Nothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language, and the element of language that best encapsulates a society's values and beliefs is its proverbs.

The graphic to the right shows the words that are used in English proverbs, with the size of each word indicating how often it occurs (click for a bigger image). It's interesting to note that the two most common words in English proverbs are 'good' and 'never'. A bit of armchair psychology leads to the conclusion that, if proverbs really do reflect belief, then the English are (or at least were when these proverbs were coined) inclined to be virtuous but negative - not so far from the truth perhaps?

Proverbs are short and pithy sayings that express some traditionally held truth. They are usually metaphorical and often, for the sake of memorability, alliterative.

A list of most of the commonly-used proverbs in the English language, with links to the meaning and origin of many of them.

Many proverbs have been absorbed into English having been known earlier in other languages. The list here is specifically of English proverbs and the dates given are those when the proverb first appeared in English.

A cat may look at a king

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

A change is as good as a rest

A dog is a man's best friend

A drowning man will clutch at a straw

A fish always rots from the head down

A fool and his money are soon parted

A friend in need is a friend indeed

A golden key can open any door

A good beginning makes a good ending

A good man is hard to find

A house divided against itself cannot stand

A house is not a home

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

A leopard cannot change its spots

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

A little learning is a dangerous thing

A little of what you fancy does you good

A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client

A miss is as good as a mile

A new broom sweeps clean

A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse

A penny saved is a penny earned

A person is known by the company he keeps

A picture paints a thousand words

A place for everything and everything in its place

A poor workman always blames his tools

A problem shared is a problem halved

A prophet is not recognized in his own land

A rising tide lifts all boats

A rolling stone gathers no moss

A soft answer turneth away wrath

A stitch in time saves nine

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

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

A trouble shared is a trouble halved

A volunteer is worth twenty pressed men

A watched pot never boils

A woman's place is in the home

A woman's work is never done

A word to the wise is enough

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Accidents will happen (in the best-regulated families).

Actions speak louder than words

Adversity makes strange bedfellows

After a storm comes a calm

All good things come to he who waits

All good things must come to an end

All is grist that comes to the mill

All publicity is good publicity

All roads lead to Rome

All that glisters is not gold

All that glitters is not gold

All the world loves a lover

All things come to those who wait

All things must pass

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

All you need is love

All's fair in love and war

All's for the best in the best of all possible worlds

All's well that ends well

A miss is as good as a mile

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

An army marches on its stomach

An Englishman's home is his castle

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Another day, another dollar

Any port in a storm

April showers bring forth May flowers

As thick as thieves

As you make your bed, so you must lie upon it

As you sow so shall you reap

Ask a silly question and you'll get a silly answer

Ask no questions and hear no lies

Attack is the best form of defence

Bad money drives out good

Bad news travels fast

Barking dogs seldom bite

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Beauty is only skin deep

Beggars should not be choosers

Behind every great man there's a great woman

Better late than never

Better safe than sorry

Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't

Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool that to speak and remove all doubt

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Beware the Ides of March

Big fish eat little fish

Birds of a feather flock together

Blood is thicker than water

Boys will be boys

Brevity is the soul of wit

Business before pleasure

Caesar's wife must be above suspicion

Carpe diem (Pluck the day; Seize the day)

Charity begins at home

Cheats never prosper

Children should be seen and not heard

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Clothes make the man

Cold hands, warm heart

Comparisons are odious

Count your blessings

Cowards may die many times before their death

Crime doesn't pay

Cut your coat to suit your cloth

Dead men tell no tales

Devil take the hindmost

Discretion is the better part of valour

Distance lends enchantment to the view

Do as I say, not as I do

Do as you would be done by

Do unto others as you would have them do to you

Don't bite the hand that feeds you

Don't burn your bridges behind you

Don't cast your pearls before swine

Don't change horses in midstream

Don't count your chickens before they are hatched

Don't cross the bridge till you come to it

Don't cut off your nose to spite your face

Don't keep a dog and bark yourself

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth

Don't meet troubles half-way

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Don't put the cart before the horse

Don't put new wine into old bottles

Don't rock the boat

Don't spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar

Don't throw pearls to swine

Don't teach your Grandma to suck eggs

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water

Don't try to walk before you can crawl

Don't upset the apple-cart

Don't wash your dirty linen in public

Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise

East is east, and west is west

East, west, home's best

Easy come, easy go

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die

Empty vessels make the most noise

Enough is as good as a feast

Enough is enough

Even a worm will turn

Every cloud has a silver lining

Every dog has its day

Every Jack has his Jill

Every little helps

Every man for himself, and the Devil take the hindmost

Every man has his price

Every picture tells a story

Every stick has two ends

Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die

Everything comes to him who waits

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Faint heart never won fair lady

Fair exchange is no robbery

Faith will move mountains

Familiarity breeds contempt

Feed a cold and starve a fever

Fight fire with fire

Finders keepers, losers weepers

Fine words butter no parsnips

First come, first served

First impressions are the most lasting

First things first

Fish always stink from the head down

Fish and guests smell after three days

Flattery will get you nowhere

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the man was lost

Forewarned is forearmed

Forgive and forget

Fortune favours the brave

From the sublime to the ridiculous is only one step

Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration

Give a dog a bad name and hang him

Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day...

Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself

Give credit where credit is due

God helps those who help themselves

Good fences make good neighbours

Good talk saves the food

Good things come to those who wait

Great minds think alike

Half a loaf is better than no bread

Handsome is as handsome does

Hard cases make bad law

Hard work never did anyone any harm

Haste makes waste

He that goes a-borrowing, goes a-sorrowing

He who can does, he who cannot, teaches

He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day

He who hesitates is lost

He who laughs last laughs longest

He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword

He who pays the piper calls the tune

He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty

History repeats itself

Home is where the heart is

Honesty is the best policy

Hope springs eternal

Horses for courses

If anything can go wrong, it will

If a job is worth doing it is worth doing well

If at first you don't succeed try, try and try again

If God had meant us to fly he'd have given us wings

If ifs and ands were pots and pans there'd be no work for tinkers

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

If life deals you lemons, make lemonade

If the cap fits, wear it

If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain

If the shoe fits, wear it

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

If you can't be good, be careful

If you can't beat em, join em

If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys

If you want a thing done well, do it yourself

Ignorance is bliss

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

In for a penny, in for a pound

In the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king

In the midst of life we are in death

Into every life a little rain must fall

It ain't over till the fat lady sings

It goes without saying

It is best to be on the safe side

It is better to give than to receive

It is easy to be wise after the event

It never rains but it pours

It takes a thief to catch a thief

It takes all sorts to make a world

It takes one to know one

It takes two to tango

It's all grist to the mill

It's an ill wind that blows no one any good

It's better to give than to receive

It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all

It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness

It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive

It's never too late

It's no use crying over spilt milk

It's no use locking the stable door after the horse has bolted

It's the early bird that catches the worm

It's the empty can that makes the most noise

It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease

Jack of all trades, master of none

Judge not, that ye be not judged

Keep your chin up

Keep your powder dry

Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone

Laughter is the best medicine

Least said, soonest mended

Less is more

Let bygones be bygones

Let not the sun go down on your wrath

Let sleeping dogs lie

Let the buyer beware

Let the dead bury the dead

Let the punishment fit the crime

Let well alone

Life begins at forty

Life is just a bowl of cherries

Life is what you make it

Life's not all beer and skittles

Lightning never strikes twice in the same place

Like father, like son

Little pitchers have big ears

Little strokes fell great oaks

Little things please little minds

Live for today for tomorrow never comes

Look before you leap

Love is blind

Love makes the world go round

Love thy neighbour as thyself

Love will find a way

Make hay while the sun shines

Make love not war

Man does not live by bread alone

Manners maketh man

Many a little makes a mickle

Many a mickle makes a muckle

Many a true word is spoken in jest

Many hands make light work

March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb

March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers

Marriages are made in heaven

Marry in haste, repent at leisure

Might is right

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Misery loves company

Moderation in all things

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for its living,
And a child that's born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

Money doesn't grow on trees

Money is the root of all evil

Money isn't everything

Money makes the world go round

Money talks

More haste, less speed

Music has charms to soothe the savage breast

Nature abhors a vacuum

Necessity is the mother of invention

Needs must when the devil drives

Ne'er cast a clout till May be out

Never give a sucker an even break

Never go to bed on an argument

Never judge a book by its cover

Never let the sun go down on your anger

Never look a gift horse in the mouth

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today

Never speak ill of the dead

Never tell tales out of school

Nine tailors make a man

No man can serve two masters

No man is an island

No names, no pack-drill

No news is good news

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

No pain, no gain

No rest for the wicked

Nothing is certain but death and taxes

Nothing succeeds like success

Nothing venture, nothing gain

Oil and water don't mix

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away

Once a thief, always a thief

Once bitten, twice shy

One good turn deserves another

One half of the world does not know how the other half lives

One hand washes the other

One man's meat is another man's poison

One might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb

One law for the rich and another for the poor

One swallow does not make a summer

One volunteer is worth ten pressed men

One year's seeding makes seven years weeding

Only fools and horses work

Opportunity never knocks twice at any man's door

Out of sight, out of mind

Parsley seed goes nine times to the Devil

Patience is a virtue

Pearls of wisdom

Penny wise and pound foolish

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

Physician, heal thyself

Possession is nine points of the law

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

Practice makes perfect

Practice what you preach

Prevention is better than cure

Pride goes before a fall

Procrastination is the thief of time

Put your best foot forward

Rain before seven, fine before eleven

Red sky at night shepherd's delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Revenge is sweet

Rob Peter to pay Paul

Rome wasn't built in a day

See a pin and pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck; see a pin and let it lie, bad luck you'll have all day

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Seeing is believing

Seek and ye shall find

Set a thief to catch a thief

Share and share alike

Shrouds have no pockets

Silence is golden

Slow but sure

Softly, softly, catchee monkey

Spare the rod and spoil the child

Speak as you find

Speak softly and carry a big stick

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me

Still waters run deep

Strike while the iron is hot

Stupid is as stupid does

Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan

Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves

Talk is cheap

Talk of the Devil, and he is bound to appear

Tell the truth and shame the Devil

That which does not kill us makes us stronger

The age of miracles is past

The apple never falls far from the tree

The best defence is a good offence

The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley

The best things in life are free

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

The bottom line is the bottom line

The boy is father to the man

The bread always falls buttered side down

The child is the father of the man

The cobbler always wears the worst shoes

The course of true love never did run smooth

The customer is always right

The darkest hour is just before the dawn

The devil finds work for idle hands to do

The devil looks after his own

The early bird catches the worm

The end justifies the means

The exception which proves the rule

The female of the species is more deadly than the male

The fruit does not fall far from the tree

The good die young

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world

The husband is always the last to know

The labourer is worthy of his hire

The law is an ass

The leopard does not change his spots

The longest journey starts with a single step

The more the merrier

The more things change, the more they stay the same

The only good Indian is a dead Indian

The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings

The pen is mightier than sword

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

The shoemaker's son always goes barefoot

The squeaking wheel gets the grease

The truth will out

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach

There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream

There are none so blind as those, that will not see

There are two sides to every question

There but for the grace of God, go I

There's a time and a place for everything

There's an exception to every rule

There's always more fish in the sea

There's honour among thieves

There's many a good tune played on an old fiddle

There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip

There's more than one way to skin a cat

There's no accounting for tastes

There's no fool like an old fool

There's no place like home

There's no smoke without fire

There's no such thing as a free lunch

There's no such thing as bad publicity

There's no time like the present

There's none so blind as those who will not see

There's none so deaf as those who will not hear

There's nowt so queer as folk

There's one born every minute

There's safety in numbers

They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind

Third time lucky

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it

Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

Those who sleep with dogs will rise with fleas

Time and tide wait for no man

Time flies

Time is a great healer

Time is money

Time will tell

'tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all

To err is human; to forgive divine

To every thing there is a season

To the victor go the spoils

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive

Tomorrow is another day

Tomorrow never comes

Too many cooks spoil the broth

Truth is stranger than fiction

Truth will out

Two blacks don't make a white

Two heads are better than one

Two is company, but three's a crowd

Two wrongs don't make a right

Variety is the spice of life

Virtue is its own reward

Walls have ears

Walnuts and pears you plant for your heirs

Waste not want not

What can't be cured must be endured

What goes up must come down

What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

When the cat's away the mice will play

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

When the oak is before the ash, then you will only get a splash; when the ash is before the oak, then you may expect a soak

What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over

Where there's a will there's a way

Where there's muck there's brass

While there's life there's hope

Whom the Gods love die young

Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

Women and children first

Wonders will never cease

Work expands so as to fill the time available

Worrying never did anyone any good

You are never too old to learn

You are what you eat

You can have too much of a good thing

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink

You can't have your cake and eat it

You can't get blood out of a stone

You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear

You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs

You can't make bricks without straw

You can't run with the hare and hunt with the hounds

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

You can't judge a book by its cover

You can't win them all

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

You pays your money and you takes your choice

Youth is wasted on the young


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