Don’t Look a Gift Horse In The Mouth

Have you ever inspected a gift for problems before? The proverb “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” suggests that it’s impolite to question the value of gifts. So keep your horse-dental checkups to a minimum as we take a closer look at this phrase.

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To not be ungrateful when receiving a present. The meaning of “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is to not criticize the value of a gift, especially when it is given freely. The proverb encourages people to be grateful when accepting gifts, and to recognize the kindness behind them. Consider an example that can help put the meaning of this phrase into perspective:

Example: After receiving a fancy watch from his brother, Kyle complained that it wasn’t the brand he wanted. He was so concerned over this perceived flaw that he forgot to express gratitude for the thoughtful gesture. Later, a friend reminded him not to look a gift horse in the mouth, implying that he should appreciate what he had been given.

What does “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” mean?

1. It means that one should not scrutinize a gift’s quality or worth because it would be considered an impolite gesture towards the giver.

2. The proverb emphasizes that it’s more important to appreciate acts of generosity, rather than focusing only on the material value of a gift.

3. The phrase comes from the practice of closely looking at a horse’s teeth to determine its age and overall worth.

Similar: This proverb is also said as “never look a gift horse in the mouth.” It’s similar to the saying “it’s the thought that counts” because both stress the importance of recognizing the act of giving.

A gift horse with hay in its mouth.

Synonyms and Similar Sayings

1. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
2. Beggars can’t be choosers
3. Take what you can get
4. Never look for a gift horse’s teeth (an alternate version)

Have you ever noticed someone be overly critical of a present they received? That’s essentially what the saying never (or don’t) look a gift horse in the mouth means. You can also use the synonyms from the list to express a similar idea. Remember, sometimes a simple “thank you” is all that’s needed.

Origin of “Never Look a Gift Horse In The Mouth”

This old saying is nearly five hundred years old, but what is its origin? While it’s not clear how the proverb never look a gift horse in the mouth originated, the phrase potentially comes from the practice of evaluating a horse’s age by examining its teeth. This kind of behavior could be seen as rude or ungrateful, especially if the horse was a generous gift.

To elaborate, by inspecting a horse’s teeth, one might be able to deduce its age and health to an extent. Basically, the longer the teeth, the older the horse. Therefore, looking a gift horse in the mouth would be considered rude because the person is not appreciating what they were given, instead they’re scanning it for flaws. Imagine if the horse was found to be too old, the recipient might reject it altogether! Since the horse was a gift, that kind of discerning behavior is unnecessary.

So then, the proverb may have originated from the repeated occurrences of this ungrateful conduct.

Tip: We have more phrases starting with “D” that you can browse through.

Anyways, the saying goes back to at least the 16th century. For example, John Heywood used it in a book called A dialogue containing the number in effect of all the proverbs in the English tongue, 1546:

“Where gifts be given freely—east, west, north or south—No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.”

Examples and Sentences

To get a better grasp of this proverb’s intended use, let’s go over a few examples to see what we can learn:


1. A friend gave me a used bike, and even though it was old and rusty, I knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.
2. The sweater is a little scratchy, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, because my grandmother knitted it just for me.
3. My neighbor offered to lend me one of his power tools, which were lower quality compared to mine. Even so, I knew to never look a gift horse in the mouth, so I accepted his kind gesture.

Don’t let the next set of sentences throw you for a loop, as the proverb will be replaced with a similar saying.


1. I didn’t get the dream job I was hoping for, but beggars can’t be choosers. At least I have a place to work now.
2. Although her new studio was not as nice as her old one, it was still significantly cheaper. “At this point, I’ll take what I can get,” she commented.
3. Clara’s workmate offered her some homegrown vegetables that didn’t look particularly appetizing. She accepted them anyway, as she didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds her, and appreciated the kind gesture.

In the examples above, notice the received gifts or opportunities were not ideally what the recipients wanted. Nevertheless, instead of fixating on this fact, they used the expression and its synonyms to show that they still appreciated the kindness shown to them.