Study 30 English idioms that describe PEOPLE

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Let’s study beautiful idioms to talk about PEOPLE! Idioms are fun, descriptive ways to refer to friends, colleagues, neighbours and family as you talk about them in English!
Study and practise 30 beautiful English idioms with me and don’t forget to share your homework in the comments!

You’ll learn some interesting idioms to help you describe people – names you can call them – in English, including:
early bird
night owl
lucky duck
smart aleck
smart cookie
Lone wolf
And many more!

Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish. I’ve got a fun lesson for you today. Thirty beautifully descriptive idioms that we use to refer to people. These idioms act as nouns in English sentences and they are brilliant, entertaining ways to refer to people when you speak or when you write.

There are thirty English idioms in this lesson, so what I recommend is not to try and learn all of them at once, but as you’re watching take note of some of the ones that you can use to describe people or to refer to people in your life like friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues.

When I’m talking and I’m introducing each idiom, if someone pops into your head and you think that’s so and so!

This is a really good idiom for you to learn because you can start associating the idiom and the meaning with someone who’s present in your life and that makes it easy to remember.

I’ve got some homework for you too. When you finish watching this lesson write a short paragraph about these people in your life, add it down into the comments below so that I can read about all of these characters but also share a little bit of feedback or maybe make some corrections if you need it.

Do you know what my favourite thing about teaching you English idioms is?

I always get to learn so many interesting idioms from you down in the comments. Idioms from your own native language. Idioms that express similar ideas to the ones that I’m sharing but maybe they’re slightly different, and I love that about idioms. So don’t hold back if you have one that you want to share.

Write it down in the comments below. Share it in your native language, plus the translation so that we can all learn something new!

1. Lone wolf

The first one is a lone wolf. A lone wolf, and this is a person who likes working or likes doing things without other people.

So they’re quite independent and they’re quite happy to be on their own. In fact, a lone wolf, probably prefers to be on their own.

As I mentioned in the introduction, all of these idioms are nouns. So in a sentence, they would replace a word like woman or guy or person.

  • He or she is a lone wolf.
  • John’s a bit of a lone wolf actually. He prefers to spend his holidays up in the mountains hiking alone.

2. Party animal

Next up, we have party animal. A party animal. Someone who enjoys parties and they go to as many as they can. They’re always out and about. They love staying up late, dancing and having a good time. They’re a party animal. They can’t stop.

Do you know any party animals?

3. A dark horse

I really love this idiom because these people, they always surprise you, but in a really positive way.

A dark horse is a person who keeps their ability, their skill or their achievements a secret. So when you do finally discover it, it surprises you. You’re like: “Wow! I had no idea!”

Like one of my students. Really shy, hardly ever spoke for a long time but then one day, I found out she can speak ten languages! I had no idea. She’d never mentioned it before.

4. A team player

A team player is someone who works really well with other people, as part of a group. It’s a pretty common idiom. You might have heard it before, and it often comes up in professional context like at an interview, when you might get asked if you’re a team player.

If they ask this, the right answer is: “Yes. I’m a team player.”

5. A culture vulture

Say that with me. Culture vulture. This idiom is a little outdated, but still it appears really frequently in media and literature so it’s definitely one to be aware of.

What’s a culture vulture? It’s someone who really loves culture, in all forms. They can’t get enough of art and theatre and literature and music. All of those things.

6. An early bird

I think this is probably one of the very first idioms that you ever learned, right? An early bird is someone who is early.

Usually someone who gets up early in the morning. They’re awake as the sun comes up. But it can also be used to refer to people who are first to do something. You know? It doesn’t have to be that they wake up early, though it’s often the case.

Being an early bird is definitely a good thing and the idiom is inspired by an old English proverb, that says: ‘The early bird gets the worm‘. Those who are first get the reward. Right?

So now, do you know the opposite of an early bird?

7. Night owl

Well it’s a night owl of course, and night owls are people who feel like they function better during the night. They prefer to be awake at night, not in the morning.

So what about you? Are you a night owl or an early bird?

8. A go-getter

Say it with me. A go-getter.

A go-getter is someone who is ambitious. They pursue their goals. They know what they want and they go after it. They’re a go-getter.

So it’s a really positive idiom. Do you think of yourself as a bit of a go-getter?

Or if not, maybe you can think of someone else in your life who is a go-getter, someone who knows exactly what they want, they go after it.

9. A good egg

A good egg is just a good person.

  • You didn’t need to spend your weekend helping me to move into my new house. You’re a good egg.

10. A bad egg

But equally, someone can be a bad egg. A bad egg. And that’s a bad person.

  • Don’t be a bad egg.

11. A jack-of-all-trades.

There’s some really great linking there for you to practise. Jack of all.

A jack-of-all-trades is someone who is really good at doing several different jobs instead of only being specialised in one thing.

  • From designing through to construction, Frank can do it all. He’s a jack-of-all-trades.

When used in this context it’s a positive thing. Frank can help you with anything, he can do it all.

But be careful here because this expression is not always positive. Usually, a jack-of-all-trades is a good thing but they are not excellent at any one of them.

So another common expression that we use is jack- of-all-trades, master of none.

This person can do lots of things but they can’t do them all well. They’re not an expert, they’re not a specialist.

The easiest way to think about this is someone who comes to your house to fix something if you have a problem with the tiles in your bathroom, there is the type of person who can come and fix that and do a perfect job of it because they are trained only in that.

And then there’s the guy who does doors and roofs and builds houses and fixes things and puts hooks on the wall. He does everything, he’s never going to do a job as good as the expert.

12. A man/woman of his word

This is a lovely one, a man of his word or a woman of her word. This is a reliable, trustworthy person, someone who always does whatever it is they promise that they will do.

They stay true to the words that they say.

13. A mover and shaker

So this is an influential person, someone who makes things happen. Often politicians and leaders might be a mover and shaker.

  • I only know my grandma in her retirement but apparently, she was a real mover and shaker back in the day! She fought to introduce new regulations that ensured all children had access to free education.

14. A smart cookie

A smart cookie refers to someone who is really clever. They’re good at dealing with difficult situations or solving problems.

  • What’s that? You already know all of these idioms? Well, aren’t you a smart cookie then?

15. The teacher’s pet

If you’re a smart cookie then you might be the teacher’s pet. I’m sure that you can think of, if you think back to your classes at school, your teacher’s favourite student in the class. This is the teacher’s pet. Usually they’re the best or they’re the most helpful student in the class. The best, the most helpful.

This idiom is always used with the definite article, the.

The teacher doesn’t have multiple pets. They only have one favourite. You can only have one favourite.

  • It’s not fair. The teacher’s never angry with Jim when he forgets to do his homework. He’s the teacher’s pet.

16. A creature of habit

You can use this idiom to talk about yourself or other people especially if your routine is always the same and you really like it that way, then you’re a creature of habit.

You always choose the same thing on the menu, every time you go to the restaurant. Or you always go to the same fish and chip shop down the road even though everyone says the new one is better, you still just keep going to that one because it’s what you know and you like it.

17. A smooth talker

This person is really good at persuading other people to do what they want or to get themselves out of trouble. They can even convince people of things that are not true or convince you to do something that you never intended to do.

  • The salesman was a real smooth talker.

18. A busybody

I’m sure you know someone who’s a busybody. Someone who is overly interested in the lives of other people or what are they doing, what’s happening there.

  • Laura is always peering out her window to see what her neighbours are up to – she’s such a busybody!

19. A cheapskate
A tightarse

If someone is stingy with their money or maybe they’re quite obsessive about avoiding to spend money then you could call them a cheapskate or a tightarse.

But don’t say it to their face. This is not a compliment, you don’t want anyone to hear you talking about them in that way.

  • George is such a tightarse. He never offers to pay but he’s happy for me to pay the bill!

20. A fuddy-duddy

Try it, say it with me. Fuddy-duddy, a fuddy-duddy. This is someone who is quite old-fashioned in their ways or maybe in the way that they think, their ideas are a bit old-fashioned. They’re quite conservative and a little boring.

So again this is definitely not a compliment, you don’t want to say you’re a fuddy-duddy.

  • Mr Smith’s such an old fuddy-duddy. I can’t stand any of his history classes.

21. A goody-goody

This is someone who always appears to be perfect, doing the right thing. They try very hard to please people in authority so especially people like teachers or parents or any superior.

So it’s quite similar to the teacher’s pet but it’s a bit more general. A goody-goody is not usually liked by everyone else because they’re always sucking up to the teacher, the parents, you know doing the right thing when the rest of us are doing the wrong thing

  • Like Jeremy, he’s always handing in his homework early. He’s such a goody-goody.

22. A know-it-all

Say it with me, a know-it-all. This idiom is exactly as it sounds. Someone who knows everything or more accurately someone who thinks they know everything and they go around making sure that everyone knows that they’re intelligent and they have all the answers.

So it’s usually used spitefully, it’s not a compliment.

  • Rob is constantly correcting his boss and his brother and his parents, he’s such a know-it-all.

23. A gold digger

This is also not a compliment, it’s quite a nasty thing to say about someone actually. It’s someone who is in a relationship with someone else only because they’re rich.

So usually you’re making an assumption about someone else’s relationship when you use this idiom. It implies that they’re not there for love or for anything meaningful, they’re there for the other person’s money.

24. A lucky duck

If you did come into a bit of money then I’d say you’re a lucky duck. Do you know anyone who’s won a big prize or had something great happened to them? You can always say you’re a lucky duck.

25. Party poopers

I use this idiom all the time myself. Don’t be a party pooper.

A party pooper is someone who ruins all of the fun. Now it could be at a party but it could also be someone who doesn’t want to participate in an activity that everyone else is doing.

Well they’re just being really negative and they’re saying no to everything. Party poopers say:

  • No.
  • I don’t want to do it.
  • I don’t want to go there.
  • I’m going home.

They’re party poopers, they ruin all the fun.

Can you think of the time or someone that you know who’s a party pooper?

26. A penny pincher

Now this is not quite as negative as cheapskate and tightarse. They’re the ones that I mentioned earlier and they’re quite an insult. A penny pincher refers to someone who is very careful about the money that they spend. They’re quite thrifty, cautious with their money.

  • Martha never spends any more than she actually needs to, she’s extremely careful with her money.

So we can say she’s a penny pincher.

27. A backseat driver

Okay this is another one I use all the time. Imagine that you’re driving a car and someone is sitting in the back seat behind you telling you how to drive.

  • Overtake that car.
  • Don’t go so fast.
  • This isn’t the best route.
  • Going on the ring road would have been way quicker.

That person sitting back there, they’re a backseat driver telling you what to do even though you’re perfectly capable of doing it yourself.

And it can be used in the context of driving in the car, don’t be a backseat driver.

But it can be used in other contexts too when someone is watching over your shoulder or telling you how to do something that you already know how to do.

  • All right backseat driver, I’ve got this.

28. A worrywart

Worrywarts are people who worry too much. They worry about unimportant things, things that don’t really matter.

So people who are anxious, nervous, uncertain people, they tend to be worrywarts. They worry about all the things that could go wrong when they don’t need to.

  • Stop being such a worrywart. We’ll be fine!

29. A smart alec
A smart arse

So a smart alec is someone who thinks they are highly intelligent and they try to demonstrate this to others all of the time. A smart arse is more common here in Australia and I think that smart alec is more common in the UK, correct me if I’m wrong, let me know in the comments.

But we use smart arse more commonly here in Australia and smart arses often like to contradict or correct others so they’re not usually liked or it’s sort of a little bit annoying to have a smart arse around.

  • After my presentation, Steve publicly questioned the accuracy of my research, that smart arse was just trying to look good in front of the boss.

30. A straight shooter
A straight talker

That’s someone who speaks the truth even if it hurts a little.

  • Brad is a really straight talker. He’s not going to sugarcoat his feedback. He’ll make sure that you know what worked well and what you need to improve.

We did it! Thirty beautifully descriptive idioms that you can use to talk about the people in your life.

If you’re ready for some pronunciation practice that’s where we’re headed next. Come join me right here!

Links mentioned in the video

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