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Five Animal Idioms in English

What do birds and worms have to do with waking up?

Have you ever “let the cat out of the bag”? Or have you accidentally talked about “the elephant in the room”? Why are there animals in such strange places?

cat in bag
Image by sgermini from Pixabay

These are examples of English idioms! If you are learning English, these phrases are very confusing. But native speakers easily use and understand them. Idioms are fun to use and add interest in casual conversation.

Is it all random?

Many languages have idioms. Idioms are phrases where the meaning is not clear from the individual words. That is why they are so difficult to learn! 

There are many kinds of idioms. Some idioms are about the weather. Other idioms are about animals. And some idioms are even more random!

If you are learning English, idioms are very important to learn. Native speakers use idioms and may not realize it. Idioms are not usually formal speech, but people use them in casual settings. If you learn some idioms, it can help your English to sound more natural.

Here are 5 common animal idioms you can use to talk to other English speakers.

1 – A leopard cannot change its spots

A leopard is a big, dangerous animal with spots. But this idiom is not about cats—it is about people! People use it to talk about bad habits or attitudes that a person  has. A a leopard cannot make his spots go away. In the same way people cannot change their attitudes!

This idiom is often about bad habits, but it can be about any attitude that someone does not change.

Example:
“John came to work late today.”
“He is usually late! I guess a leopard cannot change its spots.”

a leopard cannot change it's spots graphic

2 – The early bird gets the worm

This phrase is an encouragement. You can use it to tell someone how important it is to be productive or get up early. It may be more fun to sleep in.  But if you get to work, you will get the “worm”—a reward for your hard work!

Example:
“You are always the first person at work in the morning!”
“Well, the early bird gets the worm! I want to get work done quickly.”

early bird gets the worm graphic

3 – Elephant in the room

It would be pretty hard to not see an elephant! They are very big. And if there was one in the room, it would be hard to ignore it.

This idiom is about something that everybody knows, but no one wants to talk about. Maybe it is uncomfortable. Maybe it is sad. But even though no one talks about it, everyone knows that it is there.

Example:
“Sarah is retiring today.”
“I know, we are sad she is leaving. It’s the elephant in the room. ”

elephant in the room graphic

4 – When pigs fly

Everyone knows that pigs do not have wings! So how does this idiom work?

That is exactly it! This idiom is about something that is probably never going to happen. If you are talking about something that is very unlikely or even impossible, you can say that it will happen “when pigs fly”!

Example:
“I thought you left your jacket at your sister’s house?”
“Oh, I did! I looked everywhere for it. But it must still be there! What a wild goose chase!”

when pigs fly graphic

5 – Wild goose chase

Can you imagine chasing a wild goose? It would be very difficult! Maybe that is why this idiom exists.

When someone says that something was “a wild goose chase”, that means it was a long, difficult search. And in the end, the solution was too difficult or the solution did not even exist.

Example:
“I thought you left your jacket at your sister’s house?”
“Oh, I did! I looked everywhere for it. But it must still be there! What a wild goose chase!”

wild goose chase graphic

BONUS! Let the cat out the bag

At the beginning of this program, we asked if you had ever “let the cat out of the bag. This idiom means to tell someone something they should not know.

cat out of the bag graphic

Now you do not have to wonder what a “wild goose” is, or why you might be chasing it! And next time someone talks about an elephant in the room, do not worry that you missed it. There are a lot of idioms in English! But if you take some time to learn about them, you will be able to speak English more naturally.

Be sure to check out our other blog posts, especially the ones about other idioms in English! Soon enough, you will be using idioms like a natural English speaker.

Have you heard these idioms before? Are there animal idioms in your language?

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