Introduction    General Proverbs    Idioms at School    Idioms at Work    Idioms at Play    American Culture



General introduction


Welcome to this series of lessons on proverbs and idioms that are common in English.




A proverb is a brief, popular saying that gives a piece of wisdom to the hearer.  You have many in Chinese, of course, and they are just as popular in English.  The source of many of our proverbs is the Bible, which has an entire chapter devoted to them.


In the Bible, you will find such now-common sayings as:


Pride goeth before a fall. This is found as ˇ§People who are proud will soon be disgraced.  It is wiser to be modestˇ¨ (Proverbs 11: 2).


Think before you act.  This is found as ˇ§Sensible people always think before they act, but stupid people advertise their ignoranceˇ¨ (Proverbs 13: 16).


Or my personal favorite: Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and annoys the pig.  This is found originally as ˇ§Donˇ¦t try to talk sense to a fool.  He canˇ¦t appreciate itˇ¨ (Proverbs 23:9).


(All biblical quotations are from the Good News Bible: Todayˇ¦s English version, American Bible Society, 1976)


But the Bible isnˇ¦t the only source for our sayings.  Many come from literature, especially from Shakespeare.  Some he invented, like ˇ§thereˇ¦s something rotten in Denmark,ˇ¨ which is a slightly mangled version of Hamlet I.iv.90, but others were popular in his time, and he immortalized them in his plays. 


Benjamin Franklin, an American statesman/inventor/writer, contributed many proverbs to the English language, and many of his sayings will be covered in unit five.


 (source: http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/index.htm)





An idiom is slightly different.  Itˇ¦s a saying that canˇ¦t be understood easily, even if you can figure out what all the words mean. 


Take, for example, the expression, ˇ§a fine pickleˇ¨.  We might use it like this:  If I miss the last bus, Iˇ¦ll be in a fine pickle. 


Now you know what a pickle is, a preserved vegetable.  And fine, means excellent or good.  So how does that make sense when it comes to me missing a bus? 


But the idiom ˇ§a fine pickleˇ¨ means a mess or in trouble.  What Iˇ¦m really saying is, ˇ§If I miss the last bus, Iˇ¦ll be in trouble.ˇ¨



Unit contents


Each unit will consist of twenty proverbs or idioms.  The idioms will be introduced in the context of a conversation between friends, co-workers or classmates to help you understand how they are used by real native speakers.




The proverbs will be introduced in individual slides in a Power Point Presentation, but each will be used in a contextual sentence.


The units will also include a sound file, so you can hear the phrases, as well as a self-test at the end of the unit.