Do you use proverbs in your language?
I’m sure you do.
If you’re wondering what a proverb is, well, it's a well-known expression that gives advice or says something that is generally true.
Every language has its own proverbs and it may be possible that a proverb in your language is identical to a proverb in English.
In this post, you’ll learn 50 proverbs in English so you can not only understand English speakers when they use them but also use them yourself to express your ideas with more variety, impact and precision.
Ready? Here we go.
1. Honey Catches More Flies Than Vinegar
Meaning: It’s easier to persuade or attract others if you’re kind and gentle than being harsh or confrontational.
Example: I think your kids would visit you more if you were nicer to them. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar!
2. Haste Makes Waste
Meaning: Rushing through a task often creates problems or extra work.
Team member: “We need to finish this project quickly. Let's skip the planning stage and start right away.”
Team leader: “Remember, haste makes waste. If we skip the planning phase, we’ll be more likely to make mistakes later on and end up having to spend time fixing them. We shouldn’t rush things, especially at the beginning.”
3. Hope For The Best And Prepare For The Worse
Meaning: It’s absolutely fine to be positive, but you should be prepared in case things to go wrong.
Example: We hoped for the best and prepared for the worst when we learned that the hurricane was coming.
4. The Straw That Breaks/Broke The Camel's Back
Meaning: When an event is the straw that breaks/broke the camel's back, it means it’s the last in a series of bad things that happen to make someone very upset, angry, etc.
Example: It had been a difficult year, so when he lost his job, it was the straw that broke the camel's back.
5. A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing
Meaning: Only having a little understanding of a subject can be more dangerous than having no knowledge at all.
You may be wondering why.
Well, this is because when someone knows little about a topic, they may mistakenly believe they know enough about it to make decisions. But this could lead to negative consequences!
Speaker A: “I read one article about becoming vegan. I’m ready to quit eating meat”
Speaker B: “No! Be careful, remember that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Learn more about how you can replace meat and animal products first and then do it”
6. Love Makes The World Go Round
Meaning: What makes life worth living is love, affection, and kindness to others.
Example: Love makes the world go round, not money or power, so do your best to create beautiful relationships.
7. Misery Loves Company
Meaning: People who are unhappy and miserable like to share their problems with others.
Example: We had both just broken up with our girlfriends, so we decided to go out for pizza together – misery loves company.
8. Nothing Is Certain But Death And Taxes
Meaning: You can only be sure about two things in life: 1. one day you’re going to die; 2. you must pay your taxes.
Speaker A: “I’ve just made a big investment in the stock market”
Speaker B: “You’ll get rich!”
Speaker A: “Well, we’ll see. Nothing is certain but death and taxes!”
9. A Friend In Need Is A Friend Indeed
Meaning: A friend who helps you when you are in trouble is a real friend.
Speaker A: When I was in hospital, Jon would phone me every day to check I was doing OK. He then helped me with my rehabilitation too.
Speaker B: A friend in need is a friend indeed!
10. If You Want A Thing Done Well/Right, Do It Yourself
Meaning: It’s better to do something by yourself than to depend on others to do it well.
Speaker A: “I'm so upset with the way this project is going. I’ll just take over and do it myself.”
Speaker B: “Yeah! Sometimes if you want a thing done right, it's better to do it yourself.”
11. Opportunity Seldom Knocks Twice
Meaning: You only get great opportunities rarely. So grab them immediately, otherwise you might lose them forever!
Speaker A: “They’ve offered me a well-paid job at Apple but I’m not sure what to do.”
Speaker B: “What??? Take it! Opportunity seldom knocks twice!”
12. When In Rome Do As The Romans Do
Meaning: When you’re traveling and you find yourself in a place with different customs and traditions, it’s a good thing to do adapt yourself to the customs of the local people and behave like they do.
Example: “I know you normally love pineapple on pizza but you’re in Naples now. So don’t ask for that here. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!”
13. If You Run After Two Hares, You Will Catch Neither
Meaning: Don’t try to do two things at once. You won’t do either of them well.
Speaker A: “I want to become a world-famous YouTuber and be the most popular writer in my country.”
Speaker B: “If I were you, I’d focus on one thing only. If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.”
14. Speech Is Silver But Silence Is Golden
Meaning: Sometimes it’s better to remain silent rather than speak.
Example: “He’ll try to involve you in the debate. Try to resist and remember that speech is silver but silence is golden.”
15. Stretch Your Arm No Further Than Your Sleeve (Will Reach)
Meaning: Don’t spend more money than you have.
Speaker A: “I’d like to buy a new smartphone but the one I want costs 1000 euros. I would have to ask my parents for that money.”
Speaker B: “Stretch your arm no further than your sleeve and buy one you can afford!”
16. Strike While The Iron Is Hot
Meaning: This is similar to “Opportunity seldom knocks twice”. It means you should take advantage of an opportunity as soon as it exists, in case the opportunity goes away and doesn’t return.
Example: “They don’t often offer such discounts so I'd strike while the iron is hot if I were you.”
17. Ask No Questions And Hear No Lies
Meaning: If you say this to someone, you’re basically telling them not to ask you about a topic because you’ll probably lie.
Example: “I'm not going to tell you what we're planning for your graduation ceremony, so ask no questions and hear no lies.”
18. What The Eye Doesn't See, The Heart Doesn't Grieve Over
Meaning: If you remain ignorant or uninformed about something you’ll not get upset, angry, worried, or sad about it.
Speaker A: “I really don’t want to know what my teenage son is doing on holiday with his nine male friends.”
Speaker B: “I don’t blame you. What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over.”
19. Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You
Meaning: Treat other people the way you would like other people to treat you.
Example: A vegan activist once said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Animals qualify as others.”
20. Appetite Comes With Eating
Meaning: Starting an activity increases your desire to continue it.
Speaker A: “I don’t know whether I should start reading this book or not. It’s a big one. What if I don't enjoy it?”
Speaker B: “Give it a try. After all, appetite comes with eating.”
21. Those Who Live In Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones
Meaning: Don’t criticize other people for the bad qualities that you yourself have. Do that and such criticism will likely come back.
Speaker A: “She just spends her time complaining about other people. It's so shallow and annoying!”
Speaker B: “Hear hear! Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!”
22. Rome Wasn't Built In A Day
Meaning: You can say this to emphasize that you cannot make great accomplishments in a short period of time, so you have to be patient.
Speaker A: “I started learning English last year and I’m still not fluent!”
Speaker B: “Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
23. No Man Is An Island
Meaning: We all need human connection to be happy.
Example: “Don’t think you don’t need your friends. No man is an island.”
24. What Goes Up Must Come Down
Meaning: If something is increasing or rising, it will eventually fall or decline.
Speaker A: “My mortgage rates keep increasing. I’m worried!”
Speaker B: “No need to worry. What goes up must come down. Try saving as much money as you can for now.”
25. Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Meaning: Beauty is subjective. What’s beautiful for me might not be beautiful for you.
Example: “You may not like my new jeans, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
26. Long Absent, Soon Forgotten
Meaning: The longer a person is not present, the easier they are to forget about.
Example: “You can’t expect to grow your social media channel if you post once a year. People want to hear from you. Long absent, soon forgotten!”
27. One Rotten Apple Spoils The (Whole) Barrel
Meaning: It only takes one bad person, thing, element, etc., to ruin the entire group, situation, project, etc.
Speaker A: “Why are they kicking out Jon from the team?”
Speaker B: “Apparently he’s been bringing everyone down by complaining about the management. And more people seem to have become more critical of the boss now. You know what they say: one rotten apple spoils the barrel.”
28. Well Begun Is Half Done
Meaning: If you start a task or project in the best way possible, it will take you – or seem to take you – less effort to complete it.
Speaker A: “I’m so happy with the way I started my professional photography course. I can already take much better photos than a week ago!”
Speaker B: “Well begun is half done!”
29. Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth
Meaning: If you receive a gift, accept it without criticism.
Speaker A: “She bought me a new shirt for Christmas but I don’t like it. It looks like one of those old shirts my grandpa used to wear.”
Speaker B: “Hey! Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!”
30. Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth
Meaning: When there are too many people trying to control, influence, or work on something, the final product will be worse as a result.
Speaker A: “I was trying a new recipe for a Thai dish but then my mom got involved, then my grandmother and my sister too. It was a disaster!”
Speaker B: “Well, didn’t you know that too many cooks spoil the broth?!
31. Never Speak Ill Of The Dead
Meaning: You shouldn’t say bad things about those who passed away.
Speaker A: “He was just a stingy, old, arrogant man.”
Speaker B: “George! Never speak ill of the dead!”
32. Eat To Live, Not Live To Eat
Meaning: Eating shouldn’t be your main source of pleasure.
You should eat to get all the necessary nutrients and be healthy.
Example: “He used to overeat to feel happier and mentally better, but now he eats to live, he doesn't live to eat.”
33. Better Late Than Never
Meaning: You can say this when you think that it’s better for someone or something to be late than never to arrive or to happen.
Speaker A: “After 2 years, I finally got a reply from them!”
Speaker B: “Well, better late than never!”
34. Better Safe Than Sorry
Meaning: You can say this when you think that it’s better to be careful than and not take risks than be careless and then regret it later.
Speaker A: “Set three alarms for tomorrow morning.”
Speaker B: “Three??? Isn’t one enough?!”
Speaker A: “I’m worried that I will oversleep. Better safe than sorry, you know?”
35. When The Cat's Away (The Mice Will Play)
Meaning: When someone in authority is not present, others might do things they wouldn’t normally do.
Example: “The boss was away all day today and everyone took longer and more frequent coffee breaks. When the cat is away, the mice will play!”
36. The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side
Meaning: People tend to always want what other people have and not be happy with what they have.
Speaker A: “I’m jealous of all the money he’s got.”
Speaker B: “OK, but he might be jealous of all the free time you have. The grass is always greener on the other side.”
37. You Can Lead A Horse To Water, But You Can’t Make Him Drink It
Meaning: You can give someone helpful advice, but you can't make them accept it or act on it.
Speaker A: “I’ve given him a lot of tips on how to stop smoking but he’s still buying cigarettes!”
Speaker B: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.”
38. The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease
Meaning: People who complain or protest the loudest or most frequently are the ones who will get what they want.
Speaker A: “I don’t understand how he was able to get his parents to buy him a car.”
B: “He’s been complaining a lot about not having one for one month! The squeaky wheel gets the grease!”
39. Knowledge Is Power
Meaning: The more knowledge you have the more powerful you can be.
Speaker A: “I want to read and learn about history as much as I can. Knowledge is power!”
40. Keep Your Friends Close, And Your Enemies Closer
Meaning: Be very vigilant of your enemies' behavior and actions so you can avoid their malicious intents.
Speaker A: “Why were you talking with her in the office the other day? I thought you couldn’t stand her.”
Speaker B: “I was just being nice to her as we now work for the same client. As the proverb goes, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, right?”
41. A Barking Dog Never Bites
Meaning: Someone who often makes angry or threatening statements rarely takes action on them.
Example: “My teacher used to yell at us saying she was going to give us more homework as a punishment. She never did it though. A barking dog never bites.”
42. A Lie Has Short Legs
Meaning: You cannot get away with a lie because the truth will always come out.
Example: “You can keep telling your parents lies but they’ll eventually find out about what you did. A lie has short legs!”
43. All That Glitters Is Not Gold
Meaning: You may think something is valuable or worthwhile by the way it appears, but it might not actually be so.
Speaker A: “You work from home and never have to drive to the office. You have the best job in the world!”
Speaker B: “All that glitters is not gold. I actually feel lonely and I need real human interaction!”
44. A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved
Meaning: Sharing a problem with someone can help you deal with it and solve it.
Example: “Come on, tell me what’s wrong. A problem shared is a problem halved.”
45. A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Step
Meaning: Something that seems hard to accomplish can be started by doing a very simple thing.
Example: “You may think speaking a language fluently is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so start by reading a short story in English for 5 minutes a day.”
46. An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away
Meaning: Eating healthy foods will help you avoid illness.
Example: “Eat fruit and veggies. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
47. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Meaning: Sometimes a single picture can convey more meaning than any amount of words could.
Speaker A: “You don’t need to write anything for this part of your presentation about the environment. Just show your audience a photo of a polluted city. A picture is worth a thousand words.”
48. A Smooth Sea Never Made A Skilled Sailor
Meaning: Challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone is what helps you grow and develop.
Example: “If you want to learn to speak a second language, you have to go out there and speak it. It might be uncomfortable but remember: a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
49. When One Door Closes, Another Opens
Meaning: You can use this to say that when an opportunity is lost, another one will soon come to you.
Example: “Don’t worry if you didn’t get that job, my friend. When one door closes, another opens.”
50. Better An Egg Today Than A Hen Tomorrow
Meaning: It's smarter to have something less valuable now than to chase after something more valuable that you might not get in the future.
Speaker B: “I think I'll keep my small winnings rather than betting again on the next dog race and try to win more!”
Speaker B: “Yes! Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow!”
Proverbs In English
All right! Congratulations on making it to the end of this list of proverbs in English!
Did you see any proverbs in English that are similar to the ones you have in your language? I wouldn’t be surprised if you did.
Now you may think: What’s the best way to learn English proverbs?
Well, reading and listening to stories is a great way to do it and that's exactly what the StoryLearning method is all about.
Sure, lists may help, but there’s not much context in a list. So read books in English and listen as much as you can and see if you can spot proverbs in English here and there.
Whatever you do when learning, remember to have fun and….carpe diem! (This is another proverb that means you should enjoy the present and not worry too much about the future – proverb #51!)