Idioms in Depth: English Dog Idioms

dogDogs are known as Man’s best friend and, appropriately enough, they have inspired a fair number of common idioms. Practice with some of our favorite English dog idioms and you’ll be top dog (the best) in no time!

As sick as a dog – very sick

  • Last flu season I got as sick as a dog so this year I’m going to be more careful.

Note: Another, similar, idiom is “dog tired” which means extremely tired.

To bark up the wrong tree – to make a mistake or incorrect assumption

  • You are barking up the wrong tree if you think I am responsible for our big loss last week – I had nothing to do with it.

Dog-eat-dog – used to describe a ruthless or cutthroat environment

  • Their company is famous for the dog-eat-dog mentality it fosters among its employees.

Every dog has his day – everyone gets a chance in the long run

  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. After all, every dog has his day.

Note: It is possible to say its instead of his in this idiom (but hers would be nonstandard).

Fight like cats and dogs – to strongly disagree or otherwise argue with someone

  • My brother and I used to fight like cats and dogs when we were younger but now we’re great friends.

Go to the dogs – to deteriorate or worse

  • The neighborhood I grew up in used to be a great place for families but over the last few years it has really gone to the dogs.

In the doghouse – in trouble or disfavor

  • He was really in the doghouse after he fought with his wife’s family at Thanksgiving.

Note: This idiom suggests that disgraced people are kicked out of the main house and force to seek shelter with the dog.

To work like a dog – to work hard

  • At my last job we had to work like dogs just to make our sales quotas.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – it is hard for older people to adapt to new situations

  • Jim tries his best but he’s used to doing things the old-fashioned way. I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Visit our dedicated idioms homepage to find more idioms and extra practice!

Business Idioms: Idioms about Failure

failureIn the cutthroat world of business sometimes even the best ideas fall flat. So hope for the best but plan for the worst in this installment of our series which covers business idioms about failure.

to close up shop – to close a business.

  • Business had been slow for a while so they were forced to close up shop and try something else.

Note: In the UK, close in this example can be exchanged with shut without the meaning changing (e.g., shut up shop).

to go belly up  – to go out of business because of financial problems.

  • The local bakery went belly up last year.

Note: Use this one carefully as this rather morbid idiom refers to the position of an animal when it is dead (and carries the negative connotations to match).

to cut one’s losses – to end or withdraw from something that is already failing in order to reduce the loss of money, time or effort invested in it.

  • The project is heading for failure. Let’s cut our losses before it’s too late.

Note: Another idiom, to get out while you are ahead, has a similar meaning.

to go up in smoke – if a plan or project ends in failure before producing a result.

  • After the closure of his business his dreams of being self-employed went up in smoke.

Note: a similar idiom is go up in flames can be used when something is extremely damaged or destroyed (e.g., his career went up in flames when he was jailed for theft).

to wither on the vine – to fail or cease to exist because of lack of support or encouragement.

  • Due to the lack of foot traffic the store is destined to wither on the vine.

Note: this refers to a plant dying (or withering) due to lack of nourishment.

For other useful resources as well as access to the rest of the Business Idioms series please visit our homepage.

Game On! Phrasal Verbs for Competition

competitionDo you thrive under competitive pressure?  Are you constantly comparing your abilities to those of your peers, siblings, or co-workers?  Or are you simply a sports fan? If you answered yes to any of these, this entry will be very interesting for you because these are expressions every competitor and sports fan should know!

Size … Up/ – to evaluate the strength of a person or situation

  • We’re sizing up potential competitors in the area, and we think we’ll enter the market with a relative advantage.

Stack up against/ – to compare strengths/capabilities

  • How does the Atlanta Falcon’s defense stack up against the New Orleans’s Saints’ potent offense?

Note: While both this phrasal verb and the previous one (“Size …up”) involve measurements and evaluations of strength, it is important to note that one is an action (looking in order to evaluate) and the other is a relation (comparison of two or more people or things). To illustrate:

  • Barry sized up the man standing in front of him to determine if he could survive a fight with him.
  • Barry wondered how he stacked up against the size and speed of his adversary.


  • Barry stacked up against the man in front of him to determine if he could survive a fight with him.
  • Barry wondered how he sized up against his adversary in terms of size and speed.

Blow … Out/ – To defeat an opponent by a large margin (in scoring competitions)

  • Last year’s games were close and very competitive, but this year, Chicago blew Miami out every time they played each other. The closest game was 95-72.

Note: This phrasal verb can’t be used for competitions in which the score isn’t the factor determining, such as card games, boxing matches ending in knockouts, or competitions between businesses for customers, for example.

Shut … Out/ – To allow no points for the opposing team/player

  • The goalie had a great game. He shut them out even though they made 40 attempts to score!

Do you want to keep training? Have a look at our main phrasal verbs page for more practice materials!