Introduction to idioms
In this English lesson we’re going to be learning 30 Animal idioms.
An idiom is a common phrase which is used colloquially but the meaning is not immediately obvious. Native English speakers use many idioms in day-to-day life and many of them are animal related, so we’re going to focus on idioms which are animal-based today.
More about idioms
If you’d like to learn more about idioms, check out our main Idiom lesson – What is an idiom? We link from that lesson to many other idiom related lessons so you can explore lots of different categories.
There is a video of this lesson at the bottom of the blog you can watch and we’ve also provided you with a few exercises to help embed your learning and test your knowledge.
If you would like to take your English learning to the next level, join our Head English tutor, Anna English, on one of our English Language Courses.
Right, let’s look at the meat of this lesson, the 30 animal idioms you need to know.
30 Animal Idioms
Animal idiom #1 Fly on the wall
To be a fly on the wall means to be unnoticed while watching or listening to something.
“They’re discussing the argument now. I’d love to be a fly on the wall so I could hear what they were saying.”
Animal idiom #2: Bee’s knees
If something is the bee’s knees, that means it is excellent and of the highest quality. You could also say someone is the bee’s knees.
“This chocolate cake is the bee’s knees. You have to try it!”
Animal idiom #3: To make a beeline.
To make a beeline for something means to move towards it quickly and with purpose.
“I’ve wanted to meet Harry for ages so as soon as I saw him, I made a beeline for him.”
Animal idiom #4: To kill two birds with one stone.
To kill two birds with one stone means to accomplish two tasks or objectives at once.
“I wanted to try out the new restaurant and I haven’t seen Justine in ages so I’ve booked a table for us both and it’ll kill two birds with one stone.”
Animal idiom #5: Sitting duck.
A sitting duck is an easy target, something or someone which is vulnerable to attack.
“If we leave the shop doors unlocked it’ll be a sitting duck.”
Animal idiom #6: To chicken out.
To chicken out of something means to back out of it because of feeling scared or worried.
“James was going to go on the rollercoaster but he chickened out at the last minute.”
Animal idiom #7: A wild goose chase.
A wild goose chase is a pointless task, particularly one that involves travel.
“She sent me to the supermarket to buy socks but they don’t even sell socks so it was a wild goose chase.”
Animal idiom #8: To take the bull by the horns.
This means to face a problem directly. Sometimes you might hear someone say to ‘grab’ a bull by its horns, which means the same thing.
“I hate confrontation but I’m so angry that I’m going to have to take the bull by the horns and tell her.”
Animal idiom #9: To horse around.
To horse around means to act in a way that is silly and playful and sometimes noisy.
“Will you please stop horsing around? I’m trying to concentrate.”
Animal idiom #10: Until the cows come home.
Until the cows come home means for a long, possibly even never-ending length of time. It’s usually used when talking about something that you ‘could do’ for a long time, because you enjoy it.
“I could sit here and read until the cows come home but unfortunately, I’ve got work to do.”
Animal idiom #11: Dark horse.
A dark horse is somebody who is surprisingly good at something you might not expect them to be. This could be used to describe someone in a competition who places much higher than expected or someone who surprises you with their skill.
“Wow, Beth, you’re a dark horse- I didn’t know you could bake so well!”
Animal idiom #12: Hold your horses.
To hold your horses means to wait.
Person 1: (walks through the door) Hello.
Person 2: Brilliant, you’re home. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about-
Person 1: Hold your horses, I’ve only been here two seconds.
Animal idiom #13: Straight from the horse’s mouth.
If you hear something straight from the horse’s mouth, that means you are hearing it straight from the source; from somebody who has direct and personal experience.
“I don’t usually pay attention to gossip but I heard this straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Animal idiom #14: In two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
In two shakes of a lamb’s tail means in a very short amount of time.
“I’ll be back with a cup of tea in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Animal idiom #15: To go the whole hog.
To go the whole hog means to really commit to something and to take it as far as possible.
“Most people in the office don’t celebrate Halloween, but Anna goes the whole hog every year.”
Animal idiom #16: The cat’s pyjamas.
Similar to the bee’s knees, if something or someone is the cat’s pyjamas, that means they are the best.
“My last teacher wasn’t very good but my new one is great- she’s the cat’s pyjamas.”
Animal idiom #17: To let the cat out of the bag.
To let the cat out of the bag means to reveal a secret. This could be accidentally or it could be on purpose.
“I think it’s time I let the cat out of the bag… I’m pregnant!”
Animal idiom #18: Cat got your tongue?
This is a question you might ask somebody who is being unusually quiet.
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”
Animal idiom #19: Raining cats and dogs.
If someone says it is raining cats and dogs, that means it is raining very heavily outside.
“I wanted to go for a run but it’s raining cats and dogs outside so I think I’ll go tomorrow instead.”
Animal idiom #20: To let sleeping dogs lie.
To let sleeping dogs lie means to leave a situation alone, to not interfere so you don’t cause trouble.
Person 1: “I’m so angry, I’m going to call her right now and argue with her.”
Person 2: “Wait a minute. Don’t you think it might be better just to let sleeping dogs lie?”
Animal idiom #21: In the doghouse.
To be in the doghouse means to be in trouble or disgrace. Usually because you’ve upset or angered somebody with something you’ve done or not done.
“He forgot his girlfriend’s birthday so he’s in the doghouse.”
Animal idiom #22: Dog eat dog.
‘Dog eat dog’ is a phrase we use to describe an environment which is very competitive, to an extent where people are prepared to harm one another to win.
“I hate working in that office because it’s dog eat dog in there. Everybody tries to make each other look bad to make themselves look better.”
Animal idiom #23: Ants in your pants.
If you have ants in your pants, that means you are restless and moving around a lot, usually because you are nervous or excited.
Person 1: “You’ve got ants in your pants today.”
Person 2: (pacing) “I’m so nervous about this job interview- I can’t sit still!”
Animal idiom #24: To smell a rat.
To smell a rat means to be suspicious of a lie.
“She said she couldn’t come to my birthday party because she had other plans but I smell a rat.”
Animal idiom #25: Fishy.
If something is fishy, that means it is suspicious.
“There’s something fishy going on in that office. Something’s not quite right with their numbers.”
Animal idiom #26: To have bigger fish to fry.
If you have bigger fish to fry, that means you have more important or better things to do.
“Don’t worry about the invitations, you have bigger fish to fry. You need to find a venue.”
Animal idiom #27: A different kettle of fish.
If something is another kettle of fish, or a whole other kettle of fish, that means it is entirely different.
Person 1: “I’m just so stressed because we’re moving house and it’s all changing so quickly.”
Person 2: “And how’s your mum?”
Person 1: “That’s a whole other kettle of fish.”
Animal idiom #28: Crocodile tears.
Crocodile tears are fake tears, for example if somebody is pretending to cry or has forced themselves to cry to gain something.
“I know they’re crocodile tears. She doesn’t actually care about me.”
Animal idiom #29: Elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is something obvious and uncomfortable which has not been discussed.
“Obviously I know that he’s said horrible things about me but I didn’t mention it so there’s an elephant in the room.”
Animal idiom #30: To have the lion’s share.
To have or get the lion’s share of something means to have the largest amount of something.
“As the main character in Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe gets the lion’s share of the praise but I think all of the other actors are just as good.”
So there we have 30 British animal idioms. How many of them did you know already? And can you think of any more which are not on this list? If you can, leave them in the comments and you get bonus points if you can explain what it means too. You can also hop over to the YouTube channel and leave a comment below the video.
Test Your Knowledge
t your knowledge. Below you will find an interactive book with exercises and questions to help embed and test your understanding of the animal idioms in this lesson. I hope you find it fun, engaging and useful!Let’s tes
Watch this video to hear Anna take you through this list of English idioms.
Did you enjoy this Free English lesson on animal idioms? If you’d like to see more, you can:
- See our lesson on hard work idioms
- Understand how to speak like a native
- See our free lessons on English speaking practice
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