Hola. Here I am once again to bring you some Spanish curiosities.

In Spanish, as in every language, you have set phrases that do not necessarily have any literary meanings but are culturally accepted sayings. Set phrases are pretty much like idioms. You can know all of the words in them, but you still will not be able to make sense of their meanings. At best, you know them for what they want to mean, and not what they literally mean.

So I thought that today, we could have a look at some examples. Here are 8 Set Spanish Phrases that have the word water.

Since we will be talking about set phrases, first of all, I think it will help us to be in context if we define what a set phrase is.

A “set phrase” is a phrase with a specific meaning. It’s parts are fixed in a certain order, even if the phrase is changed, without harming the actual meaning. This is because a set phrase is a culturally accepted phrase and does not necessarily have any literal meanings in and of itself.

Great, having said that…let’s dive in! -- which is a perfect phrase today, as the 8 Set Spanish Phrases use the word water (agua). Are you ready to get wet?

1. “ESTAR CON EL AGUA AL CUELLO” – to be in deep trouble

We say this when someone is in deep trouble. This usually applies when someone is going through a tough stage in their life.


Your friend was fired and he is struggling to get a new job:


  • Juan ha perdido su trabajo y está a punto de perder su casa, esta con el agua al cuello de deudas. In English: Juan has lost his job, and he is about to lose his house. He is in deep trouble (in debt) up to his neck.


2. “AGUA PASADA” - water under the bridge

We say this to talk about something that you are over and done with. In the past, the issue might have been a big deal, but it is not important anymore.


At some point, you were looking for a job and found it to be really difficult to find the right one. At the time, you thought it would always be like this. But now, you have a good job and do not feel that negative anymore. You probably forgot how hard it was back in those days.


  • Aquellos tiempos en los que peleaba por conseguir un trabajo son agua pasada ahora, casi ni los recuerdo. In English: The times when I struggled to find a job are now water under the bridge. I can barely even remember the struggle of looking for a new job.

When you were a teenager (long, long ago - just kidding!) and you had an argument with some of your friends, this might have seemed like the end of the world. You would not want to talk to them anymore, and so on...


But then after few years, you cannot even remember what the argument was about. Plus, you are still friends with them. You can use this saying:


  • ¿Recuerdas en el instituto lo mucho que nos odiábamos? In English: Do you remember how much we hated each other in high school?
  • ¡Es increíble! Ni me acuerdo porqué discutimos, por suerte todo eso ya es agua pasada. In English: That was unbelievable! I can’t even remember why we fought. Luckily, all of that is water under the bridge.


3. “AHOGARSE EN UN VASO DE AGUA”- to make a mountain out of a molehill

This phrase is very common to say about people who get easily stressed about the little things. Or you say this about someone who can’t deal very well with the unexpected.

There is a similar phrase in English, which does not translate one-to-one but has the same meaning.


Say you have a younger sister who can get a bit stressed and does not deal very well with pressure. You are thinking about going away over the weekend with your partner. Your partner suggests leaving the kids with your sister. You will probably think that this is not a good idea, so you will say:


  • No podemos dejar a los niños con mi hermana, se ahoga en un vaso de agua. In English: We can’t leave the kids with my sister, she makes a mountain out of a molehill.


4. “NUNCA DIGAS DE ESTA AGUA NO BEBERÉ” - never say never

Even when you think you will never do something, you can never be sure, so never say never…


How many times have you heard someone say, “I do not ever want to have kids”. And after a while, she had a couple kids…(does it sound familiar?). So next time you hear that from any of your friends, you can respond by saying:


  • Ahora no quieres tener hijos, pero en el futuro…¡veremos! Nunca digas de este agua no beberé. In English: You don’t like kids at the moment, but we will see in the future….never say never!


5. “HACERSE LA BOCA AGUA” - mouthwatering

I am sure you are familiar with this one, we use it when we start to salivate at the sight of food. Or sometimes, we salivate just even thinking about a food that we like.


You are living far away from your mom. She is a really good cook and her meatballs dish is amazing. You could say to someone to emphasize how much of a good cook your mom is:


  • Cada vez que pienso en las albóndigas de mi madre se me hace la boca agua. In English: Every time I think about my mother’s meatballs dish, my mouth is watering.


You are in a restaurant and have placed your order. You are really hungry and see that the people at the table next to you have already been served their food -- and it looks so good. You will probably comment:


  • Espero que nuestra comida no tarde, tengo tanta hambre que se me ha hecho la boca agua sólo con mirar la comida de las personas al lado nuestro. In English: I hope our food does not take long, I am so hungry that my mouth is watering just looking at the food of the people next to us.


6. “COMO PEZ EN EL AGUA” - to be in one’s element

When someone is really comfortable and confident doing something or in a particular place.


Your colleague gave a speech in a big conference. She did really well and didn’t look nervous at all, you can comment about her by saying:


  • Ana lo hizo genial en su discurso, estaba como pez en el agua. In English: Ana did great in her speech, she was in her element.


7. “COMO DOS GOTAS DE AGUA” - To be as like as two peas in a pod


You say this about two people who look physically similar.



If you know of two people who are related to each other (maybe they are siblings or cousins, etc) you could say:


  • No son gemelos, pero son como dos gotas de agua. In English: They are not twins but they are as like as two peas in a pod.


8. “CUANDO EL RÍO SUENA, AGUA LLEVA” - where there's smoke, there’s fire


The phrase is used to mean that most rumours have some truth in them (the rumour needed to start from somewhere, rumours come before the scandal). It’s interesting how in English you would use the element of fire -- the opposite of water (just a note).



Imagine that you are talking with a colleague:


  • Person A: Estoy un poco preocupado. He oído que van a despedir a alguien. In English: I am a bit worried, I heard that they are going to fire someone.
  • Person B: No creo, la empresa va muy bien. In English: I don’t think so, the company is doing really well.
  • Person A: Yo no estaría tan seguro, cuando el río suena… In English: I would not be so sure, where there's smoke, there's fire.


And yeah my friends, these are the 8 set phrases I wanted to tell you about. I love these set phrases and I hope you do too. So NOW, it’s your turn.

Let us know in the comments below your favorite(s) phrase and if you know of others that can help increase our “set Spanish phrases with the word water” notebook. For language learning (and life in general), every single contribution helps - cualquier cosa pequeña ayuda.


Did you believe I forgot this time?... Wrong!

Choose one of the above 8 Set Spanish Phrases and make it yours. Use it every chance you get, feel comfortable using it. Make up conversations where you can use it. Once you have mastered a phrase, come back to this post and choose another one and repeat until you feel good using all 8 phrases.

And….that’s your “Spanish lesson”, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and that you have learned something new.

!Hasta pronto!

See you soon!


Hero image by Gabriel González (CC BY 2.0)