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

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch Meaning

Definition: Don’t be overly confident in your future plans because you never know what could interrupt them.

This idiom serves as a warning to be careful when making assumptions about the future. Don’t place too much hope on something that you’re not sure will actually happen.

Origin of Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

count the chickensMany sources identify this idiom as coming from one of Aesop’s fables. Aesop was an Ancient Greek storyteller who lived more than 2,500 years ago, which makes this idiom quite ancient!

In his fable, The Milkmaid and her Pail, there was a young woman who worked as a milkmaid. She milked cows and used the milk to make other products and to sell those products to other people in her village. The story is about the plan she makes for what to do with the milk.

Her plan has five steps:

  1. Use the milk she has to make butter.
  2. Sell the butter to buy eggs.
  3. Hatch the eggs and raise chickens.
  4. Sell the chickens to buy a new dress.
  5. Use her new dress to make everyone in her village admire her.

Unfortunately, because she was thinking so intently about her plans, she fell down and spilled her milk. Her plan was ruined.

This fable is a good illustration of the meaning of the idiom because she shouldn’t have counted her chickens before they hatched.

Example of Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

the milkmaid storyThis idiom is still commonly used to this day. You are most likely to hear it when a person believes that someone is making unrealistic assumptions about the future.

Here is an example with two business partners who hope to make a lot of money in an upcoming business deal.

Marty: If we close this deal, we can use the profit to move into a bigger building. Then, we could use the bigger building to get bigger clients. And with the bigger clients, we would make higher profits. With higher profits, we could even go international!

Janet: Well, you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch.

More Examples

  • Mara Abbott, a cyclist in the Olympics, realized that she wasn’t going to win her race, and she said “I thought ‘Oh my god, oh my god, this is going to happen.’ And then they passed me. I guess that’s what they say about counting your chickens before they hatch. –USA Today
  • Brookfield chairman Ric Clark said the company was in advanced talks for a total 1.1 million square feet at Brookfield Place, but it was ‘way too early to claim victory or count your chickens.’ –New York Post


The idiom don’t count your chickens before they hatch is a common reminder to not rely on predictions because the future holds many surprises.