Way back in POST #6, we deconstructed 10 basic Spanish phrases. There we learnt a valuable lesson in how the word order of Spanish can differ significantly in comparison to English.
Today, we’re going to do something similar with 5 interesting Spanish proverbs. Proverbs (proverbios) are short pithy sayings that usually teach us a lesson or offer us a truth or some wisdom. This time, we will be examining how the same proverbs are expressed in both English and Spanish, highlighting how the same message can be expressed in a very different way. Needless to say, the Spanish constructions tend to be VERY different. 1. El mundo es un pañuelo Meaning: “It's a small world”
Literal translation: The world is a handkerchief
Word by Word: El (the), mundo (world), es (is), un (a), pañuelo (handkerchief)
Whilst it might seem very odd to the English ear: “The world is a handkerchief” does indeed mean “It’s a small world”. Presumably because a handkerchief is small enough to fit into one’s pocket. Here then, we have our first example of a completely idiomatic proverb that has little to do with the English version. Although the parallel should be easy to understand once we try and explain it. 2. Adonde fueres, haz lo que vieres Meaning: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”
Literal translation: Wherever you go, do what you see
Word by Word: Adonde (where), fueres (you will go), haz (do), lo que (what), vieres (you will see)
Next, we have a really interesting one. Whilst the Spanish version makes no direct reference to Romans, the message is almost identical. What makes it very interesting for Spanish learners are the tenses used. Here we have 2 future subjunctive verbs in “fueres” and “vieres”, plus the command form “haz”.
Notice that the word “adonde” which means where
or to where
, in this context changes its meaning slightly to mean wherever
because it is being followed by a subjunctive construction. English words like wherever
are sometimes expressed in Spanish by the context of a subjunctive statement. For instance: “lo que quieras” (whatever you want),
changes the meaning of “lo que” from what
by the use of the subjunctive form “quieras”. 3. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente Meaning: “Out of sight, out of mind”, “What you don't know can't hurt you”, “Ignorance is bliss”
Literal translation: Eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel.
Word by Word: Ojos (Eyes), que (that), no (do not), ven (see), corazón (heart), que (that), no (does not), siente (feel)
Here we have another proverb which has a few possible translations. Although, again, it’s fairly easy to see how we get from “Out of sight, out of mind” to “Eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel”.
In fairness, “Ignorance is bliss” also has a more direct Spanish version in “La ignorancia es grata” (Ignorance is pleasant)
, although each of these proverbs have a very similar message. 4. La cabra siempre tira al monte Meaning: “A leopard doesn’t change its spots”, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
Literal translation: The goat always heads towards the mountain
Word by Word: La (The), cabra (goat), siempre (always), tira (draws nearer), al (to the), monte (mountain)
This one focuses around the behaviour of animals. The implication being that people do not change their ways.
Whilst the Spanish words in and of themselves are fairly easy to understand, let’s take a closer look at the word “tira”. “Tira” comes from the verb tirar
which is a fantastic example of a verb which has so many different meanings. Usually meaning to throw,
it can also mean to propel
or to draw nearer
. So, in this instance the goat is propelling itself or drawing itself nearer to the mountain. 5. Obras son amores y no buenas razones Meaning: “Actions speak louder than words”
Literal translation: Works are loves and not good reasons
Word by Word: Obras (Works), son (are), amores (loves), y (and), no (not), buenas (good), razones (reasons)
Finally, we come to a proverb which may require a little more explanation.
“Obras” are works in the sense of “the works of Shakespeare” so “an act” or sometimes specific types of work such as “roadworks”, but not general work like one’s profession.
In any case, we are describing the act of doing something as love, rather than good intentions or reasons. Whilst this may still feel a little clumsy as an explanation, it signifies that actually doing something is better than the intention, thus: “Actions speak louder than words”. Conclusion | En conclusión
Today has been a fascinating look at some common proverbs that exist in both English and Spanish. Whilst it is always useful to pick apart each word and truly understand the meaning of each, learning the Spanish versions of proverbs also reminds us that we should, at times, stop trying to draw a 1:1 parallel with the English. Afterall, the way things are expressed in Spanish can be very different to English, so we shouldn’t expect proverbs to follow the same format, even if the message is the same.