20 Common English Proverbs
Book with English Proverbs

Top 20 English Proverbs

English proverbs are sayings that offer rich advice to the reader.

They are based on life experience, and we can use them to help us gain perspective in various life situations.

Most cultures and countries have their own variations of proverbs, although many proverbs are the same; just written in different languages. 

So, let’s take a look at 20 of the most common English proverbs.

1 - Don’t judge a book by its cover

English Proverbs

This means that we shouldn’t judge a person based on how they look or seem; that we should get to know the first.

Example: Erin thought Trish was really shy when she first met her. She thought that Trish didn’t want to hang out with other people. Erin didn’t like her very much. But when they took classes together and got to know each other; Erin realised that Trish was very funny and kind. Erin realised that she should not have judged a book by its cover.

2 - Better safe than sorry

English Proverbs Better to be safe than sorry

To be “better safe than sorry” is to be cautious in one’s decisions and actions, rather than act recklessly and regret your decision afterward.

Example: Janet needs to go to the store quickly, but she is cooking a chicken in the oven. What should she do? The chicken should be OK while she is out. But what if it burns and the house goes on fire. Should she take that chance? It’s probably better that she turns off the oven while she is out. Better to be safe than sorry.

3 - Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words

Instead of telling people what you can do, show them. It is much more likely to be believed and more appreciated.

Example: Ben promised his parents that he would do better at school. He told them every day that he would work harder, but they found it hard to believe him. He has decided that he will take extra classes after school and stay in every weekend to study because actions speak louder than words.

4 - Honesty is the best policy

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the truth, especially if you find yourself in a difficult situation, but it is always best to tell the truth.

Example: Lisa was meant to be in the playground. But she is in the classroom. While there, she knocks over a glass of water onto the computer. She knows she will be in big trouble with her teacher. But she tells her teacher what really happened because honesty is the best policy.

5 - Practice what you preach

English Proverbs Practice what you preach

If you advise people or tell people what they should do, then you too should follow your own advice.

Example: Kathy is always telling her sister to eat healthier and do more exercise, but Kathy loves to eat chocolate every day and sit on the couch. Kathy does not practice what she preaches!

6 - Practice makes perfect

The more time and effort you put into doing something, the better you will become at it.

Example: Susan has been learning french for 1 year. She works very hard and studies every day because her teacher told her that practice makes perfect!

7 - An apple a day keeps the doctor away

If you eat healthy food every day then you will never need to visit the doctor.

Example: Joe loves eating. He eats all kinds of foods, but he always makes sure that he eats fruit and vegetables every day. His mother always told him that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, and it’s true! He never needs to visit the doctor because he eats well.

8 - Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

English Proverbs

This means that you should treat those who are kind to you, very well. You should not do them wrong or upset them.

Example: Lucy lives with her aunt. Her aunt is very good to her and lets her stay for free. Her aunt is away this weekend, and Lucy wants to throw a party. She knows her aunt would be angry if she knew about the party. Her friend advises her not to have the party by saying “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

9 - Many hands make light work

Many hands make light work

This means that the more people that can help out with a task, the easier it is and the faster it can be done.

Example: The school sport’s day will be next Friday. The principal decides to give all the teachers, parents and children a job in preparation for sport’s day because she believes that many hands make light work.

10 - Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

English Proverbs Don't count your chickens

This means don’t think too far ahead before you know what is going to happen, because something bad could happen and change the result you expected.

Example: Maria had an interview for a new job. The interview went very well. She decided that she would quit her old job immediately before she knew if she got the new job. Her mother advises her not to do this by saying. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

11 - No pain, no gain

If you do not put in a lot of effort and hard work, you will not gain anything.

Example: Josh is starting up his own business, but he works twelve hours a day, seven days a week and he feels tired and demotivated. His friend Liam encourages him and tells him to keep working hard, that he will not succeed if he does not work hard. “No pain, no gain” Liam says.

12 - Don’t place all your eggs in one basket

Don’t place all your eggs in one basket

This means you shouldn’t put all of your hopes into one course of action. You are left with nothing if it fails. If you spread your hopes into many courses of action, then if one fails, at least you have more to follow through on.

Example: Derek has just finished his high school exams. He is filling out his application for University. He wants to be a doctor, and there is only one University that he wants to study at. His teacher advises him to choose more than one University in case he does not get accepted to the one that he wants. “Don’t place all your eggs in one basket” his Teacher warns him.

13 - If you snooze, you lose

This means that if you wait too long for something, you might not get it.

Example: Brendan slept in late on Saturday morning. He walked into the kitchen. Mom’s delicious breakfast was eaten. Brendan felt very annoyed. “Well if you snooze, you lose!” his little brother laughed at him.

14 - Look before you leap

English Proverbs Look before you leap

If you look before you leap, you don’t rush into something. You stop and think about it before you make a move or decide to do something.

Example: Pearl is in love. She met a nice guy three months ago and he asked her to move into his house to live with him. Her best friend is not sure it is a good idea; “You have only known him three months! Look before you leap!” she advises.

15 - Rome was not built in a day

This proverb means that all of the best things take time, and do not happen quickly.

Example: Kelly is getting married next summer. She is trying to lose weight so that she looks good in her wedding dress. She is getting frustrated because she is not losing weight quickly. “Don’t worry!” assures her mother, “It will take time; Rome wasn’t built in a day!

16 - Two wrongs don’t make right

English Proverbs Two wrongs don't make a right

If you have a fight with someone and say something mean to them, and they say something mean back to you, does that mean the problem has been solved? No, it hasn’t! Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Example: Jimmy stole Brian’s new toy car, so Brian broke Jimmy’s computer game. Both children were wrong, but did they solve the problem by doing two wrongs? No, they didn’t. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

17 - It’s no use crying over spilled milk

Spilled milk

This means that there is no point in getting upset about a mistake you have made, especially when it is something small such as ‘spilled milk’.

Example: Richard was playing in the kitchen when suddenly, he knocked his mother’s favourite vase off the table. He was very upset and sorry for his mistake. “Don’t worry” his mother reassured him, “It’s no use crying over spilled milk. We can buy a new vase tomorrow.”

18 - Learn to walk before you run

Learn to walk before you can run English Proverbs

This means not to try something that is too difficult before you have learned the basics.

Example: Timmy loves sports. He bought a new bike for himself and has ridden it around the park. Next, he wants to ride it across some mountains and over some steep hills. “Not yet Timmy” Kevin tells him, “you are not ready for that yet; learn to walk before you run!

19 - The grass is always greener on the other side

This means that it always seems that everyone else has a better house, car, husband or wife, or job than you, but actually, you should not be jealous or annoyed because they probably think the same about you.

Example: Rory is very jealous because his colleague Troy, drives to work every day in a sports car, and brags about his great holidays. One Saturday, Rory visits Troy at his home. He is home alone and tells Rory that he is lonely because he has no wife or children. “It seems that the grass is not greener on the other side” Rory thinks to himself.

20 - Money doesn’t grow on trees

Money doesn't grow on trees

Apples and oranges grow on trees, and if they are picked; they will grow back. Money does not, however; we need to work hard to get money so it should not be wasted on silly purchases.

Example: Conor asked his Mom for $20 dollars. He told her it was for a school book, but instead, he spent it on a computer game. His parents were so angry! “How could you waste my money on a silly game!” his mother screamed, “Don’t you know that money does not grow on trees!”.

We hope that you enjoyed these English proverbs

Did you like these English proverbs? Did you feel like any of them could relate to your own life, or that you have had experiences where you could have used advice like this? Have you heard any of these English proverbs before in your own language or culture?

English proverbs are meant to give insight and perspective into one’s life. They are meant to advise and help the reader make the right choice. What was your favourite English proverb?

If you found these English proverbs easy, then check out this video for more advanced English proverbs!

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