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Lessons for topic Idiomatic expressions

Learning Idiomatic Expressions

We use idiomatic expressions all the time in our conversations. However, learning to use idiomatic expressions in a foreign language is something that most students find particularly challenging. Let’s find out how to say “a piece of cake,” “raining buckets,” “get away with it,” and “feel like” in Spanish.
 
In English, when something is extremely easy to do we say that it"s “a piece of cake.” In Spanish, the equivalent expression is pan comido (eaten bread):
 
porque componer para mí es pan comido.
because for me composing is a piece of cake.
Caption 80, NPS, No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 9
 
In English, there’re several expressions that can be used to express that it’s raining heavily, for example “to rain buckets” or “to rain cats and dogs.” If we want to express the same idea in Spanish we must use the expression llover a cántaros [literally "to rain jugs"]:
 
Sí, llueve a cántaros.
Yes, it's raining buckets.
Caption 45, Español para principiantes - Saludos y encuentros
 
In English, when someone manages to do something bad without being punished or criticized for it, we say that he/she “gets away with it.” In Spanish, the phrase used to express the same idea is salirse con la suya:
 
Yo no pienso dejar que esa sifrina se salga con la suya.
I don't plan to let that snob get away with it.
Caption 79, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 10
 
Finally, when we want to say that someone has the desire to do something, we use the expression “to feel like.” In Spanish people use the phrase tener ganas de:
 
Si tienes ganas de más aventuras,
If you feel like more adventures,
Caption 20, Marta - Los Modos de Transporte
 
¿Tienes ganas de practicar más? [Do you feel like practicing more?]. Try finding more idiomatic expressions in our catalog of videos! And don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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Idiomatic expressions with the verb Tener

In this lesson, we will review some very useful idioms and expressions with the verb tener (to have).
 
Very often, we use idiomatic expressions with tener in the present so let’s review the conjugation of this verb in the present tense:
 
Yo tengo | I have
Tú tienes | You have
Él/Ella tiene | He/She has
Nosotros tenemos | We have
Vosotros tenéis | You have
Ellos tienen | They have
 
There are many idiomatic expressions with the verb tener that Spanish speakers use to express physical sensations. These include expressions like tener frío/calor (to be cold/hot), tener hambre (to be hungry) and tener sueño (to be sleepy):

 Bueno, pero tengo frío.
Well, but I'm cold.
Caption 31, Natalia de Ecuador - Palabras de uso básico

 Y más que tenemos hambre ya a esta hora.
And plus, we're already hungry at this hour.
Caption 106, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5

Tenemos sueño.
We are sleepy.
Caption 38, El Aula Azul - Estados de ánimo


Apart from physical sensations, we can also use the verb tener to express other more psychological states such as tener miedo (to be afraid), tener ganas (to want/to desire), tener prisa (to be in a hurry) and tener vergüenza (to be ashamed):
 

¡Tengo miedo, tengo miedo, tengo miedo!
I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid!
Caption 42, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reunión - Part 2

 Siento que te cansaste y tienes ganas
I feel that you got tired and you want
Caption 4, Circo - Velocidades luz

la gente parece que siempre tiene prisa
people seem to always be in a hurry...
Caption 38, Maestra en Madrid - Nuria y amigo 

En este momento duda porque tiene vergüenza de ir a la escuela,
At this moment she hesitates because she's ashamed to go to school,
Caption 49, Con ánimo de lucro - Cortometraje - Part 4

 
And finally, don’t forget that you also need to use an idiomatic expression with the verb tener when you talk about age:
 

Tengo veintiún años y soy estudiante de negocios internacionales.
I'm twenty-one years old and I'm a student of international business.
Caption 2, Amigos D.F. - Consejos para la calle


That's all for now. We challenge you to try finding more idiomatic expressions with the verb tener in our catalog of videos! And don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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Irse de boca

Let's continue learning idiomatic expressions that use names of body parts. This lesson focuses on the word boca (mouth).
 
The expression llevarse algo a la boca (literally "to put something in one's mouth") means "to eat." You can see an example in the following quote from our catalog of videos:
 

que te lleves algo a la boca. -¡Hombre, algo a la barriga!
you put something in your mouth. -Man, something to put into my belly!
Caption 87, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 10


Somewhat similar is the expression no tener nada que llevarse a la boca (literally, "to lack something to put in one's mouth"), which basically means "to be very poor."
 
Two very useful phrases using the word boca (mouth) are boca arriba (face up) and boca abajo (face down):
 

Túmbese, boca arriba.
Lay down, face up.
Caption 34, Club de las ideas - Técnico en imagen para diagnóstico


The expression abrir la boca (to open one's mouth) means "to speak out," "to confess or reveal a secret," or "to spill a gossip," depending on the context:
 

Eso sí, miralo y no abras la boca hasta que volvamos a hablar vos y yo, ¿eh?
Mind you, watch it and don't open your mouth until we speak again, you and I, OK?
Caption 6, Muñeca Brava - 9 Engaños - Part 8


Also similar is irse de boca (literally "to go mouth on"), that is "to run off at the mouth" or simply "to be indiscreet":
 

No te habrás ido de boca diciéndole la verdad a ese Sirenio, ¿no?
You wouldn't have been indiscreet by telling that Sirenio guy the truth, right?
Caption 52, Yago - 9 Recuperación - Part 12


El presidente se fue de boca otra vez.
The president ran his mouth off again. 


Finally, keep in mind that irse de boca is also a synonym phrase of caerse de boca (to go headlong, to fall flat on your face). This is a very colloquial expression that you probably won't use in a formal situation:

 

Se fue de boca y se fracturó la nariz.
He went headlong and fractured his nose.


 
That's all for now. We challenge you to try finding more expressions using the word boca in our catalog of videos! And don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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A mano

Let's continue learning idiomatic expressions in Spanish that use body parts. This lesson focuses on the word mano (hand).
 
The expressions echar una mano (to throw a hand) or dar una mano (to give a hand) mean "to help." Frequently, people use this expression with negation in the interrogative form: ¿no me echas una mano? or ¿no me das una mano? are common ways to ask for help in Spanish:

 

¿No me das una manita con Pablo?
Won't you give me a little hand with Pablo?
Caption 44, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones - Part 4


See? You can even throw in a diminutive like manita (little hand)! Native Spanish speakers use diminutives a lot, so you can use this truquito (little trick) to make your Spanish sound more natural.
 
Now, dar una mano (to give a hand, to help) is different from dar la mano (literally, "to give the hand"), which means "to shake hands" or "to hold hands." Usually the verb dar (to give) is used with a pronoun in these expressions. So you can say: le doy la mano (I shake his/her/your hand), nos damos la mano (we shake hands, we shake each other's hands). In other cases the pronoun can be added to the verb dar as a suffix, for example: ¡dame la mano! (shake my hand!), or:

 

En ocasiones más formales también podemos darnos la mano.
For more formal occasions, we can also shake each other's hands.
Caption 12, Raquel - Presentaciones - Part 1


Slightly different is tomar la mano de alguien (to take somebody's hand):

 

Bachué se despidió llorando y tomó la mano de su esposo.
Bachué said goodbye crying and took her husband's hand.
Caption 49, América precolombina - El mito de Bachué


If you add the preposition de (by) you get the expression de la mano (by the hand, holdings hands). Tomar de la mano is "to hold by the hand," estar de la mano is "to be holding hands," cruzar la calle de la mano de tu mamá means "to cross the street holding your mom's hand," and caminar de la mano con tu novia means "to walk with your girlfriend holding hands". Here's one more example:

 

Un helado, un paseo, tomados de la mano
An ice cream, a stroll, holding hands
Caption 4, Alberto Jiménez - Causalidad - Part 2

 
On the other hand, estar a mano (literally, “to be at hand") means "to be even:"
 

Estaríamos a mano. ¿Eh?
We would be even. Huh?
Caption 30, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 6

 

The expression hecho a mano means "made by hand." And the phrase a mano can either mean "by hand":
 

Los que se pueden coger con la mano desde abajo, se cogen a mano.
The ones that can be picked by hand from below are picked by hand.
Caption 88, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 16

 
or "at hand," which can also be spelled a la mano:

 

 Ponte lo que tengas a [la] mano.
Wear whatever you have at hand.

 
To do something mano a mano (hand in hand) means to do something together:
 

Los investigadores trabajan con los pescadores mano a mano.
The researchers work with the fishermen hand in hand.

 
In Mexico, Dominican Republic, and other Spanish speaking countries, people use mano to shorten hermano/a (brother, sister), just like “bro” and “sis” in English. For example: No, mano, así no se hace (No, bro, that's not how you do it), Oye, mana, vámonos a casa (Hey, sis, let's go home).

And that's all for this lesson! Don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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¿De cuándo acá? and Other Rhetorical Questions

In the first installment of Tu Voz Estéreo, our brand new series from Colombia, we hear a conversation between two not very pleasant characters who are planning to steal a guide dog (ಠ_ಠ!) from his blind owner:
 

Ay, pero ¿cómo y de cuándo acá nos gustan tanto los perros?
Oh, but how and since when do we like dogs so much?
Caption 31, Tu Voz Estéreo - Laura - Part 1


The idiom de cuándo acá (since when) is a rhetorical question. In Spanish, asking ¿Desde cuándo te gustan los perros? is not the same as saying ¿De cuándo acá te gustan los perros? The first one is a simple question, while the second one is asked in order to create a dramatic effect of surprise, outrage, disbelief, or disapproval:

¿Y de cuándo acá eres mi juez?
And since when are you my judge?

Órale, ¿de cuándo acá tan bien vestidos? ¿Dónde es la fiesta?
Wow, since when you dress so well? Where's the party?

There are different ways to translate the English expression "how come?" into Spanish. As a standalone expression, you can use questions such as ¿cómo es eso? (literally "how is that"), ¿cómo así? (literally "how this way"), ¿cómo? (how), or ¿por qué? (why). It's important to add a special emphasis to the way you pronounce these questions:

No había nada interesante que hacer. -¿Cómo?
There was nothing interesting to do. - How come?
Caption 38-39, Guillermina y Candelario - Una aventura extrema - Part 1


But when the expression is part of a sentence (for example, "How come you don't know that?") you can use the idiom cómo que (literally "how that") or cómo es que (how is that):

¿Cómo es que no sabes eso!
How come you don't know that?!

¿Cómo que no trajiste nada de dinero?
How come you didn't bring any money?

You could say that by using this phrase cómo que we're simply omitting the verb decir (to say), as shown in this example:
 

¿Cómo (dices) que te echaron?
How come (you say) they fired you?
Caption 8, Verano Eterno - Fiesta Grande


In Colombia and other Latin American countries, some people add the word así after que:
 

¿Cómo así que chucho?
How come it's chucho?
Caption 32, Festivaliando - Mono Núñez - Part 4

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Using the Word "Sea" - Subjunctive | Verb Ser (to be)

The present subjunctive of the verb ser is the same in the first- and third-person singular: sea. This little word is used profusely in Spanish for the most varied purposes. Let's explore and learn a few.
 
The first person yo (I) uses sea. You can use it to express other people's wishes or expectations placed on you:
 
Quieres que [yo] sea cuidadosa
You want me to be cautious
 
or to deny hypothetic situations or conditions:
 
No es que yo sea mala...
It's not that I'm bad...
 
The third person (he, she, it) also uses sea. Here are examples using sea to talk about people (he, she). The tricky part is that Spanish usually gets rid of the pronouns él or ella, so you will only hear or see the verb sea.
 
No importa que sea morena, blanca, rubia o canela
It doesn't matter if she is dark-skinned, white, blonde or brown
Caption 52, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano - Part 1
 
¿Cómo me voy a andar fijando en él por más simpático, alto, caballero y bello que sea?
How am I going to go around thinking about him no matter how nice, tall, gentlemanly and handsome he might be?
Caption 75, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 11
 
It's the same when you use sea to, for example, talk about a poisonous mushroom:
 
Por tocarlo no pasa nada. Aunque sea mortal.
Nothing happens by touching it. Even though it's lethal.
Caption 115, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
 
However, the use of sea extends far beyond that in Spanish. Many idiomatic expressions use it. For example, the expression sea lo que is used to express fatalistic sentiments. Use this model phrase to learn it: sea + lo que dios mande (literally, let it be what God commands). Note that it uses subjunctive plus subjunctive:
 
Que sea lo que dios mande
Let it be God's will.
 
Of course, it's possible to get rid of the pronoun que (that) and combine the phrase with a different verb, like querer (to want):
 
Sea lo que Dios quiera.
Let it be God's will.
Caption 8, Baile Folklórico de Puerto Rico - Los Bailarines

But there's also the expression sea lo que sea, literally meaning "let it be whatever it might be," or more simply put: "whatever it may be."
 
Sea lo que sea, quiero saber la verdad.
I want to know the truth, whatever that may be.

The shorter expression lo que sea (whatever) is even more common:
 
No es solamente utilizar una moneda local o lo que sea
It's not just to use a local coin or whatever
Caption 67, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 4
 
...sea hombre, mujer, o lo que sea.
...whether it's a man, a woman or whatever.
Caption 60, Arume - Barcelona - Part 1
 
The clause para que sea (for it to be, so that it is) is also a great addition to your Spanish vocabulary:
 
Entonces, para que sea una sorpresa también.
So, for it to be a surprise also.
Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 10
  
Para que sea más fácil, le cortáis por la mitad.
So that it is easier, you cut it in half.
Caption 49, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 3

Finally, don't forget the expression o sea (I mean, meaning):
 
¡O sea, esto es más de lo que cualquier chica popular puede soportar!
I mean, this is more than any popular girl could bear!
Caption 1, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 4
 

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Good and Cold and Handsome and Hot

We have a gem in one of our videos and we want to share it with you. It's a little slip of the tongue that Rosie, one of the girls in the NPS series, makes while being introduced to a handsome new sports instructor:
 

Ay, a mí me encanta el deporte y más si el "teacher" está así de bueno.
Oh, I love sports and even more if the teacher is so good-looking.
Caption 30, NPS No puede ser - 3 - La cita - Part 3


Rosie's subconscious betrayed her for a moment there, because that's apparently not what she wanted to say, as she immediately corrects her blunder:
 

Ah, ay, digo, digo si es tan bueno.
Uh, oh, I mean, I mean if he's so good.
Caption 31, NPS No puede ser - 3 - La cita - Part 3


The difference between estar bueno (to be good-looking*) vs ser bueno (to be good) is the classic example used to explain the proper way to combine the verbs estar and ser (both meaning "to be") with adjectives, and to understand the sometimes not-so-subtle difference in meaning that results from it: if you use ser, the adjective is a fundamental characteristic of the person or thing you are describing, whereas if you use estar, it's a description of a mood or appearance, something less intrinsic or something not permanent. Having the chance to learn this rule with a pun is priceless, don't you think?
 
There are many interesting examples of adjectives that change meaning when they are combined with the Spanish verbs ser and estar to describe people. For example, the adjective frío, which means "cold."
 
You can use this adjective with the verb ser to describe a fundamental characteristic of a person or group of persons:
 

Lo siento. Pero acá la gente es fría y distante, es una... -¡Mentira!
Sorry. But here the people are cold and distant, it's a... -Lie!
Caption 73, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 3

 
But if you say that someone está frío, that can only mean that the person('s body) is actually cold. Here is a grim example:
 

Está en la cama, muerto. Está frío y azul.
He's on the bed, dead. He’s cold and blue.


 That's why, in fact, the combination of the verb estar with the adjective frío is much more commonly used to describe objects, concepts, and beings regarded as inanimate: la noche está fría (the night is cold), la champaña está fría (the champagne is cold), etc. But careful: that doesn't mean that you can't use ser + an adjective to describe such things. You can, especially with concepts and abstract ideas. For example:
 
 

si la temperatura exterior es más fría que la interior
or if the temperature outside is colder than the inside [temperature]
Caption 59, Tecnópolis - El Coronil - Part 1
 
En Buenos Aires las noches son frías.
In Buenos Aires nights are cold.


 
Yet that doesn't mean that you can't say en Buenos Aires las noches están frías. It's just definitely less common and actually incorrect if what you mean is that all nights in Buenos Aires are generally cold. So, if you ever find or hear such an assertion using the verb estar instead of ser, it would probably be accompanied by certain implicit or explicit clues that would tell you that the adjective frías (cold) is being used to describe a temporary situation. For example:
 

En Buenos Aires las noches están frías, por ahora.
In Buenos Aires nights are cold, for now.
 
No salgas, está frío afuera.
Don't go out, it's cold outside.


 So, you may be wondering: how do I say in Spanish that someone is cold, meaning that the person feels cold? Well, you have to use a different verb instead: tener (to have). Have you ever heard a Spanish native speaker say "I have cold" by mistake? That's why.
 

y yo nada más tengo frío y hambre y no sé qué hacer.
and I'm just cold and I'm hungry and I don't know what to do.
Caption 23, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 1

 

So, unless you are a zombie or another kind of undead creature, don't ever say estoy frío.

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*Just so you know, the adjective bueno in estar bueno is actually closer to "yummy" or "hot" than to "good-looking."

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