Important Quotes for UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam General Studies and Essay Papers

Using quotes from revered personalities to emphasise your point adds a lot of value to your answers in the IAS exam. With the introduction of the GS 4 paper (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) and the changing nature of the Essay paper (UPSC mains 2018 Essay paper had four topics related to quotes/philosophy/character), it has become quite necessary to include some relevant quotes in the answers.

For the UPSC Exam, selecting quotes is important as quoting some celebrity/non-entity is likely to do more harm than good. During the preparation phase, an IAS aspirant can either classify quotes based on the source or organise them under broad pertinent categories such as education, Justice, etc.


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In this article, we have compiled a list of quotes which are important from the UPSC syllabus point of view. Also, the two ways to categorise the quotes for quick revision are illustrated below. Candidates are advised to use the approach that suits their study process.

Important Quotes for UPSC GS and Essay

  1. Issue-based categories
Issue Quote
Free Speech
  • I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire
  • The caste system is opposed to the Religion of the Vedanta. Caste is a social custom, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. – Swami Vivekananda
  • Righteousness is the foundation stone of peace and good governance. – Confucius
  • Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. – Abraham Lincoln
  • When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. – William Gladstone
  • Peace and Justice are two sides of the same coin. – Eisenhower
  • The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so much dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. – Montesquieu
  • I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong. – Mahatma Gandhi
  • The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. – Plato
Science v/s Religion
  • All thinking men are atheists. – Ernest Hemingway
  • Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. – Martin Luther King
  • Science without religion is lame, and Religion without Science is blind. – Einstein
  • Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela
  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle
  • To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society. – Theodore Roosevelt

The list given above is just a brief example. Aspirants should identify issues/keywords and make their list of UPSC relevant quotes.

  1. Quotes categorised by author/personality
Author/Personality Quote
  • “All persons ought to endeavour to follow what is right, and not what is established.”
  • “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
  • “No great mind ever existed without a touch of madness.”
  • “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
  • “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”
  • “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Arthur Schopenhauer
  • “Compassion is the basis of morality.”
  • “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
  • “One should use common words to say uncommon things.”
  • “Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains people as to how they shall think.”
Jeremy Bentham
  • “Rarest of all human quality is consistency.”
Bertrand Russell
  • “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
  • “If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than the desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.”
  • “Longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”
B R Ambedkar
  • “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
  • “Life should be great rather than long.”
Benjamin Franklin
  • “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
  • “Either write worth reading or do something worth writing.”
  • “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
  • “He that can have patience can have what he will.”
  • “If everyone is thinking alike then no one is thinking.”
  • “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.”
  • “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
  • “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
  • “Lost time is never found again.”
  • “You may delay but time will not.”
  • “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
  • “Consideration for others is the basis of a good life and good society.”
  • “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
  • “Give a bowl of rice to a man, and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice, and you will save his life.”
  • “Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.”
  • “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”
  • “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
  • “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
  • “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”
  • “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
  • “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
  • “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
  • “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
  • “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
  • “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
  • “Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.”
  • “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.”
  • “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
  • “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”
  • “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
  • “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
  • “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
  • “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
  • “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
  • “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
  • “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
  • “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”
Franklin Roosevelt
  • “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
  • “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”
Gautam Buddha
  • “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
  • “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
  • “Doubt everything. Find your own light.”
  • “Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
  • “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”
George Washington
  • “Ninety-nine per cent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
  • “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”
  • “Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
  • “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
  • “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
  • “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
Henry David Thoreau
  • “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
  • “Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.”
  • “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
  • “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
  • “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”
  • “Things do not change, we change.”
  • “This world is but a canvas for our imagination.”
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
  • “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
Immanuel Kant
  • “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
John F. Kennedy
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
  • “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”
  • “A child miseducated is a child lost.”
  • “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
  • “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
  • “Mankind must put an end to war – or war will put an end to mankind.”
  • “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
  • “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognise the opportunity.”
  • “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
  • “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”
  • “The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet.”
  • “Without debate, without criticism no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive.”
  • “We need men who can dream of things that never were.”
Leo Tolstoy
  • “A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.”
  • “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
  • “To get rid of enemy one must love him.”
  • “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
Mahatma Gandhi
  • “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
  • “Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”
  • “A No uttered from deepest conviction is better than a YES merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”
  • “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
  • “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
  • “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
  • “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
  • “God has no religion.”
  • “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”
  • “In doing something, do it with love or never do it at all.”
  • “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
  • “My Life is My Message.”
  • “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
  • “Seven Deadly Sins. Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Knowledge without character; Politics without principle; Commerce without morality; Worship without sacrifice.”
  • “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
  • “The future depends on what you do today.”
  • “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
  • “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
  • “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
  • “To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.”
  • “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
  • “Your beliefs become your thoughts; Your thoughts become your words; Your words become your actions; Your actions become your habits; Your habits become your values; Your values become your destiny.”
  • “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
  • “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.”
  • “A man is the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
  • “Before you do anything, stop and recall the face of the poorest most helpless destitute person you have seen and ask yourself, Is what I am about to do going to help him?”
Martin Luther King
  • “A right delayed is a right denied.”
  • “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • “Dante said that the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
  • “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever may do you have to keep moving forward.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “It’s the action and not the fruit of the action which is important.”
  • “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
  • “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
  • “Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.”
  • “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is : “What are you doing for others?”
  • “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”
  • “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
  • “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”
  • “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
  • “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe,nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
  • “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
  • “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
  • “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “The time is always right to do the right thing.”
  • “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
  • “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
  • “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
Mark Twain
  • “Classic – a book people praise but don’t learn.”
  • “God created war so that Americans would learn Geography.”
  • “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
  • “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”
  • “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
  • “I do not fear death, I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
  • “The best way to cheer up yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”
  • “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
  • “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
  • “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
  • “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
  • “Know thyself.”
  • “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • “There is only one good, knowledge and one evil ignorance.”
  • “A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”
  • “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
  • “Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it
  • “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”
  • “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
  • “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
Thomas A Edison
  • “5% of the people think; 10% of people think they think and the other 85% would rather die than think.”
  • “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”
  • “Good fortune happens when opportunity meets preparation.”
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
  • “I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun.”
  • “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  • “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
  • “The most necessary task of civilisation is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The mind of a child is naturally active, it develops through exercise. Give a child plenty of exercise for body and brain. The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mould. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation.”
  • “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.”
Thomas Paine
  • “Independence is my happiness; the world is my country; to do good my religion.”
  • “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
  • “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”
  • “Whatever is the right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”
Thomas Jefferson
  • “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”
  • “Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”
  • “I can’t live without books.”
  • “I am a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
  • “On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle stand like a rock.”

Although comprehensive, the table of odd quotes above is by no means exhaustive. IAS aspirants should go through UPSC mains GS and essay papers from past years to understand how these quotes can come in handy and then compile and categorise their own lists.

Also, read:

UPSC Syllabus UPSC Calendar 2024
IAS Eligibility UPSC Previous years’ papers
Essential Tips To Crack The IAS Interview Tips for Writing Quotes for UPSC Civil Services Mains


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