Famous Proverbs in English with Meanings and Examples
Table of Contents
What is a Proverb?
A proverb is a short saying whose general purpose is to give advice, truth, or wisdom to anyone. Proverbs are traditional statements that express a thought or an experience. They are indirectly stated but you can get some ideas about the real meaning it conveys.
Sometimes, proverbs can be written in imperative form – telling someone to do something based on the statement. Proverbs in English have morals and they can be used in any situation. Many non-native English speakers unconsciously use proverbs in their conversations.
Proverbs in English are sometimes misunderstood as idiomatic expressions, although they have indirect meanings. However, they are both different in some ways.
Proverbs vs Idioms
Proverbs and idioms convey their meaning through statements. Proverbs in English contain meanings that are sometimes literal and sometimes have greater meaning than the individual words in the statement.
Proverbs in English are stated in complete sentences.
- Look before you leap. – Think deeply before you decide on doing something.
- Every cloud has a silver lining. – Every situation does not only have bad things but there are good things as well.
- A leopard can’t change its spots. – A person’s innate character and personality don’t change.
Idioms, on the other hand, contain meanings that are not literally conveyed, but the meaning is expressed through metaphorical comparisons of things, animals, and ideas.
Idiomatic expressions are not stated in a complete sentence – they are either a clause or a short phrase.
- Beat around the bush – does not express a “direct to the point” idea; avoiding a particular topic or issue
- Once in a blue moon – happens very rarely
- A piece of cake – simple and easy to do
Common Proverbs in English
We sometimes unconsciously encounter proverbs in our daily lives and we tend to ignore them. However, if we experience hardships and problems and we meet some proverbs in English, we ponder it and think about it deeply, relating to what we are going through.
For you to be more familiar with the most common proverbs in English, we have compiled 50 of them along with their meanings and examples.
Proverbs for Students
- Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Meaning: This proverb means that you should not make any judgment about a person or thing by looking at their outside appearance.
Example: You just met our new professor so don’t judge the book by its cover.
- It’s better late than never.
Meaning: It is better to be present than to never go to a place or decide on something that you think has a good result.
Example: I need to submit my report but I have not finished it yet and it’s already the deadline. Ah, I’ll still submit it. It’s better late than never.
- The pen is mightier than the sword.
Meaning: Pen here is something that represents good communication, through writing. It means that it is better to use a pen as it can change one’s thoughts rather than use a sword to express violence.
Example: The pen is always mightier than the sword. Our national hero did not fight the colonizers physically, but he used his pen to spread his ideas.
- It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Meaning: It is always better to be careful or cautious about everything especially your decisions than to regret it later.
Example: You have to limit eating junk food. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Practice makes perfect.
Meaning: This proverb means that if you want to be better at something, you have to keep doing it or practicing it and not give up.
Example: Don’t worry about your English skills if they are not fluent. Remember, practice makes perfect.
- Strike while the iron is hot.
Meaning: This means that if there are opportunities that knock on your door, go for it. Take risks and don’t be afraid.
Example: Make sure to strike the iron while it’s hot to not miss any good opportunities.
- An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
Meaning: It is better to have more knowledge and be educated because you gain more from it.
Example: Children should be taught the idea that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
Proverbs for Work
- Experience is the best teacher.
Meaning: We learn from our experiences, that is why this proverb is most common to us.
Example: I always believe that experience is the best teacher.
- It is the first step that is difficult.
Meaning: True, as the proverb says. Everything we encounter or do is always difficult at first, but if we get used to it, everything becomes easy.
Example: It is natural that if you are new in your job, it is the first step that is difficult.
- Many hands make light work.
Meaning: If people do things together and unite as one, the work becomes lighter and easier.
Example: Many hands make light work if we all do this project hand-in-hand.
- No pain, no gain.
Meaning: Whatever we want to achieve in life, we always encounter pains and disappointments. These don’t mean physical pain, but all kinds of pain. After experiencing these pains, we achieve what we want and gain success.
Example: Most of the soldiers’ mantra is “no pain, no gain.”
- Do not do things tomorrow if you can do them today.
Meaning: Why wait for the next day when you can do things today? This proverb is very common especially when at work because you have to make use of your time and be productive, then be idle and do nothing. It’s better to finish your tasks early so that when there are modifications, you still have time to do it.
Example: Be productive; do not do things tomorrow if you can do them today.
- A bad workman always blames his tools.
Meaning: This means that if a worker does something and he fails to do it, he blames his tools. Just like at work, a leader blames his subordinates if he cannot achieve his team goals and targets.
Example: Don’t be a bad workman who blames his tools. You are better than that.
- Actions speak louder than words.
Meaning: How we act or feel is more obvious than what we say or utter. Sometimes, we say we are okay but we are not, and it’s very obvious in our facial expressions or actions.
Example: You can’t deny to me that you are hurt. Actions speak louder than words.
- A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Meaning: No matter how far a place is, how big your tasks are, or how successful something is, all of them begin with a single step or from a small beginning.
Example: Ms. Lou is now a millionaire. She was once a poor lady but she had dreams. Her journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.
- All work and no play makes John a dull boy.
Meaning: If you focus on work and not engage in leisure activities, you will be stuck in your work without venturing into things that you can learn more. It’s like you know nothing about the world anymore because you focus on just one thing. Sometimes, balance your work and life.
Example: Don’t be too stressed with work. All work and no play makes you a dull person. Explore and be productive.
Proverbs for Family
- Don’t bite the hands that feed you.
Meaning: This proverb means that you should not treat someone badly especially if that person is the one who helped you in your low times. Do not betray them or talk bad behind them.
Example: You should not bite the hands that feed you because they are there when you need help the most.
- Half a loaf is better than no bread.
Meaning: It’s better to have at least a little than having nothing at all.
Example: Those who live in poverty are most likely to appreciate half a loaf which is better than no bread at all.
- Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Meaning: To pay a debt, one borrows from another person. What he owes is another debt.
Example: Stop lending money to your friend. He’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it’s not good.
- The truth will always prevail.
Meaning: No secrets or lies can be kept forever. In the end, the truth will always come out.
Example: Even if you won’t tell the world about the crime you committed, the truth will always prevail.
- Blood is thicker than water.
Meaning: No matter how problematic your family is, at the end of the day, you have no one to go to but your family. Your family will help you at all times.
Example: Blood is thicker than water because John, who is the biological son of the Perez family, was given more consideration than Peter, the adopted son.
- Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Meaning: This means that we should be patient in everything we do. We don’t need to rush things.
Example: Why do you badly go to Europe when your budget is not enough yet? Rome wasn’t built in a day, so wait until you have enough.
- There is no place like home.
Meaning: It always feels comfortable at home.
Example: I have been here abroad for 3 years now. I miss my family; I miss our house. Indeed, there is no place like home.
- Curiosity killed the cat.
Meaning: Being too inquisitive and curious about other things that sometimes don’t have anything to do with you will cause you trouble.
Example: I believe that curiosity kills a cat especially when you are too inquisitive about other people’s life.
- The family that prays together stays together.
Meaning: This means that the relationship of the members of the family that pray together is close and strong.
Example: In Christian religions, they strongly believe that the family that prays together stays together.
- Though a tree grows ever so high, the falling leaves return to the ground.
Meaning: Just like family members, no matter how far you go, you still think of going back to your family.
Example: Though a tree grows ever so high, the falling leaves return to the ground.
- A man’s home is his castle.
Meaning: You can do whatever you want in your home where nobody will talk about you or watch over your actions.
Example: If someone doesn’t want to be guarded, he must stay at home, because his home is his castle.
Proverbs for Life
- You reap what you sow.
Meaning: Your future situation is the result of your present actions.
Example: Work hard for your life and you will surely reap what you sow.
- One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Meaning: This means that not all people have the same wants and needs. You may not want something anymore, but other people need that something from you.
Example: The rich throw away things that they don’t need, but the poor pick them and use them with love. This means one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
- Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
Meaning: This means that you should not be confident about the result of something if it has not finished yet, or you will be disappointed.
Example: Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched; you are not yet sure of the result.
- Who knows most speak the least.
Meaning: Those who have more knowledge about something never brag about what they know; but those who are less knowledgeable and only rely on what they hear have a lot to say.
Example: John never brags about his inventions, but Mark claims to know more about them even though he doesn’t know the background of those inventions. Who knows most indeed speaks the least.
- Slow and steady wins the race.
Meaning: This means you don’t need to hurry to get things done. You just have to be careful and do things slowly but surely. Sometimes, those who rush receive no good result.
Example: Just like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.
- There is a time and place for everything.
Meaning: All in life has an intended time and place.
Example: President Duterte’s mantra in life is “There is a time and place for everything.”
- Unity is strength.
Meaning: United People have stronger relationships.
Example: Work together as one because unity is strength.
- One word is enough for a wise man.
Meaning: A wise man listens attentively and does not talk a lot. If you say or explain something to him, he understands immediately.
Example: You think of yourself as wise, but understand the situation. One word is enough for a wise man.
- You never know what you can do until you try.
Meaning: This means that you can do something if you try and not stand alone without even trying.
Example: Why don’t you join the pageant? You never know what you can do until you try.
- History repeats itself.
Meaning: The same things happen over and over again.
Example: My friend collapsed during their team building in 2019. During the same event in 2022, she collapsed again. Indeed, history truly repeats itself.
- No man is an island
Meaning: Everyone is not self-reliant. We really need somebody who can be with us, or even someone who we can share our problems with.
Example: Don’t be too confident about working on your own. Remember, no man is an island. For sure you’ll need us in the future.
Proverbs for Love
- Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Meaning: You can always find ways or solutions to any problems if you are willing to solve them.
Example: Don’t tell me that you can’t finish your report on time. If there’s a will, there’s a way!
- A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Meaning: We have friends who need our help at their most difficult times. If we help them sincerely, for sure they will help us in return if we need their help too.
Example: Fair-weather friends cannot be a good example of “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”
- Love has to be shown by deeds, not words.
Meaning: If you love, show it through your actions and not purely words. Don’t just make promises; act upon them.
Example: Many celebrity couples fail to win their relationship because not all work hard. Love has to be shown by deeds, not words if you are in love.
- The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Meaning: This means that men quickly fall in love with women who are good at cooking.
Example: Not all women believe that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Meaning: You long for love if someone you love is not by your side.
Example: Because of their breakup, absence made the man’s heart grow fonder.
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Meaning: What is beautiful to you may not be beautiful to another and vice versa.
Example: You can’t say anything about someone’s choice because beauty is really in the eye of the beholder.
- Love is blind.
Meaning: You don’t care about a person’s flaws if you really love them.
Example: I now realize that love is blind. My friend’s boyfriend is an addict but she still holds onto him.
- Love conquers all.
Meaning: Nothing in the world is the most powerful thing but love.Example: My grandparents opposed my parents’ relationship but my mom and dad fought for their love. This means that love conquers all.
- You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.
Meaning: This means acceptance and love for family members who, even at their dirtiest parts, you still love them no matter what.
Example: Don’t be too harsh on your family. Take note that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.
- That’s a face only a mother could love.
Meaning: Mothers love their children no matter how good-looking or ugly they are. Her love for them is unconditional. Only maternal love can accept them.
Example: She is being bullied because of the birthmarks on her cheek. Surely, that’s a face only her mother can love.
- Love yourself or no one else will.
Meaning: You should love yourself above all.Example: Stay out of that toxic relationship and love yourself or no one else will.
- There are plenty more fish in the sea.
Meaning: In breakups, it hurts only at first but there are still a lot of people around the world. You can still find someone who is fated to be your partner.
Example: Don’t worry about your breakup. There are plenty more fish in the sea. Move on and wait patiently.
Importance of Proverbs in English for Language Learning
Proverbs are important in students’ English language learning because they make them good analytical thinkers. Proverbs in English offer a treasure trove of benefits for English language learners, making them much more than just wise sayings.
- Proverbs in English help students improve their comprehension skills.
- Proverbs in English boost vocabulary building.
- Most proverbs in English can motivate and inspire students to study more.
- Proverbs in English expose students to a variety of figurative statements.
- Many common proverbs in English help students increase their chances of succeeding in life.
- Students can learn how to play with words using proverbs in English.
- Language learners can express themselves confidently with proverbs in English.
True Value of Proverbs in English
Proverbs are not mere pronouncements from the past; they are invitations to dialogue, urging us to question, refine, and reimagine the wisdom they offer. The true value of proverbs lies not in blind adherence, but in the critical engagement they inspire.
Let us embrace this constant conversation, using proverbs in English as springboards for growth, not shackles of conformity.
Do you have any specific proverbs in English you’d like to discuss or learn more about? I’m happy to explore them with you!