You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by Staarkali, Jun 15, 2013.

  1. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    Dear all,

    is there any translation that is not too far from the English expression You an lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink? it's pretty self-explaining: you can give someone (or possibly something) the opportunity to do something, but eventually the choice to actually do it belongs to him/her only (even if you are his/her boss/parent/teacher/any figure of authority;

    There is probably no verbatim translation (or is there), anything remotely connected to this idea would do, thanks in advance!
  2. tarlou Senior Member

    I think the follows may be possible:
    师父领进门,修行在个人 The teacher can only lead you into the door (of knowledge, or a career), what to do after that is up to yourself.

    管得了一时,管不了一世 You can take care of it/him/her for a period of time, but you can't do it throughout lifetime.
    E.g. 对孩子,你管得了一时,管不了一世。

    Also on there is a translation of your sentence:
    老牛不喝水,不能强按头 If the cow does not drink, you can't push it head to force it to do so.
    I never heard of this one before, but this sounds very idiomatic.
  3. BODYholic Senior Member

    Chinese Cantonese
    I believe the above was derived from a Cantonese saying 牛唔饮水,点揿得牛头低.
  4. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Apparently the "cow" idiom exists in many dialects, but I wonder if it's really used like the English "horse" proverb. At least in Cantonese, the saying is almost always used for past, regrettable events (as far as I'm aware), while the English proverb is used for general situations.

    For example, you've had an affair with your wife's best friend and, being confronted by your wife, you try to shift the responsibility to your paramour, "She flirted with me first, I swear!" To which your wife replies sagaciously: 牛唔飲水點撳得牛頭低,你唔想佢點引到你? ("Nobody was putting a gun to your head! No one could have tempted you without your own consent.")
  5. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    Interesting example, Ghabi! I hope it's not out of personal experience :p
    Interesting also is your observation of the different applications in different cultures of similar idioms. This is where students often need help with.
  6. 维尼爱蜂蜜 Member

    the one about 牛不喝水 is very close.
    a similar one is 强扭的瓜不甜
  7. Staarkali

    Staarkali Senior Member

    Well, it definitevely brings a lot of thinking, I will try my best to remember these, thanks all for contributing !
  8. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Can you give an example, please? I'm very interested to know how the idiom is used in other dialects. Thanks!
  9. daoxunchang Senior Member

    Chinese China
    Is it 强按牛头不饮水?

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