5 English proverbs to stop your friends doing something stupid

5 English proverbs to stop your friends doing something stupid

Let me ask you a question:

Who’s the person in your life who has always made you feel better when you were down?

Maybe they’ve comforted you after something awful happened.

Or maybe they’ve given you the confidence to be yourself.

Sometimes that kind of person tells you something you don’t want to hear but need to hear.

Something like, “You shouldn’t do that, you’ll regret it.”

Or, “You really shouldn’t poke that lion with a stick. It’s a bad idea. Don’t do it.”

girl considering poking a lion with a stick

And no matter how much you wanted to poke that lion with a stick, you listened to that person, because you knew they were right.

Think about the kinds of words and phrases that person has used with you.

An important side of communicating with people you like, love or respect is choosing the perfect words and phrases.

This can be particularly difficult in a foreign language. But there’s some good news.

Expert English speakers are particularly responsive to proverbs and idiomatic language.

If a picture can paint a thousand words, then a proverb, because it’s so colourful and full of imagery, can paint, like… 600 words. Maybe even 650.

Today, we’re going to look at proverbs you can use to make sure the people you love and respect don’t make any terrible mistakes. Like poking a lion with a stick.

They’ll thank you later.

As I mentioned before, these proverbs are used as a kind of warning. We may not like it when people tell us not to do things, but sometimes the people who like and respect us will do that for us.

I guess these proverbs are the “tough love” proverbs. I always kind of think of a mother or grandmother when I think of these. Someone who’s never afraid to tell you what you don’t necessarily want to hear.

Tough Gran

English Proverb #1

Don’t judge a book by its cover

What does it mean?

Don’t form an opinion of something without really getting to know it first.

English Proverbs - Don't judge a book by its cover

Example please…

Here’s an example from my own experience.

When I was living in Istanbul, I had a great group of friends, mostly from the music scene there (which is great, by the way!).

One day a new guy joins us. He’s a friend of one of the guys in our circle of friends. He’s also into the music scene.*

*Why am I using present simple to talk about the past? Find out here.

And immediately I don’t like him.

I know his type! I can tell from his clothes, from the way he walks and the way he talks. He’s one of those guys who thinks he’s much better than everyone else. An arrogant guy. A big head.

So I decide to avoid him and ignore him whenever we’re in social situations.

Then one day we get talking. We have to — we’re left in an awkward situation. A bit like this one.

Awkward moment || Oh, no! Not this person.

It turns out he’s actually a super-nice guy. The clothes, the walk, the way he talks — all those things I thought showed him to be arrogant? They were all completely in my head.

If only Tough Gran had been around at the beginning:

English Proverbs - Don't judge a book by its cover

English Proverb #2

Curiosity killed the cat

What does it mean?

Don’t ask too many questions. You might end up in trouble.

English Proverbs - Curiosity killed the cat

Example please…

Here’s Sanchez. He’s a nice guy.


He likes and trusts everyone and always sees the best in people.

Here he is walking along the canal.

Sanchez at the canal

Then he sees a bunch of guys throwing something heavy into the canal.

2 guys throwing something into a canal

He’s about to go up to the guys to ask them what that heavy thing they were throwing in the canal was. He’s interested! He wants to learn about the world.

Would you do the same?

No way! Of course not. I really don’t want to know what they were throwing in the canal. I can take a good guess, anyway.

Thankfully, Sanchez’s Tough Gran is around to tell him:

English Proverbs - Curiosity killed the cat

English Proverb #3

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

What does it mean?

I’d love it if this was actually about chickens. But it’s not. It’s about making assumptions.

You’re planning to get things. You’re on track to get things. But don’t assume you’ll have them until you have them.

English Proverbs - Don't count your chickens before they hatch

Example please…

Here’s Lydia.


Lydia is an optimist. She feels positively about everything and always thinks the best is going to happen.

I like Lydia because I’m a bit of a wild optimist, too.

Sometimes being an optimist can be awesome. You feel great most of the time, and you have quite low stress levels. That’s why Lydia and I look so young for our age. (Did you know that I’m 65?)

But sometimes it can lead to foolish decisions.

One day Lydia has an awesome job interview.

Although they haven’t given her the job yet, Lydia’s feeling very positively about the interview. It went super well.

In fact, it went so well that she’s sure she got the job.

She’ll have money again. Soon!

So she goes straight to the bank to borrow some money. She can start spending again! The interest rates are high — but it doesn’t matter. She’ll be able to pay it back within weeks.

Lydia goes to the bank

Fortunately, Tough Gran is around to stop her:

English Proverbs - Don't count your chickens before they hatch

English Proverb #4

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

What does it mean?

Yep. For some reason, chickens and eggs are a major theme of Tough Gran.

When things aren’t completely certain, don’t put all your hope on one option. Spread your bets!

English Proverbs - Don't put all your eggs into one basket

Example please…

Here’s Cynthia.


When she was young, she always wanted to be an actress. She was so confident and sure that she was going to be an actress that she didn’t pay attention at school.

As soon as she was 18, she spent most of her money on plastic surgery, and she went to Los Angeles to find a role in a film that would make her a star.

But L.A. is a tough place. She kept trying to get her big break (a big opportunity that’ll make her a star), but it just didn’t happen.

Now she’s a waitress in a diner. She should’ve paid more attention at school, right?

English Proverbs - Don't put all your eggs into one basket

English Proverb #5

Look before you leap

What does it mean?

Make sure you know what’s happening before you make a decision.

English Proverbs - Look before you leap

Example please…

Let’s see how Sanchez is doing.

Oh, he’s talking to Shady Nick. This doesn’t look good.

Sanchez and Nick

Shady Nick is offering to give Sanchez $10,000 tomorrow — if Sanchez gives Nick $1,000 now. No questions asked.

OK. Would you go for this deal?

Of course not — never trust Shady Nick. I thought everyone knew that!

Is Sanchez going to go for this deal?

Probably, unless Tough Gran steps in…

English Proverbs - Look before you leap

So there we are. Now you know how to be a Tough Gran, too.

Your friends will thank you for it!

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