No smoke without fire: proverbs in English (3)

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by Liz Walter

I have recently written two posts about proverbs, but there are so many more incredibly useful and common ones, I decided to write one more! It is difficult to choose from a long list of lovely, colourful phrases, but I believe that every reasonably advanced learner of English needs to know the ones that follow.

To begin with, the proverb in the title (There’s) no smoke without fire’, means that if you hear something unpleasant about someone, it is probably at least partly true. Another very common proverb is ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth (UK)/soup (US)/stew(US)’. This means that if too many people become involved in trying to do something, it will go badly.

There are a few proverbs connected with doing things rather than thinking or talking about them. ‘Actions speak louder than words’ means that the things you do mean more than the things you say, while ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ means that it is not good enough to intend to do something good if you don’t actually do it. If you tell someone to ‘Strike while the iron is hot, you mean that they should act quickly to take advantage of an opportunity or a beneficial situation.

A proverb that seems particularly apt at the moment is ‘Every cloud (has a silver lining)’. This means there is always something good that comes from a bad situation (for example neighbours showing unusual kindness to one another during the coronavirus epidemic!).  Similarly comforting, if someone is missing a person who has gone away, we often say ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’, meaning that we like one another more when we are apart.

A couple of nice proverbs about similarity are ‘Birds of a feather (flock together)’ and ‘When in Rome (do as the Romans do)’. The first means that people usually choose others with similar personality traits as their friends and companions, and the second that you should follow the customs of a place that you are visiting, even if they seem strange to you.

We use the proverb ‘The grass is always greener (on the other side)’ to express the idea that we often believe other people’s situations are better than our own, when in reality they may not be. This phrase is often used as a rebuke to someone who expresses jealousy. Another typically judgmental proverb is ‘Empty vessels (make the most noise)’, which means that stupid people are more likely to speak a lot, whereas wise people are quiet until they have something worth saying.

Until I started writing about them, I really didn’t realise how deeply embedded in our language proverbs are. I hope you will find this a useful selection, though there are of course many, many more!

53 thoughts on “No smoke without fire: proverbs in English (3)

  1. Khalid Anis

    Respectable Madam,
    Liz Walter,
    Good Morning,
    Today I read your Post on ” No Smoke Without Fire: Proverbs In English (3).
    You have very nicely written this Post with 11 Proverbs in it. All the 11 Proverbs that you have selected for this Post are incredibly good & excellent.
    Proverb learning is very important because it saves time to express deep and vast thought in few golden words.
    I can say that it’s usage increases the weight of our thoughts in few words with vast empact on the listener and readers.
    I am highly obliged & thankful for your Post, because it has ample to learn from it.
    I can say that you are great teacher of English Language.
    Thanking you.
    High Regards To You.
    Yours Sincerely
    Khalid Anis.

      1. Liz Walter

        Maybe you can find an English speaking group in your area – online if not a group? I agree that it’s often difficult to find opportunities for speaking.

    1. Khalid Anis

      Respectable Madam,
      Liz Walter,
      Good Morning,
      I am highly obliged & thankful for the very nice & incredible Post that you have written this time on ” No Smoke Without Fire “.
      Many times I read your recent Post than after reading it, again I want to read it for one more time (other) time because I want to learn each & every word of your Post because each & every Proverb of your Post so insredible & lovely that it’s difficult to express in words.
      Respectable Madam, you said very nice & correct thing in your Post that English Language Is Embedded With Great Marvellous Beautiful Proverbs.
      Respectable Madam, very true you are. I request you to write one more Post on Proverbs because you know ample to tell us more on Proverbs.
      All the 11 Proverbs that you have given in this Post are excellent & great.
      So nice of you & so kind of you.
      Thanking you for Teaching us good & nice English to make us good learned & decent people.
      Because I guess the strongest & most Important pillar towards the enlightenment of tomorrow of every individual is education.
      Thanking you,
      High Regards To You.
      Your Sincerely
      Khalid Anis.

  2. Daniel Ramirez

    I am from Colombia, I live in the Capital of it right now, I speak Spanish, English, and French, I am working for a Call Center as a bilingual Agent and I always read your posts and articles, I love them a lot that I am looking forward to the next one because at the long-term something sticks on my head and makes me using it in my calls in real situations. Thanks.

      1. Sonal Nagarji

        Thank you mam sharing
        Your precious knowledge
        With us these are very short and
        Usefull proverbs stay home and safe 🙏

  3. Stanislav

    ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth (UK)/soup (US)/stew(US)’ – in Russia, there is a similar proverb – seven nannies have a child unattended.

    Thanks for your post.

  4. Dear Walter,

    Thanks for the post. Hope there are a great many more posts to come on this subject. Proverbs, sayings and idioms are a fascinating part of the English language, any language for that matter, of course. Do write more on this area with varieties of selection, particularly those that are not part of the Cambridge online dictionary but very much part of the informal everyday language.


    1. Great!!! It’s a good reminder and you deserve a pat on your shoulders for this lovely initiative of bringing proverbs in and making then relevant!! good for teaching the next gen! Thank you Walter!

  5. ambermichelleanderson05

    I love everything literacy!!! Hence, why I just started my literacy blog and your post was so fun to read!!! Thank you Liz!!!! <3

  6. Adeshina J.

    This is another wonderful submission from you. The proverb ‘ There is no smoke without fire’, I think, it can equally go along with ‘ If it ain’t chicken it’s feather’.

  7. Khalid Anis

    Respectable Madam,
    Liz Walter,
    With due respect I would like to know that in some of the proverbs half part of it at the end is within parenthesis.

    What is the reason for keeping half part of some of the Proverb in parenthesis?

    Thanking you for the help and support in learning.

    High Regards To You.

    Yours Sincerely

    Khalid Anis.

    1. Liz Walter

      Hi Khalid – as I’ve explained in the posts, we often say only the first part of the phrase. This is because the phrases are so well known, the listener knows what the second part is, so we don’t need to say it.

      1. Khalid Anis

        Respectable Madam,
        Liz Walter,
        Good Morning,
        I am sorry Respectable Madam, since I was forgotten what you have said in the very beginning that some of the Proverbs Phrases are so well-known & famous that there isn’t any necessity of saying it’s second part.
        Very True, Respectable Madam.
        Now, it’s absolutely clear & I understood well.
        Respectable Madam, Thanks for your support & help in learning. I am highly obliged & grateful for your support & help in learning.
        Thanking you.
        High Regards to you.
        Yours Sincerely
        Khalid Anis.

  8. Mohammad Rubel

    Dear Mam,
    It’s my great pleasure to thank you for your such a wonderful presentation on proverbs that will make us more formal and effective in using language more colourfully.

    1. Liz Walter

      Which ones did you have in mind? Some of them include figurative language, but I’d say they are definitely all proverbs.

      1. Denis

        I’m inclined to believe that there’s a very subtle difference between proverbs and idioms. As a matter of fact, all sayings in the article have been recognized as idioms by the Cambridge Dictionary. Moreover, it’s fair to assume that all proverbs are idioms in some way, but not all idioms are actually proverbs. Anyway, if you, for example, find the saying ‘There’s no smoke without fire’ in the Cambridge Dictionary and click on ‘See more results’ in the section ‘Thesaurus: synonyms and related words’, you’ll see this proverb, among other words & expressions, and the word ‘idiom’ right next to it. And that’s true about the other proverbs mentioned in the article.

        Meanwhile, I’d like to make my contribution to this wonderful piece of writing by adding a couple more proverbs that this dictionary is lacking:
        The proverb ‘If you’re born to be hanged, then you’ll never be drowned’ means if someone is destined to die in a particular way, no other type of injury or disaster will kill them.
        Another one is ‘Love makes the world go round’, & it’s not difficult to guess its meaning, I suppose. 🙂

  9. Emily

    A more rounded article would have been to give an idea of their provenance and root them in our language historically. Simply listing a few proverbs in an article leaves us all none the wiser: you may as well have just bullet pointed them and listed them alphabetically: no real information here for the reader: a non- informative article.

    1. Liz Walter

      Hi Emily. These posts are intended for learners of English, to provide useful language that can be incorporated in their own speech and writing. I fully accept that a native speaker of English may not learn much from them.

    2. Denis

      I beg to differ. The article is informative indeed. However, it is not an essay on the history of proverbs, it’s just a short, concise article for English learners. And that is blindingly obvious.

  10. I really like this explanation of proverbs. I like to add one. Experience is directly proportional to the amount of equipment destroyed. Meaning – If you break something you should have learned something.

  11. Tomek

    In Poland we have a proverb that is similar to “too many cooks spoil the broth” – it is “Gdzie kuchark sześć, tam nie ma co jeść” which could be translated as “Where the six cooks are, there is nothing to eat”. We also have a proverb “nie ma dymu bez ognia” which is a literal translation of “no smoke without fire”, but we use it more generally, to say that every effect has its cause.

  12. Sham kumar

    Good Morning
    Madame Liz walter

    Your explanation is simple and easy to understand. I like your style of writing

    Thank You very much Madame
    Sham kumar

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