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Popular Cliches - Cliches Explained


Cliche definition:

A cliche is a common phrase that has been overused. In general, cliches are to be avoided. In reality, they are not avoided - that's why they are cliches! Understanding popular cliches is especially important for English learners because they provide a deeper understanding of set phrases - or 'chunks' of language. These chunks of language known as cliches are found everywhere: in letters, in films, in articles, in conversation. A good rule of thumb for English learners is to understand a variety of popular cliches, but not necessarily use them actively. Many times the use of a cliche signals fluency, but often cliches are considered inappropriate or unoriginal. On the other hand, if English learners use cliches it's OK, because they are only joining all the native speakers who already use the cliche too frequently!

What's the Difference Between an Idiom and a Cliche?

An idiom is a phrase that means something else than the literal words. Idioms always have figurative, not literal meanings. Here are some examples:

to get under someone's skin (to bother someone) - She's getting under my skin these days!
no spring chicken (not young) - Tom's no spring chicken. He's almost 70!

A cliche is a phase which is considered overused (used too often) which can be literal or figurative in meaning. Here are some examples:

the good old days (literal = in the past when things were better) - I remember my years at college. Yes, those were the good old days.
tip of the iceberg (figurative = only the beginning, or just a small percentage) - The problems we are seeing

10 Popular Cliches

The writing on the wall = something that is about to happen, something that is obvious


Can't you see the writing on the wall! You need to get out of that business.

To pull an all-nighter = to study or work all night


We had to pull an all-nighter to get the work finished on time.

Pearls of wisdom = wise words or advice


I'm not really interested in his pearls of wisdom. He lived in a different period.

Too much of a good thing = generally used when saying that's impossible to be too happy, or lucky


Enjoy it! You can't have too much of a good thing.

Fit as a fiddle = to be ready and able


I'm fit as a fiddle. Let's do this thing!

Curiosity killed the cat = Don't be too inquisitive, it can be dangerous!


Remember curiosity killed the cat. You should just forget about it.

Don't do as I do, do as I say. = Used when someone points out that you are being hypocritical (doing one thing while insisting that others that thing differently)


Stop talking back! Don't do as I do, do as I say!

Let sleeping dogs lie = don't look into (investigate) something that was troublesome in the past, but in which people are not currently interested


I'd let sleeping dogs lie and not re-open the investigation into the crime.

A cat has nine lives = someone might be having problems now, but there are many chances to do well or succeed


His career reminds that a cat has nine lives!

Moment of truth = the moment in which something important will be shown or decided


It's the moment of truth. Either we'll get the contract or we won't.

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