What Does Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk Mean?

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk Meaning

Definition: Don’t spend your time worrying about things of the past that cannot be changed.

This idiom is a classic English proverb that warns people not to worry or be upset about things that have already happened or things that cannot be undone.

If someone says to you, don’t cry over spilt milk, you are likely to be moping around over something that has already happened, racking your brain for ways you could have changed the outcome.

The problem, however, is you cannot change the past; the milk has already been spilled. The proverb, therefore, puts a focus on the future.

Origin of Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk

As with many idioms, not much is known about the origin of this well-known English saying. Most sources point to the 1888 book authored by George Ogilvy Preshaw titled Banking Under Difficulties as its first use resembling the wording we see today.

A man who had just been robbed of his cash, despite his current predicament, states,

  • It was no use, however, crying over spilt milk.

As a general saying, however, the phrase appeared to be much older. James Howell, a 17th-century Anglo-Welsh historian and writer, apparently used the phrase in his 1659 book Paramoigraphy (Proverbs):

  • No weeping for shed milk.

This would make the idiom over 350 years old.

Example of Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk

never cry over spilt milkIn the modern day, as in the past, one person might tell another to stop crying over spilt milk if he or she is dwelling on circumstances that cannot be changed.

For example, if you fail an exam in school and continue to let this affect your mood and your other schoolwork, you could be said to be “crying over spilt milk.”

Instead, as the phrase suggests, you should focus on the future and study more for your next exam.

More Examples

  • Mugabe Skerritt, an employee who learned about the closure today, said there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk. –New York Post
  • Yeager leans forward in his plastic chair: “Rules aren’t for relaxing. Look, I don’t cry over spilled milk. Everything I did was for duty, not for publicity.” –USA Today

Crying Over Spilt or Spilled Milk?

no use crying over spilt milkIn case you are wondering, this idiom can use either spilt or spilled in its construction.

  • There’s no sense crying over spilt milk.
  • There’s no sense crying over spilled milk

Both of these phrases are equally acceptable.

Additionally, this phrase is usually seen as a negative imperative, but it can also function in a positive sense.

  • Don’t cry over spilt milk.
  • He was crying over spilt milk, so I told him to leave.

Both constructions work. For more on this, see here.


The English idiom don’t cry over spilt milk is a popular saying that tells people not to be upset or saddened by things they cannot change from the past.