Collection of Famous English Proverbs You Should Know

The quest to write this post, Collection of famous English Proverbs You Should Know, came out of the need to intimate our teeming global readers with the numerous proverbs in English. A literary scholar describes proverbs as horses which can carry one to the discovery of ideas sought. He added that ‘a relevant proverb throws light on the subject and drives points home’. Another scholar said the same thing in another way: ‘proverbs are horses of speech and if communication is lost, we use proverb to find it’.

There are times you wish you could have some proverbs at your fingertips to spice up or buttress your points but you find yourself at sea, groping in vain as none comes to readily your aid. Not to worry, I have compiled loads of them for you in this post titled, Collection of famous English Proverbs You Should Know. The highly revered Chinua Achebe said ‘proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten’.

Proverb: Global Cum Cultural Phenomenon

There is a need to understand that proverbs exist in almost every language! Proverbs are cultural just like folktales or fairy tales. There are some proverbs that are even cross-cultural; they exist across languages and cultures! We may not use same words to frame or phrase them, but they project the same sense, meaning and lessons.

A good example is the English proverb, ‘a word is enough for the wise’. In the Yoruba culture, the same proverb exists with exactitude of sense and meaning: ‘ààbo òrò la nso f’ómolúàbí, tó bá dé’nú è, á d’odindi’. Interesting, did you say? You can say that again! I do not mind if you send me some proverbs in your indigenous language that have equivalence in English. Just ensure they are well accented!

What is a Proverb?

Traditionally, proverbs ate pithy, memorable and metaphoric entities. There are so many definitions of proverbs which I will not belabour you with. But for the purpose of this post, we will check some out as we get a little bit academic. Shall we?

Whiting (1932) defines proverb as ‘a short saying of philosophic nature, of great antiquity the product of masses rather than of the classes, constantly applicable because it has been a semblance of the universal truth’.

Trench (1905) defines proverbs as “condensed quintessential wisdom full of wit, wisdom and imagination and yield amusement, instruction and insight”. Lau Tókofsky and Winick (2004) define proverbs as “short, traditional utterances that encapsulate cultural truths and sum up recurrent social situations”. In addition, they posit that “proverbs can persuade or dissuade, express deference or confidence or worry, instil fear or respect, or even mock the listener.”

Kirkmann (1985), as quoted in Yusuf (1995) asserts that “with the aid of a proverb, one can aim to promotean endorsement to statements and opinions, forecast something, express doubt, reproach someone, accuse someone of something, justify or excuse somebody, mock somebody, here at somebody’s misfortune, advise against something, or interdict somebody from doing something and so on, and so forth.”

Collection of Famous English Proverbs You Should Know

Here we present a collection of famous English Proverbs. For easy comprehension, these proverbs have been classified under various headings comprising similar ones. Take a look the collection!


  • Actions speak louder than words
  • It is the first step that is the most difficult
  • One good turn deserves another
  • Sooner begun, sooner done
  • The early bird catches the worm


  • A creaking door hangs long on its hinges
  • All would lie long, but none would be old
  • An old fox is not easily snared
  • Crabbed age and youth cannot live together
  • Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs
  • Life begins at forty
  • There’s many a good tune played on an old fiddle
  • The best wine comes out of an old bottle
  • There’s no fool like an old fool
  • There’s none so old that he hopes not for another year of life
  • They who live longest will see most
  • You are never too old to learn
  • Years know more than books
  • You are only as old as you feel
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  • Youth and age will never agree


Don’t count your chickens until they are hatched

It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive

It isn’t over until the fat lady sings

There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip


  • A fair face may hide a foul heart
  • All cats are grey in the dark
  • All that glitters is not gold
  • Appearances are deceptive
  • Beauty is but skin deep
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
  • Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing
  • Be what you appear to be
  • Clothes make the man
  • Fine feathers make fine birds
  • First impressions are the most lasting
  • Handsome is as handsome does
  • Never judge from appearances
  • The eyes are the window of the soul
  • The fairest rose at last is withered
  • There is no making a good cloak of bad cloth
  • Things are not always what they seem
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover
  • You must not hang a man by his looks


  • A stitch in time saves nine
  • Better safe than sorry
  • Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • Cut your coat according to the cloth
  • Don’t count your chicken before they are hatched
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
  • Haste makes waste
  • Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater
  • Least said is soonest mended
  • Let sleeping dogs lie
  • Look before you leap
  • Make haste slowly
  • Marry in haste, repent at leisure
  • More haste, less speed
  • Once bitten, twice shy
  • One step at a time
  • Second thoughts are best
  • Slow and steady wins the race
  • The burnt child fears the fire
  • The less said the better
  • Think first and then speak
  • You must learn to walk before you can run


  • A change is as good as a rest
  • A new broom sweeps clean
  • Better the devil you know
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss
  • Don’t change horses in mid-stream
  • There is nothing new under the sun
  • You can’t put back the clock
  • You can’t put new wine in old bottles
  • Variety is the spice of life


  • Blood will tell
  • Cut off a dog’s tail and he will be a dog still
  • The apple never falls far from the tree


  • The leopard cannot change its spot
  • You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
  • You cannot have it both ways
  • What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh
  • You cannot have your cake and eat it
  • When you pay your money, you take your choice
  • You cannot serve god and mammon
  • You cannot serve two masters


  • Ask no questions and you will be told no lies
  • Civility costs nothing
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness
  • Do as I say, not as I do
  • Do as you would be done by
  • Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face
  • Do not bite the hand that feeds you
  • Don’t hide your light under a bushel
  • If the cap fits, wear it
  • It is better to give than to receive
  • Least said soonest mended
  • Let sleeping dogs lie
  • Live and let live
  • Moderation in all things
  • Never look a gift horse in the mouth
  • One good turn deserves another
  • People in glass houses should not throw stones
  • Practice what you preach
  • Pride goes before a fall
  • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
  • Spare the rod and spoil the child
  • There is no use flogging a dead horse
  • The rolling stone gathers no moss
  • Travel broadens the mind
  • When in Rome do as the Romans do
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play
  • You cannot have your cake and eat it

Courage and Cowardice

  • A bully is always a coward
  • Attack is the best form of defence
  • Conscience makes coward of us all
  • Discretion is the better part of valour
  • Faint heart never won fair lady
  • Fortune favours the bold
  • He that fights and runs away may live to fight another day
  • It is better to be a coward for a minute than dead for the rest of your life
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained


  • All are not thieves whom the dogs bark at
  • An old poacher makes the best gamekeeper
  • Better to do nothing than to do ill
  • Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion
  • Crime never pays
  • It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest
  • One rotten apple in the barrel infects all the rest
  • Poverty is the mother of crime
  • Set a thief to catch a thief
  • There are more thieves than are hanged
  • There is honour among thieves
  • To err is human, to forgive is divine
  • Two wrongs do not make a right
  • You might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb


  • All men must die
  • As a man lives so shall he die
  • Death is a remedy for all ills
  • Death is the great leveler
  • Dead men tell no tales
  • Death spares neither men nor beast
  • Fear of death is worse than death itself
  • It is as natural to die as to be born
  • Nothing is certain but death and taxes
  • One funeral makes many orphans
  • Shrouds have no pockets
  • The dead are soon forgotten
  • The good die young
  • We die as we live
  • When one is dead it is for a long time
  • Whom the gods love die young
  • You can only die once


  • Better late than never
  • He who hesitates is lost
  • Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today
  • Procrastination is the thief of time
  • Time lost cannot be recalled
  • Tomorrow never comes

Eating and drinking

  • Adam’s ale is the best brew
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away
  • An army marches on its stomach


  • Drink little that you may drink long
  • Eat to live, not live to eat
  • Good wine makes good blood
  • Hunger is the best sauce
  • Man cannot live by bread alone
  • The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach
  • Thirst makes wine out of water
  • When the wine is in the wit is out
  • A fool and his money are soon parted
  • A fool’s bolt is soon shot
  • Empty vessels make the most sound
  • Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
  • Fortune favours fools
  • He that is born a fool is never cured
  • Little things please little minds
  • There’s no fool like an old fool
  • The world is full of fools
  • We have been fools in our time


  • A fair-weather friend changes with the wind
  • A favourite has no friends
  • Birds of a feather flock together
  • A friend in need is a friend indeed
  • A man is known by the company he keeps
  • Fish and guests stink after three days
  • A trouble shared is a trouble halved
  • He that lies down with dogs will get up with fleas
  • It is good to have friends in high places
  • One good turn deserves another
  • Save us from our friends
  • The best of friends must apart


  • A blithe heart makes a blooming visage
  • A happy heart is better than a full purse
  • All happiness is in the mind
  • Be happy when you can for you are a long time dead
  • Content is happiness
  • Happy is the country which has no history
  • It is a poor heart that never rejoices
  • Joy and sorrow are next-door neighbours
  • Laughter is the best medicine
  • No pleasure without pain


  • A creaking gate lasts longest
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away
  • Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
  • Feed a cold and starve a fever
  • God heals, and the physician has the thanks
  • Health is better than wealth
  • The doctor is often more to be feared than the disease


  • Dry bread at home is better than roast meat abroad
  • East west, home’s best
  • Home is where the heart is
  • The hare always returns to her form
  • There’s no place like home


  • An honest man’s word is as good as his bond
  • Better beg than steal
  • Confession is good for the soul
  • Honesty is the best policy
  • No honest man ever repented of his honesty
  • Plain dealing is best
  • Tell the truth and shame the devil
  • The truth will out

Hope and Optimism

  • A drowning man clutches at straw
  • Every cloud has a silver lining
  • Hope for the best and prepare for the worst
  • Hope keeps man alive
  • He that lives on hope has but a slender diet
  • Hope springs eternal
  • It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good
  • Look on the bright side
  • The darkest hour is that before the dawn
  • The longest night will have an end
  • Tomorrow is another day
  • Too much hope deceives
  • Where there’s life, there’s hope


  • Better no law than law not enforced
  • Every land has its own law
  • Every man is held to be innocent until he is proved guilty
  • Ignorance of the law excuses no man
  • Possession is nine tenths of the law
  • The law is an ass
  • The more laws, the more offenders
  • There’s one law for the rich and another for the poor

Learning and knowledge

  • You cannot make people honest by an act of parliament
  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
  • A little learning is a dangerous thing
  • Experience is the best teacher
  • It is easy to be wise after the event
  • Knowledge is power
  • Much learning makes men mad
  • To know all is to forgive all
  • We must learn from our mistakes
  • What you don’t know can’t hurt you
  • Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise


  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder
  • All’s fair in love and war
  • All the world loves a lover
  • Better be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave
  • Faint heart never won fair lady
  • It is best to be off with the old love before you are on with the new
  • Love begets love
  • Love comes in at the window and out at the door
  • Lucky at cards, unlucky in love
  • Love conquers all
  • Love is blind
  • Out of sight, out of mind
  • Love makes the world go round
  • Love sees no faults
  • Pity is akin to love
  • Love will find a way
  • The course of true love never did run smooth
  • The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach
  • ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all
  • Who would be loved, must love


  • Marriage is a lottery
  • Marriages are made in heaven
  • Marry in haste, repent at leisure
  • Marry in lent and you’ll live to repent
  • Men are April when they woo, December when they wed
  • Marry your son when you will, your daughter when you can
  • Wedlock is a padlock


  • Don’t spoil the ship for a hap’orth of tar
  • Grasp all, lose all
  • Greedy folks have long arms
  • Kill not the goose that lays the golden egg
  • The more you get, the more you want


  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
  • Make hay while the sun shines
  • Nothing venture, nothing gain
  • Opportunity seldom knocks twice
  • Strike while the iron is hot
  • Take time by the forelock
  • There’s no time like the present
  • The tide must be taken when it comes
  • Time and tide wait for no man


  • An oak is not felled at one stroke
  • A watched pot never boils
  • Everything comes to him who waits
  • Patience is a virtue
  • Rome was not built in a day
  • They also serve who only stand and wait
  • We must learn to walk before we can run


  • A cat may look at a king
  • A house divided against itself cannot stand
  • All men cannot be masters
  • Attack is the best form of defence
  • Little is done where many command
  • Might is right
  • Money is power
  • No man can serve two masters
  • The ballot is stronger than the bullet
  • The mightier they are, the harder they fall
  • Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely
  • The weakest go to the wall
  • United we stand, divided we fall
  • When Greek meets Greek then comes the tug of war
  • When two play one must lose
  • Why keep a dog and bark yourself?


  • It is easy to be wise after the event
  • It is too late to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted
  • Past cure, past care


  • There’s no use in crying over spilt milk
  • Things past cannot be recalled
  • We never know the worth of the water till the well runs dry
  • What’s done cannot be undone
  • You cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs
  • A bad workman blames his tools
  • As you make your bed, so you must lie on it
  • As you reap, so shall you sow
  • Every man is the architect of his own fortune
  • Paddle your own canoe
  • The absent party is always to blame


  • A closed mouth catches no flies
  • Silence is golden; speech is silver
  • Still waters run deep
  • There is a time to speak and a time to be silent
  • When in doubt say nothing


  • One hour’s sleep before midnight is worth two after
  • Sleep is better than medicine
  • Sleep is the brother of death
  • There will be sleeping enough in the grave


  • Barking dogs seldom bite
  • Fine words butter no parsnips
  • The tongue is more venomous than a servant’s sting


  • History repeats itself
  • Time is money
  • There is a time and place for everything
  • Time and tide wait for no man
  • Time cures all things
  • How time flies
  • Time is a great healer
  • Time lost cannot be recalled

Wealth and Poverty

  • A fool and his money are soon parted
  • Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth
  • Enough is as good as a feast
  • God helps those who help themselves
  • He that goes-a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing
  • He who has nothing fears nothing
  • Half a loaf is better than no bread
  • He who pays the piper may call the tune
  • It is better to be poor and well than rich and ill
  • Lend your money and lose your friend
  • Money is a good servant but a bad master
  • Money is not everything
  • Time is money
  • Money is power
  • Penny wise and pound foolish
  • Money makes money
  • Money talks
  • Neither a borrower nor a lender be
  • Poverty is no disgrace but it is a great inconvenience
  • Poverty is not a crime
  • Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves
  • The art is not in making money but in keeping it
  • What you’ve never had, you never miss
  • When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window


  • A cold April the barn will fill
  • After the storm comes a calm
  • A green yule means a fat churchyard
  • April and May are the key to the fear
  • April showers bring forth May flowers
  • Lightning never strikes twice
  • Rain before seven, fine before eleven
  • Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight, red sky in the morning, shepherd’s morning


  • A good beginning is half the work
  • A work done ill must be done twice
  • Business before pleasure
  • From small beginnings come great things
  • If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well
  • Many hands make light work
  • No gain without pain
  • The devil finds work for idle hands to do
  • The labourer is worthy of his hire
  • Too many crooks spoil the broth
  • The work praises the workman
  • You cannot make bricks without straw


This collection is not exhaustive; you can find out other collections of famous English Proverbs. Please feel free to share this post with your friends and those you feel might need to read it. You can also see the post on Cliches, Thank you. Your comments are highly welcome.


Achebe, Chinua. (1958). Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann

Lau, Kimberly J. Peter Tókofsky & Winick, Stephens D. (2004) “What Goes Around Cones Around. The Circulation of Proverbs in Contemporary Life”. In K. J. Lau, P. Tókofsky & S. D. Winick (eds) What Goes Around Cones Around. The Circulation of Proverbs in Contemporary Life. Utah: Utah State University Press. pp. 1-19

Trench, Richard Chenevix. (1905) Proverbs and their Lessons. W. Murder (ed) Vermont: Proverbium & Dept of German and Russian, University of Vermont.

Whiting, Bartlett J. (1932). “The Nature of the Proverb.” Harvard Studies and Notes on Philosophy and Literature. 14: 273-307

Yusuf, Yisa Kehinde (1995). “Contradictory Proverbs about Women. Their Significance for Social Change.” In Afonja, S. & Aina, B. (eds) Nigeria Women in Social Change. Ile-Ife: Programme in Women Studies, Obafemi. Awolowo University. pp. 206-215


  • Jaymz Boanerges

    I am a teacher of English. I have a passion is to impart the knowledge of the English language to the teeming populace in Nigeria and beyond, especially students at all levels of education, so that they can acquire both linguistic competence and linguistic performance in the language, gaining mastery of and comprehending the nitty-gritty of the language.

1 thought on “Collection of Famous English Proverbs You Should Know”

Leave a comment