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Spanish Proverbs (Refranes) in English and Spanish: A Selection

Useful and entertaining, Spanish proverbs have been celebrated for their pith, wit and humour, says John Collins. They may be boons in intercourses where Spanish is spoken.

Below are selected Spanish proverbs (refranes) and (in part provisional) English equivalents.


A good listener needs few words.

Al buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan. Accordingly, a few grunts or words like "Mhm," "I see"" may be good on the part of the plausible listener. And also: the good listener understands quickly: "A word to the wise is enough."

At the end of the game we shall see who gains.

Alfreír será el reír (y al pagar será el llorar).

Blood boils without fire.

La sangre sin fuego hierve. (Speaks of strength of blood bonds.)

By the tree the fruit is known.

Por el árbol se conoce el fruto.

Evil always works its own punishment.

Quien obra mal, pará si hará.

Faces we see, hearts we don't.

Caras vemos, corazones no vemos.

Faster than a wild cat.

Más rapido que gato de campo.

Four eyes see more than two.

Cuatro ojos ven más que dos.

From such wood, such splinter.

De tal palo, tal astilla.

Honesty is the best policy.

Lo mejor es ser franco.

If there's no bread, cakes may do.

A falta de pan, buenas son tortas.

If you want to watch, you'd better keep quiet.

Los mirones son de piedra.

If your wife wants to throw you off the roof, try to find a low one.

Si tu mujer quiere tirarte de un tejado, procura que sea uno bajo.

It's better to be on your own than with people you don't like.

Mas vale estar solo que (estar) mal acompanado.

It's not as easy as blowing and making bottles.

No es solo soplar y hacer botellas. Thus: It's not as easy as it looks.

Not everything that shines is gold.

No todo lo que brilla es oro.

One good forewit is worth two afterwits.

Hombre precavido, vale por dos.

Shoemaker, to your shoes.

Zapatero, a tus zapatos. So: Stick to your own business and do not meddle in things you don't understand. English equivalent: "Shoemaker, stick to your last," or "Cobbler, stick to your last."

Since we are in the dance, we dance.

Ya que estamos en el baile, bailemos.

Spring changes the blood.

La primavera la sangre altera.

The better day, the better deed.

En buen dia, buena obras.

The devil knows more due to being old than by being the devil.

El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo.

The floor of one is the ceiling of another.

El piso de uno es el techo de otro.

The fool is pleased with his own error.*

El necio está contento con su propio error. (Cf. Every fool is pleased with his own blunder. A cada necio agrada su porrada.)

The shrimp that falls asleep, is carried off by the current.

Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.

The upstart always forgets his former companions.

Vióse el perro en bragas de cerro, y no conoció á su compañero.

The walls hear.

Las paredes oyen.

Try to strike a happy medium.

Ni tanto que queme al santo, ni tanto que no lo alumbre.

Two breasts can (pull) more than two wagons.

Pueden más dos tetas que dos carretas.

What cannot be cured, must be endured.

Á lo heccho, peccho.

Who comments, invents.

Quien comenta, inventa.

Who goes to bed with children, wakes up rather worn out.

El que con ninos se acuesta, molido (or meado) se despierta.

Work shared is more tolerable.

El trabajo compartido es más llevadero.

You will probably never make a good arrow of a pig's tail.*

Es probable que nunca hacer una buena flecha de una cola de cerdo. or "De rabo de puerco probablemente nunca buen virote". Cf. De rabo de puerco nunca buen virote. ("Of tail of pig, never good arrow."), You will never make a good arrow of a pig's tail.


Spanish proverbs, bilingual, English-Spanish proverbs refranes, Literature  

Aranda, Charles. Dichos: Proverbs and Sayings from the Spanish. Rev. ed. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 1977. ⍽▢⍽ Short.

Basset, Delfín Carbonell. Dictionary of Proverbs, Sayings, Maxims, Adages: English and Spanish. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, 2000. ⍽▢⍽ About 2,500 proverbs with English equivalants or translations. Some proverbs are explained.

Bohn, Henry G. A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs. London, Henry G. Bohn, 1857. ⍽▢⍽ The ca. 1,400 Spanish proverbs in this comprehensive work are translated into English too, and listed alphabetically.

Collins, John. John Collins. A Dictionary of Spanish Proverbs Compiled from the Best Authorities, in the Spanish Language. London: G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1823 (Reprint: Nabu Press, Nabu Press, 2010. Also online. ⍽▢⍽ 2,900-3,000 Spanish proverbs, estimatedly, with English translations and explanations of many of the proverbs, and occasionally something extra, like a little verse.

Del Mar, Emanuel. A New Guide to Spanish and English Conversation containing various lists of words in most general use, properly classed: collections of complimentary dialogues, familiar phrases, proverbs and idioms, and comparative tables of coins, weights, and measures. London: Dulau, 1844, p. 102-26.

Flonta, Theodor. A Dictionary of English and Spanish: Equivalent Proverbs. Hobart, Tasmania:, 2001. ⍽▢⍽ 2,201 proverbs are given and rendered/translated into English.

Glazer, Mark, comp. A Dictionary of Mexican American Proverbs. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987. ⍽▢⍽ Almost 1,000 proverbs and phrases from the Rio Grande valley. There are English renderings of them, and in some cases notes about what situations they different proverbs are used. Sources are included.

King, William Francis Henry. Classical and foreign quotations, law terms and maxims, proverbs, mottoes, phrases, and expressions in French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Portuguese. With translations, references, explanatory notes, and indexes. London: Whitaker and Sons, 1889.

Lopéz, Justo Fernández. Proverbios y refranes español > Alemán. Innsbruck: Hispanoteca, 1999-2013. ⍽▢⍽ Spanish proverbs explained in German.

Mertvago, Peter. Dictionary of 1000 Spanish Proverbs with English Equivalents. New York. Hippocrene Books, 1996. ⍽▢⍽ The 1,000 proverbs are in A-Z order, and translations or near-equivalents in English are included.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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