Numbers are one of the first things you learn in Spanish.
That is why I thought it would be a good idea to give you some idioms using them, so you won’t have any excuse to not remember them, so if you are ready let’s dive into 8 Spanish idioms that use numbers.
1- Buscar Tres Pies Al Gato
Literally: To search the cat for three feet
Equivalent: To split hairs or to complicate things
When to use it: When you overcomplicate things
If you want to go to a dinner with friends but you already had plans with your family, then you are thinking your friends could be annoyed because of that so you try to look for an excuse instead: “le estás buscando tres pies al gato” (you are complicating things). You just need to say the truth and do not think in advance “what if…”.
Or when we go to the cinema and you like the movie but we think it has a secret meaning that we haven’t found yet. We keep thinking about it and try to explain that to friends. They might say “no le busques tres pies al gato, el significado de la peli es sencillo, entretener…” - “do not split hairs, the meaning of the movie is just to entertain”
2- Cada Dos Por Tres
Literally: Every two in three
Equivalent: Every other minute
When to use it: When something happens very often
If you start to drink a lot of water and you visit the toilet more often every time you probably have to say to yourself –“Necesito dejar de beber agua, si quiero dejar de ir al baño cada dos por tres.” - “I need to stop drinking water if I want to stop going to the toilet every other minute.”
3-Dar Igual 8 Que 80
Literally: To be the same eight than eighty
Equivalent: It is all the same to someone/to not care
When to use it: When someone seems to not care
If you are trying to save money but your partner goes to the supermarket and buys the most expensive thing, (to your horror) you will say to him – “¡pero cómo has comprado todas estas cosas! ¡Estamos intentando ahorrar para ir de vacaciones, pero veo que a tí te da igual ocho que ocenta!” - “How have you bought all those things! We are saving to go on holidays, I see you do not care!”
4- Estar A Dos Velas
Literally: To be at two candles
Equivalent: To be broke
When to use it: When you are low on, or have no money
If your friends want you to go out this weekend but it is the end of the month and you do not have any money, your excuse will be –“Imposible, estoy a dos velas, no puedo hacer nada hasta que cobre”. - “Impossible, I am broke, I can not do anything until I get paid”.
Or after Christmas it’s quite common to hear “estoy a dos velas, después de comprar todos los regalos, no sé que cómo voy a sobrevivir en enero”. - “I am broke after buying all the presents, I do not know how I am going to survive in January”.
5- No Hay Mal Que Cien Años Dure
Literally: There is any bad thing which last a hundred years
Equivalent: Pain never stays more than a hundred years
When to use it: When you are passing through hard times
If you are not having an easy time, (for example you just lost your job and you are finding it difficult to get a new one) when people ask you how are you getting on, your answer might be - “He estado mejor, pero ya sabes, no hay mal que cien años dure” - “I have been better, but you know pain never stays more than one hundred years.” – positive thinking guys! Positive thinking!
6- Primera Y Última Vez
Literally: First and last time
Equivalent: First and only time
When to use it: When you do/agree something and you regret later so you promise next time not to do it again
If you volunteer yourself to help with something in the office, thinking it would be easy and it would just take 10 more minutes. But then you realized it will be during the weekend and for a few hours you will probably say to yourself “primera y última vez que hago algo parecido”. - “First and only time I do something like this”.
7- Quien Roba A Un Ladrón Tiene Cien Años De Perdón
Literally: The person who steals from a thief is forgiven
Equivalent: It is not crime to steal from a thief.
When to use it: To forgive someone who has done something bad against something who is evil. It is quite relative, and normally used by small things.
If one of your colleagues at work is always taking your pens and never gives them back, one day you realize you kept one of his pens, you will joke “bueno…quien roba a un ladrón tiene cien años de perdón”. - “Well it is no crime to steal from a thief”.
8- Ser Un Cero A La Izquierda
Literally: To be a zero on the left side
Equivalent: To be useless
When to use it: When someone is useless, not important, or they are just not a big help
If you need to finish a project with your team but your are angry and moaning you do not have enough people to do it because - “la mayoría de ellos no saben lo que hacen, son un cero a la izquierda, tengo que guiarles todos los pasos”. – “ most of them do not know what they are doing, they are a waste of space I need to walk through everything with them”.
And these are the expressions for today. I hope you enjoyed and at least one of them has put a smile in your face.
Now it is your turn
If you enjoy this article, I would like you to leave a sentence in the comments below where you can use any of these Spanish idioms that use numbers that you have just learnt. Also I would love to hear from you:
-which idiom from today is your favourite?
-do you know any other idiom which uses numbers in Spanish?
Leave a comment and let me know! I am looking forward to reading from you. ¡Hasta pronto!