Proverb - bigger fish

100 common English proverbs

Below are 100 English proverbs.  They are common enough that I have, at some point, said them in a real context.

Without going overboard, English proverbs are a useful tool for the occasional EFL lesson.  English learners like to know that they are learning real language and real expressions, and to know new things that native speakers know.  The meaning of many is intuitive but some will need explaining – the process of discuss them will bring in new situations and new vocabulary.  I recommend that you start by asking them to discuss what they think each one means with each other, then to explain it to the class, as which point you can complete the explanation, along with any new vocab that has cropped up in the discussion.

A fun followup activity, usually interesting for the whole class, is to ask them for any proverbs from their own countries that have the same meaning – some can, to an English native speaker at least, be quite amusing.

  1. An empty vessel makes the most noise
  2. He who pays the piper calls the tune
  3. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
  4. Rats desert a sinking ship
  5. Measure twice, cut once
  6. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  7. The proof of the pudding is in the eating
  8. A bad workman blames his tools.
  9. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
  10. Man cannot live by bread alone
  11. Where there’s a will there’s a way
  12. Don’t hide your light under a bushel
  13. You reap what you sow
  14. All good things come to an end
  15. When the cat is away the mice will play
  16. A stitch in time saves nine.
  17. Kill not the goose that laid the golden egg
  18. A problem shared is a problem halved.
  19. Kill two birds with one stone
  20. Don’t cry over spilled milk
  21. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink
  22. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know
  23. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me
  24. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  25. All is fair in love and war.
  26. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
  27. A lender nor borrower be.
  28. Strike while the iron is hot
  29. Birds of a feather flock together
  30. When the going gets tough, the tough get going
  31. Robbing Peter to pay Paul
  32. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone
  33. A bird in hand is worth two in a bush.
  34. Dead men tell no lies.
  35. The early bird catches the worm.
  36. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  37. Don’t put the cart before the horse
  38. It’s no use locking the stable door after the horse has bolted
  39. All’s well that ends well.
  40. Actions speak louder than words
  41. It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all
  42. A rotten apple spoils the barrel.
  43. The best things in life are free.
  44. Curiosity killed the cat
  45. A leopard cannot change its spots
  46. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today
  47. The best laid schemes of mice and men often fail
  48. One good turn deserves another
  49. Cut your coat according to your cloth
  50. All that glitters is not gold.
    A bird in the hand
    English proverb: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  51. The calm comes before the storm
  52. Absence makes the heart grow fonder
  53. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  54. Love makes the world go round
  55. Many hands make light work
  56. Better late than never
  57. A penny saved is a penny gained
  58. A rolling stone gathers no moss
  59. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime
  60. Variety is the spice of life
  61. Make hay while the sun shines
  62. Seek and ye shall find
  63. More haste, less speed.
  64. A picture can paints a thousand words.
  65. The devil makes work for idle hands.
  66. Every cloud has a silver lining
  67. More haste, less speed
  68. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
  69. Familiarity breeds contempt
  70. Prevention is better than cure
  71. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
  72. Don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs
  73. The bigger they are, the harder they fall
  74. You can’t make an omelette without breaking the eggs
  75. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet
  76. A change is as good as a rest.
  77. Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers
  78. Clothes don’t make the man.
  79. Look before you leap
  80. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
  81. A miss is as good as a mile
  82. No news is good news
  83. Good things come to those who wait.
  84. Every dog has its day
  85. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  86. Pride comes before a fall
  87. Discretion is the better part of valour
  88. Too many cooks spoil the broth
  89. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
  90. Patience is a virtue
  91. The pot should not call the kettle black
  92. Once bitten twice shy
  93. Necessity is the mother of invention
  94. Practice makes perfect
  95. Blood is thicker than water.
  96. Better safe than sorry.
  97. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones
  98. If the shoe fits, wear it
  99. Two wrongs do not make a right
  100. He laughs best who laughs last.