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Speak like a local: Ten very useful Spanish expressions with the word ‘water’ 

In hot and sunny Spain, ‘agua’ is certainly a word you need to know. But there are also many handy expressions which include the word for water, from the Spanish version of being 'in dire straits' to what you call a 'party pooper'. 

Speak like a local: Ten very useful Spanish expressions with the word ‘water’ 
Have you ever felt like you were drowning in a glass of water? Spanish has an expression for that feeling. Photo: AxxLC/Pixabay

One of the first words Spanish language learners learn is agua, water in Spanish.

As a verb, aguar can mean to water down or spoil, as an adjective – aguado – it can describe something as weak or lifeless. 

The list of words derived from the word for water in Spanish is in fact pretty long: acuático, acueducto, acuífero, acuoso, aguacero, aguada, aguado, aguador, aguafuerte, aguaje, aguamanil, aguamiel, aguar, aguardiente, aguarrás, aguasal, aguazal, desaguar, enjuagar, paraguas, piragua etc

But on this occasion we’re going to focus on ten daily use expressions which contain the word agua but don’t necessarily have anything to do with H2O. 

What they will do is help you take your Spanish proficiency up a notch, so here goes!

Ahogarse en un vaso de agua: To make a mountain out of a molehill

Literally meaning to drown in a glass of water, it’s the way Spanish speakers say someone is getting frustrated over something that isn’t serious.

Example: Te estás ahogando en un vaso de agua, no es para tanto!

You’re making a mountain out of a molehill, it’s not that bad!

Nunca digas ‘de este agua no beberé’: never say never

This expression translates directly as never say ‘from this water I will never drink’, which is a slightly more poetic version that English’s ‘never say never’ when it comes to never ruling something out. 

Example: Eres muy joven, nunca digas ‘este agua no beberé’.

You’re very young, never say never.

Photo: Gundula Vogel/Pixabay

Como dos gotas de agua: Like two drops of water

This one is exactly the same as in English, but don’t try to apply the same direct translation to ‘like two peas in a pod’ as you might get some weird looks from Spanish speakers. 

Example: Son como dos gotas de agua, tal para cual.

They’re like two drops of water, they’re made for each other.

Agua pasada: It’s water under the bridge

Spanish speakers don’t mention the bridge but they do say that ‘the water has passed’ to signify that something is in the past and forgotten. 

Example: El mal rollo entre yo y Juan es agua pasada.

The bad vibes between Juan and I are water under the bridge.

Photo: Pierre Philippe Marcou/AFP

Agua pasada, no mueve el molino: It’s no use crying over spilled milk

This Spanish expression is slightly different from the previous ‘water under the bridge’ as ‘agua pasada no mueve el molino’ (water that has passed doesn’t move the mill) signifies that you can’t change anything about something that’s in the past. 

Example: Tienes que superarlo. Agua pasada, no mueve molino. 

You need to get over it. There’s no use crying over spilled milk.

Estar con el agua al cuello: To be in dire straits

It means to have the water up to your neck, similar to saying that you’re up to your neck in something to imply that you’re going through difficult times – financially or otherwise – and that the situation is very hectic and panicked.

Example: Estoy con el agua al cuello, no se si voy a llegar a final de mes.

I’m in dire straits, I’m not sure I’m going to make it to the end of the month. 

¡Agüita! – Gosh/wow

Here’s an interjection that’s used primarily in Spain’s Canary Islands and some Spanish speaking countries in Latin America. You exclaim ¡agüita! (little water) to express surprise or shock about something. 

Example: ¡Agüita! Hace tanto calor que no hay nadie en la calle.

Wow! It’s so hot that there’s nobody in the streets.

Photo: Sindi Short/Pixabay

Cambiarle el agua al canario/a las aceitunas: to spend a penny (urinate)

This comical way of saying you’re going to the toilet for a number one – literally translated as ‘changing the canary’s water’ or ‘changing the olives’ water – is a less graphic way of saying ‘voy a mear’, ‘I’m going to pee’.

Example: ¡No aguanto más! Voy a cambiarle el agua al canario. 

I can’t hold it in any longer. I’m going to spend a penny. 

Como pez en el agua: Like a duck to water 

If someone takes naturally to something, instead of referring to them as being like a duck to water, in Spanish it’s a fish in water that’s used as a metaphor. 

Example: María se ha adaptado muy  bien a su nuevo puesto de trabajo, le va como pez en el agua. 

María has adapted really well to her new job, like a duck to water. 

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP

Aguafiestas: party pooper, killjoy

Although this is an adjective rather than actual expression, we thought it was worth including in this list for its originality – literally meaning ‘water party’ – and because it comes up very often in daily conversation in Spain. 

The act of spoiling a party by pouring water over revellers was even used by one of Spain’s greatest writers Miguel de Cervantes in his 1613 novel La ilustre fregona, so remember that a spoilsport or buzzkill in Spanish is referred to as an aguafiestas. 

Example: No seas un aguafiestas, nos lo estamos pasando muy bien. 

Don’t be a party pooper, we’re having a great time.   

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For members


Ten Spanish mistakes even Spaniards make

Frustrated with your Spanish? Don't sweat it: Even native speakers sometimes make mistakes. Here we list some of the most common ones - all in the name of making you feel better about yourself of course.

Ten Spanish mistakes even Spaniards make

It turns out English speakers don’t have a monopoly on mangling their language. Spanish speakers pepper their speech and writing with errors too.

A book published by Spain’s Cervantes Institute – Las 500 dudas más frecuentes del español – tackles the 500 thorniest issues faced by native speakers of Spanish.

From spellings, kiosco or quiosco? (you’ll see both) – to accents – porque or porqué? (the second is a noun meaning ‘reason’ or ‘motive’) – this article will help you clear up your doubts about the language.

But basta (or should that be vasta?) with all the small talk. Let’s get on with it.

¿Te escucho mal o te oigo mal?

I’m listening to you badly (‘te escucho mal‘) may sound horribly wrong in English but in Spanish, it’s become so widely used most Spaniards won’t even pick up on this bizarre mistake. The right answer is ‘te oigo mal‘ (I can’t hear you).

Te oigo mal. Photo: Robin Higgins / Pixabay

¿Ahí, hay o ay? 

Ouch! Wasn’t Spanish meant to be an easy language phonetically speaking? These three words are almost pronounced the same but may cause some Spaniards a headache when putting pen to paper. Hay (there is/are), ‘ahí‘ (over there) and ‘ay‘ is what flamenco ‘cantaores‘ (singers) scream or what you shout out if you’re in pain.

Ay, I’m being bitten by ants. Photo: Hans / Pixabay

Andé o anduve? 

The past simple form of the verb ‘to walk’ (andar) in Spanish trips up many native speakers who assume it to be regular. Right answer is anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvisteis, anduvieron.

What is the past simple form of the verb ‘to walk’ (andar)? Photo: 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day / Pixabay

¿He freído o he frito? 

Brain frazzled yet? Well, not to worry because Spaniards often mix up the past participle of to fry (‘freído’) with the adjective fried (‘frito’). Food for thought.

Freído or Frito? Photo: Andrew Ridley / Unsplash

Subir para arriba, entrar para adentro, salir para afuera

In English, this would equate with ‘go up up’, ‘to go inside inside’ and ‘to go out’. It seems redundant, it’s grammatically wrong but the vast majority of Spaniards have used these forms more than once.

Subir para arriba? Photo: Bruno Nascimento / Unsplash

El agua, el arma, el hambre

Sometimes the gender (‘el’ or ‘la’) of nouns in Spanish is a bitch, pardon our French. It’s hard enough already for English speakers to label everything as either masculine or feminine, so when you get nouns that end with an ‘a’ but have a masculine pronoun it all gets very confusing. Still, many Spanish mistakenly say ‘este agua‘ or ‘este arma‘ when they should use ‘esta‘. 

El agua instead of La agua. Photo: rony michaud / Pixabay

¿Sólo o solo?

If you haven’t got your head around Spanish accents, rest assured many Spaniards aren’t clear on the rules either. Even the Royal Spanish Academy (the world’s chief body on the Spanish language) can’t make its mind up on whether to include an accent on ‘sólo‘ (only) or just leave it like solo (alone). Feel like you need a ‘café solo‘ (black coffee) now?

Do you need an accent with your café solo? Photo: David Schwarzenberg / Pixabay

Adding an unnecessary ‘s’ to second person past simple forms (‘fuistes’, ‘hicistes’, ‘llamastes’ and so on)

The letter ‘s’ at the end of words may be a relatively unheard sound in southern Spain, but in the rest of the Iberian peninsula, they’re rather fond of it. So much so that many Spaniards add it to verbs where it doesn’t even exist. By the way, it should be ‘fuiste’, ‘hiciste’ and ‘llamaste’.

Some Spanish people an extra ‘s’ onto words. Photo: Muhammad Haseeb Muhammad Suleman / Pixabay

¿Conducí o conduje? ¿Traducí o Traduje? 

Common verbs like ‘to drive’ and ‘to translate’ manage to catch out many Spaniards because of their unexpected irregular form in the past simple. The correct form for both verbs ends in -je, -jiste, -jo, -jimos, -jisteis and -jeron

Do you know how to say ‘I drove’ in Spanish? Photo: Pexels / Pixabay

Han solo

“What on earth is that choice of picture about?” you may ask. Well, this slide is only about one word- Han, solo. Terrible jokes aside, ‘there have been’ is not ‘han habido‘ in Spanish. The correct form is always ‘ha habido‘ but many Spaniards join the dark side. 

Han Solo. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP