Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

Have you ever planned a weekend getaway with your friends, only to be disappointed when things didn’t pan out? As the saying goes, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. But what does that really mean? Let’s crack open this phrase to see what’s inside.

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“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” is an old saying that means you shouldn’t get your hopes up or make plans based only on assumptions because that can lead to disappointment. The proverb warns against becoming overly optimistic about an anticipated event, specifically if the outcome is not guaranteed. Here are two important points to consider for the meaning of this phrase:

What It Means
1. The proverb “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” advises against prematurely making plans based on uncertain outcomes because the circumstances can change in unexpected ways.
2. This saying encourages people to wait until they have all the facts before getting too excited about a situation.

Example: John was confident he would win the upcoming race, so he bought an expensive TV with the prize money he has yet to receive. Therefore, it could be said that he’s counting his chickens before they hatch, because his decision is based on the assumption that he’ll win, which may not actually happen.

See the examples section for more clarification and usage of this idiom and other related expressions.

A chicken hatching from an egg.
This egg is the chicken’s home and it refuses to leave.


1. Don’t get ahead of yourself
2. You shouldn’t assume anything
3. Don’t count on it
4. I wouldn’t hold my breath
5. Don’t get your hopes up
6. Setting yourself up for disappointment
7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Have you ever been in a situation where others were confident about something, but you were skeptical? You might tell them not to count their chickens before they hatch in order to temper their expectations. You could also use the synonyms listed above to convey the same thought.

Origin of “Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch”

This idiom goes back to at least the 16th century, which means it is at least 448 years old. It’s earliest known appearance in print, from what I have seen, is in a book called New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets by Thomas Howell, 1570:

“Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be,

Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee.”

Why Shouldn’t You Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch?

Consider this: If you had a chicken and it laid three eggs, does that mean you will soon have three more chickens? If you said yes, then as the saying goes, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Why not?

Because it’s not guaranteed that all three chickens will hatch successfully and survive. There are various complications that can unexpectedly occur leading up to or during the hatching process, resulting in the chicks not making it. Therefore, it’s possible that out of those three eggs, only two survive, or none at all if things go really poorly.

Tip: For additional phrases like this, we have you covered! Check out these phrases starting with “D” for a list of sayings that people regularly use in conversation.

Examples For “Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch”

To get a better grasp of this saying, let’s look at a few examples that show how it can be used in a sentence:


1. I know you’re expecting rain soon, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch. The weather has been dry all month.
2. My family expects to catch multiple fish at the lake. However, they shouldn’t count their chickens before they hatch because the fish may not be biting today.
3. Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched by assuming you’ll get a perfect score on the test.

In the following set of sentences, we will use a similar phrase in place of this old adage:


1. My brother believes his favorite team will take home the trophy. However, he might be setting himself up for disappointment since the other teams are looking strong this season.
2. While everyone thinks the trip will go smoothly, I’m not holding my breath. The reason being, our car is in poor condition, which could be a big issue during the journey.
3. Sarah was planning a snowball fight with her friends, but it never snowed. This lesson taught her not to get ahead of herself.

What can we learn from these illustrations? First, take note what is being anticipated in each example. Second, notice how the proverb and its synonyms are used to express a cautious attitude towards those anticipated outcomes. Essentially, this proverbial phrase highlights that while a person might assume something will happen, it’s not a guarantee that it will.

Now that you’ve learned about this idiom, consider exploring the common sayings below.