Common Proverbs (Sayings) and Their Meaning

“The cat’s out of the bag,” a co-worker says during a staff meeting. “But it’s not worth crying about spilt milk. We can still make some progress today.”

Cats? Milk? What’s happening here? Your colleague is using a proverb.

Who hasn’t employed proverbs in their speaking at some point in their lives? Everyone has! Proverbs are a vital element of our everyday communication. A solid understanding of proverbs can aid you in improving your communication abilities.

Proverbs are also referred to as sayings. Proverbs provide some type of advice on life. Every culture and language includes them, and proverbs are found in multiple languages. It is crucial to recognize all of the words found in most proverbs since the meaning could be ruined if even one word is altered or left out.

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What is a Proverb (Saying)?

Proverbs and sayings are well-known sources of wisdom that have been used for centuries and even millennia.

A proverb is a folk-based advice delivered in short, concise sentences. The majority of proverbs relate to the local beliefs and customs of a particular location. Proverbs can be metaphorical or literal.

A proverb is also an uncomplicated, concise expression of a long-standing belief in truth or some advice based on common sense or experience.

A culture is defined as clearly as its language and the aspect of language that most capture the values of a society’s convictions is its proverbs.

Common Proverbs (Sayings) and Their Meaning

There are a lot of sayings to list. We’ve compiled a collection of some of the most essential proverbs to know.

It’s no use crying over spilt milk.

This humorous English saying means that it is important not to waste your time blaming or ranting about something negative that has occurred that can’t be fixed.

A bad workman always blames his tools.

The phrase is often applied when someone blames the tools or other external factors for not performing their task correctly.

A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

The certainty of having something in possession is more valuable than the mere chance of having more.

All that glitters is not gold.

It could be that something isn’t as valuable as it appears to be.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

The process of explaining something is simpler with pictures than with words.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

We wish more for their presence when we’re far from our loved ones. 

Actions speak louder than words.

The actions you take are far more important than what you say.

Words must be weighed, not counted.

Word count doesn’t matter. It’s how effective they are.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

The proverb teaches us that it’s wrong to be jealous. You may think everyone else has “greener grass,” meaning nicer vehicles or better jobs.

Your neighbour may think yours is greener, too. This implies that your family and others think you are more attractive and have a more happy family, and so on. Instead of focusing on what everyone else has, the saying encourages you to be grateful for what you have.

Do not judge a book by its cover.

There are many things that don’t always go as they appear. This proverb teaches people not to judge others based on how they dress or look.

A book that has a boring or plain cover can be inspiring. This is also true for people. Someone may look like an athlete or unintelligent. However, there’s much more to them than what clothes show.

A tree is known by its fruit.

Just as a tree is recognized for its fruit, People are recognized through their behaviour and personality (not just by appearance).

Beauty is only skin deep.

A person’s character, intellect, and other attributes are more significant than physical appearance.

Many hands make light work.

When a group of people works together to complete a task, it doesn’t seem so difficult. This is the general idea of the English proverb.

If individuals work together, the work becomes easier and accomplished more quickly.

Strike while the iron is hot.

This old expression comes from the days of blacksmiths (people who work with metal). The blacksmith needed to smash the metal while it was hot, using the tong to form it. Iron is much easier to manipulate when it’s hot.

The meaning of this proverb is to make the most of every opportunity. If an opportunity comes to you, grab the opportunity! Make the most of it because the opportunity might not come around again.

Make hay when the sun shines. 

Utilizing every bit of presented chance.

Time and tide wait for no man.

You have no control over the passing of time. It’s going to keep sliding. Don’t put off things or delay your actions.

Honesty is the best policy.

It is important to be honest, and to tell the truth. In doing this, you’ll earn the respect and trust of others.

The Walls Have Ears

Be cautious about what you say because people may be eavesdropping.                         

Bury The Hatchet

Stop a dispute or disagreement and then become friends.                                                    

Birds of the same feather flock together

People with similar characteristics will always end up together.

He who plays the piper calls the tune.

When one is required to comply with the instructions of a superior.

Turn a blind eye

The phrase often refers to a willful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality.

Crocodile tears

Modern English users use the expression “crocodile tears” to express false or superficial sadness. However,

the phrase originates from the ancient notion that believed crocodiles would shed tears when they hunted and ate their prey. The term originated from the belief that crocodiles’ tears aren’t driven by emotion.


While it typically refers to someone with a strong dedication to a particular set of beliefs, the term “diehard” originally had a series of much more literal meanings.

The best of both worlds

That means you can enjoy two distinct opportunities simultaneously.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

If you eat your cake, you’ll not have it again, would you? You can’t have both. This saying is about having two opposing desires and the difficulty of trying to fulfil both. Its meaning is the opposite of the phrase “the best of both worlds.”

See eye to eye

This is when you agree with someone.

To be on cloud nine

To be extremely happy

Head in the clouds 

To be daydreaming, or lack of concentration

A one-trick pony

A person with only one talent or only one specialization

Wouldn’t hurt a fly

Someone who is not offensive and harmless.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

The proverb originates from the time of the ancient Romans, who believed that apples had the power to heal illnesses. Actually, apples contain vitamin C, protein, natural sugars, pectin, iron and copper; they can help improve your health.

Join the bandwagon.

The bands occupying travel wagons’ platforms performed tunes to call for a parade or a political speech. To demonstrate their appreciation, the people usually take to the platform and join the band. In modern times, this expression is typically used to describe someone who wants to gain by supporting a person’s idea.

A cat has nine lives.

A cat can withstand seemingly fatal circumstances.

A diamond with flaws is superior to a perfect stone.

A rare, valuable chance with some difficulties, is more valuable than an ordinary chance that appears ideal.

A drowning man will clutch a straw.

When someone is in a difficult situation, they will take any available opportunity to come out of it.

All good things come to an end.

Nothing great lasts forever.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

People who depend on others have to be satisfied with the services provided to them.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

It is essential to start the first step towards achieving your desired goal. You must begin something if you hope to finish it; something that takes a long time to finish begins with one step.

An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

Evil thoughts can come to us often when we’re not doing anything.

Better safer than sorry

It is always better to take preventive measures than regret it later.

A watched pot never boils.

 If you have a task that takes a long time to complete, keeping track of it is not helpful. It’s best to allow it to take its time.

Rome wasn’t built in one day.

Time is required to complete important or significant things.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What defines “beautiful” differs for every person.

Better late than never.

It’s better to finish something late than to never do it at all.

Cleanliness is the next level of godliness.

It’s good to be clean. God is clean, and you should be too.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Do not make someone mad or harm the person who is supporting you or paying for you.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Sometimes, the proverb is cut down to “when you are in Rome …” If you’re visiting a place away from your home, You should behave like everybody else. It’s courteous to act in this manner and can prevent you from causing trouble.

The proverb refers to the early times of the Roman Empire when the capital city welcomed visitors from all across the globe. The cultures were quite different among the cities. However, in Rome, you would act as one of them regardless of the place you were from.

Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it.

This proverb tells you not to worry so much! The problems will surely come up in the near future. But what can we do to address it now?

It is better to focus on the actions you’re taking now without worrying about the future. Then be prepared for issues when they occur.

Curiosity killed the cat.

You could be harmed by being too curious about or too interested in something that doesn’t concern you.

My hands are tied

This saying is not to be taken literally. It has a different meaning. It means that a person is unable to change things or render help in a given situation.

Cold Feet

Loss of confidence or nerve.

Caught Red-Handed

A term used to describe an individual who has been caught within or shortly after doing an illegal act or doing something wrong.

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

The bonds of family and loyalty are the most strong and crucial ones. Although many may believe that this phrase means families should be put ahead of our friends; the truth is that it means exactly the opposite. The actual meaning was “The covenant’s blood is more powerful than the water from the womb”, and it was used to refer to warriors who were blood brothers who shed blood in battle. The ‘blood brothers’ were believed to be more bonded than biological siblings.

Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Refrain from finding fault with something that has been received as a gift or favour. While buying a horse, people would determine the horse’s age and condition based on its teeth and then decide whether they want to buy it. This is the reason why people use this idiom to say it is rude to look for flaws in a thing that was given to you as a gift.

Half a loaf is more than none.

We should thank for what we get even though it’s less than what we had hoped for.

Out of sight, out of mind 

Once you lose sight of a thing, you can forget it altogether.

Two heads are better than one. 

Two people can do a better job together than one person doing it alone.

Look before you leap. 

Be cautious when doing anything significant or important.

Home is where the heart is.

Do you not feel a sense of relief upon returning home after being away for a couple of days? Wherever you go, you’ll likely be longing to return to your family and home.

Robbing Peter to save Paul 

When somebody harms one person to cause some benefit to another.

Well begun is half done

A successful start to a new venture is enough to fulfill it completely.

You reap what you sow.

Your outcomes are the result of your own choices.

Least said, soonest mended.

We must avoid snarky, inappropriate language when angry, as it can create lasting scars and damage relationships for eternity.

When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing.

It is among the most common African expressions of friendship. It is a reminder to be on guard in situations where a person you are not too familiar with you or when you are made fun of.

When a mighty tree falls, the birds are scattered into the bush.

It is a famous African proverb on leadership. When a great leader dies, many people lose their way in life if they do not find a successor.

Can’t hold a candle

The origin of the phrase dates back to the late 17th century and its meaning is related to a person’s incompetence. The expression originated from discussions about the apprentice who was not skilled enough to hold the torch of his master. In essence, they are worthless as an apprentice.

Once in the blue moon

A rare event.

When the pigs fly

A thing that is unlikely to happen.

Cost an arm and a leg

Something is very expensive.

A piece of cake

Something is very easy.

Let the cat out of the bag.

To reveal a secret.

Under the weather 

Not feeling well.

Kill two birds with one stone. 

To tackle two issues simultaneously.

Party Pooper

Someone prone to take the enjoyment out of situations by either not being involved or bringing negative energy to the situation.

Saved by the bell.

In 17th-century of England, Guards in the 17th century at Windsor Castle was accused of being asleep in his post. He argued that he had been wrongly accused and said he heard the church bell sound 13 times around midnight. The town’s residents backed his claims, and he was not put to death. Nowadays, we consider the bell that signals the end of an entire boxing session which is often used to protect the boxer from injury or the bell that rings at the conclusion of a class which saves you from having to do more work. Whatever the case, this expression refers to rescuing someone from a situation at the last moment.

A close shave.

The past was when young barbers had to learn how to shave clients. If they cut too close, their customers might get cut or barely avoid serious injuries. In modern times, we use this expression when a person barely escapes danger.

Dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

In the past, when handwritten documents were the only way to go, the clerk needed to write everything correctly, especially letters such as I as well as t, which were likely to be misinterpreted. The idiom has now come to refer to being attentive to every little detail.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

In 17th century England, the British government prohibited free press. This meant that those who disapproved of the government and published their opinions were sanctioned.

However, individuals published their opinions in illegal pamphlets, which were then distributed to the general population. The proverb says that expressing ideas can not be impeded by physical force.

After the victory, tighten your helmet chord.

There is no room for complacency. Work hard after the victory. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is known as the Day 0 mentality.

A good listener is a silent flatterer.

Human beings have a natural need to be heard. However, not all are great listeners. Therefore, if you listen to someone with a lot of attention, you flatter them.

A goose quill is more dangerous than a lion’s claw.

Words that are not considered or spoken with care could cause more harm than physical harm.

A happy heart is more valuable than a full purse.

What’s the purpose of having the money you earn if you’re unhappy even despite plenty of it? Happiness is superior to plenty. A study from 2010 conducted by Princeton University points out that happiness is boosted by money, but only until your basic needs are fulfilled. After that, money becomes little.

A “jack of all trades” is a master of none.

Someone with some understanding of many areas (jack of all trades) cannot be a specialist in any of them.

A slim agreement is more effective than a fat lawsuit.

When disputes arise, it’s more beneficial to compromise and only get a portion of the outcome rather than pursuing an expensive lawsuit for many years without any assurance of the outcome.

All is well that ends well.

If the final result is positive, the issues on the way aren’t a problem.

Among the blind, one-eyed man is king.

A person who is incapable can be elevated to a significant status if other players on the field are less capable.

Empty vessel makes much noise.

People who are foolish and have no understanding often talk a lot.

Still waters run deep.

This is said about a person who tends to be quiet and does not say much. Such a person often has a “deep,” interesting personality.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

One who constantly changes his work and relationships will not have a deep connection to all of them and will not be fulfilled.

A stitch in time saves nine.

It’s better to deal with problems immediately than wait by until they worsen and become much bigger.

Best things in life are free.

Most valuable things are often free.

Cowards die many times before their death.

Cowards are afflicted with the fearful effects of death several times throughout their lives.

Don’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

If you kill a goose that lays golden eggs, you destroy something that makes a lot of money for you.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Do not put all your energy into a single plan or decision, such as a project, investment goal, or similar, as you’ll lose everything if it fails.

Eagles don’t catch flies.

Eagles are more adept at catching prey than flies, aren’t they? Do not confide in trivial issues to high-ranking executives within your company. It is your responsibility to solve these issues, not them.

Early bird catches the worm.

One who starts early on the work has higher chance of success.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Bad times will eventually give way to better times. (The presence of a silver lining means that the sun is behind the cloud and will eventually emerge.)

Every horse thinks its pack is the heaviest.

We think that we work the hardest. This is also called responsibility bias: People tend to overvalue their contributions and undervalue the contributions of others.

Every tub must stand on its own bottom.

We can’t hide incompetency behind teamwork. Everyone has to justify their expense.

The higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his tail.

As a non-competent individual is promoted within an organization, the more his incompetence becomes apparent.

Fall seven times; stand up eight.

Be resilient and try despite failures. That’s how you succeed.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

If you are familiar with a particular situation, person, or thing well, you begin to take these things for granted and cease respecting them.

Get out while the going (getting) is good.

Get out of a situation while it’s still easy to leave on good terms.

Faults are thick, where love is thin.

If the love is shallow, people will find faults in each other.

Flattery, like perfume, should be smelled but not swallowed.

Be grateful for the compliments you get. However, don’t be fooled because many people flatter to serve their own personal desires.

Fortune favours the brave.

If you carry out your plans boldly, luck is more likely to favor you.

God helps those who help themselves.

God will help those who put in an effort with sincerity.

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The harder you work, the luckier you get.

The harder you work, the more ideas and chances you may make for yourself.

Good bargains empty the purse.

Cheap deals can be tempting and may entice consumers to purchase more than they need, most of which may be unused.

Good swimmers are often drowned.

The overconfidence of a person can endanger even the most skilled.

Never test the depth of water with both feet.

If you’re testing the depth of water with both feet down, you risk being drowned if the water turns out to be deep. But if you test with one foot, you can pull away. The proverb means that before going whole hog into something unknown, assess the risk well.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Be optimistic; however, be prepared for the possibility that things could fail.

Good things come to those who wait.

Patience is often rewarded.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Slow and consistent pace of work will lead to a higher chance of success than rushing work in short bursts.

If you buy cheaply, you pay dearly.

Cheap products are low-quality and can be a problem later on by causing high maintenance and/or poor performance.

Good wine needs no bush.

A great product doesn’t require promotion. It spreads via the power of word of mouth.

The proof of pudding is in eating.

You can only judge the quality of something after you have tried, used, or experienced it.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

If things were to happen by just wishing them, even the poorest will have everything they want.

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Working with others may be somewhat slow compared to solo work, but you’ll need to collaborate if you want long-term success because you can’t do everything yourself.

It’s never too late to mend.

It’s never too late to change course or make amends for a past mistake. Don’t let your ego come in between.

It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a large community to ensure children are raised in a secure and nutritious surrounding.

If every man would sweep his own doorsteps, the city would soon be clean.

Everyone should take responsibility for community work and contribute whatever little they can. Small contributions by many can accomplish many tasks, such as cleaning an entire city.

Justice delayed means justice denied.

In many countries, the wheels of justice spin so slowly that sometimes it takes years to make a decision. This results in suffering because of money, time, and long wait for justice.

Silence is half-consent.

If you don’t disagree with what someone says or does, you may be assumed to agree to some extent.

Kind words will unlock an iron door.

People are more amenable to your suggestions and ask if you talk politely.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

It’s easier to win people to your side by persuasion and politeness than by confrontation and threats.

Politeness costs little but yields much.

Speaking politely costs no more than speaking rudely, but it can yield much more by making friends.

Long absent, soon forgotten.

If you haven’t met or spoken to a friend or relative in a long time, he’ll be forgotten. Such friendships eventually wither away or may just remain a distant acquaintances.

Make yourself all honey, and the flies will devour you.

People won’t respect you if you’re a yes-man and often talk sweet language to please others.

Money talks.

Money can give influence and power.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

A problem or need prompts people to find creative solutions.

There is no time like the present.

The best time to do something is right now. So, act now.

Night brings counsel.

If you have a difficult problem to solve or an important decision, a good night’s sleep will work wonders.

No gain without pain.

To be successful in your pursuits, It is essential to put in the effort and give up pleasures.

Practice makes perfect.

Repeating a task helps one become better at it.

Practice what you preach.

Behave the way you encourage others to behave.

A rich man’s joke is always funny.

People agree with and flatter rich people to be in good books with them.

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

If you work only on regular projects, you won’t be challenged and hence not become better at what you do. So, volunteer into a few challenging projects as well.

The family that (eats) prays together stays together.

The family that gets together regularly to pray or eat is more close-knit than the family that doesn’t.

There are more ways than one to skin a cat.

There are many ways to achieve the same end.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Good intention doesn’t matter if a person’s actions lead to bad outcomes.

To be aware of the path ahead, ask people returning.

Many take up a job or project they later hate and end up wasting valuable time. This is a problem that can be avoided when you talk to those who’ve completed the same task or project on their experience.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

You shouldn’t harm someone who has hurt you, even if you think that person deserves it.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

When conditions become difficult, strong people take action.

If there’s a will, there’s a way.

If you’re adamant enough, you will discover a way to accomplish your desired goals, even if it’s challenging.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

You can show people how to do things, but you can’t force them to act.

Hunger drives the wolf out of the wood.

Similar to how hunger drives the wolf to leave the woods to search for food, the need to survive makes the poor take on unpleasant jobs, sometimes even violating the law.

Give The Cold Shoulder

Reject or be deliberately unfriendly to.

A house divided can’t stand.

Prosperity and achievement are attained when a nation, society or institution is united in its views and collaborates.

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