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List of Animal Idioms in English

Animal IdiomsBusiness IdiomsColour IdiomsFood IdiomsMoney Idioms 

Choose the idiom and click on it to go directly to the explanation and example.

A

act like an ape

B

bark up the wrong tree, her bark is worse than her bite, bet on the wrong horse, bull in a china shop

C

cash cow, cat get one’s tongue, cat nap, change horses in midstream, copycat, cry wolf, curiosity killed the cat

D

dark horse, dog-eat-dog, donkey’s years, dumb bunny

E

eager beaver, eat like a horse, every dog has his day

F

fraidy-cat

G

get on one’s high horse, get off one’s high horse, go ape, go whole hog

H

hit the bulls-eye, hold one’s horses, holy cow, horse around, horse of a different colour, horse trade

I

in the doghouse

K

kangaroo court

L

lead a dog’s life, let sleeping dogs lie, let the cat out of the bag, live high on the hog, lock the barn door after the horse is gone, look like the cat that swallowed the canary

M

make a mountain out of a molehill, monkey business

P

piggyback, piggy bank, play cat and mouse with someone, put the cart before the horse

R

rain cats and dogs, rat out on, rat race, road hog

S

sacred cow, scaredy-cat, smell a rat, straight from the horse’s mouth, straw that breaks the camel’s back

T

tail between one’s legs, take the bull by the horns, talk until the cows come home, throw someone to the wolves, turn tail

W

wildcat strike, wolf in sheep’s clothing

act like an ape

MEANING: behave badly, wildly, foolishly

EXAMPLE:

He has been acting like an ape ever since his girlfriend left him.

bark up the wrong tree

MEANING: choose the wrong course of action

EXAMPLE:

He is barking up the wrong tree. He accuses me of causing the computer problem but I was away at the time.

Her bark is worse than her bite

MEANING: someone’s words are worse than their action

EXAMPLE:

You shouldn’t worry about her. Her bark is worse than her bite and she is really a very nice person.
 

bet on the wrong horse

MEANING: misread the future

EXAMPLE:

He is betting on the wrong horse if he keeps supporting the other city in their bid for the games.

bull in a china shop

MEANING: a person with no tact who upsets others or upsets plans

EXAMPLE:

He is like a bull in a china shop so you should be careful if you invite him to your house for the weekend.

cash cow

MEANING: a good way to make money

EXAMPLE:

The new business is a great cash cow. We are making a lot of money now.

cat get one’s tongue

MEANING: can’t speak because of shyness

EXAMPLE:

The cat must have got her tongue. She did not saying anything at all.

cat nap

MEANING: a short sleep taken during the day

EXAMPLE:

I had a cat nap during the afternoon so I would feel refreshed in the evening.
 

change horses in midstream

MEANING: make new plans or choose a new leader in the middle of an important activity

EXAMPLE:

They have decided to change lawyers but I told them that they shouldn’t change horses in midstream.

copycat

MEANING: someone who copies another person’s work etc.

EXAMPLE:

He is a copycat according to the other students in the class.

cry wolf

MEANING: give a false alarm; warn of a danger that is not there.

EXAMPLE:

He is crying wolf. There is no real danger or worry about the electrical system causing a fire.

curiosity killed the cat

MEANING: being too nosy may lead a person into trouble

EXAMPLE:

You shouldn’t worry about what he is doing. Remember curiosity killed the cat.

dark horse

MEANING: a candidate little known to the general public

EXAMPLE:

He was a dark horse in the race to be President until he gave some good speeches on TV.

dog-eat-dog

MEANING: ready or willing to fight and hurt others to get what one wants

EXAMPLE:

It is a dog-eat-dog world outside the father said to his young son.

donkey’s years

MEANING: a very long time

EXAMPLE:

I talked to my friend for a long time because I hadn’t seen her in donkey’s years.
 

dumb bunny

MEANING: stupid or gullible person

EXAMPLE:

He really is a dumb bunny. I can’t believe that he can do such stupid things.

eager beaver

MEANING: a person who is always eager to work or do something extra

EXAMPLE:

She is a real eager beaver and I am sure she will do very well in this company.

eat like a horse

MEANING: eat a lot

EXAMPLE:

Her brother who is 18 years old eats like a horse.

every dog has his day

MEANING: everyone will have his chance or turn; everyone will get what he deserves

EXAMPLE:

Don’t worry about him. Every dog has his day and he will eventually suffer for all the bad things that he is doing.

fraidy-cat

MEANING: someone who is easily frightened (used by children)

EXAMPLE:

The little boy called his friend a fraidy-cat because he wouldn’t climb the tree.
 

get on one’s high horse

MEANING: behave with arrogance

EXAMPLE:

She is always getting on her high horse and telling people what to do.

get off one’s high horse

MEANING: begin to be humble and agreeable

EXAMPLE:

I wish that she would get off her high horse and begin to think about how other people feel about things.

go ape

MEANING: become highly excited or angry

EXAMPLE:

He will go ape if he sees that you have not finished the work that was due today.

go whole hog

MEANING: do something completely or thoroughly

EXAMPLE:

They went whole hog in their effort to make sure that the convention was a success.

hit the bulls-eye

MEANING: reach the main point

EXAMPLE:

I think that he really hit the bulls-eye when he talked about the problems with the regular staff.

hold one’s horses

MEANING: wait, be patient

EXAMPLE:

Hold your horses for a moment while I make a phone call.

holy cow

MEANING: used to express strong feelings like astonishment, pleasure or anger

EXAMPLE:

Holy cow he said as he saw the car that had hit the street lamp.

horse around

MEANING: rough or noisy play

EXAMPLE:

The teacher told the children to stop horsing around and get ready for class.

horse of a different colour

MEANING: something totally separate and different

EXAMPLE:

Moving to a new location is a horse of a different colour. It was never mentioned in any of our meetings.

horse trade

MEANING: hard and skilful bargaining

EXAMPLE:

We had to do a little horse trading but finally we reached a deal to buy the new house.
 

in the doghouse

MEANING: in disgrace or disfavour

EXAMPLE:

He is in the doghouse with his wife because he went out drinking three times last week.
 
kangaroo court

MEANING: a self-appointed group that decides what to do to someone who is supposed to have done wrong.

EXAMPLE:

It was decided in a kangaroo court that he would have to pay for the damage that he had caused to the school building.

lead a dog’s life

MEANING: work hard and be treated unkindly

EXAMPLE:

He is leading a dog’s life since he married the woman who everyone told him not to.

let sleeping dogs lie

MEANING: don’t make trouble if you don’t have to

EXAMPLE:

You should let sleeping dogs lie and not ask him any questions about the argument.
 

let the cat out of the bag

MEANING: tell something that is supposed to be a secret

EXAMPLE:

She let the cat out of the bag when she began talking about the plans for the new department.

live high on the hog

MEANING: have the best of everything

EXAMPLE:

He has been living high on the hog since he changed jobs and moved to Texas.

lock the barn door after the horse is gone

MEANING: be careful or try to make something certain after it is too late

EXAMPLE:

Now he wants to try and fix his house but it is like locking the barn door after the horse is gone. There was already a flood and the damage is done.

look like the cat that swallowed the canary

MEANING: look very self-satisfied, look as if one just had a great success

EXAMPLE:

You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What happened?

make a mountain out of a molehill

MEANING: make something that is unimportant seem important

EXAMPLE:

You are making a mountain out of a molehill with your going on and on about his mistake.

monkey business

MEANING: unethical or bad activity, mischief

EXAMPLE:

He should stop that monkey business and try to do the job the correct way.

piggyback

MEANING: sitting or being carried on someone’s back and shoulders

EXAMPLE:

The boy was riding piggyback on his father’s shoulders.
 

piggy bank

MEANING: a small bank (sometimes in the shape of a pig) for saving money

EXAMPLE:

He has been putting money into his piggy bank to save for a bicycle.

play cat and mouse with someone

MEANING: tease or fool someone

EXAMPLE:

He is playing a cat and mouse game with his company about his plans to quit or not.

put the cart before the horse

MEANING: do things in the wrong order

EXAMPLE:

I think that buying a ticket before we make any plans is putting the cart before the horse.

rain cats and dogs

MEANING: rain very hard

EXAMPLE:

It has been raining cats and dogs all day.

rat out on

MEANING: desert or betray someone

EXAMPLE:

He ratted out on his friends and now they won’t talk to him.

rat race

MEANING: rushing around, confusing way of living that does not seem to have a purpose

EXAMPLE:

He is tired of living in the rat race every day and plans to quit his job soon and do something else.
 

road hog

MEANING: car driver who takes more than his share of the road

EXAMPLE:

The person in front of me on the highway was a road hog but I tried not to get angry.

sacred cow

MEANING: a person or thing that is never criticized or changed even if it should be

EXAMPLE:

The school lunch program is a sacred cow which they will never change.

scaredy-cat

MEANING: someone who is easily frightened (used by children)

EXAMPLE:

The children were calling their friend a scaredy-cat because she wouldn’t go into the empty house.

smell a rat

MEANING: be suspicious, feel that something is wrong

EXAMPLE:

I smell a rat. There is something wrong with his relationship to the bankers.

straight from the horse’s mouth

MEANING: directly from the person or place where something began

EXAMPLE:

I heard straight from the horse’s mouth that she will be leaving the company next week.
 
straw that breaks the camel’s back

MEANING: a small trouble which follows other troubles and makes one become angry or do something

EXAMPLE:

Her accusing me of not working hard enough was the straw that broke the camel’s back so I finally asked for a transfer to another section of the company.

tail between one’s legs

MEANING: feel beaten, ashamed (after a scolding etc.)

EXAMPLE:

He left the meeting with his tail between his legs after he was criticized by the president.

take the bull by the horns

MEANING: take decisive action and not worry about the results

EXAMPLE:

My aunt decided to take the bull by the horns and begin preparations for the family reunion.

talk until the cows come home

MEANING: talk for a long time

EXAMPLE:

We can talk until the cows come home this weekend at the lake.

throw someone to the wolves

MEANING: send someone into danger without protection

EXAMPLE:

He decided to throw his co-worker to the wolves when he asked him to go and see the other company.

turn tail

MEANING: run away from trouble or danger

EXAMPLE:

We decided to turn tail and leave the pub before there was a fight.

wildcat strike

MEANING: a strike spontaneously arranged by a group of workers

EXAMPLE:

There was a wildcat strike at the factory and over 100 people walked off the job.

wolf in sheep’s clothing

MEANING: a person who pretends to be good but really is bad

EXAMPLE:

Be careful of that man. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.