Sudanese Proverbs

  • أقول ليهو تور يقول احلبو (AT 23)

I say it is an ox, he tells me to milk it.

– ليهو  lēho = Fuṣḥā له

– تور ج تيران  = ox, bull


  • بين الأحباب تساقط الآداب (AT 27)

Among friends formalities are dropped.


  • البسوط السم لا بد من يلحس اصابعو (AT 39)

He who mixes poison is bound to lick his fingers.

– البسوط  = meaning الي بسوط

– ساط، يسوط  = to stir, whip, flog

– لحس، يلحس  = to lick


  • الجمال رأس مال (AT 47)

Beauty is capital.


  • الجمل ما بقودو من وراء (AT 48)

A camel is never led from behind.


  • الدابي سمو ما بقتلو (AT 57)

A snake never dies of its own poison.


  • السكران في ذمة الواعي (AT 67)

The drunk is at the mercy of the sober.

– ذِمّة  = protection, care, custody; responsibility


  • العارف عِزُّو كلام الناس ما بهِزّو ( AT 75)

He who knows his honor will not be shaken by people’s slander.

– العارف  = I think what is meant here is الي عارف  or Fuṣḥā الذي يعرف

– عِزّ  = might, power; peak

– عِزّة  = honour, glory

– عَزيز  = dear, precious

– عَزَّز  = to strengthen, reinforce


  • العندُو حنّة بحنن جعباتُو (AT 78)

Whoever has the henna applies it to his buttocks.

(A person can do whatever he likes with his resources.)

– العندُو = again, I reckon what is meant is  الي عتده


  • الفاكهة كان نضجت بتقع وحيدها (AT 79)

When the fruit is ripe it falls on its own.


  • الفي البرّ عوّام (AT 83)

He who is outside the water is a good swimmer.

– الفي  = again, what is meant is الذي في


  • القرمادة ولا الرقّادة (AT 84)

A slow donkey is better than one which falls down when it is loaded.


  • القلب بشوف قبل العين (AT 85)

The heart sees before the eye.

– شاف، يشوف  = to see


  • القلم ما بزيل بلم (AT 85)

Literacy does not conquer stupidity.

– بَلَم  = stupid, dim-witted


  • الكلام الحلو بخور الباطن (AT 87)

Sweet talk is the perfume of the heart.

– باْطِن  = inner (part), interior


  • القا أحبابو نسي أصحابو (AT 89)

He found his lover and forgot his friends.


  • الما تحلقو جدعو (AT 93)

That you can’t reach throw stones at.

– الما  = Fuṣḥā الذي ما


  • الما نصحك خانك (AT 96)

He who did not advise you has betrayed you.

– الما  = Fuṣḥā الذي ما


  • المرافعين بعرفوا جعير بعضها (AT 97)

Hyenas know each other’s roar.

– مرفعين  (Sudanese) = Fuṣḥā الذئب or الضبع

– جعير  = shout, bellow, scream


  • المشي مشي الرحمان والجري جري الشيطان (AT 100)

Walking is godly and running is satanic.


  • المصايب شالت أولادها وجات (AT 100)

Misfortunes have gathered their children and descended on us.

– شال، يْشِيل  = to pick up, lift, raise; carry; remove


  • الموية ولا بنسى دَرْبُو (AT 104)

Water doesn’t forget its track.

– موية  = diminutive of Fuṣḥā ماء

– دَرْب ج دروبة / دروب  = path, road, track


  • النسيبة مصيبة (AO 105)

The mother-in-law is calamitous. 


  • النصيحة ضرب سوط (AT 105)

Advice is as painful as lashing.


  • اليتيم ما بوصّو على البُكاء (AT 108)

The orphan would not need to be told to weep.

– وَصَّى، يْوَصّي  = to recommend, command, ask, tell

– توصية، ج تَوصيَات  = recommendation

– وَصي  = legal gardian


  • بارك الله في من زار وخفف (AT 109)

God bless the one whose visit is short.


  • بولو كان ما حرّقو ما بدفقو (AT 114)

If his urine would not hurt him, he would not even pass it out.

(He is extremely mean)

– دَفَق، يدفق  = to pour out


  • تدخل فيما لا يعنيك تسمع ما لا يرضيك (AT 115)

Interfere in other people’s affairs and you will hear what you don’t like.


  • تلبسه خاتم (AT 118)

She wears him like a ring.

(She keeps him under full control)


  • جرح السلاح ببرا ولكن جرح اللسان ما ببرا (AT 120)

A wound inflicted by a weapon can heal, but the wound inflicted by a tongue won’t.


  • جوّع كلبك يتْبعك (AT 122)

Keep your dog hungry and it will follow you.


  • جوعان ما بحّرسو  بعصيدة (AT 122)

A hungry person should not be told to guard porridge.


  • حاميها حراميها (AT 123)

Its guards are its thieves.


  • سقط من عيني (AO 148)

It fell off my eyes. (Lost its value)


  • شدرة الصندل تعطّر فاس القاطعا (AT 153)

The sandal tree perfumes the axe that fells it.


  • شدرة كان مالت بتكّي في أخيّو (AT 153)

When a tree starts falling it leans on its sisters.


  • شوكاي مع رِجِل بلاقو (AT 156)

A thorn and a (bare) foot are bound to meet.


  • شيءٌ خيرٌ من لا شيء (AT 156)

Something is better than nothing.


  • طالب الشَرَف لا يستحقّه (AT 159)

Whoever desires honour is not worthy of it.


  • علم الأخو محقور (AT 163)

A brother’s knowledge is unacknowledged.

– حَقَرَ، يَحْقِر  = to despise


  • علمناهم الشحدة سبقونا على الأبواب (AT 163)

We taught them begging and they got to the gates before us.


  • عندك كلب ولا ننبح ليك؟ (AT 164)

Do you have a dog or shall I bark for you?


  • عيش يا حمار لمن النجيلة تقوم (AT 165)

Survive O donkey until the grass grows!

– نجيل  = couch grass, Bermuda grass


  • فاقد الشئ لا بعطيه (AT 167)

He who is lacking cannot give.


  • في الصمت كلام (AT 170)

There is speech in silence.


  • قُرداناية في أضان فيل (AT 171)

A tick on an elephant’s ear.

– قراد، ج قرْدان  = tick

– أضان  = Fuṣḥā آذان


  • كاثوليكي أكتر من البابا (AT 173)

More Catholic than the Pope.


  • كان اتنين قالو ليك رأسك مافي ألمسه (AT 174)

If two people say your head is missing, touch it.


  • كان داير تعرف فاطمة عاين لمحمد (AT 175)

If you want to know Fatima, watch Mohammed.


  • كان كترة الهموم إتدمدم نوم (AT 176)

If pressure proves difficult to handle, curl up and sleep.


  • كان لقيته في النار ازيدو حطب (AT 176)

If I am to find it in fire I will add more wood on it.


  • كترة نعرفي خلا عبد المعروف بلا راس (AT 178)

Too much knowledge left Abd Al-Maroof headless.

(Abd al-Maroof was an adviser of the king who was beheaded for false information)


  • كل يا كمي قبل فمي (AT 181)

Eat, you, my sleeve, before my mouth.

(Good clothes open all doors)

The story goes that Juha (famous character of Middle Eastern short stories) wanted to go to a banquet but was refused at the entrance because of his shabby clothes. He then went back and dressed in his finest clothes. Upon coming back he was not only welcomed but placed next to noble folks. When he started eating his seatmate pointed out to him, that his sleeve had fallen into the soup. Thereupon Juha said “Eat, you, my sleeve, before my mouth, because it’s you they want here, not me.”


  • لا تسْوى جناح بعوضة (AT 184)

It’s not worth a mosquito’s wing.


  • لسانُكَ أسدُكَ (AT 186)

Your tongue is your lion (force).


  • ما إنتَقَصَ مالٌ من صَدَقَة (AT 190)

Alms do not diminish wealth.

– اِنْتَقَصَ  = to become less, to decrease

–  صَدَقَة  = alms, charity


  • من برّه هلّا هلّا  ومن جوه يعلم الّله (AT 198)

From the outside it looks marvelous – from the inside, God knows!


  • محل القلب بحبّ الكراع تدب (AT 195)

Wherever the heart settles, the foot lands.

– كراع  = foot, trotter, leg


  • مرفعين ما بحرّسو بغنم (AT 196)

A hyena will not be given goats to guard.

– مرفعين  (Sudanese) = Fuṣḥā الذئب or الضبع


  • منعوها تصفّي المريسة تشدّ العرقي (AT 200)

Prohibited from brewing beer, she turns to distilling alcohol.

– صَفَّى، يصَفّي  = to liquidise; to clear, to purify, to strain, to filter

– صافي  = pure, unaltered

– مِصفاي / مِصفَاة  = filter

– مَرِيْسَة  = kind of beer


  • نادر زي لبن الطير (AT 201)

As scarce as birds milk.

–  زي  = Fuṣḥā مثل


  • ناراً مضمونة ولا جنةً مجهجهة (AT 202)

A guaranteed hell is better than an insecure paradise.


  • نايم على حيطة مايلة (AT 202)

Asleep against a leaning wall.


  • هدية كان بقى عود أبلعا (AT 204)

If a stick is given to you as a gift, swallow it.

– أبلعا = Fuṣḥā ابلعها


  • وجودو زي عدمو (AT 207)

Its presence is like its absence.

–  زي  = Fuṣḥā مثل


  • ود الوزين عوّام (AT 207)

The baby of a goose is a good swimmer.

– ود  = probably from ولد with the ل assimilating (occurs often in Sudanese Arabic)


  • ورّاه نجوم الليل في القايلة (AT 207)

He showed him the stars of the night at daytime.

– وَرَّى، يوَرّي  = to show


  • يا حافر حفرة السوء وسّع مراقيدك فيها (AT 210)

You who digs holes of evil for others, make space for yourself.

– مَرْقَد، ج مَراقِد  = bed


  • يا راس شِن كتلك؟ كتلني لساني (AO 210)

O head, what has killed you? “It is my tongue that has killed me.”

–  شِن  = Fuṣḥā ما / ماذا

– كتل  = Fuṣḥā قتل


  • يبكي وما عارف الميت (AT 212)

He mourns without knowing the deceased.


  • يطلع من علبو (AT 217)

To come out of one’s bottle.

(To turn into one’s true bad self)


  • يوم ليك ويوم عليك (AT 222)

One day is with you and another day against you.



AO = A. El Tom and A.M. Adam (2002) Proverbs of western and central Sudan. Sudanese Studies Centre