We explain what proverbs are, how they are transmitted and how they are used. In addition, we tell you the origin of the term and famous examples.

An older woman conveys folk wisdom to a girl through proverbs.
Proverbs belong to popular wisdom, passed down orally from generation to generation.

What is a proverb?

a proverb It is a short and illustrative sentencethat is, a saying, maxim, proverb, adage or sentence, devoid of author and that, therefore, belongs to popular wisdom, transmitted orally from generation to generation. It is a type of paremia, that is, a short, ingenious and instructive phrasebut it is distinguished from aphorism, since the latter almost always has an explicit author.

Proverbs are said in situations that invite reflection, since they are a way of summarizing, in an often figurative or metaphorical sentence, the learning or the conclusion that can be obtained from this situation. For example, the proverb “water you shouldn’t drink, let it run” evokes a kind of moral in a short rhyme: what we don’t want or don’t need is better left for someone else to take advantage of.

since ancient times, each people has produced and accumulated numerous proverbs, in which they express their collective wisdom and his way of seeing life. That is why we often talk about Chinese, Spanish, Italian, etc. proverbs, and that there have been numerous compilations of proverbs throughout history. However, it is very common for a proverb to exist in different languages ​​at the same time and in the culture of geographically distant peoples, or to exist but with slight local adaptations.

Some of the first known collections of proverbs are Biblical proverbs, collected in the so-called Old Testament book of proverbs; or the panchatantra, a set of Hindu fables written in Sanskrit between the 3rd century B.C. C. and III d. c.; or the Hávamál Scandinavian, in which the rules for living in harmony are poetically evoked, among many others.

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The word “proverb”, also, was used in the past with another meaning: that of a prophecy or prediction. This may be because the origin of the term goes back to Latin proverbiummade up of the voices pro- (“forward and verbum (“word”).

See also: Vox populi

examples of proverbs

The following are some examples of proverbs in Spanish:

  • Where the captain rules, the sailor doesn’t rule.

It means that when there is an evident authority or leadership, the role of the subordinates or subordinates is to obey, since a ship cannot have two captains.

  • To foolish words, deaf ears.

It means that the best thing to do when faced with unproductive, unpleasant or idle comments from others is to ignore them. This is the only way to prevent them from harming us.

  • Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.

It means that we are judged by the companies we choose, since everyone seeks to be with whom they have some kind of affinity. Thus, those who associate with dishonest people will be considered as such, even if they are not.

  • A single stone does not make a mountain.

It means that to achieve something great, the consensus of several or the collaboration of the collective is needed.

  • Barking dog does not bite.

It means that those who give too many warnings or threats often fail to follow through.

  • You don’t look at a gift horse’s fang.

It means that you should not be picky about the things you receive as a gift.

  • King fallen, king set.
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It means that spaces are seldom empty for long: one courtship that breaks up is soon replaced by another; a position of a laid-off worker is soon filled by another; and so on.

  • To bad weather, good face.

It means that we must remain calm and have a good countenance in the face of adversity, so as not to add to the difficulties that we suffer from a bad mood and pessimism.

  • Who reads a lot and walks a lot, sees a lot and knows a lot.

It means that people open to the world and to study accumulate a baggage of references and experiences that allow them to better deal with future situations.

  • Shoemaker, to your shoes.

It means that people must speak or give their opinion about what they know or what their competition is, to avoid incurring in ignorance or making mistakes.

  • Whoever kills with iron, dies with iron.

It means that we will be judged with the same criteria with which we judge others. It is equivalent to the Biblical proverb that says “with the rod that you measure, you will be measured”.

  • Tree that is born crooked, never straightens its branches.

It means that the habits and behaviors that are repeated a lot by a person are always the most difficult to change.

  • May each stick hold its candle.

It means that everyone must deal with their own problems and take charge of their own destiny, in the same way that, on a ship, each mast or stick corresponds to a sail.

  • You don’t have to ask the elm for pears.
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It means that it is not convenient to expect from someone what they cannot give, or to be disappointed because a person lacks what it is impossible for them to have.

  • Whoever is born with a hammer, nails fall from the sky.

It means that life tends to be easier for people who are born privileged.

  • No matter how early you get up, it dawns earlier.

It means that there are things in life that cannot be controlled or rushed, no matter what we do or the precautions we take.

  • From the meek water deliver me, God, that the rough one saved me.

It means that it is more difficult to take care of hidden dangers or hidden risks, while it is easier to foresee the obvious and frontal ones.

  • Like father Like Son.

It means that people often resemble their parents or often replicate behaviors learned at home or in their place of education.

  • Whoever gets close to a good tree, a good shade shelters him.

It means that those who know how to choose better receive better results.

  • The donkey thinks one thing, and another who drives it upstairs.

It means that things don’t always turn out as expected, or that people don’t always understand what others think.

  • who hopes despairs.

It means that those who have to be patient and wait usually have the most unpleasant experience.

Continue with: Common Sense


  • “Paremia” on Wikipedia.
  • “Proverb” in the Dictionary of the Language of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Etymology of Proverb” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.