What Does A Leopard Cannot Change its Spots Mean?

A Leopard Cannot Change Its Spots Meaning

Definition: A person cannot change his or her nature.

Origin of A Leopard Cannot Change Its Spots

This expression is derived from the Bible, from Jeremiah 13:23:

  • Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.

The idea behind this verse is that no person or animal can change his or her skin or fur color. Interpretations of the Bible say that, likewise, a sinner can be so used to doing evil things that he or she can only be saved by God.

Nowadays people often use this expression without any religious overtones. It can simply mean that people don’t change who they fundamentally are.

If you are a liar, you will always be a liar; a cheater will always be a cheater, etc.

Examples of A Leopard Cannot Change Its Spots

what does a leopard never changes its spots mean In this dialogue, a brother and sister are discussing future career possibilities.

Maria: I’m thinking of changing my major so that I can become a social worker.

Franco: Why? That sounds like the worst job ever?

Maria: No, it’s a great job! I want to help people, and I want to make a positive change in the world.

Franco: But a leopard can’t change its spots. If a person is messed up, you won’t be able to help them.

Maria: That’s an awful philosophy! People can always change!

what does a leopard never changes its spots mean The second example shows two university students arguing about whether or not they can convince a third student to become a better person.

Lorenzo: Archie is over there saying all sorts of racist things. I wish we could get him to change.

Alba: Why can’t we? Let’s try it.

Lorenzo: Can an Ethiopian change his skin color, or a leopard his spots?

Alba: I understand what you are saying, but we should try to talk to him.

More Examples

The excerpt below is about bullying on professional football teams.

  • “A leopard can’t change its spots, nor can a man deny the testosterone that fuels his psyche. As unfortunate as that may be in some cases — and the Incognito-Martin dust-up is an excellent example — that’s the way it is. –LA Times

This excerpt is about baby leopards born at a zoo.

  • Everyone knows a leopard can’t change its spots, but at the Santa Barbara zoo they know how to multiply them. The zoo’s resident leopard couple produced three kittens in April, and visitors can now see them tumble around their jungle-like enclosure, climbing tree trunks and wrestling with each other. –LA Times


The expression a leopard can’t change its spots is a proverb that speaks to the innateness of human character.