Russian Language Blog

Russian Proverbs and Sayings Posted by on Dec 1, 2010 in Culture, language, when in Russia

«Дорогие читатели!» [Dear readers!] Today we are going to talk about «русские пословицы и поговорки» [Russian proverbs and sayings].

Every language has its peculiar turns of the phrase and we cannot hope to know them all–there are many sayings in English that I have never heard–but Russian in particular seems to have some very true, very funny, and very strange proverbs. Today I am going to share some of my favorites, in no particular order.

«Терпи, казак, атаманом будешь.» [Put up with it, Cossak, you’ll get to be the head of your tribe.] I encountered this bit of wisdom in a textbook for Russian language learners and liked it instantly. It taught me the verb «терпеть» [to suffer, endure, forbear]. The English equivalent would be No pain, no gain.

«Тише едешь — дальше будешь.» [The more quietly you go, the further you’ll get.] I also learned this proverb from the aforementioned textbook. I liked it so much that I had it on my door last year at university («конечно, на русском» [of course, in Russian], much to my roommates’ consternation). The English equivalent would be Haste makes waste or Slow and steady wins the race.

«Волков бояться — в лес не ходить.» [If you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go in the woods.] I don’t remember where I first heard this, to be honest. The English version would be If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. But Nothing ventured, nothing gained could also work, no?

«В огороде бузина, а в Киеве дядька.» [There are elderberries in the kitchen garden, and your uncle in Kiev.] This is perhaps my favorite Russian saying, probably because there is a funny story behind it. While reading the book Translating History (written by «Игорь Корчилов» [Igor Korchilov] a simultaneous interpreter for Gorbachev), I found out that this very saying caused a diplomatic scandal. Apparently, a Soviet delegate used this saying at an international conference and the interpreter at this conference was unfamiliar with it, so he translated it into English as, “Something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark.” The delegate from Denmark then became angry with the Soviets for a perceived slur against Denmark, then the Soviet delegate became angry in return. Luckily the entire thing was sorted out, but the interpreter almost lost his job over this poor translation. In English, this saying most nearly corresponds to comparing apples and oranges.

«Всё хорошо, что хорошо кончается.» [All’s well that ends well.] This is perhaps the only Russian proverb in existence that translates so beautifully into English. It’s interesting that it exists in both languages, but you know what they say: great minds think alike, right?

«Доверяй, но проверяй.» [Trust, but verify.] How could I not include this one? After all, it was a favorite of the late Ronald Reagan, president of the United States during the end of the Cold War. The English equivalent is Better safe than sorry.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I have but barely touched upon the vast number of Russian proverbs and sayings out there, so feel free to add your own in the comments.

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About the Author: Natalie

I'm Natalie and I love the Russian language and sharing my knowledge with others. I graduated from university with a dual degree in Russian language & literature and history.


  1. Tony:

    I was taught Russian whilst serving in the RAF decades ago.
    It is a delight to revisit the joys of the language through your blog.
    Thank you for your efforts – never stop!

  2. Heaven:

    большое спасибо. этот очень интересный текст.

  3. Ivan:

    Nice post. My favourite one is «Щи да каша, пища наша» — “Shchi and kasha are our food”.

    Best wishes


  4. Bonya:

    Two favorites in our family are “раьота не волк, в лес не убегается” – Work is not a wolf, it won’t run into the forest, meaning don’t worry, it’ll be there when you get back, and “Утро вечера мудренее” – morning is wiser than evening, meaning it’s better to sleep on it.

  5. Yelena Meier:

    In the phrase Тише едешь, дальше будешь – тихо means slowly, rather than quietly. The word тихо literally means slowly when used with action verbs such as тихо едет (drives), тихо идет (walks), тихо бегает (runs), etc.

  6. Natalie:

    Yelena, thanks so much for your comment–I never knew that!