‘Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on March 30, 2023

Did someone tell you, ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch,’ and now you’re wondering what they meant by it? We’ll answer that in this article, plus you’ll learn the definition and meaning plus see examples of how to use the phrase correctly in a sentence.

In short:

  • ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ means someone shouldn’t depend on something they’re hoping for until they know for sure that it’s going to happen.

Essentially, it means that you shouldn’t count on something that hasn’t happened or appeared yet.

What Does ‘Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch’ Mean?

‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ means that you shouldn’t count on something that hasn’t happened or shown up yet. People use it when someone is hoping for something, and they don’t want that person to get their hopes up by putting all of their hopes into it.

You might hear someone say it to another person that’s waiting for some money to come in or waiting for something else that may or may not come.

  • One example of counting your chickens before they hatch is by spending money you have now because you’re expecting to get the money that’s not exactly guaranteed (maybe someone told you they might be able to lend you some, but they’re not sure).

In that case, you’d have counted your chickens before they hatch.

Where Does ‘Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch’ Come From?

The phrase ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ comes from The Milkmaid and Her Pail, one of Aesop’s (a Greek storyteller) Fables.

  • He was the author of several fables between 620 and 564 BC.

The phrase ‘don’t count your chickens’ appears in print in English in Thomas Howell’s New Sonnets from 1570. It reads:

"Counte not thy Chickens that vnhatched be, Waye wordes as winde, till thou finde certaintee."

Another version of the phrase appears in an English novel by Samuel Butler in 1664 in a poem called Hudibras:

"To swallow gudgeons ere they're catch'd,
And count their chickens ere they're hatched."

Other versions of the phrase are known around the world.

In Spanish, it’s written:

‘No cantes victoria antes de tiempo,’ which means don’t sing victory before time.

Examples of ‘Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch’ in Sentences

How would you use ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ in a sentence?

Let’s see some examples: 

  • You never know what college you’re going to get into. I wouldn’t buy any merchandise just yet. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  • You’re not even sure if you got the scholarship to UCLA. Should you really be making plans to go there already? Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  • You don’t even know if the organization is going to accept you. Shouldn’t you wait to start packing up your things and looking for an apartment? Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, Greg. We don’t even know if we got the apartment, and you already bought some new things on Amazon. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
  • I told my son, ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch,’ and now he’s disappointed that he didn’t win this contest he entered. He really thought he was going to win and started spending money he didn’t have. I feel so bad for him.
  • I hate to count my chickens before they hatch because you just never know what’s going to That’s why I always ask the universe for what I want and then forget about it – leave it in someone else’s hands.
  • My grandma used to always say ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ whenever we would go for a visit. Me and my sister used to love going there in the summer. We would have a lot more fun than we had at home.
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Just because you got an interview doesn’t mean you have the job, so don’t start spending money until they officially tell you that you have the job.

Other Ways to Say ‘Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch’

What other words and phrases convey the same meaning as ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Look before you leap
  • Don’t count on something that hasn’t happened yet
  • Don’t make plans based on a good thing happening before it’s actually happened
  • Don’t expect all of your hopes to come true
  • Don’t base your plans on a future event happening
  • Don’t assume you’ll get what you want
  • Don’t base your plans on something you’re not sure you’re getting
  • Don’t make plans based on something that’s not a sure thing
  • Don’t make plans based on something you’re unsure about
  • Don’t get ahead of yourself

Final Advice on ‘Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch’

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ means someone shouldn’t depend on something they’re hoping for until they know for sure that it’s going to happen.

Remember, it means that you shouldn’t count on something that hasn’t happened or appeared yet.

If you ever get stuck on anything, feel free to come back and review what you learned. We’ve also got a library of content dedicated to explaining confusing idioms you might come across while learning this complex language. Feel free to check it out anytime.

Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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