The English language has some idiomatic expressions that emphasize a particular quality of a person or thing by comparing it to something else.
For example, imagine you buy a new laptop computer which is extremely thin and light – perfect for traveling, because it doesn’t weigh down your backpack. When describing the laptop, you can emphasize how light it is by saying:
“It’s as light as a feather.”
This is a feather:
Comparing your laptop to the feather, emphasizes the fact that it is extremely light.
Here are 5 more comparative idioms with interesting definitions and origins – and at the end of the lesson, take the quiz to discover 12 more comparative idioms in English.
Idiom #1 – As clear as mud
“Mud” is the combination of dirt / soil + water. Mud is brown, it is not clear or transparent:
This idiom is used to mean that some communication (speaking or writing) is NOT very clear.
For example, imagine your manager is giving you and your coworkers instructions on how to use some new computer software. However, his instructions are extremely confusing and contradictory, and nobody understands how to use the program. Afterwards, you could comment to your colleagues, “Well, that was as clear as mud.”
Idiom #2 – As happy as a clam
A clam is a type of shellfish that lives in the sand on the beach:
The original expression was “as happy as a clam at high water.” High water is when the ocean level increases, putting the clams on the beach underwater and protecting them from predators (other animals that could eat the clams).
So a person who is “as happy as a clam” is very happy.
Idiom #3 – As fit as a fiddle
“Fiddle” is an old word for an instrument like a violin:
Musical instruments like this need to be kept in excellent condition in order to play well. They frequently need small adjustments to keep their sound good. A professional musician always takes care of his or her instrument so that it stays in great condition, because a well-cared-for instrument will give an excellent performance.
Describing someone as “fit as as a fiddle” means the person is in excellent health and excellent physical condition.
Idiom #4 – As exciting as watching paint dry
When you first apply paint to a wall or another surface, the paint is wet because it is a liquid:
It takes several hours for the paint to dry. If you stayed and watched the paint while it became dry, this would not be very exciting. So describing something as “exciting as watching paint dry” means it is extremely boring, NOT exciting.
Idiom #5 – As nutty as a fruitcake
This idiom uses two definitions of the English word “nuts.”
“Nuts” are a type of food:
And a fruitcake is a type of cake that contains a lot of nuts.
The word “nuts” also has another meaning – describing a person as “nuts” or “nutty” means that the person is crazy. So if you say a person is “nutty as a fruitcake,” it means they are really crazy.
Comparative Idioms in English Quiz
Now that you’ve seen a few examples of comparative idioms in English, can you guess how to complete each of these 12 idioms?
Comparative Idioms Quiz
a race car
apples and bananas
up and down
night and day