Proverbs in the English language

Why do we use proverbs in the English language?

The use of proverbs in the English language is still important even in today’s modern world, why is that though? How do they help you improve your English language skills?

Here are a few different ways proverbs are used:

  • Impart knowledge
    ‘Knowledge is power’ – this signifies that knowledge is a true and strong power which always remains with the person in all good and bad times
  • To console or inspire others
    ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow’
  • Teach or reinforce morals
    ‘No strength within, no respect without’
  • Offer advice
    ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’
  • Aid in understanding
  • Make an argument
  • Relieve interpersonal tensions

But why are they particularly important for English learners?

Students can learn the following from proverbs:

  • Alliteration – the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words, e.g. ‘tasty tacos’, ‘Janie read a book by the babbling brook’
  • Poetic meaning
  • Sometimes rhyme
  • Assonance – resemblance of sound between syllables of nearby words, from the rhyming of vowels but not consonants, e.g. ‘chips and dips’, ‘surf and turf’, ‘no pain, no gain’
  • Brevity in writing and speech
  • Other literary techniques that enhance oral and written literacy

Five common proverbs

Proverb: Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Meaning: You feel more affection for those you love when parted from them
Example: ‘The couple reunited after almost a year and understood that the absence had made their hearts grow fonder.’

Proverb: Actions speak louder than words
Meaning: What you do is more important than what you say
‘He keeps saying he loves me but actions speak louder than words.’

Proverb: All good things must come to an end
Meaning: Said when you accept that even enjoyable experiences cannot last forever
‘It’s been a fantastic couple of weeks but all good things must come to an end.’

Proverb: A picture paints a thousand words
Meaning: It is often easier to show something in a picture than to describe it in words
‘Wow, this photograph really is amazing. A picture paints a thousand words!’

Proverb: Beggars can’t be choosers
Meaning: People with no other options must be content with what is offered
‘I would have preferred a house of my own rather than sharing, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.’

Using proverbs in the English language can really take your English to the next level. Try adding them to your everyday speech and see what reaction you get. Recently Jon did a podcast episode with Ben (from To The Point English) on proverbs to motivate English learners, you can find it here: