Latvian language (one of the Baltic languages, others being Lithuanian and extinct Prussian language) has proverb (with alliterations) Darbs dara darītāju, which can be translated literally into English as work makes (does) the doer. My question is - is there the idiomatic expression/proverb with similar meaning in English?

I tried to do the exact-googling of the translated phrase "work makes the doer", but Google gives only pages from Latvia or Lithuania which mention this proverb as distinctly Latvian one with English translation only. I am fan of this proverb and I wonder - is it possible that English have no similar proverb? My guess is that English have such proverb but with different (more English-like) wording. Maybe there is even the Latin roots of this proverb? Or maybe Anglo-Saxon world have such deep cultural advancements (OxCam being the example) and such reliance on education so that such proverb is useless in English speaking cultures which rely on professional education, professionalism as opposite to the in-work skills development and growth of personality?

Growth of skills and personality through the work is the essence of the Latvian proverb. But I guess - this proverb can be applied only to such work in which the growth is possible and necessary be it the development of the motoric skills or the development of intellectual skills. If the work is monotone, without possibility to grow (in such work) then this proverb is useless.

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    Proverbs 12.25: "Heaviness in the heart of a man maketh it stoop; But a good work maketh it glad." Kurdish proverb: A man is judged by his work. Just out of interest, exactly what do you understand from your Latvian saying? Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 11:59
  • Well - when you start to work, not always you know the details what will you do and how will you achieve the traget, even the target itself can be elusive sometimes. E.g. IT systems development (design and coding) can be such endeavour. You can educate himself a lot but at the end you should start to do and only then the real problems will emerge and only then the search (invention) of the most appropriate solutions can be done. It is coping with unknowns, uncertainties, going path previously not went.
    – TomR
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 12:09
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    I'm still not sure exactly what you think the Latvian saying means, and you've already got two completely different answers - neither of which might match your understanding. One's about repetition improving performance, the other about building "character". And there's also Yoda's "Jedi Knight" dictum There is no try. There is only do, which one could understand as What counts is actual works, not aspirations. Please edit your question to explain exactly what it's supposed to mean. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 12:24
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    My father used to say, "If you want a career, get a job." That is, rather than sitting around thinking, "get to work", "do", and the rest (your career) will take care of itself through experience and self development. Perhaps Work maketh the man. would work? Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 14:08
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    In French, we have an analog usual expression "prouver le mouvement en marchant" (prove the movement by walking). Commented May 1, 2020 at 18:12

7 Answers 7


"Making makes the maker" is similarly alliterated if less general, and it and variants occur a few times on the web:

  • I am accepting this answer. Although it is very rarely used in English (Google gives less than 20 search results, very, very few by Google standrds), it is used in academic work link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-1-4020-6160-8.pdf and with reference to Aristotle connected with very noble notion of Poiesis (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poiesis). So, it may not be the really idiomatic to English, but it has alliteration and it has been used in the translation (by researchgate.net/profile/Kathleen_Haney - professional philosopher) of very important idea by Aristotle.
    – TomR
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 17:52
  • So, I guess, I can try to use it in my coat of arms, I have not decided yet.
    – TomR
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 17:52
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    @TomR I don't know if you're familiar with the bourbon called Marker's Mark, but if you like bourbon, I offer the following for your coat of arms: Making Maker's Mark makes makers of Maker's Mark. Reminds me of this: "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Maybe you should make that your motto instead. :-) Commented May 1, 2020 at 18:44
  • @TomR I don't think I'd want such a logically troubling motto on my coat of arms. Anyone engaged in making is already a maker by definition, and, therefore, cannot be made be made a maker by virtue of making. How about something more like Making makes a master maker? I'm not sure I like it, but at least it's not logically inconsistent. Practice makes perfect is growing on me. Commented May 2, 2020 at 17:34
  • @RichardKayser Well, such recursions (self-references) exist both in logic and nature. Life and cognition are systems making and developing themselves in the process of autopoiesis en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopoiesis which can be implemented by set of autocatalytic reactions. See e.g. the fantastic book by Kauffman, reviewed nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01318-z. It tries to explain the History - unique state in timespace in which we as the complex systems have emerged and from which our unique developments will bring us further.
    – TomR
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 20:59

Probably the following saying comes close to yours:

practice makes perfect:

said to encourage someone to continue to do something many times, so that they will learn to do it very well.

(Cambridge Dictionary )

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    +1 this keeps the pattern of alliteration, which seems to be an integral part of the Latvian proverb
    – Conrado
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 13:18
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    This answer appears to conflict at least a little with aspects of the OP's question concerning growth, e.g., Growth of skills and personality through the work is the essence of the Latvian proverb and If the work is monotone, without possibility to grow (in such work) then this proverb is useless. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 15:56
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    @RichardKayser - So sports players never grow their skills through practice?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 17:29
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    I feel, that this is the most appropriate proverb so far, but words "practice" and "perfect" are more specific, more practical than "work"/"doing" and "doer". Just sense. I would be happy to find phrase to put into my coat of arms and that is why it would be better to have more general, more philosophically loaded words.
    – TomR
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 17:46
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    Well - I guess - this is very connected with the culture. Latvian word "darbs" (job, work, service, engagement) is so loaded with the sense of virtue (e.g. sense, that "work is life", something beyond only to getting earnings for living, those ideas coming from the folk culture, folk songs), that I feel it very hard to find appropriate words in English.
    – TomR
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 17:51

Perhaps Work maketh the man. I don't have a reference for this, but I did find references to similar expressions:

Careers maketh the man.

Habits maketh the man.

Clothes maketh the man.

Manners maketh the man.

To my mind, Work maketh the man preserves the sense and intent of the OP's rendering of the Latvian proverb, the key being the replacement of the doer by the man. Implicit in this replacement is that the man and the doer are one and the same.

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    This is the best possible translation, in my opinion.
    – TonyK
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 22:43
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    I've only ever heard this as "clothes maketh the man", but your suggestion works for me.
    – Rich
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 9:07
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    I've never noticed it before, but actually maketh is singular. So strictly speaking, Manners maketh man can only mean Man makes manners, which sends quite a different message!
    – TonyK
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 9:54
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    As @TonyK noted, all of the examples in italics are grammatically incorrect (and undoubtedly the result of substitution into a much older correct version that's tickling the back of my mind but I can't come up with right now). Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 10:44
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    @RichardKayser, makyth is still third-person singular. But perhaps the rules for agreement used to be different: compare The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It seems that when you said something plural is something singular, you could use the singular (whereas today we must use the plural).
    – TonyK
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 11:03

You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.

On the internet, this proverb is popularly attributed to Carl Jung (Goodreads). It's not clear that Jung actually said this, since no book is attributed and similarly-phrased sentiments appear in other contexts. For instance, here is Will Durant summarizing (and quoting) Aristotle in his (originally 1926) book The Story of Philosophy.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; "these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions"; we are what we repeatedly do.

The general formulation is baked into many writers' and speakers' repertoire. As a set phrase, you are what you do has often been used in the last half-century without attribution to describe learning through activity. Here are a few examples:

You are what you do. What you know is what you do. (Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design, 1998)

You are what you do, so make an effort to keep performing in all styles and groups as often as possible. (Jazz Pedagogy, 2002)

My dad always says, "You are what you do, not what you say." Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us, but I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words. (David Suzuki: The Autobiography, 2009)

So "you are what you do" expresses a sentiment similar to "work makes the doer" - you learn through work, through repeated doing.


There are a reasonable number of examples of the expression

  • Hard work builds character.

on the internet. See for instance FrankSonnenbergonline: Hard work is good for your soul.

  • This works conceptually but isn't plausible as a replacement for the OP's literal translation Work makes the doer. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 16:00
  • The point of your statement being? 'My question is - is there the idiomatic expression/proverb with similar meaning in English?' / 'English idiomatic proverb that expresses “work makes the doer” '? Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 16:43
  • Okay. Fair point. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 17:43
  • I usually add a period somewhere, change my vote, then delete the period (hopefully the same one). Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 14:49

"Hard work is its own reward"

Even if the work is for little or no monetary pay-off, it either rewards you with personal growth (skills and/or personality), or a sense of satisfaction / accomplishment.


The German sentence "Übung macht den Meister" is a bit stronger because it begins with "Practice" which is REPEATED work. Meister means a person extremely well-qualified in a certain field. (Maestro in Italian.)

For example, Meisterschaft (the property of being a Meister) means championship. The usual translation "Practice makes perfect" does not do justice to the German sentence.

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