Proverb is a kind of brief and popular word with persuasive meaning in it. It is a component of national culture, especially an important constituent of human language. There are thousands upon thousands of English proverbs in English language.

They are always concise、comprehensive、compact, vivid, with profound meaning and beautiful rhyme in them by using various rhetorical methods such as simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, antithesis, paradox, rhyme etc. They always give the readers a deep impression as well as a good enjoyment of art. English proverb covers huge varieties of areas.

It is a precious key for us to know more about society、geography、customs history and culture. Thus, understanding and mastering English proverb can not only enrich our linguistic knowledge, but also help to express ourselves more effectively and colorfully, as well as beatify and sprinkle our daily life.

This article sets out from proverb’ definition, Covers its functions and linguistic characteristics, aims at provoking people’s awareness to enrich their linguistic knowledge and improve their expression ability through master the English proverbs. English proverb has a high quality of art, it is worthwhile for us to learn it and do some research on it.

English proverbs involve various fields: Some illustrate Philosophy of Life, such as Life is long if it is full(生活充实,生命久长). Some are about study and work, such as If you lie upon roses when young, you lie upon thorns when old(少壮不努力,老大徒伤悲). Some teach you how to be a human being, such as Better die standing than live kneeling(宁愿站着死,不愿跪着生). Some are related to life and economy, such as All work and no play make jack a dull boy(只工作而不娱乐会使人变傻).

Characteristics of English Proverbs


Proverb is a kind of national folk literature. It is verbally created by ordinary people; thus, colloquialism is a vivid characteristic of proverb.

Usually, proverbs are short in word and easy for understanding. They are mainly consist of monosyllabic words. Moreover, the sentences are short with simple structure.

Make hay while the sun shines. 太阳好时快晒草。(机会来时莫停留。)

One man is no man. 个人是渺小的。(孤树不成林。)

A man can not spin and reel at the same time. 一个人不能同时又纺纱来又织布。(一心不能二用。)

No fire without smoke. 有火必有烟。(有利必有弊。)

Concise and Comprehensive

English proverbs are using a few words to summarize rich meaning. There is always a profound truth in proverb. Thomas Fuller said in his famous The History of the Worthies of English: A proverb is much matter decocted into few words.

No pains, no gains. 不劳则无获。

Easy come, easy go. 来得易, 去得快。

Waste not, want not. 不浪费, 不愁缺。

Well begun is half done. 良好的开端, 成功的一半。

Be abundant of Rhetoric

English proverbs use various rhetoric in expression to present thoughtful meaning as well as deep impression. Major types of rhetoric are as follows:


Simile is composed of tenor, simile marker and vehicle. Some simile markers are like, as, as if, as though, as…as, as… so, similar to, to bear a resemblance to, etc.


Life is like a fire; it begins in smoke and ends in ashes. 人生犹如火堆,始于青烟,终于灰烬。

Beauty, unaccompanied by virtue, is as a flower without perfume. 美丽而无德性,犹如花之无香。


There are no simile markers in metaphor. The mood in metaphor is much stronger than simile.


Speech is silver, silence is gold. 说话是银,沉默是金。

Money is the root of all evil. 金钱是万恶之源。


Metonymy uses vehicle as tenor. Usually, it uses visualized image to replace something abstract.


Homer sometimes nods. 智者千虑, 必有一失。

Make hay while the sun shines. 趁热打铁。


Personification is to give inanimate objects characteristics and behavior of human beings.


Facts speak louder than words. 事实胜于雄辩。

Lies hale short leg. 谎言腿短。


Antithesis use phrases or sentences with same numbers of words, same structure, relevant meanings, to form contrast or comparison. This kind of proverbs is perfect in symmetry, concise in language and easy to pronounce.


Art is long, life is short. 生命短暂,艺术长久。

A wise man thinks all that he says; a fool man says all that he thinks. 智者深思熟虑,愚者信口开河。