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Is there a popular English expression equivalent to this Russian proverb? It translates to:

Water wears away a stone.

And has the meaning that, step by step, eventually we (it) will get there (reach the goal, etc.).
It can also be used to mean that harm or something undesirable can be inflicted over time.

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  • 3
    Rome wasn't built in a day? Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:07
  • Is it usually used to describe people accomplishing good things? Or could it also be used to describe unintentional effects or people causing harm?
    – alphabet
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:36
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    Does this answer your question? Are there other variations of "slow and steady wins the race"? Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:39
  • @alphabet, in Russian it's used in both good and harmful results.
    – nightcoder
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:41
  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth thank you, but I don't think it's 100% the same. With "slow and steady wins the race" there's also a connotation that steadiness may bring better results than a rush, but in "Water wears away a stone" there's no such connotation.
    – nightcoder
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:45

3 Answers 3

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This is the English rendering of a Latin saying of Ovid the poet, but it is used:

Dripping water hollows out stone, [not through force but through persistence]. ― Ovid (GoodReads)

OxfordReference gives this variant:

constant dropping wears away a stone

and explains that the saying was:

primarily used to mean that persistence will achieve a difficult or unlikely objective (in the US, continual is often used for constant). The saying is recorded from the mid 13th century, but a similar thought is found in classical Greek, in the Fragments of Choeriuls of Samos,

with persistence a drop of water hollows out the stone,

and in Latin, in the Elegies of Tibullus,

length of time eats away stones with soft water.

This is also listed in the Farlex Dictionary of Idioms quoted by Free Dict:

constant dripping wears away a stone
proverb
Success is earned through persistence and determination.

  • My swing only got better after I started practicing it every day, so I guess it's true that constant dripping wears away a stone.

I suspect it appeared in Russian from the same ancient sources.

As for the most common variant, this Ngram can give you an idea:

enter image description here

At the end of the day, it is your choice, pick the one that fist best your taste, your side of the pond and your context.

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  • Thank you! Interesting! Which one do you think the most frequently used in English?
    – nightcoder
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:16
  • I have edited to answer your second query.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:20
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    Awesome, thank you!
    – nightcoder
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:42
  • Here's another comparison: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – nightcoder
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 19:52
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A comparison of popular options:

enter image description here

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Saying "water wears away a stone" would probably be understood, I've heard it put in those terms before. A common saying in English is "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step", which carries a bit of the same connotation. But really, I'd just use "water will wear away a stone" or even "water will wear away the mightiest stone".

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