What does the idiom "play cat and mouse with sb" mean?

Are you using the idiom play cat and mouse with sb but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the play cat and mouse with sb idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "play cat and mouse with sb"


The phrase ‘play cat and mouse with someone’ is an idiom used to describe a situation in which someone alternates between being cunningly evasive and pursuing their opponent. The phrase is often used in the context of a game, but it can also be used to describe a political or social situation. The phrase implies a sense of cunning, or outsmarting one’s opponent, but it can also imply a sense of manipulation.


The phrase ‘play cat and mouse’ originates from a story in Aesop’s Fables. It tells the story of a mouse who escapes its pursuer by running to and fro in a confusing manner. This story was used as a moral lesson to teach the idea that one should not run away in the face of danger, but instead remain still and allow the danger to pass. The phrase ‘play cat and mouse’ was later adapted to refer to various games of pursuit, including chess and checkers.


The phrase ‘play cat and mouse with someone’ is most commonly used in a literal sense, to describe a game in which one person attempts to outwit their opponent by alternately playing evasive and aggressive strategies. It is also often used in a metaphorical sense, to describe situations in which someone is cunningly evading another person or group in order to gain an advantage. For example, a politician might be said to ‘play cat and mouse’ with their opponents if they are deliberately avoiding giving a clear answer on a controversial issue, or if they are manipulating the situation to their own benefit.

Example Sentences

  • The two politicians had been playing cat and mouse for weeks, each trying to outmaneuver the other.
  • The salesperson tried to play cat and mouse with the customer, but they weren't fooled.
  • The cats were playing a game of cat and mouse with the mouse, but it managed to escape.

The meanings of the words in the "play cat and mouse with sb" idiom

From One Language to Another: Idioms in Translation

Translating idioms from one language to another can be a tricky task, as the cultural context behind an idiom can be difficult to capture. For example, the French phrase "avoir le cafard" translates to "to have the cockroach," which means to feel down or depressed. Similarly, the Chinese idiom "????" (j?ng d? zh? w?) translates to "frog at the bottom of a well," which refers to someone with a narrow view of the world.


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