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The rain in Spain... became snow

Ten Spanish weather expressions - good for small talk

“El clima es lo que se espera y el tiempo es lo que ocurre.”

Climate is what you expect and weather is what you get.

That makes La Tormenta (storm) Filomena, which recently covered most of the northern half of the Iberian Peninsula with several inches of snow a freakish event. You might be unsurprised to hear that talking about the weather is just as good an ice breaker (rompe-hielos) in Spain as it is here on the weather-beaten islands in the north-west of Europe.

Here below are a few phrases that will be useful for making small talk, and some of them give a helpful insight into grammatical structures or even cultural reference points.

1. Hace un calor tremendo = It’s scorching hot

The main thing to mention here is that Spanish tends to use hacer to refer to weather, whereas English uses “to be”. Hacer usually means to do or to make, so straight away we realise that we cannot always simply translate word by word

2. No hace nada de frío = It’s not cold at all. (Literally: It’s not nothing cold)

The double negative in English is, dare I put it like this, a no-no, but in Spanish it is correct.

3. ¡Qué calor! = It’s (so) hot!

This short phrase is a nice reminder of how easy it is to make exclamations in Spanish: simply put ¡Qué... in front of an adjective:

¡Qué interesante! = So interesting

¡Qué bonito! = So nice

Or, more relevantly for the current weather conditions:

¡Qué frío! = So cold!

The good thing about this particular construction is that no verb is required, and let’s face it, the verb is the most difficult thing to get right in most Spanish sentences.

4. Aquí siempre hace mucho frío en esta época = It’s always cold here at this time of year

The interesting thing about this sentence is the order of the words. It translates literally as “Here always it makes much cold in this time. And yes, época, is the best way of referring to a season, or a particular time. The English related word “epoque” sounds rather dramatic, but it is neutral/normal in Spanish.

5. Hacía un frío que pelaba = Literally: It was making a cold that peeled, figuratively: It was freezing cold. A good idiomatic expression, and a reminder that when talking about the weather in the past it is most common to use the imperfect tense, especially if you are setting the scene.

6. Hizo un día horrible = It was a horrible day. In contrast to the above example, we can use the preterite (past simple) tense to talk about a more specific occasion in the past. And remember that using the verb hacer makes it clear enough that it is the weather you are referring to, rather than a horrible day at the office.

7. Está lloviendo a cántaros = It’s pouring with rain (“un cántaro” is a jug so this saying makes logical sense). Just like in English, Spanish has two present tenses. In this expression we use the present continuous “it is raining” to say what is happening right now, as opposed to the present simple, “llueve” – it rains – to refer to what usually happens.

8. La primavera, la sangre altera = “Spring is in the air.” (Literally: “The spring, the blood alters.”)

9. Hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo = Don’t take your jumper off until May 40th. An enigmatic expression that warns about being complacent about summer arriving after the first warm spell.

10. Está chispeando and está lloviznando = It’s drizzling. It is said that Inuit people have fifty words for snow. Whether or not this is true, my Spanish friends like to joke that the British should have fifty words for rain! Well, here are two more Spanish rain-related words

Andrew Wenger, Director and principal teacher of SameSky Languages

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