There is an English saying:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

According to the Wikipedia, it is said "to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune". This seems to be a phrase that has been translated to Spanish literally:

  • When searching for "cuando la vida te da limones" (including the quote marks), Google returns 97000 results.
  • When searching for "si la vida te da limones" (including the quote marks), Google returns 465000 results.

Nonetheless, I am trying to find a similar proverbial phrase that existed before in Spanish with the same sense. So far I can only think of:

Poner a mal tiempo buena cara.

as in the following example:

Allá en el Vivero los convidados habían puesto a mal tiempo buena cara, y mientras en el palacio viejo [...] jugaban al tresillo a primera hora y más tarde al monte, [...] en la casa nueva todas las damas y los caballeros que habían querido correr por los prados en la romería, procuraban divertirse como podían y se bailaba, se tocaba el piano, se cantaba y se jugaba al escondite por toda la casa. (La Regenta, Leopoldo Alas)

So is this the most suitable Spanish proverb that conveys the same meaning as the English phrase? Are there any differences in their meanings or use? Are there any other options to adapt the English saying?

  • You're welcome. Have you checked the special search for books? google.com/search?tbm=bks&q=si+la+vida+te+da+limones If you check the second result, a book about essays, you can read "considered this saying to be derived from english". I agree with both of you, it seems that the lemonade saying is derived from English.
    – RubioRic
    Apr 26, 2018 at 10:11
  • What is the real question here? in venezuela we said si la vida te da limones very often Apr 26, 2018 at 13:38
  • @JuanCarlosOropeza sorry, maybe I did not make it clear. There's no problem with the literal translation, I just wanted to know if there was a similar proverb in Spanish that existed before the adaptation of the English one.
    – Charlie
    Apr 26, 2018 at 13:41
  • Relacionados: no hay mal que por bien no venga, tras la tormenta llega la calma. No son exactament lo mismo, por lo cual no los pongo en una respuesta. También: "Ni modo." Apr 28, 2018 at 4:02
  • Si la vida te da limones, pide sal y tequila Aug 3, 2018 at 10:12

4 Answers 4


I sometimes use this one:

Si la vida te da palos, construye una casa porque oye, ¡son gratis!

Which can be translated literally to:

If life gives you sticks, build a house because hey, they're free!

Now the palo word there opens up the phrase to interpretation, because palo is how you say stick so dar palos would be give sticks. But it can also mean to hit someone (dar de palos/pegar de palos) or to steal something (usually money) from someone (pegar el palo).

Please, keep in mind that this proverb is an informal one. It is not offensive at all, but it is rarelly used in a formal context.

So answering your question, I would say Poner al mal tiempo buena cara or simply Al mal tiempo, buena cara would be the best alternative for you to choose from.

  • 1
    Welcome to Spanish Language! That's a nice alternative that also contains a pun of words. Is it something you made up, or it is widely used where you live?
    – Charlie
    Apr 26, 2018 at 8:58
  • I don't hear it very often here, not widely used. But it's not something I made up, I first heard it as a child, from my grandfather.
    – ravasaurio
    Apr 26, 2018 at 9:43
  • 2
    Looking for the origin of your phrase, I've found a variant: "Si la vida te da la espalda, tócale el culo"
    – RubioRic
    Apr 26, 2018 at 10:18
  • @walen Oh yes you are right. Sorry for a moment I tought I forgot press enter when I didnt see my coment and write it again. Now I see where was Apr 26, 2018 at 13:58
  • Never heard this one in Argentina - just a datapoint. Apr 26, 2018 at 20:51

The closest that I can think of would be:

A mal tiempo buena cara

that matches the meaning of optimism in the face of adversities that Wikipedia gives to the English proverb.

The Institituto Cervantes gives the description:

Se puede emplear en sentido literal (el tiempo atmosférico) y metafórico. Referido al físico humano, aconseja no hacer notar los gestos que pueden reflejar nuestra decepción ante cualquier suceso. Referido al comportamiento, recomienda mantener el temple y no desanimarse cuando se presentan contrariedades y momentos difíciles, pues, pese a no poder cambiar la situación, se puede cambiar la actitud.

Referido al comportamiento, recomienda mantener el temple y no desanimarse cuando se presentan contrariedades y momentos difíciles, pues, pese a no poder cambiar la situación, se puede cambiar la actitud.

Of course, this one lacks the idea of using adversities to your advantage make lemonade, so it is not a perfect match. In fact the same Instituto Cervantes translates this proverb as:

What can't be cured must be endured

But it is still the closest equivalent that I can think of (I cannot find any reference to "lemon[s]" in the Instituto Cervantes search).

  • I have never heard "A mal tiempo buena cara" used in relation to weather. Apr 26, 2018 at 14:36

I can't think about a traditional proverb that means the same. As you have say, this one is close:

Al mal tiempo, buena cara

However, this proverb try to encourage to be optimistic when things doesn't go very well, but lacks the part of using what's wrong for your benefit.

The proverb you say "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is also widely used in Spain as is. I would say it's not a traditional proverb but yes a common one, maybe because of English influence. The translation is:

Si la vida te da limones, haz limonada

Sometimes people also invent their own proverbs, and quite common ones can be these or variants of them:

Si la vida te da palos, hazte una cabaña

It means "if the life gives you stick, build a cottage". It's similar to the one of ravasaurio, and as he explains, "palo" means "stick" but also "hit", so you are using both meanings at the same time: in the first part you use as "hit", but in the second part you have converted it to its usage as "stick".

Other funny proverb that I have heard many times is:

Si la vida te da la espalda, tócale el culo

It means "if the life turns its back to you, touch its ass"

EDIT: googling a bit I have remembered another one that is both traditional and with a meaning closer to your proverb's:

Cuando se cierra una puerta, se abre una ventana

When a door is closed, a window is opened.

Or also:

Si te cierran la puerta, abre la ventana

If they close you the door, open the window

  • si la vida te da la espalda , AGARRALE LAS NALGAS !
    – Mike
    Apr 26, 2018 at 17:40

The phrase we more use here in Venezuela is:

Si la vida te da limones aprende hacer limonada.

When life gives you lemons, learn make lemonade.

We even have an folklore story. When in the colonial times there was a disease. They take the saint statue from church and walk it from the street praying from a cure. The statue hit a lemon tree and with the lemons they create the cure for the disease.

Here is the story:


Andres Eloy Blanco wrote a poem when some people cut the leamon tree.


  • ¿Quizas escorbuto?
    – user19118
    Apr 26, 2018 at 14:22
  • @yotanka Probably yes, I wasnt sure what was and a first google search didnt return anything Apr 26, 2018 at 14:24
  • @yotanka I did some more research, found a poem, but they doent specify the disease just say was a pest. And the limon cure the people not because were lemon but because the staue touch it, then make it miracle lemons. Apr 26, 2018 at 14:34

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