Learning a few English proverbs is a great way to improve your English skills. Much like idioms, a proverb is a wise (learned with age) saying about how to live your life, and a turn of phrase that people use in language frequently (often).

One thing that’s pretty interesting about English proverbs is that sometimes you’ll hear people say only half of the proverb. This is because they’re so common (used so often in daily language) that the other person will know exactly what you mean when you start to say them and can even finish the English proverb in their head without you having to say it!

If you want a quick way to improve your fluency and sound more like a native English speaker, check out these eight common English proverbs and their meanings below!

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

When you come across a challenge, when the going gets tough, do you give up on what you were doing, or do your stand up to the challenge and try to do better than ever before- the tough get going? If it’s the latter (the second choice), then this proverb applies to you!

Tough has two meanings in this English proverb. In the first case, tough means difficult or challenging. In the second case, the tough is used as a noun referring to people who are hard and ready to meet a challenge. The going means the normal life or the every day challenges.

The next time you find something challenging, work a bit harder and see how far it takes you.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth

Has anyone ever given you a gift or done you a favor and you weren’t sure why? Instead of accepting (taking) the gift, you may have started to question their motivations (reasons) or thought about what benefit the gift giving could have for them. In that case, you were looking a gift horse in the mouth.

This is one of those English proverbs that has two meanings. It is also trying to tell you is that when someone does something nice for you, you should accept it for what it is and not question (ask) the value (how much something is worth) of the gift- or literally, checking the age of the horse by inspecting its teeth.

Too many cooks spoil the broth

When I was applying for college, I kept this phrase in mind when asking for edits (corrections) and opinions on my application essays. If too many people give their opinions, it can ruin (destroy) the result. Sometimes the essay doesn’t sound anymore like you or your voice, and you could lose track of what you were originally trying to say.

My advice? Ask for two or three opinions and keep it simple. Or try out one of our qualified proofreaders if you need help with your essay, application letter, or other writing!

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

Friends and family may come to you for advice now and then, and while you will try to give them the best advice you can, they may not always listen to your advice and do what you suggest. That’s exactly what this proverb is saying.

Sometimes you can help a person only so far, but they have to make the last steps to help themselves.

Give the best help and advice you can to your friends, but if they don’t (or can’t) listen to you, that’s ok, too.

When in Rome, do as the Romans

Have you ever felt slightly out of place in a situation or especially when you’re traveling? Then take the advice from one of our most-loved English proverbs!

If you’re in a country or town where people do things a bit differently, do as they do! If you are in a new situation and you don’t know what to do, follow the lead of the others. You’ll fit in (feel comfortable, blend in) faster, feel more at home, and maybe even make new friends.

We use this English proverb when we are doing something outside of what is normal for us. You’ve probably heard the first half of this proverb, “When in Rome…!” It only means that you are going with the flow (trying to fit in with everyone else).

The early bird catches the worm

Ask an English speaker what the key to success is, and they very well may come back with this phrase!

If you want to succeed, start towards your goal as soon as you can- not only early in the morning, but also as soon as possible. Then you’ll have more time to work towards your goal and achieve your goal! (So if you’ve been looking to start English lessons, now is the perfect opportunity.)

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

This may be the only time an English teacher will tell you it’s ok to use the word “ain’t,” so take full advantage of it.

If something is running smoothly on its own, whether it be a relationship or a car, don’t mess with (try to adjust, change) it. There’s no need to fix what is already working so don’t make any changes! Leave it like it is and enjoy!

You can’t judge a book by its cover

Unfortunately, this is something I do all the time (but only in bookstores).

What this English proverb means is that you can’t really know someone until you take the time and effort to get to know them. You can’t judge them by how they look initially. Take your time in getting to know people. You never know what may happen!

Have you heard any of these English proverbs before? Do you have similar proverbs in your language? Share them with us in the comments below!

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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English7 Synonyms for Being Drunk7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, yoga instructor, and would never question your motives if you gave her a gift! :) 

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