Animal English: Vocabulary in Use

Animal English: Vocabulary in Use

“I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same thing about people.”

Doris Day,  an American actress, singer and animal welfare activist

This post will look at vocabulary connected with the animal world. It’ll teach you to describe animals and birds, typical animal behavior, animal life, etc. There are also a few useful animal idioms that you might like to use in various everyday situations. Read on…


It’s not our intention to go into biology, but here are a few words you should know:

  • mammal – an animal that is born from its mother’s body, not from an egg, and drinks its mother’s milk as a baby: The blue whale is the biggest mammal. 
  • marsupial /mɑː(r)ˈsuːpiəl/ – an animal whose babies live in a pocket in the mother’s skin on the outside of her stomach until they are completely developed. The pocket is called a pouch /paʊtʃ/: The kangaroo is a marsupial. 
  • rodent – a type of small animal that has long sharp front teeth: Mice and rats are very common rodents. 
  • reptile – a type of cold-blooded animal that gives birth to young animals as eggs and whose body is covered in scales: Snakes and lizards are common reptiles. 
  • carnivore /ˈkɑː(r)nɪvɔː(r)/ – an animal that eats other animals: The lion is a carnivore. In everyday life we usually use the word “predator” to describe animals that kill and eat other animals; a bird that hunts and eats other animals is called a bird of prey.
  • herbivore /ˈhɜː(r)bɪˌvɔː(r)– an animal that eats only plants: The deer is a herbivore.
  • omnivore /ˈɒmnɪˌvɔː(r)– an animal that eats both plants and meat: Humans are omnivores. 
  • scavenger /ˈskavɪn(d)ʒə/ – an animal that feeds on dead animals which it hasn’t killed itself: The hyena is a scavenger. 


My cat is docile but my dog is overactive and sometimes uncontrollable. We must take Bailey to obedience training.

Nara Park in Japan is famous for its tame deer.

It’s hard to imagine our life without domesticated animals like dogs, cats and horses.

Wild cats are gorgeous creatures.

A savage wolf killed 2 sheep last night.

A fierce dog guards the gates.

The tiger is a solitary animal, while the penguin is social.

This cat is feral, you’d better not come close.

Stray dogs are so depressing.

Mules, horses and camels are pack animals.

  • docile /ˈdəʊsaɪl/ – behaving very gently
  • tame – not afraid of humans, usually because of training or long involvement with humans
  • domesticated – living with or being used by humans (opposite: wild)
  • savage /ˈsævɪdʒ/ – likely to attack
  • fierce /fɪə(r)s/ – very angry + ready to attack
  • solitary – spending much time alone (opposite: social)
  • feral – an animal that lives in a wild state but that was once kept as a pet or lived on a farm
  • stray – lost or without a home
  • pack – a pack animal used for carrying heavy loads
The horse is a pack animal.


Mining operations may have a range of environmental impacts, including land degradation, water pollution, air pollution and destruction of natural habitat.

The Tasmanian tiger became extinct in the 20th century.

You can see lots of animals in the big game parks in Africa.

On Grand Cayman /ˈkeɪmən/, a botanical park and bird sanctuary provide safe environments for endangered species of birds and lizards.

It’s an animal shelter, but it’s shut down due to budget cuts.

  • natural habitat – an ecological or environmental area where a specific species /ˈspiːʃiːzlives
  • extinct /ɪkˈstɪŋkt– no longer existing (noun: extinction)
  • game park – a large area of land, especially in Africa, where wild animals can live safely (game is wild animals, birds, and fish that people hunt)
  • bird sanctuary /ˈsæŋktʃuəri– an area of land in which birds are protected and encouraged to breed
  • animal shelter – a place where stray, lost, abandoned or surrendered animals, mostly dogs and cats, are kept and rehabilitated


If you are interested in animal idioms, you may want to check out our posts on cat and dog idioms. Here, let’s look at farm and other animal idioms:

Sometimes I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse. Maybe I really need a career change.

Guess what? Chris is going to work in Sydney! I got it straight from the horse’s mouth!

You can try to persuade me until the cows come home, but I’ll never agree.

This challenge will sort the sheep from the goats.

I’m the black sheep of the family.

I’m sick and tired of your crocodile tears!

You may try to change him but a leopard can’t change its spots.

He complained his business was about to fail so often that no one believed him when it finally did – he cried wolf too often.

She looks kind but she is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Everyone here is thinking about the divorce but no one wants to mention it – it’s the elephant in the room.

  • to flog a dead horse – to waste time on something that you know is not going to happen
  • straight from the horse’s mouth – directly from someone who knows
  • until the cows come home – for a very long time
  • to sort the sheep from the goats – to find the people/things of high quality from a group of mixed quality
  • black sheep – someone who is not approved of by the other members of their family or the group they belong to because they are thought to behave badly
  • crocodile tears – sympathy or sadness that is not sincere
  • a leopard can’t change its spots – someone will never change their behavior or character
  • to cry wolf – to keep saying that there is a problem when there is not, with the result that people do not believe you when there really is a problem
  • a wolf in sheep’s clothing – someone who seems friendly but is in fact unpleasant or cruel
  • the elephant in the room – a serious problem that everyone is aware of but no one wants to talk about

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