Hey there! Have you ever wondered why we say someone is “busy as a bee” or “quiet as a mouse”?
Welcome to the world of animal idioms! English is chock-full of these quirky phrases, where animals pop up in expressions that color our conversations every day.
But why do we use them, and what do they really mean?
Animal idioms are not just fun to say; they offer a fascinating peek into the way language evolves and how animals have influenced human expression.
In the next section, we’ll dive into 31 of these expressive animal idioms, exploring their meanings and origins, and seeing them in action.
Get ready to add some wild expressions to your language repertoire!
31 Animal Idioms in English with Pictures
Learning and using animal idioms can make mastering English more enjoyable. They add a layer of creativity and playfulness to conversations and can be a fun way to engage with the language, especially for those learning English as a second language.
1. “Busy as a Bee”
- Idiom: Busy as a Bee
- Meaning: This phrase describes someone who is very active and hardworking, constantly moving from task to task like a bee.
Use in a Sentence: With all her projects and hobbies, Lisa is always as busy as a bee.
2. “A Bull in a China Shop”
- Idiom: A Bull in a China Shop
- Meaning: Used to describe someone who is very clumsy or careless in a delicate situation, similar to a bull causing havoc in a shop full of fragile items.
Use in a Sentence: When Jerry tries to help clean up, he’s like a bull in a china shop, knocking over everything in sight.
3. “Let the Cat out of the Bag”
- Idiom: Let the Cat out of the Bag
- Meaning: This idiom means to reveal a secret, usually unintentionally.
Use in a Sentence: I accidentally let the cat out of the bag about Sarah’s surprise party.
4. “Cry Wolf”
- Idiom: Cry Wolf
- Meaning: To cry wolf means to raise a false alarm or to call for help when it’s not needed, leading others not to believe you when there’s a real problem.
Use in a Sentence: If you keep calling in sick when you’re not, you’re crying wolf, and soon no one will believe you.
5. “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”
- Idiom: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
- Meaning: This phrase describes someone who pretends to be harmless and friendly but is actually dangerous and deceitful.
Use in a Sentence: Be careful with Dan; he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, very charming but not to be trusted.
6. “The Cat’s Pajamas”
- Idiom: The Cat’s Pajamas
- Meaning: An expression used to describe something that is excellent,impressive, or stylish
Use in a Sentence: Have you seen her new car? It’s really the cat’s pajamas!
7. “Like a Fish out of Water”
- Idiom: Like a Fish out of Water
- Meaning: This phrase describes feeling uncomfortable or out of place in an unfamiliar environment, much like a fish would feel outside of water.
Use in a Sentence: On his first day at the new job, John felt like a fish out of water.
8. “Birds of a Feather Flock Together”
- Idiom: Birds of a Feather Flock Together
- Meaning: People with similar interests, ideas, or characteristics tend to associate with each other.
Use in a Sentence: It’s no surprise those two are friends; birds of a feather flock together.
9. “Hold Your Horses”
- Idiom: Hold Your Horses
- Meaning: This means to wait, be patient, or slow down, originally referring to controlling one’s horse.
Use in a Sentence: Hold your horses! Let’s think this through before making a decision.
10. “Straight from the Horse’s Mouth”
- Idiom: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth
- Meaning: To hear information straight from the horse’s mouth is to get it from the most direct, reliable source.
Use in a Sentence: I know it’s true; I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
11. “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”
- Idiom: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
- Meaning: This idiom advises to leave a situation as it is if disturbing it might cause trouble or complications.
Use in a Sentence: I was going to bring up the old argument, but then I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
12. “Killing Two Birds with One Stone”
- Idiom: Killing Two Birds with One Stone
- Meaning: To accomplish two different tasks in a single action, efficiently solving two problems.
Use in a Sentence: By studying while I commute, I’m killing two birds with one stone.
13. “Ants in Your Pants”
- Idiom: Ants in Your Pants
- Meaning: Used to describe someone who is restless or can’t stay still, as if they had ants crawling in their pants.
Use in a Sentence: He’s got ants in his pants today; he hasn’t stopped fidgeting for a minute.
14. “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”
- Idiom: Barking Up the Wrong Tree
- Meaning: This means to pursue a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action, akin to a dog barking at the wrong tree where it believes its prey is hiding.
Use in a Sentence: If you think I’m going to cover for you again, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
15. “A Cold Fish”
- Idiom: A Cold Fish
- Meaning: Refers to a person who is unemotional or detached.
Use in a Sentence: I find it hard to connect with her; she always seems like a cold fish.
16. “The Lion’s Share”
- Idiom: The Lion’s Share
- Meaning: This idiom signifies the largest part or majority of something.
Use in a Sentence: He inherited the lion’s share of his grandfather’s estate.
17. “Make a Beeline for”
- Idiom: Make a Beeline for
- Meaning: To go straight towards something or someone without any hesitation, similar to the way a bee heads straight back to its hive.
Use in a Sentence: As soon as the meeting ended, she made a beeline for the door.
18. “Monkey Business”
- Idiom: Monkey Business
- Meaning: Refers to silly, mischievous, or deceitful behavior.
Use in a Sentence: There will be no monkey business while I’m gone, I expect everything to be in order.
19. “A Cat Has Nine Lives”
- Idiom: A Cat Has Nine Lives
- Meaning: This suggests that cats are so resilient or lucky that they seem to survive or thrive even in very dangerous situations.
Use in a Sentence: Don’t worry about him; he always lands on his feet, just like a cat with nine lives.
20. “Elephant Memory”
- Idiom: Elephant Memory
- Meaning: Refers to an excellent ability to remember things, based on the belief that elephants never forget.
Use in a Sentence: She has an elephant memory; she still remembers all her classmates’ names.
21. “Horse of a Different Color”
- Idiom: Horse of a Different Color
- Meaning: Used to describe a situation that is entirely different from what has been discussed before.
Use in a Sentence: You can do well in practice, but a real game is a horse of a different color.
22. “Pecking Order”
- Idiom: Pecking Order
- Meaning: The term refers to a hierarchy, ranking, or social order among a group, originally observed in the behavior of chickens.
Use in a Sentence: As the youngest in the team, I’m pretty low in the pecking order, but I’m working my way up.
23. “When Pigs Fly”
- Idiom: When Pigs Fly
- Meaning: An expression used to indicate that something is very unlikely to happen.
Use in a Sentence: He’ll clean his room when pigs fly – in other words, probably never!
24. “The Black Sheep”
- Idiom: The Black Sheep
- Meaning: Refers to a member of a group, often a family, who is considered odd or disreputable.
Use in a Sentence: He’s the black sheep of the family; he always does things his own way.
25. “Busy as a Beaver”
- Idiom: Busy as a Beaver
- Meaning: This expression is used to describe someone who is very industrious and hardworking, much like beavers that are known for constantly building and maintaining their dams.
Use in a Sentence: Ever since she started her new project, she’s been busy as a beaver.
26. “To Have a Whale of a Time”
- Idiom: To Have a Whale of a Time
- Meaning: To have an extremely enjoyable experience or a great time.
Use in a Sentence: The kids had a whale of a time at the amusement park.
27. “As Sly as a Fox”
- Idiom: As Sly as a Fox
- Meaning: Refers to someone who is cunning, clever, or crafty.
Use in a Sentence: You have to be as sly as a fox to negotiate successfully in that industry.
28. “The Cat’s Meow”
- Idiom: The Cat’s Meow
- Meaning: Refers to something that is considered outstanding or excellent, the best of its kind.
Use in a Sentence: Her new dress is the cat’s meow; everyone loved it at the party.
29. “Watch Like a Hawk”
- Idiom: Watch Like a Hawk
- Meaning: To watch something or someone very closely or vigilantly.
Use in a Sentence: The teacher was watching the students like a hawk during the exam to make sure no one cheated.
30. “Like Water off a Duck’s Back”
- Idiom: Like Water off a Duck’s Back
- Meaning: Describes how criticism or negative comments do not affect someone, similar to how water rolls off a duck’s feathers.
Use in a Sentence: She’s so confident that criticism is like water off a duck’s back to her.
“The Elephant in the Room”
- Idiom: The Elephant in the Room
- Meaning: This idiom refers to a significant, obvious issue or problem that everyone is aware of but no one wants to discuss because it is uncomfortable or controversial.
- Origin: The phrase likely originates from the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook, but people might choose to ignore it because addressing its presence would be awkward.
Use in a Sentence: During the family reunion, nobody mentioned Uncle Joe’s recent job loss, which was the elephant in the room.
The Fascination with Animal Idioms
These idioms also show us how humans view animals. Our furry, feathered, and finned friends have characteristics we relate to, admire, or sometimes even fear.
This connection between animal behavior and human traits makes animal idioms relatable and memorable. They encapsulate complex ideas in simple, vivid language.
For example, when we say someone has “a memory like an elephant,” we instantly understand that they remember everything because elephants are known for their impressive memory.
Using Animal Idioms in Everyday Language
Incorporating animal idioms into your everyday speech is a great way to spice up your conversations and make your language more picturesque. But remember, the key is to use them appropriately and understand their context.
For example, saying someone is “as blind as a bat” can add humor or emphasis to your statement.
However, it’s also important to be mindful of the setting and the audience – while idioms can enliven informal chats, they might be less suitable for formal or professional contexts.
Embracing these expressions can make learning and using English more enjoyable and help you sound more like a native speaker.
We have more English Idioms here on the site as well