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Impress Native Speakers With These Arabic Proverbs

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Proverbs are popular sayings that provide a little dose of wisdom, a truth that is sometimes so obvious that it’s overlooked. 

Can you think of a proverb in your native language that touched you in an important moment of your life?

The Arabic language is so rich and so widely used that it offers countless idiomatic sayings and expressions. If you want to sound like a native speaker, you’d better learn some of these Arabic proverbs yourself! Doing so is a great way to let your language skills shine, and it will help you better understand the culture so you can fit right in!

Egyptian Flag in a Speech Bubble

As they say, “There is no time like the present”! Learn the thirty most used Arabic proverbs now and you’ll be certain to leave a good impression! 

Keep in mind that most of the entries on our list are Egyptian Arabic and Levantine Arabic proverbs. 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Bedouins, Belly Dancers, and Dogs: Egyptian Arabic Proverbs
  2. Bald Men, Roosters, and Paradise: Levantine Arabic Proverbs
  3. Bonus: A Modern Standard Arabic Proverb
  4. Conclusion

1. Bedouins, Belly Dancers, and Dogs: Egyptian Arabic Proverbs

There are some truths in life that are best expressed through vivid imagery. Let’s start our list with several unique Egyptian Arabic proverbs about life, friendship, and more. 

القِرد في عين أُمُّه غَزال

el-ʾerd fī ʿen ʾommoh ġazal
Literal translation: The monkey is a gazelle in the eyes of his mother.
English equivalent: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Meaning: This classic proverb means that the perception of beauty is subjective.

A Mother Cradling Her Baby

أَدعي عَلى وَلَدي وأَكرَه مِن يِقول آمين

ʾadʿī ʿalā waladī wʾakrah men yeʾūl ʾāmīn
Literal translation: I curse my own child, but I hate whoever says “amen.”
Meaning: This proverb is about having the right to criticize those closest to you…but then jumping to their defense if someone else criticizes them. We all know the feeling!

آخرِةْ المَعروف الضَرب بِالكُفوف

ʾāḫret el-maʿrūf el-ḍarb belkofūf
Literal translation: The end result of a good deed is a slap with the palms.
English equivalent: No good deed goes unpunished.
Meaning: This is usually said when your kindness backfires on you. For example, when you do a good deed but get nothing in return—or worse, you get a “slap” (hopefully in a metaphorical sense!).

إللي إيدُه في المَيَّة مِش زَيّ إللي إيدُه في النار

ʾellī ʾeīdoh fī el-mayyah meš zayy ʾellī ʾīdoh fī el-nār
Literal translation: The one whose hand is in fire is not like the one whose hand is in water.
English equivalent: Easier said than done.
Meaning: You can’t really compare the actions (or reactions) of those personally involved in a difficult matter (with a hand in the fire!) to those who are not directly affected and just commenting on it (with their hand in water).

لَمّا اِتفَرَّقِت العُقول كُلّ وَاحِد عَجَبُه عَقلُه، ولَمّا اِتفَرَّقِت الأَرزاق ماحَدِّش عَجَبُه رِزقُه

lammā etfarraʾet el-ʿoʾūl koll wāḥed ʿagaboh ʿaʾloh, w lammā etfarraʾet el-ʾarzāʾ māḥaddeš ʿagaboh rezʾoh
Literal translation: When brains were passed out, everyone was pleased with their brain; but when fortunes were given out, no one was satisfied with their fortune.
Meaning: This means that people are often dissatisfied with their lot in life, but they rarely question their way of thinking.

إللي يِتلِسِع مِن الشوربَة يِنفُخ في الزَبادي

ʾellī yetleseʿ men el-šūrbah yenfoḫ fī el-zabādī
Literal translation: Whoever gets burned by soup blows on yogurt.
English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy.
Meaning: This refers to the fact that an unpleasant experience induces caution.

إمشي في جَنازَة، وَلا تِمشي في جَوَازَة

ʾemšī fī ganāzah, walā temšī fī gawāzah
Literal translation: It’s better to arrange a funeral than a marriage.
Meaning: This saying is used to dissuade people from playing the match-maker. If you arrange a marriage and it doesn’t work out, you’ll get blamed for it. In that context, attending a funeral would be much easier!

الدُنيا زَيّ الغازِيَّة، تِرقُص لِكُلّ وَاحِد شِوَيَّة

el-donyā zayy el-ġāzeyyah, terʾoṣ lekoll wāḥed šewayyah
Literal translation: The world is like a belly-dancer: it dances a little while for everyone.
English equivalent: Every dog has its day.
Meaning: Let’s admit it, the Arabic version is a bit more poetic! The proverb means that everyone is successful at some point in life.

A Belly-Dancer

إللي عَلى راسُه بَطحَة يِحَسِّس عَليها

ʾellī ʿalā rāsoh baṭḥah yeḥasses ʿalīhā
Literal translation: Whoever has a head-wound keeps feeling it.
English equivalent: The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth.
Meaning: As the tongue turns to the aching tooth or a wounded person keeps checking their wound, our thoughts keep returning to those things that worry us most.

نِقول تور يِقولو اِحلِبوه

neʾūl tor yeʾūlū eḥlebūh
Literal translation: I say to him, “It’s a bull,” and he responds “Milk it.”
Meaning: This hilarious saying makes a good point. It refers to a situation where someone goes on and on with the same argument, even though he has already been contradicted repeatedly.

إذا كان حَبيبَك عَسَل ما تِلحَسوش كُلُّه

ʾezā kān ḥabībak ʿasal mā telḥasūš kolloh
Literal translation: Even if a friend is honey, don’t lick them all up.
Meaning: We all know how important friends are in life. But, even if they’re as sweet as honey, we shouldn’t abuse their kindness.

كُلُّه عَند العَرب صابون

kolloh ʿand el-ʿarb ṣābūn
Literal translation: For the Bedouin, it’s all soap.
Meaning: People without taste (poor Bedouins, in this case…) can’t really distinguish if something is of good quality or not.

Bedouins Riding on Camels

إللي ما يِعرَفش، يِقول عَدس

ʾellī mā yeʿrafš, yeʾūl ʿads
Literal translation: He who doesn’t know, says “lentils.”
Meaning: Those who don’t know what really happened will just say anything as an explanation (“lentils” is probably just the first thing that came to mind!).

بَعد ما شاب وَدّوه الكُتّاب

baʿd mā šāb waddūh el-kottāb
Literal translation: After his hair went gray, they took him to school.
English equivalent: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Meaning: This means that it is often hard to teach older people new ways and habits, and that it might be too late.

صاحِب بالين كَدّاب وصاحِب تَلاتَة مُنافِق

ṣāḥeb bel-īn kaddāb ūṣāḥeb talātah monāfeʾ
Literal translation: ِA person of two minds is a liar, and a person of three minds is a hypocrite.
Meaning: According to this saying, a person who tries to do two things at a time is fooling himself, and a person who tries to do three things at once is even more self-deceived.

2. Bald Men, Roosters, and Paradise: Levantine Arabic Proverbs

In case you were wondering, this creative use of language is quite prominent in Levantine Arabic proverbs, too. Let’s dive in! 

البَحصَة بِتِسنِد خابيَة

el-baḥṣah betesned ḫābyah
Literal translation: A pebble can support a barrel.
Meaning: This proverb expresses that even a little effort can go a long way.

الديك بِيْموت وعينو بِالمَزبَلَة

el-dīk beymūt wʿīnū belmazbalah
Literal translation: The rooster dies with his eye still on the dunghill.
English equivalent: A leopard can’t change its spots.
Meaning: This proverb conveys the idea that no one can change their nature. It’s most often used to describe negative qualities and behaviors.

الحَرَكَة بَرَكَة

el-ḥarakah barakah
Literal translation: Movement is a blessing.
Meaning: If you want to get things done, you need to act!

كُل ديك عَ مَزبَلتُه صَيّاح

kol dīk ʿa mazbaltoh ṣayyāḥ
Literal translation: Every rooster crows on its own dunghill.
Meaning: Roosters again. This time, though, the proverb is about how it’s easy to feel confident on your home turf. Everyone does.

A Rooster

إللي بياكُل العُصيّ مِش مِتل إللي بِيعِدّها

ʾellī byākol el-ʿuṣeī meš metl ʾellī beīʿeddhā
Literal translation: Receiving (blows from) a stick is not the same as counting them.
Meaning: This is similar to the “hand in fire, hand in water” we saw earlier on. Definitely not the same. So do not comment on someone’s actions (or reactions) when you’re not the one going through a hard time.

الدَم ما بِيصير مَي

el-dam mā beyṣīr maī
Literal translation: Blood does not become water.
English equivalent: Blood is thicker than water.
Meaning: This proverb means that family bonds are always stronger than love or friendships.

التِلم الأَعوَج مِن التور الكبير

el-telm el-ʾaʿwag men el-tūr el-kbīr
Literal translation: The crooked furrow is caused by the big bull.
English equivalent: A fish rots from the head down.
Meaning: This one means that leadership is always the root cause of an organization’s failure.

ما تقول فول لَيْصير بِالمَكيُول

mā tʾūl fūl layṣīr belmakyūl
Literal translation: Don’t say “beans” until they are on the measuring scale.
English equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Meaning: Don’t count on something before you’re certain it’s going to happen.

الإسكافي حافي والحايِك عِريان

el-ʾeskāfī ḥāfī welḥāyek ʿeryān
Literal translation: The shoemaker is barefoot and the weaver is naked.
nglish equivalent: The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot.
Meaning: This saying describes how we tend to neglect the things closest to us, or fail to apply the advice we give others to our own lives.

اِحتَرنا يَا قَرعَة مِن وين بِدنا نبوسِك

eḥtarnā yā ʾarʿah men weīn bednā nbūsek
Literal translation: Oh bald man, we’re confused about where to kiss you.
Meaning: This funny proverb describes someone who’s hard to please. It’s like saying, in English: “There’s no pleasing you.” The strange (and quite humorous) assumption here is that a bald person has more kissable spots on his head to choose from, hence the confusion!

A Bald Man Thinking about Something

ابنَك هُوَّ وِزغير رَبّيه وهُوَّ وِكبير خاوِيه

ebnak howwa wezġīr rabbīh w howwa wekbīr ḫāwīh
Literal translation: Discipline your son when he’s young, and be his friend when he grows up.
Meaning: This is pretty straight-forward, but still good parenting advice!

إللي بِدّو يِلعَب مَع القُط بِدّو يِلقى خَرامِيشُه

ʾellī beddū yelʿab maʿ el-ʾoṭ beddū yelʾā ḫarāmīšoh
Literal translation: Whoever plays with a cat will find his claws.
English equivalent: If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.
Meaning: As we all know, this is a warning that dangerous or risky actions often lead to injury.

الحَكي مِش مِتل الشوفَة

el-ḥakī meš metl el-šūfah
Literal translation: Speaking is not like seeing.
English equivalent: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Meaning: Like its English counterpart, this saying stresses the fact that complex situations and ideas are sometimes best conveyed through sight rather than words.

الجَنَّة بِدون ناس ما تِنداس

el-gannah bedūn nās mā tendās
Literal translation: A paradise without people is not worth stepping foot in.
Meaning: This proverb reminds us to be kind and understanding toward each other, and that misanthropic conduct may lead to misery! What kind of paradise would it be without anyone to share it with?

Sun Setting Against a Snowy Landscape

3. Bonus: A Modern Standard Arabic Proverb 

There are also proverbs in Modern Standard Arabic, but dialect proverbs are used more often. An example of a Modern Standard Arabic proverb is:

لَوْلا اِختِلاف الأَذواق، لَبارَت السِلَع

lawlā iḫtelāf ul-ʾazwaq, labārat al-selaʿ
iteral translation: Were it not for differences of taste, goods would go unsold.
English equivalent: Variety is the spice of life.
Meaning: Different tastes and perspectives give things more value.

4. Conclusion

“All good things must come to an end…”

But it’s not really the end, is it? There’s so much more to learn about the Arabic language! 

“Practice makes perfect,” so keep practicing your Arabic skills on ArabicPod101.com. Using all the features we offer (audio podcasts, videos with transcriptions, word lists, a dictionary, and more), you’ll pick up this beautiful and interesting language in no time. 

And remember: A pebble can support a barrel, and even a little effort goes a long way. So start practicing

Before you go: Which Arabic proverb was your favorite, and why?

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