English Proverbs

English proverbs are well-known phrases or sentences that express wise thoughts. English proverbs either give advice or say something that is normally thought to be true.

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For example:

Advice=> "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket."
(Don't risk everything on one project.)
eggs in a basket
Truth=> "A man's home is his castle."
(People feel most comfortable and in control in their own homes.)


English proverbs are often written in a figurative way, similar to metaphors and idioms. This means that you cannot read them word for word. They don't mean exactly what they say.

For example:

"When the cat's away, the mice will play" is an English proverb. It does not mean exactly what it says. It doesn't really refer to cats and mice. 

It really refers to the idea that when a person of authority is gone, those under his rule will take advantage of that and enjoy their freedom.

For example: parents and children; teacher and students; boss and employees


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Synonyms for "proverb"

There are several synonyms for the word "proverb." Although these words are often used in the same way, there are slight differences in their definitions. (All of these examples can also be considered proverbs.)

Synonyms for "proverb":

  • saying: A saying is a popular expression.

    "Let sleeping dogs lie" (Leave things alone if it might cause more trouble.)

  • adage: An adage is a well-known saying that has been used for a long time. Adages are often written as metaphors.

    "The early bird catches the worm" (Success comes to people who are prepared.)

  • epigram: An epigram is a short, witty statement that is often written in verse. Epigrams sometimes contain irony.

    "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness" (It is better to fix a problem than complain about it.)

  • maxim: A maxim is a rule about how people should behave.

    "All good things come to those who wait" (If you are patient, good things will happen.)

man looking at watch

Proverbs and cliches

Many English proverbs have been in use for centuries and are still very common. Other proverbs are more modern.

Some proverbs have been used too much and have become clichés. This means that they have been overused and have become annoying or boring. Some have even lost their original meanings.

Examples of proverbs that have become clichés:
  • "Actions speak louder than words"

    (You are judged more by what you do than what you say. Your actions are proof to the things you say.)

  • "Great minds think alike"

    (This phrase is used to emphasize a coincidence when two people say or think the same thing at the same time.)

  • "Curiosity killed the cat"

    (It's not good to be too curious. It can lead to trouble.)

List of common English proverbs

The following is a list of some common English proverbs. The proverbs are divided into categories according to their topics. 

Bad news:

  • "Bad news travels fast"

    (People talk more about bad news than good news.)

woman telling a secret


  • "Dead men tell no tales"

    (If someone is dead, he or she cannot give evidence against others.)

  • "Death keeps no calendar"

    (Any person can die at any time.)

  • "The wage of sin is death"

    (We die because we sin.)

  • "You can't take it with you when you die"

    (Physical items are not important. We can't keep physical items when we die.)


  • "There's no place like home"

    (People feel most comfortable when they are at home and with family.)

  • "Blood is thicker than water"

    (You have a stronger bond with your family than with friends.)
father and son


  • "The straw the broke the camel's back"

    (The final thing that causes complete failure. When many bad things are piling up and one small thing finally causes complete failure.)


  • "To err is human, to forgive is divine"

    (It is normal for people to make mistakes. It is important to forgive people for their mistakes.)
man begging for forgiveness


  • "If it isn't broke, don't fix it"

    (Don't try to change something that is already working just fine.)

  • "Out of sight, out of mind"

    (We don't think about or worry about things or people that we can't see.)

  • "Silence is golden"

    (You learn more by listening and watching than talking.)

  • "Variety is the spice of life"

    (Life is boring when things are always the same. Change makes life interesting.)

  • "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink"

    (You can show or tell people how to do things, but you can't make them do it.)

  • "You can't have your cake and eat it too"

    (You can't have everything you want.)

  • "Beggars can't be choosers"

    (If you depend on the generosity of others, you can't be picky about what you get.)

  • "Cleanliness is next to godliness"

    (It is important to be clean and keep things neat and tidy. This expression compares cleanliness to being godly.)
man taking a shower


  • "An apple a day keeps the doctor away"

    (Regular healthy habits prevent major illnesses.)

  • "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise"

    (It is good to get plenty of sleep. Go to bed early and get up in the morning.)


  • "Don't judge a book by its cover"

    (Don't judge things or people on their outward appearance.)

  • "All that glitters is not gold"

    (Just because something looks attractive on the outside, doesn't mean it is good.)

  • "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"

    (Different people recognize beauty in different ways.)

  • "Beauty is only skin deep"

    (What you see on the outside is just physical beauty. It does not tell us how someone is inside.)

  • "Good things come in small packages"

    (The size of a gift or a person does not determine what's inside.)

  • "The grass is always greener on the other side"

    (It is easy to think other people have better things or something will be better somewhere else.)

  • "What you see is what you get"

    (There is nothing hidden.)

  • "Don't judge a man until you've walked in his shoes"

    (Don't judge people until you have been in their situation and truly know what they have experienced.)


  • "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach"

    (Men love women who can cook well.)

  • "Absence makes the heart grow fonder"

    (The lack of something increases the desire for it. If someone you love is away from you, it will increase your desire for that person.)

  • "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"

    (A woman who is rejected in love is very angry and dangerous.)

  • "Love is blind" 

    When someone is in love, they don't notice bad things about the other person.)



  • "Easy come, easy go"

    (If you get something easily, you can lose it easily. This usually refers to money.)

  • "No such thing as a free lunch"

    (Nothing in life is free. We must pay for everything we get.)

  • "Money doesn't grow on trees"

    (It is not easy to get money, so use it wisely.)

  • "Money is the root of all evil"

    (Evil things happen when people desire money too much.)

  • "Money talks"

    (Money gives people power.)

  • "A fool and his money are soon parted"

    (Unwise people spend their money too quickly and become poor.)
man looking in his wallet


  • "A watched pot never boils"

    (If you are eager for something to happen, it will seem to take longer.)

  • "Don't count your chickens before they hatch"

    (Don’t make plans based on something that has not happened yet.)

  • "Don't put the cart before the horse"

    (Be patient. Don't do thing in the wrong order.)

  • "First things first"

    (Do things in a logical order.)

  • "Patience is a virtue"

    (Patience is a good quality.)

  • "Learn to walk before you run"

    (Be patient. Take the time to learn things right.)


  • "Better safe than sorry"

    (It is better to be careful in a dangerous situation than to get hurt.)

  • "Better a live coward than a dead hero"

    (It is sometimes better to not get involved in something and be called a coward than to become involved and be hurt.)

  • "If you play with fire, you might get burned"

    (If you mess with something that is dangerous, you might get hurt.)


  • "Pride comes before a fall"

    (If you become too confident and arrogant, you are sure to suffer disappointment.)

Relationships (general):

  • "If you can't beat them, join them"

    (If you cannot win against someone, it may be easier to join together with them to be stronger.)

  • "Birds of a feather flock together"

    (People who are alike tend to stick together.)

  • "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link"

    (If one member of a group is weak, then the whole group is weak.)

  • "The best things in life are free"

    (The best things in life are love, friendship, and family. We don't have to pay for those things.)

  • "Don't bite the hand that feeds you"

    (Don't hurt the person or people who take care of you.)

  • "Familiarity breeds contempt"

    (We begin to hate those we are closest to. This can also refer to objects.)

  • "It's a man's world"

    (The world seems to revolve around men, and it is difficult for women to become successful in a man's world.)

  • "One good turn deserves another"

    (If someone does something nice for you, you should do something nice in return.)

  • "United we stand, divided we fall"

    (We will be more successful if we work together.)
man and woman


  • "Revenge is a dish best served cold"

    (Do not try to get revenge immediately after someone hurts you.)

  • "Two wrongs do not make a right"

    (If someone does something bad to you, you should not try to get revenge. It does not make it better.)


  • "Fortune favors the bold"

    (Successful people usually have to take risks.)

  • "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again"

    (Keep trying until you are successful.)

  • "One swallow does not a summer make"

    (One success does not guarantee a second success.)

  • "Opportunity only knocks once" or "Opportunity rarely knocks twice"

    (You should take an opportunity when it comes to you. It may not come again.)

  • "Strike while the iron is hot"

    (When you have a chance to do something, don't wait. Take an opportunity when it comes to you.)

  • "The early bird catches the worm"

    (Success comes to people who are prepared.)

  • "When the going gets tough, the tough get going"

    (Successful people do not quit when things become difficult.)

woman working

Thinking positive:

  • "The darkest hour is always before the dawn"

    (When things seem the worst, good things are sure to happen.)

  • "Where there's a will, there's a way"

    (If you are strong-minded, you will find a way to achieve things.)

  • "Make a mountain out of a molehill"

    (Don't get upset over something small.)

  • "This too shall pass"

    (Bad times won't last forever.)

  • "It is what it is"

    (You can't change what has already happened.)

  • "God works in mysterious ways"

    (God has a plan for people. He has a reason for everything that happens.)

  • "When one door shuts, another opens" or "When God closes a door, He opens a window"

    (A failure is always followed by a new opportunity. Be positive and look for the good things in life even when something bad happens.)
open window


  • "Facts are stubborn things"

    (You can't avoid the truth.)

  • "Honesty  is the best policy"

    (It is best to be truthful. Lies will get you nowhere.)

  • "Truth is stranger than fiction"

    (Amazing things happen and sometimes real life is more difficult to believe than a made-up story.)

  • "Truth needs no colors"

    (Truth is fact and speaks for itself. You don't need to do anything to make it sound better.)

  • "Nothing hurts like the truth"

    (The truth can hurt.)


  • "No pain, no gain"

    (It takes hard work to achieve things.)

  • "Practice makes perfect"

    (It takes lots of practice to become good at something.)

  • "Too many cooks spoil the broth"

    (It is difficult to complete tasks when many people are involved in the work.)

  • "Two heads are better than one"

    (Two people can usually solve problems faster than one person.)

  • "Rome wasn't built in a day"

    (It takes time and hard work to accomplish something big.)
Roman building

This was an overview of English proverbs. Now that you understand, it is time to practice! Get our ESL Books.

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