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45 Proverbs in English to Start Using Today

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that “every cloud has a silver lining” when I was sad. Or that “curiosity killed the cat” when I asked too many questions. Or, my least favorite as a child, that I should “never put off until tomorrow what I can do today” when I wanted to play video games instead of finishing my homework. 

These are only three of the most commonly used proverbs in English, but I swear I’ve heard these hundreds of times! 

I’m sure that you’ve heard similar proverbs and sayings over and over again in your native language. These words of wisdom can give us a new perspective, reinforce good habits, and give us something to say when we’re at a loss for words. And for you, as the avid language-learner you are, using these proverbs well will help you sound more like a native English-speaker! 

In this article, I’ll show you forty-five popular English proverbs, what they mean, and how to use them in a given context. You might know some of these already, but do you know all forty-five?


Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in English Table of Contents
  1. Life
  2. Success
  3. Love and Relationships
  4. Family and Friendship
  5. Health and Beauty
  6. Religion and Virtues
  7. Final Thoughts

1. Life

A Kitten Meowing with Its Eyes Closed

Curiosity killed the cat.

Life can be crazy or calm, joyful or sorrowful, busy or relaxed. Whatever stage of life you’re in, there’s certainly a proverb in English you can use to describe or add spice to it. 

Here are a few of the best English proverbs about life. You can start using these right away and in a variety of situations! 

1 – Actions speak louder than words.

What it means: 

It’s easy to say that you’ll do something or that you believe something, but there’s no reason for people to believe you unless you act accordingly. 

How to use it:

Your significant other says that he or she is sorry for doing something that hurt you. But later, they do that thing again and then apologize for it. At this point, you could tell them: “Actions speak louder than words.” Meaning that if they want you to believe them, they need to show their remorse through their actions, not their words alone. 

2 – Curiosity killed the cat.

What it means:

Trying to learn more about something can sometimes cause more harm than good. 

How to use it:

Parents often use this phrase toward their children, especially if the child is trying to do something dangerous as a result of curiosity. For example, a child sees that the oven is turned on and wants to take a look inside, the child’s parent may keep them away from the oven, and warn: “Curiosity killed the cat.” This is because if the child touched the oven, they could burn themself.

3 – Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

What it means:

If someone is providing for you or helping you in some way, don’t treat them badly or betray them. The imagery here refers to how a dog or cat will sometimes bite the hand of someone who’s trying to feed it.

How to use it:

This is another proverb that parents tell their children often. For example, if a parent has offered to do something nice for their child (like let them stay over at a friend’s house), and their child begins to misbehave in the meantime, the parent may say: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” This is a warning that the privilege can be taken away at any time. 

4 – Every cloud has a silver lining.

What it means:

Even negative things that happen can have a more positive aspect to them. (Just as clouds are perceived as gloomy, but when you look closely, you can see the sun peeking through the edges.)

How to use it:

A friend has told you that they just lost their job. Trying to comfort them, you may say: “Every cloud has a silver lining. Maybe there’s a better job out there for you.”

5 – Every man has his price.

What it means:

Every person has a price point where they become willing to turn their back on what they believe in or what they value.

How to use it:

Someone you know took a shady job because it paid more than their old one. You may say to yourself: “Every man has his price.”

6 – Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

What it means:

If you give someone just a little bit of something, they’ll expect for you to give them a lot more. 

How to use it:

Your friend is talking to you about someone who’s been manipulating them into doing things for them all the time. You may say: “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” This would serve as a warning that your friend should stop doing things for that person before it gets more out of hand. 

7 – Good things come to those who wait.

What it means:

When you’re patient, it creates a calmer environment that may cause good things to happen. (And if you’re impatient, things will take longer to happen!)

How to use it:

There are two ways you can use this proverb: seriously and jokingly. 

To use it seriously, imagine that a family member is complaining that nothing in their life is going right. You say: “Good things come to those who wait.” This lets them know that something good may be coming in the future if they’ll just be patient for it. 

To use it jokingly, imagine that your child is waiting for cookies to come out of the oven and they are being impatient. You may say to them: “Good things come to those who wait.” (Though this might make them more impatient…)

8 – If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

What it means:

When bad things happen, try to make the best of them or use them for good. You can change your thinking and create a positive situation out of a negative one. 

How to use it:

Your friend is complaining that the mall is closed. You tell your friend: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This will suggest that there might be something even better they can do than go to the mall. 

9 – As you sow, so shall you reap.

What it means:

The actions you do now will affect the outcome of a project or situation. A more common variation is: “You reap what you sow.”

How to use it:

Your friend wants to start a business. They’ve been doing a lot of research on how to succeed, but are still worried about failing. To reassure them, you might say: “You reap what you sow. Your research and diligence will help you succeed.”

10 – All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

What it means:

It’s important to have fun in life, instead of just working all the time. If you only work, you won’t have time for personal growth or fulfillment. 

How to use it:

Your sibling has been working on an essay for several hours now, and you’re worried about them. You may tell your sibling: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This would suggest to them that they should take a break and do something fun.

2. Success

A Man Multi-tasking

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

The need to be successful can really drive a person forward and help them achieve their most important goals. But what things contribute to success? What does success look like, and how can you get there? Here are some of the most popular proverbs in English about success. 

    → What does success mean to you? Do you think you’re successful right now? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to study our list of the Top 11 Quotes About Success for more inspiration!

11 – A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

What it means:

Even the strongest chain will be useless if just one link is weakened, missing, or broken. Likewise, a business, project, or idea can’t succeed unless even its weakest link is strong enough to help support it. 

How to use it:

You and a friend are eating at a restaurant that has great food but terrible service, and you decide not to go there again. When you’re leaving, you tell your friend: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” This indicates that the great food meant nothing because the service was so bad.

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

What it means:

Even the greatest successes and accomplishments started with taking the first step toward it. 

How to use it:

A family member has told you that they want to start a business, but are afraid to begin making preparations because they might fail. You can tell them: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This should help encourage them to take the first step toward their business.

13 – A stitch in time saves nine.

What it means:

Taking an action as soon as it’s necessary, or fixing a problem right when it happens, will save you time and effort in the future.

How to use it:

Your friend feels ill, but they don’t want to go to the doctor because it may be nothing. You may say to your friend: “A stitch in time saves nine.” This refers to the fact that going to the doctor now may keep things from getting worse later.

14 – Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

What it means:

Don’t take on more responsibilities than you’re able to handle.

How to use it:

A friend is telling you that they just took on a second job and have started volunteering part-time. They look tired, so you say: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” This indicates that you think they’re doing too much to be productive and stay healthy.

15 – Don’t cast pearls before swine.

What it means:

Don’t show or give something that’s valuable to someone who won’t treasure or take care of it.

How to use it:

A friend tries out to make it onto a dance team. You think they did really well, but they didn’t get a place on the team. You tell your friend: “Don’t cast pearls before swine.” This indicates that you think your friend was too good to be on the team anyway.

16 – Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

What it means:

Don’t rely too much on one thing to lead you to success. Instead, you should diversify. (If you put all your eggs in one basket, they’ll all break if you drop the basket, and you’ll have no eggs left.)

How to use it:

Your friend has spent all their time and effort trying to get into one college. You might warn them: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” and encourage them to apply to more colleges in case they don’t get into that one.

17 – Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

What it means:

If you have the time and means to get something done today, you should! This will make your workload the following day much easier (and tomorrow is never guaranteed, anyway).

How to use it:

Imagine a mother asks her son to take out the trash, and he says that he’ll do it “later.” The mother may say: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

18 – Rome wasn’t built in a day.

What it means:

Big things take time and effort to accomplish. 

How to use it:

You’ve been trying to write a novel for the past several years, and you’re ready to give up. While you’re talking to a friend about it, they may tell you: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” In other words, writing a novel is a huge task so you can’t expect it to be fast or easy. 

19 – The early bird catches the worm (but the second mouse gets the cheese).

What it means:

“The early bird catches the worm” means that those who start something early will be rewarded for their diligence. 

The second part (“but the second mouse gets the cheese”) is a fun addition to the traditional phrase. It refers to how a mousetrap will kill the first mouse that tries taking the cheese, allowing the next mouse that comes by to take it for himself. It means that sometimes it’s better to wait and be patient, instead of trying to be first all the time. 

How to use it:

Your significant other asks you why you get up so early on the weekend. You say “The early bird catches the worm,” meaning that waking up early gives you more time to get things done. They may reply with: “But the second mouse gets the cheese,” in a light gesture, to mean that the second person will benefit from the first’s work (a clean home, freshly brewed coffee, etc.)

20 – Haste makes waste.

What it means:

Trying to get things done too quickly often results in poor-quality work. 

How to use it:

Your child finished their math homework super-fast so they could play video games earlier than usual. But you warn them: “Haste makes waste.” In other words, they’ll probably regret doing their homework so quickly because there will be more mistakes.

3. Love and Relationships

A Couple Hugging at the Airport

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Where would you be without your best friend or lover? Learn some of the sweetest (and strangest) English proverbs about love. 


21 – Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

What it means:

When you love or care about someone, those feelings become even stronger when that person is far away from you, especially for long periods of time. 

How to use it:

Your significant other needs to leave for a week-long work conference. You may say: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” This will let them know you’ll miss them. 

22 – All’s fair in love and war.

What it means:

Just like war can bring out the worst in people, so can love when it becomes a battle. In another sense, we can interpret this to mean that there are no rules, both in terms of love and war. 

How to use it:

This is most often used when two people are trying to attract the same person for a romantic relationship. It basically means that anything goes, since the two people are “at war” for the other person’s heart. 

23 – Grief divided is made lighter.

What it means:

When you have someone to share your grief with, it doesn’t feel quite as bad. 

How to use it:

You see that your best friend looks sad, so you ask them what’s wrong. If they seem hesitant to share what’s wrong, you might say: “Grief divided is made lighter,” to encourage them. 

24 – No man is an island.

What it means:

Islands are small, isolated pieces of land. This proverb means that no man should isolate himself this way. Instead, it’s important for people to be part of a community. 

How to use it:

Someone you know has been withdrawing more and more from their friendships and relationships. In this case, you could say to them: “No man is an island.” This would be a way of encouraging them to maintain their relationships better, and of letting them know you’re there for them.

25 – Never let the sun go down on your anger.

What it means:

When you’re angry with a friend, family member, or other loved one, it’s important to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. 

How to use it:

Your friend is telling you that they had a fight with their significant other, and they want your advice. You may say: “Never let the sun go down on your anger,” to encourage them to resolve the issue quickly. 

26 – Happy wife, happy life.

What it means:

This is normally used jokingly. It means that it’s important to keep one’s wife happy, otherwise said wife might make your life miserable. 

How to use it:

If you’re a woman, imagine your spouse brings home a chocolate bar for you after work. You thank them for it, and they say: “Happy wife, happy life.” This means that by doing something that made you happy, everyone at home is able to live more peacefully. 

27 – The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

What it means:

This one is often used jokingly as well. It means that the best way to win a man’s heart (or keep it) is to cook delicious food for him.

How to use it:

Women often use this proverb when talking with each other about the men in their lives. For example, one woman may be talking about a new recipe she tried that her husband liked, to which another woman may respond: “Yes, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

4. Family and Friendship

A Group of Girls Hugging from Behind

Birds of a feather flock together.

Whether you’re single or in a whirlwind romance, your friends and family likely hold a huge part of your life and heart. Here are some common proverbs in English about family and friends. 


28 – Blood is thicker than water.

What it means:

Here, “blood” refers to blood relations (i.e. one’s family). The proverb means that the relationship one has with their family is more important than any other relationship they have. 

How to use it:

Your friend is talking to you about a dilemma they’re facing. They have to choose between spending a week with their family in another country, or spending that week with their significant other instead. You say: “Blood is thicker than water,” to encourage them to spend that time with their family. 

29 – Birds of a feather flock together.

What it means:

Just like birds of the same type will flock together, people with similar personalities or interests also tend to spend time with each other. 

How to use it:

Your friend says something about how much time you two spend together. You say: “Well, birds of a feather flock together.” This means that you spend so much time together because of how similar you are. 

30 – Great minds think alike.

What it means:

Often used jokingly, this proverb implies that when two or more people think the same way, it’s a sign that they have “great minds.” 

How to use it:

You and your sibling are having a conversation about something, and you both happen to say the same thing at the same time. In this case, you may say: “Great minds think alike.”

31 – The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

What it means:

Here, the “apple” refers to a child, and the “tree” refers to that child’s parent. This proverb means that children often end up being a lot like their parents. This can be used both positively and negatively.

How to use it:

You’re telling your grandmother about how much you enjoy crocheting. Because your mother also likes to crochet, your grandmother might say: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

32 – Children are a poor man’s riches.

What it means:

Children are of great value to their parents, especially if their parents have very little. 

How to use it:

Two fathers are talking about their children, and one of them mentions how proud he is that his daughter graduated college with honors. The other father may say: “Yes, children are a poor man’s riches.”

5. Health and Beauty

A Mother and Her Young Daughter Laughing

Laughter is the best medicine.

In the United States, people tend to view health and beauty as two of the most important things a person can possess. Following is a list of English proverbs on health, beauty, and how to maintain both! 


33 – An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

What it means:

If you eat things that are good for you and live a healthy lifestyle, you won’t have to see the doctor as often. 

How to use it:

People may reference the proverb while literally eating an apple, or else, eating healthy food that will hopefully lead to good health in the long term. 

Note:

People often play around with this proverb by replacing the words “apple” and “doctor” with other words that make sense in a given context. For example: “A smile a day keeps the sadness away.”

34 – Laughter is the best medicine.

What it means:

Sometimes, nothing can make you feel better than having a good laugh.

How to use it:

Your friend seems sad, so you suggest that you watch a funny movie together, and say: “Laughter is the best medicine.”

35 – You are what you eat.

What it means:

The foods you eat on a regular basis can say a lot about you. Also, the foods you eat can affect your health.

How to use it:

Your significant other asks why you didn’t have a bowl of ice cream after dinner. You say: “You are what you eat.” This implies that you skipped eating ice cream because it’s not very good for you. 

36 – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What it means:

Beauty is subjective, meaning that what one person thinks is beautiful, another person may not. 

How to use it:

You’re telling your friend about a poem you thought was really beautiful, and they tell you that they didn’t like that poem very much. You say: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

37 – Beauty is only skin-deep.

What it means:

Even if a person is beautiful or handsome on the outside, this doesn’t say anything about what the person is really like on the inside. 

How to use it:

Your friend is reading through a fashion magazine, and says she wishes she looked like one of the models. You might say: “Beauty is only skin-deep.”

38 – Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What it means:

This proverb means almost the same thing as the one above. You can’t really tell what a person is like (or a book, or a movie, etc.), just by looking at them. 

How to use it:

You just cooked a new recipe for dinner, but it doesn’t look very appetizing. Your significant other says so, and you reply: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This means that while it might not look good, it will probably taste good. 

6. Religion and Virtues

Someone Washing Their Hands with Soap and Water

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

I’ll end this list of commonly used proverbs in English with a handful of proverbs related to religion, virtues, and morals. 


39 – Cleanliness is next to godliness.

What it means:

This proverb implies that keeping yourself and your environment clean is extremely important. 

How to use it:

Your child didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. You ask them to go back and wash their hands, saying: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

40 – God helps those who help themselves.

What it means:

This proverb is mainly used in religious contexts. It means that unless you take initiative and work hard to make change yourself, you can’t expect God’s help. 

How to use it:

A distant relative of yours says that they’ve been praying for something to happen, but nothing has happened yet. You might say to them: “God helps those who help themselves.” This would encourage them to take action instead of just hoping that God will take care of the problem. 

41 – Honesty is the best policy.

What it means:

Whatever situation you’re in, it’s best to tell the truth. 

How to use it:

Imagine you’ve made a big mistake that you’re afraid you’ll get in trouble for. You confide in a friend, and they tell you: “Honesty is the best policy.” This would encourage you to be honest about your mistake with the affected party. 

42 – Practice what you preach.

What it means:

If you tell someone that they should do something or live a certain way, you should also be doing that thing or living that way. Otherwise, you’ll be a hypocrite and the person you’re “preaching” to won’t take you seriously. 

A popular equivalent is: “Take your own advice.”

How to use it:

This is normally used in a negative way. For example, imagine that a mother and her daughter got into a fight about something. The mother told her daughter not to stay up too late, but her daughter replied with: “Why don’t you practice what you preach?” This implies that if the daughter has to go to bed early, so should her mother. 

43 – Two wrongs don’t make a right.

What it means:

When someone hurts you or does something that you think is wrong, hurting that person back won’t make the situation right. 

How to use it:

You’re telling your friend that a coworker said something mean to you the other day, and that you want to say something mean in return when you get a chance. But your friend warns you: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

44 – Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.

What it means:

To “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” means to look at things from the other person’s perspective, and to imagine what it’s like to live life through their eyes. This proverb means that you should do this before you judge someone for their attitude or actions. 

How to use it:

You hear a family member complaining about someone they don’t like, but you know the person they’re talking about, and think your family member is being close-minded. You might say: “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” This would encourage your family member to look at things from the other person’s perspective.

45 – People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

What it means:

This one is a bit more complex.

“Throwing stones” refers to the act of stoning someone, or condemning/judging them. And a “glass house” refers to something that’s both delicate and completely see-through. 

If you live in a “glass house,” it means that your own life is completely visible to others (so they can see if you’re being hypocritical or not). And, of course, throwing stones against glass will cause the glass to shatter (just as your life can shatter if your own wrongdoings are found out). 

So this proverb means that you shouldn’t judge or condemn others so long as people can see your life and actions. It also implies that you may be in a particularly vulnerable position, and you should especially not judge when you may need to seek the mercy of others. 

How to use it:

Your friend sees someone smoking outside a restaurant, and starts complaining to you about why that person shouldn’t be smoking. But you happen to know that your friend has a problem of spending too much money. So you say: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” 

Note:

Do be careful when using this proverb, as it can easily hurt someone’s feelings or make them upset with you. There is a time and a place to use it, but be cautious and considerate of others’ feelings. 

7. Final Thoughts

I do want to end on a quick word of caution here: 

While proverbs can make your speech seem more fluent and add depth to a conversation, you shouldn’t use them too often. Proverbs are like salt: a little bit can make your meal more flavorful, but too much will cause you to gag or get sick. Use them sparingly for the best results.

I hope that with this quick guide, you have a better idea of how and when to use some of the most common English proverbs. But if there’s anything you’re uncertain about, feel free to ask us in the comments! We’ll get back to you with useful information as soon as possible. 

How many of the sayings on our English proverbs list did you know already? Which ones were new to you? Drop us a comment down below, and let us know.

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