Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched

Example in use: “I did so well in that job interview. I can tell that they were really impressed. I’m sure they are going to offer me the job! Let’s go to the pub for a celebratory drink.” “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. We can celebrate when you have the job offer in your hand!”

Meaning: You should not assume something is going to definitely happen before it really does.

Possible German equivalent: Man soll den Tag nicht vorn dem Abend loben

Possible origin: Often shortened to just, “Don’t count your chickens”, this is a very old idiom which might have its origins back with the Greek writer, Aesop who lived c.620 to 560 BC.

The expression is relatively easy to understand as not all the eggs laid by hens will develop into chickens. In other words, you can’t assume that everything will turn out as you planned – you should wait until all the eggs have hatched to see how many chickens there will be!

In the Aesop’s fable, a milkmaid is carrying milk to market and has a daydream about the profit she will make for selling the milk. She would then buy chickens with this money and become so rich from selling all the eggs that would be laid that she would have to turn down young men who were trying to win her. In her dream she shook her head at these young men but actually, she shook her head in reality which spilt all the milk ending her dreams of riches. In the tale you can find the line,

“Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”

Aesop’s fables were widely translated from the Greek original and this one became the source of the proverb which in turn appeared in poems in the 1500 and 1600s. Since then it’s never really gone out of fashion and will often be used in the short form above.

hatch / hætʃ


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.