190+ Common English Proverbs with Meanings and Examples

What is a proverb?

A proverb is folk wisdom or advice expressed through short, pithy sentences. Most proverbs are local, reflecting wisdom, beliefs, and traditions of the place, but some transcend cultural barriers and are embraced globally. They can be figurative or literal.

All that glitters is not gold. [Figurative]

Be slow in choosing, but slower in changing. [Literal]

Though new proverbs emerge, majority of them have been in circulation for centuries – and even millenniums. Few modern proverbs in English – and these too are few decades old – are:

Small is beautiful.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

More resources on proverbs:

Here are the proverbs, each of which is followed by meaning and use in an example sentence:

1. A bad workman always blames his tools.

This proverb is used when someone blames the quality of their equipment or other external factors when they perform a task poorly.

Example: X: The food isn’t cooked well because the oven is not functioning well. Y: Well, it’s the case of a bad workman blaming his tools.

2. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

Certainty of having something in hand is better than mere probability of having even more things.

Example: X: Why did you turn down that job offer when you don’t have anything concrete in hand at the moment? Y: Well, I’m confident I’ll land one of the two jobs I interviewed for last week. And they’re better than this one. X: In my opinion, you should’ve taken it. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

3. Absence makes heart grow fonder.

When we’re away from loved ones, we long for their company more than in normal times.

Example: When I was with him, he always fought with me, but now he cries for me on phone. I think distance made his heart grow fonder.

4. A cat has nine lives.

Cat can survive seemingly fatal events.

Example: I haven’t seen him in months, but I wouldn’t really worry about him. Everyone knows a cat has nine lives.

5. Action speaks louder than words.

Action is a better reflection of one’s character than words because it’s easy to say things, but difficult to act on them and follow through.

Example: The interviewee had an impressive resume, but he struggled to perform the task given during the interview. Actions speak louder than words, don’t they?

6. A diamond with a flaw is better than a common stone that is perfect.

A rare, precious opportunity that comes with some problems is better than a regular opportunity that seems to be perfect.

Example: I would advise you to work in a market that is growing fast than in a mature market. The former has its own problems, but that’s where you grow fast in your career. A diamond with a flaw is better than a common stone that is perfect.

7. A drowning man will clutch a straw.

When someone is in a difficult situation, s/he will take any available opportunity to come out of it.

Example: After trying all reliable medicines, he is now visiting quacks to get a cure for his baldness. A drowning man will clutch a straw.

8. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Fools lose money because of their foolish conduct.

Example: He shared his credit card details on a phishing call and lost more than $10,000. A fool and his money are indeed parted sooner or later.

9. After victory, tighten your helmet chord.

There is no room for complacency. Get down to work after a victory. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, calls it Day 0 mentality.

Example: Our Company has won a major deal worth $600 M, but we can’t relax as many more deals are up for grabs, with the competition gnawing at our heels. After the victory, it’s time to tighten our helmet chord.

10. A good listener is a silent flatterer.

Human beings have an innate desire to be listened, but only few are good listeners. So, if you listen to someone attentively, you’ll flatter them.

Example: One of the reasons I could build such a network of friends is my ability to listen (more than speak) to people. A good listener is a silent flatterer, after all.

11. A goose quill is more dangerous than a lion’s claw.

Foul, inconsiderate words can cause more pain than a physical attack.

Example: Even when you’re angry, convey your point politely because a goose quill is more dangerous than a lion’s claw.

12. A happy heart is better than a full purse.

What’s the use of money if you’re unhappy despite loads of it? Happiness is better than plenty. A 2010 study at Princeton University points that happiness increases with money but only till basic needs are met. After that, money matters much less.

Example: My cousin is a multi-millionaire, but he is super-busy and stressed, with little time to spend time with his family. I guess a happy heart is better than a full purse.

13. A jack of all trades is master of none.

A person with some knowledge of several fields (jack of all trades) can’t be a master in any of them.

Example: You’ve hopped from marketing to sales to business development in your organization. That’s too many. A Jack of all trades is master of none.

14. A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.

Howsoever big a task is, it starts with a small step.

Example: I’m feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of completing 4,000-word paper by next week, but I guess I’ll start by writing 500 words every day. After all, a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.

15. A lean agreement is better than a fat lawsuit.

In disputes, it’s better to compromise and get only part of the potential outcome than to contest an expensive lawsuit for years, with no guarantee on the outcome.

Example: We often see two parties, especially companies, arrive at a compromise than contest the case in courts. They clearly understand that a lean agreement is better than a fat lawsuit.

16. A leopard doesn’t change its spots.

People can’t change their innate character, especially bad.

Example: X: Do you think he’ll stop copying after being caught and penalized? Y: I don’t think so. A leopard can’t change its spots.

17. All is fair in love and war.

One can break the rules of fair play under extenuating circumstances.

Example: In the face of cutthroat competition, some companies adopt unfair practices. To them, it seems all is fair in love and war.

18. All is well that ends well.

As long as the outcome is good, problems on the way don’t matter.

Example: I’m glad you finally got here, even though your car had a flat tire on the way. All’s well that ends well.

19. All lay loads on a willing horse.

A person who says ‘yes’, even if hesitatingly, to any work given to him will soon find himself overloaded with work.

Example: When I joined the company two years back, I was too polite to say ‘no’ to work people asked me to do, and soon I was buried under work. All lay loads on a willing horse.

20. All that glitters is not gold.

Things that look good outwardly may not be as valuable or good.

Example: X: I want to be a movie star when I grow up. Y: Film industry looks good from outside, but it has its own problems. Remember, all that glitters is not gold.

21. Among the blind, one-eyed man is king.

An incapable person can gain powerful position if others in the fray are even more incapable.

Example: Despite his obvious lack of exposure and skills, he became head of the department because he is one-eyed among the blind.

22. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Eating an apple a day will keep you healthy.

Example: Switch from chips to apples for your snack because an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

23. An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.

This proverb exemplifies importance of leadership. A strong army (lions) led by a weak leader (sheep) can lose to a weak army (sheep) led by a strong leader (lion).

Example: The next CEO hasn’t held any leadership position in a large organization. I hope the board doesn’t regret its decision because an army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.

24. An empty vessel makes much noise.

Fools and persons with shallow knowledge often talk a lot.

Example: He has only superficial understanding of the subject but talked the most in the meeting, without adding any value. Empty vessel makes much noise.

25. An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.

People are generally more productive in the morning: first, they’re fresh after night’s sleep; second, there are fewer distractions in the morning.

Example: I get up at 6:00 AM and get so much work done by the time I leave for office. I’m a living example of the dictum that an hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.

26. An idle brain is devil’s workshop.

If you’ve nothing to do, you’ll likely think of mischief.

Example: The kids should be kept busy during the summer break. Otherwise, you know an idle brain is devil’s workshop.

27. An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.

A little precaution before a crisis is better than lot of firefighting afterwards.

Example: Get the vaccination on priority. An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.

28. A picture is worth a thousand words.

It is easier to explain something through a picture than through words.

Example: It is easier to learn biology through pictures than through reams of text. A picture is worth a thousand words.

29. A rolling stone gathers no moss.

A person who is constantly changing his job and relationships won’t have depth in any of them and would be unfulfilled.

Example: You’re now in your third industry in the last eight years, which doesn’t make you an expert in any of them. Remember, a rolling stone gathers no moss.

30. A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is for.

Get out of your comfort zone to grow and fulfill your potential.

Example: I think your fears are unfounded. You should travel to Italy for the Model UN. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot. Remember, a ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is for.

31. Ask no questions and hear no lies.

Don’t ask questions which people can’t or don’t want to answer. If you ask such questions, you’ll hear only lies.

Example: When I asked my neighbour why he comes early from office on some days, he, in a wishy-washy tone, said that on such occasions he finishes his work early. Before asking this question, I should have remembered: Ask no questions and hear no lies.

32. A stitch in time saves nine.

It’s better to deal with problems immediately than wait, by when they worsen and become much bigger.

Example: Because we anticipated and responded to the possible change in Facebook algorithm, the referral traffic to our website dropped much less than what happened to some of our competitors. A stitch in time saves nine.

33. As you sow, so you shall reap.

Your actions – good or bad – determine what you get.

Example: You’re entangled in few cases of fraud because of your illegal get-rich-quick methods. You should have known as you sow, so you shall reap.

34. A thing begun is half done.

A good beginning makes it easier to accomplish rest of the project.

Example: He has already taken the first set in the match, and he should win the match from here. Well begun is half done, after all.

35. A tree is known by its fruit.

Like a tree is known by the fruit it bears, people are known by their character and actions (and not by their appearance).

Example: I see that you avoid him just because he isn’t good looking. Remember, a tree is known by its fruit.

36. Barking dogs seldom bite.

People who appear threatening rarely do harm.

Example: X: I’m really scared to report delay in the project to my temperamental boss. Y: I don’t think you should worry too much about it. Barking dogs seldom bite.

37. Beauty is in the eye of beholder.

What may seem beautiful to one person may not seem to another.

Example: You may not like the curves of my new car, but then beauty is in the eye of beholder.

38. Beauty is only skin deep.

A person’s character, intellect, and other inner qualities are more important than his/her physical appearance.

Example: The actress behaved so rudely with the driver – beauty is skin deep, after all.

39. Beggars can’t be choosers.

People who depend on the generosity of others can’t pick & choose things as per their liking. They’ve to accept what is given to them.

Example: X: I borrowed this jacket from my friend, but it’s not one of his nice ones. Y: Well, beggars can’t be choosers.

40. Begin to weave and God will give the thread.

When taking up a task that has no playbook to follow, we plan a lot and think a lot but don’t act. In such pursuits, you can’t foresee everything in advance and lot of assumptions will come to naught. What’s required is action. Plan, but act. Often, new paths open as you move forward.

Example: The path to develop human colony on Mars is challenging, but people have already started work on it. Hopefully, things will move forward. If you begin to weave, God will give the thread.

41. Be slow in choosing, but slower in changing.

Choose things or people after diligence, but once you choose, stick for long.

Example: Don’t be hasty in picking friends, but once you make friends with someone, don’t change him/her fast. You should be slow in choosing, but slower in changing.

42. Best things in life are free.

Most valuable things are often free.

Example: I feel so rejuvenated in clean air, sparkling water, and beautiful nature of the mountains. Often times, best things in life are free.

43. Better late than never.

It is better to get something (you desire) late than get it never.

Example: I’m attending graduate school at 35, but I guess it’s better late than never.

44. Better to be poor and healthy than rich and sick.

Health is more important than money.

Example: The pharma tycoon has been in and out of hospital for the past two months because of kidney ailment. It’s better to be poor and healthy than rich and sick.

45. Birds of a feather flock together.

People with similar nature seek out each other’s company.

Example: You usually hang out with people with background similar to yours. Birds of a feather flock together, after all.

46. Blood is thicker than water.

Relationships with family is stronger than other relationships.

Example: My friends invited me for the picnic on Sunday, but I have to go to my cousin’s birthday instead. Blood is thicker than water, isn’t it?

47. Clothes do not make a man.

A person’s character can’t be judged by his/her clothing and outward appearance.

Example: X: I can’t believe he has been charged for insider trading. He always seemed so professional and impeccable. Y: Well, clothes don’t make a man.

48. Cowards die many times before their death.

Cowards suffer the feared effects of death many times in their lives.

Example: X: He is constantly worried about losing his job, and I don’t think he’ll pursue his true interests. Y: He exemplifies the saying ‘cowards die many times before their deaths’.

49. Cross the stream where it is shallowest.

Do things in the easiest possible way.

Example: Let’s cross the stream at its shallowest and start promoting our product on YouTube, where we already have some following.

50. Curiosity killed the cat.

Enquiring into others’ work can be dangerous. One should mind own business.

Example: I know curiosity killed the cat, but I can’t stop investigating until I know where the donations are actually going.

51. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.

The consequence of wrongdoings always catches up with the wrongdoer.

Example: Politicians can fool some people some of the time, but in the end, chickens come home to roost when votes are counted.

52. Different strokes for different folks.

Different people have different needs and wants, and we should be respectful to them.

Example: Because people differ in their tastes and habits, I try to provide different strokes for different folks when I invite my friends to my place.

53. Discretion is the better part of valor.

It is wise to be careful and not show unnecessary bravery.

Example: Son: Can I go for this mountaineering expedition? Father: No. Son: But my friends will say I’m a chicken if I don’t go! Father: Discretion is the better part of valor, and I’d rather have them call you chicken than risk your life.

54. Do as you would be done by.

Treat others like the way you would like to be treated. Some people, for example, ingratiate themselves with the powerful but treat less powerful with contempt. Don’t be like them.

Example: You shouldn’t have been rude to him. How would you feel if someone behaves the same way to you? You should do as you would be done by.

55. Doctors make the worst patients.

It’s difficult to advice a person on a matter in which he is an expert. This is because he thinks that he already knows the best about what to do.

Example: When I tried to advice my friend on how to increase revenue from his gas station, he argued why my suggestions wouldn’t work. He was clearly jumping the gun and not open to ideas. Doctors make the worst patients.

56. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Don’t act badly toward the person who has helped you or from whom you derive some benefits, for you may lose those benefits in future.

Example: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you by talking ill of your mentor for such a small thing. If he distances from you or talk bad about you, it can hurt you bad.

57. Don’t carry coals to Newcastle.

In the past, Newcastle was known for its coal mines. Coal was mined here and taken to other parts of England. So, if you carry coal to Newcastle, you’re doing unnecessary work.

Example: When asked in the interview how you can make difference in your role, stay clear of the topic of SEO. They’re already industry leader in it, and you shouldn’t carry coals to Newcastle.

58. Don’t cast pearls before swine.

Don’t offer something valuable to someone who doesn’t value it.

Example: To serve them French cuisine is like casting pearls before swine.

59. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Don’t make plans based on future events that may not happen.

Example: You’re preparing for election campaign when you have not yet been nominated. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

60. Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.

Deal with a situation when it happens and not unnecessarily worry about it in advance.

Example: I know you’re worried about the mortgage payment due in January, but don’t cross the bridge till you come to it.

61. Don’t empty the water jar until the rain falls.

Don’t quit something, say a job, before securing its replacement.

Example: After getting an average review in his annual performance appraisal, my friend left the organization without landing another job, and then he struggled to get another for several months. Don’t empty the water jar until the rain falls.

62. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Just like you can’t form an opinion of a book just by looking at its cover, you can’t form an opinion about someone (or something) from their outward appearance.

Example: He seems a bit jerk to me, but, hey, you never know. He may be good. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

63. Don’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

If you kill a goose that lays golden eggs, you destroy something that makes lot of money for you.

Example: Tourists come to this city mainly to see this monument. By opening it to commercial use, the city council may kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

64. Don’t open a shop unless you know how to smile.

It’s difficult to attract customers without a pleasant persona.

Example: Since my friend has a neutral, if not cold, demeanour, I advised him not to open a shop unless he learns how to smile.

65. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Don’t put all your effort into a single course of action, venture, investment, goal, or the like, because if it doesn’t work, you lose everything.

Example: Almost entire revenue of the company comes from Facebook. If Facebook tweaks its policies in future, the company may sink. They shouldn’t put all their eggs in the same basket.

66. Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm.

Everything calm and peaceful doesn’t mean there are no dangers around.

Example: Even though the industry looks stable with predictable market share and revenue, there are always obscure start-ups which may threaten your company in future. Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm.

67. Don’t throw the baby with the bathwater.

Don’t discard something valuable while getting rid of something worthless.

Example: Let’s not throw the baby with the bathwater by scrapping the project for a subpart not planned well.

68. Eagles don’t catch flies.

Eagles catch bigger prey than flies, don’t they? Don’t take trivial matters to senior leaders in your organization. You have to resolve them, not they.

Example: You shouldn’t call the AVP for such small disruption in the supply chain. Resolve it yourself. Eagles, after all, don’t catch flies.

69. Early bird catches the worm.

One who starts early on the work has higher chance of success.

Example: I’ve come early for the season-ending sale so that I can choose from a wider selection and get a better piece. Early bird catches the worm, after all.

70. Empty bags can’t stand upright.

A poor or hungry person cannot discharge his duties well.

Example: You can’t expect poor people to fight for climate change, because empty bags can’t stand upright. They need to first fulfill their basic needs.

71. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Bad times will eventually give way to better times. (The presence of silver lining means that the sun is behind the cloud and will eventually emerge.)

Example: I know your business has suffered few setbacks this season. But remember, every cloud has a silver lining.

72. Every dog has his day.

Even the unluckiest or the most unfortunate will taste success at some point.

Example: Are you surprised that John, the laggard, has got 92 percent marks in math? Well, every dog has his day.

73. Every horse thinks its own pack is heaviest.

We think that we work the hardest. This is also called responsibility bias: People tend to overvalue their own contributions and undervalue contributions of others.

Example: X: You’re questioning my contribution! I’m the one who has worked the hardest on this project. I haven’t taken a day’s leave in six months. Y: Every horse thinks its own pack heaviest.

74. Every tub must stand on its own bottom.

We can’t hide incompetency behind teamwork. Everyone has to justify their expense.

Example: The manager has singled out my team member for unsatisfactory work in the current project. Message was clear: Every tub must stand on its own bottom.

75. Fall seven times; stand up eight.

Be resilient and try despite failures. That’s how you succeed.

Example: Abraham Lincoln lost so many elections, but he kept trying. Eventually he became the President of United States. It’s rightly said: Fall seven times; stand up eight.

76. Familiarity breeds contempt.

If you know a situation, person, or thing well, you start taking them for granted and stop respecting them.

Example: The reason for many breakups and disasters can be traced to contempt bred by familiarity.

77. Faults are thick where love is thin.

If the love is shallow, people will find faults in each other.

Example: We occasionally overhear accusations and counter-accusations coming from the neighboring family. Faults are thick where love is thin.

78. Fine feathers make fine birds.

Like birds with colorful feathers look attractive, people in fine clothes look appealing. However, don’t get swayed by external appearance when making friends.

Example: X: The person I’ve just been introduced to, no doubt, looks attractive.

Y: Why wouldn’t he? Fine feathers make fine birds, after all. But you shouldn’t go by attractiveness when making friends.

79. Flattery, like perfume, should be smelled but not swallowed.

Enjoy the flattery you receive, but don’t believe it because people often flatter to meet their own selfish interests.

Example: I know he was all praise for your business acumen, but don’t take his words literally as this guy needs business from us. Flattery, like perfume, should be smelled but not swallowed.

80. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Fools or inexperienced persons get involved in situations or pursue goals without much thought. In contrast, wise think through such situations or goals.

Example: He sent an angry email without going into the background of the matter – fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

81. Fortune favors the brave.

If you carry out your plans boldly, luck is more likely to favor you.

Example: I know you’re hesitant to accept the overseas position in your company because ground realities there are different from what you’ve faced so far, but remember fortune favors the brave.

82. For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.

An insignificant nail resulted in the loss of the rider. Small things can have huge implications. So, don’t ignore nuances and minute details. They’re the ones that stand people out.

Example: Because of malfunction in a tiny component, the entire batch of 120,000 air conditioners had to be recalled. For want of a nail the shoe is lost… the rider is lost.

83. Get out while the going (getting) is good.

Get out of a situation while it’s still easy to leave on good terms.

Example: With the stock market at an all-time high and further upside looking difficult, we decided to sell our shares and get out while the going was good.

84. God helps those who help themselves.

God helps those who make sincere effort.

Example: You’ve to take the bull by horns and try getting a new job. God helps those who help themselves.

85. Good bargains empty the purse.

Good bargains can be tempting and entice people into buying more than required, most of which can even go unused.

Example: I bought three trousers and four shirts for 30 percent discount, even though I don’t need them. Good bargains indeed empty the purse.

86. Good swimmers are often drowned.

Overconfidence can doom even the competent.

Example: Kodak overlooked the prospect of digital photographs replacing its camera films. As a result, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after more than 120 years in existence. Good swimmers are often drowned.

87. Good things come to those who wait.

Patience is often rewarded.

Example: The best investors in the world have made their fortunes by investing for the long term. Good things come to those who wait.

88. Good wine needs no bush.

A good product doesn’t need promotion; it spreads through word of mouth.

Example: Stripe, a financial services firm, grew mainly through word of mouth. Good wine needs no bush.

89. Grief divided is made lighter.

If you share your grief, it’ll get easier to bear.

Example: You shouldn’t hold back the news of financial loss you’ve incurred in your business. Grief divided is made lighter.

90. Half a loaf is better than none.

We should thank for what we get even though it’s less than what we had hoped for.

Example: I applied to six colleges and got admission in my second choice. Not ideal but it could have been worse. Half a loaf is better than no bread.

91. Home is where the heart is.

Don’t you feel relieved on reaching home after you’ve been away for few days? No matter where you visit, you’ll long to return to your home and family.

Example: I’ve been out of the town on work for only three days now, and I’m already longing to get back home. I guess, home is where the heart is.

92. Honesty is the best policy.

It’s always better to be truthful and honest, even if the opposite may get you short-term benefits.

Example: I think you should just explain what happened, rather than trying to cover your tracks. Honesty is the best policy, after all.

93. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Be optimistic, but be prepared for a scenario where things can go wrong.

Example: We’re hoping to raise capital from investors, but it may not come so soon. Therefore, it’s imperative to look for alternatives as well. Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

94. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

If things were to happen by just wishing them, even the poorest will have everything they want.

Example: X: I want to be in a job that would pay me a million dollars a year. Y: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Stop fooling yourself and work hard towards your goal.

95. If you are patient in a moment of anger, you will escape hundred days of sorrow.

Actions and decisions taken in moments of anger aren’t the best. They can bring great misery. Wait for your anger to pass and then act or decide.

Example: The customer representative was upset at the illegitimate demand of the customer, but he remained calm and patient because he knew that if you are patient… sorrow.

96. If you buy cheaply, you pay dearly.

Something cheap will be of suspect quality and will trouble you later in the form of higher maintenance and/or poor performance.

Example: I bought the air conditioner at quite an attractive price, but it’s running a high electricity bill because it’s not very efficient. Moreover, it requires more maintenance. If you buy cheaply, you pay dearly.

97. If you can’t beat them, join them.

If you can’t beat your opponent, then work alongside them for mutual benefit.

Example: ABC Pvt. Ltd. has struck partnership with its competitor after it failed to gain market share. If you can’t beat them, join them.

98. If you play with fire, you’ll get burned.

If you do something dangerous or adventurous, you may get harmed.

Example: Enacting the stunts of movie superheroes in real life is playing with fire. You may get burned.

99. If you want peace, prepare for war.

If you utilize the peace time to get better at war, your adversaries will hesitate in waging a war on you, and hence the time of peace will stretch.

Example: We’re in a competitive industry. Therefore, we should use this time of high growth and less competition (time of peace, in other words) to shore up capital, diversify, invest in revenue streams of future, and hire good talent. If you want peace, prepare for war.

100. If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Working with others may be somewhat slow compared to solo work, but you’ll need to collaborate if you want long-term success because you can’t do everything yourself.

Example: If you want to grow your business and sustain it over the long term, build a team. If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

101. Ignorance is bliss.

If you don’t know about something, you don’t need to bother about it. In other words, if you’re unaware of something, it won’t cause you stress. This proverb, however, is often used in the opposite way – ignorance is not bliss.

Example: I didn’t know that the neighbor next door was involved in criminal activities. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

102. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Words of flattery may not be sincere. But action (imitation) is sincere. Who wouldn’t be flattered if someone imitates them in some way?

Example: In the conference, the Twitter influencer with more than a million followers was told by a follower that he has amassed more than 20,000 followers by following influencer’s advice. The influencer was extremely happy to hear that. Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

103. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s better to be cautious than regret later.

Example: One shouldn’t complain about the inconvenience of security check each time you enter the building. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

104. It’s better to lose the battle and win the war.

It’s fine to lose small things if it helps you win the big pie.

Example: I climbed down from my position before the friendly argument could heat up, and we all parted amicably. It’s better to lose the battle and win the war.

105. It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general.

Leaders are not easy to find. Retain them at whatever price it takes if you’ve them.

Example: The Vice President was all set to leave Google and lead Twitter, but Google somehow convinced him not to leave as it knew that it’s easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general.

106. It’s never too late to mend.

It’s never too late to change course or make amends for a past mistake. Don’t let your ego come in between.

Example: I think it was your fault, and you should be the one to say sorry and make up with your estranged brother. It’s never too late to mend.

107. It is part of a good shepherd to shear his flock, not to skin it.

People shouldn’t be subjected to discomfort beyond tolerance.

Example: The government raised taxes last year and shouldn’t raise them again. It is part of a good shepherd to shear his flock, not to skin it.

108. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes an entire community to raise children in safe and nourishing environment.

Example: Lionesses in a pride take care of cubs of other lionesses. Doesn’t it take a village to raise a child?

109. It takes two to make a quarrel.

Without involvement of at least two persons, a quarrel won’t happen. So, if one of the two persons decide, a quarrel won’t happen.

Example: X: Why are you so quarrelsome? Y: I’m not the only person involved. It takes two to make a quarrel.

110. It takes two to tango.

Where two parties are involved in a situation, fault usually lies with both if things go wrong. Rarely can one party be blamed entirely.

Example: This deal won’t go through unless you too are willing to compromise. It takes two to tango, after all.

111. Justice delayed is justice denied.

In many countries, wheels of justice move so slow that sometimes it takes decades to pronounce a judgment. This causes suffering in terms of time and money wasted and the long wait for justice.

Example: Verdict in the landgrab case has come after twelve long years. To contest the case, the victim had to sell off his land. Justice delayed is justice denied.

112. Kind words will unlock an iron door.

If you talk politely, people are more amenable to your suggestions and ask.

Example: The government officer was quite cold to my father but did the job when I made a polite request. Kind words can unlock an iron door.

113. Kings have long arms.

Governments have far-reaching powers.

Example: After committing the fraud, the tycoon fled to another country, but the government pulled all levers to get him extradited. Kings indeed have long arms.

114. Laughter is the best medicine.

Laughter reduces stress and improves immunity, leading to better health.

Example: I think the best thing for you right now would be to spend some time with people you can joke around with. Laughter is the best medicine, after all.

115. Learn to walk before you run.

Learn basic skills first before venturing into complex things.

Example: X: I want to submit my first article to Fortune magazine for publication. Y: I think you should aim for smaller publications to start with. You should learn to walk before you run.

116. Least said, soonest mended.

When you fall out with someone, restrain yourself from using foul, upsetting language. Words can leave a lasting impression and make it difficult to reconcile.

Example: When the argument heated up with my friend, I deescalated the matter, excused myself, and walked away. Least said, soonest mended.

117. Lend your money and lose your friend.

Lending money to a friend can lead to souring of friendship. If you ask to repay, he may feel offended, and if he fails to repay, you’ll be offended.

Example: I don’t like calling up Tom any longer for regular chitchats after he failed to return the money I lent three months back. Lend your money and lose your friend, I guess.

118. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Don’t talk about a bad situation people have forgotten and that could unnecessarily create problem in the present.

Example: X: Should I ask the professor if he is upset about my late submission of the assignment? Y: If he hasn’t said anything, then don’t bring forth the topic – let sleeping dogs lie.

119. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.

Misfortune does not occur twice in the same way to the same person.

Example: X: I don’t want to take this route, because I was robbed the last time I travelled on this route. Y: Don’t worry, lightning never strikes twice in the same place.

120. Like people, like priest.

Quality of people is a good indicator of the quality of their leader. We expect our bureaucracy, politicians, and other leaders to be impeccable. But they don’t descend from heavens. They come from the very people they represent, and hence their quality will be reflective of the quality of people.

Example: As a society, we’re becoming more and more insensitive, self-centered, and apathetic on matters of public importance. Little wonder, our leaders too aren’t first rate. Like people, like priest.

121. Long absent, soon forgotten.

If you haven’t met or spoken to a friend or relative in long time, he’ll be forgotten. Such friendships eventually wither away or may just remain a distant acquaintance.

Example: I haven’t spoken to my college friend in years, and now I don’t even like to make the call. I guess I’ve moved on. Long absent, soon forgotten.

122. Look before you leap.

Consider all consequences before taking an action, especially when you can’t retract.

Example: X: I’m planning to pursue an MBA. Y: It’s an expensive degree and, moreover, you’ll be out of work for two years. I would say look before you leap.

123. Love me, love my dog.

If you love someone, then you should love them as they come with their qualities, shortcomings, friends, family, and so on.

Example: If you love her, then you should love her family and friends as well. Love me, love my dog. Isn’t it?

124. Make hay while the sun shines.

Make the most of favorable conditions till they last.

Example: I got plenty of referral traffic to my website from Facebook in its initial years. I made hay while the sun shone. Later on, they changed their algorithm, after which the referral traffic dried.

125. Make yourself all honey and the flies will devour you.

If you’re a yes-man and often talk sweet language to please others, people won’t respect you.

Example: X: This guy tries to keep everyone in good humor and will change his stand just for that. Y: True. That’s why people treat him with contempt. Make yourself all honey and the flies will devour you.

126. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Spend money carefully because it’s limited. You can’t grow it on trees and replenish.

Example: I’m surprised that you spent your entire month’s salary on a frivolous gadget. Well, money doesn’t grow on trees.

127. Money talks.

Money gives one power and influence.

Example: I don’t have access to many people like he has, after all he is a scion of a rich family. Money talks, you know.

128. More die of food than famine.

More people die because of excess indulgence in food and eating unhealthy than because of shortage of food.

Example: You shouldn’t eat unhealthy snacks so regularly. Remember, more die of food than famine.

129. Murder will out.

Secrets rarely remain secret. They’ll eventually come out and be known to all.

Example: I tried my best to not let my organization know that I’m searching for another job, but, to my embarrassment, one of my teammates has come to know. It’s rightly said murder will out.

130. Necessity is the mother of invention.

A need or problem forces people to come up with innovative solutions.

Example: In some parts of the world, farmers use washing machine to clean potatoes. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.

131. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Don’t delay doing something if you can do it immediately.

Example: X: I’m done with most of my assignment, but I’ll pick the remaining part on Monday. Y: Why don’t you complete it now? You’ll be more relieved and in a better state of mind. You shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

132. Never test the depth of water with both feet.

If you’re testing the depth of water with both feet down, you risk being drowned if the water turns out to be deep. But if you test with one foot, you can pull away. The proverb means that before going whole hog into something unknown, assess the risk well.

Example: Before investing such large sum in crypto and taking a hit, I should’ve first invested a small amount or talked to experts. One should never test the depth of water with both feet.

133. Night brings counsel.

If you have a difficult problem to solve or an important decision to make, a good night’s sleep will work wonders.

Example: Thinking over and over again about the problem isn’t leading to a solution. Why don’t you just sleep over the problem? Sometimes, night brings counsel.

134. No gain without pain.

To succeed in one’s pursuits, it is necessary to work hard and sacrifice pleasures.

Example: You’ve to drastically reduce the time you spend on video games and TV if you want to get admission in a good college. No gain without pain.

135. No news is good news.

If you don’t receive any news about someone or something, it means that everything is fine and going normally.

Example: My daughter has been working in Australia for nearly five years now. At first, I used to get worried when I didn’t hear from her, but now I know that no news is good news.

136. Oaks may fall when reeds stand the storm.

Those who are flexible and relatively insignificant can survive a crisis that brings down powerful who are unable or unwilling to adapt.

Example: In mass extinction events such as the one in which dinosaurs became extinct, large animals, which need plenty of food, go extinct first. Oaks may fall when reeds stand the storm.

137. Once bitten twice shy.

A person won’t do something a second time because he/she had bad experience the first time.

Example: I won’t try this drink, because last time I had a burning sensation in my throat. Once bitten twice shy, I guess.

138. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

What may seem to be junk to one person maybe valuable to another.

Example: I sold my 6-year-old laptop for little amount, but I’m sure the buyer will make hefty profit on it by refurbishing and selling it to someone else. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, after all.

139. Pen is mightier than sword.

Thinking and writing have more influence on people and events than use of force.

Example: After the mass killings at the newspaper office, there is a protest which is happening in the city declaring support to the paper, proving that pen is mightier than sword.

140. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.

People who have some shortcomings shouldn’t criticize others for having the same shortcomings.

Example: The main political party in the opposition has blamed the ruling party for giving tickets to people with dubious background in the upcoming elections. But the big question is that are they themselves clean on this count? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.

141. Persuasion is better than force.

You can achieve better results through persuasion than through coercion.

Example: After many futile attempts by the government, farmers finally agreed to acquisition of their land on the promise of economic development of the area. That’s why it is said persuasion is better than force.

142. Politeness costs little but yields much.

Speaking politely costs no more than speaking rudely, but it can yield much more by making friends.

Example: All things equal, few deals went my way – and not my competitor’s – because of my polite and pleasant demeanour. Politeness costs little but yields much.

143. Practice makes perfect.

Doing something over and over makes one better at it.

Example: You can’t expect to master guitar in two months. You’ve to keep at it for several months, as practice makes perfect.

144. Practice what you preach.

Behave the way you encourage others to behave.

Example: You keep telling us to go for a jog in the morning, but I wish you practice what you preach.

145. Rich man’s joke is always funny.

People agree with and flatter rich people to be in good books with them.

Example: The rich kid in my college was always surrounded by classmates who were overzealous to flatter him and keep him in good humor. A rich man’s joke is always funny.

146. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Important work takes time to complete.

Example: You can’t expect her to finish such a complex project in a week. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

147. Shrouds have no pockets.

We arrived in this world without anything, and we’ll leave without anything.

Example: What will you do with all the money you’re accumulating at the cost of a peaceful, happy life? As far as I know, shrouds have no pockets.

148. Silence is half consent.

If you don’t object to what someone says or does, you may be assumed to agree to some extent.

Example: He didn’t say anything to my proposal of going for a picnic on the weekend. I believe he is not saying ‘no’. Silence is half consent.

149. Slow and steady wins the race.

Slow and consistent work leads to better chance of success than quick work in spurts.

Example: X: I’ve built a strong vocabulary by learning a word a day for the last three years. Y: Mine has been much less, even though I’ve had days when I polished off ten words. I guess slow and steady wins the race.

150. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

If you work only on regular projects, you won’t be challenged and hence not become better at what you do. So, volunteer into few challenging projects as well.

Example: In my new project, I’m leading the team that will launch a new product, an experience, I believe, will provide a steep learning curve. After all, smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

151. Still water runs deep.

If a person doesn’t speak much, it doesn’t mean they lack depth or are uninteresting.

Example: She may not talk much, but she is one of the smartest persons in the organization. Still water runs deep.

152. Strike while the iron is hot.

Take advantage of an opportunity before it extinguishes.

Example: I thought over the job offer way too long. Now it has been offered to someone else. I should have struck while the iron was hot.

153. The course of true love never did run smooth.

True love goes through ups and downs.

Example: Romeo and Juliet went through lot of trials and tribulations in their love. The course of true love, it seems, never did run smooth.

154. The family that (eats) prays together stays together.

The family that gets together regularly to pray or eat is more close-knit than the family that doesn’t.

Example: Our grandfather ensured that all family members come together, howsoever busy they may be, at least once a week for dinner, which likely was the reason why our family was so close-knit. The family that (eats) prays together stays together.

155. The grass is greener on the other side of fence.

People are never satisfied with their own situation; they always think others have it better.

Example: X: When I see him post all those travel pictures on Instagram, I feel he has the perfect life. Y: It’s usually not like that in real life. I’m sure he too has his share of problems. I see your thought as grass being greener on the other side of the fence.

156. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

The harder you work, the more ideas and chances you may make for yourself.

Example: Many think he got lucky in getting that fat contract, but few know he had been pursuing dozens of such contracts for several weeks – the harder you work, the luckier you get.

157. The higher the monkey climbs the more he shows his tail.

The higher an incompetent person rises in an organization, the more his incompetence is exposed.

Example: After the recent promotion, the official, who somehow rose in ranks despite lack of merit, now headed a much larger department. As a result, his incompetence was now exposed to far more people. The higher the monkey climbs the more he shows his tail.

158. The highest branch is not the safest roost.

Those in the highest positions can be vulnerable as many aspire to replace them. Second, if the person is replaced, it’s not easy to find a similar position because of paucity of roles at the top.

Example: In earlier times, kings used to be on their guard all the time, suspicious of plots to overthrow them. The highest branch is not the safest roost, after all.

159. The longest way around is the shortest way home.

If you want to achieve the desired quality, work diligently and carefully and not cut corners.

Example: The earlier software contractor wrote a bloated, shoddy code that now needs to be rewritten. It should have been done more thoughtfully. The longest way around is the shortest way home.

160. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

If you deviate from the norm, you’ll face resistance, even hostile reaction in extreme case.

Example: In government, where rule-based work is norm, the nail that sticks out usually gets hammered down.

161. The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.

There rarely are completely free offers; they come attached with hooks. So, beware of such offers.

Example: The film actor got a 4-day stay at heavy discount at a premium hotel in Maldives, but later they used her pictures to promote the hotel. The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.

162. The proof of pudding is in eating.

You can only judge the quality of something after you have tried, used, or experienced it.

Example: X: Marketers have claimed that this weight loss diet produces strong results in just two months. Y: Well, I’ll reserve my opinion till I’ve tried it myself. After all, proof of pudding is in the eating.

163. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.

We all want peace and happiness in life, and there are multiple ways of achieving this goal. However, many get so tunnel-focused that they fail to see paths other than their current job, which may ironically be hurting their pursuit of happiness. So, once in a while, take a step back and reflect.

Example: You’re overworked and stressed in your current job. I would suggest you explore other options, for there are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.

164. There are more ways than one to skin a cat.

There is more than one way to reach the same goal.

Example: We can get around that by renting instead of buying the delivery van – there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

165. There is no time like the present.

The best time to do something is right now. So, act now.

Example: Don’t wait until New Year to change your bad habits. There’s no time like the present.

166. There is truth in wine.

People when drunk speak truth, often unwittingly.

Example: I got to know quite a few secrets last night from my friend Tom after he got drunk. There certainly is truth in wine.

167. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Good intention doesn’t not matter if a person’s actions lead to bad outcomes.

Example: X: Well, I was only trying to be helpful by mixing those two acids. Y: But it exploded! Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

168. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

People who complain the most are the ones who get attention or what they want.

Example: If you’re not satisfied with the service at the hotel, then you should call up the manager there. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all.

169. The tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a man six feet tall.

We should avoid foul, inconsiderate language because it can leave lasting scars and dent relationships forever.

Example: The tongue is but three inches long, yet it can kill a man six feet high. It did in my case as I lost my friend forever when, in a fit of anger, I used quite harsh language with him, even dragging his friends and family.

170. Time and tide wait for no man.

You’ve no control over passage of time; it’ll keep slipping. So don’t procrastinate, don’t delay things.

Example: We need to decide fast about buying the property at this price. Time and tide wait for no man.

171. To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.

Many take up a job or project they later hate, wasting precious years. This can be avoided if you ask few who’ve undertaken the same job or project about their experience.

Example: I could’ve made a more informed career choice if I had asked few senior software engineers the nuts & bolts of the job at various stages of the career. To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.

172. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

When too many people work together on a project, the result is inferior.

Example: This proposal has received feedback from too many parliamentary committees, and that’s probably the reason why it lacks clear action items. I’ve no doubt that too many cooks spoil the broth.

173. Two heads are better than one.

Two persons have a better chance to solve a problem than one.

Example: More startups have two cofounders than one. That’s because they very well understand that two heads are better than one.

174. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

You shouldn’t harm a person who has harmed you, even if you think that person deserves it.

Example: Just because he insulted you doesn’t mean it’s OK for you to start a rumor about him – two wrongs don’t make a right.

175. What can you expect from a pig but a grunt?

What can you expect from a bad character but foul and rough language?

Example: X: My neighbour quarreled with me and used abusive language over such a small issue. Y: What can you expect from a pig but a grunt?

176. When a twig grows hard, it is difficult to twist it.

A person can be moulded when young but not when he has grown up. So, one should inculcate good values in children while they’re still young.

Example: Your son doesn’t take responsibility when he fails at something. You must take corrective action now, for when a twig grows hard, it is difficult to twist it.

177. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of local people.

Example: I don’t love cotton candy, but we are at a carnival. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?

178. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

When conditions become difficult, strong people take action.

Example: I know you’re not used to climbing at such heights, but come on when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

179. Where there’s will, there’s way.

If you are determined enough, you can find a way to achieve what you want, even if it is difficult.

Example: He had little resources to start his business, but he eventually did through a small opening – blog. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

180. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

If there are rumors or signs that something is true, there must be some truth in it.

Example: X: Do you believe those rumors about the mayor? Y: Well, you know what they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

181. While the cat is away, the mice will play.

Without supervision, people will do as they please, especially in disregarding or breaking rules.

Example: As soon as their parents left, the children invited all their friends over – when the cat’s away, you know.

182. Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?

Why take the trouble of investing in a cow and then maintaining it when you can simply buy milk far cheaply? You should avoid buying unnecessary assets when you can do with far cheaper options.

Example: Why buy a vehicle when we can get one on rent? Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?

183. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

Sometimes, you have employees for specific job, but someone else ends up doing that job. That’s a waste.

Example: The company has hired a designer to bring uniformity and quality in design, but some of the divisions are still designing their own stuff. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

184. Words must be weighed, not counted.

Word count doesn’t matter. What matters is how effective they’re.

Example: Your report is quite voluminous, and it contains lot of superfluous stuff. Kindly revise it. Words must be weighed, not counted.

185. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

It’s easier to win people to your side by persuasion and politeness than by confrontation and threats.

Example: X: The courier service has taken more time to deliver than they had promised. I want to take the issue up with them and get a refund. Y: I would suggest you deal with them politely. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

186. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

You can show people the way to do things, but you can’t force them to act.

Example: X: He has received all the resources one needs to start a business, but even after six months I don’t see anything happening. Y: Well, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

187. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

If you have your cake and eat it too, you get two things that are normally impossible to get simultaneously.

Example: If you want more local services, you can’t expect to pay less tax. Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

188. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.

It is hard to achieve something important without causing unpleasant effects.

Example: If I don’t slash salaries, the company is going to go bankrupt. It’\’s unfortunate, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.

189. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

People who have long been used to doing things in a particular way will not abandon their habits to learn something new.

Example: I bet you can’t get him to wake at 5 AM and go out for a walk. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

190. You do not fatten a pig by weighing it.

This proverb is quoted by opponents of too much testing. Weighing a pig won’t fatten it. Altering its diet would. Similarly, testing kids in school multiple times won’t improve their performance in a particular subject. What’s required is an elaborate system to work on students’ weak areas.

Example: Most private coaching centres for entrance exams hold not only regular tests but also elaborate doubt-clearing sessions. They clearly understand that you can’t fatten a pig by only weighing it.

191. You show me the man, and I’ll show you the rule.

Rules change depending on how powerful the person likely to be affected by the rules is.

Example: X: He has been treated leniently by the police. Y: That’s why they say – you show me the man and I’ll show you the rule.

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  1. Thank you for teaching me I will speak them for people AND THEY WOULD BE SUPRISED especially number 131

  2. I so much thank guys for this proverbs and thank you for teaching me, naaawaaaaooooo!!!!! don’t worry I’ll tell it to all the world and others.

  3. I love to read and learn about these famous proverbs. I want to thank you author for creating this valuable post and it is very helpful for those who are learning English.

    Regards,
    Veena

  4. If you can’t beat them joint them,, thank you very much😂😂😂😂😂

  5. I wish you would include idiomatic expressions and gerund phrases

  6. Thank you for your 150 proverbs and their meanings
    It helps my daughter to write in her english project
    Thanks a lot 😌😌🙏🏻🙏🏻

  7. “Man thinks and God smiles”

    The above proverb is for one who plans big things in his life that is beyond his capacity.
    But God smiles at his foolishness.
    The moral of the proverb is to take stock of one’s ability in order to avoid being disappointed.
    .

  8. Thank you for helping me score high for my national examination!!!!!!!!!

  9. Thanks so much 🙏..I’ve just finished writing my term paper and the proverbs have been of great help.

  10. I knew most of these proverbs it shows richness in languages. However I was looking for a Shona proverb; Nyoka huru haizvirumi; translated may become: The mother snake does not bite itself/ it’s offsprings.This often means when you are the parent/ eldest you eventually find forgiveness and a willingness to resolve whatever issues for the sake of a better outcome though the hurt is still there 😀طسطابطگ

  11. Thank you for helping me one more time thank you very much

  12. If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm you will never enjoy the sunshine.

    Enjoy the current moments even if they are small rather than waiting for big events to take place in your life.

  13. It’s very useful
    I will have a competition after some days so this is the best site for learning Proverbs. Thank you 😊

  14. Isn’t it – curiosity killed the cat,but satisfaction brought it back?

  15. please email me meanings of proverbs down below

    1- It never rains but pours

    2- Still waters run deep

    3- To carry water in a sieve

    • Hello, I think these could be the meaning you have asking for. I hope it helps you
      It never rains but pours. This means that misfortune never comes alone.
      Still waters run deep: Appearences are deceptive

    • Sorry, I’ve forgot the 3rd one
      To carry water in a sieve means work for nothing, doing a useless job

  16. Your post was of a great help to me to teach my students. Thanks

  17. I was looking for an English version of a Danish proverb stating that “when the manger is empty, the horses bite one another”. Do you have a good match?

  18. THANK YOU HELPED A LOT IN BOARD ASSIGNMENT

  19. Such useful proverbs..Thanks for arranging a number of most used day to day moments related proverbs..

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