55 Useful Arabic Proverbs (Multiple Dialects + Translations)

  • Amal Mrissa
    Written byAmal Mrissa
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55 Useful Arabic Proverbs (Multiple Dialects + Translations)

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.

Arabic proverbs by dialect with accompanying English translations and context

Classical/Modern Standard Arabic proverbs

لا تؤجّل عمل اليوم إلى الغد

Literal: Do not postpone today's work to tomorrow.

English equivalent: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

- Benjamin Franklin.

اليوم خمر وغدا أمر

Literal: Today is booze, and tomorrow is an order.

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

Literal: Winds do not blow as the vessels wish.

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

Literal: Death is the end of life.

English equivalent: Live life to its fullest; Tempus fugit, utere.

اتّق شرّ الحليم إذا غضب

Literal: Beware the level-headed when he is angry.

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

Literal: The best answer will come from the person who is not angry.

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

Literal: Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

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

Literal: Necessity is the mother of invention.

English equivalent: Necessity is the mother of invention.

الأمور بخواتمها

Literal: Endings evaluate matters.

English equivalent: All is well that ends well.

اضرب حديدا حاميا لا نفع منه أن يبرد

Literal: Strike the iron while it's hot, for once it cools down, it's useless.

English equivalent: Strike while the iron is hot.

إذا هبّت رياحك فاغتنمها

Literal: If the winds blow, use them.

English equivalent: Make hay while the sun shines.

الطبع يغلب التطبّع

Literal: Real character defeats pretention.

English equivalent: What is bred in the bone cannot come out of the flesh.

إنّ الطيور على أشكالها تقع

Literal: Birds only meet birds alike.

English equivalent: Birds of a feather flock together.

النظافة من الإيمان

Literal: Cleanliness comes from faith.

English equivalent: Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Context: Cleanliness comes from faith; dirt comes from the Devil.

عند البطون ضاعت العقول

Literal: The mind gets lost when the stomach is hungry.

English equivalent: A hungry stomach has no ears.

مصائب قوم عند قوم فوائد

Literal: The misfortunes of some people are advantages to others.

English equivalent: One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

من طلب العلى سهر الليالي

Literal: He who desires the top must sit up many nights.

English equivalent: No pain, no gain.

من طلب الكثير أضاع القليل

Literal: He who demands it all, loses it all.

English equivalent: Grasp all, lose all.

يحصد المرء ما زرع

Literal: One reaps what one sows.

English equivalent: As you sow so shall you reap.

أول الغضب جنون وآخره ندم

Literal: Anger begins with madness, but ends in regret.

English equivalent: “Angry people are not always wise.”

- Jane Austen

اتَّكَلْنا منه على خُصٍّ الاتحاد قوة

Literal: We relied on each other; unity is power.

English equivalent: Unity is strength.

إذا أنت أكرمت الكريم ملكته وإن أنت أكرمت اللئيم تمردا

Literal: Be generous to a generous person and you'd win him, be generous to a mean person and he'd rebel on you.

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

Literal: The best speech is the precise and concise one.

English equivalent: Less is more.

Context: This proverb is a paraphrase of the Quranic Arabic 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

Literal: A true friend is he who shows up at times of need.

English equivalent: A friend in need is a friend indeed.

الجار قبل الدّار

Literal: Choose your neighbors before you choose your home.

English equivalent: A bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.

الإفراط في التّواضع يجلب المذلّة

Literal: Extreme humbleness results in humiliation.

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

Literal: Be wary around your enemy once, and your friend a thousand times. A double crossing friend knows more about what harms you.

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

Literal: If you read a book's title, you know what it is about.

English equivalent: Oddly, the English equivalent is actually the opposite meaning: never judge a book by its cover.

اللّبيب بالإشارة يفهم

Literal: A hint is enough for a wise man.

English equivalent: A word to a wise man is enough.

يضحك كثيرا من يضحك أخيرا

Literal: He who laughs last, laughs the most.

English equivalent: He laughs best who laughs last.

خادم سيّدين يكذب على أحدهما

Literal: A servant who has two masters, lies to one > of them.

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

اعقلها وتوكّل

Literal: Think it through, and trust God.

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

Literal: Your chest is the best place for your secrets.

English equivalent: Keep no secrets of thyself from thyself.

ما يأتي بسرعة يذهب بسرعة

Literal: What comes quickly goes quickly.

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

Literal: I hear noise but see no grinding.

English equivalent: Much ado about nothing.

- William Shakespeare

الذي لا يعرف الصّقر يشويه

Literal: He who does not know the falcon, would grill it.

English equivalent: Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to know your worth.

الدّالّ على الخير كفاعله

Literal: Whoever guides someone to virtue will be rewarded equivalent to him who practices that good action.

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

Literal: Bad reputations persist even after the person's death.

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

Literal: He came with him to help him dig his father's grave, and ran away with the spade.

English equivalent: It is better to be alone than in bad company.

ابني وعلّي وموت وخلّي

Literal: You can build all the houses you want. Eventually, you'll leave all of them and go to the grave alone.

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

Literal: He tried to apply kohl in her eyes, but ended up blinding her.

English equivalent: I was shattered glass but you weren’t a repairman.

جبالك الرّواسي ولا عبدك الثّقيل

Literal: O God, I'd rather have a mountain sit on top of me than deal with lame people.

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

Literal: Even if your friend is honey, don’t lick them all up.

English equivalent: Don’t take for granted the kindness of a friend.

الدنيا زي الغازية ترقص لكل واحد شوية

Literal: The world is like a belly-dancer; it dances a little while for everyone.

English equivalent: Every dog has its day.

اللي يتلسع من الشوربة ينفخ في الزبادي

Literal: He who gets burned by soup, blows on yogurt.

English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy.

القرد في عين أمه غزال

Literal: The monkey in the eyes of its mother is a gazelle.

English equivalent: Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.

كلّه عند العرب صابون

Literal: For the Bedouin it’s all soap.

English equivalent: Someone who can’t appreciate good things can’t see quality.

🇲🇦 Moroccan Arabic proverbs

اللي عضّو الحنش كيخاف من الحبل

Literal: He who had been bitten by a snake, gets scared of the rope.

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

Literal: Remember your lover and adore them; remember their mistakes and leave them.

English equivalent: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

- Albert Einstein

الله يرحم من زار وخفّف

Literal: May God bless visitors who don't stay for too long.

English equivalent: A constant guest is never welcome.

🇯🇴 Levantine Arabic proverbs

اللي بدو يلعب مع القط بدو يلقى خراميشه

Literal: He who plays with the cat will find his claws.

English equivalent: If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

الدم ما بيصير مي

Literal: Blood does not become water.

English equivalent: Blood is thicker than water.

Context: Family relationships are the most important and strongest bonds.

البحصة بتسند خابية

Literal: A pebble can support a barrel.

English equivalent: A small effort can go a long way.

Context: The most seemingly insignificant things can make a huge difference.

الحركة بركة

Literal: Movement is a blessing.

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

Literal: Don’t say ful (beans) until they're on the measuring scale.

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:

In addition, visit TalkInArabic.com for an extensive, multi-dialect Arabic resource, or see this list of Arabic courses.

Do you know any interesting Arabic proverbs that I missed?

Share them below.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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