The most famous quotes of all time have become iconic and are widely used in everyday conversation by the wordy and worldly.
Some of these were coined centuries ago, at the time of Ancient Rome and Greece, and have stood the test of time. Others are more recent and were first uttered by successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or intellectuals such as Maya Angelou.
But what all these famous quotes have in common is the fact that they are timeless and can be applied to a variety of life situations. Even if they were first used 2,500 years ago, they are as relevant today as they were back then.
So if you love quotes or are just bored at home and looking for something to pass time, let’s take a look at my selection of the best famous quotes of all time.
1. “To be or not to be, that is the question”, William Shakespeare
Still one of the most well-known soliloquies in the history of theatre, “To be or not to be” is also Shakespeare’s most famous quote.
2. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, Maya Angelou
One of the quotes which most resonates with me and with many businesses and successful entrepreneurs. Maya Angelou was the author of many books of poetry and seven autobiographies and she had many worthy quotes like this one.
3. “Let’s go invent tomorrow rather than worrying about what happened yesterday”, Steve Jobs
Jobs made this very lucid and forward-looking statement when he was reinstated as CEO of Apple in 2007. He had many famous quotes and is well-known for his many on-point statements. You can read more about Jobs in his biography.
4. “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it”, Andy Warhol
There are lots of famous quotes that allude to beauty but Warhol had such a unique take on art that his quote is very fitting.
5. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, Unknown
6. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”, Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Seneca was a stoic philosopher and politician born in Spain during the time of Imperial Rome. He coined many famous quotes in his vast oeuvre, many of which have transcended time and are equally as useful and applicable to the 21st century as they were to the 1st.
The above is one of the most brilliant quotes, especially for those who are atheist or agnostic. It is Seneca’s take on religion which was included in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
7. “Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law”, Immanuel Kant
One of Kant’s Categorical Imperatives that is to guide anyone’s life is also his own take on the Bible’s Golden Rule for behavior and sanctity.
8. “Never ask the doctor what you should do. Ask him what he would do if he were in your place”, Gerd Gigerenzer
Not an historical one, because Gigerenzer is a 21st-century psychologist born in 1947, but this is probably one of the most useful of the famous quotes on this list, mostly because in the world of online searches and Google-doctors, one should always remember that doctors know best and that they are human too.
9. “All good thoughts and ideas mean nothing without action”, Gandhi
Gandhi’s most famous quote is probably the one which is most representative of his life’s actions and achievements. Had he not taken action India might have taken years to achieve independence.
10. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, Albert Einstein
Besides this one, I like “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds” or “I love to travel but hate to arrive” for it talks about the expectations and anticipation of discovering somewhere new. I know this feeling all too well having traveled to over 120 countries some being the least visited countries in the world where I was the only foreigner there.
11. “Forget the mistake, remember the lesson”, Roald Dahl
A quote by Roald Dahl that has many alternatives and ways to express the same sentiment. Almost every successful entrepreneur will know that one needs to learn from the mistakes and be able to move forward.
Mistakes teach us valuable lessons, the most important of which is not to repeat them again.
12. “Well-behaved women rarely make history”, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
The paper tried to highlight the contributions of virtuous women but has become a symbol of feminism.
13. “The end justifies the means”, Niccolò Machiavelli
This famous quote included in the book The Prince by famous strategist and politician Niccolo Machiavelli is commonly used to justify that if a goal is important enough, it does not matter how it was achieved. His name even made it into many dictionaries as an adjective to reflect his ways of getting things done often in a clever but dishonest way.
14. “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”, Winston Churchill
Prime Minister and Military Strategist Winston Churchill was one of the most prolific writers of his time and even won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. No wonder many of the most famous quotes can be attributed to him.
He has so many widely used and known sayings that it is difficult to pick just a few but these are some of my favorite.
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. Many used that quote when the Brexit referendum came into being and the results showed that many voters did not understand the complexities of the question.
Churchill often wrote about war and about humankind, and he once famously compared men to pigs. “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals”.
He was also well-known for writing a lot about sage and wisdom and highlighting how people can be wise and foolish and how the line between the two is often thin. “The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes”, exemplifies that thought.
Some other quotes I love of him are:
- “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen”.
- “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won”.
- “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out”.
15. “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”, Allen Saunders
In today’s busy world, this is an even more apt and adequate quote to be reminded of often and it usually refers to the fact that in our packed days, things just happen to us without making conscious decisions.
16. “You only live once but if you do it right, once is enough”, Mae West
Famous words by actress Mae West used to appeal to naughtiness and to acting freely that also remind us that we do indeed only have one life and hence we must live it to the fullest, whatever that means to each of us.
17. “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles”, Sun Tzu
Famous Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War, one of the most famous books ever written on warfare and one which focuses on rather avoiding it. The learnings are universal and can be applied to life even in peace. The quote above reminds us to place ourselves in the shoes of our opponents.
18. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”, Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet is one of the most successful businessmen and investors of all time and is someone who always has a lot of wisdom to give out. He has also lived through many crises and looks long term, which is why his saying on reputation has become such a famous quote.
He has many other famous quotes and one of my favorite ones is “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get”, to remind us all that the same thing (or company) does have a different value depending on who looks at it.
But his best pearl of wisdom is “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing”.
19. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear”, Martin Luther King Jr.
The above is a famous quote from a 1967 speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave titled “Where do we go from here” where he favored a positive outlook and forgiveness.
20. “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness, and call it love, true love”, Robert Fulghum
Robert Fulghum is the famous author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and his famous quote above is a warm, easy to connect to sentence about love and how it can sometimes be defined as easily as just this inexplicable connection with someone else.
21. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”, Ian MacLaren
This is a quote that is often attributed to Plato but that is actually a much more recent one. Regardless of authorship, this famous quote is one often used as a reminder to be kind.
22. “There is no love sincerer than the love of food”, George Bernard Shaw
Irish writer Bernard Shaw can be credited with many famous quotes we hear today. The above is one that I like because everyone can identify themselves with food. I know I love to eat it and I love to read about culinary history.
Winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize of Literature and well known for his play Pygmalion, Shaw has many other famous quotes such as, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”. As well as, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches”.
23. “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”, Oscar Wilde
The above is probably one of the most repeated as a lot of people can relate to it. Another quote I like from him is “I can resist everything except temptation”, suitable for someone like Wilde, or “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”.
24. “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?”, Rumi
Rumi, originally known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, is a poet, scholar and theologist from Persia (modern-day Afghanistan) that is widely revered across the world for his writings and famous quotes about life and love. Check out his works on Amazon.
He has many important and relevant sayings that can be applied to any religion and ethnic group which is why he has followers everywhere, from my mother-in-law who is from India, to a friend of mine in Argentina. He is particularly famous in Azerbaijan where his works were translated into the local language.
Rumi can also be credited for the original idea that developed into the Turkish Dervishes and the role of music to reach God.
25. “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction”, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, wrote this quote in Wind, Sand and Stars to refer to men looking at each and towards the future in times of hardship, so it’s not really a famous quote about love and romance, but it is nonetheless a great one to apply to a vast array of situations.
26. “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine”, Lord Byron
His most famous work, Don Juan, has been turned into movies and legends and he has many other popular poems and famous quotes of which I like to highlight the above for it’s universal value.
27. “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor”, Charles Dickens
Before this part of the quote, the author also wrote “there is infection in disease and sorrow”, which is the other side of the same idea, positivity and optimism are contagious, as much as negativity and pessimism.
28. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”, Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past contains this famous quote which teaches us of seeing things from a different perspective. He was not referring to physical traveling with it but rather to being transported to a foreign land through music.
29. “Common sense is not so common”, Voltaire
I am sure this is the quote in this list that I have used the most, it is probably one which I utter at least once or twice a month. Not sure why we call it common when it is anything but.
Prolific French writer and philosopher Voltaire is the author of many popular and famous quotes thanks to the sheer amount of writing he produced. The above is perhaps the most approachable and easy to understand, and one which transcends societies and centuries, but he also has some other more complex and scandalous ones.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” or “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”. Both of these reflect the time in which he lived and his criticism of politicians and pretty much everything, from the Church to the Government.
He published several works under pseudonyms and had to exile in Switzerland for fear of being prosecuted. I leave you with one of his most timeless quotes: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”.
30. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, Paulo Coelho
Contemporary Brazlian author Paulo Coelho has become a well-known writer most notably for his hopeful work The Alchemist which is filled with famous quotes and general wisdom that you can apply to anything in life.
The quote above refers to the fact that if you have a desire, it is because the universe wants you to have it and so it will help you achieve it. It is a point of view many agree with and one which goes beyond any religion.
31. “Someday, somewhere – anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life”, Pablo Neruda
Famous Chilean writer Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto known as Pablo Neruda, became a well-established writer at a very young age and was known for writing often about love and laughter. He pronounced many famous quotes about both topics and has beautiful poems about them too.
32. “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams”, Gabriel Garcia Marques
Awarded Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marques earned a Nobel Prize in literature for his One Hundred Years of Solitude, a fantastic book that I very much recommend, but the above quote is from Memories of My Melancholy Whores.
This famous quote is commonly used nowadays as a great reminder that one must always have something to look forward to. Marques has many other famous ones, such as, “No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing”.
33. “No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was a well known feminist and had lots of famous quotes. The above is just one but another that I love is, “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water”.
She had lots of valuable advice for women and men, and as the wife of a politician, she also had relevant reminders such as, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” or “Do one thing everyday that scares you”.
She also had a lot of perspective, so I will leave you with this one: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway”.
34. “First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare”, Walt Disney
Walt Disney was a dreamer and one which made his dreams come true for everyone to enjoy with an authentic empire. Almost all of his quotes revolve around dreaming and imagination, creativity at the helm.
35. “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”, Nelson Mandela
In his 27 years in prison, Mandela coined many famous quotes which are mentioned in his books. While the above is one of the few that defines his life’s struggle, there are also many others. Mandela changed his home country of South Africa and brought an end to Apartheid.
Other quotes I love from him and which further define his life’s work after being released, are “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” or “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”.
36. “Love is the absence of judgment”, Dalai Lama
No other spiritual leader is so revered and looked up to like the Dalai Lama. His wisdom has been spread through his many quotes, speeches and books. Despite living in exile away from his native Tibet, he receives celebrities and world leaders in his house in Dharamsala and has pronounced many quotable words.
Besides the above, a famous quote from the Dalai Lama is “Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back, and reasons to stay”.
37. “You can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time”, Barack Obama
Barack Obama left an imprint in US politics and through his many speeches, he also used a large number of comparisons, metaphors and quotes that have become famous. The above is just one, but there are several others worth mentioning.
Some useful ones to remember are, “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy” or “If you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like or who you love”.
Pin these quotes to keep inspiring you!
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