Here is a number of common Arabic proverbs. For each proverb, we provide a literal translation of the Arabic, along with the equivalent proverb in English (if one exists). If there is no corresponding proverb in English, the literal translation is followed by an explanation of the idea expressed by the saying.
The proverbs are sorted by dialect. However, it should be noted that many of these proverbs exist in similar variants across the Arab world, each adapted to the pronunciation and vocabulary of the local dialect.
Egyptian Arabic Proverbs
القرد في عين أمه غزال
Literal translation: The monkey is a gazelle in the eyes of his mother.
English equivalent: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
أدعي على ولدي وأكره من يقول أمين
Literal translation: I curse my own child but I hate whoever says “amen.”
Explanation: This proverb describes the feeling that I have the right to criticize someone close to me, but I will rush to that person’s defense if an outsider makes the same criticism.
آخرة المعروف الضرب بالكفوف
Literal translation: The end result of a good deed is a slap with the palms.
English equivalent: No good deed goes unpunished.
اللي ايده في المية مش زي اللي ايده في النار
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.
لما اتفرّقت العقول كل واحد عجبه عقله، ولما اتفرّقت الأرزاق ماحدش عجبه رزقه
Literal translation:When brains were passed out, everyone was pleased with his brains; but when fortunes were given out, no one was satisfied with his fortune.
Explanation:People may be dissatisfied with their lot in life but nevertheless still believe that their way of thinking is the best.
اللي يتلسع من الشوربة ينفخ في الزبادي
Literal translation: Whoever gets burned by soup, blows on yogurt.
English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy.
إمشي في الجنازة، ولا تمشي في جوازة
Literal translation: Walk in a funeral procession, not in a marriage.
Explanation: Don’t play match-maker, i.e. don’t try to arrange a marriage because you will get blamed if it doesn’t work out.
الدنيا زي الغازية، ترقص لكل واحد شوية
Literal translation: The world is like a belly-dancer: it dances a little while for everyone.
English equivalent: Every dog has its day.
اللي على راسه بطحة يحسّس عليها
Literal translation: Whoever has a head-wound keeps feeling it.
Explanation: A guilty person will give himself away. An (uncommon) English equivalent is “The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth.”
أقول له تور يقول إحلبه
Literal translation: I say to him, “It’s a bull” and he responds “Milk it.”
Explanation: This saying refers to a situation where someone goes on repeating the same argument over and over again, even though he has been contradicted repeatedly.
لولا اختلاف النظر، لبارت السلع
Literal translation: Were it not for differences of opinion, goods would go unsold.
Explanation: Different perspectives is what gives things value. Variety is the spice of life.
إذا كان حبيبك عسل ما تلحسوش كله
Literal translation: Even if friend is honey, don’t lick them all up.
Explanation: Don’t abuse the kindness of a friend.
كلّه عند العرب صابون
Literal translation: For the Bedouin, it’s all soap.
Explanation: People without taste can’t discern the quality of different things.
اللي ما يعرفش، يقول عدس
Literal translation: He who doesn’t know, says “lentils.”
Explanation: Those who don’t know the true story will just say anything as an explanation.
بعد ما شاب ودّوه الكتّاب
Literal translation: After his hair went gray, they took him to school.
English equivalent: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
صاحب بالين كدّاب وصاحب تلاتة منافق
Literal translation: ِA person of two minds is a liar, and a person of three minds is a hypocrite.
Explanation: A person who tries to do two things at once is fooling himself, and a person who tries to do three things at once is even more self-deceived. The closest English equivalent would be “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
الجنة بدون ناس ما تنداس
Literal translation: A paradise without people is not worth stepping foot in.
الحكي مش متل الشوفة
Literal translation: Speaking is not like seeing.
English equivalent: A picture is worth a thousand words.
اللي بدو يلعب مع القط بدو يلقى خراميشه
Literal translation: Whoever plays with a cat will find his claws.
English equivalent: If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.
ابنك هو وزغير ربّيه وهو وكبير خاويه
Literal translation: Discipline your son when he’s young, and be his friend when he grows up.
احترنا يا قرعة من وين بدنا نبوسك
Literal translation: Oh bald man, we’re confused about where to kiss you.
Explanation: This proverb is applied to someone who’s hard to please, sort of like saying “There’s no pleasing you” in English. The strange assumption at the heart of this expression is that a bald person has more potentially kissable spots on his head, so there is no one obvious place to plant a kiss.
الإسكافي حافي والحايك عريان
Literal translation: The shoemaker is barefoot and the weaver is naked.
Explanation: People tend to neglect the things closest to them. Or alternatively, they fail to apply the advice and expertise they have for others to their own life. An English equivalent is “The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot.”
طب الجرة ع تمّا بتطلع البنت لإمّا
Literal translation: Flip the jar on its mouth, and the daughter comes out like her mother.
English equivalent: Like mother, like daughter. The Egyptian version of this proverb goes: اقلب القدرة على فمها تطلع البنت لإمها
ما تقول فول ليصير بالمكيول
Literal translation: Don’t says “beans” until they are on the measuring scale.
English equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
التلم الأعوج من التور الكبير
Literal translation: The crooked furrow is caused by the big bull.
English equivalent: A fish rots from the head down.
الدم ما بيصير مي
Literal translation: Blood does not become water.
English equivalent: Blood is thicker than water.
اللي بياكل العصي مش متل اللي بيعدّها
Literal translation: Receiving (blows from) a stick is not the same as counting them.
English equivalent: Easier said than done.
كل ديك ع مزبلته صيّاح
Literal translation: Every rooster crows on its own dunghill.
Explanation: Everyone feels confident on their home turf.
Literal translation: Movement is a blessing.
Explanation: Action is better than inaction. In order to get things done, you need to act.
الديك بيموت وعينو بالمزبلة
Literal translation: The rooster dies with his eye still on the dunghill.
Explanation: Similar to the English proverb “A leopard can’t change its spots,” this proverb conveys the idea that no one can change their fundamental nature. It’s used especially in reference to negative qualities and behaviors.
البحصة بتسند خابية
Literal translation: A pebble can support a barrel.
Explanation: Even a small effort can go a long way.
Other Arabic Proverbs
1. أباد الله خضراءهم ابذل لصديقك دمك ومالك
“Give your friends your money and your blood, but don’t justify yourself. Your enemies won’t believe it and your friends won’t need it.” This saying is about altruism, and how you should never explain why you’re doing good to anyone, because the explanation is not needed.
2. اتَّكَلْنا منه على خُصٍّ الاتحاد قوة
“Unity is power.”
3. اتق شر الحليم اذا غضب
“Beware the levelheaded person if they’re angry.” Levelheaded people are usually calm and collected, and don’t anger easily. This saying refers to the fact that if something set off a levelheaded person, you should be more worried!
4. اجتنب مصاحبة الكذاب فإن اضطررت إليه فلا تُصَدِّقْهُ
“Avoid the company of liars, but if you can’t, don’t believe them.” This one is pretty straightforward, isn’t it?
5. احذر عدوك مرة وصديقك ألف مرة فإن انقلب الصديق فهو أعلم بالمضرة
“Be wary around your enemy once, and your friend a thousand times. A double crossing friend knows more about what harms you.”
6. أحضر الناس جوابا من لم يغضب
“The best answer will come from the person who is not angry.”
7. اختر أهون الشرين
“Go with the lesser of two evils.”
8. إذا تم العقل نقص الكلام
“The smarter you are, the less you speak.”
9. إذا قصرت يدك عن المكافأة فليصل لسانك بالشكر
“If you’re unable to reward, then make sure to thank.”
10. أرسل حكيما ولا توصه
“Send a wise man; don’t advise him.”
11. أرى كل إنسان يرى عيب غيره ويعمى عن العيب الذي هو فيه
“Everyone is critical of the flaws of others, but blind to their own.”
12. أشد الفاقة عدم العقل
“Lack of intelligence is the greatest poverty.”
13. إصلاح الموجود خير من انتظار المفقود
“It’s better to fix what you have than wait to get what you don’t have.”
14. اصبر تنل
“Be patient and you’ll get what you want.”
15. الأفعال أبلغ من الأقوال
“Actions speak louder than words.”
16. أقل الناس سروراً الحسود
“An envious person is the unhappiest.”
17. الصحة تاج على رؤوس الأصحاء لا يراه إلا المرضى
“Good health is a crown worn by the healthy than only the ill can see.”
18. إن مع اليوم غدا يا مسعدة
“There’s always tomorrow.”
19. أول الشجرة بذرة
“A tree begins with a seed.”
20. أول الغضب جنون وآخره ندم
“Anger begins with madness, but ends in regret.”
The rest of the proverbs below will be written in English.
21. “Avoid that which requires an apology.”
22. “He makes a dome out of a grain.” This is the equivalent of making a “mountain” out of a “mole hill.”
23. “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.”
24. “You can’t clap with one hand.”
25. “If the wind blows, ride it.”
25. “Visit rarely, and you will be more loved.”
26. “Time is made of gold.”
27. “The key to everything is determination.”
28. “Silence is the sign of approval.”
29. “Lying is a disease, and truth is a cure.”
30. “Keeping a secret is a commitment.”
31. “If you have an opinion, you better be determined.”
32. “A foolish man may be known by six things: Anger without cause, speech without profit, change without progress, inquiry without object, putting trust in a stranger, and mistaking foes for friends.”
33. “A house divided cannot stand.”
34. “Arrogance diminishes wisdom.”
35. “A secret is like a dove: when it leaves my hand it takes wing.”
36. “A known mistake is better than an unknown truth.”
37. “A sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to our steps as we walk the tightrope of life.”
38. “Ask the experienced rather than the learned.”
39. “Every sun has to set.”
40. “Wishing does not make a poor man rich.”
41. “No crowd ever waited at the gates of patience.”
42. “He who sees the calamity of other people finds his own calamity light.”
43. “Do not buy either the moon or the news, for in the end they will both come out.”
44. “Believe what you see and lay aside what you hear.”
45. “Arrogance is a weed that grows mostly on a dunghill.”
46. “Ask your purse what you should buy.”
47. “The fruit of silence is tranquility.”
48. “Think of the going out before you enter.”
49. “The fruit of timidity is neither gain nor loss.”
50. “What is learned in youth is carved in stone.”
51. الرأي قبل شجاعة الشجعان
“Opinion comes before the bravery of the braves.”
52. ربما أراد الأحمق نفعك فضرك
“The stupid might want to help you, but they just ended up hurting you.”
52. جزاء سنمار جزاء مُجيرِ أُمِّ عامِرٍ الجزاء من جنس العمل
“You reap what you sow.”
54. جنت على نفسها براقش الجهل شر الأصحاب
“Ignorance is the most terrible acquaintance.”
55. البياض نصف الحسن بيت الظالم خراب
“The house of a tyrant is a ruin.”
56. بيت المحسن عمار
“If you are charitable, you are rich.”
57. البعد جفاء
“Distance equals disaffection.”
58. باب النجار مخَلَّع
“The carpenter’s door is loose.” This might refer to the idea that people who make a profession or a habit of one thing might not have the time to even use that skill in their own life. They take care of everyone except for themselves.
59. بالأرض ولدتك أمك بالتأني تُدْرَكُ الفُرَصُ
“With care do you realize your opportunities.”
60. البخيل عظيم الرواق صغير الأخلاق
“The stingy have large porches and little morality.”
61. الباب الذي يأتيك بالريح سده واسترح
“Close the door that brings in the wind and relax.” This means that sometimes, rather than taking a beating, you should just shut off the source of the noise, distraction, problem – that is, if you can – and take a break.
62. التجربة العلم الكبير
“Experimentation is the greatest science.”-
63. أول الشجرة بذرة
“A tree begins with a seed.”
64. أكرم نفسك عن كل دنيء
“Make distance between you and every dirtiness.”
65. إن غدا لناظره قريب
“Tomorrow is close if you have patience,” or, “Tomorrow is another day.”
66. أقلل طعامك تجد منامك
“Eat less to sleep more.”
67. أقسى من الحجر
“Tougher than a stone.”
68. آفة العِلْم النسيان
“Forgetting is the plague of knowledge.”
69. اعف عما أغضبك لما أرضاك أَعقَلُ الناس أَعْذَرُهُمْ للناس
“The wisest is the one who can forgive.”
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