Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

American Culture and Language | Famous Proverbs and Sayings

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Thu, Jun 16, 2011 @ 08:20 AM


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When you come to the United States to live and work, you can learn a lot about American culture through the language. Proverbs and sayings that are commonly used are a great way to gather clues about cultural values and cultural norms in the United States. Of course, not all people in the U.S. have the same values because the U.S. is made up of so many different kinds of people.

However, proverbs do show us patterns and common themes and they tell us what is important to a lot of people.

In my private English classes, we occasionally talk about some of these proverbs and what they say about American culture.

Would you like to know six common proverbs in American English and what those proverbs might say about our cultural values, norms, and assumptions? Check out today's post!


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6 Common Proverbs in the United States:


  • "Actions speak louder than words" - This proverb means that if you have something that you are going to do, you should do it instead of just talking about it. In the American business world, people seem to make decisions and take action more quickly than they do in other cultures. This proverb shows us that there is often an emphasis on making decisions quickly and acting based on intuition. 


  • "He who hesitates is lost"- This is another example of the value that we place on taking action instead of reflecting and thinking about the decision. This proverb suggests that if you take too much time to think about something, you might lose the opportunity to act.


  • "Nothing ventured, nothing gained"- If you don't take a risk, there is no opportunity.  In the U.S. business world and in other areas, many people place a high value on risk taking. Many small businesses and new product ideas exist because of someone's willingness to take a risk. Business owners know that there is risk involved in starting a business, but they also know that if they don't take a risk, there is no opportunity to be successful. The value of risk taking is most likely rooted in U.S. history and the individualist mentality that is common in the U.S.


  • "If you want something done right, do it yourself"- Self-reliance and individualism are two very common cultural values in the United States. The idea of doing things by onself is encouraged, even for children. American parents praise their kids when they are able to do things like tying their shoes on their own.


  • "Where there's a will, there's a way"- This saying means that if you have the motivation to do something, you will find a way to do it.  This value of hard work is very common in the U.S. culture. In addition to this proverb, many stories, poems, songs, and movies present the same basic value. The movie Rudy, the story of an American kid who works hard to earn a spot on the University of Notre Dame football team, is a good example of a movie that displays this cultural value.


  • "Every cloud has a silver lining"-This means that even a bad situation offers something positive. The value of optimism is important to a lot of people in the United States. It is common to look for the positive aspect of any negative situation.


When you study English in the United States, take the time to learn some of the local proverbs and sayings like the ones mentioned above. With a strong knowledge of how the culture influences American English, you will be more prepared to interact with local people and to succeed at work. Good luck and keep studying!






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Topics: English Lessons, United States Culture, Vocabulary Workshop, Cultural Competence

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