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Useful Proverbs For Essay Writing

“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” – A.A. Milne

Chances are you too know a few famous quotes, but you probably don’t use them. I know so, because I’m guilty of neglecting quotes on the GRE.

So, why should you use essay quotes on the GRE? To start with, the right use of quotes in essays augments the power of your arguments and makes your essays appear more convincing. Plus, essays with quotes tend to score better than essays without them, because of the initial impact the use of quotes create on the reader, and help strengthen your point.

But we need to exercise prudence. Only use quotes as is, if you are convinced that paraphrasing would lower the impact or change the meaning of the original author’s words or when the argument could not be better expressed or said more succinctly.

Here is how you make sure you are doing it right.

How do I incorporate quotes into my essay?

At times, an essay can appear painfully discorded if the quotations are out of place or if the essay is too stuffed with quotes.

So, what should you do to avoid this?

A great quote plays one or more roles from the following:

  • creates the initial impact on the essay grader
  • makes your essay look more promising and interesting
  • establishes credibility
  • concludes the essay with a point to contemplate

If the quote doesn’t serve any of the above then you are forcing it into the essay and this could do more harm than good.

You should start writing your essay with a quote that lays foundation to the main idea behind the essay. This can have a major impact on the evaluator. You can also comment on the quotation in this introductory paragraph if you wish. Either way, to get a perfect score on the GRE essay, use a relevant quote strategically but don’t force it into the essay.

Can I alter the structure of the quotation?

Using the exact words from the original source is called quoting. You should quote when you believe that the way the original author expresses an idea is the most effective way to communicate the point you wish to make. If you want to borrow an idea from the author but don’t put the idea in their exact words, then it’s called paraphrasing. (but remember that you still have to cite the original author even when you are paraphrasing)

For example, Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” You can alter the quotation on your own according to the passage, by saying: ‘To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “It is easier to trust when you can verify.”‘ By doing this, you are not only citing the original author, but also gaining extra points for using your own version of the quote.

How many quotes should I use?

If you deploy a lot of quotations in your essay, it appears as though several people are talking about the topic apart from yourself. This would downplay your own voice and leaves little room for your own ideas. It is your essay and it should be your voice that needs to be heard, not some notable/famous person’s. Quote as infrequently as possible. So, don’t cram every quote you know into the essay. As a rule of thumb, refrain from using more than 2 quotes in any essay. (One in the introductory paragraph and the other if necessary in the conclusion)

How do I introduce the quote in my own words?

The last thing you would want is get your score cancelled on account of plagiarism. It’s highly recommended that you cite the author of the quotation. If you don’t cite, you may give the impression that you claim to be the original author and that could result in plagiarism. You should place the quote in double quotation marks. Here is an example usage citing the author:

Thomas Jefferson once said “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”

Categorization of GRE Essay Topics

The fascinating thing about the GRE essay topics is that they’re already published on the official ETS website. This may sound crazy because giving out the questions in advance is not normal. Now, use this to your advantage. You can find all the GRE essay topics on the official ETS website.

But there’s a catch! You were expecting a few, right?

Well, there are close to 200 topics in all – far too many to practice responses in advance. Also, practicing each of these topics is not advisable as it is going to take a lot of time and effort and there is no point in mugging them up. You could as well spend this time on learning some math. However, there’s a good news. Just scanning through these two lists will give you an excellent idea of the types of issues and arguments that show up on test day.

I just made things a bit easy for you, though. Most of the topics that show up on the GRE essay section can be broadly grouped into five categories.

  • Education
  • Arts
  • Government/Politics
  • Philosophy
  • Sciences and Technology

So, next time when you practice writing an essay response, make sure you write at least one essay from each of these categories. And memorize a few quotes related to each one of these topics, as they will be handy.

List of most useful essay quotes

I’ve compiled a list of easy-to-digest quotes that should help you write the perfect essay. Bookmark this page NOW for future reference.

The following quotes from great thinkers have been selected based on their relevance to common GRE essay topics and for their ease of usage.

  1. The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance – Socrates
  2. A people that value its privileges above its principles soon loses both – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  3. In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is – Yogi Berra
  4. A little inaccuracy can sometimes save a ton of explanation – H.H Munro
  5. Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction – E. F. Schumacher
  6. A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually – Abba Eban
  7. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good – Mohandas Gandhi
  8. Whatever government is not a government of laws, is a despotism, let it be called what it may – Daniel Webster
  9. Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws – Plato
  10. Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing – Theodore Roosevelt
  11. It is dangerous to be right, when the government is wrong – Voltaire
  12. The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object – Thomas Jefferson
  13. No nation is fit to sit in judgment upon any other nation – Woodrow Wilson (28th U.S President)
  14. The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work – Emile Zola
  15. The world is full of educated derelicts – Calvin Coolidge
  16. A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a change to get its pants on – Winston Churchill
  17. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog – Mark Twain
  18. Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is to get it – Socrates
  19. If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning – Aristotle Onasis
  20. Men are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things – Epictetus
  21. As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can – Julius Caesar

Now, these are a handful of quotes. The goal is to memorize 5 or 6 of your favorite quotes so you’ll be able to contextually fit one into the essay on the test day. While practicing, you may look at the list of quotes found above however, if you can remember a specific quote apposite to your essay topic, try to use it – one quote for every essay.

For those avid writers, who believe the number of quotes above are too low, we have the right tool for you. Ellipsoid created a random quote generator tool that draws 5 famous quotes from Goodreads every time you reload the page. The good news is these 5 quotes are always theme based so you know where to use them.

Conclusion

Writing essays isn’t all about the substance. It’s the basics that many of us forget. If you are going to put in the time to practice writing essays, might as well maximize the score you could get by deploying a quote in your essays.

So, what’s your favorite quote?

Proverbs are popularly defined as "short expressions of popular wisdom". Efforts to improve on the popular definition have not led to a more precise definition. The wisdom is in the form of a general observation about the world or a bit of advice, sometimes more nearly an attitude toward a situation. See also English proverbs (alphabetically by proverb)

Absent[edit]

  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • Long absent, soon forgotten.

Action[edit]

  • Actions speak louder than words.
    • "Who cannot give good counsel? 'tis cheap, it cost them nothing."
    • Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (1793)

Advance[edit]

  • He who does not advance goes backwards.
    • "He will through life be master of himself and a happy man who from day to day can have said,
      'I have lived: tomorrow the Father may fill the sky with black clouds or with cloudless sunshine.'"
    • Horace, 'OdesBook III, ode xxix, line 41. (c. 23 BC and 13 BC).
    • Strauss, Emanuel (1994). "495". Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs. II. Routledge. p. 445. ISBN 978-1-136-78978-6. 

Advice[edit]

Anchor[edit]

  • Good riding at two anchors, men have told, for if the one fails, the other may hold. (Strauss, 1994 p. 879)

Apple[edit]

  • One rotten apple will spoil the whole barrel. or One scabbed sheep mars the whole flock.
    • "Evil spreads. One attractive bad example may be readily followed by others, eventually ruining a whole community."
    • Source for meaning: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). "X". European proverbs: in 55 languages, with equivalents in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Veszprémi Nyomda. p. 292. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
    • Cf. Dan Michael of Northgate, Ayenbite of Inwyt (1340): "A rotten apple will spoil a great many sound ones." (Middle English: "A roted eppel amang þe holen: makeþ rotie þe yzounde.").
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
    • Cf. Notes and Queries magazine, Feb. 24, 1866, p. 153: "Eat an apple on going to bed, // And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread." [1].
    • Adapted to its current form in the 1900s as a marketing slogan used by American growers concerned that the temperance movement would cut into sales of apple cider. (Pollan, 2001 p.22)
  • A rotten apple injures its companions.
    • "This Proverb is apply'd to such Persons who being vicious themselves,
      labour to debauch those with whom they converse." - Divers Proverbs, Nathan Bailey, 1721 [2]
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away--if you have good aim.
    • A humorous version of the nutritional exortation to maintain good health by eating fruit. Original source unknown.

Art[edit]

  • English equivalent: The best art conceals art.

Ass[edit]

  • When all men say you are an ass it is time to bray. (Strauss 1994, p. 1221)

Baby[edit]

  • Don't make clothes for a not yet born baby. (Strauss 1994, p. 683)
    • "One never rises so high as when one does not know where one is going."
    • Oliver Cromwell to M. Bellièvre. Found in Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz
  • Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    • "Do not take the drastic step of abolishing or discarding something in its entirety when only part of it is unacceptable."
    • Source for meaning: Martin H. Manser (2007). The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. Retrieved on 25 August 2013. 
    • Brown, James Kyle (2001). I Give God a Chance: Christian Spirituality from the Edgar Cayce Readings. Jim Brown. p. 8. ISBN 0759621705. 

Bad[edit]

  • Bad is the best choice.
    • "Don't avoid the clichés - they are clichés because they work!"
    • George Lucas to Marty Sklar, quoted in "The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite your Creativity" (Disney Editions, 2003)
    • Mawr, E.B. (1885). Analogous Proverbs in Ten Languages. p. 17. 
  • A bad settlement is better than a good lawsuit.
    • Filipp, M. R. (2005). Covenants Not to Compete, Aspen.
  • Good laws have sprung from bad customs. (Strauss, 1994 p. 879)
  • We must take the bad with the good.

Bed[edit]

  • As you make your bed, so you will sleep on it.
    • "One has to accept the consequences of one's actions, as any result is the logical consequence of preceding actions."
    • Source for proverb and meaning: (Paczolay, 1997 p. 401)

Bear[edit]

Beat[edit]

  • If you can't beat them, join them. (Speak, 2009)

Best[edit]

Beggar[edit]

  • Beggars can't be choosers.
    • "We must accept with gratitude and without complaint what we are given when we do not have the means or opportunity to provide ourselves with something better."
    • Source for meaning:Martin H. Manser (2007). The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. Retrieved on 29 June 2013. 
  • Put a beggar on horseback and he'll ride it to death.

Begin[edit]

  • A good beginning makes a good ending.
    • "Starting properly ensures the speedy completion of a process. A beginning is often blocked by one or more obstacles (potential barriers) the removal of which may ensure the smooth course of the process."
    • Source for meaning: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). "40". European proverbs: in 55 languages, with equivalents in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Veszprémi Nyomda. p. 228. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
  • Well begun is half done.
    • "Starting properly ensures the speedy completion of a process. A beginning is often blocked by one or more obstacles (potential barriers) the removal of which may ensure the smooth course of the process."
    • Source for meaning of English equivalent: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). "40". European proverbs: in 55 languages, with equivalents in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Veszprémi Nyomda. p. 228. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
    • Divers Proverbs, Nathan Bailey, 1721 [3]

Bellyful[edit]

  • A bellyful is one of meat, drink, or sorrow.
    • Manser, M. (2006). The Wordsworth dictionary of proverbs, Wordsworth Editions, Limited. p. 45

Better[edit]

  • Better is the enemy of good.
    • "Just Do It"
    • Nike slogan coined in 1988
    • Mieder, Wolfgang; Kingsbury, Stewart A.; Harder, Kelsie B. (1992). A Dictionary of American proverbs. pp. 710. , p. xcv
  • Better late than never.
  • Better safe than sorry. (Speake, 2009)
  • Better underdone than overdone. (Strauss, 1994 p. 589)

Beware[edit]

  • Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves. (Matthew; bible quote). (Strauss, 1998 p. 170)

Bird[edit]

  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
    • John Bunyan cites this traditional proverb in The Pilgrim's Progress, (1678):
      So are the men of this world: They must have all their good things now; they cannot stay till the next year, that is, until the next world, for their portion of good. That proverb, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," is of more authority with them than are all the divine testimonies of the good of the world to come.
    • "Something you have for certain now is of more value than something better you may get, especially if you risk losing what you have in order to get it."
    • Martin H. Manser (2007). The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. 
  • Birds of a feather flock together.
    • "It is a fact worthy of remark, that when a set of men agree in any particulars, though never so trivial, they flock together, and often establish themselves into a kind of fraternity for contriving and carrying into effect their plans. According to their distinct character they club together, factious with factious, wise with wise, indolent with indolent, active with active et cetera."
    • Source for meaning: Porter, William Henry (1845). Proverbs: Arranged in Alphabetical Order .... Munroe and Company. p. 41. 
    • Alike people goes a long well.
  • Deal gently with the bird you mean to catch. (Strauss, 1994 p. 689)
    • "When people are friends, they have no need of justice, but when they are just, they need friendship in addition."
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (c. 325 BC), Book VIII, 1155.a26
  • Fine feathers make fine birds. (Simpson , 2009)
    • "Fairest and best adorned is she
      Whose clothing is humility."
    • James Montgomery, Humility. (1841)
  • It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.
    • "Why wantonly proclaim one's own disgrace, or expose the faults or weaknesses of one's kindred or people?"
    • Source for meaning: (Kelly, 1859 p. 109)
  • It is the early bird that gets the worm.

Bite[edit]

  • Don't bark if you can't bite. (Sadler, 1873)
    • "I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen."
    • Woody Allen, Interview for The Collider (2008)
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew.
    • Heacock, Paul (2003). Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms (Illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 512. ISBN 052153271X. 
  • Don't bite the hand that feeds you. (Wolfgang, 1991)

Blood[edit]

  • Blood is thicker than water.
    • "The bonds between solders of a battle is stronger than family ties"
      • "The blood of the covenant is thicker that the water of the womb"
    • "Family before Friendship"
    • Paczolay, Gyula (1997). "X". European proverbs: in 55 languages, with equivalents in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Veszprémi Nyomda. p. 233. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
  • Good blood always shows itself.
    • Mawr, E.B. (1885). Analogous Proverbs in Ten Languages. p. 34. 

Bloom[edit]

  • Bloom where you are planted. (Szerlip, 2004 p. 320)

Book[edit]

  • A book is a friend.
  • Don't judge a book by its cover.
    • "Do not form an opinion about something or somebody based solely on outward appearance."
    • Martin H. Manser (2007). The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. 
    • Mieder, Wolfgang; Kingsbury, Stewart A.; Harder, Kelsie B. (1992). A Dictionary of American proverbs. pp. 710. , p. 311
  • Fear the man of one book. (Strauss 1994, p. 851)
  • No book was so bad, but some good might be got out of it.
    • "From one learn all."
    • Virgil, Æneid (29-19 BC)
    • (Strauss 1994, p. 1104)

Boat