5 must-learn English proverbs and how to use them (part 2)

by learn a language journalist

This is part 2 of a series of posts on English proverbs. Click here for part 1.

English proverbs are powerful things. They can express 100 words, so they’re efficient. You can sound like an excellent English speaker when you use a proverb, so they’re impressive. And they are sometimes a little weird, so they’re fun.

Wait! What’s a proverb?

OK. A proverb is a sentence that you can use to give advice. They are usually (but not always) old and often create a strong image in your mind. Most languages have proverbs.

Here are five more common English proverbs you can use in different situations to sound like an excellent English speaker, make your English more efficient and connect with the person you’re speaking with.

English Proverb #6

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

When was the last time you felt particularly desperate? Perhaps you needed to go to a wedding, but you also had to work that day.

Perhaps you needed to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time.

Maybe you needed to get from one side of a massive city to the other in less than an hour. At rush hour. In the snow.

Sometimes we’re all faced with situations that seem impossible.

But if you really need to achieve the impossible, you can! (Remember, “impossible” actually says “I’m possible.”) That’s when you can use this proverb.

OK. So it means…?

It means: If you really want to do something, even if it seems impossible, you can do it if you try hard enough. (In this proverb, “will” is an old-fashioned way of saying “want.”)

Great. How can I use it?

OK. Here’s a neat trick that you can use with most English proverbs. Usually, the first half of the proverb is enough. The person who you’re talking to will understand what you mean.

English Proverb #7

Out of sight, out of mind.

So I don’t eat chocolate much. It’s delicious, but I know that when I have some, I eat it all. Quickly.

But there’s a neat trick I discovered that works very well when there’s chocolate in the house. It’s very simple but I can completely (well, almost completely) trick my brain into believing that there’s no chocolate in the house.

What do I do?

I hide it. If I can’t see the chocolate whenever I open a cupboard or walk into the room, I actually forget that I have it.

That’s when you can use this idiom.

OK. So it means…?

It means: If you stop seeing something, you actually forget that it exists.

Great. How can I use it?

Like most of the proverbs in this post, if we cut off the end, it sounds a bit more natural.

English Proverb #8

Don’t cry over spilt milk.

Regret. It’s can be such a useless emotion.

You spend hours cooking a meal. You’re right at the end when you’re taking it out of the oven. The perfect dish.

Then… you drop it. All of it. On the floor.

It’s a horrible feeling, isn’t it?

And the most natural reaction is to get angry at yourself for making a mess of dinner.

But is that feeling of regret and anger actually helping you? It’s part of being human, sure, but there’s no good reason to feel like this.

That’s when you can use this idiom.

OK. So it means…?

Don’t be regretful or angry after something bad happens if it can’t be fixed.

Great. How can I use it?

We actually shorten this proverb a little differently from the others in this post. We can’t just use the first half (“Don’t cry”) because others won’t know that you’re trying to use this proverb. Instead, we can use the most recognisable part of the idiom (“spilt milk”).

English Proverb #9

If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Humans are strange.

I sometimes think about how strange it is that as humans we are so independent but at the same time so organised.

It’s good to be independent and get things done yourself. It’s satisfying and there’s a feeling of achievement.

But we still need each other. We couldn’t do most of the things that we do without helping each other.

What’s our system for this?

Well, usually I help one of my friends and then on another day, he’ll help me. That’s the system. The “helping friends” system!

That’s when we can use this proverb.

OK. So it means…?

It means: I’ll help you out if you help me out.

Great. How can I use it?

We can add the short version (“I’ll scratch your back”) as a part of an offer:

English Proverb #10

Great minds think alike.

I actually used this proverb very recently with one of our readers. (Hi Daniel!)

He recently requested that I write another post about proverbs. This was the day after I had updated my blog post schedule to include… well … this post about proverbs.

Daniel’s obviously a smart guy. Why do I say that? Because he thinks like me!

That’s when we can use this proverb.

OK. So it means…?

It means that smart people have the same ideas.

Great. How can I use it?

Again, we can cut off the second half of this proverb and most people will understand.

If you missed part 1 of the proverbs series, click here.

This content was originally published here.

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