English Proverbs Hand Down Wisdom of the Ages

These Pithy Sayings Give Guidance on Life

Laughing woman with humorous shirt
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English proverbs are handed down in families, from one generation to another, in everyday language. They are also commonly called sayings, and they generally are about dealing with life. They are often layered with meaning and insight and include metaphors; they live through time because they address timeless life situations with the wisdom of experience and have universal resonance.

In writing, these are often regarded as cliches and in general should be avoided for that reason.

But in everyday speech, they communicate a lot in just a few words -- and everyone gets the message. In fact, proverbs are so well understood that often only part of the proverb is said, with the full meaning still apparent to the listener, in sort of a shorthand for these very common sayings -- like "You can lead a horse to water ..." and everyone knows the rest of the sentence.

  • A good beginning makes a good end.
  • A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.
  • A stumble may prevent a fall.
  • If you want to be happy for a year, plant a garden; if you want to be happy for life, plant a tree.
  • Adversity makes strange bedfellows.
  • Every woman would rather be beautiful than good.
  • All cats are gray in the dark.
  • A miss is as good as a mile.
  • Children and fools tell the truth.
  • A ragged coat may cover an honest man.
  • A good conscience is a soft pillow.
  • Better to be envied than pitied.
  • A man is as old as he feels.
  • Use soft words and hard arguments.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • A rose by any other name would smell so sweet.
  • A contented mind is a perpetual feast.
  • Buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.
  • All good things must come to an end.
  • A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
  • Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
  • A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.
  • Two wrongs don't make a right.
  • Where there's a will, there's a way.
  • A watched pot never boils.
  • Fortune favors the bold.
  • Knowledge is power.
  • Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • Where there's smoke, there's fire.
  • No man is an island.
  • People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
  • Discretion is the greater part of valor.
  • You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Familiarity breeds contempt.
  • Two heads are better than one.
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
  • You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
  • A broken clock is right twice a day.
  • A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.
  • Better the devil you know than the one you don't.
  • Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.
  • It's not over till the fat lady sings.
  • Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  • Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.
  • A fish always rots from the head down.
  • A fool and his money are soon parted.
  • A rising tide lifts all boats.
  • A problem shared is a problem halved.
  • A bad penny always turns up.
  • Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
  • Dead men tell no tales.