If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

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"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
Roud #20004
Written England
Published 1605
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer(s) Traditional
Language English

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" is an English language proverb and nursery rhyme, originating in the 16th century, which suggests if wishing could make things happen, then even the most destitute people would have everything they wanted.[1] It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20004.


Common newer versions include:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side.
If "if's" and "and's" were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers' hands.

... and a shorter version:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If turnips were bayonets, I'd wear one by my side.[2]


The first recognizable ancestor of the rhyme was recorded in William Camden's (1551–1623) Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, printed in 1605, which contained the lines: "If wishes were thrushes beggars would eat birds".[3] The reference to horses was first in James Carmichael's Proverbs in Scots printed in 1628, which included the lines: "And if wishes were horses, pure [poor] men wald ride".[3] The first mention of beggars is in John Ray's Collection of English Proverbs in 1670, in the form "If wishes would bide, beggars would ride".[3] The first versions with close to today's wording was in James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs, Collected and Arranged in 1721, with the wording "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride".[3] The rhyme above was probably the combination of two of many versions and was collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s.[2] The last line was sometimes used to stop children from questioning and get to work: "If if's and and's were pots and pans, there'd surely be dishes to do."

Books that use this saying[edit]

Other uses in popular culture[edit]

  • Kenny Rogers and the First Edition recorded the song "If Wishes Were Horses" (composed by group member, Mike Settle) on their 1967 debut album. The whole phrase "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" is used a number of times throughout the songs verses.


  1. ^ "the definition of if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  2. ^ a b I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 427.
  3. ^ a b c d G. L. Apperson and M. Manser, Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs (Wordsworth, 2003), p. 637.