A proverb is a short, simple, concrete, pithy saying that expresses a general truth or piece of advice. Proverbs can be used in any circumstance, to give others advice or enlighten them about the situation they are in.
Here’s a list of the most common proverbs in English for students with meanings and example sentences.
Commonly Used Proverbs
A bad penny always turns up
Meaning: Someone or something unwelcome will always reappear or return.
Example: Ricky is like a bad penny and appears when needs not.
A barking dog never bites
Meaning: One who regularly makes angry or threatening statements rarely acts upon them.
Example: My boss threatens to fire me at least once a week, but a barking dog never bites.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
Meaning: It’s better to hold onto something that you already have than to risk losing it by trying to attain something better.
Example: Stephan decided against selling off his small clothing shop for the prospects of starting a bigger one. He realized that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
Meaning: To finish a difficult task, you have to first start it.
Example: If you want to run a marathon you should start running shorter distances first. You have to start somewhere, since a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
A little learning is a dangerous thing
Meaning: Having a limited amount of knowledge about something can lead one to act in a way that could be detrimental to them or someone else
Example: It seems that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and the authors have allowed themselves to over-interpret their interesting findings.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Meaning: A picture conveys meaning more effectively than words.
Example: A good presentation should contain more of graphics and less of text, since a picture is worth a thousand words.
A stitch in time saves nine
Meaning: If you sort out a problem immediately it will save you extra work later.
Example: Stephan: My back has started causing problems, but it can’t see a doctor because of work. Ricky: You should get your back looked at right away or it will get much worse! A stitch in time saves nine!
Actions speak louder than words
Meaning: What you do is more important than what you say. Actions shows your intentions and feelings more clearly than what you say.
Example: You don’t have to keep saying that you do the most work in the office. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
All good things must come to an end
Meaning: There is an end to everything. All experiences, even pleasant ones, eventually end.
Example: It’s been a fantastic journey but all good things must come to an end.
All that glitters is not gold
Meaning: It means that everything that looks good may not actually be all that good.
Example: I know that Stephan is a handsome boy but don’t forget all that glitters is not gold.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
Meaning: It means that without time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring.
Example: Stephan come out to the watch a match with us tonight! All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All’s fair in love and war
Meaning: It is used where people do not follow the usual rules and do things that are normally considered unfair or wrong.
Example: I had to flatter the boss in order to get that big promotion. All’s fair in love and war.
All’s well that ends well
Meaning: It is used to describe a situation that started with problems but ended on positive or satisfactory note.
Example: The groom was late for the wedding, but everything worked out all right. All’s well that ends well.
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
Meaning: If someone does something wrong, that person should be punished by having the same thing done to them.
Example: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; this is all I demand from all those have wronged me.
Barking dogs seldom bites
Meaning: People who are full of talk, are low on action. Don’t be afraid of people that threaten you because they rarely take action.
Example: Stephan looks all rough and dangerous, and talks tough, but he is all bark and no bite.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Meaning: That which one person finds beautiful may not appeal to another.
Example: I don’t see why he finds her attractive; but, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say.
Beggars can’t be choosers
Meaning: People who need something should be satisfied with what they get even if it is not exactly what they wanted
Example: I would have preferred a house of my own rather than sharing, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Better late than never
Meaning: It is better to do something or arrive after the expected time than not do it or arrive at all.
Example: Stephan finally paid me the money he owed me. Well, better late than never.
Birds of a feather flock together
Meaning: People of the same sort or with the same tastes and interests will often spend time with each other.
Example: These health professionals sure were birds of a feather.
Cleanliness is next to godliness
Meaning: It is very important to keep yourself clean. Being clean is a sign of spiritual purity or goodness.
Example: My mother is always adamant that we wash our hands before eating because cleanliness is next to godliness.
Cowards die many times before their deaths
Meaning: People who constantly fear death feel the stress associated with it many times before actually dying.
Example: Coward dies many times before their death but the valiant never taste of death but once.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: One should not put all their resources into one thing as one could lose everything.
Example: It would be prudent to diversify your investments, as you should not put all your eggs in one basket.
Don’t put the cart before the horse
Meaning: Don’t do things out of the proper order.
Example: The government put the cart before the horse by investing heavily before making major reforms.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: Don’t try to do something that is too difficult for you.
Example: It feels like I bit off more than I could chew when I accepted two part-time jobs,
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
Meaning: Don’t act badly or ungratefully towards the person who is helping.
Example: I know your boss isn’t always nice, but remember: Never bite the hand that feeds you.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
Meaning: Don’t assume that something will definitely happen before it really does.
Example: You may get the job, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch; wait till you get the offer letter before you throw the party.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Meaning: Don’t make an opinion of someone or something by looking at the person or thing’s appearance.
Example: The candidate did not look very intelligent, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Fine feathers make fine birds
Meaning: Something that appears beautiful or good is by definition beautiful or good.
Example: Stephan you should wear a tie for the job interview. Fine feathers make fine birds.
Fortune favors the brave
Meaning: Luck is usually on the side of those who take chances and risks.
Example: Stephan decided to ask out the most beautiful girl in school because fortune favors the brave.
God helps those who help themselves
Meaning: You need make an effort to achieve something.
Example: You better start working for the test because God helps those who help themselves.
Half a loaf is better than none
Meaning: Said about a situation in which you must accept less than you wanted.
Example: I know they’re offering you less money than you’d hoped for, but at least it’s a good job – half a loaf is better than none.
Honesty is the best policy
Meaning: Telling the truth is always better than lying.
Example: Stephan realized honesty is the best policy and told them what really happened to their jeep.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Meaning: One should be optimistic but ready for hard times as well.
Example: Although I hope for the best, but I am prepared for the worst in case we do not get the visa.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Meaning: There is no need to change or fix something that is in a working state.
Example: I really don’t see any point in trying to fix my car when it works fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
If you play with fire, you’ll get burned
Meaning: If you do something dangerous, chances are you will get hurt.
Example: You are playing with fire if you are not doing the work you boss is asking you to do. He might fire you.
It takes two to make a quarrel
Meaning: It takes two or more people to cause a quarrel; one cannot blame an argument entirely on one side .
Example: Stephan it’s not just my fault. It takes two to make a quarrel.
It’s never too late to mend
Meaning: It is never too late to repair something you have done wrong.
Example: Well, it’s never too late to mend; why don’t you call Stephan up and apologize for what you did?
It’s no use crying over spilt milk
Meaning: One shouldn’t worry about things that have already happened and can’t be changed.
Example: Stephan lost all his money and there is nothing he can do about it – It’s no use crying over spilled milk.
It’s better to be safe than sorry
Meaning: It is better to do things carefully beforehand than to suffer the consequences later.
Example: Stephan you should get this checked by a doctor – better safe than sorry!
Knowledge is power
Meaning: The more one knows, the more one will be able to control events.
Example: You should try to get as much information as possible about the job. As they say knowledge is power.
Laughter is the best medicine
Meaning: Trying to be happy is a good way to stop worrying.
Example: Sometimes, all you need to do is laugh as laughter is the best medicine.
Like father, like son
Meaning: A son’s character or behaviour is expected to resemble that of his father.
Example: Stephan’s only interest is in making money. Like father, like son.
Make hay while the sun shines
Meaning: Make good use of an opportunity while it lasts.
Example: The skiing conditions won’t be this good for another several months, so let’s make hay while the sun shines.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Meaning: If you really need to do something, you will think of a way of doing it
Example: If you want to invent something, think about what people need. Necessity is the mother of invention.
No man is an island
Meaning: No one is self-sufficient; everyone relies on others. This saying comes from a sermon by John Donne.
Example: You can’t manage this all by yourself; no man is an island.
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones
Meaning: People who have faults should not criticize other people for having the same faults.
Example: Stephan been hounding Ricky for not performing well in the game, but he himself hasn’t done well in last few matches. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!
Practice makes perfect
Meaning: You should continue doing something multiple times, if you want to learn to do it very well.
Example: You should continue working on your tennis serve to get the desired results. Practice makes perfect!
Rome was not built in a day
Meaning: It takes time to create something great.
Example: It will take a year for me to finish my research project. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.
Strike while the iron is hot
Meaning: Take advantage of an opportunity as soon as it exists
Example: One doesn’t get such offers often. If I were you, I’d strike while the iron is hot.
Slow and steady wins the race
Meaning: If you work slowly but constantly, you will succeed better than if you work fast for a short while and do not continue.
Example: You might be slow at what you are doing but you will succeed if you continue doing. Slow and steady wins the race.
The early bird catches the worm
Meaning: The person who takes the earliest opportunity to do something will gain the advantage over others.
Example: We need to get to the store early if we want to have the best selection. The early bird catches the worm
The forbidden fruit is the sweetest
Meaning: People are drawn to things that they are forbidden from doing or having.
Example: He went after her just because the forbidden fruit is always the sweetest.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence
Meaning: Other people’s lives or situations always seem better than your own.
Example: You might think you’d be happy if you were working in my company, but, well, the grass is greener on the other side.
The pen is mightier than the sword
Meaning: The power of the written word is far more powerful than the force of a sword.
Example: The Founding Fathers of the United States of America considered the pen to be mightier than the sword, and therefore were able to gain the freedom of America by uniting the colonists
The squeaky wheel gets the grease
Meaning: Someone who complains or causes problems is more likely to receive attention or help.
Example: My younger brother got far more stuff from my parents when we were kids because the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Time and tide wait for none
Meaning: The opportunities of life will pass you by if you delay or procrastinate in taking advantage of them.
Example: You should start preparing for the exam now other wise you will miss the opportunity. Time and tide wait for none
Time is money
Meaning: Time is a valuable resource, therefore it’s better to do things as quickly as possible.
Example: Stephan won’t be going along as it would be a waste of his time, and time is money.
Two wrongs don’t make a right
Meaning: The fact that someone has done something unjust or dishonest is no justification for acting in a similar way.
Example: You should not have hit him back. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Meaning: You should follow the conventions and customs of the place in which you are residing or visiting.
Example: Having travelled so many countries, the only advice that I give is that when in Rome, do as the Romans.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going
Meaning: When conditions become difficult, strong people continue working harder.
Example: The football team was losing the game, so at half time the coach reminded them that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Meaning: If someone is determined to do something, he will find a way to accomplish it regardless of obstacles.
Example: Don’t tell me it’s impossible. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And we’re going to find a way to do it.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
Meaning: There’s always some reason for a rumour.
Example: They have not arrested him for nothing. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. He has likely done something wrong and will now have to face it.
You can’t have your cake and eat it
Meaning: To have or do two things that one desires that are normally contradictory or impossible to have or do simultaneously.
Example: You can’t have your cake and eat it – if you want more local services, you can’t expect to pay less tax.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Meaning: It is very difficult to teach someone new skills or to change someone’s habits or character.
Example: I tried to get my father to start using an iPad, but he says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.