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On Shadows, Monks, and Saints

Let's study and learn some Spanish expressions by reviewing the way real Spanish speakers use them in real situations. Our always-growing catalog of Spanish videos contains many examples!


Ni a sol ni sombra (literally "neither under the sun nor the shade") is a lively expression that means "no matter what" or simply "never." It's very similar to the English expression "rain or shine”:


¿Te acordás del chal de La Negra Cardoso?

Do you remember "La Negra" Cardoso's shawl?

-¿La Negra Cardoso? Oh sí.

-"La Negra" Cardoso? Oh, yes.

No se lo sacaba ni a sol ni a sombra.

She didn't take it off rain or shine.

Captions 51-53, Yago - 6 Mentiras

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It's important to note that this Spanish expression may be used in situations in which English wouldn't necessarily use "rain or shine." You can read some examples below. We are using idiomatic translations here:

No soporto a mi jefe, no me deja en paz ni a sol ni sombra/ I can't stand my boss, he's always breathing down my neck.
Su leal perro no le dejaba ni a sol ni a sombra. / His loyal dog never left his side.

In fact, the word sombra (meaning "shadow" or "shade") is used in many other Spanish expressions. Some examples you may be interested in learning are below. We have included a literal translation first, and then an idiomatic translation:

Él no tiene ni sombra de sospecha/ He hasn't a shadow of suspicion. / He is clueless.
Busqué, pero no había ni sombra de ella. / I looked, but there wasn't even a shadow of her. / I looked, but there was no sign of her.
No soy ni la sombra de lo que era. / I'm not even the shadow of what I used to be. / I'm only a shadow of what I used to be.

Let's see another expression. This is an easy one to learn, because it has an exact match in English:


¡Bueno, que el hábito no hace al monje!

Well, the thing is that the habit does not make the monk!

Era un chistecito.

It was a little joke.

Captions 17-18, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido

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This recalls yet another expression that exists both in Spanish and English, and probably in many other languages as well:


Tu marido es un santo. -¡Ah, por favor!

Your husband is a saint. -Oh, please!

Caption 17, Muñeca Brava - 3 Nueva Casa

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There are other Spanish expressions that use the word santo (saint) in a much more creative way. For example, the expression no ser santo de mi devoción (literally, "to not be a saint of my devotion") is used to express that you are not particularly fond of someone. This expression is equivalent to the English expression "not my cup of tea." There’s an interesting parallel between England's affection for tea and the devotion to saints in Spanish-speaking countries, don't you think?

Por favor, no invites a Julián. Sabes que él no es santo de mi devoción.
Please, do not invite Julian. You know he's not my cup of tea.

More difficult to translate is the expression a santo de qué, which is used to question the purpose or validity of something. It's a less sophisticated synonym of the expression en virtud de qué, itself the interrogative form of the expression en virtud de que, which also exists in English ("by virtue of"). Of course, using the expression a santo de qué is a very colloquial choice, one that will give people a very good impression of your Spanish skills:


¿A santo de qué voy a ir a almorzar con vos?

Why in God's name am I going to go have lunch with you?

Caption 73, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poema

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In this context, it wouldn't be uncommon for a Spanish speaker to use en virtud de qué instead. Saying ¿En virtud de qué voy a ir a almorzar con vos? may sound a little posh, but it’s totally acceptable. On the contrary, as you know, using "by virtue of what" in this situation wouldn't really be appropriate in English.


Finally, let's review another expression related to the word santo (saint) that exists both in English and Spanish, with subtle differences. While in English the expressions "patron saint's day" and "saint's day" do exist, it's more common to simply say "name day" instead. In Spanish, on the contrary, expressions like hoy es día de su santo patrono("today is his patron saint's day") or hoy es el día de su santo (today is his saint's day) are as common as the extremely abbreviated form used in this example taken from the Mexican movie El Ausente:

Es santo de Felipe, ¿sabes?

It's Felipe's name day, you know?

Caption 11, El Ausente - Acto 1

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