In time, these lessons and "stubs" will be migrated to the Buzzwords site.
Until then, consider them historical.

A Bird In the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. Have you ever had to give up something "good" to get something "better"?


Last time, James's student Daniel was nervous about an upcoming interview with Microsoft. Now it's a few weeks later, and James asks Daniel what happened.

James: So, Dan, how'd it go?
Daniel: James, you were dead on. That interview was a cinch!
James: Told you so! But, you still look worried. What's going on?
Daniel: Well, I still haven't heard from Microsoft. But meanwhile, I have a couple of other really good offers. One of them is from IBM.
James: Yikes! I see the problem. What are you going to do?
Daniel: I don't know. My dad said to take the IBM offer. He says, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
James: Yeah? What do you think?
Daniel: He's probably right. It's a great offer, and since I have zero experience, I should snap it up.
James: But?
Daniel: But, on the other hand, I really really want the Microsoft job.
James: Yeah. Sounds like you’re between a rock and a hard place.
Daniel: Uh-huh. I don't have to decide on the IBM thing 'til tomorrow, though, so I'm going to sleep on it one more time.
James: Good idea.


"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" dates all the way back to ancient Greece, and has been used in English for over 500 years. It's so familiar that we sometimes shorten it to just, "A bird in the hand..." It means: What we have is twice as valuable as what we might get.

This can really become important in situations where we have to choose between a certainty and a potential benefit, as when we start getting job offers.

More notes:
  • how'd it go: short for "How did it go?"
  • dead on: exactly right
  • a cinch: From the Spanish "cincha," a cinch is type of belt. It is also the strap that goes around a horse's belly. To cinch something means "to tie it tight." So something that is cinched is certain, a sure thing. That is where the idea of "easy" comes from. When a sports team is sure to win, we call the game "a lock," a similar meaning.
  • Told you so: "I told you so" means "Things came out as I predicted." It's also sort of taunting to say this to someone, like "I was right and you were wrong."
  • What's going on?: Although it simply means "What's happening?" it usually has a negative feeling.
  • Yikes!: An expression of surprise, or possibly pain.
  • zero experience: "zero" is used here to mean "absolutely no"
  • to snap something up: to grab something before it's too late
  • between a rock and a hard place: between two equally difficult places (a rock is a hard place).
  • to sleep on something: to think about something overnight


Use the above terms in one of the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form.

1. A: __________? I thought I told you to clean your room! B: Sorry, Mom. I forgot.
2. My parents want me to stop seeing my boyfriend because he's 10 years older than me. But I love him so much! I'm __________.
3. My teacher was __________ when he said that the reading assignment would be tough. It almost killed me!
4. A: Do you want to go to France with us this summer? B: Let me __________ and I'll tell you tomorrow.
5. A: You were right: the test was easy. B: __________!
6. A: You had a test yesterday. __________? B: I think I passed.
7. A: __________! What happened to your face? B: I was in a car accident.
8. You'd better __________ those cookies before someone else eats them.
9. I'm not worried about tomorrow's test; it'll be __________!
10. You can't get a job with __________ qualifications.


If you can, try to talk about these questions in English with a friend. If not, try writing your answers.

1. Have you ever been "between a rock and a hard place"? What is the best way to make a decision in that kind of situation?
2. What would you do if you were Daniel: take the job at IBM, or wait for Microsoft? Why?
3. Do you have a "bird in the hand" that you don't want to risk for some "bird in the bush"? What are these things?


1. What's going on?; 2. between a rock and a hard place; 3. dead on; 4. sleep on it; 5. Told you so; 6. How'd it go; 7. Yikes!; 8. snap up; 9. a cinch; 10. zero

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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