Aphorism Examples

Updated November 6, 2020
Group of friends laughing

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;<br>weep, and you weep alone.

    Group of friends laughing
    Petar Chernaev / E+ / Getty Images

An aphorism is a brief saying or phrase that expresses an opinion or makes a statement of wisdom without the flowery language of a proverb. Aphorism comes from a Greek word meaning "definition." The term was first coined by Hippocrates in a work appropriately titled Aphorisms.

Aphorisms are often used to teach a lesson while speaking in plain terms. For example, “A bad penny always turns up” is an aphorism for the fact that bad people or things are bound to turn up in life. We just have to deal with them when they do. Interesting, right?

The aphorism examples below are all conveying some sort of truth in a direct, sometimes witty, manner that makes this kind of message powerful.

Aphorisms for People

People are the spice of life. They complicate things and they make things more beautiful. Here are some aphorisms pertaining to the human race:

  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • All for one and one for all.
  • Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
  • Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
  • Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
  • Give him an inch and he'll take a mile.
  • Give him enough rope and he'll hang himself.
  • He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.
  • He who hesitates is lost.
  • If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.
  • Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.
  • You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
  • You can kill a man but you can't kill an idea.
  • You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy.
  • You made your bed, now lie in it.
  • You need to take a bull by the horns, and a man by his word.

Aphorisms for Life

Aphorisms almost always come from life experience. They’re passed on from someone who’s “walked the walk.” These aphorisms are general remarks on life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  • A barking dog never bites.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • All that glitters isn’t gold.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

  • Children should be seen and not heard.
  • Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.
  • East or west, home is best.
  • Eat to live; don't live to eat.
  • From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.
  • Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  • Possession is nine-tenths of the law.
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
  • The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
  • You can't fight city hall.

Aphorisms for Success

Everyone wants to be successful, at least in their own way. Since it’s a common denominator in the human race, quite a few aphorisms have popped up over the ages regarding hard work and financial fortitude.

  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • All things come to those who wait.
  • Don't hide your light under a bushel.
  • Don't judge a book by its cover.
  • If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.
  • Know which side your bread is buttered on.
  • He who pays the piper calls the tune.
  • Measure twice cut once.

Mean What You Say

You can be literal and say what you mean. Or, you can be figurative and mean what you say. “You can’t fight city hall,” means the government always wins. Aphorisms afford writers a wonderful opportunity to mean what they say and say what they mean. These expressions go on to become hallmarks of wisdom.

Since the world loves a good saying, it’s worth exploring other types of quotes and phrases that are closely linked to aphorisms. Start with these examples of proverbs. Proverbs are interesting because they dole out advice, but in an obscure way. Then, we have adages. Adages are common sayings that, over time, go on to become accepted as truth. These examples of adage in literature help paint their picture.