you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink

The word the is frequently omitted from the proverb and lead substituted for take.

c 1175 Old English Homilies (EETS) 1st ser. 9 Hwa is thet mei thet hors wettrien the him self nule drinken [who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord]?

1546 J. HEYWOOD Dialogue of Proverbs I. xi. D3 A man may well bryng a horse to the water, But he can not make hym drynke without he will.

1658 E. PHILLIPS Mysteries of Love & Eloquence 160 A man may lead his Horse to water, but he cannot make him drink unless he list.

1857 TROLLOPE Barchester Towers III. i. ‘Well,’ said she..‘one man can take a horse to water but a thousand can’t make him drink.’

1970 J. MITFORD in Atlantic (1979) July 50 The dropout rate [for the course] must be close to 90 percent. I guess you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.

1997 M. LAZARUS Washington Post 7 Dec. (Momma comic strip) We could send you out to a firm and convince them to hire you, but we’re not sure you’d be willing to learn the job. In other words, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.


Proverbs new dictionary.

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