Is the simile phrase:

flying like a bird

an example of collocation, with the close ‘expected’ relationship between flying and bird?

  • 1
    no, it has nothing to do with it. an example of collocation with "bird" would just be "big bird", perhaps. with "flying", maybe "high flying". it literally means nothing more than a pair of words that are often seen together.
    – Fattie
    Jun 11, 2015 at 5:40
  • 1
    I'm with @JoeBlow. Collocations usually occur in pairs. What you've got there is a plain old simile. Btw, something can also fly like an arrow, or an eagle, or even a G6.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 11, 2015 at 8:53
  • 1
    @Joe Blow ODO's 'the habitual juxtaposition of a particular word with another word or words with a frequency greater than chance' allows for longer strings. Jun 11, 2015 at 12:43
  • 1
    CDO is even more definite: 'a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives, but might not be expected from the meaning:' English Club lists 'burst into tears' as an example. Jun 11, 2015 at 16:13
  • 1
    @TusharRaj if this is not a common collocation then why don't we say "Fly like a bee" or "fly like an insect" or "Fly like a kite" or "fly like a plane"? We say "bird" because that is usually the first image that comes to our mind when we think of something flying, and there's also the oft said expression "free as a bird". It's never "free as an escaped convict" :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 13, 2015 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


Well, according to Google Ngrams the expression "fly like a bird" (blue line) is by miles, more common than "fly like a plane" (green line); "fly like an insect" (which turned up no results) and "fly like a butterfly" (yellow line). Tushar Raj's suggestions: "fly like an arrow"(purple) and "fly like an eagle" (red) which fared slightly better than the former; however, neither came close to the OP's simile. Consequently, I'd say that fly like a bird is a very common simile and collocation of two words: fly and bird. It is so frequently heard and used that nowadays, many would classify it as a worn out cliché.

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Another Ngram shows the results in descending order using Google's wildcard

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Interestingly, there was the simile "fly like a swallow" (pink line) which enjoyed its peak between 1887 and 1889. The results show different publications containing Honoré de Balzac's story The Exiles

When the rustle of the Countess' approach was audible, a boatman suddenly stood up, helped the fair laundress to take her seat in it, and rowed with such strength as to make the boat fly like a swallow down the stream.

Richard Nordquist, noted linguist, writes

collocation (words)

A familiar grouping of words, especially words that habitually appear together and thereby convey meaning by association.

Collocational range refers to the set of items that typically accompany a word. The size of a collocational range is partially determined by a word's level of specificity and number of meanings.

Similar clichés using VERB+LIKE+A+NOUN are:

  • cry like a baby
  • drink like a fish
  • eat like a bird
  • eat like a pig
  • fit like a glove
  • fly like a bird
  • grow like Topsy
  • laugh like a drain
  • sing like a bird
  • sink like a stone
  • smile like a Cheshire cat
  • swear like a trooper
  • swim like a fish
  • sweat like a pig
  • watch like a hawk

Source: Wiktionary

  • 1
    This is very comprehensive, most informative. It is just what I was after. Thank you.
    – melita
    Jun 14, 2015 at 4:02
  • @melita if this is the case, would you mind accepting the answer? It's the check mark under the arrow, click on it and users will see that your question has been answered. Thank you.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 14, 2015 at 4:55

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