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200 Proverbs and Wise Sayings about Life

Updated on June 28, 2015
Colleen Swan profile image

A lover of the written word Colleen has a Master's degree in English literature and enjoys finding unique and poignant quotes

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Fun facts about proverbs and sayings

As language is our primary means of communication, people are eager to find ever quicker ways of conveying thoughts and ideas. One needs look no further than texting abbreviations and emoticon to validate this idea. Proverbs, maxims and epigrams meet this need, in that they encapsulate thoughts meant to be easily absorbed by the viewer, listener or reader.

Two examples are: “pride comes before a fall”, or “a penny saved is a penny earned”.

At times, writers use metaphors as a means of urging the reader to think and explore the link between two images. Hence, when poet Archibald MacLeish writes, “love is a bird in a fist”, he is urging us to consider that holding a bird too tightly will cause it to suffocate, while opening one’s hand frees that bird to fly into the ether.

Conversely, Robert burns‘; “My love is like a red red rose” is a simile; he is saying his beloved has the attributes of such a rose, rather than that she is one. This difference is subtle, but worthwhile to know for those intrigued by linguistic avenues. The most memorable metaphors and similes wend their way into everyday use, becoming intertwined with our lives. In addition, most proverbs can prove a wellspring for those learning the intricacies of English as a second language.

I hope you enjoy reading the following collection.

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♣ Life has a meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself. Saint-Exupery

♣ A really busy person never knows how much they weigh. Edgar Watson

♣ Life has a way of setting things in order and leaving them be. Jean Anouilh

♣ The beauty of a strong lasting commitment is often best understood by a man incapable of it. Murray Kempton

♣ No bird soars to high, if he soars with his own wings. William Blake

♣ Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes. Antisthenes

♣ How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise. Homer

♣ Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also. Robert Browning

♣ The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings. Emerson

♣ Most men are in a coma when at rest and mad when they act. Epicurus

♣ If a man makes me keep my distance, the comfort is he keeps his own. Jonathan Swift

♣ What marks the artist is his power to shape the material of pain we all have. Lionel Trilling

♣ Agreement is made more precious by disagreement. Syrus

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♦ He who builds to every man’s advice will have a crooked house. Peirce Taylor Woodrow

♦ Life, the permission to know death. Djuna Barnes

♦ The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. William Blake

♦ The altar cloth of one aeon is the doormat of the next. Mark Twain

♦ If you are not respected as subtle, you will be regarded as sure. Baltasar Gracian

♦ Woman inspires us to great things, and prevents us from achieving them. Dumas

♦ Confidence is a plant of slow growth in an aged bosom; youth is the season of credulity. William Pitt the Elder

♦ He is a first-rate collector who can upon all occasions collect his wits. George Dennison Prentice

♦ Love truth, but pardon error. Voltaire

♦ That which has been believed by everyone, always and everywhere, has every chance of being false. Paul Valery

♦ Life has a value only when it has something valuable as its object. Hegel

♦ A frog would leap from a throne of gold into a puddle. Syrus

♦ Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, If God won’t have you, the devil must. Anton Ashton

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♥ Proper words in proper places make the true definition of a style. Jonathan Swift

♥ It is only at the tree loaded with fruit that the people throw stones. Plutarch

♥ A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends. Baltasar Gracian

♥ The work of art is the exaggeration of an idea. Andre Gide

♥ The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. William Shakespeare

♥ For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel. Luther

♥ A woman’s advice is no great thing, but he who won’t take it is a fool. Russel Brand

♥ We run carelessly to the precipice, after we have put something before us to prevent us seeing it. Pascal

♥ A hard beginning makes a good ending. John Heywood

♥ Those that speak against the great do not speak from morality, but from envy. Walter Savage Landor

♥ Good birth is a fine thing, but the merit is our ancestors. Plutarch

♥ Don't expect justice from a company; they have neither a soul nor a body to kick. Sydney Smith

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♦ Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time. Theodore Roosevelt

♦ Let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Bible

♦ Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding. Samuel Johnson

♦ If your enemy is an ant, see in him an elephant. John Moore

♦ Lean too much upon the approval of people, and it becomes a bed of thorns. Goethe

♦ If you would convince others, seem open to conviction yourself. Lord Chesterfield

♦ Roasted pigeons will not fly into one’s mouth. George Renard

♦ The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything. William Connor Magee

♦ I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you. Mae West

♦ There is no safety in gaining the favor of an enemy. Syrus

♦ Beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction. Aristotle

♦ It is better to wear out than to rust out. Richard Cumberland

♦ If tragedy is an experience of hyper involvement, comedy is an experience of under involvement of detachment. Susan Sontag

♦ Apology is only egotism wrong side out. Oliver Wendell Holmes

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♣ A strong foe is better than a weak friend. Edward Dahlberg

♣ The counsels of old age give light without heat, like the sun in winter. Vauvenargues

♣ No man is quick enough to enjoy life. Martial

♣ Many people lose their tempers merely from seeing you keep yours. Frank Moore Colby

♣ An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last. Sir Winston Churchill

♣ The heart is forever inexperienced. Thoreau

♣ Action springs not from thought, but for a readiness for responsibility. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

♣ The painter, the sculptor, all artists live out loud. Emile Zola

♣ We are ruled by chance but never have enough patience to accept its despotism. Edward Dahlberg

♣ There is no little enemy. David Gore

♣ Even doubtful accusations leave a stain behind them. Thomas Fuller

♣ For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself. Thoreau

♣ It is in adventure that people succeed in finding and knowing themselves. Andre Gide

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♥ Calamity is man’s true touchstone. Beaumont and Fletcher

♥ In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy. Karl Reiland

♥ In art there are tears that do often lie too deep for thoughts. Louis Kronenberger

♥ If you don't crack the shell, you can’t eat the nut. Ivan Brevet

♥ It takes life to enjoy life. Edgar Lee Masters

♥ If envy were a fever, the entire world would be ill. Dan Aykroyd

♥ Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted. Mary McCarthy

♥ There are one hundred and fifty two different ways of holding a baby and all are right. Heywood Broun

♥ The unfinished is nothing. Henri Amiel

♥ Of all human foibles love of living is the most powerful. Moliere

♥ Who has enough credit to pay for his mistakes? Malcolm Coombs

♥ The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool. William Mc Fee

♥ It is convenient that there be gods, and, as it is convenient, let us believe there are. Ovid

♥ A show of envy is an insult to oneself. Yevtushenko

♥ Affliction smarts most in the most happy state. Sir Thomas Browne

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♦ Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine-percent perspiration. Thomas Edison

♦ What the reason of the ant laboriously drags into a heap, the wind of accident will collect in one breath. Schiller

♦ Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties. Aesop

♦ Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. Vladimir Nabokov

♦ Knowing sorrow well, I learn the way to succor the distressed. Vergil

♦ If fortune turns against you even jelly breaks your tooth. John Baines

♦ The strong and the weak cannot keep company. Aesop

♦ All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. Walter Pater

♦ Every age has its pleasures, its style of wit, and its own ways. Nicolas Boileau

♦ He who doesn’t know anger doesn't know anything; he doesn't know the immediate. Henri Michaux

♦ Greater things are believed of those who are absent. Tacitus

♦ Something attempted, something done, has earned a night’s repose. Longfellow

♦ It is difficult to be emphatic when no one is emphatic on the other side. Charles Dudley Warner

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♣ It is a comforting thought in times of trouble; it is not our trouble. Don Marquis

♣ We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving. Nietzsche

♣ There is not a passion so firmly rooted in the human heart as that of envy. Richard Sheridan

♣ A man is known by the company he organizes. Ambrose Bierce

♣ When a man feels the difficulty of doing, can he be other than cautious and slow in speaking. Confucius

♣ The art of living is the art of knowing how to believe lies. Cesare Pavese

♣ There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. Napoleon

♣ I am myself plus my circumstance and if I do not save it, I cannot save myself. Jose Ortega Y Gasset

♣ It’s alright to hesitate as long as you move forward. Mark Timber

♣ A man never rises to great truths without enthusiasm. Vauvenargues

♣ The house praises the carpenter. Emerson

♣ There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. Samuel Butler

♣ Death borders upon our birth, and our cradle stands in the grave. Joseph Hall

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♥ You cannot know a man’s life before the man has died, then only can you call it good or bad. Sophocles

♥ A man of great common sense and good taste is a man without originality and moral courage. George Bernard Shaw

♥ There is no wealth but life. John Ruskin

♥ Shun an angry man for a moment; your enemy forever. Syrus

♥ Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far. Jean Cocteau

♥ Greater dooms win greater destinies. Heraclitus

♥ Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor. Robert Frost

♥ The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next. Cyril Connolly

♥ The best way of winning an argument is to start by being in the right. Lord Hailsham

♥ The absurd is sin without god. Albert Camus

♥ To know is not to prove, nor to explain. It is to accede to vision. Saint Exupery

♥ With the catching, ends the pleasure of the chase. Abraham Lincoln

♥ Accusing is proving, where malice and force sit judges. Thomas Fuller

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♦ Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves. Eric Hoffer

♦ We acknowledge our faults in order to repair by our sincerity the damage they have done in the eyes of others. La Rochefoucauld

♦ Public calamity is a mighty leveler. Edmund Burke

♦ Truth is the strong compost in which beauty may sometimes germinate. Christopher Morley

♦ By their fruits you shall know them. Bible

♦ What we get in the city is not life, but what someone else tells about life. David Grayson

♦ What is out of sight disturbs men’s minds more seriously than what they see. Julius Caesar

♦ It is very foolish to wish to be exclusively wise. Rochefoucauld

♦ The sun visits cesspools without being defiled. Diogenes the Cynic

♦ Apologies only account for that which they do not alter. Benjamin Disraeli

♦ Life is a tragedy wherein we sit as spectators for a while and then act our part in it. Jonathan Swift

♦ Entertainment confirms rather than challenges. Ned Rorem

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♠ Fortune turns everything to the advantage of those she favors. Rochefoucauld

♠ You do not see the river of mourning because it lacks one tear of your own. Antonio Porchia

♠ Whenever nature leaves a hole in a person’s mind, she generally plasters it over with a thick coat of self-conceit. Longfellow

♠ In action, be primitive; in foresight a strategist. Rene Char

♠ Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending. Longfellow

♠ Experience does not err, only your judgments err by expecting from her what is not in her power. Leonardo DA Vinci

♠ God instructs the heart, not by ideas but by pains and contradictions. Caussade

♠ Unextinguished laughter shakes the skies. Homer

♠ I never knew a man who could bear another’s misfortune. Alexander Pope

♠ Your worst enemy becomes your best friend, once he’s underground. Euripides

♠ We ask advice, but we mean approbation. Charles Caleb Colton

♠ A wise man will not dispute with one that is hasty. Sa’di

♠ Life, like a child, laughs, shaking its rattle of death as it runs. Tagore

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♣ There are no ugly loves or handsome prisons. Benjamin Franklin

♣ The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most. John Ruskin

♣ Effective action is always unjust. Jean Anouilh

♣ The errors of a wise man make your rule, rather than the perfections of a fool. William Blake

♣ Conduct is three-fourths of our life and its largest concern. Matthew Arnold

♣ People who know how to act are never preachers. Emerson

♣ You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing in. Heraclitus

♣ Disaster appears to crush one man now, but afterward another. Euripides

♣ A child is not frightened at the thought of being patiently transmuted into and old man. Saint Exupery

♣ Every age confutes old errors and begets new. Thomas Fuller

♣ Envy is the tax which all distinction must pay. Emerson

♣ Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it. Jules Renard

♣ Advice after injury is like medicine after death. Donald Britt

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♥ When you want to believe in something you also have to believe in everything necessary for believing in it. Ugo Betti

♥ Like dreams, farces show the disguised fulfillment of repressed wishes. Eric Bentley

♥ A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road. Alexander Smith

♥ A problem well stated is a problem half solved. Charles F Kettering

♥ Since barbarism has its pleasures it naturally has its apologists. George Santayana

♥ Punctuality is the virtue of the bored. Evelyn Waugh

♥ Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. David Frost

♥ The aim of argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress. Joseph Joubert

♥ Diplomacy is to do and say, the nastiest thing in the nicest way. Balfour

♥ Proverbs, like the sacred books of each nation, are the sanctuary of the intuitions. Emerson

♥ He will be the slave of many masters who is his body’s slave. Seneca

♥ Having no talent is no longer enough. Gore Vidal

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♦ The bad are frequently good enough to let you see how bad they are, but the good as frequently endeavor to get between you and themselves. Thoreau

♦ It’s the admirer and the watcher who provoke us to all the insanities we commit. Seneca

♦ A proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. John Keats

♦ Chastity is a wealth that comes from the abundance of love. Tagore

♦ The energy which makes a child hard to manage is the energy which afterward makes him a manager of life. Henry Ward Beecher

♦ Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods. Socrates

♦ There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse. Washington Irving

♦ Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder. Plato

♦ There is no proverb that is not true. Miguel de Cervantes

♦ You can't comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable. Diana, Princess of Wales

♦ He is not wise that is not wise for himself. Emerson

♦ The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have. Queen Mother Elizabeth

Paradoxes are useful to attract attention to ideas.

— Mandell Creighton

♣ The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. Thomas Carlyle

♣ All beauties are to be honored, but only one embraced. George Santayana

♣ If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it’s still a foolish thing. Bertrand Russell

♣ No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt

♣ He that rises late must trot all day. Benjamin Franklin

♣ If men and women are in chains anywhere in the world, their freedom is endangered everywhere. John F Kennedy

♣ You can bear anything if it isn’t your own fault. Katharine Gerould

♣ You can destroy your now by worrying about tomorrow. Janis Joplin

♣ Prosperity is the best protector of principle. Mark Twain

♣ No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow. Alice Walker

♣ Continuity in everything is unpleasant. Cold is agreeable, that we get warm. Pascal

♣ There is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask. Colette

♣ Before you contradict an old man, my fair friend, you should endeavor to understand him. Santayana

♣ He who can traverse the pit of darkness will emerge a stronger, more compassionate person. Martin Israel

♣ Happiness is not the end of life; character is. Henry Ward Beecher

♣ Comedy is an escape; not from the truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. Christopher Fry

Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.

— Victor Hugo

The following list of proverbs and sayings are unsourced

♠ The universe is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering.

♠ After the game the king and the pawn go in the same box.

♠ An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.

♠ Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart, what is true.

♠ Virtue in the middle, said the Devil, as he sat down between two bankers.

♠ A wise man hears one word and understands two.

♠ The fear of women is the basis of good health.

♠ To use violence is to already be defeated.

♠ No matter what goes wrong, there is always somebody who knew it would.

If happiness is in your destiny, you need not be in a hurry.

— Unknown

♦ Call on God, but row away from the rocks.

♦ When the axe entered the forest, the trees said, “The handle is one of us!

♦ I don't want the cheese; I just want to get out of this trap.

♦ The greatest love is a mother’s, then a dog’s, then a sweetheart’s.

♦ Disease can be cured; fate is incurable.

♦ A wise man, to accomplish his end, may even carry his foe on his shoulder.

♦ It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.

♦ Don't marry for money; you can borrow it cheaper.

♦ Argument seldom convinces anyone contrary to his inclinations.

♦ No one gets too old to learn a new way of being stupid.

♦ Do not reveal your thoughts to everyone, lest you drive away your good luck.

♦ God gives burdens; and also shoulders for carrying them.

♦ It’s impossible to design anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

♦ In goes the wine, out comes the truth.

Everybody knows good counsel except him that has need of it.

— Unknown

♣ The body pays for a slip of the foot and gold pays for a slip of the tongue.

♣ If you take big paces, you leave big spaces.

♣ It’s easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.

♣ Life is the greatest bargain; we get it for nothing.

♣ It’s easier to get forgiveness for being wrong than forgiveness for being right.

♣ He that is a wise man by day is no fool by night.

♣ He who is wrong fights against himself.

♣ Fetters of gold are still fetters, and silken cords pinch.

♣ Action should culminate in wisdom.

♣ Who never climbed high never fell low.

♣ Misfortunes when asleep are not to be awakened.

♣ When everyone is wrong, everyone is right.

♣ An upstart is a sparrow eager to be betrothed to a hornbill.

♣ He who would leap high must take a long run.

♣ When a loved-one is missing the whole world seems depopulated.

♣ It in an honor to be accused by those who deserve to be accused.

♣ I dance to the tune that is played.

♣ A lost wife can be replaced, but the loss of character spells ruin.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this collection and I welcome your comments.

If you want to understand a subject promise to speak on it.

— Lloyd George

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    • Benny01 profile image

      Ijeoma Peter 24 months ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Wow! Colleen, those are wonderful quotes and proverbs!

      Most of them caught my attention, but this one "do not reveal your thoughts to everyone, lest you drive away your good luck" got me thinking and I have learnt from it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 24 months ago from County Durham

      Hi Benny, Really pleased you found these proverbs of interest. It is true, one must keep our best thoughts in abeyance till they benefit ourselves. Colleen

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 24 months ago

      So many wise words coined by men and women of great wisdom.

      Some were charming, some made perfect logic, others made the

      mind bend into compliance.

      I tried to narrow my favorites down to a few. But, there were so many

      great proverbs I found the chore impossible.

      Your very own proverb: "One must keep our best thoughts in abeyance till they benefit ourselves." The is a wonderful perception of useful ideas to collect one's thoughts until the time is right to benefit ourselves, and I would add, 'or others'.

      Super hub, Colleen!

      DJ.

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 24 months ago from County Durham

      Hi DJ, I am so glad you enjoyed the quotes and proverbs. I do see your point about amending the quote to encompass others. I guess I was thinking about plagiarism and the usage of other peoples ideas without their permission. Please keep your suggestions coming as I always enjoy them and find them fruitful. With thanks, Colleen

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 24 months ago from Oklahoma

      Very inspiring list.

      Great article!

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 24 months ago from County Durham

      Thanks Larry, I'm glad you enjoyed my hub; thanks for visiting.

    • Mellyunplugged profile image

      Melvin Augustine 24 months ago from India

      Good one! I enjoyed reading it!

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 24 months ago from County Durham

      Thank you Melvin for letting me know you enjoyed my hub on proverbs.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 24 months ago from The Caribbean

      So many good sayings to take away, but the one that grips me is "When the axe entered the forest, the trees said, “The handle is one of us!" I appreciate the time and effort it takes to compile this kind of work.

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 24 months ago from County Durham

      Hi MsDora, The time involved is always worthwhile when comments like yours show they have significance for others. I really appreciate your frequent comments on my various hubs. Colleen

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