Proverbs are very important in Semitic (and indeed many) cultures.
They function as timeless educational idioms, and are applicable to the most frequent and universal human situations.
It’s safe to say that most, if not all, Arabic proverbs are context-based, which means that you get to learn a proverb as well as its historical or cultural origin. Arabic proverb origins can be Islamic, pre-Islamic, Greek, or just folklore.
Today I’ll share with you some of the most popular Arabic proverbs.
I’ve also added some Tunisian, Egyptian, Levantine and Moroccan proverbs so that you can use them in contexts that are more specific.
Since most proverbs are essentially universal, I did my best to find matching English equivalents. The meaning may or may not match perfectly, but the idea behind it remains the same.
Table Of Contents:
Arabic proverbs by dialect with accompanying English translations and context
Classical/Modern Standard Arabic proverbs
لا تؤجّل عمل اليوم إلى الغد
English equivalent: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
- Benjamin Franklin.
اليوم خمر وغدا أمر
English equivalent: Tomorrow will take care of itself.
Context: The classical Arabic poet, Emru al Kais, was the son of the last Kindite kings. After he had been disowned by his father as a child, he spent his life writing poetry and hunting. One night, while he was drinking with his friends, news of his father’s death reached him. His reaction was: “he deserted me when I was a child, and I’m not going to carry the burden of his death.” He didn’t have time to mourn the death of his father that night. So, he drank even more, and believed that the following day would take care of itself.
تجري الرياح بما لا تشتهي السّفن
English equivalent: Things don’t always go as they’re planned.
Context: This proverb is part one of Al Mutanabbi’s most popular line: “Man does not attain all what his heart desires winds do not blow as the vessels wish.”
آخر الحياة الموت
English equivalent: Live life to its fullest; Tempus fugit, utere.
اتّق شرّ الحليم إذا غضب
English equivalent: You should be worried if a level-headed person gets angry.
Context: Calm and collected people are difficult to irritate, so, once it happens, you should be careful!
أحضر الناس جوابا من لم يغضب
English equivalent: If you stay calm, you are wise, but if you have a hot temper, you only show how stupid you are.
- Proverbs 14:29-35
Context: “The wisest people are the isolated, and the best answer will come from the person who is not angry.” (Abu Hatem)
اطلبوا العلم من المهد إلى اللحد
English equivalent: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
- Matthew 7:7
الحاجة أمّ الاختراع
English equivalent: Necessity is the mother of invention.
English equivalent: All is well that ends well.
اضرب حديدا حاميا لا نفع منه أن يبرد
English equivalent: Strike while the iron is hot.
إذا هبّت رياحك فاغتنمها
English equivalent: Make hay while the sun shines.
الطبع يغلب التطبّع
English equivalent: What is bred in the bone cannot come out of the flesh.
إنّ الطيور على أشكالها تقع
English equivalent: Birds of a feather flock together.
النظافة من الإيمان
English equivalent: Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Context: Cleanliness comes from faith; dirt comes from the Devil.
عند البطون ضاعت العقول
English equivalent: A hungry stomach has no ears.
مصائب قوم عند قوم فوائد
English equivalent: One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
من طلب العلى سهر الليالي
English equivalent: No pain, no gain.
من طلب الكثير أضاع القليل
English equivalent: Grasp all, lose all.
يحصد المرء ما زرع
English equivalent: As you sow so shall you reap.
أول الغضب جنون وآخره ندم
English equivalent: “Angry people are not always wise.”
- Jane Austen
اتَّكَلْنا منه على خُصٍّ الاتحاد قوة
English equivalent: Unity is strength.
إذا أنت أكرمت الكريم ملكته وإن أنت أكرمت اللئيم تمردا
English equivalent: Never trust on unknown hands, you will never know how they stand by you and back stab with their brains.
Context: Al Mutanabbi.
خير الكلام ما قلّ ودلّ
English equivalent: Less is more.
Context: This proverb is a paraphrase of the Quranic verse: And when We bestow favor upon man he turns away and distances himself; but when evil touches him then he is full of extensive supplication. (Surah Fussilat 41:51)
الصّديق وقت الضّيق
English equivalent: A friend in need is a friend indeed.
الجار قبل الدّار
English equivalent: A bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.
الإفراط في التّواضع يجلب المذلّة
English equivalent: If you humble yourself too much, you will get trampled on.
احذر عدوّك مرّة وصديقك ألف مرّة، فإن انقلب الصّديق فهو أعلم بالمضرّة
English equivalent: Better to have an enemy who slaps you in the face than a friend who stabs you in the back.
الكتاب يُقرأ من عنوانه
English equivalent: Oddly, the English equivalent is actually the opposite meaning: never judge a book by its cover.
اللّبيب بالإشارة يفهم
English equivalent: A word to a wise man is enough.
يضحك كثيرا من يضحك أخيرا
English equivalent: He laughs best who laughs last.
خادم سيّدين يكذب على أحدهما
English equivalent: *I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
- Oscar Wilde
English equivalent: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
- Proverbs 3:5
Context: “O Messenger of Allah! Shall I tie it and rely(upon Allah), or leave it loose and rely (upon Allah)?”
He said: “Tie it and rely (upon Allah).” (Anas bin Malik)
صدرك أوسع لسرّك
English equivalent: Keep no secrets of thyself from thyself.
ما يأتي بسرعة يذهب بسرعة
English equivalent: Easy come, easy go.
Context: This proverb is part of a longer one: “What comes quickly goes quickly, and what is memorized quickly, is forgotten quickly.”
أسمع جعجعة ولا أرى طحينا
English equivalent: Much ado about nothing.
- William Shakespeare
الذي لا يعرف الصّقر يشويه
English equivalent: Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to know your worth.
الدّالّ على الخير كفاعله
English equivalent: But remember that good intentions pave many roads. Not all of them lead to hell.
- Neal Shusterman.
🇹🇳 Tunisian Arabic proverbs
العار أطول من الأعمار
English equivalent: A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.
- Joseph Hall
جاء يعاون فيه على قبر بوه، هربلو بالمسحة
English equivalent: It is better to be alone than in bad company.
ابني وعلّي وموت وخلّي
English equivalent: You can get over a million dollars worth of life insurance in case you die, but only eight to ten bucks and hour to live.
- Stanley Victor Paskavich.
جا يكحّلها عماها
English equivalent: I was shattered glass but you weren’t a repairman.
جبالك الرّواسي ولا عبدك الثّقيل
English equivalent: Some people just don\‘t get that I’ll rather talk to a wall than them.
- Francine Chiar
🇪🇬 Egyptian Arabic proverbs
إذا كان حبيبك عسل ما تلحسوش كله
English equivalent: Don’t take for granted the kindness of a friend.
الدنيا زي الغازية ترقص لكل واحد شوية
English equivalent: Every dog has its day.
اللي يتلسع من الشوربة ينفخ في الزبادي
English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy.
القرد في عين أمه غزال
English equivalent: Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.
كلّه عند العرب صابون
English equivalent: Someone who can’t appreciate good things can’t see quality.
🇲🇦 Moroccan Arabic proverbs
اللي عضّو الحنش كيخاف من الحبل
English equivalent: Paranoia plays into all of us. Trust is a terrifying idea of not knowing who we can rely on.
- Eric Christian Olsen
تفكّر حبيبك وهواه، تفكّر فعايلو وأنساه
English equivalent: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
- Albert Einstein
الله يرحم من زار وخفّف
English equivalent: A constant guest is never welcome.
🇯🇴 Levantine Arabic proverbs
اللي بدو يلعب مع القط بدو يلقى خراميشه
English equivalent: If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.
الدم ما بيصير مي
English equivalent: Blood is thicker than water.
Context: Family relationships are the most important and strongest bonds.
البحصة بتسند خابية
English equivalent: A small effort can go a long way.
Context: The most seemingly insignificant things can make a huge difference.
English equivalent: Keep moving forward.
Context: It’s always better to keep pressing on than to sit around waiting for things to happen.
ما تقول فول ليصير بالمكيول
English equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
Arabic proverbs are vital to achieving high-level fluency
If you’re learning Arabic at a higher level, knowing how to use proverbs correctly in context will make you sound a lot more fluent.
Plus it’s just a great way to impress native Arabic speakers.
If you’re looking to take this further, there are some excellent books from AUC Press on proverbs, idioms and slang:
- A Dictionary of Idiomatic Expressions in Written Arabic - Mahmoud Sami Moussa
- ‘Arabi Liblib’ - 2: Proverbs - Kamal Al Ekhnawy, Jamal Ali (see review)
- Umm al-Dunya: Advanced Egyptian Colloquial Arabic - Abbas Al-Tonsi, Heba Salem, Nevenka Korica Sullivan
Do you know any interesting Arabic proverbs that I missed?
Share them below.