‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on April 24, 2023

Did someone say to you, 'actions speak louder than words', and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

  • 'Actions speak louder than words' means that who a person says they are or what they say they will do isn't nearly as important as what they actually do.

What Does 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words' Mean?

'Actions speak louder than words' means that what a person does is more important than what they say.

There are two ways you can interpret this idiom:

  • Acting directly is more effective than speaking about what you plan to do
  • The true sentiments of a person are more reliably understood by their actions rather than their words

To better understand these two related meanings, let's look at a couple of examples.

For the first example:

  • Let's say that you have a friend that is constantly saying that they are going to quit their job and start their own business. After hearing this hundreds of times, you might wonder whether your friend is ever going to pull the trigger and do what he says or if it's all talk. You might even say to him that 'actions speak louder than words' if you grow particularly frustrated with him making this claim without moving toward achieving his goal.

As a second example:

  • Let's say there is a person you work with that is always patting himself on the back for being compassionate. However, you've paid attention to him in his interactions with other people and noticed that he actually seems rude and condescending in conversation. The wisdom of the idiom 'actions speak louder than words' indicates that your co-worker can be better understood by the way that he actually treats people rather than the way that he describes himself with words.

Where Does 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words' Come From?

'Actions speak louder than words' is an idiom that has appeared in literature for many hundreds of years. An early variation of the phrase shows up in the 1628 record of the proceedings of the UK parliament known as the Hansard:

'A word spoken in season is like an Apple of Gold set in Pictures of Silver,' and actions are more precious than words.

A few decades later, we find an example of the 'speak louder' version of the phrase in Thomas Manton's Book of Sermons from 1693:

So they would give him Glory, praise him with their Lips, and honour him with their Lives. They would make that their Work and Scope, that this may be the real Language of their Hearts and Actions, which speak much louder than Words.

'Actions Speak Louder Than Words' in Publications Since the 1800s

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'actions speak louder than words' has not waned in popularity in the last two hundred years. In fact, its usage has increased since 1800.

A publication from 1845 entitled Proverbs mentions this idiom, and explains that 'actions speak louder than words' is:

"...a very common observation, and by long and frequent usage has become an established maxim; and it has its significancy. In illustrating its meaning, it may be observed, that words are often deceptive, are hypocritical, false, flattering, and insincere, and therefore are not to be considered so decisive evidences of the truth and reality of things, as actions. Actions may be, and indeed sometimes are, deceptive in a measure, though not as much so as words; and, accordingly are received in general as more full and satisfactory proofs of the real disposition and character of persons than verbal expressions."

Here is an example of the phrase in use in 1830 in the Warder Cresson text Babylon the Great Is Falling:

"Well may even the heathen call thee and thy subjects infidels; for thou hast been a stumbling block to them, in professing one thing and acting directly contrary; thou hast been thy own judge and passed they own sentence; when thou has cried from thy pulpits and galleries that "Actions speak louder than Words," they most assuredly do..."

Examples of 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words' In Sentences

How would 'actions speak louder than words' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • "He and I have always been close, but he's starting to get on my nerves. He always promises that he will do things and never follows through. I try to tell him that actions speak louder than words, but he never seems to listen."
  • "Sally is tired of wasting time talking about how we are going to grow the company. She says that 'actions speak louder than words' and wants to start making some moves right away."
  • "I know that she is coming from a good place, but ultimately actions speak louder than words."
  • "All you talk about is how you're going to turn your life around, but then you spend all of your free time lying in bed. Don't forget, actions speak louder than words!"

Other Ways to Say 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'actions speak louder than words'?

Here are some options for related idioms:

  • By their fruits, you will know them
  • Talk is cheap
  • Talk the talk
  • Walk the walk

Final Thoughts About 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words'

'Action speaks louder than words' is an idiom that means that what you do carries more weight than what you say. This implies that acting directly is more effective than talking about action, and the fact that the way a person acts can be a better way to understand who they really are than what they say.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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