What proverbs do I need to know?

Do you know what proverbs are?

They’re fixed phrases that give lessons on how to live.  They are often based on traditional ideas or experience.  Proverbs are used in many situations, especially to give advice or comment on people’s behavior.

But proverbs (like idioms) can be difficult for learners because their meanings are not always clear (eg. metaphorical), or they may have a cultural meaning.  Here are ten common ones that are useful for learners to know:

Don’t cry over spilt milk
Don’t be upset over a problem that cannot be fixed or something that happened in the past and cannot be changed  eg. Calm down, you’re just crying over spilt milk. We already submitted the report, so we can’t fix it now.

Let sleeping dogs lie
Leave something alone to avoid making it worse (even if it is not perfect). Your actions may make it worse  eg. Oh, don’t mention that fight they had months ago—let sleeping dogs lie!

Bite off more than you can chew
Take more responsibility than you can handle and making problems for yourself  eg. I bit off more than I could chew when I said yes to my manager for another project. I just didn’t have time.

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Don’t judge a book by its cover
Don’t decide what someone is like (ie. their personality) by how they look (ie. their appearance)  eg. Racism is still a problem in today’s society, and it will continue until we learn not to judge a book by its cover.

Strike while the iron is hot
Take your opportunities when you get them. They may disappear quickly  eg. I took too much time thinking about the job offer. Now it has been given someone else. I should have struck while the iron was hot.

Look before you leap
Take your time to decide things carefully and consider the risks.  If you rush to do them, you may have problems later  eg. If you lie to your boss now, what do you think will happen if she finds out about it? I mean, look before you leap!

Birds of a feather flock together
People with the same interests, background or culture often group together  eg. The lawyers at the seminar were like birds of a feather flocking together. They have not even spoken to anyone outside their group.

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Every cloud has a silver lining
There is always something positive you can get from a bad experience  eg. I know your business has had some problems this month. But remember, every cloud has a silver lining.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Don’t just plan for only one thing in the future because it might not work.  Reduce the risk by also making other plans, so you have options  eg. I know you really want to be an actor, but you should also plan for other another career, just in case. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Make hay while the sun shines
Make the most of good conditions while you have them, especially regarding work or earning money  eg. We finally have the all the managers here today, so let’s make hay while the sun shines and get this thing done.

Related links
Idiom and phrase list gallery

Useful phrases for talking about money