10 Popular English Proverbs


You've probably heard a lot of proverbs in your time, and you might even use them yourself from time to time. But do you know what they actually mean?

In this post, we'll take a look at 10 of the most popular English proverbs and explain what they really mean. Read on to learn more!

What Are Proverbs?

Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that offer advice or wisdom on a particular topic. They're often handed down through the generations, and over time they can take on new meanings or be used in different contexts.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of proverbs in the English language. And while some of them might be familiar to you, others might be less so. That's why we're shedding some light on 10 of the most popular English proverbs.

"A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush"

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is a proverb that means you should take what you have, because it's better than taking a risk on getting something better. In other words, it's usually smarter to stick with what you know than to gamble on something new.

This proverb is often used when someone is considering making a risky decision. For example, if someone is thinking about quitting their job to start their own business, their friends and family might tell them that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." This means that they should weigh the risks and benefits of both choices and make a decision based on that information.

"It Takes Two to Tango"

You've probably heard the saying "it takes two to tango." What does it mean?

Well, put simply, it means that two people are needed for a situation to happen or for something to work. It takes two people to make a relationship work, for instance, and it takes two people to have a conversation.

In the context of proverbs, this phrase is often used to talk about relationships. But it can be used in other situations too. For example, if you're looking for a job, it'll take two people—you and the employer—to make the deal happen.

So what does this proverb mean for you? Well, it's a reminder that you can't do everything by yourself. You need other people to help you achieve your goals.

"When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going"

This proverb encourages us to push through when things get hard. It's a reminder that tough times don't last forever and that sometimes, the only way to overcome a challenge is by digging deep and pushing ourselves to the limit.

The saying has its origins in 1920s America, likely making its way into the English language around the same time as other popular American proverbs, including "When the Cat's Away, the Mice Play" and "A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush".

In any case, this proverb has remained popular because of its inspirational message and its ability to motivate people. When things are hard, it encourages us to keep going and reminds us of our resilience. It's a great phrase to remember if you're feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by a challenge; it can help you find strength within yourself when it seems like there is none.

"An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away"

The proverb “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is one that we’ve all heard time and time again. This phrase essentially means that if you incorporate healthy habits into your daily routine, you won’t need to visit the doctor as often.

The proverb encourages us to practice preventive health by eating nutritious foods, such as apples, which are a good source of fiber, vitamins A and C, and antioxidants. Apples can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, lower cholesterol levels, and promote heart health. Plus, they’re also a great alternative to sugary snacks!

The proverb is a reminder that sometimes the small efforts we make in our everyday lives can have a significant impact on our overall health and well-being. So if you want to stay healthy, don’t skip out on your apple each day!

"Practice Makes Perfect"

The proverb “practice makes perfect” is one you’ve likely heard many times over the years. It's a favorite at sports games, in practice rooms, and among students studying for an exam.

At its heart, this saying means that if we practice doing something regularly, our skill level will eventually exceed our current capabilities. This doesn't necessarily mean that perfection can be achieved—nobody's perfect!—but it does mean that our skills will improve with consistent effort and practice.

This proverb applies to any activity or field of expertise you pursue—language learning, playing a musical instrument, public speaking, etc. The key is to focus on consistent practice and be patient with yourself as you strive to make progress. With an attentive ear and steady practice, your abilities will slowly but surely grow over time.

"Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover"

The meaning of this proverb is pretty clear: don’t judge something or someone based solely on outward appearances. There could be more to the story—so don’t jump to conclusions without understanding the full context of a situation.

Remember that this proverb applies to you, too. Even if you don’t like the way someone looks or what they’re wearing, you should keep an open mind once you learn more about them. Everyone has something unique and interesting to offer—even if it doesn’t look that way from the outside.

This phrase also applies to books, of course. A boring cover doesn’t always mean a boring story. So if you find a book with an uninspiring cover but intriguing description—don’t judge it until you read it! This could be your next favorite novel waiting for you to discover its hidden treasures.

"You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too"

This proverb is trying to tell you that life is full of tradeoffs and if you want something, you have to give something else up in return. To put it more simply, it means that you can't have both—whatever decision you make will affect the outcome.

The phrase is used to remind people to think carefully before they make a choice that involves giving something up, because what seems like an attractive option right now might not be worth it in the long run. It's also a warning for people who want it all—you may want both the cake and the pleasure of eating it, but ultimately you'll end up with neither.

In essence, this proverb teaches us about self-control and how our decisions can impact our lives. The key message here is that if we make too many compromises, we may end up with nothing in the end. So next time you're presented with two options, take a moment to really think things through before making your decision.

"No Pain, No Gain"

The ninth proverb I'm going to discuss is "No Pain, No Gain". This phrase means that you can't achieve something without putting effort into it and suffering consequences. For example, if you want to have a successful career in the business world, you need to study hard, take risks, and make sacrifices in order to reach your goal.

This proverb comes from the Latin phrase "nil volentibus arduum est" which means "nothing is difficult for those who will". It is a reminder that although we face many obstacles in life, by pushing ourselves to work hard and stay motivated, we can overcome any challenge. Additionally, this phrase also reminds us that the rewards of our hard work are worth the effort.

"No Pain No Gain" applies to all aspects of life—be it physical training or achieving success in our professional lives. To put it simply—if you want something bad enough, be prepared to work hard for it!

"A Stitch in Time Saves Nine"

Have you ever heard the expression “A stitch in time saves nine”? It essentially means that if you take care of the problem now, you’ll save yourself from a lot of trouble later on.

We’re all human and things slip our minds. But by taking some preventive measures and taking care of small tasks as soon as they come up, it could help us avoid bigger problems down the road. So if you want to avoid a lot of hassle in the future, it’s wise to take some time to pay attention to detail now and be sure any small projects are taken care of quickly.

The same philosophy can be used for bigger problems as well. Whether it be maintaining or inspecting equipment regularly or being proactive in your career, taking action sooner rather than later is a great way to avoid any hassles in the future. So remember: “a stitch in time saves nine”!


So there you have it! The meaning behind 10 popular English proverbs. Did any of them surprise you?

Proverbs are a great way to add some personality to your writing, and understanding their meaning can help you use them more effectively. If you want to learn more, check out our list of 100 popular English proverbs.

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