It’s Raining Cats and Dogs – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

It’s raining cats and dogs means heavy rain is falling with great force or in large quantities. The phrase’s origin is a bit mysterious, but it has been in use since at least the 1700s. Idioms like this one are words and phrases used figuratively to describe something—in this case, how heavy it is raining. They are important to understand so you can master the English language.

For example, when the monsoons sweep through the Southeast region of North America where I live, we say, “It rains cats and dogs for about 20 minutes every afternoon, so stay inside and stay safe.” This is because the streets will flood and can strand you in your car if you are caught in the rain.

Keep reading to understand the full meaning behind the expression and how you can use it to strengthen your English grammar skills.

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs Meaning

Its Raining Cats and Dogs – Idiom Meaning and Origin

It’s raining cats and dogs is an idiom that means it’s raining extremely heavily. This expression uses a metaphor to describe a downpour of rain that is intense and forceful, as if cats and dogs were falling from the sky. It’s a colorful way of expressing heavy rain.

Using It’s Raining Cats and Dogs in Sentences

  • We had to cancel our outdoor picnic because it started raining cats and dogs.
  • I forgot my umbrella, and it started raining cats and dogs as soon as I stepped outside.
  • The storm came out of nowhere, and it was raining cats and dogs for hours.
  • Bring an umbrella with you; the weather forecast says it’s going to be raining cats and dogs all day.
  • When we left the movie theater, it was a beautiful day, but by the time we got home, it was suddenly raining cats and dogs.
  • The soccer game was postponed because of the torrential rain, and we could see why—it was truly raining cats and dogs out there.

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs Synonyms

These synonyms convey the idea of intense or heavy rainfall, often used to describe a significant amount of precipitation falling at once.

  • Pouring rain
  • Heavy downpour
  • Torrential rainfall
  • Deluge
  • Bucketing down
  • Drenching rain

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs Origins

Raining Cats and Dogs Ngram
Raining cats and dogs usage trend.

Many sources claim that it’s raining cats and dogs is an extension of the term “like cats and dogs” from the later 16th century. “Like cats and dogs” was commonly used to describe strife or enmity as a reference to dogs being the natural enemy of cats—and thus a nod to their violent fights.

In “The Schoole of Abuse, Conteining a plesaunt inuective against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Iesters and such like Caterpillers of a Commonwelth,” this animosity is first documented in a figurative manner. This particular reflection was written by Stephen Gosson, a Church of England clergyman, in 1579:

He that compareth our [musical] instruments, with those that were used in ancient times, shall see them agree like Dogges and Cattes, and meete as iump as Germans lippes.

The oldest known use to describe weather occurred in 1651 in “Olor Uscanus,” a collection of poems by Henry Vaughan in which he alludes to a roof that was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.”

Jonathon Swift was also a fan of the expression, often including it in his various publications. It is seen in his satirical poem “A Description of a City Shower,” published in the 1710 collection of the Tatler magazine. The poem was a satirical denunciation of contemporary London society.

Sweeping from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Swift also uses it in POLITE CONVERSATION IN THREE DIALOGUES, published in 1738:

“I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs”

Let’s Review

When you use the idiom it’s raining cats and dogs, you are describing a torrential or heavy downfall of rain. It creates an emphasis on the storm and also adds interest and description to your speech (or writing) in a figurative manner.

Although the exact origins are questionable, the term is likely an extension of the figurative use of dog and cat fights, which can be quite violent and intense.