a friend in need is a friend indeed



The idea that false friends will flake and true friends will reveal themselves as such in times of adversity is ancient; Ennius (circa 239–169 BCE) observed amicus certus in re incerta cernitur (a sure friend is known in unsure times), and Euripides observed in his Hecuba (424 BCE) that ἐν τοῖς κακοῖς γὰρ ἁγαθοὶ σαφέστατοι φίλοι: τὰ χρηστὰ δ’ αὔθ’ ἕκαστ’ ἔχει φίλους (en toîs kakoîs gàr hagathoì saphéstatoi phíloi: tà khrēstà d’ aúth’ hékast’ ékhei phílous, it is in trouble's hour that the good most clearly show their friendship; though prosperity by itself in every case finds friends).[1]


a friend in need is a friend indeed

  1. If a friend helps you when you are in need, they are a true friend.
    • 1958 September, Marvin L. Middlebrooks, a letter published in Flying Magazine, volume 63, number 3, page 8:
      I had a flight plan to cancel so asked if there were a telephone near. Mr. Littrell said his neighbor across the way had one. He was happy to drive us there—about three miles across some fields that would shake your eye teeth out. [] They say “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Mr. Littrell proved it. I am grateful.
    • 1999, The Alaskan Saga of Thomas Churchill O'Brien (→ISBN), page 87:
      [] trying to think instead of all the good things that happened to me in my life, trying to think of some important person I knew who could help me, but I couldn't think of anyone. A friend in need is a friend, indeed, and I sure could have used one then.
  2. If one of your friends is in need (of help), help them because they are your friend.
    • 2011, Paul A. Rose, Los Hombres de Bolton, →ISBN, page 153:
      ‘Stan!’ Ian replies, with a hurt look on his face. ‘Would I do a thing like that? I'm just here to give you moral support. I reckon you're going to need all the help you can get. You know what they say; a friend in need is a friend indeed.’
      ‘Or in your mind, a friend in need is a soft target. Now piss off!’
    • 2011, Our Perfect Moment →ISBN, page 81:
      "You know, they say a friend in need is a friend indeed. I donated blood, but others even donate hearts, so after all, I feel pretty good that my friend is now safe from the little blood I could drop," Katy said passionately.

Usage notesEdit

The phrase is ambiguous; the second sense arises from misunderstanding the original meaning.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


  • Gregory Y. Titelman, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, 1996, →ISBN, p. 107.
  1. ^ Julia Cresswell, The Cat's Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés