In my native language when someone is well-intended to help someone else and does something but he ends up taking the blame or getting hurt, we say, "he wanted to be blessed by God, but got burnt by flames". I did some search and I just found this:

Many go out for wool and come home shorn.

Which means many seek to better themselves or make themselves rich, but end by losing what they already have.

I feel this proverb doesn't serve my purpose since it's more about a person who's looking for his own benefits rather than others'.

Let me give you two different contexts that we normally use the proverb/idiom and I'm looking for its English equivalent:

A: John got fired yesterday, then Paul went to talk to the boss to keep John on board but he got fired, too.

B: Poor man, [he wanted to be blessed by God, but got burnt by flames].

Or two men get in a fight punching each other. Another meddle in to break up the fight while he get a punch, too. Here also we say,

[he wanted to be blessed by God, but got burnt by flames].

Note it can also be used when you lose your money/properties, too. For example a company tries to keep another company in business by helping them or loaning them some money. The latter company sinks anyway, the former company makes a tremendous loss consequently.

  • 9
    No good deed goes unpunished.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 10:35

2 Answers 2


As TRomano stated in his comment, a match for your request is:

No good deed goes unpunished.

This is pretty non-specific statement that describes assistance given to someone else being repaid by punishment instead of reward. It's a great fit, but it's not the only one we have in English.

Sometimes when you stick your neck out, your head gets cut off.

This axiom describes putting yourself on the line for someone and, as a result, being harmed as a result.

The road to hell / ruin is paved with good intentions.

This one is rather popular as well, and states that the best intentions can have some of the worst consequences.

Each of these phrases can be used to describe a person or organization losing money/property, as well as your original "well-intended actions result in blame or harm to the perpetrator." But, by and large, TRomano's original No good deed goes unpunished seems to be the most popular.

  • 3
    I don't think the road to hell is paved with good intentions fits. The meaning of that saying is either that your intention is meaningless If you don't act on it, or that an evil act is not mitigated by a good intention. Hell is full of good intentions and Heaven is full of good works is another way of putting it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 23:16
  • I would have to respectfully disagree, ColleenV. In the case of the issue of Unintended Consequences, the "road to hell..." example matches quite well. As The Cobra Effect shows, the good intentioned change (offering the bounty on cobras) ended up encouraging people to breed cobras to kill for the bounty, which caused the bounty to be rescinded, which caused the cobra breeders to release their now-worthless cobras, making the problem worse than ever. I'm not sure you can qualify the bounty on cobras or the rescinding of it as evil acts, can you? Commented May 6, 2016 at 17:30
  • You may understand the proverb differently, which is fine. There are many many examples of government policies incentivizing behavior different from what they thought they were incentivizing. No-one is going to hell for it - but maybe there is a purgatory reserved for bureaucrats :) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… is a different idea from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences
    – ColleenV
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 17:46

Doing good for others

A potentially relevant idiom is

Nice guys finish last.

Someone who suffers an awful consequence for someone else may be said to take a bullet or stop a bullet that was intended for the other person.

Paul went to the boss and wound up taking a bullet for John.

Similarly with severe consequences and using life-or-death battlefield imagery of someone sacrificing his own life to protect the lives of his mates

Paul knew someone was going to get fired, but he dove on the hand grenade anyway.

Borrowing from baseball is going to bat for.

Sometimes when you go to bat for someone, you strike out.

Also in baseball, a batter hit by a pitch is awarded first base. In critical situations where having another baserunner, avoiding a strikeout, or even with bases loaded where being hit by a pitch scores a run, the batter will intentionally “crowd the plate” by standing as close as possible within the batter’s box to home plate but also to the strike zone where the pitcher must throw. The point is increasing the likelihood of being hit — not a pleasant assignment considering that the hard ball may be thrown faster than 90 mph (145 kph). Teammates and fans will encourage the batter with chants of “Wear it!” and on success praise his willingness to suffer personal pain for a larger goal with

He took one for the team.

As a comment stated

No good deed goes unpunished.

or the related

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Taking risks in general

The idioms below are broader in nature, but can be used to emphasize that the risk was for someone else’s benefit rather than personal gain.

These next two are not as somber as you might think given that the metaphors are execution by hanging and beheading.

He shouldn’t have put his neck in the noose (for her).

She put her head on the chopping block (for him) and bam!

A turtle is protected inside its shell, but when it ventures out, bad things may happen.

That’s what Paul gets for sticking his neck out for John.

Borrowed from boxing and usually in reference to handling one’s own negative consequences but can also applied to doing so in someone else’s place is

Paul answered the bell for John and promptly got knocked out when the boss fired him instead.

Unintended consequences

A ploy backfiring means that its effect was opposite to what was intended (either good for bad or bad for good).

Paul tried to take up for John to the boss, but it backfired on him when Paul was the one who ended up being terminated.


Paul tried to help, but it blew up in his face when the boss fired him instead.

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