A stitch in time, saves nine. Have you ever heard this advice in the context of asking you to act in time to avoid issues later? Or have you ever been told not to judge a book by its cover, warning you that appearances may be deceptive? These pieces of advice came to you by way of commonly used English proverbs.

The dictionary defines a proverb as “a short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice.” These are brief, memorable sayings that tend to stay with you. In fact, you can look at them as shared lessons of life that find a connection across cultures and generations. They have a way of tapping into the human experience at large.

Is there a difference between proverbs and idioms?

Simply put, an idiom is a commonly used phrase that has a specific meaning that may not be understood from the meaning of its individual words. Let us take the idiom “ to rub someone the wrong way”, which means to annoy someone. The meaning of this idiom will not be clear from its constituent words and you are likely to understand the meaning if you have heard the idiom before.

A proverb, on the other hand, as we discussed earlier, refers to a short and popular saying that offers well meaning advice. In terms of the literal meaning of a proverb, it is far clearer than an idiom, although the intended meanings of several proverbs may not be their literal meanings. Let us try to understand it with an example- in the proverb “Do not cry over spilt milk”, the actual reference isn’t to milk at all. However by making a reference to “ spilt milk”, a reference is being made to something gone wrong, as it were.

That said, let us look at some popular English proverbs, their meanings and usage:

1. Strike while the iron is hot

This proverb is a reminder to take advantage of a favorable situation. Essentially, the advice is to do something while the time is ripe.

2. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

This is an expression to say that distance can often change hearts. So, while you may get into conflicts with people when they are close to you, physical distance may lead to hearts warming up to each other.

3. A Bird in Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

While we often pine for things that we do not have, this proverb reminds us that what we have is far more valuable than what we hope to get.

4. Grass is greener on the other side

Each time that we compare our life situation with that of others and feel that we have been meted out a raw deal as opposed to others, this voice reminds us that the grass is always greener on the other side. What it means is that we tend to look at others and feel that their situations are better, but it need not necessarily be the case.

5. Rome wasn’t built in a day

An important advice for life is that it takes effort and perseverance to be able to achieve something and that there is nothing called overnight success. This proverb is just what you need to hear when you want to achieve quick success.

6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

This proverb helps you in times when you are taking on a lot of work that is far more than you can handle.

7. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill

In times where you tend to overreact and blow a small issue out of proportion, comes this reminder not to exaggerate a small problem and make it bigger than it is.

8. Where there is a will, there is a way

This proverb emphasizes the importance of strong willpower that allows you to take on seemingly impossible tasks.

9. A rolling stone gathers no moss

This proverb is used to imply that unless you spend some time doing a certain work, you will not be successful. The implication is that if someone just keeps moving from one thing to another, he is not likely to gain any expertise.

10. When in Rome, do as the Romans do

This proverb is a reminder to follow the local customs of the palace where you happen to be. By implication it also means to adapt to places and circumstances.

11. Birds of a feather flock together

This proverb implies that people with similar interests etc tend to be friendly with each other.

12. Those in glass houses ought not to throw stones at others

Essentially, it means that you cannot accuse someone of something that you are guilty of.

13. Learn to walk before you run

This is a reminder to learn basic skills before you attempt to do something difficult.

14. The early bird catches the worm

Essentially, this proverb reminds you that it is important to be early and punctual. It is then that you have greater chances of succeeding.

15. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder

This proverb implies that everybody sees beauty differently and that what may be ugly to one may be beautiful to another. Essentially, you see things not as they are but as you are.

To Sum Up

The pithy life lessons by way of these proverbs and many more contain a wealth of wisdom that one can tap into in various life situations. They act as reminders to us in various life circumstances and enable us to make effective decisions. Look at the proverbs as life lessons of generations passed down to us. Now, what can be more precious than that? That they help you in effective communication is an added perk!

Do keep logging in to the Pragyanam blog for many such nuggets of information and wisdom. You could also share your favorite proverb and how it has come to your help in the comments section.

At Pragyanam, one of the best CBSE schools in Gurgaon, we make great efforts to teach a life skills-based curriculum that prepares students for the ups and downs of life. Here’s to raising a resilient generation!

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April 2024