Have your friends ever tried to get you to say good things about them? If you’re learning American English, you’d know they were “fishing for compliments” — usually by making deliberately negative statements about themselves.

Americans use a variety of expressions involving animals to convey ideas creatively, many of them invoking characteristics commonly associated with the animal referenced.

Below are five other animal-based phrases you can use — the perfect bait for compliments about your English skills.

Elephant in the room


What it means: An obvious major problem or uncomfortable situation that people avoid discussing or acknowledging.
In conversation: “Our company’s financial trouble is the elephant in the room. The company president never talks about it, and we don’t discuss it at any meetings.”

To get (have) butterflies (in one’s stomach)

What it means: To be nervous and/or excited about something.
In conversation: “We’ve been married for 20 years, but I still get butterflies in my stomach when I see my wife after we’ve been apart.”

To get (one’s) ducks in a row


What it means: To get one’s affairs in order or organized; to get fully prepared and organize things well.
In conversation: “The manager has given his employees a few days to get their ducks in a row. If they don’t get organized and improve their performance, he’ll fire them.”

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

What it means: Do not depend on something until it happens; do not make plans based on events that have not happened yet.
In conversation: “I know the new company president has promised to give you a big raise, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Wait until you get the raise before you buy that new car.”

The early bird catches the worm


What it means: Whoever arrives first has the best chance of success.
In conversation: “I always get to work earlier than everyone else, and today I got a raise! The early bird catches the worm.”

Learn more

Other idioms common in everyday American speech include those related to bees, food and soccer.

ShareAmerica offers a series of everyday conversations that include audio clips to help you practice English. The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.