Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” is a common idiom used in everyday speech. It, like a good number of other popular idioms, is used colloquially. This means that English speakers use it among friends, family, and close colleagues. It is not usually used in professional or academic settings. As an idiom, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” is hard to understand without context.

Readers who encounter this line in a book or story will likely be able to intuit its meaning (if they don’t know it already) with context. With idioms, context is key. This is part of why it’s difficult for new English speakers, or newcomers to any language, to grasp idioms from the start. It takes hearing and seeing them in context to learn how to use them. Otherwise, they just sound like gibberish. 

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

 

Meaning of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” 

The phrase “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” means don’t act on a good outcome that hasn’t actually occurred yet. It’s a way of reminding oneself, or another, not to make plans based on something in the future that isn’t set in stone. It’s always possible that things are going to change, and one’s hasty choices are going to lead to a bad outcome. 

 

When to Use “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” should be used when one is speaking to a friend, family member, or close colleague. The idiom is well-known, meaning that most people who speak English are going to understand what it means. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate in all settings. One should not shout out the phrase during a business meaning or use it in an academic lecture unless they’re trying to lighten their tone. 

One might use the line when they’re speaking to someone whose about to spend money they don’t have, move to a new location before they’ve gotten the job, or commit to a relationship that’s still on unsteady ground, along with an indefinite number of other possible occasions. It makes sense to use it when someone is about to do something based on an uncertain future. 

 

Why Do Writers Use “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch?” 

Writers use “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” in dialogue within short stories and novels. It, like most idioms, can be used in a variety of situations. When one includes it in their dialogue successfully, it might help the lines come across as more realistic or believable. Writing convincing dialogue is one of the hardest tasks writers have to overcome, often idioms and other colloquialisms can help. But, writers might choose not to use this specific idiom, and some others, due to general overuse. The phrase is somewhat cliche at this point, meaning that it is been used so many times any interesting impact it might’ve had will fall flat with the reader. It might lead one to roll their eyes in boredom rather than feel connected to what the characters are saying. 

That being said, there are still places for cliche phrases in writing. One might use it with their eyes open, fully aware that the line is overused, and therefore use it comedically or in an uncomfortable social situation. 

 

Example Sentences With “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” 

  • I really don’t think you should buy that. You know you should count your chickens before they hatch. 
  • He paid for his pool before getting his Christmas bonus. Talk about counting your chickens before they hatch! 
  • Did you hear about Laurie? She moved to Chicago before hearing back about her job interview, she really counted her chickens before they hatched! 
  • Look, Steve, I know you’re excited about Marie, but you should wait a little longer before buying an engagement ring. You know what they said about counting your chickens before they hatch! 

 

Origins of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” 

The phrase “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” has an unclear origin, like most idioms. They evolve over time, sometimes starting out as an obscure connection between one word in the phrase and a situation and then becoming something more. Some suggest that this particular phrase comes from Aesop’s Fables, which originated in 600-550 B.C. 

One more recent source is Thomas Howell’s New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets published in 1570. In this volume, readers can find the line: 

Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,

Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.

Here, it’s easy to see a very similar version of the phrase. 

 

Related Idioms 

  • “A perfect storm.” 
  • “Actions speak louder than words.”
  • “Barking up the wrong tree.”
  • “Bite off more than you can chew.”
  • “Costs an arm and a leg.”
  • “At the drop of a hat.”
  • “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” 
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