What Is a Maxim? Everyday Examples of General Truths

Updated June 26, 2020
maxim every cloud has a silver lining
    maxim every cloud has a silver lining
    courtneyk / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A maxim is a statement that reinforces a general truth about life. They come from adages, aphorisms, or proverbs, and are meant to guide one through a difficult situation as a life philosophy. Keep reading for everyday examples of maxims.

Examples of Everyday Maxims

The human condition is complicated, but one can generally boil it down to basic statements of truth. These maxims often make their way into everyday conversation as a way to understand what someone is going through. See how many of the following maxims you’ve heard before, and how many are new to you.

Maxims About Optimism

Sometimes, it’s difficult to stay positive about a situation. That’s where these popular maxims come in! See if any of these popular sayings help you feel better about a less fortunate time:

  • Every cloud has a silver lining - Even when things seem bad, there’s always something positive in the situation.
  • Every dog has his day - Everyone has success at some point.
  • He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals - People who are arrogant are unpopular with others.
  • Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst - It’s important to be both optimistic and practical.
  • Look on the bright side - Try to find the positive part of a problem.
  • Tomorrow is another day - There’s always a chance for a fresh start.
  • Walk on the sunny side of the street - Think optimistically about every situation.
  • You win some, you lose some - Defeat doesn’t last forever.

Maxims About Love and Loyalty

Is love the most important thing in the world? Should you always be loyal to your friends? It depends on which maxim you base your life. Read these maxims about love and loyalty before deciding:

  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder - Being apart from someone you love can make you feel stronger about them.
  • Better to be alone than in bad company - It’s preferable to have no friends than to have bad friends.
  • Birds of a feather flock together - People who are similar (families, like-minded people, etc.) tend to stick together.
  • Blood is thicker than water - Be loyal to family over strangers.
  • Even rats desert a sinking ship - Don’t stay loyal to a cause that is clearly failing.
  • Keep your friends close and your enemies closer - Keep a close eye on those who might want to do you wrong.
  • No man can serve two masters - Everyone has one main priority in life.
  • No man is an island - Everyone needs people in their lives.
  • Opposites attract - People with different characteristics enjoy being around each other.
  • There is no honor among thieves - You shouldn’t expect loyalty from bad friends.
  • When it rains, it pours - Luck (good or bad) comes all at once.

Maxims About Communication

So many of the problems in our world come down to miscommunication. Learning how to express what you want – and to listen to others’ needs – seems much simpler than it actually is. Check out these maxims about communication:

maxim two heads are better than one
    maxim two heads are better than one
    10'000 Hours / DigitalVision / Getty
  • Actions speak louder than words - What you actually do is more important than what you say you’re going to do.
  • Don't cut off your nose to spite your face - Be sure that the solution to your problem doesn’t hurt you in the long term.
  • Give him an inch and he'll take a mile - If you give someone something small, they will want something much bigger.
  • It takes two to tango - You can’t blame one person for doing something that you participated in.
  • Let bygones be bygones - Let’s move on from past disagreements.
  • No news is good news - You can assume things are well if you haven’t heard bad news about it.
  • People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones - If you’re living in a situation that others could judge, you shouldn’t judge their situation.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword - Communicating with words is more effective than settling differences than violence.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease - Those who speak up will get what they want.
  • Two heads are better than one - Working together is more advantageous than working alone.
  • You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar - Kind words make more friends than cruel words.

Maxims About Wealth and Fortune

There are many maxims about money because people often need help in that area. Read through these warnings about money before making your next investment:

  • A fool and his money are soon parted - Someone who doesn’t know how to spend their money can be manipulated out of it.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned - Saving money can add to your wealth.
  • Beggars can't be choosers - Those without resources aren’t in the position to be picky about their options.
  • Buyer beware - Be careful about the deals you make, especially the ones that seem too good to be true.
  • Easy come, easy go - Good fortune that comes without hard work can leave just as easily.
  • Money doesn't grow on trees - Finances are not infinite, so you should be wise with money.
  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure - Someone might value something you consider worthless.
  • The best things in life are free - The most valuable parts of life can’t be bought with money.
  • There's no such thing as a free lunch - Opportunities that look too good to be true often have hidden costs.
  • Waste not, want not - If you save your resources now, you won’t be in need of them later.
  • You can't take it with you - The wealth you’ve accumulated in life won’t accompany you into death.

Maxims About Knowledge

Is it better to know something and be hurt, or stay ignorant and remain happy? Judge for yourself with these well-known maxims about knowledge:

  • An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest - Becoming educated leads to additional rewards later in life.
  • He who knows nothing doubts nothing - If you’re not knowledgeable, you’ll believe whatever you hear.
  • Ignorance is bliss - Not knowing something can prevent you from being unhappy.
  • What you don't know can't hurt you - People avoid learning truths that could be painful.

Maxims About Patience

Staying patient can be so difficult sometimes. But as these sayings prove, the rewards are usually worth the wait. See if any of these maxims about patience can help to bide your time:

maxim practice makes perfect
    maxim practice makes perfect
    10'000 Hours / DigitalVision / Getty
  • A watched pot never boils - Being patient is better than worrying about an outcome.
  • Good things come to those who wait - Being patient brings more rewards.
  • Haste makes waste - Going too quickly can result in a negative outcome.
  • Look before you leap - Be aware of consequences before you take action.
  • Practice makes perfect - Work on something for a while in order to master it.
  • Slow and steady wins the race - Keeping a regular pace will outdo those who speed ahead without care.

Maxims About Opportunities and Making Choices

Life is a series of opportunities waiting to be taken. But should you stay with the sure, safe option, or risk everything? Read through these maxims about opportunities and making choices to decide:

  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush - Having a sure thing now is better than having an unsure thing in the future.
  • Better safe than sorry - Choose the less risky option to avoid future regret.
  • Don't bite the hand that feeds you - Be grateful to those who have helped you.
  • Don't count your chickens before they hatch - Try not to plan on a positive outcome until it comes true.
  • Don't look a gift horse in the mouth - Don’t ask too many questions about good fortune.
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket - You shouldn’t put all your hopes (or money) in one option.
  • Hindsight is 20-20 - It’s easy to make decisions after a situation has passed.
  • If you lie down with dogs, you'll get up with fleas - Making bad decisions results in bad consequences.
  • Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it - Don’t worry about decisions that can be made later.
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained – You can’t have a reward if you don’t take risks.
  • Opportunity seldom knocks twice - Take the chance on an opportunity now, because it might not be there in the future.
  • Those who hesitate are lost - Don’t avoid making decisions.
  • Strike while the iron is hot - Act now while the opportunity is available.
  • There’s no use crying over spilt milk - There’s no point regretting an event that’s already past.

Maxims About Hard Work

It would be great if success came to those who wished for it. However, as history has proven over and over, the only way to achieve success is through hard work. Check out these famous maxims about the importance of working hard:

maxim don't let perfect be enemy of good
    maxim don't let perfect be enemy of good
    portishead1 / E+ / Getty
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss - Those who work continuously won’t find themselves becoming stagnant.
  • At the working man’s house, hunger looks in but dares not enter - Those who work hard will never starve.
  • Diligence is the mother of good fortune - Luck is only the product of working hard.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good - Striving for a perfect result can keep you from finishing a project well.
  • God helps them that help themselves - Working hard and looking out for yourself is the greatest blessing you can have.
  • He that lives upon hope will die fasting - It’s always better to work hard than to hope for opportunities that never come.
  • If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right - When completing a task, take the extra step and do it well.
  • Keep your nose to the grindstone - Work hard and you’ll have the reward.
  • Many hands make light work - Working together can make a difficult task easier.
  • Rome wasn't built in a day - It takes a long time to create something worthwhile.
  • The early bird catches the worm - Those who work when others rest will have the greatest reward.
  • You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs - A desired result often requires sacrifice.

Origins of Common Maxims

The origin of the word maxim comes from the Latin word propositio maxima, which means “the most important proposition.” But where do these “important propositions” come from? Here are some origins of the maxims you have just read:

  • Aesop’s fables usually end in a one-sentence moral that the characters have learned.
  • The Bible, particularly the Book of Proverbs, lists many maxims that have found their way into scholarly writings and novels.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack is the source of many clever maxims that we still use today.
  • William Shakespeare coined many phrases in his plays and sonnets that have become popular maxims in modern conversation.

There are many more sources that have contributed to our modern set of maxims. However, you may find that the majority of maxims you come across can be attributed to these origins.


Different Types of Expressions

Maxims help to articulate your priorities in life. They can express whether a person values love, money, success, hard work, patience, or taking opportunities most. For more options on expressing principles and beliefs, read an article on the differences between adages, aphorisms, and proverbs.