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

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
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.

¿En serio? – Really?

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

Example:

¡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.

Example:

¡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. 

Example:

¡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). 

Example:

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.

Example:

¡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. 

Example:

¿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. 

Example:

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. 

Example:

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. 

Examples: 

¡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. 

Examples:

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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