Canaries are active, cheerful birds. And they are known for their ability to sing. Some animal experts say they are among the best singing birds. You can even train a young canary to sing. And they can sing for hours!

So, if someone says that you sing like a canary, you would think that they mean you sing cheerfully all day long!

But that is not what singing like a canary means. Not even a little.

In English, if you sing like a canary, you are reporting on someone to high-level officials, like the police.

Let’s say police officers question someone suspected of a crime. . Wanting to avoid jail time, she sings like a canary and provides details about the people who helped him carry out the crime.

In fact, even after the police have enough evidence, he keeps on talking, telling them about other crimes. He is like a canary that cannot stop singing!

In this case, you could also say that she snitched or ratted on her criminal friends. If I snitch or rat on someone, I can also simply say that I have told on them. 

 People love canaries and keep them as pets. They are happy, harmless little birds.

To say someone “sang like a canary” simply states what the bird does naturally and often. It sings! The expression does not mean that the birds are bad. Also it does not liken them to criminals.

So, if someone sings like a canary and rats on their friends, we would never call them a “canary.” But, we could call them a rat. Canaries, it seems, are easier to love than rats.

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.


snitch (v.) /ˈsnɪtʃ/ - disapproving : to tell someone in authority (such as the police or a teacher) about something wrong that someone has done

  • Someone must have snitched to the police.


rat (v.) /ˈræt/ - to tell someone in authority (such as the police) about something wrong that someone has done : to betray someone

  • The teacher knows what we did, which means that somebody ratted.


pet (n.) /ˈpɛt/ - n animal (such as a dog, cat, bird, or fish) that people keep mainly for pleasure

  • He caught a snake and kept it as a pet for several years.



Exercise 2 


Answer these questions about the article.


  1. What are canaries known for?
  2. Can you train a canary how to sing?
  3. What does it mean to "Sing like a canary?"


Exercise 3

Fill in the blanks

Fill in the blanks with the correct word listed below.

snitch, rat, pet


  1. I love my pet ______.
  2. He may be a criminal, but he is not a _____.
  3. My ______ is a dog.


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

  1. Have you ever heard of "Sing like a canary"?
  2. Did you ever tell on anyone?
  3. Has someone told on you?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by learningenglish.voanews.