Can You Finish These English Proverbs?


By: Isadora Teich

5 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Think you know your proverbs? The English language is full of them. Proverbs are short and snappy sayings that state some kind of broad advice or general truth. They often relate to things like handling money, love, work, loss, friendship, status, health and other things that all people are concerned with on a regular basis. Proverbs often come from religious or spiritual teachings, as well. When this is the case, they tend to be nuggets of religious text that are meant to be applied in secular settings.

They are also often referred to as maxims or adages. Famous English language proverbs include sayings like "Haste makes waste" and "The early bird catches the worm." 

People often use them (or variations of them) in everyday conversation without thinking. They are so ingrained in the English language that many of them have also become cliches. This is because some have been around for centuries.

If you are an English language lover who has a handle on proverbs, put your knowledge to the test with the world's most proverbial quiz!

If it ain't broke, don't ______ it.

This phrase means that if something is working, don't try to change it. It is thought to have come from the early 20th century American South.


The pen is _________ than the sword.

This phrase means that using words to solve problems can be more powerful than violence. It was coined by playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839.


Give the ______ his due.

This phrase means that eventually everyone will have to make good on what they owe, whether it's in money or favors. This proverb was referenced as an already existing phrase in Shakespeare's "Henry V Part 1."


An eye for an ________.

This proverb means that for every misdeed, there should be an equal punishment. This comes from the Code of Hammurabi, the first written code of law.


If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must ______ to the mountain.

This phrase means that if sheer will cannot get you the results you want, you will have to adapt. This phrase comes from the story of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.


________ starts at home.

This old proverb means that it is important to take care of your family and those close to you before you start taking care of others. Similar ideas were expressed in the King James Bible and by various authors as early as the 14th century.


Necessity is the ________ of invention.

This saying means that tricky situations often inspire people to create clever solutions. Some credit it to Plato.


Know which way the wind _________.

This phrase means that one should always be aware of the shifting circumstances around them so they can plan for the future. Variations of this were in common use in the 19th century.


For every _______, there is a season.

This phrase means that everything happens on its own time. This proverb comes from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James version of the Bible.


Let not the sun go down on your _________.

This is essentially the old form of "Don't go to bed angry." The earliest form of this in English can be found in the 1535 Coverdale's Bible.


A good man is _______ to find.

This phrase means that it is hard to find a suitable partner. It was first coined in 1918 by Eddie Green, as a title of a song he wrote.


The early _______ catches the worm.

This proverb means that success will come to those who prepare well and work hard. It was included in a 17th-century book of English proverbs, meaning that even in those days, it was already a well-known saying.


The ______ makes work for idle hands to do.

This phrase means that people who are not kept busy will often get into trouble. It appeared in writing for the first time in a fourth-century letter by the theologian, Jerome.


Keep your hands _______.

To keep your hands clean means to stay out of trouble. This is an 18th-century English saying.


No man is an _________.

This phrase means that everyone needs help from others to survive. It comes from a quotation of the 16th and 17th century English poet, John Donne.


Take it with a grain of ________.

This phrase means to listen to what is being said, but maintain a healthy skepticism about it. This phrase dates back to Pliny's "Naturalis Historia," written in 77 CE.


A friend in need is a friend ________.

The true origins of this proverb are debated, but versions of it were in writing by the third century B.C. Its meaning is also debated, but usually it indicates that someone who needs something from you will definitely appear to be your friend.


Beauty is only _______ deep.

This proverb was first found in a 17th-century work, by a man describing his wife. It means that outer beauty is superficial and does not necessarily indicate someone is a good person.


A ______ rots from the head down.

This proverb means that when a large organization or state fails, it is because of poor leadership. Variants of this proverb exist around the world, and sources have placed its origins from China to Greece.


Half a _________ is better than no bread.

This axiom means that even if you didn't get exactly what you wanted, something is better than nothing. It is found in writing for the fist time in a 16th-century collection of proverbs.


All that glitters is not ________.

This proverb means that things that look attractive from the outside are not necessarily valuable. Shakespeare is the best known user of this proverb. It appears in his play, "The Merchant of Venice."


In for a penny, in for a _______.

This saying means that if you start something, you should see it through to completion wholeheartedly. No one knows where it came from, but it's seen in several writings from the 17th century.


Know on which side your bread is _________.

This phrase means that you should know on which side of a conflict your interests lie. It dates back to a 16th-century glossary of proverbs, meaning that it probably existed for a long time before then.


A _______ cannot change its spots.

This saying means that things cannot change their innate nature. This saying has its roots in the King James version of the Bible.


Let bygones _______ bygones.

This phrase means to let unpleasant past events be forgotten. It was used in Shakespeare's 1611 play, "The Winter's Tale."


A man who is his own lawyer has a _______ for a client.

The meaning of this phrase is literal, as self-representation in a court of law famously ends badly most of the time. It first began appearing in print in the early 19th century.


No rest for the _______.

While people often use this phrase jokingly to mean that there is no down time for them, its literal original meaning is that sinners will be tormented in hell. It was initially printed in Coverdale's 1535 Bible.


Physician, _______ thyself.

This phrase means that one should work on their own flaws before they point out other people's. It comes from the King James version of the Bible.


Back ________ square one.

This phrase means to go back to the beginning of something. No one is sure of its exact origin, but some say it was inspired by the old board game, Snakes and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders.)


The _______ hour is just before the dawn.

This axiom means that there is hope even in the bleakest of circumstances. The source of this proverb is not known, but it has been found in writings dating back to the 17th century.


Let ________ dogs lie.

This phrase means to not interfere with a favorable and stable situation. A version of this was expressed by Chaucer in the 14th century, but it is thought to be a much older idea.


Hell has no fury like a _______ scorned.

This proverb means that a woman who has been betrayed is more terrifying than anything in hell. This phrase is usually credited to the English poet and playwright William Congreve.


Great _______ think alike.

This proverb is literal. It dates back to at least the early 17th century. It's also used when two people happen to have the same idea without discussing it.


Keep your nose to the __________.

This means to apply yourself to your work. A variation was first seen in writing in the 16th century. A grindstone is used to sharpen certain types of metal tools.


A house divided against itself cannot ________.

This expression is literal. By house, it means household. This comes from the King James version of the Bible.


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