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!