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Refranes de mi Abuela



Refranes (sayings or proverbs) have taken their root in many an oral tradition.  When used by tu madre, abuela, hermana, or other notable person or elder in your family (or extended family), refranes will save your life, help you with planning and major decision making, lift anxiety, increase wisdom and insight, provide a healthy dose of humor, or will simply be absorbed by your soul that you may one day share them with someone in need of advice.

I am a second generation Latina by way of two Boricua parents.  I was, however, raised by my mother and grandmother –two very traditional women.  I live, think, and breathe my culture every day;  and I love it.  Refranes, suffice it to say, are a part of my consciousness, an integral part of my culture.  Refranes are a language and an awareness.  The better part of the refranes I have learned throughout my life have come from –you guessed it – mi Abuela, and I keep them in a journal.  It’s my reference library of sorts, and now I present a few of these refranes.  As a disclaimer, these refranes may include colloquialisms across the Latino cultures, possibly making them slightly different, but the underlying message is usually carried.

Que toma jab?n para que lave.

A literal translation would read, “May he take soap and wash with it.”

This refrán is typically used to express that someone has received just punishment for wrongdoing.

El huevo quiere sal.

Literal translation: The egg wants salt.

This refrán means that there is some type of alterior motive behind someone’s action(s).

Camar?n que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.

Literal translation: a shrimp that sleeps will get swept away by the current.

This refrán carries over well and requires no additional description.

Que tu guarapo siempre tenga hielo.

Literal translation: May your cane juice always have ice.

This refrán is used towards people who boast, as a wish that they will always have the things they love.

Mas vale precaver que tener que remediar.

Quite simply, this refrán’s translation is, “It is better to take precaution than to remedy.”

En boca cerrada no entran moscas.

Literal translation: No flies will enter in a closed mouth.

The actual meaning, flies omitted, is “Sometimes it is better to remain quiet.”

A caballo regalado no se la mira el colmillo.

Literal translation: One shouldn’t look at a gift horse’s fang.

This refrán means you should avoid being critical and ungrateful for a gift.  It is synonymous with the English saying, “Don’t kick a gift horse in the mouth.”

El que guarda siempre tiene.

A simple translation reads: “S/he who saves always has.”


Agua que no haz de beber hazla siempre correr.

Literal translation: If there is water you will not drink, let it run.

This is a practical refrán that’s used to say, “If you’re not interested in something, let it go.”

While those of us who have been exposed to refranes may have them embedded in our everyday language, there are others who have either infrequently or never heard a refrán before.  As a result, if someone innocently uses a refrán in conversation, it may be difficult for another person to grasp it because a refrán is semantic; it is practically like speaking an entirely different language. These helpful one-liners, however, tell an abridged story, and when carefully used to apply practical advice to an appropriate circumstance, refranes prove to be extremely powerful.

How are refranes culturally relevant in your life?  Practice using those you’re comfortable with (use with care) or share your wisdom with us …y Cuídate!


Primary Source: Altagracia (Tita), Mi Abuela

Speaking Phrases Boricua!: A Collection of Wisdom and Sayings from Puerto Rico

by Jeanelle Roman

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Great post! I love the “En boca cerrada no entran moscas.” !!!

    -Julie (@cowgirljab Twitter)

  2. These are good. I always remember:

    Si el rio suena, piedras trae Usually in reference to a rumor that may or may not be true, but that has a really good chance of being true.

    Por la boca muere le pez Usually, a cautionary warning about keeping your mouth shut.

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