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A Few More Differences Between Common Spanish and English Proverbs

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The side-saddle riders waiting for a parade in Ajijic, Mexico
Credit: Judy King

As a result of our first blog on differences between common Spanish and English proverbs, we have been talking with our expats friends here in Puerto Vallarta and the Banderas Bay area about these proverbs. We have had a great time with them trying to guess the proverb in Spanish. It’s easy to think that the literal translation is the most accurate version. However, most of these sayings have a completely different way to be said in the other language.

Here are a few more proverbs with the same meaning, but said differently:

“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” or “El interés tiene pies.” In Spanish, the translation of will is “voluntad” meaning the emotion we feel, and it’s the one that drives us to do what we do. Meanwhile “interés” is the topic, technique or studies that you are interested in. So, the translation of the Spanish proverb is the interest (of something) has feet. When you are interested in something, you’ll go out there to get it.

“A barking dog never bites,” or “Perro que ladra no muerde.” In this case the proverb in Spanish says exactly the same, a dog that barks, doesn’t bite. We don’t know if this proverb is frequently used in the U.S. and Canada, but here in Mexico we use it a lot.

“A little bird told me,” or “Me lo dijo un pajarito.” We use this proverb with some mischief, and also the English and Spanish versions mean the same. And for those who are venturing into the world of Spanish, this is one of the best examples to understand the indirect object, or at least to recognize it. Anyway, we also love this proverb.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” or “Mas vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando.” We like this proverb because of its wisdom. The translation goes like this: “It’s better a bird in the hand than a hundred birds flying.” It is so true!

“Two heads are better than one,” or “Dos cabezas piensan mejor que una.” For this one, the proverb in Spanish is more precise than the one in English. It says, “two heads think better than one.”

“What goes up must come down,” or “Todo lo que sube tiene que bajar.” This is one of the most common proverbs. In Spanish, we say “everything that goes up, has to come down” and sometime we add, it is just about gravity.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” or “No juzgues a un libro por la portada.” Another saying with almost literal translation is, “Do not judge a book by its cover.” Pretty much the same words, only in English it’s sharper.

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” or “Si no puedes con ellos, úneteles.” Who hasn’t heard this one. It is easy to guess, because you just have to translate it.

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” or “A caballo regalado no se le ve colmillo.” This is one of the oldest proverbs around and yet it is as pertinent and valid as it ever was. The Spanish version is quite the same, only we say in Spanish: “You don’t see the fang of a given horse.”

As you can see we are quite fascinated with these similarities and have had a lot of fun pointing them out. We hope you did, too.

Nos vemos!

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