Traditional Proverbs


A barking dog never bites.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
A fool and his money are soon parted.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
A new broom sweeps clean.
A nod's as good as a wink to a blind man. (e.g., it doesn't make any
difference what you do -- they don't know!)
A penny saved is a penny earned.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
A stitch in time saves nine.
A watched pot never boils.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
All that glitters is not gold
As you sow, so you shall reap.
Bad news travels quickly.
Beauty is only skin deep.
Better late than never.
better safe than sorry
Birds of a feather flock together.
Chickens will come home to roost.
The cream always rises.
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.
Don't cry over spilt milk.
Don't judge a book by its cover.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Don't spit into the wind.
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
Every cloud has a sliver lining.
God helps those who help themselves.
Half a loaf is better than no bread.
He laughs best that laughs last.
He who hesitates is lost.
He who laughs last laughs best.
Hunger is the best sauce.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
If the shoe fits, wear it.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
look before you leap
Make hay while the sun shines
Might makes right.
Money makes the mare go.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
One man's meat is another man's poison.
One rotten apple spoils the barrel.
One swallow doesn't make a summer.
Opposites attract.
Out of sight, out of mind.
People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
Practice makes perfect.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
Still waters run deep.
the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry
The best way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
The early bird catches the worm.
The end justifies the means.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
The longest journey begins with a single step.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Two heads are better than one.
Waste not, want not.
We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
What goes around, comes around.
What's good for the goose is good for the gander
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
where there's smoke, there's fire
Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends.
Who holds the purse rules the house.
You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.


The grass is always greener in the other guy's banana plantation.
All that glitters is not phosphate.
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make her learn English.
A bird in the hand is worth two in hard drive.


Better dead than Red. - not p.c., but it reflected some American
    opinion for a while in the 60s and 70s
Make love not war.
Hell no we won't go.
Would you buy a used war from this man? - oops, I got caught in a
    time warp
Be prepared.  - Boy Scout motto, but almost a proverb?
Loose lips sink ships.
Killing two birds with one stone.
a big fish in a small pond
better the devil you know...
Don't cross your eyes like that or they will stick.
Love me, love my dog.
cool as a cucumber
butter wouldn't melt in his/her mouth
he is his father's son
__X__ is a double-edged sword
__X___ is a mixed-blessing
an army travels on its stomach
it takes two to have an argument OR it takes two to fight
OR it takes two to tango (which can have other meanings besides fighting)
it's enough to make your hair curl
quiet as a church mouse
dead as a door nail
as thick as a plank (mentally, that is) OR dumb as a post
just like riding a bicycle (you never forget)
easy as pie
smart as a whip
fresh as a daisy
old enough to know better, young enough to try
She/he looks like the cat that ate the canary
(I was/it made me) so mad I could spit
That's water under the bridge.
The opera isn't over until the fat lady sings.
Flattery is nothing but soft soap and soft soap is 90% lye.
Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
Postition is everything in life.  (used when teenagers sprawl on the
floor while using the phone)
Diamonds are a girl's best friend.
Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.
SNAFU (situation normal, all *#@! up.) casting pearls before swine

                       BOOK SUGGESTIONS:
From: Ann-Marie Hadzima (A.M.Hadzima)

  I    have found a lengthy list of proverbs in the *ESL MISCELLANY*
published by Pro Lingua Associates, Brattleboro, VT.
  Also, if your students are at a higher level of English there is
a very slim dictionary published by Longman which has quotes from
famous people on various topics.  They are arranged by topics. The
quotes on the left hand side of the book support a "pro" stance
while those on the right hand side support the opposite stance.
These are often good for prewriting activities.  If you're interested
I can try to find the citation .

From: Fiona Savage 

There is an excelent Dictionary of Proverbs published by Penguin books,
which not only lists 6000 proverbs, but arranges them under topic
headings which are indexed for quick retrieval.
Good hunting!


     You might check under "Anonymous" in Bartlett's Quotations.  If you
read French, Le Petit Larousse has an interesting selection of proverbs
from various countries -- the French comments on English proverbs like "Time
is money" (which they take to be characteristic of the attitudes of English
speakers) are fun to read and might be useful in class discussions.

From: Veronica Kosky 

Benjamin Franklin is a good source.  Try his *Poor Richard's Almanac* for
lots more of these.



Date:         Fri, 29 May 1992
From:         Elizabeth Hanson-Smith 

   While working in the then-Soviet Union in 89-90, I was graciously
invited to the dacha of a colleague.  There, pasted on all the windows of
the sunny porch were dozens of scraps of paper, each one containing
an English "proverb" or cliche.  Naturally, I inquired about them.
They were the results of a summer's study to pass an oral English
   This was a teacher of English far beyond the un-processed
"lexicalized chunk" stage of language development.  The Iranian,
Ethiopian, and ethnic Chinese students I have this semester who use
cliches are also far beyond this point, so I think P.B. Nayar is
incorrect here.
   To understand Vladimir Klonowski's anger, we have to understand
not just the culturally influenced rhetorical patterns (see S. Simon
and A.A. Goodwin for particularly good discussions), but also, as
A. Yu  suggests, the kinds of things ESOL students are taught in
English classes overseas.  A. Ascher's frustration with students'
cliches was expressed in a way that Klonowski felt denigrated a
whole approach to education, and a whole culture's valuation of
traditional learning.
Hence, perhaps V.K.'s reference to the TOEFL as "racial and cultural
discrimination."  I don't think I would want a general achievement
test that did not have a cultural bias, even if such a test could be
created.  TOEFL works fairly well as a predictor of success at
American universities, and certainly, knowledge of American culture
is a factor in that success.  But language cannot be tested like algebra:
it has cultural biases built into it.  To correct the TOEFL for cultural
bias against one country or race would thus only ensure bias against
In this context, A. Hunt's suggestion (which I think is a good teaching
strategy for comp classes) that students "come up with new twists
on old proverbs" is as alien as not using them at all.  After all,
the value of traditional wisdom is that it is traditional.  And American
culture does not have great respect for tradition.
------------------------Elizabeth Hanson-Smith

Date:         Sat, 30 May 1992
From:         "Judith H. Snoke: Virginia Tech Language Institute"
Subject:      proverbs on the wall

I can't get that dacha out of my head.  It reminds me of places we used to
visit in the mountain west during the summer - walls covered with rustic
wooden plaques proclaiming:  Bless this House; or Flattery is nothing but
soft soap - Soft soap is 90% lye; and in the bathroom - We aim to please.
You aim too, please!  There is a 4X4 in town with bumper stickers that
read: No Fat Chicks and So Many Women...So Little Time!  My friends' homes
are also filled with little slogans and injunctions: Save the Whales! or Have
You Hugged Your Kid Today?  Some are magneted on to the refrigerator, others
are elaborately embroidered, embellished, and mounted.  We use these things as
transient expressions of our identity, not as educational tools.  Even the kids
who decorate their note books with sayings would not dream of using one
as a springboard for an essay.  Perhaps such writing went out with McGuffy's
Reader, Poor Richard, and school prayer.  Unlike other cultures, only
children's books present pages as beautiful and thought-provoking as the words
written on them.  And when we write as academics, it is usually in
the scientific manner, often ornamented with required though poorly understood
statistical blibber-blabber or in a terse, stripped down, boring, techinical
mode.  What I love about these things we write in this forum is the passion, the
clarity, the immediacy, the risk we take to help each anonymous other beyond
the screen.  How can we convey to our students the beauty and playfulness and
flexibility of language?  I believe the capacity for language aquisition is
is hardwired into the human brain and that as teachers one of our roles is to
encourage our students to open themselves to the language in which they are
immersed (and to the curious, friendly people who speak it) and we do this by
accepting their writing as a gift and a process - to enjoy, expand, and

Date:         Sun, 14 Mar 1993
Subject:      gate of all evil

In Spain, a similar message is the subject of a couple of proverbs:
En boca cerrada no entran moscas.  (lit.: into a closed mouth,
no flies will enter.)  &  Por la boca muere el pez.  (lit.: Through its
mouth the fish dies.)
It is not perhaps so existential as the mouth being th gate of all
evil, but it is pretty close.
Betsy Rodriguez-Bachiller

Date:         Fri, 1 Oct 1993
From:         Priscilla Kanet 
Subject:      the nail that sticks up

Does anyone know another proverb somewhat equivalent to the nail that
sticks up gets hammered down? A Japanese one of course.  Also, adding to
my prior school info quest, I am very interested in the role of harmony
in Japan in general and specifically what role it plays in education.
Thanks again. Priscilla 

Date:         Sat, 2 Oct 1993
From:         Eileen Prince 
Subject:      another proverb

Priscilla Kanet asks for a proverb equivalent to the Japanese one about
the nail that sticks up getting hit.

I don't know any equivalents in English.  The one I always contrast it
with is
                The squeaky wheel gets the grease.


Eileen Prince
Date:         Wed, 6 Oct 1993
From:         Diana@TMU1.MCREST.EDU
Subject:      Re: the nail that sticks up

Here are a few my Japanese students gave me:

"Out of temper, out of money."
"The sun seeth all things and discovereth all things."
"Never trust the advice of a man in difficulty."

Diana Alm

Date:         Thu, 7 Oct 1993 11:54:00 -0400
From:         Ian Palmer 

One Japanese proverb that fascinated me was:

"If the father is a frog, the son will be a frog."

Date:         Thu, 26 May 94 10:16:16 EDT
From:         Robin Longshaw 

I am very fond of using proverbs in my classes, too. Here are some of my favori
tes, mostly learned from my mother and grandmother (yes, it's true that we end
up turning into them...)

A fool and his money are soon parted.
A nod's as good as a wink to a blind man. (e.g., it doesn't make any difference
 what you do -- they don't know!)
Every cloud has a sliver lining.
As you sow, so you shall reap.

If any more come to mind, I'll pass them along. An interesting note about those
 above -- I know that they all have comparable proverbs in Castillian Spanish,
as I discovered when I lived there. As they say in Spanish, "Mujer refranera, m
ujer pun^etera!" (Roughly translated this means that a woman who uses proverbs will give you a really hard time!


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