Understanding the Spanish Idiom: "pasarlas negras" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: Spanish

Like many idioms, the exact origin of pasarlas negras is unknown. However, some theories suggest that it may have originated during Spain’s turbulent history when people had to endure difficult times due to wars, economic hardships, or other challenges.

Regardless of its origins, today, this expression has become a part of everyday speech in Spanish-speaking countries worldwide. It conveys the idea that someone is going through a challenging period or facing adversity.

Usage Examples

Pasarlas negras can be used in various contexts. Here are some examples:

  • “Después de perder su trabajo y separarse de su pareja, Juan está pasando por un momento difícil y las está pasando negras.”
  • “El equipo de fútbol tuvo una temporada terrible y las pasó negras para mantenerse en la liga.”
  • “Mi abuela vivió durante la guerra civil española y siempre dice que las pasó muy negras durante esos años.”

In each of these examples, pasarlas negras is used to describe a challenging situation that someone is going through. It’s important to note that this expression is typically used in the third person and not as a personal experience.


Understanding idioms like pasarlas negras can help you communicate more effectively with native Spanish speakers. By learning the meaning and usage of this phrase, you’ll be able to use it correctly in various contexts and understand when others are using it.

In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into some tips on how to use pasarlas negras correctly and provide some additional examples for practice.

Origins and Historical Context of the Spanish Idiom “pasarlas negras”

The Spanish language is rich in idiomatic expressions that reflect the culture, history, and traditions of its people. One such idiom is pasarlas negras, which translates to “to go through black times” or “to have a hard time.” This expression has become a common phrase used to describe difficult situations or periods of adversity.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to Spain’s dark past when it was under the rule of the Moors. During this period, Christians were often persecuted and forced to live in hiding or flee their homes. The term black was used to describe these times as they were marked by fear, uncertainty, and hardship.

Over time, the meaning of the expression evolved to encompass any difficult situation that one may face in life. It became a way for people to express empathy towards those going through tough times while also acknowledging their own struggles.

Today, pasarlas negras remains an important part of Spanish language and culture. It serves as a reminder that even during our darkest moments, there is always hope for better days ahead.

Usage and Variations of the Spanish Idiom “pasarlas negras”

The Spanish idiom pasarlas negras is a common expression used to describe difficult or challenging situations. This idiom can be used in various contexts, including personal experiences, work-related issues, financial struggles, and health problems.

Variations of the Idiom

While pasarlas negras is the most commonly used form of this idiom, there are variations that convey similar meanings:

Idiom Meaning
Pasar un mal rato To have a bad time/moment
Pasar por un momento difícil To go through a difficult moment/time
Pasar apuros económicos To experience financial difficulties/struggles

Common Usage Examples

The following are some examples of how the idiom pasarlas negras can be used in everyday conversations:

  • “Después de perder su trabajo, pasó unas semanas muy duras y las pasó negras para encontrar otro.” (After losing his job, he went through a tough time and had a hard time finding another one.)
  • “Cuando estuve enfermo el año pasado la pasé muy mal y las pasé negras para recuperarme.” (When I was sick last year, I had a really hard time and it took me a while to recover.)
  • “Mi amigo está pasando por un momento difícil en su relación y la está pasando negras.” (My friend is going through a tough time in his relationship and he’s having a hard time.)

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Spanish Idiom “pasarlas negras”


Some common synonyms for pasarlas negras include:

  • Vivir una situación difícil – To live a difficult situation
  • Pasar por momentos difíciles – To go through difficult moments
  • Tener problemas – To have problems
  • Atravesar una crisis – To go through a crisis


On the other hand, some antonyms for pasarlas negras could be:

  • Estar en la cima del mundo – To be on top of the world
  • Vivir un momento de felicidad – To live a moment of happiness
  • Estar en una buena racha – To be on a good streak
  • No tener preocupaciones – Not to have worries

Practical Exercises for the Spanish Idiom “pasarlas negras”

In order to fully grasp the meaning and usage of the Spanish idiom pasarlas negras, it is important to practice using it in context. Here are some practical exercises that will help you become more comfortable with this expression.

Exercise 1: Write a short paragraph describing a difficult situation you or someone else has experienced using the idiom pasarlas negras. Be sure to provide specific details about the situation and how it made you or the other person feel.

Example: When I was studying abroad in Spain, I had a really hard time adjusting to the culture and language. I felt like an outsider and struggled to make friends. Every day was a challenge, but I knew that if I could get through this experience, I would come out stronger on the other side. It was definitely one of those times when I was pasándolas negras.

Exercise 2: Practice using pasarlas negras in conversation with a friend or language partner. Come up with different scenarios where this expression might be appropriate, such as talking about a difficult job interview or dealing with personal problems.


Person A: How did your job interview go?

Person B: Oh man, it was rough. The interviewer asked me some really tough questions and I stumbled over my words a few times. I definitely felt like I was pasándola negra.

Exercise 3: Watch a movie or TV show in Spanish and try to identify instances where characters use pasarlas negras. Pay attention to their tone of voice and body language to get a better sense of how this expression is typically used.

By practicing these exercises, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to understand and use the Spanish idiom pasarlas negras in a variety of contexts. So go ahead and give it a try – you might be surprised at how quickly you start to feel more comfortable with this expression!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Spanish Idiom “pasarlas negras”

When using idiomatic expressions in a foreign language, it is important to understand their meaning and usage. The Spanish idiom pasarlas negras is no exception. This expression is used to describe a difficult or unpleasant situation that someone has experienced.

Mistake 1: Misusing the Expression

One common mistake when using this expression is misusing it in the wrong context. For example, saying I passed black cars yesterday instead of “I had a tough day yesterday”. It’s important to use the correct context for this idiom.

Mistake 2: Literal Translation

Another mistake is translating the expression literally word-for-word from Spanish to English. Doing so can result in confusion and misunderstanding because idioms often have different meanings than their literal translations.

Mistake Correction
“I passed black cars yesterday.” “I had a tough day yesterday.”
“He was passing black cats all night long.” “He had a really hard time last night.”

To avoid these mistakes, it’s important to practice using idiomatic expressions in context and seek feedback from native speakers or language instructors. By doing so, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively and accurately with others who speak Spanish as their first language.

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