Introduction — Meaning of the Proverb

The meaning of this age-old proverb is quite literal. It effectively means that we must attend to things well in time, so that we can save ourselves a lot of trouble later on, if it becomes unmanageable. Just as it takes only a spark to start a fire, which if not put out in time causes great devastation. Similarly the minutest problem if not attended immediately could lead to a major catastrophe.

Practical and Sound Advice

As one immediately attends to a small hole in one’s pocket with a stitch, which if left unattended could develop into a tear, leading to nine stitches at a later date. Similarly if we postpone attending to minor day to day problems, they do not disappear, but come back to us in a much more gigantic form. A small breach in a canal, if not attended in time not only breaches the entire embankment, but also inundates large cities and villages.


Kingdom’s can be lost by neglecting to replace such a small thing as a nail in a horse’s shoe. As most of us would have heard of the saying “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost, for want of a horse, the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.” This is the most practical and sound advice, that is given by our elders including parents and teachers. However, we in our haste, tend to overlook the small details, which is the cause of major problems at a later date.

Proven by History

History is replete with examples validating the above saying. Had Germany got a honourable settlement after World War I, the conflagration and destruction of the World War II could have been avoided. Had the National leaders shown maturity and understanding, the partition of the country could have been avoided. These are all glaring examples of what can happen to great countries, if small problems and differences are not resolved at once.



Therefore, we must attend to even minor problems immediately and not postpone action for a later date, which may be a little too late. This is a sound piece of advice that is relevant even today and would always stand us in good stead in our life. We can ignore this to our own peril.