What Is a Cliché? | Definition & Examples

A cliché is an overused and unoriginal expression. For example, when having to decide between two unfavorable options, it’s common to say “caught between a rock and a hard place.”

The word cliché functions as a noun (e.g., “I removed all the clichés from my writing”). While some dictionaries recognize it as an adjective (e.g., “The movie had a cliché storyline”), others list clichéd as the adjective form (e.g., “He had a clichéd perspective”).

What Is a Cliché?

Examples of Cliches
Avoid it like the plague.
Better late than never.

Blood is thicker than water.

What does cliché mean?

A cliché is defined as a phrase or saying that has been repeated so often it has lost its substance and expressiveness.

At one point, a cliché may have been sharp and impactful. But its overuse led to its dulling and subsequent inadequacy in communicating shared experiences.

The word “cliché” is a French loanword that is rooted in printing. It became part of the printers’ jargon, as they used it as a noun for the past participle of “clicher,” meaning “to click.” “Cliché” referred to a stereotype, which was a block print or template that could easily reproduce phrases, layouts, or images.

Since the clichés were used to print the same thing several times, eventually the word became associated with anything repetitive or overused.

Cliché examples

The table below provides some examples of common clichés, along with alternative ways to express their meaning.

Expression Meaning What To Say Instead
Every cloud has a silver lining. There is a positive outcome in every negative situation. Look for the good in the bad.
There are plenty of fish in the sea. There are many options or opportunities available. Life offers endless opportunities.
Actions speak louder than words. What you do is more important than what you say. It’s what you do, not what you say.
No pain, no gain. You must work hard to reach your goals. Growth and comfort do not coexist.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t evaluate someone based solely on their outward appearance. Look beyond the surface.

Thought-terminating clichés

A thought-terminating cliché is a phrase that ends a discussion. While in some instances they can be useful because they help to peacefully terminate a futile argument, in other cases they prevent constructive dialogue from occurring.

Thought-terminating clichés (which are also known as “semantic stop signs” or “thought-stoppers”) are typically short, easy to understand, and difficult to refute.

If you’ve been arguing with someone for hours but still can’t come to an agreement, then it may make sense to use a thought-terminating cliché. However, if you’re trying to learn or understand someone’s perspective, then it’s best to avoid these.

Examples of thought-terminating clichés
It is what it is.

Let’s agree to disagree.

Such is life.

To each his own.

Take it or leave it.

Should you avoid using clichés?

Generally, writers should avoid using clichés, as they display a lack of originality and creativity. Remember, clichés are expressions that have been around for so long that they’ve lost their ability to impact an audience.

If you’re writing about a common experience, it’s best to use original and descriptive writing that’ll resonate with readers.

For example, if you’re conveying a feeling of nervousness, don’t use a cliché like the metaphor “butterflies in my stomach.” Instead, focus on other markers, like the beads of sweat rolling down your face or your heart pounding so loudly that you can hear it.

However, using clichés is acceptable in cases where you are trying to simplify something and originality isn’t essential. A tennis instructor may tell his students that “practice makes perfect.” Although that phrase is undoubtedly a cliché, it can help beginners remember that practicing is important when it comes to improving their skills.

Frequently asked questions about cliché

How do you spell cliché?

The word cliché is typically spelled with an accent over the “e.” However, some dictionaries list “cliche” as the less common variant. You should follow any relevant style guide and remain consistent throughout your writing.

How do you use cliché in a sentence?

The word cliché is generally used as a noun (e.g., “I recommended he remove the clichés from his speech”).

However, some dictionaries also list it as an adjective (e.g., “The movie had a cliché ending”). Another adjective form of the word is “clichéd.”

What is a synonym for cliche?

Some synonyms and near-synonyms for cliché include:

  • Adage
  • Banality
  • Platitude
  • Truism

Is this article helpful?
Julia Merkus, MA

Julia has a bachelor in Dutch language and culture and two masters in Linguistics and Language and speech pathology. After a few years as an editor, researcher, and teacher, she now writes articles about her specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, methodology, and statistics.