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Don’t count all your chickens before they have hatched !


Click below to listen to the phrase.

Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) don’t make promises you can’t keep

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b) don’t exaggerate or you will be found out

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c) don’t rely on something that may not happen

Well done ! That’s the right answer.

Don’t count all your chickens before they have hatched means that you should not depend on an event that may or may not happen. This is because once you have made plans based on these predicted events, and the event does not happen, you will not be able to fulfill your plans.

The expression reportedly originates from Aesop’s fables. Aesop probably lived from 620 to 560 BCE and the fable in which he uses the expression is The Milkmaid and Her Pail.

French translation

il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué

How NOT to translate : *Ne comptez pas tous vos poulets avant qu’ils ne soient soient éclos

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Examples in context

‘Nationals 2015 : Who overachieved, underachieved, or neither ?

Disappointment discredits expectations. Counting one’s chickens before they hatch is a perfectly reasonable thing to do if one has watched chickens hatch before, but disappointment brings reevaluation.

Now, as the Mets charge through the National League Championship Series and the Nationals sit dormant, those early spring World Series expectations strewn carelessly across magazine covers (or special Sunday newspaper sections) feel foolish and irresponsible. How could anyone have thought such these Nationals would challenge for a title ? How could wins or a historically stingy rotation or a handful of all-star seasons been posited so frivolously ?

Well, the chickens didn’t hatch like they normally do (or, to finally abandon that analogy, the Nationals did not play to their resumes). Some of them did. Some Nats played better than they ever have before. Others played worse. Mete them out into their respective categories and find the reason for the 2015 debacle : too many great expectations were left unfulfilled. To avoid Dickensian length, we won’t examine every player on the roster here.’

The Washington Post, 19 October 2015

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‘Fate of ObamaCare co-ops uncertain after half collapse

Kevin Counihan, insurance marketplace CEO at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, described the co-op failures and other changes as simply “inevitable” in the health care industry.

According to CMS, the co-ops were implemented to add more “choice and competition” for consumers. But while ObamaCare supporters blamed Congress for the failures to date, Haislmaier says the co-ops are at fault.

“I would place most of the blame on the management of the companies because they were counting on money that was uncertain to begin with,” Haislmaier said, referring to faulty enrollment estimates. “The companies that counted their chickens before they hatched got into trouble ; the ones that did not, didn’t get into trouble.”’

Fox News, 28 November 2015

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Everyday usage

We can’t count our chickens before they have hatched. It will cause huge problems for our budget to rely on unpredictable figures.

Their company may be doing well right now, but they shouldn’t count their chickens before they have hatched. They’re going to fall down a hole.

Don’t count your chickens before they have hatched ! We might not meet our targets !


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