Black Sheep VS Dark Horse

Lisa C. Newcomer Information

In today’s “English Idioms for Newcomers“, let’s compare the idioms “black sheep” and “dark horse”. They are both about animals but their meanings are totally different and they are not to be confused.

Black Sheep:

What does “black sheep” mean?

When you say someone is a black sheep of his/her group or family, you mean that the person:

  • is considered a failure by other members of the group
  • is worthless or not as successful as expected
  • brings shame or embarrassment to the group or family

Origin of “black sheep”

  • Sheep whose fleece is black in color, instead of the common white, stand out and their black wool is considered less valuable, because it cannot be dyed.


  • Having two successful neural surgeons for brothers, he, a high school dropout, is indeed the family’s black sheep.

Dark Horse:

What does “dark horse” mean?

When you say someone or something is a dark horse, you mean that the person or thing:  

  • was previously less known by others
  • has secret and surprising skills, abilities, traits, etc.
  • has recently had or is about to have success

Origin of “dark horse”

  • Originally it referred to a fast racehorse, but one with an unknown ancestry and history, making it an uncertain bet during a race.


  • The movie turned out to be a dark horse for this year’s award.

Word of the Day:

Dropout: a person who abandoned school or study.

Before you go, check out our English Learning tips articles!

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