Learn Russian Through Proverbs: 50 Must-Know Sayings

Learning a new language involves more than just mastering grammar rules and vocabulary. To truly understand and appreciate Russian, it is essential to delve into its cultural nuances and expressions.

Russian proverbs, with their rich history and profound meanings, provide a window into the Russian soul. They often use vivid imagery and figurative language, making them powerful tools for language learners to expand their vocabulary, improve their understanding of idiomatic expressions, and enhance their grasp of Russian grammar.

A man chasing two hares
If you chase two hares, you won’t catch either (=trying to do too many things at once often leads to failure)

Russian proverbs are commonly used in everyday conversations, literature, and media. Mastering them  allows language learners to connect with native speakers on a personal and emotional level. When learners use proverbs appropriately, it shows their appreciation for Russian culture and their efforts to understand the intricacies of the language.

In this article, I will provide you with a list of Russian proverbs that are still in use. Some of them may sound outdated, but you can often find them in books, movies, or even everyday speech.

I’ll start with simple ones, that you can understand without explanaition.

Век живи, век учись. (Live for a century, learn for a century.)

Семь раз отмерь, один раз отрежь. (Measure seven times, cut once.)

Терпение и труд всё перетрут. (Patience and hard work can overcome anything.)

Лучше поздно, чем никогда. (Better late than never.)

Тише едешь – дальше будешь. (The quieter you go, the further you’ll get.)

Не рой яму другому, сам в неё попадёшь. (Don’t dig a hole for someone else, you’ll fall into it yourself.)

Что посеешь, то и пожнёшь. (As you sow, so shall you reap.)

Лучше один раз увидеть, чем сто раз услышать. (It’s better to see once than to hear a hundred times.)

Друг познаётся в беде. (A friend is known in times of trouble.)

Не всё то золото, что блестит. (Not everything that glitters is gold.)

Повторение – мать учения. (Repetition is the mother of learning.)

Доверяй, но проверяй. (Trust, but verify.)

Без труда не выловишь и рыбку из пруда. (Without effort, you won’t even catch a fish from the pond.)

Первый блин комом. (The first pancake is always lumpy.)

Бережёного Бог бережёт. (God helps those who help themselves.)

В здоровом теле – здоровый дух. (In a healthy body, there’s a healthy mind).

Не так страшен чёрт, как его малюют. (The devil is not as scary as he is painted).

Нет худа без добра. (There is no evil without good.)

Не откладывай на завтра то, что можно сделать сегодня. (Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.)

Дорогу осилит идущий. (The one who walks will overcome the road.)

Голь на выдумки хитра. (Necessity is the mother of invention.)

Что имеем – не храним, потерявши – плачем. (We don’t appreciate what we have until we lose it.)

С кем поведёшься, от того и наберёшься. (You become like the company you keep = we are like those who are close to us.)

Кто рано встаёт, тому Бог подаёт. (“God helps those who rise early”. = The early bird catches the worm.)

Голод не тётка. (“Hunger is not an aunt”, meaning hunger is not to be underestimated).

Не говори гоп, пока не перепрыгнешь. (Don’t say “hop” until you’ve jumped.)

This proverb is used to caution against making bold or boastful statements before actually accomplishing the task or overcoming the obstacle at hand. It emphasizes the importance of action and results rather than mere words or intentions.

In simpler terms, it means you shouldn’t make empty promises or talk about doing something until you’re actually capable of doing it. It’s a reminder to back up your words with actions.

В тихом омуте черти водятся.  (Still waters run deep.)

The proverb conveys the idea that in quiet or unassuming individuals, there may be hidden or unexpected qualities, intentions, or actions. It suggests that one should be cautious and not trust someone solely based on their outward appearance or demeanor.

The phrase “черти водятся” translates to “devils reside” or “demons are present,” which metaphorically implies that there may be hidden negative traits or intentions in seemingly harmless individuals.

Proverbs like this one often carry a metaphorical meaning, using elements from nature or folklore to convey deeper truths or lessons about life.

Глаза боятся, а руки делают. (The eyes are afraid, but the hands do the work.)

It means that while fear or hesitation may exist, it is important to push past those feelings and take action to achieve your goals or complete tasks.

This proverb can be applied to various situations in life, reminding us that action is often necessary to overcome obstacles or achieve success.

Делу время, потехе час. (There is a time for work, and an hour for fun.)

The proverb implies that work should be prioritized and given more time and effort, with leisure activities being allocated a smaller portion of one’s schedule.

Рыбак рыбака видит издалека. (A fisherman sees another fisherman from afar.)

This proverb carries the meaning that individuals who share a similar interests can easily recognize and understand each other. It emphasizes the ability to identify and connect with like-minded individuals based on shared interests.

Где тонко, там и рвётся. (Where it’s thin, it tears.)

Trouble or problems often arise in areas that are already weak, unreliable, or unstable. The saying emphasizes the vulnerability of such situations and suggests that it’s important to address and reinforce potential weaknesses to prevent further complications.

Поспешишь – людей насмешишь. (If you hurry, you’ll make people laugh.)

Similar to “Haste makes waste” in English. It means that rushing or acting hastily can lead to mistakes or ridicule from others. It advises against impulsive actions and encourages patience and carefulness.

Хорошо там, где нас нет. (It’s good where we’re not.)

This proverb suggests that people tend to idealize or romanticize places or situations that they are not currently in. It implies that people often believe that things are better elsewhere, but once they experience it themselves, they may realize that it is not as great as they imagined.

По одёжке встречают, по уму провожают. (They meet you by your clothes, but see you off by your mind.)

This proverb emphasizes the importance of judging someone based on their character and intelligence rather than their appearance or material possessions. It suggests that first impressions based on external factors may be misleading, and it is more valuable to evaluate someone based on their intellect and personality.

На вкус и цвет товарищей нет. (There’s no accounting for taste.)

It means that people have different preferences and opinions, especially when it comes to matters of personal taste. The saying highlights the subjective nature of individual preferences and reminds us that what one person may find appealing, another may not. So, it’s important to respect and accept diverse opinions and tastes.

In everyday speaking we tend to just say “на вкус и цвет“.

На безрыбье и рак рыба. (In the absence of fish, even a crayfish is considered a fish.)

It implies that when options are limited or scarce, even a less desirable or inferior alternative can be considered acceptable or valuable.

See Also: Common Russian Phrases For Everyday Speaking

В чужом глазу соринку видишь, а в своём бревна не замечаешь. (You see a mote in someone else’s eye, but don’t notice a log in your own.)

This proverb has its origins in the Bible. It can be found in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 3-5. The proverb is similar in meaning to the English saying “You notice the speck in someone else’s eye, but not the plank in your own eye.” It conveys the idea that people tend to be more critical of others and their faults while being oblivious to their own shortcomings.

Дело мастера боится. (The work fears the master.)

The saying implies that a skilled and experienced person is capable of completing a task efficiently and without difficulty.

Любишь кататься, люби и саночки возить. (If you enjoy sledding, you should also enjoy carrying the sled.)

This proverb is often used to convey the idea that if you enjoy the benefits or pleasures of something, you should also be willing to put in the necessary effort or work that comes with it.

Дарёному коню в зубы не смотрят. (Don’t look at a gift horse’s teeth.)

This proverb is used to convey the idea that when someone receives a gift or favor, it is impolite or ungrateful to criticize or scrutinize its quality or value. It emphasizes the importance of appreciating and accepting what is given without being overly critical.

The origin of this proverb can be traced back to the practice of examining a horse’s teeth to determine its age and overall health. In the context of the proverb, it suggests that when someone receives a horse as a gift, they shouldn’t inspect its teeth to assess its value or condition, as it would be disrespectful to the giver.

Волка ноги кормят. (The wolf is fed by its legs.)

In a literal sense, the proverb suggests that a wolf survives by hunting and using its own legs to seek and catch prey. It highlights the idea that reliance on oneself and taking proactive steps is crucial for survival and sustenance.

Береги платье снову, а честь смолоду. (Guard your dress when it’s new, and your honor from a young age.)

Just as we take care of a new dress to keep it clean and intact, the proverb suggests that we should be mindful of our actions and decisions, particularly during our youth, to protect our reputation and moral character.

Once our honor is compromised, it becomes challenging to restore it fully. The proverb highlights the importance of maintaining a good name from an early age, as it is much easier to keep a clean reputation than to rectify a tarnished one.

Чужая душа – потёмки. (Another person’s soul is a dark place.)

It implies that we can never truly understand or know the thoughts, intentions, or emotions of others, as their inner world remains hidden and mysterious to us.

Утро вечера мудренее. (The morning is wiser than the evening.)

It suggests that decisions made in the morning tend to be more rational and well-thought-out compared to those made in the evening when fatigue or impulsiveness may cloud judgment. The saying emphasizes the importance of taking time to reflect and make decisions with a clear mind.

Слово – не воробей, вылетит – не поймаешь. (A word is not a sparrow; once it flies out, you can’t catch it.)

The proverb suggests that once words are spoken or uttered, they cannot be taken back or undone. It emphasizes the importance of being cautious and thoughtful about what we say because words have the potential to cause harm, create misunderstandings, or have lasting effects on relationships. Once words are out in the open, they cannot be easily retracted or controlled.

Работа не волк, в лес не убежит. (Work is not a wolf, it won’t run away to the woods.)

Russians love wolfs, don’t you think so? Well, this is an interesting one.

Metaphorically, this proverb likens work to a wolf that cannot simply escape to the forest. It conveys the idea that work or responsibilities should not be avoided or postponed because they will not disappear or resolve themselves on their own.

It’s funny because I didn’t know about this meaning before, but it totally makes sense. However, in my head there was always another translation: work is not going anywhere, so there is no need to panic or feel overwhelmed. Lazy people like me really love that one.

So, there are indeed two opposite meanings of this saying, which makes it really special.

Молчание – знак согласия. (Silence is a sign of agreement.)

This phrase is used when someone remains silent or does not express their disagreement, so it can be interpreted as them being in agreement with the situation or the opinions being discussed. However, it’s important to note that this statement is not always true, as silence can also indicate uncertainty, contemplation, or simply a lack of willingness to engage in a conversation.

Нет дыма без огня. (There is no smoke without fire.)

This proverb suggests that rumors, suspicions, or accusations often have some basis in truth or reality. It implies that where there is smoke (metaphorically representing rumors or indications), there is likely fire (representing a real situation or underlying truth).

Одна голова хорошо, а две лучше. (Two heads are better than one.)

This means that having multiple perspectives, ideas, or opinions can lead to better outcomes or solutions compared to relying solely on one’s own thinking. It emphasizes the benefits of working together, sharing knowledge, and pooling resources.

Что русскому хорошо, то немцу смерть. (What is good for a Russian is death to a German.)

What may be beneficial or enjoyable for one person or group may be harmful or unpleasant for another.  So, it’s better to avoid getting too carried away with something new and unknown.

Common Russian Proverbs

In a nutshell, Russian proverbs are like hidden gems that hold a wealth of language and cultural knowledge. They’re like little windows that give us a glimpse into the Russian soul. By diving into these proverbs, you can enhance your language skills, connect with native speakers, and truly embrace the richness of Russian culture.

So, take these proverbs to heart, weave them into your conversations, and watch as they bring depth and authenticity to your language skills.

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