20 Common Arabic Proverbs and Their English Equivalents
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Proverbs are used in almost every language, as they are means of communicating something that is "common truth" and connecting with past wisdom or knowledge. It is also not surprising that many proverbs are found in more than one language. This is simply due to the fact that humans have always exchanged and traded things, not only in a commercial sense... These transactions also encompassed language, literature and culture too.
Learning about another culture or language usually involves learning about their proverbs, as it enhances metaphorical and communication skills. It is also worth mentioning that this important part of learning foreign languages is being neglected at the present, despite it being an effective way of memorizing vocabulary and bridging the idiomatic expression.
In this blog post I will mention a few basic yet very popular Arabic proverbs, which I personally grew up with. They are worth sharing with your little ones as another way of helping them learn Arabic and understand your culture. They are also good to know in general for anyone learning Arabic.
الوقت من ذهب.
Al wakto men zahab.
Translation: Time is gold.
English Equivalent: Time is money.
أنت نور عينيّ (عيوني).
Anta Nour ’aynay (or 'Oyouny in spoken dialect)
Translation: You are the light of my eyes.
English Equivalent: You are the apple of me eyes.
من حفر حفرة لأخيه وقع فيها.
Man hafara hufra li akheehi waka'a fiha.
Translation: He who digs a pit for his brother, falls into it.
English Equivalent: Whoever digs a pit will fall into it (, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling)
من طلب العلى سهر الليالي.
Man talaba al ola sahira allayalee.
Literal Translation: He who desires the top must sit up many nights.
English Equivalent: The road to success is paved with hard work.
عند البطون ضاعت العقول.
'Inda al botoun da'at al 'okoul.
Literal Translation: When it comes to the stomach, the mind is lost.
English Equivalent: A hungry belly has no ears.
ما كل ما يتمناه المرء يدركه. تجري الرياح بما لا تشتهي السفن.
Ma kollo ma yatamannaho al mar'o youdrikoho. Tajree arriyaho bima la tashtahee assofono.
Literal Translation: One will not attain everything he wishes for. The winds blow unlike what the ships wish for.
English Equivalent: Man does not attain all his heart's desires.
ضربت عصفورين بحجر واحد.
Darabt 'asfourayn bi hajar wahid.
Literal Translation: I hit two birds with a single stone.
English Equivalent: Kill two birds with one stone.
من (ألي) بيته من زجاج لا يرجم الناس بالحجارة.
Man (Illi in spoken dialect) baytohou men zojaj la yarjom annas bel hijara.
Literal Translation: He whose house is made of glass should not throw stones at people.
English Equivalent: People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
خير الكلام ما قل ودل.
Khairo al kalam ma kalla wa dal.
Literal Translation: The best speech is little and indicative.
English Equivalent: Good brevity makes sense.
المال يولد المال.
Al mal yowalled al mal.
Literal Translation: Money brings more money.
English Equivalent: Money begets money.
بعيد عن العين، بعيد عن القلب.
Ba'eed an al 'ayn, ba'eed an al kalb.
Literal Translation: Far from sight, far from the heart.
English Equivalent: Out of sight, out of mind.
إذا كان الكلام من فضة فالسكوت من ذهب.
Eza kana al kalamo men fidda fassokouto men zahab.
Literal Translation: If speaking was of silver, then silence is of gold.
English Equivalent: He who has understanding spares his words.
الصديق وقت الضيق.
Assadeeq wakt addeeq.
Literal Translation: You will know your friend in time of need.
English Equivalent: A friend in need is a friend indeed.
الأقربون أولى بالمعروف.
AL akraboon awla bil ma'rouf.
Literal Translation: Those who are close to you are more entitled to your charity.
English Equivalent: Charity begins at home.
كل ممنوع مرغوب.
Kol mamnou' marghoub.
Translation: Whatever is forbidden is desired.
English Equivalent: Forbidden fruit is sweet.
الحاجة أم الاختراع.
Al haja omm al ikhtera'.
Literal Translation: Necessity is the mother of invention.
English Equivalent: Necessity is the mother of invention.
القشة التي قصمت ظهر البعير.
Al kasha allatee kasamat zahr al ba'eer.
Literal Translation: The straw that broke the camel's back.
English Equivalent: The last straw that broke the camel's back.
حبل الكذب قصير.
Habl el kazeb kaseer.
Literal Translation: The rope of lying/lies is short.
English Equivalent: The truth will come out.
اتق شر من احسنت إليه.
Ettakee sharra man ahsanta elayh.
Literal Translation: Beware him whom you have been charitable to.
English Equivalent: Save a thief from the gallows and he'll cut your throat.
عذر أقبح من ذنب.
'Ozr akbah men zanb.
Literal Translation: An excuse/justification uglier than the original sin/fault.
English Equivalent: An excuse is sometimes more ugly than a guilt.
I hope you have enjoyed reading these popular proverbs in both Arabic and English. The internet is also full of many many more. It can be another useful way of learning the Arabic language. For example, you could choose the "proverb of the week" and hang it on your fridge or wall. You would then explain it to your little ones and perhaps use stories or examples to explain the meaning.
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