A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work that has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning. ‘Cliché’ can also be used for phrases and words no longer regarded as authentic because they have been used too many times in different contexts.
Clichés are often considered lazy writing. They’re easy to use and don’t require much creativity on the part of the writer. They’re seen as boring and unoriginal, making them undesirable when creating content for blogs or articles.
However, some writers use clichés purposefully. Sometimes with ironic intent (ex: “a stormy night”) or other times simply because they want their writing to sound familiar and relatable to the reader (ex: “raining cats and dogs”).
The best thing to do when writing is to find your own voice. Be original. If you can achieve this, your essay will be better than if you had tried to use a cliché in the traditional way.
This blog post is full of over 100 cliché examples in writing. The list is broken into the following categories: Most common, time, weather, animals and other living things, people’s appearances/behavior/attitudes, politics, money, emotions and feelings (like love), parts of speech (like verbs). Let’s dive right in!
But before that!
1. Waking up at the wrong side of the bed
2. As dead as a doornail
3. Its better safe than sorry
4. As many as the fish in the sea
5. It’s better late than never
6. The early bird gets the worm
7. Like a kid in a candy store
8. Writing on the wall
9. Bite off more than you can chew
10. Tip of the iceberg
11. Hope springs eternal
12. Try everything once
13. The grass is always greener on the other side
14. When pigs fly
15. Jump out of the frying pan and into the fire
16. One door closes, another one opens
17. Right under my nose
18. The hand of death snatched her
19. In the nick of time
20. The ball is in your court now
21. A stormy night
22. To think outside the box
23. Once in a blue moon
24. You can’t judge a book by its cover
25. Don’t cry over spilled milk
26. To come down with a cold
1. Catch up with the times
2. Tick-tock, goes the clock (this one also includes a sound effect)
3. In the dead of the night
4. Time heals all wounds
5. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
6. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
7. There’s no time like the present
8. In a nick of time
9. Time is running out
10. Make hay while the sun shines
11. On second thought (this one also includes an implied change in perspective, which is not typical for clichés)
12. At the eleventh hour (this one also includes an implied change in perspective, which is not typical for clichés)
8. Right time, right place
9. Before you know it, the years will fly by (this one also includes a visual)
10. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times
11. There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do something else instead
12. Time waits for no man
13. A watched pot never boils
14. The early bird gets the worm
15. Time and tide wait for no one (this one also includes a visual)
1. It’s not raining, but it’s sure cloudy out
2. The forecast calls for rain
3. It’s the calm before the storm (note: it also includes a visual)
4. Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon (also has a visual)
5. Sunny days ahead! (also has a visual)
6. Let’s hope for clear skies
7. And it came to pass…that there was a great rain
8. An ill wind blows no one any good
9. When it rains, it pours (this one also includes a visual)
10. There is sunny weather ahead! (Note: this one also has a visual)
1. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it (note: it also has a visual)
2. A wolf in sheep’s clothing (note: this one has both an animal reference and a visual)
3. Foxes have dens, birds have nests, and the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head
4. The grass is always greener on the other side (this one also has a visual)
5. As usual, this list would be nothing without a cat picture! (This is an example of a cliche in reverse)
6. Dog is man’s best friend
7. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (this one also has a visual)
8. Cat got your tongue? (Also has a visual)
9. Word of mouth
10. Cat got your tongue? (Note: this one also has a visual)
11. Run around like a chicken with its head cut off (note: this one also has a visual)
1. Knock, knock! Who’s there? Interrupting cow!
2. The word “fish” comes around every time I fry up some catfish (note: this one also includes an implied change in subject)
3. A horse walks into a bar…
4. You could make a killing with this great new product
5. It’s the little things that count
6. A penny saved is a penny earned (this one also has an implied change in perspective)
7. Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get (note: this one also has both an animal reference and an implied change in perspective)
8. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (this one also has a visual)
9. An apple a day keeps the doctor away (note: this one also includes a visual)
10. I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure
11. Money talks
12. I wonder who’s tapping at my chamber door (this one has both an animal reference and a visual)
13. It takes two to tango (this one also has a visual)
14. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed (note: this one also includes a visual)
15. I’m not the slightest bit surprised
16. The pen is mightier than the sword (note: this one also includes a visual)
17. An idle mind is the Devil’s playground (note: this one also has an implied change in perspective)
18. A penny saved is a penny earned (note: this one also has a visual)
19. I think outside the box (this one also has a visual)
20. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it
21. A watched pot never boils (note: this one also includes a visual)
22. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (this one also has a visual)
23. When the going gets tough, the tough get going (this one also includes a visual)
24. This list would be nothing without a cat picture! (Note: this is an example of a cliche in reverse)
25. Life is like an onion; you peel off layer after layer only to find more layers beneath (note: this one also has a visual).
1. A snowball’s chance in hell
2. A big fish in a small pond
3. The more things change, the more they stay the same
4. You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar
5. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog
6. A wolf in sheep’s clothing
7. Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t
8. An axe to grind
9. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure
10. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
11. Shaking in your boots
12. A slippery slope
13. A tall order
14. Like water off a duck’s back
15. All bark and no bite
16. Dog-eat-dog world
17. Don’t rock the boat
18. Keep your nose clean
19. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure
20. You can’t fool all the people all the time
21. My eyes are bigger than my stomach
1. Money isn’t everything
2. Money is the root of all evil
3. I’m not made of money
4. If you’ve got to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it
5. You must spend money to make money
6. Chasing your dollar
7. The cost of doing business
8. Money talks
9. Easy come, easy go
10. For the love of money is the root of all evil
11. Diamond in the rough
12. Money burns a hole in my pocket/ purse
13. A penny saved is a penny earned
1. Just the facts, ma’am (note: this one has both an allusion to James Bond and a visual)
2. A picture is worth 1,000 words (this one also has a visual)
3. Put your best foot forward
4. Honesty is the best policy
5. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig
6. The early bird gets the worm (note: this one also has a visual. You may say that it places an ironic twist on the cliche)
7. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog
8. Familiarity breeds contempt
9. Don’t kick a gift horse in the mouth
10. The proof is in the pudding (note: this one has both an allusion to pudding and a visual)
11. Take the bull by the horns (note: this one also has a visual; it places an ironic twist on the cliche, as you may argue that taking the bull by his horns is more dangerous than facing him head-on)
12. You can’t judge a book by its cover (this one also has a visual)
13. Birds of a feather flock together
14. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (this one also has a visual; you may say that it places an ironic twist on the cliche)
15. Pride comes before a fall
16. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it (also has a visual)
17. There is no honor among thieves
18. The early bird gets the
19. Cats and dogs, rain and shine
20. Hate the sin, love the sinner
21. A picture is worth 1,000 words (note: this one has both an allusion to James Bond and a visual; you may say that it places an ironic twist on the cliche)
22. A hound dog always barks at his prey
23. Cold shoulder (note: this one has a visual)
24. Dog is man’s best friend (also has a visual)
25. Pot calling the kettle black
26. To avoid like the plague
27. To be the only fish in the sea
28. When pigs fly
29. Hate the sin, love the sinner
1. Cleanliness is next to godliness (note: this one has both an allusion to the Bible and a visual. You could say that it places an ironic twist on the cliché)
2. If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas (this one also has a visual)
3. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (this one also has a visual)
4. Choose your battles wisely (note: this one has both an allusion to nature and a visual. You could say that it places an ironic twist on the cliché)
5. A stitch in time saves nine
7. The proof is in the pudding (note: this one has both an allusion to pudding and a visual. It places an ironic twist on the cliche)
8. A rolling stone gathers no moss (note: this one has both an allusion to nature and a visual. It places an ironic twist on the cliché)
9. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (this one also has a visual)
10. Birds of a feather flock together
Remember that you can also buy a speech from us, saving you all the hustle of writing one!
1. Strong as an ox (note: this cliché has both an allusion to nature and a visual)
2. To err is human, to forgive divine (this one also has both an allusion to religion and a visual)
Meaning: it’s expected that humans will make mistakes, but it is a divine quality to be able to forgive
3. A woman scorned (note: this cliché has a visual)
Meaning: a woman who is angry after being scorned
4. The writing is on the wall
Meaning: something that is about to happen or that you see very clearly after observing sure signs
5. To kill two birds with one stone
Meaning: achieving two goals with a single action
6. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
Meaning: a child is similar to the parent
8. To flog a dead horse
Meaning: to waste time and effort by doing something that will not be successful
9. Out of the frying pan, into the fire
Meaning: from one bad thing happening to another worse thing
10. A bull in a china shop
Meaning: a clumsy person who will cause trouble wherever they go
11. Cat got your tongue?
Meaning: used to ask someone why they’re not talking when you think it’s strange that they aren’t
12. To fight like cats and dogs
Meaning: to argue constantly
13. To cross someone’s path
Meaning: to meet someone, often by accident
14. That cuts no ice
Meaning: something that will not affect someone
15. One monkey don’t stop no show
Meaning: an event will still happen even if one person doesn’t do what they were supposed to
16. To turn up like a bad penny
Meaning: something that happens when you least expect it and which you’re not happy about
17. To give someone a piece of your mind
Meaning: to scold someone for something they did wrong
18. To give someone enough rope to hang themselves
Meaning: to allow someone to make their own decisions, even if it will lead them to fail
19. Make hay while the sun shines
Meaning: to take advantage of an opportunity while it remains available
20. To hold a candle to someone
Meaning: to be inferior to someone
21. To run head over heels into something
Meaning: To be very eager to do something
22. Put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: if you put everything into one thing, then if that fails, it will cause failure for everything else too
23. To kill two birds with one stone
Meaning: achieving two goals with a single action
24. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog
Meaning: a determined person will be able to do anything, no matter how small they are
25. To turn up like a bad penny
Meaning: something that happens when you least expect it and which you’re not happy about
Clichés can be very difficult to avoid when you are writing creatively. If you are trying to convey a message, the chances are that someone has already used the cliche about it. However, some writers use clichés purposefully. Sometimes they do this to be funny or ironic. Other times they do it just because the phrasing feels natural to them.
The important thing is not to let misuse of cliches become a habit in your writing. Although some cliches are used to make writing imaginative or funny, they’re usually used when the writer lacks the creativity to find new ways of saying something. If you notice that you rely on specific phrases too much, try coming up with more unique alternatives. Think about what each word in the cliche means. Then think of a new way to say roughly the same thing without using any cliches at all.
Clichés are not necessarily bad, though, so don’t be too worried about having them in your writing. When you’re writing a paper or blog post, it might be helpful to look up cliches online to make sure you aren’t using something too widely known.
Your readers expect something new and original from you. However, using cliches correctly in your work will make your story more enjoyable for your reader.
To use clichés correctly, make sure that you know the definition of the phrase. Vary its usage throughout your writing.
How to Vary Clichés to Make them Enjoyable
Here are some examples of how you can vary clichés to make them enjoyable for your readers:
1) Converting a cliché into an extended metaphor is one way to avoid using it in your writing directly.
For example, instead of saying “it’s raining cats and dogs,” you could say that the storm looks like it will never end because the rain is coming down so hard.”
Instead of using “the point I’m trying to get across,” you could try something less clichéd like “my argument is.”
2) Use a cliché as a joke.
Instead of saying, “I’m feeling blue,” you could say, “I feel like I need to take up something more exciting, like basketball.”
3) Try turning the word around or mixing it up with other words. Instead of saying “it was an uphill battle,” try describing it as “it was a downhill struggle.”
4) Use parts of it in place of the whole phrase. Instead of using “it’s raining cats and dogs,” you could say that “the rain is coming down hard” or outside, it looks like “the apocalypse.”
5) Add an unexpected twist to it. Instead of saying that someone is extremely beautiful, you could say that they’re “irresistibly ugly.”
6) Use a twist on another form of the same word. Instead of saying someone won by a landslide, try describing the person as having won “by a squeak.”
7) Use it ironically or sarcastically instead of seriously. Instead of simply stating what you think, try following it with “really.”
9) Combine two clichés. For example, instead of saying that something was an “unforgettable experience,” you could say that it was “seared in your memory.”
10) Try to express the same idea more briefly. Instead of saying something is like watching paint dry, try simply saying that it’s boring.
11) Use exaggeration or hyperbole instead of stating something directly. Instead of telling someone that you’re “extremely unhappy,” try telling the person that you’re “crying tears of pure rage.”
12) Use a metaphor instead. For example, instead of saying that something is bittersweet, you could say it’s like swallowing a spoonful of medicine.
13) Save it for the end of your writing or a punchline. Instead of telling the readers that they’re about to learn “the secret of life,” end with it and let them figure out what you mean.
14) Use a simile instead. For example, instead of saying your insides feel like “shards of glass,” try describing them as feeling like “a cut.”
15. You can also use a cliché as an example of how NOT to write. For example, if you want your reader to understand that it’s important not to confuse “their” and “there,” you could say something like, “Some people might think the grass is always greener on the other side, but they’re wrong. There is a lot of evidence that shows their grass is browner.”
1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These are the opening lines to Charles Dickens’s novel “A Tale Of Two Cities.”
The sentences signify a turning point in the story by introducing the idea that it is both the best and worst of times. Cliches are not being used correctly for this article since their original context has nothing to do with writing.
2. She smelled of fish.
This cliché is the opening line to the short story “The Lady With The Fish” by James Joyce. It describes a woman with a fish in her hand walks past a boy who smells it as she passes him. In this article, however, the cliche is used out of context and, therefore, incorrectly. Its original context has nothing to do with writing.
3. The play was perfectly performed, but the actors were not talented enough for the lines they had to speak.
This is an example of a cliché used when someone did not enjoy a performance of some kind and believes that the cast wasn’t talented enough to perform the lines they were given.
4. An idea struck her like a bolt of lightning.
This cliché is often used when an “epiphany” occurs, meaning that the person who uses the phrase was enlightened by something or understood something for the first time. However, the cliche is misused in this article because its original context does not revolve around writing.
5. The sun came up, and the day was beautiful.
This cliché is often used to describe a sunrise. It’s used to describe the beauty of the morning. It’s mainly used on a postcard or when writing your journal.
6. The phrase “write what you know” has become cliché. Many writers use it as advice when they are telling an aspiring writer how to begin their career.
7. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
This cliché describes someone who can learn something but isn’t willing to put in the effort. This may be because of the person’s age-too young or too elderly, or any other reason. The cliché could also be used if a person is unwilling to learn despite having experience in a particular field or if they’re not open to becoming familiar with new information.
8. As happy as a kid in a candy shop.
This cliché is often used to describe a feeling of joy, which might arise from being in an environment where there are many options, and everything seems enjoyable.
Cliches might find their meaning hidden in figurative or literal contexts. It will depend, for example, on how they’re used, what is meant by them, and what they mean to those using them.
For example, the phrase ‘write what you know’ as commonly understood today doesn’t extend to writers of fiction or poetry. It is understood that all good writers must use imagination and creativity.
Other cliches probably come from a time when language was more restricted and less imaginative; with lots of speakers following others blindly without understanding the meaning behind lines like “I told you so” (originally not spoken sarcastically).
The problem with using cliches is that they’re often misused and become more apparent when used this way. It makes it harder for the writer to communicate their idea effectively and efficiently.
When writing about something, it’s best to find your voice instead of using other people’s ideas or phrases. It will help you write better and keep your writing from being too obvious about what you’re trying to communicate.
When it comes to creativity, there are no set guidelines that say, “if you use this, then you’re a hack” or “you have to avoid these creative writing phrases at all costs.” The creative process is different for everyone. Creative writing cliches can be acceptable when used sparingly.
Clichés work well in the right circumstances. Many contemporary authors are known to rely on them routinely without consideration of their creative quality.
The rules of art say that there are no rules about art. This same rule applies in writing. It’s okay to use clichés when writing because it can be so subjective. What people consider a cliche in one writer’s work may come across as very creative in another’s, and vice versa.
You can use many cliches to communicate an idea. If you use cliches effectively and efficiently, you may not need to do anything else for their writing to be successful.
Let’s look at some examples:
“The play was perfectly performed, but the actors were not talented enough for the lines they had to speak.”
This could mean that the writer was in charge of producing a play, and they didn’t want to reveal their identity. It may also tell that they saw someone else’s work or read something about it, and their opinion is based on how the actors performed the dialogue.
“I’m thinking outside of the box.”
This cliché is so common when someone talks about solving a problem. It’s unlikely that the cliche would be used to mean anything other than what it appears to mean.
“The world is a dark place, and only the strong can survive.”
This cliche may refer to the author’s mood, or it may be about their opinion on specific topics. If they intended for this phrase to be interpreted latterly, then it would mean that they are pessimistic and believe that people have no control over what happens to them during their lifetime.
“I could see the fish swimming beneath me.”
This cliche was probably said by a person trying to describe what they felt when doing something or seeing something. It may be used when talking about an experience in which the speaker did not catch any fish at all, but they were fishing at the time.
“He was a bright young man, but the world fell apart when he received his first rejection letter.”
The cliché may mean that the author didn’t know what happened to this person after they reached this point in their life, or it may be used as a way for someone writing about themselves to communicate their feelings about a situation without giving away too much information.
“The line between what’s right and what’s wrong was blurred in the dark of the night when she tried to do everything she could to avoid being seen.”
This cliche may be about someone trying not to get caught while doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It may also be about someone trying to do something they know is unlawful or might somehow cause harm.
“When the cards are right, you will always win.”
This may mean that when luck is on your side, it will make things easier. It may also mean something else entirely if it’s taken out of context.
“The fire was raging, and it seemed as if that world would never again see the light of day.”
This cliche might have been said by someone who experienced a tragedy or watched something terrible happen. It may be about an event that will change the face of the earth.
“Pot calling the cattle black.”
The cliche means that someone is accusing another person of having faults that the other people also have. The cliche could be used to describe a particular situation, or it might be something said by someone who wants their identity kept secret.
“They jumped at the chance to flee from what they knew was just outside the door.”
This cliche would likely be used to describe someone running away from something or someone that they believe is dangerous. It may also be used if the speaker was hiding and had a good reason for doing so.
“I lost my money when the market crash came around.”
This may mean that an economic crash caused their money to lose its value. It might not have any other meaning than the one that’s immediately apparent.
“The cat came around to see what I was doing.”
The cliche might indicate that someone who doesn’t like cats or is afraid of them may relax because the cat didn’t bother them at all. It may also mean something else entirely if it’s taken out of context.
“What goes around comes around.”
The cliche may be said to encourage a friend or loved one to keep their chin up and think positively. It might be used as a warning that bad things come in threes.
“Finding yourself on the wrong side of the law.”
This cliche means that someone’s actions have led to them being accused of a crime. The cliche may also mean that the speaker was tricked into doing something illegal, even if it wasn’t their fault or didn’t understand what they agreed to do.
“As dead as a doornail.”
The writer may use this cliché to indicate that a person is very much alive and well. It may also mean that a person’s behavior is lifeless, lacking emotion or life in general.
“To wake up on the wrong side of the bed.”
This means that someone has a negative outlook on life and spends their days in a bad mood. You may use this cliché if someone wakes up before the sun is up. You may also use it on someone if they don’t want to get out of bed at all.
“The fish comes around when you least expect it.”
This might mean that someone who isn’t expecting any fish to be caught or that they have to start working for what they want. It may also mean that the speaker has nothing except for a little bit of hope.
It’s worth noting that using cliches in creative writing like poetry, song lyrics, and fiction is okay as long as they’re used correctly.
However, if you plan on publishing your work, then it’s best to stay away from clichés. Some editors won’t take them seriously. They want to publish writing that is free of cliches so it can stand out against the rest of the crowd.
Cliches are often used as a shortcut to describing something. A writer might use them because it’s easier than coming up with their own unique idea, so they opt for a much-used phrase or expression that has a similar meaning.
Tropes take the original idea and make it into an idiom. They do this by finding a theme and focusing on it or by reimagining what something means or how someone uses it.
“He’s as good as gold.”
This cliche could either mean that the person is very dependable and always does what they’re asked to do. It may also be used if a child acts well and doesn’t cause trouble for their parents.
“She’s the silent type.”
The writer may use this cliché to describe someone who isn’t talkative enough. It may also mean someone who has worked hard for what they have and never asks for anything in return.
“I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.”
This might be used by someone who is trying to encourage a friend or loved one. It might be used by someone who has woken up in a bad mood and wants to vent their feelings about it without being too negative.
“The cat got my tongue.”
This cliche might mean that the person doesn’t have anything to say, but this is often expressed in a light-hearted way. It may also mean that someone is being forced against their will to be quiet.
“Avoid like the plague.”
This might be a warning that a potential situation is hazardous, and the person telling it to their friend should avoid it at all costs. The writer may also use this cliché because they want to both highlight how much they dislike something and have a bit of humor about their feelings.
Clichés are often used as a shortcut to describing something. They are often seen as lazy writing. They’re easy to use and don’t require much creativity on the part of the writer. Writers often rely heavily on cliches because they feel like there’s no way around it or that no one would understand if they didn’t use them in their work. While this might be true, it doesn’t mean that someone has no say in the matter. A writer who wants to avoid cliches must be willing to work harder if their intended audience doesn’t understand their meaning.
On the other hand, some writers use cliches purposely because they want to have fun with them or make something seem more relatable.
For example, a writer might use a cliche to make something more relatable to their audience. They may also use clichés to make jokes or be humorous with the language that they’re using. It is essential to be original when writing, but it’s also okay to have fun with what you’re writing.
The difference between cliches and tropes is that clichés are overused phrases and expressions, but the cliches may be turned into tropes by adding a theme, reimagining the meaning, or finding a new way to use them.
We hope this article has helped you become more aware of the clichés used in written language and how to use them. What are your favorite clichés to use when writing or reading? Let us know in the comments!