“Actions speak louder than words” is a popular English-language idiom that’s used to refer to the importance of words over actions. If someone does not act on their promise or statement, one might use this phrase to remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing. A promise is worth nothing if it’s not followed up on, the phrase implies.
Explore Actions speak louder than words
- 1 Meaning of “Actions speak louder than words”
- 2 When To Use “Actions speak louder than words”
- 3 Example Sentences With “Actions speak louder than words”
- 4 Why Do Writers Use “Actions speak louder than words?”
- 5 Origins of “Actions speak louder than words”
- 6 Actions Speak Louder than Words Quotes
- 7 Related Idioms
Meaning of “Actions speak louder than words”
“Actions speak louder than words” is a clever phrase that uses personification to allude to the importance of actions over words. No matter what someone claims they will do, what they believe, or did in the past, the action itself is far more critical. By comparing actions speaking to words speaking, the phrase emphasizes how meaningless words are in comparison. Everyone is going to feel far more confident after an action is taken than when someone says they are going to take that action.
It should be noted that while this phrase is usually used in a positive sense, with the action taken being a good thing, it’s also quite easy to use it negatively as well. In this form, the “action” is in contrast to the words. Someone says they are going to do something positive or for the common good and then do something totally different.
When To Use “Actions speak louder than words”
“Actions speak louder than words” is easy to use in a variety of different situations. Unlike some idioms and proverbs, this one can be used in pretty much every situation imaginable. Before using it in a business meeting or academic setting, it should be noted that this phrase can be interpreted passive-aggressively, with the listener feeling as though they’re being attacked for what they’re saying and not doing.
One person might use “actions speak louder than words” while in a discussion with their romantic partner or friend while trying to get more than a promise of action out of them. By emphasizing the “action” part of the phrase, the person one is directing their words to will have no doubt that the speaker expects them to act.
Example Sentences With “Actions speak louder than words”
- That’s all well enough but actions speak louder than words.
- When are you going to get to work on this? Actions speak louder than words.
- How much longer will I have to wait to hear from you? Actions speak louder than words, you know.
- I told her that actions speak louder than words and she got upset at me. I think I hit a nerve.
- You should always pay attention to someone’s actions over their words, they speak far louder.
Why Do Writers Use “Actions speak louder than words?”
Writers use “actions speak louder than words” for the same reasons and in the same way that everyday people use it in conversation. Idioms and proverbs are part of individual cultures, the person using one of these phrases is alluding to and depending on a shared knowledge of what it means. By using a very specific and little-known idiom in a piece of dialogue, a writer is aware of the fact that some are going to understand it, and those who don’t will have to figure out what it means.
Origins of “Actions speak louder than words”
“Actions speak louder than words” is a popular phrase which like many other proverbs and idioms dates back many years and has gone through various iterations. One of the best-known historical uses of the phrase can be found in a well-known Abraham Lincoln speech from 1856. The quote reads:
‘Actions speak louder than words’ is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North, ‘Give us the measures, you take the men.
Here, the phrase is being used as it is today, to suggest that actions are far more important than what someone says. There might be a positive or negative association with it, as in someone said they were going to do something and then didn’t, or someone said they weren’t going to do something and then did.
It has been suggested that an older example comes from 1736, in a document titled “The Melancholy State of this Province Considered, in a Letter, from a Gentleman in Boston to His Friend in the Country.” Then, an even older one, from a sermon written by Thomas Manton in 1693. The section reads:
So they would give him Glory, praise him with their Lips, and honor him with their lives. They would make that their work and scope, that this may be the real language of their hearts and actions, which speak much louder than words.
Many years earlier, there is an example in the sermons of St Anthony of Padua, who lived from around 1195 to 1231. The passage reads:
Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves.
These are certainly not the only significant iterations of the phrase, but they are some of the better-known. As is the case with many idioms and proverbs, it does not appear that a single point of origin for the phrase is known.
Actions Speak Louder than Words Quotes
Here are a few of the best-related quotes to the idiom “actions speak louder than words.” The first of these, by Israel Ayivor, takes the reader through the three levels of thought, words, and actions. It’s good to think about doing something, he says, better to say one is going to do it, but it’s the best course to actually do the thing.
Thoughts do more. Words do much. Actions do much more.
The next interesting quote comes from Christine Szymanski and is a great example of how an idiom can evolve to become something different, but related.
Words will hold some water, but actions carry buckets full.
Here is another interesting quote, one created by DaShanne Stokes. While it doesn’t use “actions speak louder than words” exactly, it suggests the same meaning:
If your actions don’t live up to your words, you have nothing to say.
In Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, Frank Sonneberg uses the following quote:
Being all talk speaks volumes about you.
Here, he uses a play on words to suggest that speaking without acting reveals a lot about one’s character. This final quote comes from Germany Kent. Her words are clear and very obviously connected to the idiom “actions speak louder than words.” The quote reads:
No plan and no action will lead to no results.
- “A perfect storm.”
- “Add insult to injury.”
- “Barking up the wrong tree.”
- “To get bent out of shape.”
- “That’s the last straw.”