Zulu Proverbs and Idioms with English Meanings and Translations (downloadable pdf at the end): about life, death, marriage, love, and hope.

Learn the difference between Proverbs and Idioms

A proverb is a bit of wisdom provided to people, while an idiom is a phrase that has its own meaning. The meaning that an idiom comprises of cannot be understood by a common man.

List of Zulu Proverbs and meanings with English examples

  • Inhlwa aibanjwa ngekanda isavela. English translated meaning: The winged termite is not caught by its head as soon as it appears. Which means: Wait till you have heard the story before you judge or even answer.
  • Ubude abupangwa. English translated meaning: Height is not reached in a hurry. – Do not be too hasty
  • Aku ‘qili lazikota emhlana. There is no cunning person whoever licked himself on the back. – Said of someone who has attempted some trickery beyond his cunning and been found out.
  • Amaqili katengani. English translated meaning: Cunning men do not deal with each other. May be said of two people who know each other too well and keep in a distance of each other. (The burnt child dreads the fire.)
  • Akulahlwa imbeleko ngokufelwa. English translated meaning: The child’s sack is not thrown away after the death of one child. Which means: Because there might be another child forth coming and the sack required to carry same. Therefore: Never despair in adversities. (Never say die.)
  • Upakati kwomhlana nembeleko. English translated meaning: He is between the back and the sack (in which a Zulu mother carries her child on her back.) Said of a person who has a great protector to assist him.
  • Ul’ iqili eli ‘ntete zosiwa emuva. He is cunning, whose locusts are roasted last. – Said of one who manages to get more than the rest of the people.
  • Isihlala ‘ndawonye sidhla amajwaba. The sitter-in-one-place eats the skin-scrapings. – Said of a lazy person who is poor on account of his indolence. (When work flies out of the window, poverty comes in at the door).
  • Induka aina ‘muzi. The stick has no kraal. – Where there is much fighting and quarrelling the family will not flourish.
  • Aku ‘qaqa lazizwa ukunuka. No polecat ever smelt its own stink – Nobody recognises his own faults.
  • Kuhlonitshwana kabili. It is respected twice (on both sides). – If you want others to respect you, you also must respect them.
  • Ukabona kanye ku ‘kubona kabili. To see once is to see twice. – I have experienced it once, and do not want to experience it again. (Once caught, twice shy.)
  • Impi yomndeni aingenwa. A family war is not entered. – Is bes left alone. Warning not to interfere in a matter. (Leave wellenough alo
  • Yek’ ukwenz’ amandhla esambane. Alas! for the labour of the ant-bear (who digs a hole and then does not lie in it). – Exclaimed by one who finds that he has worked for others and not for himself.
  • Isala ‘kutshelwa sabona ngomopo. Who will not be told, will see by the blood-flow. – Who does not like to listen to warnings must learn by bitter experience.
  • Insumansumane imali yamakhanda. (It (this matter) is incomprehensible like the poll-tax.
  • Kayihlabi Ngakumisa – It (bull) does not fight according to the shape of its horns.
  • A bull that looks like a champion fighter may be defeated by an unimpressive looking one.
  • Usenga nezimithiyo – He milks even those in calf.
  • Inhlwa aibanjwa ngekanda isavela. English translated meaning: The winged termite is not caught by its head as soon as it appears. Which means: Wait till you have heard the story before you judge or even answer.
  • Ubude abupangwa. English translated meaning: Height is not reached in a hurry. – Do not be too hasty
  • Aku ‘qili lazikota emhlana. There is no cunning person whoever licked himself on the back. – Said of someone who has attempted some trickery beyond his cunning and been found out.
  • Amaqili katengani. English translated meaning: Cunning men do not deal with each other. May be said of two people who know each other too well and keep in a distance of each other. (The burnt child dreads the fire.)
  • Akulahlwa imbeleko ngokufelwa. English translated meaning: The child’s sack is not thrown away after the death of one child. Which means: Because there might be another child forth coming and the sack required to carry same. Therefore: Never despair in adversities. (Never say die.)
  • Upakati kwomhlana nembeleko. English translated meaning: He is between the back and the sack (in which a Zulu mother carries her child on her back.) Said of a person who has a great protector to assist him.
  • Ul’ iqili eli ‘ntete zosiwa emuva. He is cunning, whose locusts are roasted last. – Said of one who manages to get more than the rest of the people.
  • Isihlala ‘ndawonye sidhla amajwaba. The sitter-in-one-place eats the skin-scrapings. – Said of a lazy person who is poor on account of his indolence. (When work flies out of the window, poverty comes in at the door).
  • Induka aina ‘muzi. The stick has no kraal. – Where there is much fighting and quarrelling the family will not flourish.
  • Aku ‘qaqa lazizwa ukunuka. No polecat ever smelt its own stink – Nobody recognises his own faults.
  • Kuhlonitshwana kabili. It is respected twice (on both sides). – If you want others to respect you, you also must respect them.
  • Ukabona kanye ku ‘kubona kabili. To see once is to see twice. – I have experienced it once, and do not want to experience it again. (Once caught, twice shy.)
  • Impi yomndeni aingenwa. A family war is not entered. – Is bes left alone. Warning not to interfere in a matter. (Leave wellenough alo
  • Yek’ ukwenz’ amandhla esambane. Alas! for the labour of the ant-bear (who digs a hole and then does not lie in it). – Exclaimed by one who finds that he has worked for others and not for himself.
  • Isala ‘kutshelwa sabona ngomopo. Who will not be told, will see by the blood-flow. – Who does not like to listen to warnings must learn by bitter experience.
  • Insumansumane imali yamakhanda. (It (this matter) is incomprehensible like the poll-tax.
  • Kayihlabi Ngakumisa – It (bull) does not fight according to the shape of its horns.
  • A bull that looks like a champion fighter may be defeated by an unimpressive looking one.
  • Usenga nezimithiyo – He milks even those in calf.
  • Zawadl’ ebhekile. They (birds) ate corn in the watchman’s presence. The expression used to describe someone who is easily fooled
  • Injobo enhle ithungelwa ebandla. A good loin-skin is sewn in the company of others
    Two heads are better than one, or some tasks may be accomplished more easily by two (or more) people working together than by one working alone.
  • Ulind’ amathons’ abanzi (He is waiting for the larger rain drops). When rain begins to fall, the first few drops are generally small, but they increase in size as the rain becomes heavier. Therefore one is advised to take shelter while only the light small drops fall and not wait for larger ones.
    Get out of trouble while you still can.

List of Zulu Idioms and meanings with English examples

  • Ukuthunga intebe: Ukwenza into engasoze yaphumelela; To do something that will never succeed
  • Ukuzalelwa esithebeni: Ukuzalwa ngabazali abami kahle, ungasweli lutho; To be born into a rich family and hardly ever want for anything
  • Ukuphind’ iminyane isibhuliwe: Angikwazi ukukhuluma udaba oselukhulunyiwe; To refuse to repeat what has been discussed already
  • Ukudl’ imbuya ngothi: Ukuswela ukudla, umuntu ophila kalusizi; To be poverty stricken
  • Ukuhlub’ dlubu ekhasini: Ukuchaza ingcaca ubeke izinto obala; To explain something that is very clear and obvious
  • Uthinte ubhece esafinya: Ukuba hlwempu, uyisilambi; To be really poor
  • Ukwanda ngomlomo njengebhenge: Ukukhuluma kakhulu kanti ukwenza kuyakwehlula; To have a lot to say, but take little action
  • Ukushaya ngemfe iphindiwe: Ukuhlohla noma ukuyenga umuntu, noma ukumenza ezibukwayo; To deal with a person severely
  • Ukuthukusela [umuntu] ugaba othuthwini: Ukufihlela umuntu iqiniso bese umvezela engasalindele; To hide the truth from someone and only reveal it when they have forgotten about it or least expect it
  • Ukufihl’ induku emqubeni: Ukufihla isu noma into ozomangaza ngayo unqobe; To surprise
  • Ukuthela muva njengembumba: Ukunganakwa noma ubeka iseluleko okumele silandelwe baze bazisole kamuva ukuthi ukuba bebekulalele ngabe ububi abuvelanga; Doing something without a positive outcome
  • Ukukhamel’ ikhambi ekhanda: Ukuphatha ngesihluku nonya, ukufundisa umuntu isifundo angena kusilibala; To teach someone a lesson they will never forget
  • Ukutheza olunenkume: Ukuzilandela inkathazo; To attract bad things to yourself
  • Ukumuka ngendle njengamabele: Ukunyamalala, ukuhamba ungavalelisi; To disappear without a trace and not even say goodbye
  • Ukuthezela entanjeni: Ukuzilinganisela noma ukwenza into engangamandla akho; To do what your strength can carry
  • Ukushisela imbudle: Ukufaka umuntu enkathazweni; To make another person to worry
  • Ukugaya izibozi: Ukuthukuthela kakhulu; To be very angry
  • Ukuba nhlangazimuka nomoya: Ukungabikho kosizo, isimo esibucayi siyabhebhetheka; Things going from bad to worse
  • Ukushiy’ induk’ ebandla: Ukuzala umntwana oyosala wena sewafa noma ukubeka iqhaza kokwenziwayo; Leaving a good mark behind for people to follow your good example
  • Ukuncind’ uthi lomkhangala: Ukulandelwa amashwa; Being followed by bad luck everywhere you go
  • Ukuthint’ ukhuni lombangandlala: Ukwenza into engenampumelelo, ukubuya ulambatha, ukuzifaka enkingeni; When you give advice to people and they don’t listen or pay attention to you until something bad happens, then they regret not listening

Sources to consult:

The Zulu Kingdom

Ulwazi Programme

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