9 cat idioms

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cat idioms


Do you have cat idioms in your native language?

I have two young cats at home and while I was watching them playing and having fun together the other day, I realized there are many idiomatic English expressions relating to cats.

Here are nine of the most common ones…


♦ let the cat out of the bag

kitten in a bag - let the cat out of the bag

let the cat out of the bag

To let the cat out of the bag is to carelessly or accidentally reveal a secret.

Informal English.


1. We wanted our wedding to be a secret, but my father let the cat out of the bag.

2. I’m planning a surprise anniversary party for my parents. I hope nobody lets the cat out of the bag before the big day!



♦ a copycat

Informal English.

A copycat is a person (especially a child) or thing that closely imitates another.

This expression is often used by children when another child is copying their behaviour or actions.


1. You’re just a copycat!”

2. “Mum! He called me a copycat!



♦ the cat’s pyjamas 

the cat's pyjamas - a cat wearing a hoodie

Do I look like the cat’s pyjamas in this hoodie?

When something (or someone) is the cat’s pyjamas it’s the very best it can be: it’s excellent.

Informal English.

the cat’s whiskers has the same meaning


1. He thinks he’s the cat’s pyjamas.

2. My new iPhone is the cat’s pyjamas.



♦ raining cats and dogs

If it’s raining cats and dogs it’s raining very heavily.

Informal English.

It’s not known where this expression comes from, but it does not mean that cats and dogs are literally falling from the sky :-)


Put your coat on: it’s raining cats and dogs outside.



♦ the cat that got the cream

the cat that got the cream

the cat that got the cream

Or, the cat that stole the cream.

When you’re like the cat that got the cream, you look very happy and pleased with yourself (self-satisfied), because of something you have done or achieved.

Informal English.


1. She started dating her boss and now she’s like the cat that got the cream.

2. Look at him sitting there looking like the cat that got the cream!



♦ like a cat on a hot tin roof

If you’re like a cat on a hot tin roof you are very nervous and restless.

1. His exam results will be online in an hour: he’s like a cat on a hot tin roof!

2. What’s the matter with your brother? He’s like a cat on a hot tin roof today.



♦ grin like a Cheshire cat

grinning like a Cheshire cat

grinning like a Cheshire cat

If you have a grin like a Cheshire cat you have a very big smile.

To grin like a Cheshire cat means to smile very broadly, from ear to ear.

Informal English.

Example of use:

She had a grin like a Cheshire cat when she passed her English exam!

The Cheshire Cat is a fictional character in Lewis Carroll’s famous book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.



♦ not a cat in hell’s chance

not a cat in hell’s chance – no chance at all

This expression is used in situations where there is no hope at all of doing or achieving something.

Informal English.


1. We hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance of rescuing our furniture from the fire.

2. I missed most of my driving lessons and I haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of passing my driving test next week!



♦ a catnap


a cat having a catnap

A catnap is a short sleep.

Informal English.


My gran always has a catnap after lunch.


If you catnap, you have a short sleep or you sleep intermittently (at irregular intervals).


I catnapped on the flight from London to Rome.


Do you like cats and do you have a pet cat?

Do you know any other cat-related idiomatic expressions?

If you have cat idioms in your native language please share them here (with their English translation) 🙂



Angela Boothroyd

Angela Boothroyd

Freelance writer, English language teacher, at Botanical Linguist
Hi, I'm Angela, the creator of the Botanical Linguist site. I'm a freelance writer, linguist, and qualified English language teacher. I specialize in writing online course content, and blog posts and articles about business, education, and the English language. I’m also a writing coach for non-native users of English who want to blog better in English.
Angela Boothroyd
Angela Boothroyd


  1. I read somewhere that raining cats and dogs came from when we had thatched roofs. It would rain very hard, and wash the cats, dogs and that off of the roof. It had to be really wet to be raining cats and dogs :D.

    I love the cat in the hoodie, mine look like that only less fluffy 🙂

    • I like the thatched roof theory – sounds convincing to me 🙂

      The cat in the hoodie is lovely but he doesn’t look too impressed does he? There’s no way I’d get my cats in one!

  2. Great info and I love your layout.
    My favourite is the catnap perfect sunny day sleeping.

  3. I have 2 cats, brother and sister black and white rescued moggies. They can be cute or very irritating, depending on circumstances. Love these cat expressions. What about ‘cat among the pigeons’ – my cats like this! Or ‘cat fight’ – all designer handbags and white stilettos?

    • Hi Judy,

      I have one black and white, and one all black cat – black/black and white tuxedos make the best cats I think.

      ‘Cat among the pigeons’ is a great one – my cats are particularly fascinated by the pigeons in the garden, much more so than any other birds!

      And I love your “all designer handbags and white stilettos” for ‘cat fight’ – perfect 🙂

  4. We usually say “snowball’s chance in Hell” (though at this time of year a snowball in Hell, Michigan, probably has a few more weeks to live).
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  5. Such a simple trick to remember these, these will definitely bring out the best results for those who practice them…
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