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'Make Hay While the Sun Shines'

A farmer guides his cows as they pull a cart loaded with hay in his paddy field in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.
A farmer guides his cows as they pull a cart loaded with hay in his paddy field in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.
Use Your Time Wisely: 'Make Hay While the Sun Shines'
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And now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English!

When the sun shines brightly, it provides a great chance to get outdoor things done. Like making hay! At least, that is what farmers from the past would say.

“Make hay while the sun shines.”

This idiom is very old, dating back to Medieval times. Rain would often ruin the process of making hay. So, farmers had no choice but to make hay when the sun was shining.​

Today, we all use this expression, not just farmers. When conditions are perfect to get something done, we can say, “It’s a good idea to make hay while the sun shines.”

In other words, you are taking advantage of a good situation or of good conditions. You are making the most of your opportunities. These all mean “making hay while the sun shines.”

Now listen while I use this expression with my friend Bryan.

Say, when is your husband coming home?

Not for another two weeks.

That’s a long time! How are you spending your time alone?

I am finally getting some home improvement projects done. You know, moving some furniture, painting some rooms, cleaning closets …

That’s a lot of work for one person. Why don’t you wait for your husband to come home?

No way! It’s easier to do it by myself. I’m getting everything done that I can’t do with other people around.

Good idea. ‘Make hay while the sun shines.’


And sometimes we use this expression to mean we beat someone to the punch, or we got ahead of someone else.

And other times you make hay while the sun shines to make good use of the chance to do something while it lasts. You are being opportunistic – taking advantage of a good opportunity.

For example, my friend Ozzy was sick for a week and could not go to work. So, his co-worker Sarah -- who doesn’t like him -- took advantage of his illness and stole his project! Talk about making hay while the sun shines.

Sometimes when you make hay while the sun shines you are staying ahead of a problem – like in this example:

Hey, do you want to go hiking with me and my friends this weekend? The weather is going to be beautiful!

I wish I could. But I have to finish my taxes. It’s the last weekend before they’re due.

Oh, that’s too bad.

Wait. What about your taxes?

My taxes are done. I was off from work a couple of weeks ago and made hay while the sun shined. I got all of it done!

I wish I would have taken advantage of my time off last week. All I did was lay around the house.

You should know that sometimes we only use parts of this expression. You might hear someone simply say they were “making a little hay.” The meaning is still there, even if all the words aren’t.

And that’s all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories. But join us again next week. You can listen while you’re making dinner or riding to work.

Yeah, make hay while the sun shines. Learn more English expressions with VOA Learning English!

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

And I’m Bryan Lynn.

I believe in myself,
That makes me stronger.
Things change, so have I.
I'm gonna make hay while the sun still shines
You can clip my wings, but I'll still gonna fly

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. ­­­­Bryan Lynn was the editor. The song at the is Jessica Andrews singing “There’s More to Me Than You.”


Words in This Story

idiom – n. an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own

medieval – adj. of or relating to the Middle Ages : of or relating to the period of European history from about A.D. 500 to about 1500

taking advantage of (something) phrase to use a situation or opportunity to get what you want

opportunity – n. a favorable combination of circumstances, time, and place