Sayings – Types & Definition With Examples

10.01.24 Sayings Time to read: 21min

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Sayings refer to common and short expressions that convey more profound meanings, observations, or wisdom about life. Ranging from reflective and serious to light-hearted and humorous, they are multifaceted in content and tone. The main characteristic of sayings is that they are often catchy and easy to remember, as they convey complex ideas in simple words. There are many types of sayings including aphorisms, proverbs, and apothegms, which will be elaborated on in this article.

Sayings in a nutshell

Sayings are compact and concise phrases that express common observations, wisdom, or truths about situations in life. Due to their simplicity, they are typically memorable and catchy. Types of sayings like proverbs, idiomatic expressions, and clichés were shaped and evolved through generations and contribute significantly to our understanding of the world by providing profound insights into societal traditions, universal truths, and human nature.

Definition: Sayings

Sayings are a type of short colloquial expression that portrays advice, wisdom, or moral lessons of life through concise and brief phrases. They oftentimes have a metaphorical nature and compress complex principles into an easily understandable format. In terms of language and culture, sayings pose a crucial role, as they enable us to communicate complex principles, human nature, or societal norms in quick and simple ways. Furthermore, sayings depict cultural and linguistic heritage, as they are essentially a product of being passed down through generations in all cultures, reflecting their experiences and values respectively. Thus, sayings are widely employed in speech, everyday dialogue, and literature and are integral in shaping our understanding of the world.

In this article, we delve into a vast variety of categories that sayings fall into:

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Types of sayings and examples

Sayings offer humor, insights, and wisdom into society and human nature, playing a crucial role in communication and language. There is an array of types of sayings, each serving a distinct purpose.


Epigrams are witty, often paradoxical, and brief sayings, sometimes in the form of a poem, that are characterized by sharpness and to the point. These types of expressions typically have an ironic or humorous twist to them, making them easy to remember and thought-provoking. Their distinction lies in the satirical and philosophical nature they address, leaving a lasting impression on topics concerning societal norms, collective experiences, and general human behavior. The two examples below portray well-known epigrams.


“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope

In his poem “An Essay on Criticism,” Alexander Pope contrasts the human nature of making mistakes with the noble act of forgiveness in this saying. The epigram suggests that human fallibility is a natural part of human traits, whereas the act of forgiveness requires a much higher quality than being human. In a few words, it encapsulates the well-grounded truth about human flaws and morality, making it catchy and memorable.


“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – William Shakespeare

This saying is taken from Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” which conveys the message that being concise is key to cleverness and humor. Ironically, the saying itself represents a perfect example, as it is to the point and compact but still meaningful and wise. Essentially, it expresses a lot in a few thoughtfully chosen words, over thoroughly describing and explaining.

Bromide (cliché)

Bromides, also called clichés, are sayings or expressions that have been used extensively to the point of losing originality or significance. They often occur in situations when genuine empathy or original thought is appropriate. Although, usually, these types of sayings have good intent and the goal is to provide advice, comfort, or reassurance, the overuse of such phrases projects them to be perceived as dismissive, ineffective, or insincere. These sayings, while once meaningful, are frequently employed in speeches, writing, everyday conversation, and situations where you don’t know what to say. The following examples outline bromides that have become commonplace in the English language.


“Everything happens for a reason.”

This saying implies that there is an underlying cause or purpose for every situation that happens in life. It has a positive connotation and is meant to provide comfort or reason for challenging circumstances or surprising situations. This, in turn, may prompt and encourage acceptance for individuals in unfortunate circumstances that are out of their control. This bromide also reflects a spiritual or philosophical meaning, as it indicates the belief that life is ruled by a superior force, plan, fate, or destiny. Due to its extensive use, this saying has lost significance in its meaning and may even appear dismissive of real distress or difficulties in life.


“It is what it is.”

This saying has become a bromide due to its overuse in a range of contexts. It implies acceptance of a situation that is thought of as unchangeable or beyond one’s control. In other words, an individual has recognized and acknowledged the reality of a situation and does not resist its consequences and natural process. In a debate or discussion, it can be used to dismiss further analysis of the topic, since it cannot be changed. While it initially was a pragmatic saying, it has become a filler in conversations rather than conveying its initial meaning of thoughtful resignation or insight. Due to its excessive use, using it may seem dismissive, especially, when used in emotional or complex subjects.


Platitudes are moralistic sayings that are considered mundane, insincere, and lack impact due to their overuse. They often occur in philosophical contexts, conveying an ethical or moral idea through mindful and wise statements. On the contrary, clichés are sayings that were once impactful, original, and insightful but have lost their sincerity over time due to frequent use. Similar to clichés, platitudes can have a negative connotation but are typically perceived as sanctimonious due to their moralistic nature. Essentially, while all platitudes are clichés, not all clichés are platitudes. The following examples will show you platitudes.


“This too shall pass”

This platitude is a saying that often occurs in a setting of distress or hardship in life. It is a reminder that challenging situations and difficult times in life are not constant, and there will be change or relief eventually. This saying portrays a platitude as while it offers a temporary sense of comfort, it does not offer insightful guidance or practical advice to tackle the ongoing difficult situation. However, this saying carries a philosophical nature, representing a common characteristic of platitudes.


“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

This saying conveys the wisdom that overcoming difficulties in life will result in personal resilience and growth. It embodies a platitude, as it aims to offer motivation and solace in challenging life situations, but may be perceived as dismissing emotional hardships in life. Apart from its overuse, it also signifies a platitude as it lacks substantial insight but offers inspiration and comfort.


Axioms are types of sayings that are integral in constructing mathematical, theoretical, and logical frameworks. They act as foundational premises, which further knowledge is built upon. These kinds of sayings refer to principles that are inherently obvious, self-evident, and universally accepted. In essence, axioms are not proven systems but operate as the starting points from which proofs are derived and developed. Let’s take a closer look at the axiom of equality in mathematics and Euclid’s axiom in geometry.


“If a equals b and b equals c, then a equals c.”

The axiom of equality is a foundational building block in mathematics, specifically in algebra. Here, it is self-evident that if two variables have the same value, they are equal to each other. In algebra, this axiom forms the basis for many equations and their manipulations.


“Through any two points, there is exactly one straight line.”

This axiom plays an important role in Euclidean geometry. It indicates that for any two points, only one straight line can connect them and run through both points. This fundamental assumption is universally accepted as a self-evident truth and a cornerstone for constructing further geometrical theorems and concepts.


Proverbs refer to sayings and linguistic expressions and serve as windows into the wisdom and worldview across virtually every culture. They are characterized by formulaic and metaphorical language, conveying a general truth, cultural wisdom, or piece of advice based on collective human experience and common sense. Generally, proverbs are brief and often involve the use of vivid imagery, rhyme, and rhythm, making them both open to interpretation and engaging.

Proverbs can have a specific cultural origin and historical background or, universally, cross an array of cultural and linguistic boundaries. In these cases, the imagery and wording may differ immensely depending on the culture it reflects. Furthermore, proverbs are adaptable and ever-changing. They evolve based on how culture, societal norms, and language change and grow; sometimes new proverbs form, conveying new contemporary values and realities. Let’s take a look at the following examples for a more profound understanding of proverbs.


“The early bird catches the worm.”

This proverb stresses the importance of timeliness, opportunism, and proactivity and is universally known. By using the metaphors “early bird” and “catching the worm,” the proverb indicates that starting early or taking action in your efforts gives you a higher chance of succeeding and opening doors for opportunities. The imagery of the bird rising early to catch a worm symbolizes that first arrivals have the largest number of chances and, hence, the highest chance of success. Essentially, this saying urges one to take the initiative promptly to tackle a matter, rather than procrastinate.


“A stitch in time saves nine.”

Similar to the first example, this proverb is also well-known across the globe and poses a call to action, advocating for foresight, attentiveness, and instant reaction. In this case, it is advised to deal with a small problem promptly to avoid it escalating to a larger problem. The imagery of “a stitch in time” refers to promptly sewing up a small tear in clothes, as this will prevent more tearing, hence, “saves nine” stitches later. Overall, this saying encourages damage control and proactive problem-solving by handling issues as soon as they occur.


Similar to aphorisms, apothegms, also spelled apophthegm, characterize instructive and brief sayings that convey truth in a witty manner. They often involve an elaborate insight or wise truth about human nature or life, and their concision and wittiness signify them as memorable and thought-provoking. Another key characteristic is that they typically reflect a philosophical or moral lesson of life. Thus, apothegms are frequently found in religious, literary, and philosophical scripts. Apothegms differ subtly from aphorisms in the sense that they carry a more individual or personal insight rather than a general truth. Below you can get a more profound insight.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Churchill’s remark refers to an apothegm rather than an aphorism, as it entails a personal viewpoint or insight, a profound saying, into the nature of success and failure. In a deeper sense, it indicates that success and failure are not constant states and that continuous courage in challenging situations poses the key to moving on from these states. In other words, what truly matters in going through ups and downs in life, is maintaining determination, resilience, and courage to accomplish personal growth and regularly ongoing achievement.


“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” – Oscar Wilde

This apothegm by Oscar Wilde, a notable saying, reflects his penchant for paradox and ambiguous meanings. Some may interpret Wilde’s perspective on the nature of temptation and desire that repressing them only makes the feelings grow stronger. On the other hand, some see it as a critique of moral and societal norms, implying that giving in to taboos may give a sense of liberation. Regardless of our view, this apothegm is thought-provoking by subverting conventional wisdom, thereby challenging prevailing moral norms.


An aphorism is a typically laconic phrase that is terse, concise, or easy to remember. In its context, it expresses a general principle or truth. Oftentimes, they are humorous, brief, and to the point. As with many types of sayings, aphorisms express messages in a few words, making them memorable. As a result, they are widespread and frequently used in everyday conversation. The following illustrates examples of aphorisms with explanations.


“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In a few words, this aphorism conveys the idea that it might be harmful or unnecessary to attempt altering or improving something that is smoothly functioning. It means that it may be unnecessary to interfere in a matter that doesn’t need interference, as this may even cause problems or complications. These types of sayings are often used in a metaphorical context such as processes and policies, but also in a physical sense like machines and systems. Essentially, this saying urges emphasizing the value of the stability of something rather than inducing a potential risk of harm or damage through unnecessary change or modification.


“Actions speak louder than words.”

This aphorism, a wise saying of ancient origin, expresses the idea that the implementation of action is of higher importance and relevance than the mere declaration or promise of taking action. In other words, the true character and intentions of someone are better judged by one’s deeds rather than their words. In everyday interaction, this aphorism is often used to advise or remind someone that trust is built on witnessed actions over mere verbal commitments.


These types of sayings are specified to funerary customs, meaning they are brief tributes to deceased people to honor them. They are commonly found on tombstones or grave markers and typically reflect on the deceased character or life. These messages may be in the form of inspirational quotes, often concerning philosophical or religious beliefs or mottos relatable to their personality. Epitaphs may have a comforting effect on the bereaved, assisting in the process of grief. Here is a notable example of an epitaph.


“I told you I was ill.”

This epitaph can be found on the tombstone of Spike Milligan, a known comedian. It offers a glimpse into his famous sense of humor, as it refers to a last and wondrous joke, implying he had predicted his fate and no one took him seriously. The epitaph encapsulates Milligan’s comedic legacy and his characteristic of looking at the bright side of things, even the earnest ones.


Epithets refer to phrases or words, often like sayings, that distinctly describe a place, individual, or object. They are commonly accompanied by the actual name or title of someone or something. As a descriptive attribute, they emphasize a quality or trait that resonates with an individual or object the most. Epithets can also function as honorific titles, akin to revered sayings, to give respect, typically, to historical figures. In literature, epithets are commonly employed as literary devices for a rhetorical or poetic effect. Using epithets highly depends on the context. They are multifaceted and can convey respect and honor as well as offense or insult. Refer to the list below to see examples.


  1. Alexander the Great: Indicates Alexander’s magnificence as a conqueror.
  2. The Bard of Avon: Describes Shakespeare by his status and birthplace.
  3. The Big Apple: A widely known nickname for New York City.
  4. The City of Light: Identifies Paris by its known capital culture and enlightenment.
  5. The Iron Lady: Refers to Margaret Thatcher by describing her strong will.
  6. The King of Rock and Roll: Refers to Elvis Presley’s status and influence in the rock genre.
  7. The Land of the Rising Sun: A nickname for Japan, due to its eastern location.
  8. The Pearl of the Orient: Identifies and emphasizes Hong Kong’s uniqueness and beauty.


Idioms are a type of saying that have a hypothetical or figurative sense and don’t align with the actual literal meaning of what someone says. Idiomatic expressions are typically not universally understood but rather a colloquial language, restricted to every culture. They are primarily used in everyday language and casual dialogue and specified to their societal environments. Below shows English idiom examples to get the hang of them.


  • Piece of cake
  • Break the ice
  • Spill the beans

The idiomatic saying “piece of cake,” refers to a task that requires little or no effort to carry out or something that is easily achieved, similar to actually eating a piece of cake. Here are examples that illustrate how this idiom can be used in everyday speech.


  • Don’t worry about the test; it was a piece of cake!
  • Once you get your license, driving a car is a piece of cake.
  • Running a marathon became a piece of cake after months of training.

The idiom “break the ice” generally means to overcome initial formality or shyness in situations that feel awkward or uncomfortable. It often refers to conversations that are initiated to dim the atmosphere, typically in social settings, to create a more open and comfortable space. This saying typically occurs in settings where people meet for the first time, like parties, gatherings, events, or meetings. The examples below depict how to use this idiom in everyday settings.


  • The teacher breaks the ice at the start of the class by sharing a fun fact.
  • They played games at the beginning of the team retreat to break the ice.
  • He began the conference with a quiz to break the ice among attendees.

“Spill the beans” is another common idiom across various English-speaking cultures. This saying is used in situations to urge someone to disclose confidential information or reveal a secret. In a literal sense, the expression describes beans spilling out of a container, which should remain contained. Therefore, figuratively, the beans represent the information that spills out purposefully or accidentally but is meant to remain contained. The following examples show how to use this idiom in everyday language.


  • She finally spilled the beans about the surprise birthday party.
  • It was meant to be kept secret, but he spilled the beans about our pregnancy to everyone.
  • They were so curious that they urged the manager to spill the beans.


Mantras originate from Buddhism and Hinduism and have religious and spiritual connotations. They refer to sounds, sayings, or words that are repeated to keep focus in meditation. Oftentimes, they are tactful or melodic. Generally, mantras in the sense of sayings, refer to slogans or phrases expressing beliefs, aspirations, or attitudes that are repeated for motivation and encouragement. An organization may have a mantra to promote its commitment to the customers, and a person may adopt a personal mantra to keep a positive attitude or urge personal growth. Like many types of sayings, mantras are typically constructed concisely and memorable, making them effective motivational and mental anchors. The following examples showcase three commonly known mantras in different contexts.


Just do it. – Nike

Nike’s famous slogan “Just do it” became a mantra for motivation in the world of sports and personal endeavors.


Think Different – Apple

In the corporate world, this iconic mantra used by Apple is widely known and urges thinking outside the box and innovation as a work ethic.


“I am enough”

This mantra is commonly known and serves as a widely embraced motivational and mental tool for personal affirmation and growth. It resonates with individuals seeking positive reinforcement and serves as a guiding principle for those aspiring to enhance their well-being and achieve their goals.


Quips are types of sayings that have a sarcastic tone to them but are witty, humorous, and clever. The underlying purpose of quips is to entertain, to amuse, or to indicate a sharp observation. These types of sayings stand out for their humor and spontaneity of reacting with a quip in a situation. Like many other types of sayings, quips are primarily used in formal speeches or casual dialogue, and can often be witnessed in stand-up comedy or debates. Timing is crucial in delivering a quip, as the more surprising the witty response, the more effective it will be. The following represents examples of quips.


I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not too sure.

This quip has a sarcastic tone, as it introduces the concept of indecisiveness attributed to the narrative. The message itself conveys that the speaker may not be indecisive, but the statement “I’m not too sure,” humorously expresses an example of being indecisive.


I’m on a seafood diet. I see food, and I eat it.

This quip entails a pun on the word “seafood.” The first part suggests that the speaker is actually dieting, which usually refers to someone cutting down on food intake, in this case, seafood. However, the subsequent part of the saying implies a playful twist, humorously reinterpreting this quip for the speaker by eating all the “food” they “see.”


If at first, you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

This quip is a sarcastic take on the widely known aphorism “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” It humorously suggests that there are cases such as skydiving, where success will be final and failure will be fatal and that the courage to continue is simply no option.


Similar to quips, witticisms are clever and amusing remarks or sayings, characterized by their brevity. However, while quips can be recognized by their spontaneous, quick, and casual nature, witticisms are more thoughtfully constructed with a more intellectual nature. They are typically quite inventive, containing paradoxes, plot twists, stylistic devices, and puns, making them stand out and memorable. In other words, they can be described as a good mix of intellect and humor, evoking admiration and amusement through their ingenuity and cleverness. The following illustrates examples of witticisms.


The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

This commonly known witticism contradicts the widely known proverb “The early bird gets the worm” by adding a playful take that implies that in some cases it may not be beneficial to be first. This saying has an undertone of dark humor, as it refers to the first mouse disarming the mousetrap, allowing the second one to get the cheese.


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving – Albert Einstein

This witty saying can be attributed to Albert Einstein, who uses the metaphor of riding a bicycle to describe keeping balance in life. This is humorous as the meaning of riding a bike contrasts immensely with the more in-depth meaning of keeping balance in life, but at the same time, provides an insightful and powerful image for a better understanding.


The best way to predict your future is to create it – Abraham Lincoln

This witticism entails enlightening and insightful wisdom, providing a thoughtful take on determining your destiny. This saying implies that taking matters into your own hands can be a powerful tool in moving on in life.


Like proverbs and aphorisms, maxims are concise and to-the-point sayings that convey general principles or truths. However, they express more formal and universally applicable messages rather than culturally specific and colloquial messages. They are often found in moral, legal, and philosophical contexts due to their brevity but clear expression of advice or important truth. The following illustrates examples of maxims.


Out of sight, out of mind.

This Maxim was designed for “dealing with situations” and conveys the idea that people tend to forget about or ignore things that are not currently visible or present. It suggests that when something or someone is not physically nearby or within our visual field, it’s easy to not think about them or their needs. This saying is often used to describe situations where absence leads to forgetfulness or a lack of concern.


Honesty is the best policy.

This saying, in the form of a maxim, conveys a universal truth or principle of conduct, suggesting that being truthful and transparent is preferable and leads to the best outcomes in various situations. It is concise and widely recognized, embodying the typical characteristics of a maxim.


A motto is a short, memorable saying that expresses a rule to live by, a guiding principle, or the core values of an individual, family, or institution. It often serves as a succinct expression of a fundamental belief, aspiration, or purpose. It is used to inspire, motivate, and convey an underlying philosophy or ethos. Mottos are frequently found in coats of arms, logos, and banners, and are also adopted by schools, military groups, and other entities as part of their identity. Mottos are predominantly found in written form, unlike slogans, which may be expressed orally. The following illustrates examples of mottos.


In God we trust.

This is probably the most famous motto in the United States. Officially adopted as the national motto in 1956, it appears on American currency and various government documents. This saying signifies the importance of faith and reliance on a higher power, reflecting a common belief or value held by many in the nation. It serves as a symbolic expression of trust and confidence beyond human capabilities and institutions.


Carpe Diem.

This saying succinctly expresses a philosophy of living life to the fullest, making the most of the present moment without undue worry for the future. This Latin phrase translates to “seize the day.” It encourages immediate action and making the best of the current situation. Due to its concise, impactful nature and its encouragement of proactive living, “Carpe Diem” is often adopted as a personal or collective motto by those who wish to emphasize the importance of embracing the present.

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The following accounts for 10 different types of sayings:

  1. The pen is mightier than the sword. (Aphorism)
  2. Haste makes waste. (Apothegm)
  3. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (Proverb)
  4. Time heals all wounds. (Bromide)
  5. I can resist everything except temptation — Oscar Wilde (Epigram)
  6. Alexander the Great (Epithet)
  7. Hit the nail on the head. (Idiom)
  8. I am blessed. (Mantra)
  9. I’m not arguing, I’m just explaining why I’m right. (Quip)
  10. Honesty is the best policy. (Maxim)

Some widely known examples of motivational sayings are listed below:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Never give up.
  • You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Wise sayings are typically easy to remember and compact statements that entail a universally known truth of life or humane behavior. Oftentimes, they also reflect advice and guidance. Below, you’ll find three examples of sayings.


  • This too shall pass.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Easy come, easy go.

There are many types of sayings. This article delves into the most prominent ones used across many cultures and fields.

  • Aphorism
  • Apothegm
  • Proverb
  • Axiom
  • Bromide
  • Platitude
  • Epigram
  • Epitaph
  • Epithet
  • Idiom
  • Mantra
  • Quip
  • Witticism
  • Maxim
  • Motto

Essentially, sayings refer to wise expressions that are commonly known and not attributed to a single source, whereas quotes are direct citations from a person or a specific source.


Saying: The early bird catches the worm.

Quote: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” — William Shakespeare