Can you suggest what would be a good proverb for "Someone will work, but another will get the result"? Like for the situation when one person does the hard work, but some other reaps the benefits.


Just wanted to mention that I just meant a single line proverb that is commonly used for the above situation in English speaking countries. For example a proverb like: "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings."

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! Nice question -- I've got an answer coming up. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 17:10
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    @BruceJames And I take the credit for it.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 7:04
  • How about "That's life"?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 13:11

8 Answers 8


The one you come very close to:

“One sows and another reaps.”

[Jesus] [John 4:37] [Amplified Bible]

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    Thanks! Yes, I was aware of this. I am just looking for any existing English proverb that bears the same meaning, but a bit indirect. For example, "Homer drinks but Moe gets the hangover".
    – Disco Stu
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 17:18

A suitable proverb may be found in the moral to Aesop's fable The Lion, the Bear, and the Fox. The fable itself is about a bear and a lion who fight over food and lose it to a fox who takes advantage of their inattentiveness. (So in my estimation a better moral might be something like "Quit while the going's good.") But the moral according to several sources is:

It sometimes happens that one man has all the toil, and another all the profit.

or more pithily as:

Those who have all the toil do not always get the profit.

About a similar fable's moral Wikipedia says

The moral [Austrian poet Candidus] Pantaleon draws at the end is Saepe alter alterius fruitur labribus (from the labours of others it is often another who profits).

Comedian George Carlin is cited as offering the following humorous and modern take on this phenomenon:

“The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”

(This may not be ideal in this question's case, since the caterpillar and the butterfly are in reality the same entity.)

  • Surreal is often good in comedy. And Carlin was a very funny comedian. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 14:54

There is an old folk tale that has been narrated in a children's book, The Little Red Hen. The gist of the plot is as follows

The little red hen finds a grain of wheat, and asks for help from the other farmyard animals (most adaptions feature a pig and a duck) to plant it, but none of them volunteer. At each later stage (harvest, threshing, milling the wheat into flour, and baking the flour into bread), the hen again asks for help from the other animals, but again she gets no assistance.

Finally, the hen has completed her task, and asks who will help her eat the bread. This time, all the previous non-participants eagerly volunteer. She declines their help, stating that no one aided her in the preparation work. Thus, the hen eats it with her chicks leaving none for anyone else.

The moral of this story is that those who show no willingness to contribute to a product do not deserve to enjoy the product: "if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Obviously, the point of the story is that those who do not work should not get the reward.

  • That might be a bit too long for a "proverb".
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 7:06
  • @Kris Your right, it's really a fable.
    – bib
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 22:19

For this type of question, the obvious point of reference is country music. Travis Tritt said it best in his song, "Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man":

"Why's the rich man busy dancing, while the poor man pays the band? Oh they're billing me, for killing me. Lord have mercy on the working man!"


Jesus said to his disciples,

"I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor" (John 4:38 NIV).

If I were to put his words into a proverb, it would be

"Sometimes you reap what other people have sown."


The farmer says, "Now that I've done the hard work, I will wait patiently to reap what I've sown." The fool says, "Now that others have done the hard work, I can't wait to reap what they've sown."

  • can I use "I have others had done the hard work for me"?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 15:27
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    @Ooker: I'm not sure I'm pickin' up what you're layin' down, Ooker. Do you mean, "Others have done the hard work for me"? (Or, "I have had others do the hard work for me.") If so, then yes, that sentence is usable. Don Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 23:21
  • Yes, I mean "I have had others do the hard work for me". But when you say "that sentence is useable", do you mean that "I have others had done..." is fine too? I intended to use the structure "I have somebody doing something", but mixed it with "I have something done by somebody"
    – Ooker
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 1:18

The term 'donkey work' is widely used in Britain to mean the hard, mundane and essential tasks for which you earn the minimum rewards, and don't get any particular praise. For the last several years we have had a 'national minimum wage' (around £7 per hour). The expression 'minimum-wage work' has become part of the lexicon, and applies to cleaners, waiters, building-site labourers, etc - anything that does not require much training.

  • These don't really specifically imply, though, that someone else gets the benefits from your hard work—the benefits you by rights should have gotten. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 23:29

"Thou shall not muzzle the ox while it treadeth out the corn" - Deuteronomy 25:4

Basically since the ox is doing the work of threshing the grain, he should get a share for it.


I think that in America, working for the man often implies working for the government, the authorities, the powers-that-be, (as in "to sell out to The Man").

But among people in UK SE where I live, freelance/self-employed people often use it simply to mean work as a permanent employee on the regular payroll - the implication being that you'll earn far less money because "the man" (boss) will take the lion's share of any profit you generate.

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