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A proverb is a well-known saying that conveys a general truth or that offers advice on life and behaviour.

    • All that glitters is not gold
    • Honesty is the best policy

Proverbs are simple in form, yet packed with meaning. Though they consist of short sentences, they contain a lot of wisdom. Proverbs often make use of metaphors to convey their meaning. Metaphors are comparisons made between two dissimilar things without using the words like or as to show that one of them has some quality of the other. Another feature of proverbial sayings is irony, or the use of words to convey meanings that are the opposite of what they usually mean.

Oftentimes, proverbs are used to illustrate a point. Stylistically, they differ from regular forms of speech because they are metaphorical or symbolic. Some proverbs can be reflective of a specific culture or locale, though the majority transcend regional barriers and are widely embraced and often passed down through generations.

Proverbs vs. Idioms

Proverbs and idioms are similar and easily confused with one another. Both are forms of expression that are natural to groups of people and are short and pithy, and both are very challenging for English language learners to understand because they include innate meaning that isn’t always discernible just by reading the words. But they do have a few key differences.

Idioms contain a group of words whose meaning is established by usage but isn’t apparent as a phrase, such as under the weather, spill the beans, and once in a blue moon. They express an idea or thought and are phrases that contain a group of words that typically wouldn’t make sense together. They are also frequently used in poetry.

    • It’s raining cats and dogs
    • Pulling someone’s leg
    • By the skin of your teeth

Proverbs are short phrases with a literal meaning that taps into a shared truth or imparts advice, such as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. They have a literal meaning and tend to express a truth or dispense advice such as actions speak louder than words

    • All’s well that end’s well
    • A leopard never changes its spots

Expansion of Proverbs

Expansion of proverbs is a meaningful writing task. It involves understanding the meaning of a proverb, what it implies and how it relates to the present time. To expand a proverb, one will have to explain its meaning and elaborate on its significance by using reasoning and giving examples from real life to convey its truth and wisdom clearly to the reader.

A good paragraph written for expansion must have

    • unity of thought
    • order
    • coherence
    • variety
    • expansion

Steps in Proverb Expansion

The expansion of an idea or the expansion of a proverb is straightforward. It involves 5 easy steps.

    • Step 1: Understand the symbol of the words in the proverb
    • Step 2: Substitute the meaning in the idea or the proverb
    • Step 3: Look for a story or anecdote or example or illustration
    • Step 4: Look for similar proverbs or ideas
    • Step 5: Sum up the paragraph

Step 1

Most proverbs or ideas are symbolic. The name of a place or animal or thing or person stands as a symbol of some quality. We have to try to understand that in the context of the proverb.

For example, take the proverb, Rome was not built in a day. Here the noun Rome is the name of a place. We also should know that Rome was a great city. So what does Rome stand for? It stands for Greatness or success.

Or take the example of All that glitters is not gold. Here we have the noun gold. It is the name of a thing. We know that gold is a precious metal. So what does gold stand for? It stands for precious.

Step 2

Take the two examples Rome was not built in a day and All that glitters is not gold. Now substitute the symbols we found out earlier in the sentences. What do we have?

    1. Greatness or success was not built in a day.
    2. All that glitters is not precious.

The proverb is now decoded and ready for understanding.

Step 3

Now that we have understood what the proverb stands for or what the proverb means, we should look for a suitable example to illustrate it.

Where do we get these stories? There are plenty of them. Aesop’s fables are ideal. So are the tales of India, the Panchatantra.

We can also look for examples from today’s world. We could, for example, the proverb Rome was not built in a day, talks about the effort put in by A P J Abdul Kalam to achieve greatness, and that it took many years to build it, that it did not happen overnight.

Step 4

“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success” by Napoleon Hill is similar to Rome was not built in a day; so is the proverb Do not judge the book by its cover similar to All that glitters is not precious.

Step 5

Use summing-up words or phrases to indicate that you have finished the expansion and intend to sum it up. You could use Thus or in fine or So or The proverb advises that and let the readers know that you are signing off.

English proverbs can be used for many reasons, such as to offer advice, reinforce morals, impart knowledge, relieve interpersonal tensions, aid in understanding, or console someone. Proverbs are used best when illustrating a specific point, giving greater potency to what is being said.

Meanings of Proverbs

ProverbsMeanings
Every house has its skeletonEvery family has to go through some crisis or problems
Many a little makes a mickleLittle drops make an ocean
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bushesOur possession is better than an illusion
One swallow does not make a summerDon’t form an opinion by listening to one
A burnt child dreads the fireOne suffering makes us cautious
Hit the iron while it is hotGrab the opportunity when it knocks
A drowning man catches a strawLittle comfort helps the sufferer
God helps those who help themselvesGod favours the hardworking
A fair face may hide a foul heartAppearance may be deceptive
Of two evils choose lessBe wise to choose less risk
A friend in need is a friend indeedA real friend is known in our suffering
Pour oil on troubled watersTry to comfort other’s anger
Don’t make a pig of yourselfAvoid being greedy
Early to bed and early to rise to make a man healthySomeone who gets enough sleep and starts work early in the day will have a successful life
A rolling stone gathers no mossOne who changes decisions regularly, can’t get success
Where there is smoke, there is fireBehind every happening, surely there will be a reason
A stitch in time saves nineAlways try to do work on time
You can’t have a cake and eat itWe have always one choice
A thunderstorm often makes milk sourAny bad happening may spoil our calmness or tranquillity
Heaven helps them who help themselvesGod always helps the hardworking
A word is enough for the wiseWise people always respect suggestions
Barking dogs seldom biteTalkers are no doers
Actions speak louder than wordsOur deeds speak more than our boasting
Blood is thicker than waterBlood relations are more important than our friends
It never rains but it poursProblems always come in the company
Charity begins at homeWe should begin good work for ourselves
Necessity is the mother of inventionWhen it is needed, we try to strive
Cleanliness is next to godlinessAlways try to maintain cleanliness
Between the Devil and the deep seaIt is difficult to take a decision when many problems occur at once
Cut your coat according to your clothWe should be always within our limits regarding any task
Strike while the iron is hotDon’t  miss the opportunity
Don’t count your chickens before they are hatchedDon’t expect fruits before the work gets finished
Jack of all trades and master of noneOne who wants to be a master of all, may not be successful
Leave no stone unturnedTry to utilize every opportunity
All roads lead to RomeAll good work invites good returns
The industry is the mother of prosperityHard work is a must for every success
All that glitters is not goldAll that look alike have different prospects
Washing one’s dirty linen in public is not fairDon’t discuss any private issues of others in public
All work and no play make Jack a dull boyWithout time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring
Every dog has its dayEveryone gets an opportunity
An apple a day keeps the doctor awayEat fruits for good health
Honesty is the best policyHonest people always become successful
An early bird catches more wormsEarly riser seeks good results
He who follows two hares catches neitherOne who tries to get all may suffer
An empty vessel makes much noiseTalkers are no doers
Let bygones be bygonesWe should forget past happenings
As you sow, so you reapWe get fruits according to our deeds
Pen is mightier than a swordWriting is more powerful than any supremacy
At Rome, we must do as RomansWe should behave according to the conditions
Experience is the best teacherExperience always makes us wise
Familiarity breeds contemptExcess of every kind is bad
Beggars can’t be choosersWe should be within limits
Little strokes fell great oaksLittle efforts make great results
Better late than neverBelieve in beginning
A bad workman quarrels with his toolsOne who doesn’t want to work always gives excuses
The leopard can’t change its spotsBasic nature doesn’t change
Man proposes God disposesMany things go against our expectations
Old is goldOld things are always favourable
Birds of a feather flock togetherSame natured always live together
Out of sight out of mindWe can’t judge sitting at a long distance
Don’t cross the bridge until you come to itAlways wait for an opportunity
Every cloud has a silver lining-Every suffering has an end
Fools rush in where angels fear to treadFoolish always make hurry for any task
Where there is a will, there is a wayWillpower is responsible for the success
Hunger is the best sauceA hungry stomach always respects the food
Sweet are the uses of adversitySometimes bad condition makes us strong
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stonesWe don’t have the right to blame if we are at fault
Money begets moneyMany things come in our favour when we have money
One who follows two hares catches neitherOne who is confused in taking decisions may take the wrong decision
No pains, no gains-Hard work has no alternatives
Barking dogs seldom biteTalkers are no doers
The weaver knows where the shoe pinchesSufferer knows the suffering
A example is better than a preceptGood deeds are the best proof then only suggestions
The truth will be outTruth can’t be hidden
Forbidden fruit is the sweetestThe thing which is not allowed to do invites great interest to do
It is never too late to mendThere is never a delay for any good work
Make hay while the sun shinesAlways grab the opportunity
Union is strengthUnity always helps
One cannot pump the ocean outIt is impossible to do things beyond our capacity
Sin and sorrow go togetherBad work always invites bad for us
Too many cooks spoil the brothToo many people’s suggestions may spoil our work
Slow and steady wins the raceSlow and constant work is always helpful
First come first served-Try to grab the opportunity early
Half a loaf is better than noneTry to be satisfied always
Look before you leapAlways think before speaking
Might is right-Power always helps to gain confidence
Handsome is what handsome doesGood work always invite good
Fortune favours the braveGod always helps the hardworking
Haste makes wasteHurry makes worry
Health is wealthHealth is the greatest wealth
It is no use crying over spilt milkThere is no use of sorrow after a bad result
No man can serve two masters-We cannot satisfy many people
Money makes the mare go-Money is responsible for many things
No smoke without fireThere is compulsory some reason for any bad
When the cats are away, the mice will playIn the absence of supremacy, subordinates will enjoy
Prevention is better than cureIt’s good to take precautions
Rome was not built in a dayGreat work takes a long time to get ready
Time and tide wait for noneRespect time, as time never forgives anyone
To err is humanMistakes are a part and parcel of our life
One good turn deserves anotherGood work invites good results
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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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