Give a Man a Fish


It can be more beneficial in the long run to teach a person how to do something than to do that something for them.

The full proverb (though the wording does vary) goes like this: ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’


Fishing, give a man a fish.
This man learned how to fish. Do you think he’ll catch anything?

The Origin Of ‘Give a Man a Fish’

Teaching a person a useful skill can be more beneficial in the long run than filling a need for them temporarily, that’s basically the meaning of this proverb. So, for example, if you give a hungry man a fish then his hunger will be satisfied, but only for a short time. If, instead, the man were taught how to fish, then he could eat whenever he got hungry. Well, assuming he is able to catch a fish whenever he wanted to.

Anyway, how old is this phrase? It is at least 120 years old because it appears in a book from the late 19th century. More specifically, a writer named Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie wrote the saying down in a novel of hers called Mrs. Dymond, published in 1885:

“He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I supposed the Patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”

Anne Ritchie (quoted above) is credited as the one who coined this phrase.

Example Sentence(s)

  • My friend Brian orders takeout food almost every day because he doesn’t know how to cook. Doing this for so long has burned a hole in his wallet. So I decided to give the man a fish (figuratively speaking) by teaching him how to cook.

Note: The meaning of a phrase can be found with ease. However, their origin is a different story; sometimes it is completely unclear how or from where a saying originated. If that happens, there might be an explanation included on the page that talks about how the saying originated. If no explanation is included, then there should at least be a quote of it on the page. These quotes are typically the earliest known appearance of the phrase in print and thus they can give you an idea on how old it is.