A proverb is a saying that is simple and it usually has some sort of advice or truth based on common sense. If someone says a proverb to you, they are trying to impart wisdom onto you. Many proverbs are old and have been passed on to the next generation throughout the years.
There are many proverbs in the English language. They talk about a lot of themes from love and teamwork to work ethic and etiquette. Proverbs give us a common sense on how to live our lives well and successfully.
Use the English proverbs below to help guide you through life. You can also use these proverbs to impart wisdom on your friends and family.
English Proverbs with Meanings
1. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Explanation: When you love someone, you think that you could never get tired of them. But after seeing them every day, their little flaws will start to annoy you. After spending some time apart, you might realize how much you miss this person now that they are not right there in front of you. When someone is not there, that is when we truly realize how much they mean to us.
2. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
Explanation: This means that many people in your group can be strong but if someone in there is really bad, then it will bring the rest of you down as well. That is why it is important to hold everyone to the same high standard. Expect the best from everyone if you want to be the best.
3. “Actions speak louder than words.”
Explanation: Some people are really good at talking. They will try to use their words to convince you that they mean what they say. However, what really matters are their actions. Do the words they say match up with what they actually do?
At the end of the day, it is what a person actually does that matters more, not what they say.
4. “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
Explanation: Some people are not good at holding onto their money. You can have the highest paying job in the world, but you might be spending it all just as soon as it comes in.
5. “A leopard does not change its spots.”
Explanation: This proverb means that people do not change who they truly are. This is especially used to describe people with negative characteristics.
6. “All that glitters is not gold.”
Explanation: This means that appearances can be deceiving. Just because something looks good on the outside, you might take a closer look and realize that it is actually not that great after all.
7. “All is fair in love in war.”
Explanation: This proverb means that everything is fair game. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, even if it does not seem very fair to others.
8. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Explanation: Eating healthy is good for you. This includes apples, so eat an apple every day and you might not get as sick.
9. “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.”
Explanation: When you have nothing to do, your mind can wander and you might be tempted to do mischievous things. That is why it is good to keep yourself productive and busy.
10. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Explanation: This means that it is easier to show something through a picture than explaining it by using words. With a photograph for instance, you literally get the full picture and all the details that are in it.
11. “Looks can be deceiving.”
Explanation: Do not always believe everything that you see. Things are not always what they appear to be.
12. “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
Explanation: Someone who is always traveling and moving from place to place has nowhere to settle down and call home.
13. “You reap what you sow.”
Explanation: Simply put, this means that you get back what you put out. If you put hard work into something, then that hard work will be rewarded. If you do something with bad intentions, then that can often come back to bite you. If you do good, then good things will happen to you. If you do bad, then bad things will happen as a result of your actions.
14. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Explanation: We all have our different opinions of what is beautiful. What one person finds beautiful might not be someone else’s idea of beauty.
15. “Beauty is skin deep.”
Explanation: This means that beauty is not everything. It is only a superficial quality. There are more important things than looks, like a person’s heart or mind.
16. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
Explanation: Be thankful for what you get. If you are relying on someone else’s generosity, then you should accept what they can give you with gratitude. Do not be picky about the help that you receive from others.
17. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Explanation: Just because you do not think something is important or useful, it does not mean that it is worthless to everyone. What someone might find to be junk might be valuable to another person and vice versa. We do not all value the same things in the same way.
18. “The best things in life are free.”
Explanation: Even though expensive things can be nice, there are some things in life that you cannot put a price on. Take, for example, the sound of the ocean and the feeling of the breeze on your skin. Or the beauty of the sunset. Or maybe the love of someone you care about. You cannot put a price on any of those things.
19. “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.”
Explanation: Even though you know that something should go as planned, you cannot be 100% sure that it will go smoothly. That is why you should not get ahead of yourself and assume it will all go well. Wait for it to actually happen, and then you can go ahead and get excited.
20. “The early bird catches the worm.”
Explanation: It pays off to be more prepared than everyone else. If you make the effort to show up early, then you will have much better luck than the person who showed up on time or late.
21. “Do not judge a book by its cover.”
Explanation: You cannot take a quick look at someone and assume that you know everything about them. You will not really know the person until you make the effort to get to know them.
22. “You have to learn to walk before you can run.”
Explanation: You have to do things in the right order if you want to accomplish your goals. While it sounds more fun to run than to walk, you better make sure you know how to walk first. Then when you have learned how to walk, you can try to master the art of running.
23. “Variety is the spice of life.”
Explanation: If you do not mix things up a little bit, then your life will be bland and boring. If you do not want things to stay the same, then try something new and your life will be a little more exciting.
24. “You cannot serve two masters.”
Explanation: You cannot be loyal to two masters. It might be hard, but when it comes to making a tough decision, you have to choose where your best priorities and interests lie.
25. “You cannot have it both ways.”
Explanation: It is not possible to have everything that you want. Sometimes you will have too many good choices at your fingertips, but you will only be able to pick one. If you pick neither or both, it could easily backfire and then you will end up with nothing.
26. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Explanation: When you are in a different culture, try to adapt yourself to the customs there. It is the polite thing to do.
27. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Explanation: This proverb means that if you never go out and try anything, then you will never gain any new experiences. If you just sit there all day for the rest of your life and do nothing, then you cannot expect anything to happen to you.
28. “Dead men tell no tales.”
Explanation: This saying means that a person who knows a secret cannot reveal it to anyone after they are dead. When a man dies, his secret dies with him.
29. “Procrastination is the thief of time.”
Explanation: When you procrastinate and leave things to the last minute, you end up wasting a lot of precious time in the process. When you realize how valuable your time is, then you will not waste it so much.
30. “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
Explanation: There is another saying that there is no time like the present. Why wait to do something later when you can just do it now? When you do it, you will feel accomplished and relieved.
31. “He who hesitates is lost.”
Explanation: If you do something without certainty, then you will not do it right and the result will not be great. If you actually want good results, then you should be sure about what you are doing. Do not doubt yourself.
32. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Explanation: When something or someone is not right in front of you, it is easy to forget about it. This can especially apply to things that are bad for you. If it is not in front of you, then you will not be tempted by the bad stuff.
33. “If you scratch my back, then I will scratch yours.”
Explanation: This quote is about reciprocity. If someone does you a favor, then you will help them out in return.
34. “It takes two to tango.”
Explanation: This phrase means that when some sort of conflict is going on between two people, the blame cannot all be placed on one person. Both people must share the blame.
35. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Explanation: It can often be hard for us to settle and leave things alone, even when they are perfectly good. Do not ruin a good thing by trying to improve it. If it is already perfect, then leave it alone. Save the fixing for things that are actually broken.
36. “No news is good news.”
Explanation: This expression is used when you are anticipating the possibility of bad news. In this type of situation, the fact that you have not heard anything new probably means that nothing bad has happened. Otherwise, you would have heard about it.
37. “Curiosity killed the cat.”
Explanation: This proverb means that having too much curiosity can get you in trouble. Sometimes when you ask too many questions or go looking for trouble, it will end up backfiring on you.
38. “Money does not grow on trees.”
Explanation: This proverb means that money is a limited resource. It takes hard work and time to make money, so you have to be wise with it. Once you spend that money, it is gone.
39. “My hands are tied.”
Explanation: This is something that you would say when you have no more options left. This means that there is nothing that you can do about it, whatever the situation is.
40. “There is no use in crying over spilled milk.”
Explanation: Simply put, this proverb means, “what’s done is done.” Accidents happen and sometimes things do not go the way we wanted them to go. You cannot worry about these things too much. Just clean up the mess, be calm, and move on.
41. “Do not put all your eggs in one basket.”
Explanation: This means that you should not have just one plan. If all of your hopes, dreams, and expectations are riding on this one plan being successful, then you are setting yourself up for potential failure and disappointment. In short, it is much wiser to have a backup plan. That way, if your “basket” breaks, you will have another basket on standby to put your “eggs” in.
42. “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Explanation: This proverb is saying that you should not be a hypocrite. If you are like the person that you are criticizing, then you have no right to judge them.
43. “Better late than never.”
Explanation: There are times where your timing might not be ideal and you might be a little late, but it is better to be late than to have never arrived at all.
44. “There is no pleasure without pain.”
Explanation: This means that you cannot just feel good and be in a state of bliss all the time. We all have to suffer sooner or later.
45. “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Explanation: This proverb means that people who are similar stick together. If two or more people have the same qualities, characteristics, and values, then they will probably form a close-knit group.
46. “Knowledge is power.”
Explanation: There is a lot of importance in knowing things. Knowing the right thing at the right time can come in handy and you can use your knowledge to work to your advantage in life. Being smart can give you an advantage over others and could make you powerful as a result.
47. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”
If you do not know about an issue or a problem, you will not be able to make yourself unhappy by worrying about it.
48. “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.”
Explanation: If you do good things, then you will enjoy the product of what you have made. The same logic applies if you have been doing bad things, in which case you will have to live with that choice as well.
49. “All is fair in love and war.”
Explanation: This means that people do crazy, desperate things when they are in love and when they are fighting wars. They will go through all sorts of extremes to accomplish their goals in times of love and war.
50. “Love begets love.”
Explanation: When you act with love and show love to others, they will shower you with love in return.
51. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Explanation: Be happy with what you have and do not risk it all for something that is not even in your grasp. You might covet something that you do not have, but just be happy that you already have something that is attainable.
52. “Rome was not built in a day.”
Explanation: This proverb is about patience. If you want to do something great, then you cannot expect it to happen right away. It will take hard work and time. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
53. “A closed mouth catches no flies.”
Explanation: If you do not spend your time talking, gossiping, and saying bad things, then you will not have to dirty your reputation with the consequences later.
54. “A bad workman blames his tools.”
Explanation: If you blame your bad work or your inability to do the work on the resources that you have, you might just be looking for an excuse. Rather than be lazy, take the initiative to work with what you do have to accomplish what needs to be done.
55. “Barking dogs seldom bite.”
Explanation: This proverb means that dogs who bark are usually just trying to scare you but are unlikely to follow through with an attack. This can apply to people as they are quick to make threats, but slow to actually act on them.
56. “History repeats itself.”
Explanation: We as people tend to make the same choices and mistakes over and over again. We sometimes do not learn our lessons from past experience. You might even find yourself getting déjà vu because it feels like you have already been through this before
57. “Time is money.”
Explanation: Be efficient with your time. When you waste time, you waste money. Treat your time as if it were valuable. This especially applies to when you are in the workplace.
58. “God helps those who help themselves.”
Explanation: This proverb means that if you want something you should do something about it. You can pray to God all you want, but if you do absolutely nothing and hope for everything to be handed to you, then it is likely that nothing will change for you.
59. “Lightning never strikes twice.”
Explanation: It is rare for lightning to strike at all. For it to strike twice in the same place is impossible. This means that you cannot have the same lucky chance twice, so jump at it and take the opportunity the first time that it is presented to you. You might never get such an opportunity like this again.
60. “A good beginning is half of the work.”
Explanation: Many times, we feel like getting started is the hardest part. Once you get started off on the right track, you are already halfway there. You just need the right push to get you started.
61. “Many hands make light work.”
Explanation: This proverb means that the more people you have helping with something, the easier and faster it is to get your work done.
62. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
Explanation: If you find that a friend has helped you at a time when you really needed it, then that person is a true friend.
63. “The best defense is a good offense.”
Explanation: In any situation, it is better to be prepared. That is what this quote means. You are better off having a plan of action as opposed for waiting for something to happen and then figuring out what to do next. This quote especially applies when you are up against something.
64. “Do not bite the hand that feeds you.”
Explanation: If someone is helping you out, then do not go against them. Why would you antagonize the person who is doing you a favor?
65. “Do not bite off more than you can chew.”
Explanation: Only take on what you can handle. If you do too much at once, you will be easily overwhelmed. It is better to take things a little bit at a time.