Understanding the Spanish Idiom: "llamar a quintas" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: Spanish

The Spanish language is rich with idiomatic expressions that reflect the culture and history of its people. One such expression is llamar a quintas, which has its roots in the military conscription practices of Spain.

The History Behind “Llamar a Quintas”

In Spain, young men were required to serve in the military for a certain period of time. To ensure that all eligible men were drafted, officials would call up individuals by their birth year or quinta. This practice led to the phrase “llamar a quintas”, which means to call someone up for military service.

Usage and Meaning Today

While military conscription is no longer practiced in Spain, the idiom llamar a quintas still holds relevance today. It can be used to describe any situation where someone is being summoned or called upon for duty or responsibility.

Understanding this unique Spanish idiom can provide insight into the country’s cultural and historical context. It also serves as an example of how language evolves over time while still retaining connections to its past.

Origins and Historical Context of the Spanish Idiom “llamar a quintas”

The Spanish language is known for its rich idiomatic expressions that have evolved over time. One such idiom is llamar a quintas, which has been used by native speakers for centuries. This expression has an interesting origin, rooted in Spain’s military history.

During the 18th century, Spain faced several wars that required conscription of young men into the army. The government would call up these men using a system called quintas. Under this system, each year, one-fifth of all eligible young men were selected to serve in the military.

As you can imagine, being called up for military service was not something most people looked forward to. It meant leaving behind their families and homes for extended periods and facing potential danger on the battlefield. Therefore, when someone says they are llamando a quintas or calling up fifths in English, it means they are summoning people to do something unpleasant or unwanted.

Over time, this expression became part of everyday language in Spain and Latin America. Today it is used figuratively to refer to any situation where someone is forced to do something against their will or desires.

Usage and Variations of the Spanish Idiom “llamar a quintas”

Variations of the Idiom

The phrase llamar a quintas has several variations that are commonly used in different regions of Spain. For example, in some areas, people say “dar un toque” instead of “llamar a quintas.” This variation means giving someone a quick call or sending them a message to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Another variation is dar la lata, which translates to “giving someone trouble.” This version implies that calling someone unexpectedly might be seen as an annoyance or inconvenience.

Common Usage

Llamar a quintas is often used when referring to unexpected phone calls from friends or family members. It can also apply to situations where someone drops by your house without warning.

This expression can have both positive and negative connotations depending on the context. For instance, if you receive an unexpected call from an old friend who wants to catch up with you, it could be seen as a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, if your boss calls you after work hours for no apparent reason, it might not be such good news!


The idiom llamar a quintas is widely used in Spain and has several variations depending on the region. Its meaning refers mainly to unexpected phone calls or visits without prior notice. Understanding these nuances can help non-native speakers better understand Spanish culture and language.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Spanish Idiom “llamar a quintas”


– Llamar a filas

– Reclutar

– Convocar

– Llamar al servicio militar

These synonyms all refer to the act of calling someone to military service. They can be used interchangeably with llamar a quintas in most contexts.


– Evitar el servicio militar

– Ser exento del servicio militar

These antonyms refer to avoiding military service or being exempt from it. They are opposite in meaning to llamar a quintas.

In terms of cultural insights, llamar a quintas is an idiom that originated during times when Spain had mandatory military service. It refers specifically to the practice of calling up men by age group (quintas) for military duty. While mandatory military service is no longer in effect in Spain, this idiom remains part of the language and culture.

It’s worth noting that while this idiom may have historical significance, it can also be used more generally to mean any kind of call-up or recruitment process.

Practical Exercises for the Spanish Idiom “llamar a quintas”

In order to fully understand and use the Spanish idiom llamar a quintas, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. Below are some practical exercises that can help you become more comfortable with this expression.

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

Create sentences using llamar a quintas in the appropriate context. Use the following verbs: necesitar, olvidar, querer, tener.

Example: No puedo encontrar mi teléfono. Voy a llamar a quintas para ver si alguien lo encontró.

Exercise 2: Role Play

Practice using llamar a quintas in real-life situations by role-playing with a partner. Come up with scenarios where one person needs something from another person who is not easily reachable. Use “llamar a quintas” to express frustration or urgency.

Example: You need an important document from your boss who is on vacation and unreachable by phone or email.You say: ¡Esto es una emergencia! Tengo que llamar a quintas para conseguir ese documento.
Your friend has your keys but they left town without telling you.You say: ¿Cómo voy a entrar en mi casa? Tengo que llamar a quintas para recuperar mis llaves.

By practicing these exercises, you will become more confident and fluent when using the Spanish idiom llamar a quintas. Remember to use it in appropriate contexts and with the correct verb tense for maximum effectiveness.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Spanish Idiom “llamar a quintas”

Mistake #1: Misunderstanding the Meaning

One common mistake when using llamar a quintas is misunderstanding its meaning. This idiom literally translates to “calling up fifths”, but its actual meaning is quite different. In Spain, during times of war, young men were drafted into military service by calling up every fifth man in each village. Thus, “llamar a quintas” came to mean being called up for military service. However, today the phrase is used more broadly to mean being summoned unexpectedly or without warning.

Mistake #2: Incorrect Usage

Another mistake when using this idiom is incorrect usage. For example, saying Me llamaron a las quintas para ir al cine (They called me up for military service to go see a movie) would not make sense and could cause confusion. It’s important to use the idiom appropriately in context so as not to convey unintended meanings.

To avoid these and other mistakes when using the Spanish idiom llamar a quintas, it’s important to understand its true meaning and use it correctly in context. A table summarizing these tips can be found below:

Mistake Tips for Avoiding
Misunderstanding Meaning Understand historical context; recognize broader usage today.
Incorrect Usage Use idiom appropriately in context; avoid unintended meanings.

By being aware of these common mistakes and following the tips provided, you can effectively use the Spanish idiom llamar a quintas without confusion or miscommunication.

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