A proverb is a simple and concrete sayingwhich is popularly known and repeated. Proverbs are often borrowed from similar languages and cultures, and sometimes come down to the present through more than one language.[1] Proverbs are brief and condensed in the form and rich in the meaning. A proverb is used to enlighten or persuade people. They are usually metaphorical and often, for the sake of memorability, rhyming.[3]

Wolfgang Mieder, a famous American scholar on proverbs,see more about him on
He has written or edited over 50 books on the subject, edits the journal Proverbium (journal). He has written innumerable articles on proverbs, and is very widely cited by other proverb scholars. Mieder defines the term proverb as follows:[1]

A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation.

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


  • Characteristics of English proverbs
  • Sources of English proverbs
  • English Proverb Backgrounds
  • Translation methods of English proverbs
  • Reference
  • External links of English proverbs

1.Characteristics of English proverbs

English proverbs have the same characteristics like the other nations' proverbs. They are produced orally by farmers, hunters, workers, sailors, housewives, etc, so they conclude British people's experience of fighting with the society and nature, and have the function of teaching, enlightening, and persuading people. English proverbs possess the following characteristics.[2]

Eloquence characteristics[2]

1.1 Oral and concise words

We all know that English proverbs are produced by British workink people orally, so the words of English proverbs are very concise and oral.
For example:
Well begun is half done.
Waste not, want not.

1.2 Syntax structure and rhythm

When we read proverbs, we will find that the syntax structure of English proverbs is compact and symmetrical; and the rhythm is gentle and united.
For example:
A penny saved is a penny earned

1.3 Deep thought and moral

Like other proverbs, English proverbs imply deep thought and moral. They usually express people's noble thought, and they can teach, encourage, enlighten and persuade people, like people's good friends and motto.
For example,
1. Fish and guests smell in three day.
2. A wise man thinks all that he says; a fool says that entire he thinks.

1.4 Bright ethnic and geographical characteristics
English proverbs are based English cultural backgrounds. When we read English proverbs, we cannot stop to imagine the English history, geography, customs, politics, economy, etc. Obviously, English proverbs have bright ethnic and geographical characteristics.

For example:

1. Talk of the devil and he is sure to appear.
(Said Cao Cao, Cao Cao to.)(In Chinese)
2. Two heads are better than one.
( Three cobbler top of a Zhuge Liang.)(In Chinese)

2. Sources of English Proverbs

Proverbs come from a variety of souces. Some are, indeed, the result of people pondering, such as some by Plato, etc. Others are taken from pop cultures such as songs, commercials, advertisements, movies, literature, etc. A number of the well known sayings of Jesus, Shakespeare, and others have become proverbs, though they were original at the time of their creation. Many proverbs are also based on stories, often the end of a story. For example, "Who will hang the bell on the cat?" is the end of a story about the mice planning how to be safe from the cat.[1] Some are come from literature, such as Bible and poems. For example, Curiosity kills the cat, comes from a poem written by Thomas Gray.

see some uncommon sources of English provers on

3 .English Proverb Backgrounds

Every nation has its own traditional culture, in which its own traditional customs, are different from others. These differences reflect the bright national feeling and characteristics. For example, the English proverbs are greatly influenced by Christianity and the Bible and Greek mythology.
Britain is a nation which is influenced deeply by Christianity. There are many English proverbs referring to God, heaven, devil, hell, etc.[2] For example,
1. Go through hell and high water.
2. God helps those who help themselves.
We all know that Bible is a book referring to Christianity, and it is also an essential book in every English family. Even though in a small poor village, you will find that there is a Bible in every farmer's austere house. Obviously, Bible has controlled English people's spirit and every aspect of their life, which has been reflected in many English proverbs.[2]
1. Spare the rid and spoil the child.
2. Beard the lion in his den.
3. Judge not according to appearance.

4. Translation methods of English proverbs

When we translate proverbs, we should first deal with the discrepancy between language and culture. We should not only translate the proverb's connotation, form and eloquence, but also the ethnic and local characteristics. Only in this way, can we translate the proverbs exactly and accurately.
There are mainly four methods in translating English proverbs[2]
1. Literal translation
2 .Free translation
3.Substitution translation
4.Combination of literal and free translation

see comparison between English and Chinese proverbs



6. External Links

see English proverbs humor

see English proverbs list

see detailed analysis of English Proverbs