A friend to all is a friend to none

What is the meaning of the phrase ‘A friend to all is a friend to none’?

If you’re a ‘friend’ to everyone, then you choose to be neutral and choose not to take sides. This means that you are not loyal to anyone, and therefore not a friend to anyone.

What is the origin of the phrase ‘A friend to all is a friend to none’?

The phrase ‘A friend to all is a friend to none’ was coined by the famous Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle, who lived between 384 and 322 BC, in the ninth book of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Here, Aristotle is thought to be saying that if you call everyone you meet a friend, then you are devaluing true friendship, which is not superficial, but deep and meaningful. If you’re a ‘friend to all’, this suggests that you will spill people’s secrets indiscriminately, owing no loyalty to anyone. Such a friend cannot be called a true friend, because you can’t confide in them and share secrets with them. Keeping superficial relationships holds no value for anyone because you can never rely on a superficial friendship.

The phrase is also a Latin proverb, “Amicus omnibus, amicus nemini,” which directly translates to “A friend to all is a friend to none.” 

To some, the phrase could also refer to how by trying to please everyone, you tend to end up pleasing no one. Possibly because you are spreading your value as a friend too thinly.

The phrase is often used in literature and literary analysis, as well as in political commentary and in cultural references.

What are some notable uses of the phrase ‘A friend to all is a friend to none’?

Occasionally, the origin of the phrase is incorrectly attributed to the English historian Thomas Fuller who wrote ‘A friend to everybody is a friend to nobody’ in his collection of proverbs ‘Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British’, which was published in 1732.

Cari Mayhew - Author at Phrase Finder

Cari Mayhew

Lifelong learner, phrase fanatic, and lover of literature across multiple genres. Cari Mayhew has a passion for expression, and a keen curiosity for how phrases begin and how their use transforms over time. She is often found looking for the ideal idiom to convey her thoughts and musings.