A proverb is a short, but meaningful saying that expresses some sort of truth. Proverbs are often passed down from generation to generation and are often used as an example of a moral rule. The saying is usually in a form of “if you do this, then this will happen.” At Faster-English, we have compiled a list of 40 common English proverbs with their meanings to help you learn English much faster. Let’s dive in.
We have shared 40 common English proverbs that you must know. They will help improve your English when writing or speaking with other people. Of course, there are many proverbs that are similar in other languages.
1. Action speaks louder than words. Meaning: People are more likely to believe what you do rather than what you say. The proverb “action speaks louder than words” is often interpreted as a statement that people should not be fooled by what someone says but rather judge them by their actions. It is often used to criticize those who make promises but don’t follow through. It also teaches us that actions are more important than words.
2. Never judge a book by its cover. Meaning: You should not judge a person or thing based on its outward appearance. The proverb ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ can be interpreted in many ways and it is often used to encourage people not to judge others based on their appearance.
3. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Meaning: Children tend to resemble their parents in appearance, character, or behaviour. It implies that children will be similar to their parents in many ways, and this similarity is often extended to character, qualities, and other traits.
4. A picture is worth a thousand words or A picture paints a thousand words. Meaning: a picture conveys information more effectively than words. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” was coined by the American author, Elbert Hubbard in his book “A Message to Garcia” The phrase is often used to illustrate the point that a complex idea can be conveyed with just one image.
5. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Meaning: What you already have in hand is better than what you might get. The proverb ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ means that it is better to have something small but certain than something larger but less likely.
6. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Meaning: If you eat healthy food, you will be healthy. The proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is often used to promote healthy eating habits. The health benefits of an apple are well-known. They include lowering cholesterol and preventing heart diseases and cancer.
7. Better safe than sorry. Meaning: It is better to be precautious than to have regrets later on. The proverb “better safe than sorry” means that it is better to avoid danger or risk, even if it means doing something that is less desirable than to take a risk and suffer the consequences. It can be seen as a warning to prepare for potential risks before they happen. It is important to be prepared for anything in life because you never know what will happen.
8. Blood is thicker than water. Meaning: Family ties are stronger than other relationships. In our lifetime, we make many friends. Friends come and go, but family remains connected forever.
9. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Meaning: When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of those who live in it
10. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Meaning: Don’t make plans based on events that haven’t happened. The proverb means that you should not anticipate something good happening before it has actually happened. It is an expression of hope, but not one of certainty.
11. All that glitters is not gold. Meaning: Someone or something may not be as good or as valuable as they first appear. The proverb ‘All that glitters is not gold’ is a warning to people that they should not be fooled by appearances. The meaning of this phrase is that things may look good on the outside, but they may be something different on the inside.
12. Every cloud has a silver lining. Meaning: Any difficult situation will eventually improve. The phrase “Every cloud has a silver lining” is often used to describe the idea that there is always something positive in every negative situation. In other words, it means that there is always some good in every bad situation. It means that you should not give up hope because things will get better eventually. This statement is mentioned in the Qur’an “So, surely with hardship comes ease” (94:6)
13. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Meaning: It is necessary to take the first step to achieve a long-term goal. The proverb is about the journey of life. It is about how we should not be discouraged by the challenges that we face in life, but instead, take one step at a time.
14. Necessity is the mother of invention. Meaning: When you really need something, you find a way to make it happen. The proverb is often used to mean that we are forced to invent or create something because of a need or a problem. This is true of the invention of the wheel, which was created to solve the issue of transporting heavy items.
15. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Meaning: Someone’s wrongful conduct is not justification for acting in the same way.
16. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Meaning: People can have differing opinions on what is beautiful. So, what is pleasing to the eyes of one person might be ordinary or ugly to another. Beauty can be subjective.
17. The pen is mightier than the sword. Meaning: Influencing people through thoughts and ideas is more effective than using physical force and violence. The phrase is often used to refer to the power of words over force and violence, or more specifically, the power of literature or written language in shaping public opinion.
18. Birds of a feather flock together. Meaning: People tend to stick together with other like-minded people. Those with similar interests or of the same kind tend to form groups. The law of attraction
19. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is an idiom used to signify the idea that something cannot be accomplished in one day or, more broadly, that it takes time and effort to accomplish goals. The phrase has been used as far back as 1714, when English poet Alexander Pope wrote “Rome was not built in a Day.”
20. Time waits for no one. Meaning: Don’t procrastinate or delay taking action, as we have no control over the passage of time. The phrase has been used to describe a situation where someone has waited too long and missed their opportunity, or when someone needs to make a decision quickly as time is running out. There is an Arabic saying that is similar – ‘Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut it, it cuts you!’
21. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Meaning: Too many people working on the same project can lead to an inferior result. If many cooks add their own ingredients to the pot, the dish can become unpleasant because of the conflicting flavours.
22. When there’s smoke, there’s fire. Meaning: If there are rumours or signs that something is true, it usually is. This proverb has been used to indicate that a person should not dismiss the possibility of something being true just because they cannot see any evidence. It is often used when there are rumours about someone or something, but no one has evidence to back them up. There is similar saying in Arabic which says If more than one person tells you where your head is, you must touch your head.
23. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Meaning: You should not try to change something if it is already working well. It’s often used as a warning against making any changes or improvements to something that isn’t broken.
24. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Meaning: It’s impossible to satisfy two opposite desires. The origin of the phrase may be a translation of an old French phrase “on ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre” which means “one cannot have both butter and money from butter.”
25. A leopard never changes its spots. Meaning: A tiger doesn’t change its stripes. This proverb is a metaphor meaning that people who have committed certain crimes in the past are likely to commit them again. The proverb is often used to describe someone who has a habit of repeating the same mistakes or someone who cannot change their behaviour, despite it being unhealthy or unproductive. Arabic: “the dog’s tail will never be straight.”
26. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Meaning: when people we love are not with us, we love them even more.
27. Easy come easy go. Meaning: Something that is achieved easily is also lost as easily. Gamblers usually make a lot of money easily but also lose that money quickly too.
28. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Meaning: If you bite the hand that feeds you then they’ll stop feeding you and you’ll have nothing. This proverb is used to warn people not to do anything that might harm the person who supports them. It is a warning against ingratitude.
29. Still water runs deep. Meaning: Someone who seems to be unemotional or who is hard to get to know is in fact interesting and complex. People who are not as socially active or who don’t say much are often the ones with the most wisdom. The phrase is used to describe someone who doesn’t speak much but has a lot of insight, depth, and character.
30. Out of sight out of mind. Meaning: People quickly forget someone if he or she goes away. Out of sight out of mind proverb is one of the most popular proverbs in the English language. It means that if you are not aware of something or someone, you will forget about them. This proverb has been used for a long time to teach children to remember their parents and relatives. It is also used to encourage people to stay in touch with old friends and family members.
31. Empty drums make the loudest noise. Meaning: Those who are loud and noisy, usually have nothing of substance to say. This proverb is used to indicate that a person who has no power or influence is the most likely to complain. The saying is often associated with the philosophy of Confucius. He believed that people should be judged on their merits and not on their social status, so it would be better for those with more power and influence to be wary of those who have nothing.
32. All good things must come to an end. Meaning: Even good things will come to an end, and this should not be seen as a negative thing. The phrase “all good things must come to an end” is often used to describe the inevitability of change. The phrase can be interpreted as a warning or a consolation, depending on how it is said and what is happening at the time.
33. The early bird catches the worm. Meaning: You will have an advantage if you do something immediately or before anyone else does it. There is a Russian saying that is somewhat similar – ‘The person who gets up early is helped by God’.
34. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Meaning: We should not take on more than we can handle. This will prevent us from being overwhelmed and stressed and it will also help us to finish our tasks quickly and efficiently. The proverb is not just a saying, but a great piece of advice that we should all follow. It is also one of the most popular proverbs in the English language.
35. Learn to walk before you run. Meaning: It is better to learn the basics first before moving on to more advanced topics. The proverb “learn to walk before you run” is a metaphor for the importance of learning the basics before moving on to more advanced topics. It suggests that it’s better to learn how to do something in a simple way first, rather than trying to learn it in a complicated way right away.
36. If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Meaning: When one person helps another person with something and expects to be helped back in return. The proverb “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is often used to describe a situation where two parties are willing to cooperate with each other because they know that the other party will help them out in return. This proverb can also be applied to relationships between countries or companies as well as personal relationships.
37. The grass is (always) greener (on the other side of the fence). Meaning: People are always looking for something better and they will never be satisfied with what they have. The grass is greener on the other side proverb is often used to describe the feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s life, job, or relationships.
38. The truth will out. Meaning: The truth will eventually come out. Abraham Lincoln once said that ‘You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’.
39. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Meaning: Do not criticize others for a flaw that you yourself possess.
40. Better late than never. Meaning: It’s better to do something late than not at all. It is believed to have originated in the 16th century and has been attributed to a number of authors including Francis Bacon and Benjamin Franklin.
For example: In Arabic, there is a saying that says, ‘A wet person does not fear the rain.’ It means when you are used to difficulties, facing them again becomes easier. You fear things that you don’t know/haven’t done. The word for fear of rain is Ombrophobia (To learn more about phobias, check out this page: https://www.faster-english.com/20-common-phobias
If you have a similar proverb in your language, feel free to share it in the comment section below 😊