I'm trying to find out the English version of this saying, which in Italian is: "L'occhio del padrone ingrassa il cavallo,"

And in Spanish is: "El ojo del amo engorda el ganado".

The idea is that if you want to get something done properly, like a successful business for example, you have to take care of it yourself. You can't let someone else do it, because they won't do it as good as you.

I've seen it in English as "It's the master's eye that makes the mill go", but it doesn't seem to be very common. Very little reference to that online.

Do you know a more used phrase for this idea?

  • 5
    The negative implication of this adage is expressed by "When the cat's away, the mice will play."
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 6, 2018 at 18:56
  • Thanks for the answers. What I was looking for is a well-known and broadly used proverb or phrase. I think "If you want a job done well, do it yourself" is too general, I was thinking about a similar phrase involving animals or objects, like a proverb. And "When the cat's away, the mice will play" has a mischievous connotation, like a lover taking the place of a husband or wife when one of the two is away. But is not related to a business like the original phrase.
    – Alina R
    Nov 6, 2018 at 19:01
  • 2
    On the other hand, a watched pot never boils. Nov 6, 2018 at 19:02
  • Alina, you're missing the point, which is that no translations is needed: "It's the master's eye that makes the mill go" is completely understandable in English, even though the grammar doesn't quite work. Yes, it would be more idiomatic to say "If you want something done well, do it yourself" but that doesn't truly equate… and neither does anything else. Nov 6, 2018 at 21:59

3 Answers 3


An English idiom, which is almost exactly what you've provided as a translation, is:

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Although it's commonly used in English (and has become English in its own right), it apparently originates from a French source.

Per Wikipedia:

In Bruis et Palaprat, Étienne penned the phrase "On n'est jamais servi si bien que par soi-même", which has widely been translated as "If you want something done right, do it yourself", although the literal translation is "One is never served so well as by oneself".

Note that the source of a variation has also been attributed to Napolean Bonaparte, so the actual etymology may be in question.

Nonetheless, whatever its source, it (along with its variations) is a common English phrase.

  • Actually the sense is not “do it yourself”, a master generally have things done...a master shouldn’t trust anybody, but keep a close eye on those who work for him.
    – user 66974
    Nov 6, 2018 at 20:42
  • @user240918 What you said in your question is: "You have to take care of it yourself. You can't let someone else do it, because they won't do it as good as you." That literally does mean you have to "do it yourself." If the translation is actually different than that (that others are not to be trusted, for instance), you should update your question. Nov 6, 2018 at 20:46
  • I agree this phrase is the correct fit. It doesn't mean one has to do everything themselves, but if there's one job that needs to be done correctly, don't trust anyone else with it. That job could be delegating responsibilities to others, for example. Nov 6, 2018 at 21:21
  • @AlinaR Sorry to have you quoted again, but you've said "like a successful business for example, you have to take care of it yourself. You can't let someone else do it, because they won't do it as good as you." If this was mistake then you should edit your question and take this part out of it. This answer means exactly what I've quoted from your question.
    – Zebrafish
    Nov 6, 2018 at 22:01

A common term related to keeping ones eye on your financial wellbeing was

"Take care of the pence, (and/for) the pounds will take care of themselves."

[Early 1700's from William Lowndes (1652–1724)] at the same time a popular sentiment was

"Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well." [Philip Stanhope, 1746]

which now becomes "If a things worth doing, do it well" and later that century

"If you want a thing done well, do it yourself." Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821)

I'm sure as a youth I heard but can not corroborate,

"It's a good shepherd (herdsman) that looks over (after) his flock (stock)"

So without a verified phrase I would say the nearest paraphrasing could be

A horse thrives "under the watchful eye" of its master.

However that's only substituting a part. The nearest full phrase in meaning to take control may be

"To take the bit between his teeth" John Dryden's The Medal, 1682:

i.e "Control your own destiny or someone else will." Jack Welch


Not commonly used, but you have:

1) It is the eye of the master that fattens the horse and the love of the woman that maketh the man.

2) no eye like the eye of the master.

3) the master’s eye fattens the horse, and his foot the ground.

(Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs)

.. “The master’s eye make the fat horse”, “The master's eye fattens the horse;”

— all these various readings are equivalent in sense and import, all thoroughly intelligible, and as good morality as the first, and yet they are all equally distant from what we want.

(English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases)

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