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There is a common statement—well, I least I've read quite a few times—that goes like this:

You can't get something out of nothing.

I would like to know if this sentence has a common translation into Spanish, and if it doesn't, well, I'd like to have a good translation of it.

"No se puede conseguir algo a partir de la nada" seems ok, but it sounds pretty wooden.

Any ideas?

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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In general, expressions of procession from (that is, something results because of something that was) seem to sound more natural than expressions of obtaining from. That said, I assume both could be equally understood.

The Spanish version of Wikipedia has it written as

  • Nada surge de la nada

Other ways to express it might include:

  • Nada viene de la nada.
  • Nada procede de la nada.
  • No puedes sacar nada de la nada.


And, of course, la nada can also be rephrased in many ways to be more specific or sound more natural (in context). Words and phrases such as vacío or (a)donde hay nada, can help spice thing up.

Hope this helps! :)

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En el Refranero del Instituto Cervantes se puede encontrar:

De donde no hay no se puede sacar.

Donde no hay, no hay.

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Another idiom in Spanish to express that (more coloquial than the others):

Donde no hay mata, no hay patata

What literally means where there is no plant, you can't find potatoes.

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At a informal context, you can use:

  • De donde no hay, no se puede sacar (like you can't get anything from where there's nothing)-

I think this fits what you are asking, but it's quite informal speaking. Not to be added to a quarter results report, i.e.

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Just point out that this sentence is usually used for complaining about the inability of someone to do something. –  Javi Mar 20 '12 at 8:32
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@Javi true. In these cases it could be replaced by the most common idiom 'pedir peras al olmo' (ask for pears to the elm) –  Tomas Narros Mar 20 '12 at 8:34
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@TomasNarros, I would say "ask for pears from the elm." I like that expression though. –  Rachel Mar 22 '12 at 21:05
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In Spain it's quite common the idiom

Nadie da duros a cuatro pesetas.

A "duro" is a five-peseta coin. Although pesetas are not current anymore, most people over 15 or so would understand this saying with the meaning that the OP describes.

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