List of proverbial phrases

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Below is an alphabetical list of widely used and repeated proverbial phrases. If known, their origins are noted.

A proverbial phrase or expression is a type of conventional saying similar to a proverb and transmitted by oral tradition. The difference is that a proverb is a fixed expression, while a proverbial phrase permits alterations to fit the grammar of the context.[1][2]

In 1768, John Ray defined a proverbial phrase as:

A proverb [or proverbial phrase] is usually defined, an instructive sentence, or common and pithy saying, in which more is generally designed than expressed, famous for its peculiarity or elegance, and therefore adopted by the learned as well as the vulgar, by which it is distinguished from counterfeits which want such authority

— John Ray, A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, 1798[3]

















  • Parsley seed goes nine times to the Devil[a]
  • Patience is a virtue[a]
  • Pearls of wisdom[a]
  • Penny wise and pound foolish[a]
  • Penny, Penny. Makes many.
  • People who live in glass houses should not throw stones[a]
  • Physician, heal thyself[a]
  • Play stupid games, win stupid prizes[21]
  • Possession is nine-tenths of the law[a]
  • Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely[a]
  • Practice makes perfect[a]
  • Practice what you preach[a]
  • Preaching to the choir
  • Prevention is better than cure[a]
  • Pride comes/goes before a fall (O.T.),[a][b]
  • Procrastination is the thief of time
  • Putting the cart before the horse
  • Put your best foot forward[a]
  • Put your money where your mouth is[a]


  • Red sky at night shepherds delight; red sky in the morning, shepherds warning[a]
  • Respect is not given, it is earned.
  • Revenge is a dish best served cold[a]
  • Revenge is sweet[a]
  • Rome was not built in one day[a][b]
  • Right or wrong, my country[a]
  • Rules were made to be broken.


  • See a pin and pick it up, all the day you will have good luck; See a pin and let it lay, bad luck you will have all day[a]
  • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil[a]
  • Seeing is believing[a]
  • Seek and ye shall find[a]
  • Set a thief to catch a thief[a]
  • Shiny are the distant hills[a]
  • Shrouds have no pockets[a]
  • (Speech is silver but) Silence is golden[a]
  • Sit crooked and talk straight[22]
  • Slow and steady wins the race[a]
  • Slow but sure[a]
  • Smooth move
  • Snake in the grass
  • Softly, softly, catchee monkey[a]
  • Some are more equal than others (George Orwell, Animal Farm)
  • Sometimes we are the student. Sometimes we are the master. And sometimes we are merely the lesson – Jacalyn Smith[a]
  • Spare the rod and spoil the child[a]
  • Speak as you find[a]
  • Speak of the devil and he shall/is sure/will appear
  • Speak softly and carry a big stick[a]
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me[a]
  • Still waters run deep[a]
  • Strike while the iron is hot[a]
  • Stupid is as stupid does[a]
  • Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan[a]
  • (A) swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly


  • Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves[a]
  • Talk is cheap[a]
  • Talk of the Devil, and he is bound to appear[a]
  • Talk of Angels, and hear the flutter of their wings
  • Tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are[23]
  • Tell the truth and shame the Devil (Shakespeare, Henry IV)[a][b]
  • The age of miracles is past[a]
  • The apple does not fall/never falls far from the tree[a]
  • The best condiments are authentic flavors[b]
  • The best defense is a good offense[a]
  • The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry[a]
  • The best things in life are free[a]
  • The bigger they are, the harder they fall[a]
  • The boy is father to the man[a]
  • The bread never falls but on its buttered side[a]
  • The child is the father of the man[a]
  • The cobbler always wears the worst shoes[a]
  • The comeback is greater than the setback[a]
  • The course of true love never did run smooth[a]
  • The customer is always right[a]
  • The darkest hour is just before the dawn[a]
  • The Devil finds work for idle hands to do[a]
  • The Devil looks after his own[a]
  • The die is cast[24]
  • The early bird catches the worm[a]
  • The end justifies the means[a]
  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend
  • The exception which proves the rule[a]
  • The female of the species is more deadly than the male[a]
  • The good die young[a]
  • The grass is always greener (on the other side) (of the fence)[a]
  • The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world[a]
  • The husband is always the last to know[a]
  • The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow – William Cowper, English poet (1731–1800)[25]
  • The labourer is worthy of his hire[a]
  • It is the last straw that breaks the camel's back[a]
  • The law is an ass (from English writer Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist)
  • The leopard does not change his spots[a]
  • The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing
  • The light is on but nobody is home
  • The longest day must have an end[b]
  • The longest journey starts with a single step[a]
  • The Moon is made of green cheese
  • The more the merrier[a]
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same[a]
  • The only disability in life is a bad attitude – Scott Hamilton
  • The only way to understand a woman is to love her[a]
  • The old wooden spoon beats me down[a]
  • The only way to find a friend is to be one
  • The pen is mightier than the sword[a]
  • The pot calling the kettle black
  • The proof of the pudding is in the eating[a]
  • The rich get richer and the poor get poorer
  • The road to Hell is paved with good intentions[a]
  • The shoemaker's son always goes barefoot[a]
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease[a]
  • The streets are paved with gold
  • The stupid monkey knows not to eat the banana skin
  • The way to a man's heart is through his stomach[a]
  • The work praises the man.
  • There ain't no such thing as a free lunch
  • There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream[a]
  • There are none so blind as those who will not see[a] – attributed variously to Edmund Burke or George Santayana
  • There are two sides to every question[a]
  • There but for the grace of God go I[a]
  • There is an exception to every rule[a]
  • There are always more fish in the sea[a]
  • There is honour among thieves[a]
  • There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle[a]
  • There is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip[a]
  • There is more than one way to skin a cat[a]
  • There is no accounting for tastes[a]
  • There is no fool like an old fool[a]
  • There's no need to wear a hair shirt
  • There is no place like home[a]
  • There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.
  • There is no smoke without fire/Where there is smoke, there is fire[a]
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch[a]
  • There is no such thing as bad publicity[a]
  • There is no time like the present[a]
  • There are none so deaf as those who will not hear[a]
  • There's nowt so queer as folk[a]
  • There is one born every minute[a]
  • There is safety in numbers[a]
  • They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind[a]
  • Third time is a charm[a]
  • Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it – George Santayana[a]
  • Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones[a]
  • Those who know many languages live as many lives as the languages they know (Czech proverb)[5]
  • Those who sleep with dogs will rise with fleas[a]
  • Time and tide wait for no man[a]
  • Time flies[a]
  • Time goes by slowly when your are living intensely[a]
  • Time is a great healer[a]
  • Time is money[a]
  • (Only) time will tell[a]
  • 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all[a]
  • To be worn out is to be renewed – Laozi, Chinese philosopher (604 BC – c. 531 BC)[9]
  • To each his own
  • To err is human, to forgive divine[a]
  • To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world (Chinese proverb)[5]
  • To the victor go the spoils[a]
  • To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive[a]
  • Tomorrow is another day[a]
  • Tomorrow never comes[a]
  • Too many cooks spoil the broth[a]
  • Too little, too late
  • Too much of a good thing
  • Truth is stranger than fiction[a]
  • Truth is more valuable if it takes you a few years to find it – often attributed to French author Jules Renard (1864–1910)
  • (Like) Trying to grow a goose
  • (The) truth will out[a]
  • Turn your face toward the sun and the shadows fall behind you
  • Two birds with one stone
  • Two can play at that game
  • Two heads are better than one[a]
  • Two is company, but three is a crowd[a][b]
  • Two wrongs (do not) make a right[a]


  • Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown[26]
  • United we stand, divided we fall[27]
  • Use it or lose it
  • Ugly is as ugly does
  • Up a creek without a paddle
  • Unity is strength


  • Variety is the spice of life. William Cowper, English poet (1731–1800)[28]
  • Virtue is its own reward



  • You are never too old to learn[a]
  • You are what you eat[a]
  • You can have too much of a good thing[a]
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink[a]
  • You can never/never can tell
  • You cannot always get what you want
  • You cannot burn a candle at both ends.
  • You cannot have your cake and eat it too[a]
  • You cannot get blood out of a stone[a]
  • You cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear[a]
  • You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs[a]
  • You cannot make bricks without straw[a]
  • You cannot push a rope
  • You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds[a]
  • (You cannot) teach an old dog new tricks[a]
  • You cannot unscramble eggs
  • You cannot win them all[a]
  • You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar[a]
  • You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain[a]
  • You pay your money and you take your choice[a]
  • Youth is wasted on the young[a]
  • You may/might as well be hanged/hung for a sheep as (for) a lamb
  • You must have rocks in your head[a]
  • You scratch my back and I will scratch yours
  • You'll never get if you never go
  • You're never fully dressed without a smile
  • You've got to separate the wheat from the chaff[a]
  • You've made your bed and you must lie in/on it


  • Zeal without knowledge is fire without light


  1. "Meanings and Origins of Phrases, Sayings and Idioms". Gary Martin. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  2. Benham, W. Gurney (1926). Putnam's Complete Book of Quotations, Proverbs, and Household Words. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.


  1. ^ Adams, Owen S. (17 September 2023). "Proverbial Phrases from California". Western Folklore. 8 (2): 95–116. doi:10.2307/1497581. JSTOR 1497581.
  2. ^ Arvo Krikmann "the Great Chain Metaphor: An Open Sezame for Proverb Semantics?", Proverbium:Yearbook of International Scholarship, 11 (1994), pp. 117–124.
  3. ^ Ray, John (1768). A compleat collection of English proverbs. London: W. Otridge, S. Bladon. pp. xi–xii.
  4. ^ Martin, Gary. "'A fool and his money are soon parted' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Top Ten Best Proverbs About Language Learning". Lingholic. 9 June 2014.
  6. ^ Edward, John Emerich (1949). Dalberg-Acton – Essays on Freedom and Power. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 364.
  7. ^ "Where Does the Expression "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts" Come From?". Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  8. ^ Martin, Gary. "Curiosity killed the cat". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d "Quotations by Lao Tzu". Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  10. ^ "Sayings of Wilson Mizner". Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  11. ^ "Keep your chin up". Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  12. ^ "Oliver's Advice (Barossa)". Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  13. ^ Soniak, Matt (12 July 2012). "What's the Origin of "Let the Cat out of the Bag"?". Mental Floss.
  14. ^ 1 Timothy 6:10
  15. ^ "marriages are made in heaven". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  16. ^ "'Marriages are Made in Heaven' – Origin, Meaning, Explanation, Importance". NMK. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  17. ^ Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace II:III:XXII
  18. ^ "Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story". 14 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers". Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  20. ^ "'No friends but the mountains': History repeats itself with latest US betrayal of Kurds". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  21. ^ "Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes Definition & Meaning | YourDictionary". Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  22. ^ "Armenian Proverbs You'll Love About Life – With English Translations". Digital Daybook. 30 September 2020. Retrieved 13 September 2023.
  23. ^ World of Quotes Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  24. ^ Martin, Gary. "'The die has been cast' – the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  25. ^ "The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow". Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  26. ^ "Definition of uneasy lies the head that wears a crown |". Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  27. ^ "Proverbs starting with letter U ‹ Proverb Hunter". Proverb Hunter. Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  28. ^ "William Cowper Quotes". Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  29. ^ "Speak Softly. . ". Library of Congress. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  30. ^ "When in Rome..." Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  31. ^ Hubbard, Elbert (1922). Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard. Vol. V. Wm. H. Wise & Co./The Roycrofters. p. 237. Alt URL

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