Haitian Proverbs 

I’ll keep adding these in alphabetical order. Let me know some you’d like me to add on here. 

Achte, peye; prete, remèt. Men sa ki fè yon nonm.

Buy, pay; borrow, return. This is what makes a man.

Meaning: Characteristics of honesty.


“Years don’t kill you, and it’s not days that’s killing you.”

Waiting ain’t gonna kill ya!
Avan ou monte bwa, gade si ou ka desann li. 

Before you climb a tree, look to see if you can climb down.

Meaning: Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Bel dan pa di zanmi.

Beautiful teeth don’t say friend. 

Meaning: Just because someone is smiling at you doesn’t mean they’re your friend.
Bitay fè ou vanse.

A stumble moves you forward.

Meaning: We learn from our mistakes. A mistake is better than doing nothing.
Bondye Bon.

God is good.
“Bonjou” se paspo ou.

“Goodmorning” is your passport.

Meaning: How you act. Politeness goes a long way.
Bouch pale sa jieux woue.

The mouth speaks what the eyes see.

Meaning: It means that one only speaks base on the observation around him or her.
Bourik chaje pa kanpe.

A loaded donkey doesn’t stand still.

Meaning: No rest for the busy.
Bwè dlo nan vè, respekte vè.

Drink water from the glass, respect the glass.

Meaning: Respect those who have helped you.
Byen prè pa lakay.

Close is not home.

Meaning: Almost is not as good as arriving.
Byen san swe pa profite.

Possessions without sweat don’t profit.

Meaning: People do not appreciate things they have not earned.
Bèl fanm, bèl malè.

A beautiful woman means trouble.
Chen ki gen zo nan bouch li pa gen zanmi.

The dog who has a bone in his mouth, has no friends. Meaning: Those who are rich or greedy keeps them from having friends.
Chita pa bay.

Sitting does not yield.

Meaning: Sitting around won’t get you anywhere.


“To the rear of mountains there are yet more mountains.”

You may think you’re a big shot but there are others who are greater still. 

Other translation: After one sorrow, more sorrows. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. There’s more than meets the eye. (A proverb of both patience and the recognition of how difficult life in Haiti is.)

Di m kisa our renmen, ma di ou ki moun ou ye.

Tell me what you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.

Meaning: What you are interested in says a lot about who you are.

Fanm pou yon tan, manman pou tout tan.

Wife for a time, mother for all time.
Fe respe ou; m’a fe pa m’.

Show your respect; I’ll show mine.

Meaning: Respect must be mutual.
Fòse moun fè sa yo pa vle fè se tankou esye plen lanmè ak wòch.

Forcing people to do what they don’t want to do is like trying to fill the ocean with rocks.

Meaning: You can’t force people to go against their will.
Gason konn bouke, men pa fanm.

Men get tired, but not women.

Meaning: Woman’s work never ends.
Jieux we bouch pe.

The English equivalent to this proverb will be “you see nothing you know nothing.”

Meaning: if you witness something you’re not supposed to you are ought to remain silence or else.
Kay koule twonpe solèy, men li pa twonpe lapli.               

A leaky roof fools the sun but it doesn’t fool the rain. Meaning: One’s faults will be exposed sooner or later.

Kouri lapli, tonbe larivyè.

Running from rain, you fall into a river.

Meaning: In avoiding one thing, we fall into something worse.
Kreyol pale, kreyol konprann.

Creole Spoke is creole understood.

Meaning: Speak plainly, don’t try to deceive.
Lespwa fe viv.

Hope gives life. 

Meaning: Hope gives all the strength to carry on.
Machandiz ofri pa gen pri.

Merchandise offered has no price.

Meaning: Everything is negotiable.
Malere pa dezone.

Poverty is not dishonor.

Meaning: You can’t be blamed for your situation. It’s your character and actions that matter.
Mande chemen pa di pèdi pou sa.

Asking the way doesn’t mean one is lost.

Meaning: Asking for advice is not shameful.
Manje kwit pa gen met.

Cooked food has no owner.

Meaning: Once cooked, food belongs to everyone.
Manman pa janm mode pitit li jouk nan zo.

A mother never bites her child to the bone.

Meaning: The equivalent of this proverb in the English language would be “there is nothing like a mother”. In Haiti, this proverb is used to show or recall the goodness of a mother to her children. Even when she is inflicting the worst punishment on her children she is not doing it out of hate or to deliberately hurt her progenies but to discipline them.
Manti met kouri jan l’ kouri; laverite ap kenbe l’.               

A lie may run as it may but the truth will catch it.

Meaning: The truth will be known.
Mapou mouri, kabrit manje fey li.

When the mapou (oak-like tree) dies, goats would eat its leaves.

Meaning: This proverb is said in Creole to recall the scene of old age. It is also said to compare the prime and the declining days as well as abundance and poverty. If a youngster has been disrespectful to an old man mapou who is past his prime, that proverb would be an appropriate remark.

Note: the mapou has a special meaning in Haitian culture. It is a sacred tree for the believers of Voodoo.

Met do pa grate do.

The owner of the back doesn’t scratch his own back.

Meaning: You always need someone to help you.
Milat pòv se nèg, nèg rich se milat.

A poor mulatto is black, a wealthy black is mulatto.

Meaning: Money is everything.
Moun ki kenbe kiye bwa se li ki konnen si li cho. 

The person who holds the wooden spoon is the one who knows if it’s hot.

Meaning: Don’t question first hand knowledge. Difficult times reveal a person’s true character.
Nan tan grangou patat pa gen po.

In times of famine, sweet potatoes have no skin.

Meaning: This is a proverb said in times of disaster or great calamity. It means that when one is starving to death, they will eat anything; thus “patat pa gen po”: even the skin of a potato would be eaten.
Nen pran kou; je kouri dlo.

The nose takes the blow; the eyes run with water.

Meaning: When misfortune strikes one member of the family, the others also suffer.
Nèg di san fè, Bondye fè san di.

Man talks, God acts.
Ou konn kouri, ou pa konn kache.

You know how to run, but you don’t know how to hide.

Meaning: It is said of someone who leaves a bad impression behind him after a bad deed or a crime.
Ou vle tout, out pèdi tout.

You want all, you lose all.

Meaning: Greed will be your downfall.
Pa janm mete chat veye bè.

Never put a cat to watch over the butter.

Meaning: Don’t ask a person to watch over something he may want.
Pal franse pa di lespri pou sa.

To speak French doesn’t mean you are smart.

Meaning For most Haitians French is a foreign language; a language for “putting on airs.” Thus the point here is: Fancy talk doesn’t mean one has the brains to go with it.
Pale franse pa di lespri pou sa.

Speaking French doesn’t mean you are smart.

Meaning: Fancy talk doesn’t mean brains.
Piti piti zwazo fè nich li.

Little by little the bird builds its nest.

Meaning: Everything takes time.
Pitit se rìches malere.

Children are the wealth of the poor.

Meaning: Ones hopes and riches lie in the future of ones children.
Pitit tig, se tig.

“The tiger’s cub can be dangerous too.” (Jean-Claude Duvalier, 1975)

Meaning: One’s behavior is only a reffelction of those who breed it.
Pou fe kob la fe mwa a, lave li, bwe dlo li.

In order to make the money last the month, wash it and drink its water. 

Meaning: Stretch the money to make it last.
Pye chat dous men zong li move.

The cat’s foot is soft but its claws are mean.

Meaning: A warning when things appear better than they are.
Ravet pa janm gen rezon douvan poul.

Roaches are never right when facing chickens (Chickens would pursue any roach in sight.)

Meaning: Whenever there are disagreements between two parties, Justice will always be on the side with the stronger one of them.
Sa ki pa bon pou makout, li pa bon pou ralfo nanplis.

What’s not good for the big sack, it’s not good for the little sack either.

Meaning: Don’t give to the poor what you wouldn’t want for yourself.
Sa nou bay pòv se Bondye nou prete l.

What we give to the poor we lend to God.

Meaning: A good deed never goes unblessed.
Sak vid pa kanpe.

Empty stomachs don’t stand.

Meaning: No work gets done on an empty stomach. You get out what you put in.
Santi bon koute chè.

Smelling good is expensive.

Meaning: A big front doesn’t come cheaply.
Se an jouet yo abillei jwif.

It is also by joking around one takes the opportunity to speak his or her mind out.

Meaning: Sometimes a person wants to find a way to speak his or her mind out to another. That opportunity may come for instance when everyone is in a group joking and laughing around. There he or she would speak his or her mind of to the other without the other realizing the real meaning of the message.
Se apre batay ou konte blese.

It’s after the battle that you count the wounded.

Meaning: Don’t give up until the end.
Se bon ke krapo ki fe l san tet.

It is because the toad is too tenderhearted that he has no intelligence. Meaning: Said of a person who goes to someone’s help and becomes victim of the helped. Said of someone who was formerly very rich and who becomes poor because he is too tenderhearted and gave his whole fortune away.
Se gou bouyon ki mete lang deyò.

 It is the taste of the broth that brings out the tongue.

Meaning: Good food leads to good conversation.
Se nan chimen jennen yo kenbe chwal malen.

If you want to catch a wild horse, find a tight corral.

Meaning: One says that about a person who usually escapes embarrassment but who will eventually fall into a more elaborate trap.
Se pa ou ki di ou verite.

It is your own who tells you the truth.

Meaning: Others will flatter you, but those who love you will tell you the truth.
Se sou chemiz blanch yo wè tach.

It’s on the white shirt that a stain is seen.

Meaning: Those of the best reputation are the most susceptible to scandal.
Se tè ki bat ki bwe lapli.

It’s plowed earth that drinks the rain.

Meaning: You must be prepared for opportunity.
Sel pa vante tet li di li sale.

Salt doesn’t boast that it is salted.

Meaning: Similar in meaning to the French saying “A bon vin, point d’enseigne” (good wine needs no advertising). Let others say how good you are. Said to ridicule someone who speaks highly of himself, who praises himself.
Si bèf te konn fòs yo, majoral pa ta lanse yo.

If cows knew their strength, they would not be butchered.

Meaning: You are stronger than you realize. You have more power than you have been led to believe.
Sonje lapli ki leve mayi ou.

Remember the rain that made your corn grow.

Meaning: One says that to remind someone that he must show gratitude to God or to someone who did him good.
Tanbou prete pa janm fe bon dans.

A borrowed drum never makes good dancing.

Meaning: Said when one uses something borrowed and before finishing with it the owner comes to take it. Usually one is not comfortable with a borrowed object.
Tande pa di konprann pou sa.

Hearing is one thing, understanding is another.
Ti chen gen fos devan kay met li.

A little dog is really brave in front of his master’s house.

Meaning: The meaning of this proverb is that a weak person doesn’t attack away from his home but will defend himself as a lion against everybody in his territory. Also said of poltrons and weak persons who will become lions in defending their interests or when they have the backup of someone stronger.
Ti moun fwonte grandi devan baron.

An impudent child grows up under Baron’s eyes( Baron Samdi is the guardian of the cemetery in the Voodoo religion.)

Meaning: Said of an impudent, insolent child, meaning that they won’t live long enough because of their insolence.
Tout kod gen de bout.

Every rope has two ends.

Meaning: Every dispute has two sides.
Tout moun konnen sa: Le mal egzist.

Everyone knows this: evil exists.
Tout moun se moun.

Everyone deserves to be treated as a human being.
Tout sa ki klere pa lò.

Everything that shines isn’t gold.

Meaning: Looks can be deceiving.
Toute anmerdan gen ti nat yo.

Every pest has its resting place.

Meaning: If one enjoys bothering others one day he or she will get it.
Wè sa m fè; pa fè sa m fè.

See what I do; don’t do what I do.

Meaning: Do as I say not as I do. Don’t follow my example.
Zwazo pose sou tout branch.

Birds land on all branches.

Meaning: Your turn will come.

le gen lanmou, gen doule. Where there is love, there is pain.

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