event where you might have the chance to meet someone who could help with your future career but you're hesitating to go, one of your Spanish friends might say:
- Quieres conocer al jefe de esa empresa, el cual estará en ese evento, ¿y todavía te preguntas si ir? La ocasión la pintan calva.
- You want to meet the boss of that company, who will be at that event, and you are still asking if you should go? Seize opportunity by the forelock!
8. Ponerse las botas - To fill your boots
In Spain, this phrase is normally linked with food, especially when you eat so much you do not have any space left in your stomach. However, we can also use it in general when someone has had more than enough of something to satisfy themselves.
In the past, leather boots were linked with the rich as not everyone could afford to buy them. The same goes for excess food - and pretty much anything else.
- If you and your friend go to a dinner and are sharing a starter but your friend is eating much faster than you, you could say:
- ¡Deja algo para mí! Te estás poniendo las botas!
- Leave something for me! You are filling your boots!
9. Hay ropa tendida - Walls have ears
This is used when someone is talking about something or someone else. And you do not want that person to be aware of your conversation.
- Imagine it is your sister’s birthday. You and your other siblings are planning to buy her a present but you do not want your sister to know about it. If your sister is closeby when you are talking about the present with another sibling, you can say to them:
- ¡Ahora no, que hay ropa tendida! Luego hablamos.
- Not now, the walls have ears, we will talk later.
Note: we also have a literal translation for walls have ears (las paredes tienen oídos). Both of them are correct, but I will challenge you to use hay ropa tendida as it will help you sound like an expert and leave people with their mouths open (they probably will ask you where you learned the phrase from!).
The origin of this phrase isn’t exactly known, but it used to be popular among prisoners to warn each other that jailers were closeby.
10. A palo seco - Just like that
It’s very common to use this phrase to express that something can happen on its own. It is quite a direct phrase, similar to saying “just like that” in English. This expression comes from a long time ago, when sailing boats caught in the middle of a storm needed to sail under bare poles.
- If you go out one night for dinner and eat something very spicy but one of your friends doesn’t find it spicy at all, you can say:
- ¡Estoy sorprendida con Miguel, comió los jalapeños a palo seco, sin agua ni nada.
- I am surprised about Miguel, he ate the jalapeños on their own, with no water or anything else.
To finish off, here is a bonus Spanish sentence that's commonly used:
- No te acostarás sin saber una cosa más.
- You won’t go to sleep without learning something new.
You learn something new everyday! I hope you have that feeling after reading this post
I know probably you are fed up of hearing “practice makes perfect”.
But it does! Now it’s your turn. Let me know your thoughts and answers to the two questions below:
- Did you know any of these expressions before?
- Do you know the origin of any Spanish expressions at all?
Looking forward to reading your comments! Speak pronto (soon).