Learn English with famous quotes (10 quotes explained!)

Learn English with famous quotes

Learn English with these 10 famous quotes! Meaning, vocabulary and grammar explained.

  1. “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~ Paulo Coelho
  2. “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” ~ Indira Gandhi
  3. “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ~ Aesop
  4. “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” ~ Sun Tzu
  5. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” ~ Lao Tzu
  6. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  ~ Henry David Thoreau
  7. “There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus
  8. “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” ~ Napoleon Hill
  9. “Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.” ~ Larry Winget
  10. “There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle or be the mirror that reflects it.” ~ Edith Wharton

Best English quotes

1 -“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Meaning – The simple idea is that what you do is more important than what you think or say. Actions change the world, not opinions. People learn by example. If you set a good example you can change the world. I love this quote!

English grammar – The beginning of this quote uses the passive voice. 

“The world is changed by…”

Passive voice sentences use the verb TO BE plus the participle of a verb. In this quote, the verb CHANGE is used in the past participle participle – CHANGED. This action, changing, happens TO the world. The world receives the change.

Another example of the passive voice:

The hotel rooms are cleaned every morning. 

This action, cleaning, happens TO hotel rooms. They receive the cleaning. Learn more about the passive voice at my blog post HERE.

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~ Paulo Coelho

2 – “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” ~ Indira Gandhi

Meaning – This quote is a message for peace. Peace can only be achieved without violence. Shaking hands is a friendly thing to do. When you clench your fists it’s because you are angry and maybe you want to fight or hit someone.

Vocabulary – clenched

The adjective clenched means to closed or pressed together very tightly. We usually use this adjective to talk about someone’s hand(s) (closed in a ball) or teeth (pressed together tight). 

Learn English with famous quotes
English vocabulary - clenched

3 – “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ~ Aesop

Meaning – Every kind action we take is important. It doesn’t matter how big or how small, being kind is always important.

English grammarno matter

This phrase is used to say that something is not important

“We will pay our son’s medical expenses, no matter the cost.” = The medical fee is not important, we just want our son to be healthy.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” 
~ Aesop

4 – “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” ~ Sun Tzu

Meaning – The best way to win in war (battle or conflict) is without fighting. When you fight, both sides of the conflict take damage. It is best to avoid this.

Vocabulary – supreme [adjective] ​very great or the greatest in degree
“She smiled with supreme confidence.”

subdue [verb] ​subdue somebody/something to bring somebody/something under control, especially by using force
“Troops were called in to subdue the rebels.”

conflict [noun]​ a situation in which people, groups or countries are involved in a serious disagreement or argument.
“John often comes into conflict with his boss.”

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” ~ Sun Tzu
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5 – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

Meaning – Everything we do, a small task or a huge project, it all begins with one small action. Getting started, taking that first little step, is a necessary part of even the biggest jobs.

Vocabulary – journey vs.travel vs. trip 

The noun journey can mean – an act of travelling from one place to another, especially when they are far apart

*We know that our quote is using the noun form because it follows the article the

The journey of a thousand miles…”

Nouns follow articles, verbs to do not. Learn more about articles HERE.

Journey also has a verb form that means to travel, especially a long distance
“They journeyed for 7 long months.” – The verb form of journey is not used as often as the verb travel.

The verb travel can mean – to go from one place to another, especially over a long distance
“My family traveled around the world when I was 11.”

The noun trip can mean – a journey to a place and back again, especially a short one for pleasure or a particular purpose
“We went on a trip to the mountains.”

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  ~ Lao Tzu

6 – “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  ~ Henry David Thoreau 

Meaning – In this quote SEE has a slightly different feeling than it usually does. Mr. Thoreau is using SEE with a deep feeling, I feel he means it as a choice. It’s how you interpret something or decide what it means to you that is important.

Half empty or half full?

Grammar – In English the verbs SEE, WATCH and the phrasal verb LOOK AT can be confusing. Check their usual meanings (slightly different than Mr. Thoreau’s quote) in my blog post HERE.

More popular quotes to learn English with

7 – “There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus

Meaning – Nothing lasts forever. Everything changes. It’s a fact that things will always change, and this fact is permanent. If we accept this we will enjoy our lives more.

Vocabularypermanent [adjective​] lasting for a long time or for all time in the future; existing all the time
“The accident has not done any permanent damage.”

“There is nothing permanent except change.” ~ Heraclitus

8 – “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” ~ Napoleon Hill

Meaning – You should do your best every time. Even if you feel you can’t accomplish great things, you should still give all your attention and effort to the smaller things you do.

Vocabulary – There are a few meanings of the adjective great. Probably the most common meaning is – much more than average in degree or quantity
“The performance was a great success.”

Another meaning is –  very large; much bigger than average in size or quantity
“The lion let out a great roar and scared the other animals.”

“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” ~ Napoleon Hill

9 – “Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.” ~ Larry Winget

Meaning – You need to have a plan for your life. If you don’t have a plan it’s easy to develop bad habits. Having a plan keeps you moving in positive directions. 

Vocabulary – broke [adjective] having no money

broke = having no money

10 – “There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle or be the mirror that reflects it.” ~ Edith Wharton

Meaning – In this expression LIGHT means good things in the world. We often think of light as a positive thing and it’s opposite, darkness, as a negative. Spreading light means sharing positive energy. Be kind and positive (be the candle that spreads light) and return kindness and positive energy whenever you find it (be the mirror that reflects the light).

Vocabularyreflect [verb] to show the image of somebody/something on the surface of something such as a mirror, water or glass

“There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle or be the mirror that reflects it.” ~ Edith Wharton

I hope you learned some new English from these popular quotes. Have you heard some of these quotes before? Which one is your favorite? Is there another English quote that you like? Tell me in the comments below.

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