Dropping a few Arabic proverbs into conversation enriches them immensely.
So here are ten Arabic proverbs you can learn if you’re just in the early stages of your Arabic language-learning journey — simple in grammar and vocabulary, but still useful in many everyday situations.
I’ve included pronunciation (Egyptian Arabic style) and an explanation of how to use them.
Arabic-speakers do like using proverbs. Not as much as the French or Chinese (see our list of beginner Chinese idioms), but they still exist in conversation and in TV shows. Many of these proverbs are casual, and many religious, from the Qu’ran.
In this guide we’ll focus on non-religious Arabic proverbs that are more used in everyday conversation.
Become a Discoverer
Like this and want more in your inbox about language and culture? Sign up to our weekly newsletter.
“You can’t make sweets without fire.”
- Arabic: مافيش حلاوة من غير نار
- Transliteration: mafiish Halaawa min gheir naar
This is a good beginner Arabic proverb to use.
You use this similarly to “you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs”.
Language notes: Great example of the ubiquitous “ma fiish”, used to describe when there is none or no more of something.
“Movement is a
- Arabic: الحركة بركة
- Transliteration: il-Haraka baraka
People tend to use this Arabic proverb when describing the benefits of exercise.
This expression simply means that it’s good to exercise, to move your body.
You can say it to someone who’s going out for a run, or who has been sitting on the sofa for too long.
“Repetition teaches a donkey”
- Arabic: التكرار يعلّم الحمار
- Transliteration: it-tikraar yi3allim il-Humaar
This is one of those great Arabic proverbs to sue when talking about how you learn Arabic!
This Arabic proverb is like “practice makes perfect”, with a dose of humility thrown in. You can use it to explain how your studies are going after being complimented!
“To a mother, a monkey is as beautiful as a gazelle”
- Arabic: القرد في عين أمه غزال
- Transliteration: il-‘ird fi 3ein ummu ghazaal
Throwing shade! I’d never use this to describe an actual parent-child relationship, but mostly to describe situations where people are blind to reality, like someone sticking with a business idea for too long.
“Dress up a stick, make it a bride”
- Arabic: لبس البوصة، تبقى عروسة
- Transliteration: labbis il-buuSa, tib’a 3aruusa
Used just like “lipstick on a pig”. You can use it pejoratively, or sarcastically.
Culture notes: pigs are dirty in both Islam and Middle Eastern culture generally.
are beautiful even if they just woke up, but the ugly are ugly even if they wash their face every day”
- Arabic: الحلو حلو لو قام من النوم، والوحش وحش لو غسل وشّه كل يوم
- Transliteration: il-Helw Helw law ‘aam min in-noom, w’al-weHish weHish law ghasal wishshu kull yoom
This is a long one, but it’s got lots of simple words in it.
Language notes: uses the slightly literary law conjunction, not often heard in spoken Egyptian Arabic.
“He who cooks his poison tastes it”
- Arabic: طبّاخ السمّ بيدوقه
- Transliteration: Tabbaax is-simm biyduu’u
This expression means “what goes around comes around”.
Language notes: The word Tabbaakh means “the person who cooks” as well as “chef”.
“Eat him for lunch before he eats you for dinner”
- Arabic: اتغدّى بيه قبل ما يتعشّى بيك
- Transliteration: itghadda biih ‘abl ma yit3ashsha biik
This Arabic proverb gives some succinct strategy advice. Egypt has a dog eat dog business environment.
Language notes: Arabic uses different nouns and verbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here’s an example of two of them in action.
“Every problem has a solution”
- Arabic: كل مشكلة ولها حل
- Transliteration: kulle mushkila wa-liiha Hall
Just as it says!
Note that this is a spoken Arabic proverb but uses the slightly formal grammar liiha.
“The future is better than the past”
- Arabic: الجايات أحسن من الرايحات
- Transliteration: ig-gayyaat aHsan min ir-rayHHaat
Ending on an optimistic note (because proverbs in any language can be a bit bleak!), here’s an Arabic proverb you can use to help someone who’s in a bad situation.
If you’re learning Arabic you might notice the roots for coming and going, gayy and raaH.