Comparative Idioms in English

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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:

Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

Image: Suat Eman, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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:

Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

Walking in the mud. Image: Ildar Sagdejev (Specious)

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:

Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

These are clams. You can find them 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:

Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

A “fiddle” is an instrument like a violin. (image: nuchylee, FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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:

Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

Image source: Idea go, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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:

Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

Image: Grant Cochrane, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Question 1
Someone who is very angry = "As mad as a ________."
A
bear
B
hornet
C
tiger
Question 2
Something that is very dry = "As dry as a ________."
A
rock
B
desert
C
bone
Question 3
When something happens very fast, it is "as quick as _________."  
A
a cheetah
B
a race car
C
lightning
Question 4
When someone's face turns very white because they are afraid, they are "as white as a _________."
A
sheet
B
snow
C
cloud
Question 4 Explanation: 
an alternative phrase is "white as a ghost"
Question 5
Someone who is very stubborn = "As stubborn as a ________."  
A
child
B
mule
C
lion
Question 6
Someone who is very strong = "As strong as ________."
A
an ox
B
superman
C
iron
Question 7
Something that is very solid = "As solid as a __________."
A
tree
B
house
C
rock
Question 8
Something that is very flat = "As flat as a __________."
A
blanket
B
pancake
C
paper
Question 9
Someone who is very proud = "As proud as a __________."
A
champion
B
peacock
C
pony
Question 10
Two things that are very different are "as different as _________."
A
up and down
B
apples and bananas
C
night and day
Question 11
Something that is very old = "As old as the _________."
A
forests
B
stars
C
hills
Question 12
Someone who is very sick = "As sick as a ________."
A
worm
B
fish
C
dog
There are 12 questions to complete.

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Comparative Idioms in English Espresso English

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