Idioms 101: Commonly used Idioms
Definition of idioms
Idioms are phrases or expressions that have a figurative meaning different from the literal meaning of the individual words. They are common in everyday language and are often used to convey a specific message or meaning.
Purpose of idioms in language
Idioms add color and variety to language, making it more interesting and expressive. They are often used to convey a message or meaning that is difficult to express in literal language. Idioms can also be used to convey a sense of familiarity or intimacy between speakers.
Idioms are also often used in literature, film, and other forms of media, so understanding them can enhance one’s understanding and enjoyment of the content. This is particularly true for idioms that are specific to a culture, as not understanding them can lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
Importance of understanding idioms in communication
Understanding idioms is important for effective communication because idioms are commonly used in everyday language. Without understanding idioms, it can be difficult to understand the intended meaning of a conversation or text. For example, if someone says “I’m pulling your leg,” it could be misinterpreted as a literal statement, when in fact it means “I’m joking with you.“
Idioms can also be used to convey a sense of familiarity or intimacy between speakers, if both parties are familiar with the idioms and understand the meaning behind it. This can improve the overall communication and make it more enjoyable for both parties.
In cross-cultural communication, idioms can be particularly challenging because idioms can be very culture-specific and may not have an equivalent in another language. Understanding idioms in another language or culture can help to avoid misunderstandings and improve communication.
Understanding idioms is crucial for effective communication and can improve our ability to understand and enjoy different forms of media, and can also help to build better relationships in cross-cultural communication.
Commonly used Idioms
1) A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Meaning-Something that appears bad at first but ends up having good results
Example-Missing that plane turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I got to spend more time with my family.
2) ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Meaning– It suggests that people’s actions are a better indicator of their true intentions or feelings than their words
Example-She says she wants to improve her fitness, but she doesn’t go to the gym or make healthy choices. Actions speak louder than words
3) ADD FUEL TO THE FIRE
Meaning– When someone does something to make a bad situation worse
Example– When Sarah started laughing during the argument, it really added fuel to the fire!
4) ALL EARS
Meaning– To be eagerly waiting to hear about something
Example– Person A: “I have to tell you about what happened on our trip to Spain…”
Person B: “I’m all ears!”
5) AT A CROSSROADS
Meaning– To be at a point in your life when you need to make an important decision
Example-I was at a crossroads when I was offered a job in the US, but my boyfriend wanted to stay in London.
6) BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
Meaning-To be wrong or misguided about the reason for something
Example-He thinks the company’s problems can be solved just by firing the sales team, but he’s barking up the wrong tree.
7) BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Meaning-It’s better to do something late than not at all
Example-Person A: “Sorry I missed your birthday! There’s a card in the post.”
Person B: “Don’t worry. Better late than never!”
8) BITE OFF MORE THAN ONE CAN CHEW
Meaning-To do too much or take something on that is too difficult
Example– Person A: “I’m going to start that weekend job at the museum on top of my full-time job because I really need the money.”
Person B: “Sounds like a lot of work! Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
9) BLOW OFF STEAM
Meaning– To do something that helps you get rid of stress, energy or anger
Example– After my meeting with the boss, I went for a run to blow off steam.
10) BUDGE UP
Meaning– An informal way of asking someone to move to make room for you
Example– Could you budge up a bit so I can sit down?
11) BY THE SKIN OF ONE’S TEETH
Meaning– To narrowly succeed in doing something
Example-The traffic was terrible so we only made the plane by the skin of our teeth!
12)CALL IT A DAY
Meaning– To stop working on something
Example-It’s almost 9pm. I think we should call it a day and finish the report tomorrow.
13) CHIP ON ONE’S SHOULDER
Meaning-To hold a grudge/be angry about something that happened in the past, or to be arrogant and think too highly of oneself
Example-Whenever we mention his childhood, he gets really angry. He’s got a chip on his shoulder about it.
Meaning-To become silent or stop talking
Example-When Bill came into the room, Jenny just seemed to clam up. I think she likes him!
15) COLD FEET
Meaning-To get nervous or to have second thoughts about doing something
Example-He’s getting cold feet about the wedding, but I told him that was perfectly normal.
16) COLD SHOULDER
Meaning-To deliberately ignore someone
Example-I got the cold shoulder from Anna at the party. I guess she’s still annoyed with me.
17) COST AN ARM AND A LEG
Meaning-When something is very expensive
Example-The new restaurant in town was really fancy, but my food cost an arm and a leg!
18) COUCH POTATO
Meaning-A lazy person who doesn’t do much exercise and spends a lot of time on the sofa watching television
Example-My husband has turned into a couch potato since he lost his job.
19)COULDN’T CARE LESS
Meaning-To show indifference to something or a total lack of interest
Example-I couldn’t care less if Harry comes out tonight or not! I don’t really like the guy.
20)CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT
Meaning-A warning that being inquisitive or curious can get you into trouble
Example-Person A: “Where are you going at this time of night?”
Person B: “Curiosity killed the cat!”
21) CUT A LONG STORY SHORT
Meaning-To get to the point, to not include unnecessary detail
Example-To cut a long story short, she has to move back to the US until her new visa comes through.
Meaning-To do something in the easiest way possible (usually not very well) in order to save time or money
Example-We had to cut corners to get the project done within our budget and by January.
23) CUT SOMEONE SOME SLACK
Meaning-To avoid being critical or judgmental of someone (even if they deserve it)
Example-Person A: “Hannah’s late for the second time this week!”
Person B: “Cut her some slack! The traffic’s awful this morning.”
24) CUT TO THE CHASE
Meaning-To get directly to the point when speaking, to not give unnecessary detail
Example-I have to leave in a minute so can you cut to the chase? What exactly do you want me to do?
25) DIG ONE’S HEELS IN
Meaning-To refuse to do something or change your mind, especially when people are trying to persuade you
Example-I wanted to go on the earlier train, but Mary dug her heels in so we had to get the later one.
26) DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Meaning-A warning not to put all your resources or efforts into just one thing
Example-Although you’ve made an offer on this house, I would still visit some others. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.
27)DON’T RUN BEFORE YOU CAN WALK
Meaning-A warning not to try something difficult before you understand the basics
Example-If you’re not very good at swimming, I’d stay in the shallow end and keep close to the side. You don’t want to run before you can walk.
28) DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES
Meaning-In a very challenging situation you need to take extreme actions
Example-She moved to Australia after she found out about her husband’s affair. I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures!
29) The ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Meaning-An important and obvious topic that everyone knows needs to be discussed, but that isn’t brought up or mentioned
Example-David leaving the company was the elephant in the room during that meeting – no one wanted to bring it up!
30)EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING
Meaning-Even a bad situation may have a positive aspect to it
Example-I might have lost my job, but at least I don’t have that awful journey into work every day. Every cloud…!
31) FIND ONE’S FEET
Meaning-To adjust or settle into a new environment or situation
Example-I’ve only been at the new company for a month so I’m still finding my feet.
32) A FISH OUT OF WATER
Meaning-When someone is (or feels) out of place in a situation
Example-Judy was like a fish out of water at the kids’ party. I don’t think she likes children at all!
33) FIT AS A FIDDLE
Meaning-To be in good physical health
Example-He’s in his 90’s, but he’s fit as a fiddle!
34) FOLLOW IN SOMEONE’S FOOTSTEPS
Meaning-To do the same as someone else did before you (often a family member)
Example-All the men in my family are doctors so I’ll probably follow in their footsteps and go into medicine too.
35) FREAK OUT
Meaning-To become very angry, scared or excited (can be negative or positive)
Example-I freaked out when I saw The Rolling Stones perform. I’d wanted to see them my whole life!
36) GET OUT OF HAND
Meaning-To become difficult to control
Example-The protest got out of hand and the police had to intervene when some demonstrators broke down a fence
37) GET OVER SOMETHING
Meaning-To overcome or move on from a difficult situation
Example-Moving out of the city for a while might help you get over Harry.
38) GO THE EXTRA MILE
Meaning-To make more effort than is expected or necessary
Example-Frank is a great asset to our team as he always goes the extra mile.
39) The GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE
Meaning-To mean a person is never satisfied with their own situation, they always think others have it better
Example-I always think the countryside looks nicer than the city, but I guess the grass is always greener…!
40) HANG IN THERE
Meaning-To persist with something, to not give up
Example-Hang in there! I know it’s tough but you’re almost halfway through the course.
41) HAVE EYES IN THE BACK OF ONE’S HEAD
Meaning-To be able to see or sense what’s going on all around you, when you can’t physically see everyhing
Example-You need eyes in the back of your head when you have two small children!
42) HEAD OVER HEELS
Meaning-To be extremely in love with someone
Example-They’re head over heels in love with each other!
43) HIT THE BOOKS
Meaning-To start studying seriously
Example-After dinner I’m really going to hit the books. Not much time left before my exams!
44) HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD
Meaning-To be completely right or correct about something
Example-I think Lucy hit the nail on the head when she said there’s no such thing as an ideal school. There are pros and cons to all of them.
45) HOLD YOUR HORSES
Meaning-Another way of saying ‘Wait a moment’ or ‘don’t rush’
Example-Person A: ‘The train’s at 9. Grab the bags, find your shoes and call a taxi!’
Person B: ‘Hold your horses! We’ve got plenty of time.’
46) IGNORANCE IS BLISS
Meaning-Sometimes it’s better not to know all the facts about something
Example-Person A: “Did you know that cake you just ate was 600 calories?”
Person B: “I didn’t…ignorance is bliss!”
47) IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
Meaning-To say something isn’t very complicated
Example-You just need to fill in the form and you’ll get an e-ticket. It’s not rocket science!
48) KEEP ONE’S CHIN UP
Meaning-To encourage someone to stay positive in a difficult situation
Example-It’s been a difficult month for you but keep your chin up! It will get easier.
49) KILL TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
Meaning-To achieve two things at once
Example-I could pick up the dry cleaning on my way the doctors. That way we’d be killing two birds with one stone.
50) LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED
Meaning-To do everything you can to achieve something
Example-During firm’s the financial audit they left no stone unturned.
51) LET SOMEONE OFF THE HOOK
Meaning-To avoid being punished for something or to avoid doing something
Example-It was my turn to do the washing-up, but mum let me off the hook because I wasn’t feeling well.
52) LET THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG
Meaning-To reveal a secret by accident
Example-Their engagement was meant to be a secret, but Adam let the cat out of the bag!
53) LOSE ONE’S TOUCH
Meaning-No longer able to do something as well as you could before
Example-I tried to chat a girl up at the bar the other night, but she just ignored me. I must be losing my touch!
54) MISS THE BOAT
Meaning-To be slow and not take an opportunity when it’s offered to you
Example-I would call the company back now about the job and not wait until the morning. You don’t want to miss the boat!
55) NO PAIN, NO GAIN
Meaning-You need to suffer or work hard to get what you want or deserve
Example-Person A: “That gym class was so hard I thought I was going to pass out!”
Person B: “No pain, no gain!”
Meaning-An easy decision, something you don’t need to think too hard about
Example-Person A: “Do you think I should get travel insurance before I go to Nigeria?” Person B: “That’s a no-brainer. Of course you should!”
57) NOT ONE’S CUP OF TEA
Meaning-Something you don’t like or are not interested in
Example-She’s a great cook, but the meal she made really wasn’t my cup of tea. It was far too spicy.
58) ONCE IN A BLUE MOON
Meaning-Something that happens rarely
Example-I eat McDonalds once in a blue moon, when I feel like a treat!
59) PIECE OF CAKE
Meaning-Something that is very easy
Example-My English exam was a piece of cake.
60) PULL SOMEONE’S LEG
Meaning-Tease or joke with someone by saying something that’s not true
Example-You’re pulling my leg! I don’t believe you met Sharukh Khan at the hotel!
61) PULL ONESELF TOGETHER
Meaning-To regain control of your emotions after you’ve been upset, to calm down
Example-You need to pull yourself together! Stop worrying about work so much.
62) RING A BELL
Meaning-When something seems familiar or you’ve heard it before
Example-Person A: “Do you know Hannah Stewart?”
Person B: “That name does ring a bell, but I can’t think why.”
63) RULE OF THUMB
Meaning-Judging a situation by experience rather than an exact assessment
Example-As a rule of thumb, you should use two cups of water for one cup of rice.
64) SCRATCH SOMEONE’S BACK
Meaning-To do someone a favour in the hope that it will be returned, can relate to corruption (commonly used as: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours)
Example-My boss got caught taking free holidays from a company client! I think it was a case of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.
65) SEE EYE TO EYE
Meaning-To agree with someone
Example-We don’t see eye to eye when it comes to politics, but I do like her as a person.
66) SIT TIGHT
Meaning-To wait patiently
Example-Sit tight! The nurse will be with you in just a moment.
67) SO FAR, SO GOOD
Meaning-To express satisfaction with how a situation is progressing
Example-Person A: “How is the building work going?”
Person B: “So far, so good…the house is still standing!”
68) SPEAK OF THE DEVIL
Meaning-Said when the person you are talking about appears unexpectedly
Example-Did you hear about what happened to Michael? …Oh speak of the devil, here he is!
69) SPILL THE BEANS
Meaning-To reveal information that was secret
Example-We are throwing David a surprise birthday party, but please don’t spill the beans!
70) STAB SOMEONE IN THE BACK
Meaning-To betray or hurt someone who trusts you
Example-This industry is so competitive; it’s easy to get stabbed in the back by your closest colleagues.
71) STEAL SOMEONE’S THUNDER
Meaning-To take attention or praise away from someone else’s accomplishments by outdoing them with your own
Example-My sister is always stealing my thunder – I announce I’m getting married and she tells everyone she’s pregnant!
72) TASTE OF ONE’S OWN MEDICINE
Meaning-When someone does something unpleasant and the same is wished on him/her
Example-My boss is a real bully. Someone should give her a taste of her own medicine!
73) THE BALL IS IN YOUR COURT
Meaning-It is up to you to take the initiative or make the next move
Example-I’ve told you how I feel about the wedding so the ball’s in your court now.
74) THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Meaning-Where you can enjoy the advantages of two different things at the same time – an ideal situation
Example-He lives in England during the summer and lives in Australia during the winter months so he gets the best of both worlds.
75) THROUGH THICK AND THIN
Meaning-To continue to support someone even during difficult times
Example-John and Chloe have stayed together through thick and thin.
76) TWIST SOMEONE’S ARM
Meaning-To convince someone to do what you want them to
Example-I didn’t want to go out tonight, but Ruth twisted my arm!
77) UNDER THE WEATHER
Meaning-Not feeling very well, a little sick
Example-Sarah’s not going to come out tonight. She’s had a busy week and is feeling under the weather.
78) WILD GOOSE CHASE
Meaning-A hopeless pursuit, something that is unattainable
Example-We were told that if we searched the library archives we might get some answers, but it turned out to be a wild goose chase.
79) WRAP ONE’S HEAD AROUND SOMETHING
Meaning-To understand something that is complicated or shocking
Example-I can’t wrap my head around why Megan would leave London for Rotherham!
80) YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER
Meaning-Warning not to judge someone or something just based on appearance
Example-Person A: “I’ve only met Richard a couple of times, but he seems a bit shy.”
Person B: “You can’t always judge a book by its cover. He’s actually a really outgoing guy once you get to know him!”
81) BREAK A LEG
Meaning: An expression used to wish someone good luck, usually before a performance or an important event.
Example: “Good luck on your audition today, I know you’ll do great. Break a leg!”
82) BITE THE BULLET
Meaning: To face a difficult or unpleasant situation with courage and determination.
Example: “I know it’s going to be hard, but we need to bite the bullet and lay off some employees.”
83) BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
Meaning: To make a mistake or pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action.
Example: “He’s accusing me of stealing his lunch, but he’s barking up the wrong tree. I didn’t do it.”
84) BACK TO SQUARE ONE
Meaning: To return to the beginning or starting point, often after making no progress.
Example: “We’ve hit a dead end in our research, so it looks like we’re back to square one.”
85) BREAKING THE ICE
Meaning: To make a friendly or informal start in a relationship or situation, especially in order to reduce tension or formality.
Example: “The ice breaker games helped us all get to know each other and break the ice at the conference.”
86) GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Meaning: To make a greater effort than is required, to be more helpful or to do more than what is expected.
Example: “I really appreciate how you went the extra mile to help me finish this project on time.”
87) RAINING CATS AND DOGS
Meaning: To rain heavily.
Example: “I hope you brought your raincoat, it’s raining cats and dogs out there.”
88) A TOUGH NUT TO CRACK
Meaning: A difficult problem or challenge that is hard to solve or overcome.
Example: “This math problem is a tough nut to crack, I’ve been working on it for hours.”
89) ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Meaning: People’s actions reveal their true intentions and beliefs, more than their words.
Example: “He said he would help, but his actions speak louder than words, he never showed up.”
90) ADD FUEL TO FIRE
Meaning: To make a situation worse or more intense.
Example: “He was already angry, but my comment about his haircut just added fuel to the fire.”
91) CRY OVER SPILT MILK
Meaning: To be upset or worried about something that cannot be changed or undone.
Example: “I know you’re upset about the broken vase, but there’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
92) EASIER SAID THAN DONE
Meaning: Something that is easy to say but difficult to do.
Example: “Eating healthy is easier said than done, especially when there’s a pint of ice cream in the freezer.”
93) KICKING THE BUCKET
Meaning: to die.
Example: “I’m sorry to hear about your grandpa, he was a great man. He kicked the bucket last night.”
94) THROW IN THE TOWEL
Meaning: To give up or quit trying.
Example: “I know it’s hard, but don’t throw in the towel, you can do this.”
95) TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS
Meaning: To take bold and decisive action to deal with a difficult or challenging situation.
Example: “I can see that you’re struggling with this project, but don’t be afraid to take the bull by the horns and take charge.”
96) TAKE A RAIN CHECK
Meaning: To decline an offer or invitation but with the implication that you will accept it at a later time.
Example: “I would love to go out for drinks with you, but I’m really tired today. Can I take a rain check?”
97) ONE-TRICK PONY
Meaning: A person or thing that is only capable of one thing or has only one skill.
Example: “I’m sorry, but I can’t hire you for this job. You’re a one-trick pony, you only know how to use Excel.”
98) OFF THE HOOK
Meaning: To be released from responsibility or obligation.
Example: “I’m so glad you’re here to help me, I was beginning to think I was off the hook.”
99) A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW
Meaning: A very impressive or successful performance or accomplishment that is difficult to match or surpass.
Example: “After the amazing speech he gave at the conference, it’s going to be a tough act to follow.”
100) SIT ON THE FENCE
Meaning: To avoid making a decision or taking a position on an issue.
Example: “I can see that you’re not sure what to do, but you can’t just sit on the fence, you have to make a decision.”
101) SHED LIGHT ON SOMETHING
Meaning: To provide information or understanding about something, to clarify or explain.
Example: “Can you please shed some light on this topic, I’m not sure I understand.”
Whether you’re a student preparing for exams, a professional looking to advance your career, or simply someone looking to improve your communication skills and cognitive function, expanding your vocabulary can have a powerful impact on your life. So why not start today, and unlock the power of vocabulary for yourself?