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30 Must-Know Polish Proverbs

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As an English speaker, you’re likely familiar with the Polish proverb: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” (Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.) 

But did you know that Polish is loaded with even more insightful (and often humorous) proverbs you may never have heard before? 

Polish proverbs and sayings are a big part of the Polish culture. Like anywhere else in the world, such expressions are an important part of the spoken and written language. 

In this article, you’ll learn thirty must-know Polish proverbs along with their English translations and their English equivalents (if one exists). Study them carefully, because they can significantly improve your understanding of everyday Polish.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Polish Table of Contents
  1. Warnings
  2. Animals
  3. Food
  4. Proverbs with the Word Co
  5. Foreign Affairs
  6. Love
  7. Final Thoughts

1. Warnings

Many Polish proverbs and sayings are used as warnings to help prevent bad things from happening to another person, or to help prepare someone for what to expect. Here’s a number of proverbs that fall under this category.

1. Nieszczęścia chodzą parami.

Literal translation: “Unhappiness comes in pairs.”
English equivalent:Misery loves company.”

Polish people use this saying to describe situations where two bad things happen to someone, or to warn someone that another bad thing may still be coming their way.

2. Jak sobie pościelesz, tak się wyśpisz. 

Literal translation: “How you make your bed will determine how well you’ll sleep.”
English equivalent: “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”

There are many sayings around the world that remind us to be mindful of our actions, because actions always have consequences. This Polish saying is one such proverb!

A Sleeping Man

3. Kto pod kim dołki kopie, ten sam w nie wpada. 

Literal translation and English equivalent: “He who digs a pit for others falls in himself.”

This old Polish proverb reminds us that even if we sometimes feel tempted—or even justified—to make someone else’s life difficult, such actions may have poor consequences for us.  

4. Gdzie kucharek sześć, tam nie ma co jeść. 

Literal translation: “When there are six cooks, there’s nothing to eat.”
English equivalent: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

Kids Mock Fighting with Kitchen Utensils

Cooperating with others may be useful when trying to make a decision, but too many people working together can result in conflict. In other words, it’s sometimes more beneficial to make a decision on your own or with only a smaller group of people. 

    → All this talk of food made us hungry! Here are 10 Polish Foods you absolutely have to know.

5. Oliwa sprawiedliwa zawsze na wierzch wypływa. 

Literal translation: “Just oil always ends up surfacing.”
English equivalent: “The truth will be found out.”

When you’ve been wronged, you may feel the need to explain your actions to everyone or to fight whatever gossip people spread about you. But one of the top Polish proverbs reminds us that the truth will be found out, even if not immediately.

6. Z kim się zadajesz, takim się stajesz.

Literal translation: “You become who you befriend.”
English equivalent: “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.”

This proverb is used to warn people to be careful about who they become friends with, as our friends are a reflection of who we are.

2. Animals

Fables are a popular tool for telling cautionary tales and teaching people a variety of morals. It’s not surprising that animals have made it into Polish proverbs and sayings, too. 

7. Lepszy wróbel w garści niż gołąb na dachu. 

Literal translation: “It’s better to have a sparrow in one’s hand than a dove on the roof.”
English equivalent: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

It’s great to have big dreams, but one should also be realistic. One of the most famous Polish proverbs reminds us that sometimes it’s better to settle for something achievable than to keep dreaming about something out of reach. 

8. Nosił wilk razy kilka ponieśli i wilka. 

Literal translation: “The wolf carried a number of times and then was carried itself.”
English equivalent: “The pitcher goes so often to the well that it is broken at last.”

You can get away with bad behavior a few times, but eventually it’ll get noticed and you’ll have to pay for it.

A Wolf

9. Nie dziel skóry na niedźwiedziu.

Literal translation: “Don’t divide a pelt on a (living) bear.”
English equivalent: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

It’s never a good idea to take something for granted that’s not yet certain. This is a good piece of advice for both our personal and professional lives. 

10. Kiedy wejdziesz między wrony musisz krakać tak jak one. 

Literal translation: “When you’re among crows, you must caw like them.”
English equivalent: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

One of the most common Polish proverbs, this saying reminds us about the importance of fitting in. It’s a good tip for traveling and it can be applied to many social situations. 

11. Darowanemu koniowi w zęby się nie zagląda.

Literal translation and English equivalent:Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Horse

If someone gives you a gift, don’t question its value. 


3. Food

Food features heavily on the Polish proverb scene—Polish people certainly love to eat well!

12. Apetyt rośnie w miarę jedzenia

Literal translation and English equivalent: “Appetite comes with eating.”

The more you have, the more you want. Keep this saying in mind to avoid getting greedy. 

13. Bez pracy nie ma kołaczy

Literal translation: “Without work, there’s no kalach [cake].”
English equivalent: “No pain, no gain.”

It’s not surprising that both Polish and English have a proverb on the importance of hard work. Nothing in life comes for free! 

14. Niedaleko spada jabłko od jabłoni. 

Literal translation: “The apple falls not far from the tree.”
English equivalent: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Apple Tree

Family resemblance can often be seen in more than just facial features. This saying is similar to another proverb that’s popular in both languages: Jaki ojciec taki syn. (“Like father, like son.”) 


15. Jaki do jedzenia, taki do roboty.

Literal translation: “The way he eats (is) the way he works.”
English equivalent: “Quick at meat, quick at work.”

You could take this proverb literally, and decide to evaluate people’s suitability for work based on how they eat. Or you could take it figuratively, and read that people show their traits in all they do. 

4. Proverbs with the Word Co 

Co means “what” in Polish, but it’s also used for comparisons in many idioms and proverbs. 

16. Co dwie głowy, to nie jedna

Literal translation: “Two heads aren’t one.”
English equivalent: “Two heads are better than one.”

A Man Scratching His Head

This proverb is straightforward and useful. Are you in trouble? Ask someone for help and advice! Two heads are better than one… 

    → …but what about the other body parts in Polish? Click on the link to learn or review the related vocabulary.

17. Co kraj, to obyczaj

Literal translation: “Every country has its customs.”
English equivalent: “Different strokes for different folks.”

Whether it’s during your travels or in your everyday life, people have different preferences, customs, and beliefs. Remember this proverb next time you feel surprised that something is being done differently than you’re used to. 


18. Co nagle, to po diable. 

Literal translation: “Things done in a hurry are cursed by the devil.”
English equivalent: “Haste makes waste.”

A Woman in a Devil’s Costume

Take your time, because things done and decisions made in a rush often have their faults. 

19. Co się stało, to się nie odstanie

Literal translation: “What happened can’t unhappen.”
English equivalent: “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

There’s no point in crying over spilled milk. The key to a happy life is to learn from your mistakes, not to beat yourself up over them.

20. Co za dużo, to niezdrowo. 

Literal translation: “What’s too much isn’t healthy.”
English equivalent: “All things in moderation.”

Remember to enjoy everything in moderation. 

5. Foreign Affairs

Thus far, our list of Polish proverbs has included sayings with exact or similar English equivalents. However, most Polish sayings about foreign countries and cities tend to be culturally specific and therefore unique.

21. Wszystkie drogi prowadzą do Rzymu. 

Literal translation and English equivalent:All roads lead to Rome.”

Colosseum in Rome

This proverb means that however you try to obtain a certain goal, it will lead to the same result. 

22. Gdzie Rzym, gdzie Krym.

Literal translation: “Where’s Rome, where’s Crimea.” 

Here’s another old Polish proverb related to Rome. This saying has no close English equivalent. It’s used when two things are completely different or have no relationship to each other. 

23. Polak, Węgier – dwa bratanki, i do szabli, i do szklanki.

Literal translation: “Pole and Hungarian—two brothers, when it comes to the sword and the glass.”

This proverb has no equivalent in English, but there is a literal translation in Hungarian. It refers to the historical friendship between the two countries.  

24. I w Paryżu nie zrobią z owsa ryżu.

Literal translation: Even in Paris, they can’t make rice out of oats.
English equivalent: You can’t make something out of nothing.

A View of Paris

Historically, Paris has been perceived as the European cradle of art and culture. This Polish proverb means that even in such a sophisticated place, certain things cannot be done.

25. Mądry Polak po szkodzie.

Literal translation: “A Polish person is smart after the damage is done.”
English equivalent: “It’s easy to be wise after the event.”

While this proverb is very specific to Poles, it does have a more general English equivalent. After all, we all tend to be wise after we’ve acted and seen the consequences. 

6. Love

Love: Perhaps the most important thing in the world. It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of insightful Polish proverbs about love, romance, and heartbreak! Here are just a few. 

26. Co z oczu to z serca. 

Literal translation: “What comes from eyes comes from the heart.”
English equivalent: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Love is a great and powerful feeling, but when we haven’t seen someone for a long time this feeling can fade away. 

27. Czas leczy rany.

Literal translation: “Time heals wounds.”
English equivalent: “Time heals all wounds.”

A Crying Woman

You may know the truth of this saying already. Suffering is a common human experience, but it subsides with time. 

    → When dealing with the pain of a breakup, it can really help to know you’re not alone. Here are some relatable Breakup Quotes in Polish to help get you through!

28. Serce nie sługa.

Literal translation: “The heart isn’t a servant.”
English equivalent: “The heart knows no master.”

The heart wants what the heart wants, and it doesn’t always listen to reason! 


29. Miłość jest ślepa.  

Literal translation and English equivalent: “Love is blind.”

Not only does the heart close its ears to reason, but it’s also blind the minute you fall in love. 

30. Na bezrybiu i rak ryba.

Literal translation: “When there’s no fish a crab becomes fish.”
English equivalent: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

When life circumstances aren’t amazing, you sometimes have to accept less than you normally would. This saying can help you deal with hardships in love, too. 


7. Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of wisdom in Polish proverbs, and you’ve just learned thirty of them! Which of these proverbs is your favorite, and why? Let us know in the comments!

Learning proverbs is an important step in language learning, but you’ll need more than a few witty phrases to become fluent. A well-designed plan of study is something you could really use to see quick results. Head to PolishPod101.com today and create your account to unlock access to countless lessons by native speakers, vocabulary learning tools, and much more!

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