Originally written on August 8th 2015, this article has recently been updated
Idioms: they’re often funny-sounding and may not make total sense when taken literally, but they are absolutely key to mastering a foreign language and sounding like a native. The tricky thing about idioms is that they often cannot be understood through basic word-to-word translation, and so they must be memorized as part of language study.
1. (No) valer la pena: To (not) be worth it
This is the most literal idiomatic expression on our list, but it’s an extremely common one. From song lyrics to daily conversation, vale la pena (or, to make the statement negative, no vale la pena) is a popular phrase that means simply: it’s worth it (or, it’s not worth it). The idiom can be used on its own, or with a verb attached to say that it is or is not worth it to do something.
Used in a sentence (in this case, a song lyric!): No vale la pena enamorarse. (It’s not worth it to fall in love.)
2. Tomar el pelo: To tease; joke; make fun of
Literally translated as to take the hair, this expression is the Spanish equivalent of the English phrase to pull your leg; or to tease, joke, or poke fun at someone or something.
Used in a sentence: Te estoy tomando el pelo! (I’m pulling your leg; I’m kidding with you!)
3. Ser pan comido: To be a piece of cake
Ser means to be, and it’s one of the very first verbs you’ll learn in any Spanish class . In Spanish, pan means bread, and comido is a past tense conjugation of the verb comer—to eat. So, taken literally, ser pan comido means to be eaten bread. In other words, easy peasy, simple, a piece of cake!
Used in a sentence: El examen estará pan comido. (The exam will be a piece of cake.)
4. Pedir peras al olmo: To ask the impossible
The literal translation of pedir peras al olmo is to ask the elm tree for pears. Of course, an elm tree couldn’t possibly give you pears, as it doesn’t have any to give! The idiom means just that: to ask the impossible or to ask for too much.
Used in a sentence: Querer que mi hermano lave los platos es pedir peras al olmo. (Wanting my brother to wash the dishes is asking the impossible.)
5. En un abrir y cerrar de ojos: In a flash
In Spanish, abrir means to open and cerrar means to close, while ojos translates to eyes. Therefore this phrase is fairly literal: in an open and shut of the eyes—in other words, something happened extremely quickly, or in a flash.
Used in a sentence: Este artículo pasó en un abrir y cerrar de ojos, pero yo quiero aprender más español. (This article was over in a flash, but I want to learn more Spanish.)
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