18 Idioms for Jealousy

jealousy metaphor simile and idiom, explained below

Idioms for jealousy include “green with envy” and “sour grapes”. The below examples are idioms that are either about or related to the emotion of jealousy.

By employing these idioms, we can more effectively express this emotion, providing colorful and expressive descriptions of its numerous facets.

Perhaps the most famous jealousy idiom, green with envy, emerged in the English language around the late 1800s. As the below graph from Google’s historical data suggests, this phrase and has remained in use in English ever since:

A Note from Chris: Teachers, use the comprehension quiz at the end of this article in your class to assess your students’ understanding of these idioms!

chrisAbout the Author: has a PhD in Education. He has been a teacher in schools and universities and has taught English as a Second Language in Colombia. He is former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

Idioms for Jealousy

1. Green with envy

Meaning: This idiom reflects an intense desire for someone else’s possessions or advantages, showcasing jealousy visually through the color green.

When to use: Employ this phrase when describing a person who is deeply jealous of someone else’s possessions or situation.

In a sentence: “Watching his rival receive the award, he was green with envy, feeling he deserved the accolade.”

2. The green-eyed monster

Meaning: This phrase anthropomorphizes jealousy, turning it into a monstrous creature that symbolizes the destructive potential of the emotion.

When to use: Use it when illustrating how jealousy can negatively affect someone’s behavior or personality.

In a sentence: “When she saw him talking to another woman, the green-eyed monster reared its ugly head.”

3. Keeping up with the Joneses

Meaning: This idiom indicates a competitive envy, where individuals seek to emulate or surpass others in terms of material possessions.

When to use: Utilize this idiom when discussing a situation where people are trying to equal the social status or wealth of their neighbors or peers.

In a sentence: “Buying a new car just because their neighbors did is a classic case of keeping up with the Joneses.”

4. Sour grapes

Meaning: It denotes pretending to despise what one cannot have, disguising jealousy or envy with disdain.

When to use: Use this idiom when describing a situation where someone is disguising their envy by pretending they don’t care.

In a sentence: “Claiming that the promotion wasn’t that important to her anyway was just sour grapes.”

5. Cast in a bad light

Meaning: This idiom means portraying someone in a negative way, often out of envy or spite.

When to use: Use it when explaining how jealousy can make someone purposefully defame another person.

In a sentence: “Out of jealousy, she spread rumors about her colleague to cast her in a bad light.”

6. Cut down to size

Meaning: It refers to diminishing someone’s social standing or ego, often stemming from a place of jealousy.

When to use: Apply this idiom when discussing actions taken to diminish someone’s reputation due to envy.

In a sentence: “Jealous of his success, she spread false stories to cut him down to size.”

7. Bitter pill to swallow

Meaning: This phrase refers to accepting a hard truth, often one which sparks feelings of jealousy or resentment.

When to use: Use this idiom to describe a situation that is difficult to accept, especially when it sparks jealousy.

In a sentence: “Seeing her best friend get the role she auditioned for was a bitter pill to swallow.”

8. A covetous eye

Meaning: This idiom represents desiring others’ possessions, status, or attributes with an insatiable longing.

When to use: Use this idiom when someone is envying another person’s possessions or qualities.

In a sentence: “He always looked at his neighbor’s luxurious car with a covetous eye.”

9. Eat your heart out

Meaning: This phrase indicates a bitter longing or jealousy towards someone else’s achievements or possessions.

When to use: Deploy this idiom to depict a bitter, spiteful kind of jealousy.

In a sentence: “Eat your heart out, I got the last ticket to the concert.”

10. Dark horse

Meaning: This idiom describes an unexpected competitor, often causing envy among others.

When to use: Use this idiom when someone unexpectedly emerges as a competitor, sparking jealousy among others.

In a sentence: “Nobody expected her to land the lead role; she was certainly the dark horse in that race.”

11. Drawing the short straw

Meaning: It refers to being selected for an undesirable outcome, often evoking jealousy towards the lucky ones.

When to use: Utilize this idiom when discussing feeling unlucky or envying others’ fortune.

In a sentence: “Having to work over the holidays while his friends partied, he truly drew the short straw.”

12. Eyeing the main chance

Meaning: It involves looking for opportunities to advance oneself at the expense of others, often driven by envy.

When to use: Employ this idiom when describing actions motivated by the envy of others’ positions.

In a sentence: “Eyeing the main chance, he used his rival’s mistake to make himself look good in front of the boss.”

13. Fanning the flames

Meaning: This idiom implies inciting or exacerbating negative feelings, such as jealousy, among people.

When to use: Use this idiom to explain when someone is intensifying an already negative or jealous situation.

In a sentence: “By comparing the two siblings, their parents were unknowingly fanning the flames of jealousy between them.”

14. Grasping at straws

Meaning: It indicates desperately seeking solutions or advantages, often stirred by seeing others prosper.

When to use: Use it to describe actions taken out of desperation, often driven by jealousy.

In a sentence: “Seeing his peers excel, he started investing recklessly, clearly grasping at straws.”

15. In someone’s shadow

Meaning: Living in someone’s shadow means being overlooked or obscured due to another person’s accomplishments or presence.

When to use: Utilize this idiom when discussing feeling inferior or jealous due to another’s achievements.

In a sentence: “Always coming second to his talented brother, he felt like he was living in his shadow.”

16. The pot calling the kettle black

Meaning: Criticizing others for faults one possesses themselves, often originating from a place of envy.

When to use: Use this idiom when a person criticizes others for flaws that they themselves exhibit, possibly out of jealousy.

In a sentence: “He accused her of being jealous, which was truly the pot calling the kettle black.”

17. Pouring salt on the wounds

Meaning: Intensifying negative feelings, like jealousy, by reminding of someone’s failures or misfortunes.

When to use: Apply this idiom when describing actions that amplify pain or envy intentionally.

In a sentence: “Telling him how much fun he missed at the party was like pouring salt on his wounds.”

18. Red with rage

Meaning: Exhibiting anger, often stemming from jealousy or resentment, as indicated by the color red.

When to use: Use it to describe an extreme anger that may have roots in envy.

In a sentence: “Seeing her talk to her ex, he was red with rage, jealousy bubbling within.”

Comprehension Worksheet

Question 1: What does the idiom “Green with envy” visually portray about the emotion of jealousy?

A) It associates jealousy with the color blue.
B) It associates jealousy with the color green.
C) It associates jealousy with the color red.
D) None of the above.

Question 2: Which idiom would be apt to use when someone is pretending not to care about something they cannot have?

A) Keeping up with the Joneses
B) Sour grapes
C) Dark horse
D) A covetous eye

Question 3: What does the idiom “The pot calling the kettle black” convey about criticism and personal flaws?

A) Praising others for good qualities.
B) Criticizing others for faults one also has.
C) Appreciating one’s own qualities.
D) Acknowledging only the faults of others.

Question 4: Which idiom illustrates the act of trying to equal the wealth or status of peers or neighbors?

A) Keeping up with the Joneses
B) Green with envy
C) Sour grapes
D) Eyeing the main chance

Question 5: When someone is depicting jealousy by visibly appearing angered and upset, which idiom could describe their emotional state?

A) Bitter pill to swallow
B) Red with rage
C) Dark horse
D) Pouring salt on the wounds

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