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¡Madre mía! Ten ways to express surprise or shock in Spanish

Bart Simpson may say ‘¡Ay caramba!’ but in truth Spanish people have other more colourful ways of letting it be known that they are befuddled or flabbergasted by something.

There are many expressions and words you can use as interjections in Spanish to show that something really surprises or shocks you. Photo: Nathan Bingle/Unsplash
There are many expressions and words you can use as interjections in Spanish to show that something really surprises or shocks you. Photo: Nathan Bingle/Unsplash

¿En serio? – Really?

Perhaps the most commonly used way of expressing surprise in Spanish. 


¡He aprobado! — ¿En serio?

I passed! — Really?

¡Madre mía! – Oh my! or Goodness!

It’s not just Italians who call out for their mothers when exclaiming mamma mia!; Spaniards do so too when they find something surprising or shocking. 

You can also say ¡ay, madre! (oh, mother!), ¡madre del amor hermoso! (mother of beautiful love) and if you don’t mind it getting a bit explicit with the person surprising you there’s saying ¡la madre que te parió! (the mother who gave birth to you!), which generally has a positive connotation believe it or not.


¡Madre mía! ¡Se acaba de caer!

Goodness! She just fell over!

Calling out for ‘the mother of beautiful love’ is not uncommon in Spain. Photo: BLoafX/Pixabay

¡Pero bueno! – Goodness!

Literally translated as “but well”, this interjection expresses surprise with a light-hearted hint of ‘how dare you?’ about it. 


¡Pero bueno! ¡Te has dejado la bragueta abierta!

Goodness! You’ve left your zipper open!

¿Pero qué me estás contando? – What on earth are you telling me?

Further incredulity can be expressed by asking the person to ‘come again?’. To spice it up, you can add the following words with an increasing degree of severity: (rayos (lightning bolts), demonios (devils), carajo (swearword meaning ‘dick’), coño (Spanish c-word). 


Han cancelado la fiesta de cumpleaños. — ¿Pero qué rayos me estás contando?

They’ve cancelled the birthday party. – What on earth did you just say?

Aside from the expressions on this list, you’re also likely to hear Spanish people refer to God – Dios or Dios mío – when they’re really surprised by something. Photo: Jonatas Domingos/Unsplash

¡Qué dices! – No way!

Meaning “what are you saying?” but expressed as an exclamation rather than a question, here’s a way of showing you’re really surprised.


¡Voy a ser padre! — ¡Qué dices! ¡Felicidades! 

I’m going to be a father! — No way! Congratulations!

¡De eso nada, monada! – No way, José!

Literally translated as “none of that, cutie”, this expression which rhymes in Spanish is used when you want to express that you’re having none of what the other person is saying. You can also just say ¡De eso nada! If you want to drop the compliment. 


¿Qué me suba al coche? ¡De eso nada, monada!

You want me to get in the car? No way, Jose!

Are you serious or is it the usual monkey business? Photo: Blende12/Pixabay

¿Será broma,no? You’re joking!

A Spaniard in denial about what they’ve just heard may ask you if you’re joking. 


Me voy a vivir a Groenlandia un año. — ¿Será broma, no?

I’m going to live in Greenland for a year. — You’re joking right?

¡Me quedo de piedra!

Quedarse de piedra means to be turned into stone in the literal sense, but really it’s used to say that you’re stunned, amazed or flabbergasted. 


Me quedé de piedra cuando me dijo que tenía otra esposa e hijos.

I was in shock when he told me he had another wife and children. 

Anyone who locked gaze with Medusa was turned into stone, but in Spain receiving surprising news can have a similar effect. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty/AFP

¡Si, anda! ¡Anda ya! – Yeah, right!

Another way Spanish people commonly express surprise is by suggesting you go for a walk. ¡Anda! (the imperative/command for andar, to walk) is actually a bit like saying What! In English when you’re pleasantly surprised by something.

But if you want to express disbelief and make it clear you don’t believe what you’re hearing is true, it’s better to say ¡Si, anda! or ¡Anda ya!. Shakira did say hips don’t lie but we’re still not sure what walking has to do with hearing the truth. 


¡Anda! ¡Qué regalo tan bonito!

Wow! What a beautiful present!

¿Qué has ganado 10 millones en la lotería? ¡Si, anda!

You’ve won 10 million on the lottery? Yeah, right!

You may have to send people for a walk if they tell you they’ve won the Spanish Christmas lottery. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

¡Vaya! – Damn! or Oh!

Here are Spaniards again requiring people to go somewhere when they’re surprised. Vaya is the imperative form of ir (to go), so even though someone saying ¡vaya! would imply they want you to go somewhere, they are really just expressing surprise. 

It can be a positive or negative surprise depending on the excitement or melancholy with which it’s delivered, and saying it three times ¡Vaya, vaya, vaya! Is like saying well well well in English. 


Me han despedido — ¡Vaya! Lo siento mucho.

I got the sack – Damn! I’m really sorry.

¡Vaya! ¡Qué alegría verte!

Wow! It’s so great to see you!


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17 hilarious Spanish translations of famous English movie titles 

Ever watched Pigs and Diamonds? How about Glass Jungle? If you've got no idea what we're talking about, dont worry, bizarre translations of film titles from their original English-language version into Spanish are fairly common and often pretty funny.

17 hilarious Spanish translations of famous English movie titles 

If you turn on the TV in Spain or go to the cinema, you’re likely to come across a whole host of American and British movies, all which have been dubbed and had their titles translated into Spanish in the vast majority of cases. 

Why Spain doesn’t embrace original language movies is a whole different story. What’s clear is that Spaniards love Hollywood but foreign movies have to be ‘Spanishised’ for them to pay attention to them. 

That’s the job of the film distributors in Spain, who over the years have received tens of thousands of English-language movies. Most of the time they get it right, but as we’ll see below, they sometimes give title translations their own bizarre and unique spin. 

“First, we receive a synopsis in English and the original title of the film: if it is based on a book or a story, we choose the original title. And if not, a literal translation, if it has one,” Álvaro Curiel, marketing director of Buena Vista International in Spain, told online daily 20 Minutos. 

“There are many times when we have to come up with a new title without having seen the original movie,” DeAPlaneta marketing director Gemma Ferrús admitted. 

Sometimes it’s understandable that it can prove difficult to get it right, especially when there are English plays on words or puns, such as with the 2010 action-comedy Knight and Day starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Díaz, which in Spain was translated as Noche Y Día (Night and Day).   

But there are other times when one can’t help but wonder what the marketing teams and translators were thinking. 

At least they’ve given us some hilariously abstract or unique translations to enjoy. Here are some of the best:

Snatch was translated as ‘Snatch: Pigs and Diamonds’ (Snatch: Cerdos y Diamantes)

It’s true that arrebatar (the Spanish translation of the verb to snatch) doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but whoever translated the title of Guy Ritchie’s London gangster comedy for Spanish audiences appears to have picked two of the film’s elements at random and just ran with it. Who knows, maybe it could’ve been caravans and bare-knuckle boxing?

Die Hard was translated as ‘Glass Jungle’ (Jungla de Cristal)

Again, translating ‘die hard’ into Spanish is a big ask, as muere de manera dura isn’t exactly a winner. So we guess it was a case of trying to be creative and honour John McLane’s (Bruce Willis) barefoot smashing of panes of glass in the first Die Hard. Then they just had to stick with ‘Glass Jungle’ for all the other sequels.

Point Break was translated as ‘They call him Bodhi’ (Le llaman Bodhi)

Spanish surfers refer to point break – a type of swell which hits land at an oblique or perpendicular angle – as point break, without bothering to clumsily translate it into Spanish. But the Spanish translators of 1991 action crime film Point Break focused instead on Patrick Swayze’s character with the rather unsexy ‘They call him Bodhi’. How about Keanu’s character?

The Sound of Music was translated as ‘Smiles and Tears’ (Sonrisas y Lágrimas)

Why not just El Sonido de la Música? That would be a perfectly acceptable and accurate translation of the 1965 Julie Andrews musical. If it’s any consolation, in Latin America film distributors called the film La Novicia Rebelde (The Rebel Novice). 

There’s something about Mary was translated as ‘Something’s up with Mary’ (Algo pasa con Mary

It’s not so much that the Spanish title of this comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller has nothing to do with the original version in English, it’s the fact that the Spanish translation implies that there’s something wrong with Mary, not that she’s a heartbreaker.

Dr. Strangelove was translated as ‘Red Phone? We’re flying to Moscow’ (¿Teléfono Rojo? Volamos hacia Moscú)

Yes, this was never going to be an easy one to translate as the original English title is a mouthful (the full version is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). But why not just run with a simple ‘El Doctor Strangelove’? Seems like the Spanish distributors wanted to outdo Stanley Kubrick on the wackiness scale.  

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was translated as ‘Forget about Me!’ (¡Olvídate de mí!)

Here’s another one that wasn’t a straightforward translation, but with the flowery nature of the Spanish language they could have at least given it a go, right? El Sol Eterno de La Mente Inmaculada sounds pretty good to us. But no, instead they went with ‘Forget about Me!’. 

Some Like It Hot – With skirts and in a crazy way (Con faldas y a lo loco)

Come on, Spain is the land of ¡Caliente!. Instead this classic rom-com starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon was premiered in Spain under a title which oozes a fat slice of creative freedom. We have to admit that ‘With skirts and in a crazy way’ (a lo loco also means ‘in a rush’) is pretty entertaining, nonetheless.

The Naked Gun – Grab it however you can (Agárralo como puedas)

According to some sources, a naked gun is a gun attached to a cowboy’s belt for a quick draw. We’re not saying that it was easy to convey this in the translation of Leslie Nielsen’s slapstick comedies, but ‘grab it however you can’ has absolutely nothing to do with the original title. At least in Argentina they called it La Pistola Desnuda (The Naked Gun).  

The Parent Trap – You to London and I to California (Tú a Londres y yo a California)

The original 1961 comedy and the 1998 remake with Lindsay Lohan both have this geographical spin that has nothing to do with the original title, even though ‘La Trampa para Padres’ was a no-brainer. Oh well, at least they didn’t call it Operación Cupido (Operation Cupid) as it was named in Latin America. 

Here are a few more honourable mentions of weirdly wonderful English-to-Spanish movie title translations: 

Ice Princess (2005) was translated as ‘Dreaming, dreaming…I succeeded at skating’ (Soñando, soñando… triunfé patinando)

Trumbo (2015) was translated as ‘Return with Glory’ (Regreso con Gloria)

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) was translated as ‘Two Very Stoned Nutters’ (Dos Colgaos muy Fumaos

Braindead (1992) was translated as ‘Your mum has eaten my dog’ (Tu madre se ha comido a mi perro)

Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) was translated as ‘The Fighting Sausage’ (La salchicha peleona)

Unbreakable (2000) was translated as ‘The Protected’ (El Protegido)

Fast and the Furious (2001-2023) was translated as ‘Flat Out’ (A todo gas)