A proverb in Latin term is known as proverbium. It is a phrase that provides simple and concrete advice based on common sense. Proverbs often provide message in a very obscure way and are present in the metaphorical form. It passes an allegorical form of the message and is popularly used in colloquial language. It might seem very odd, but proverbs are used commonly in the day to day language.

Proverbs originated from different cultures and various languages and may be used in reference in more than one language. It may be used at work, church, school, during conversations with other people and so on. There is also a Book of Proverbs in the Bible and is often cited as examples of proverbs. With different cultures, there are different problems.

Definitions of Proverbs

Many different definitions are given for proverbs. Proverbs fall into the class of formulaic language. In different cultures, there are wise sayings that provide advice or message or simply a commonly accepted truth which is remembered and passed on from generation to generation with little modification here and there. Sometimes the modification or changes are so much so that the actual meaning of the proverb is changed and becomes irrelevant.

Uses of Proverbs

Proverbs offer advice about the way to live a life and act in certain situations. It functions as folk wisdom, therefore it reflects the culture from where it is originated.

It is also used to support arguments in certain situations, offers lessons and instructions.

It also helps in emphasizing shared values of different cultures. For example penny wise, pound foolish is a proverb originated when America was a British Colony and at that time pound was used as a currency. Hawaiian cultures use proverbs related to the sea.

Proverbs also describe basic rule of conduct. Such proverbs are known as a maxim.

Most of the times proverbs use grammatical and rhetorical forms that make the proverbs memorable such as alliteration, parallel structure, rhyme, repetition of phrases or primary words, and strong imagery.

Definitions of Proverbs from different sources

It is a short and concise saying reflecting and emphasizing some common experience or stating some common fact.

It is known as a person or a thing illustrating certain characteristics in the form of saying.

It is also known as an admonition that provides guidance in a particular situation.

It also helps in describing or stating in the form of proverb

To make certain thing a proverb

How to use proverbs in English?

Many common proverbs are used in conversations all the time. Sometimes it is used as advice or other times as a warning. For example, we usually say: Look before you leap. Sometimes just a part of the proverb is also used like: You know the saying… when the going gets tough…..

It is used as good examples that can be memorized and applied for building good and strong sentences.

Function of Proverb in Society

Proverbs have various functions in the society.

It is used to educate and provide moral values to anyone including children.

It is used as an expert advice that is often used to provide suggestions.

It used as the tidbit of wisdom in the society. Almost every proverb is present for different situations present in the society.

English and American proverbs are like second nature when delivered. Although the expressions are popular but very little is known about the origins.

Structure of Proverb

There are generally five different structures in English

Parallel phrases- Garbage in, garbage out.

Negative, Imperative: Don’t beat a dead horse.

Positive, Imperative: Look before you leap.

Declarative – Birds of a feather flock together.

Rhetorical question – Is the Pope Catholic?

Proverbs & clichés

It is an opinion or phrase which is generally overused and indicates the lack of any original thought. Clichés are also metaphorical and originated from television, movies or even literature. The main difference between proverbs and clichés are that proverbs are originated from the folk tradition.

Examples of Proverbs

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • No man is an island.
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
  • Fortune favors the bold.
  • People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
  • Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
  • Birds of a feather flock together.
  • Better late than never.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • There’s no place like home.
  • Discretion is the greater part of valor.
  • The early bird catches the worm.
  • Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • You can’t always get what you want.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  • A watched pot never boils.
  • Beggars can’t be choosers.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  • Practice makes perfect.
  • Easy come, easy go.
  • If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
  • All good things must come to an end.
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  • There’s no time like the present.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Familiarity breeds contempt.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Good things come to those who wait.
  • Two heads are better than one.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
  • Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
  • It’s no use locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
  • Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.
  • 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.
  • ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
  • Haste makes waste
  • A stitch in time saves nine
  • Ignorance is bliss
  • Mustn’t cry over spilled milk.
  • You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
  • Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  • Fortune favours the bold
  • Well begun is half done.
  • A little learning is a dangerous thing
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • It ain’t over till the fat lady sings
  • It is better to be smarter than you appear than to appear smarter than you are.
  • Good things come to those who wait.
  • A poor workman blames his tools.
  • A dog is a man’s best friend.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away
  • If the shoe fits, wear it!
  • Honesty is the best policy
  • Slow and steady wins the race


The study of proverbs is termed as paremiology. It has a number of different uses in the study of topics such as philosophy, folklore, and linguistics. Many different types and styles of proverbs are studied and analyzed within Paremiology. Paremiology also includes the use and misuse of known expressions which does not belong to proverbs according to the proper definition of dictionary.