Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch: The Best Animal Idioms You Need to Know

Elly Kimreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process8 min
Created: Apr 20, 2023Last updated: Jan 23, 2024
Animal Idioms

Have you ever heard someone say they have butterflies in their stomach or that it’s raining cats and dogs? If so, you already know some of the most popular animal idioms. These fun and quirky expressions are a staple of the English language. We use them to convey all sorts of emotions, situations, and ideas in a creative and memorable way. Idioms are a fascinating and often hilarious language aspect worth exploring. So, come along on this journey with us as we dive into the wild and wonderful world of English animal idioms.

What Are Animal Idioms

To memorize the countless idioms about animals and their meanings, you need to understand the definition of the term animal idiom. And before that, you need to find out what the idiom itself is. You are already familiar with this term if you read the Promova blog frequently. But if not, don’t worry – we will explain it to you. 

Collins Dictionary defines an idiom as a group of words whose meaning together differs from their meaning when you use them separately. English animal idioms have the exact definition but are usually somehow related to different pets. These expressions can be hilarious and enlightening at the same time. Moreover, they are extremely popular – native speakers often use animal idioms in daily conversations.

Funny Animal Expressions and Idioms

There are so many animals in the world, so if you think that idioms only refer to domestic pets, you’ve been fooled. The English vocabulary is extensive and fascinating, with many pretty surprising expressions. Look at the comprehensive list of our favorite animal phrases and idioms.

  • The elephant in the room

This famous idiom is quite popular nowadays. Its meaning is simple – it describes an obvious problem or issue everyone ignores and doesn’t want to discuss. For example:

I know it’s been a rough week for all of us, but it doesn’t mean we have to ignore the elephant in the room – the company is losing money, and we need to do something about it.

Yeah, we are all trying to be polite, but let’s address the elephant in the room – John and Susan can’t stand each other, and it’s affecting all of us. 

  • A fish out of water

We are certain that not many people actually like to leave their comfort zone. And when they enter a new and unfamiliar environment, they feel like a fish out of water – uncomfortable and timid. That is what this idiom means. For example:

As an introvert, I feel like a fish out of water at big parties. 

I am so used to working from home that I feel like a fish out of water when I have to go to the office. 

  • Let sleeping dogs lie

This idiom refers to situations when you need to avoid heating the case, leave the problem alone, and not stir up any trouble. For example:

I know you want to confront your boss, but sometimes it is better to let sleeping dogs lie. 

In this case, it is better to let sleeping dogs lie and just forget about it.

  • A bull in a China shop

Another hilarious idiom that was first used in the 19th century but is still widely popular nowadays. It describes a clumsy person known for breaking things, making mistakes, or causing damage in situations requiring cautious behavior. For example:

I love my little nephew, but he’s like a bull in a China shop – when he comes over, I need to hide all the fragile things in the house. 

It’s always a disaster when my boss tries to use new technology. He’s like a bull in a China shop and always breaks something.

  • A chicken and egg situation

You probably know the eternal question of what appeared first – a chicken or an egg. This idiom is inspired by this famous expression and describes the situation when it’s unclear which event caused the other. For example:

We have a chicken and egg situation here – we can’t figure out whether the company is experiencing financial problems because of low sales, or the low sales result from the company’s financial problems. 

  • Monkey see, monkey do (not sees and does, we know it’s confusing) 

Have you ever seen monkeys imitating some actions from human behavior? If yes, then you will definitely get this one. According to Urban Dictionary, this famous idiom refers to learning something without understanding how it works. For example:

When our new employees saw their coworkers taking extended lunch breaks, they started to do the same thing. It is a classic monkey-see, monkey-do situation. 

Kayla started ignoring Jane because she didn’t like her, and others in the group started acting the same, just because monkey see, monkey do.

  • To be the bee’s knees

Okay, don’t be confused with this last one. This is one of our favorite funny animal expressions with a nice meaning – it is used as an adjective to describe something in the most positive way. Why so, you may ask? Well, when bees fly from flower to flower, they collect nectar by sticking it to their legs. Hence, their knees become sweet and good – and that is where it comes from! For example:

Shout out to her new stylist! That outfit is the bee’s knees.

I just got a new car, and it’s the bee’s knees.


Tips for Using English Animal Idioms

There are many ways to memorize English vocabulary. But when you need to learn not a word but a full expression, especially when it doesn’t have an obvious meaning, you must add some practice. And it doesn’t matter whether you are trying to memorize phrases alone or in the company. Here are some tips that will help you master idioms about animals in a matter of days. 

  • Start with something simple. Do a quick research to find the most widespread idioms you often hear in daily conversations, and try remembering them first. 
  • Use context clues. If it is hard for you to understand the meaning of the expression, try to look for clues in the words or phrases around the idiom. It will help you to figure out the context, and you will easily determine the meaning. 
  • Practice more. Memorize a few idioms with a simple meaning, and implement them in your daily conversations. For example, if you like to make compliments, use the bee’s knees idiom every time you want to say that something is cool. It is simple – just make sure that you say it in an appropriate context. 
  • Explore pop culture. You can find many examples of idioms in famous songs or lines from your favorite movie. And the next time you hear one, write it down and read a bit more about it. 
  • Use online resources. You can find them online or install a convenient application, like the Promova app, to access many practice exercises. It will help you understand the idiom’s meaning and learn how to implement it in your casual conversations. 

As you can see, there are many animal phrases and idioms, and there are many tips for memorizing them as well. Just remember to be patient and persistent, keep practicing, and you’ll be more comfortable using them over time. As a result, you will expand your vocabulary and sound fluent when speaking English.

Explore The Wild World of Animal Idioms With Promova

Even though we’ve provided you with some tips for learning and practicing pet idioms, it may still not be enough. You need to know that seeking help in anything, especially in studying foreign languages, is completely fine! That is why we’ve created Promova – an international language-learning multitool with everything you need for a comfortable and beneficial learning experience. 

There are many options for students with different needs. For example, you can start to study in personal or group lessons with our professional tutors. They are always happy to help you, and all you need to do is pass a quick proficiency test and provide some information about yourself. And if you are still hesitating, you can book a free trial lesson before coming up with a final decision. 

Depending on your studying motivations, you can also join our free Conversation club or speaking lessons, where we discuss different topics and practice speaking skills with people from around the world. And if you want to practice alone, you can install a convenient Promova app and enjoy various lessons, practice exercises, and much more. The choice is up to you – go to the official Promova website now, and enjoy the variety of useful options!


It is really hard to dislike animals. These little fluffy cuties can make people happy just by their very existence. Hence, it is no wonder that there are so many animal-related idioms in English! We guess people just cannot ignore some obvious characteristics of different pets and not draw parallels between them and human life. We hope this article was useful and helped you learn something new today. And that’s it for now! By the way, do you have any pets? Tell us about them in the comments!


Are animal idioms commonly used in different settings or just in daily conversations?

Like other popular expressions, you can hear animal idioms in both formal and informal conversations. They are an integral part of English nature, and many native speakers really like to use them in their dialogues. Hence, you can use them in the workspace or in business meetings as well. Just make sure to use such expressions in a proper context.

How can I use animal idioms in my writing and speech without sounding cliché?

To avoid sounding cliché or overusing animal idioms, you need to memorize a few simple rules. First, you need to use them naturally in a proper context. Also, don’t try to force them into your sentence. And finally, try to learn less common idioms that are not heard as frequently.

Are animal idioms used in other languages, or is it a unique feature of English?

Of course! Even though some idioms only make sense in English, they are also quite widespread in numerous other languages. They differ from the ones mentioned above due to different reasons, like cultural background. But they are still very fun to learn! For example, the famous French idiom “avoir le cafard” literally translates as “to have the cockroach” and means to be depressed or sad

Do animal idioms play a role in pop culture, such as in movies, music, etc.?

Animal idioms definitely affect modern popular culture. Since they are a big part of English, it is hard to picture native speakers who are not using them at all. There are many popular examples of animal idioms in pop culture. For example, Katy Perry’s well-known song “Dark Horse” has the idiom in its title.