Ukrainian idioms, proverbs, and expressions are an important part of everyday Ukrainian. Learning to use common idioms and expressions will make your Ukrainian sound more natural, so it’s a good idea to master some of these expressions.

Because idioms don’t always make sense literally, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the meaning and usage of each idiom. That may seem like a lot of work, but learning idioms is fun. 🙂

None of the idioms on this page are unusual or old-fashioned, so you can be confident using any of them with native Ukrainian speakers.

1. Про вовка промовка – “Talking about the wolf”

Something that you say when someone you have been talking or thinking about suddenly appears.

  • Ти сьогодні бачила Петра? О, а ось і він! Про вовка промовка.
  • Did you see Peter today? Oh, here he comes! Speak of the devil.

2. Показати де раки зимують – “To show where the crayfish is wintering”

Often used as a threat. To punish, to teach someone a lesson, to show someone what’s what.

  • Я покажу тобі де раки зимують! 😡
  • I’ll teach you a lesson!

3. Біла ворона – “A white crow”

This idiom is used to describe a person who is unusual or extraordinary, not like others. It can be translated in English as “a black sheep” or just an odd person. Біла ворона is someone who stands out of a group (looks different, behaves differently).

  • У школі її називали білою вороною, бо вона ніколи не гралась з іншими дітьми і весь свій вільний час проводила за читанням книг.
  • At school, she used to be called an odd bird as she never played with other children, and she spent all her free time reading books.

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4. Підсунути свиню – “To plant a pig on someone”

To do a vile thing to someone, to make trouble for someone surreptitiously.

  • Я не думала, що ти підсунеш мені таку свиню. 😟
  • I didn’t expect that you would play such a dirty trick.

5. Купити кота в мішку – “To buy a cat in a sack”

To buy or accept something without examining it carefully first, with the possibility that it may be something of poor quality or not what you want.

  • Візьміть машину на тест-драйв спочатку. Ви ж не хочете купити кота в мішку, чи не так?
  • Take the car for a test drive first. You don’t want to buy a pig in a poke, do you?

6. Німий як риба – “Mute as a fish”

Someone that says very little or nothing (often in order to keep a secret); reserved, uncommunicative.

  • Не хвилюйся! Я не видам твій секрет. Я буду німий як риба.
  • Don’t worry! Your secret’s safe with me. I won’t breathe a word to anyone.

7. Як дві краплі води – “Like two drops of water”

To bear a very close resemblance, to be exactly alike.

  • Брати схожі один на одного як дві краплі води.
  • The brothers are two peas in a pod.

8. Крапля в морі – “A drop in the sea”

An insignificant amount (when compared with the amount that is needed, was previously available, etc.).

  • Зібрані гроші це лише крапля в морі.
  • The collected money is just a drop in the ocean.

9. Чекати з моря погоди – “To wait for the weather from the sea”

To wait before doing something, not undertaking any action, to wait while there’s no point in waiting.

  • Вона чекає з моря погоди.
  • She is waiting for the sun to shine.
  • Немає сенсу чекати з моря погоди. Потрібно брати справу в наші руки.
  • There is no point waiting for the grass to grow. We have to take matters into our own hands.

10. Два чоботи – пара – “Two shoes make a pair”

The two people in question are similar with regard to personality traits, behaviors, etc. (which are usually negative or undesirable).

  • Петро такий самий як і ти. Два чоботи – пара.
  • Petro is just like you. Two shoes make a pair.

11. Під каблуком – “Under (one’s) heel”

Completely under the control or influence of someone, entirely dependent on someone (often of a husband in relation to his wife).

  • Оксана тримає Петра під каблуком.
  • Oksana keeps Petro under her thumb.

12. Заварити кашу – “To make porridge”

To cause a situation that brings about troublesome or unpleasant consequences.

  • Яку ж кашу він заварив… і для чого?!
  • What a mess he stirred up… and what for?!

13. Ложка дьогтю у бочці меду – “A spoonful of tar in a barrel of honey”

Something small that spoils something valuable and nice; a single thing that is spoiling a situation that could have been very positive or enjoyable.

  • Загалом, це була чудова відпустка! Ложка дьогтю у бочці меду – поганий готель, це був єдиний недолік.
  • All in all, it was a great vacation! The fly in the ointment at the hotel was the only downside.

14. Гратися з вогнем – “To play with fire”

To do something dangerous or risky, to do something that could cause you trouble later.

  • Ти можеш втратити багато грошей, якщо зв’яжешся з цим проєктом. Ти граєш з вогнем! Думаю, це афера.
  • You may lose a lot of money if you get involved with this project. You are playing with fire! I think it’s a scam.

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15. Вичавлений лимон – “A squeezed lemon”

Used to talk about a very tired, physically exhausted person.

  • Дай мамі відпочити – вона як вичавлений лимон.
  • Let Mom rest – she’s dead tired.

16. Берегти як зіницю ока – “To guard as the apple of eye”

To guard (cherish) someone or something like the apple of one’s eye; to guard someone or something with one’s life.

  • Ось ваша книга. Вона дуже стара і рідкісна. Бережіть її як зіницю ока.
  • Here’s a book for you. It is very old and rare. Guard it with your life.

17. Розставити всі крапки над “і” – “To put all the dots over the letters “i”

To clarify some matter fully and in all its details, leaving no ambiguities.

  • Давай розставимо всі крапки над “і”.
  • Let’s dot all the i’s.

18. Під лежачий камінь вода не тече – “Under the lying stone water does not flow”

If a person makes no effort, he will make no progress and get nowhere (said when someone is inactive and does nothing toward attaining a goal or furthering some matter, etc.).

  • Треба багато працювати, бо під лежачий камінь вода не тече.
  • I have to work hard because no pain, no gain.

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19. Слово не горобець… – “A word is not a sparrow…”

Words that are said cannot be taken back.

  • Думай, що ти говориш. Бо слово – не горобець, вилетить – не спіймаєш!
  • Think about what you’re saying. A word spoken is past recalling!

20. Копійка гривню береже – “Kopiyka saves hryvnia”

Ukrainian currency is called hryvnia or гривня in Ukrainian. Hryvnia coins are копійки.

  • Моя бабуся завжди каже: “Копійка гривню береже“.
  • My grandma always says, “Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves”.

Learning Ukrainian and looking for great resources?

Check out our list of the 1000 most common words in Ukrainian with interactive flashcards. You can also learn Ukrainian step by step wherever you are with our free Ukrainian Lessons Podcast.