English proverbs and their translation into other languages

Published on 20/02/2023

Discover how folk wisdom knows no language or cultural barriers.

Popular sayings are one of the great hallmarks of a language. Translating them is often not easy, as knowing their meaning and use requires a broad knowledge of the language and its original culture. It is so interesting, precisely for this reason, to know some of them, because in addition to demonstrating a great knowledge of the language, they also provide us with interesting extra information.

As we all know, sayings are, above all, a sample of popular wisdom. It is therefore not surprising that the same teachings are passed on in different parts of the world and in different languages. You can find some examples of this below, as some of the most popular English sayings have their equivalent in other languages.

1. Better be safe than sorry

The meaning of this popular English saying is a reminder that it is often better to take steps to avoid negative consequences than to try to repair the damage once it has occurred.

Of course, there is also a French version of this saying: "”Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir", which literally translated means "prevention is better than cure".

2. Putting the cart before the horse

In England, when we want to reproach someone for doing things in the wrong order to achieve their goal, we say that they are "putting the cart before the horse".

In Portuguese there is a very similar saying: “Colocar a carroça na frente dos bois", which literally means "to place the cart in front of the oxen". As we can see, both sayings are sufficiently graphic to convey perfectly what they mean.

3. What you don't know can't hurt you

Who has never preferred not to know or not to have known something, in order to avoid suffering? This gem of popular wisdom is what this saying sums up.

This time it is the German language that offers us another version of the saying: “Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn", which can be translated as "out of sight, out of mind".

4. Italian proverbs identical to their English versions

The Italian language has many similarities with English.

It is very easy to find a good example of this in the proverbs, as we share many of them with the Italians, to the extent that their variation in literal translation is practically non-existent.

The grass is always greener on the other side

In Italian we find the same saying as "l'erba del vicino è sempre più verde" (the grass of the neighbour is always greener). Its meaning refers to how some people tend to become more obsessed with what others have than appreciating what they have.

5. He who laughs last, laughs best

In Italian it is "ride bene chi ride ultimo". This saying reminds us not to claim victory or give up too soon, as often conflict situations can quickly turn around and either favour or disadvantage the other party.

A word to the wise is enough

Although slightly shorter, the Italian version of this saying is almost identical: "a buon intenditor, poche parole". This is a saying that shows in itself its meaning, no more words are needed to explain it.

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth

Its Italian version is "a caval donato non si guarda in bocca". Similar to the English version but with an amusing rhyme that makes it sound a little funnier and more carefree.

6. The importance of a translation company

As we have seen, sayings are one of those aspects of a language that can be the most complicated to translate. For this reason, and many others, it is always advisable to entrust a good translation agency with any important project for which you want to obtain the best results.

Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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