Idioms are phrases or proverbs whose meanings cannot be directly translated. Because of this, students must familiarize themselves with these phrases through a bit of memorization and practice.
While learning idioms might seem difficult and time-consuming, it’ll help you to speak in more interesting ways and sound more natural among native English speakers. You’ll also find learning idioms helpful for enjoying pop culture where many characters use idioms as they speak.
We’ve put together the 100 most common idioms, provided meanings and an example of each one being used in a sentence below. If you have a favorite idiom that we don’t have on our list. Share it in the comments below!
Break the ice
Meaning: To get the conversation going. Provide a conversation prompt.
Example: Starting class with a joke or subjects students like will help to break the ice.
A dime a dozen
Meaning: Very common: quite ordinary
Example: I thought it was something special but it turns out they're a dime a dozen.
Beat around the bush
Meaning: To avoid saying something
Example: Don't beat around the bush. Just tell me what happened.
Back against the wall
Meaning: Forced to do something that you would rather not.
Example: I really don't want to do this but my back is against the wall.
Bite the bullet
Meaning: Doing something you don't want to but also expressing that you're making a proactive choice.
Example: I'm going to go ahead and bite the bullet rather than waiting around.
Wrap one's head around something
Meaning: To understand something that may take a bit of time and effort.
Example: That's really complicated. It's going to take a moment to wrap my head around that.
Under the weather
Meaning: Sick. Typically used to describe minor illnesses like a cold.
Example: Sorry I'm feeling a bit under the weather and won't be able to come in today.
Better late than never
Meaning: Describes things that are better done than not, even if it takes a long time.
Example: I went back to college at 30 years old and figured better late than never.
Meaning: To skip steps or not do things completely.
Example: This is an important project so don't cut any corners on this one.
Get out of hand
Meaning: When a situation gets out of control.
Example: I meant to just have a small party but too many people came and it quickly got out of hand.
A snowball effect
Meaning: Something that can continue to get more and more out of control
Example: I just invited a couple of people over but there was a bit of a snowball effect and now there's a giant party at my house.
We'll cross that bridge when we get to it
Meaning: Let's avoid addressing the problem until later on.
Example: We won't find out until next month so we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
To cut someone some slack
Meaning: To not manage someone very strictly or to not be critical.
Example: Cut me some slack. I'm trying.
To be hard on someone
Meaning: To criticize or to manage someone very strictly.
Example: You don't have to be so hard on your employees to be successful.
Get something out of one's system
Meaning: To do something you really want to and have been waiting to.
Example: I really want to go to karaoke, sing a few songs and just get it out of my system.
Meaning: To do something or anger someone to where you cannot go back to how things were and cannot expect help in the future.
Example: Don't burn bridges with your employer. You may need their help in the future.
Sell like hotcakes
Meaning: To sell very quickly or be in high demand.
Example: I didn't think my crafts would be that popular but they're selling like hotcakes.
Fish out of water
Meaning: To be in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable place.
Example: I don't want to change schools and be a fish out of water.
Step up one’s game
Meaning: To work harder or perform better.
Example: You need to step up your game if you want a promotion this year.
Your guess is as good as mine
Meaning: I don't know either.
Example: I haven't found out anything so your guess is as good as mine.
Leave out in the cold
Meaning: To be ignored or not considered.
Example: Not being invited to any of the meetings lately has me feeling left out in the cold.
Keep an ear to the ground
Meaning: To listen for new information.
Example: I'll keep an ear to the ground for any updates on the project.
Up in arms
Meaning: To be angry or overreact.
Example: Don't get up in arms. I'm just telling you what happened.
Run around in circles
Meaning: To put effort into something while making little or no progress.
Example: My boss has me running around in circles with unnecessary tasks that aren't getting us anywhere.
Scrape the barrel
Meaning: To make choices you don't want to or normally wouldn't.
Example: They're not great but I was really scraping the barrel to find something.
Blessing in disguise
Meaning: Something that seems bad but provides some benefit.
Example: I hated that assignment but it was a blessing in disguise since it taught me things that I use for the job I have now.
Having an Ace up the sleeve
Meaning: To have a hidden or untold advantage.
Example: I thought he was definitely going to lose but he had an ace up his sleeve and caught up in points.
Meaning: To believe something.
Example: That guy told me he's related to the president but I don't buy it.
Hook line and sinker
Meaning: To be deceived completely.
Example: I told him that I would pay him $1,000,000 and he bought it hook line and sinker.
Piece of cake
Meaning: Very Easy.
Example: Winning the game is a piece of cake once you understand how to play.
Once in a blue moon
Meaning: Very rare.
Example: She doesn't like it here and only comes once in a blue moon.
On the line
Meaning: To risk something or have something at risk.
Example: I invested my life savings in this business and have everything on the line.
A quick buck
Meaning: An easy way to make money quickly.
Example: Translation work is kind of boring for me but it's a quick buck.
Sights set on | Set sights on
Meaning: To desire something or to make a goal.
Example: I have my sights set on going to France next year. | I set my sights on going to France next year.
Add fuel to the fire
Meaning: To make a situation worse.
Example: You should wait until later to say something. Sometimes arguing just adds fuel to the fire.
Bone to pick
Meaning: To be angry about something and want to discuss it.
Example: You might not think you did anything wrong but I have a bone to pick with you about that.
Go the extra mile
Meaning: To do extra work or put in extra effort.
Example: She went the extra mile and got our seats upgraded even though she didn’t have to.
Hang in there
Meaning: To not give up.
Example: I know things are hard but hang in there.
Down for the count
Meaning: To give up or not be able to keep going.
Example: I tried everything and it took so much out of me. I'm down for the count on this one.
Rest on your laurels
Meaning: To stop trying as hard because of your past achievements.
Example: The work still isn't finished and things are just going to get more difficult. This is no time to rest on your laurels.
Give it a whirl
Meaning: To try something.
Example: I'm willing to give it a whirl even though I've never done it before.
It's not rocket science
Meaning: It's not as difficult as you might think.
Example: Of course, I figured it out. It's not rocket science.
Get bent out of shape
Meaning: To get upset at times when others don't think you should.
Example: Hey it's just a joke. Don't get bent out of shape.
Spill the beans
Meaning: To tell a secret.
Example: I already know you did it. Your best friend spilled the beans.
Sit on the fence
Meaning: To be undecided.
Example: I'm still sitting on the fence about whether I'm going to buy that car.
Don't cry over spilled milk/ No use in crying over spilled milk
Meaning: What has already happened cannot be undone so you shouldn't cry but you should think of what to do going forward.
Example: I know it wasn't your fault but there's no use in crying over spilled milk. Think of what you're going to do next.
Fair and square
Meaning: To do things in a fair way with no advantages given to either side.
Example: No do-overs. I won fair and square.
Straight from the horse's mouth
Meaning: To hear information directly from the person involved.
Example: I already know the truth. I heard straight from the horse's mouth.
Bigger fish to fry
Meaning: There is something more important to take care of.
Example: I can't think about that right now. I have bigger fish to fry.
At face value
Meaning: As something seems or as one claims it to be.
Example: Don't take what he says at face value. He's been known to lie.
Read between the lines
Meaning: To look for the real meaning when something is said.
Example: I don't just listen to what people tell me. I know how to read between the lines.
Wild goose chase
Meaning: To waste time trying to do something you cannot.
Example: My mom sent me on a wild goose chase trying to find things that aren't available anywhere.
Call it a day
Meaning: To stop working.
Example: Hey let's go home. It's time to call it a day.
Chip off the old block
Meaning: To be similar to one's parents in one way or overall.
Example: She's a really higher achiever like her mom. A real chip off the old block.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Meaning: Similar to one’s parents. This is used at the time when you observe that someone is doing something their parents would.
Example: Of course, he got into Harvard. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
In for a penny in for a pound
Meaning: To make sure a task is complete no matter what once someone has spent any effort or money towards the goal.
Example: I'm in for a penny in for a pound on this one. I've already spent seven hours getting this project off the ground.
By the skin of one’s teeth
Meaning: To barely get something done.
Example: I passed that test by the skin of my teeth with a 61/100.
Draw the line
Meaning: To decide on a stopping past which you will not let something continue.
Example: I'm going to have to draw the line here. I can't do any more work until you pay your balance.
To not see/to lose the forest for the trees
Meaning: To fixate on trivial details to the point of ignoring the overall meaning or more important facts.
Example: Don't lose the forest for the trees here. The first few questions are only worth one point each so make sure you leave enough time for the open-ended questions.
Penny wise and pound foolish
Meaning: To worry about or obsess over unimportant details while ignoring the important ones.
Example: He did every homework assignment but didn't submit his major project. Absolutely penny wise and pound foolish.
Meaning: To ask for help or attention by lying about a situation.
Example: If you keep crying wolf, nobody is going to help you when you really need it.
Play devil's advocate
Meaning: To present the other side or both sides of an argument.
Example: I just need you to support me, not to keep trying to play devil's advocate.
On thin ice
Meaning: In a dangerous or risky situation with much margin for error.
Example: I used 9 out of my 10 absences so my teacher told me I'm on thin ice.
The best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: Really, really good.
Example: The iPhone was the best thing since sliced bread. It really changed the world.
Take it with a pinch of salt
Meaning: Don’t believe it to be 100% true.
Example: He lies a lot so take what he says with a pinch of salt.
The whole nine yards
Meaning: Everything to the greatest extent.
Example: I want everything on the menu. Appetizers, entrees, desserts, the whole nine yards.
Bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: To take on a task that is more difficult than you can handle.
Example: I regret agreeing to cook dinner for 100 people. I really bit off more than I could chew.
A second wind
Meaning: To have more energy or more appetite after being tired or full.
Example: I was completely full but once the dessert came, I had a second wind.
Play it by ear
Meaning: To improvise or wait for more information to come to a decision.
Example: I can't decide on what to do until I know what my manager's decision will be so I have to play it by ear.
Put something on ice
Meaning: To stop progress on something or put it on hold.
Example: Hey I need you to work on this project that's due today so you're going to have to put what you're doing on ice.
Meaning: All the time, always. (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
Example: I didn't invite him to my party because he's in medical school and studying 24/7.
Lose one's touch
Meaning: To not be as good at something as one used to be.
Example: It took me 10 tries to get a basket. I'm really losing my touch.
Meaning: Please wait patiently.
Example: Hey I still have a few tasks to do before I can head out to dinner so sit tight and I'll be there soon.
Twist my arm
Meaning: To convince someone with persistence.
Example: Alright I wasn't planning on buying a new car today but you twisted my arm. I'll take it.
Turn a deaf ear
Meaning: To ignore someone.
Example: I could really use some help but everyone around me has turned a deaf ear.
Hit the books
Meaning: To study (more often used to imply studying hard)
Example: Final exams are coming up and I need a high score to maintain my A. I'm going to hit the books hard today.
Meaning: To quit suddenly rather than gradually.
Example: If I start playing video games at all, I won't stop for hours so I had to quit cold turkey.
Go down in flames
Meaning: To fail suddenly and severely.
Example: A couple of scandals after her debut caused her career to go down in flames.
Meaning: To put in effort or to make a contribution.
Example: It's a lot of work but if everyone pitches in, we'll be done in no time.
Cut to the chase
Meaning: To get directly to the point.
Example: I'm in a rush so I need you to cut to the chase and just tell me what the problem is.
Off the table
Meaning: Unavailable, the offer has been revoked.
Example: If your offer is still on the table, I'd like to accept the job.
Ship has sailed
Meaning: It is too late for the opportunity. You waited too long for the opportunity and it is no longer available.
Example: You waited too long and the job isn't available anymore. That ship has sailed so keep looking.
Blow off steam
Meaning: To do fun activities to help relieve stress.
Example: I had a long day at work and went to the batting cages to blow off some steam.
Come rain or shine
Meaning: No matter what.
Example: I promise, come rain or shine, I'll be at your graduation. You can count on it.
See eye to eye
Meaning: To agree, compromise or understand the other person's perspective.
Example: It's been six weeks and they can't come to any agreement because they just can't see eye to eye.
Rings a bell
Meaning: Sounds familiar or reminds you of something.
Example: What you just said rings a bell. There's this thing I forgot to tell you earlier.
A class act
Meaning: Of great character or able to perform to high standards.
Example: He puts on a good show every time and then shakes hands and takes pictures with fans. He's a real class act.
Break the bank
Meaning: To be very expensive.
Example: I got the car I wanted but it really broke the bank.
Cost an arm and a leg
Meaning: To be very expensive. (Typically less used for items less expensive than ones that you would use "break the bank" for).
Example: Replacing my broken car stereo cost me an arm and leg.
Face the music
Meaning: To accept reality.
Example: You failed every audition. It's time to face the music and accept that you're not a very good actor.
Darkest before the dawn
Meaning: Things will get better (Useful for when several bad things happen at once)
Example: I know that a lot of bad things happened to you this week but it's darkest before the dawn.
Through thick and thin
Meaning: Throughout good times and bad times.
Example: It doesn't matter if it's difficult or if bad things happen. I said I would help you through thick and thin.
Fortune favors the bold
Meaning: Taking a risk can pay off.
Example: There's only a 10% chance of success but the payout is 20 times higher if I win. You know what they say, fortune favors the bold.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: You're taking too big of a risk or putting too much effort and resources into one risky option.
Example: I'm really glad that people like my art but I'm not going to make art full time. I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket.
Throw caution to the wind
Meaning: To stop thinking about something and take the risk.
Example: My parents told me not to put all my eggs in one basket but I decided to throw caution to the wind and be a full-time artist.
Look before you leap
Meaning: To think before you do something.
Example: The opportunity to move to another country is really exciting but I want you to look before you leap.
Jump on the bandwagon
Meaning: To follow a trend or not to do something until it's popular.
Example: She didn't care about K-pop before but now that it's popular, she's jumped on the bandwagon.
Pour one’s heart out
Meaning: To tell or confess something emotional.
Example: I don't like soap operas. They're so unrealistic with the way everyone pours their heart out about everything.
Right as rain
Meaning: There is nothing that can be improved.
Example: The dish was right as rain. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
Pull one's leg
Meaning: To lie.
Example: That doesn't sound right. Are you pulling my leg?
The Free Dictionary's Idioms dictionary is the largest collection of English idioms and slang in the world. It contains more than 60,000 entries from several of the most trusted names in publishing.What are the 100 idioms with? ›
|Under the weather||Feeling ill / Getting a cold|
|Miss the boat||To act too slowly and miss an opportunity|
|Pull someone's leg||To make fun of someone|
|No pain no gain||Suffering or making efforts is required to achieve something|
The Free Dictionary's Idioms dictionary is the largest collection of English idioms and slang in the world. It contains more than 60,000 entries from several of the most trusted names in publishing.How many common idioms are there in English? ›
There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language. While we cannot go over every single one of them in one article, we can provide some more English expressions native speakers use in their everyday English.How can I memorize idioms fast? ›
Practice – Practice, practice, practice. The more you use idioms, the more you learn and the faster you will acquire them. The best way to learn a new idiom is to look at it a million times and memorize it, but the only way to really learn one is to apply it to your everyday, everyday speech.What are 200 idioms? ›
- Stir up a hornets' nest. Hornets are the largest eusocial wasps, and their sting can be really painful. ...
- An eye for an eye. ...
- Back against the wall. ...
- Barking up the wrong tree. ...
- Bite off more than you can chew. ...
- Pigs might fly. ...
- Upset someone's applecart. ...
- Not enough room to swing a cat.
Idiom: From A to Z
the entire range of something. including every step from start to finish. completely, to include everything and every detail.
Hear it - First, you need to hear or read a new expression or come into contact with it in any other way. In order to spice your vocabulary up with idioms and phrases, you first have to constantly be on the prowl for them. Write it - Next up is writing the new phrases or idioms down, lest you forget them.How can I learn all idioms? ›
- Learn idioms in context or by theme. It's difficult to learn vocabulary through lists. ...
- Don't try to learn too many at once. Idioms can be complicated. ...
- Understand the feeling. We often use an idiom to convey a feeling or emotion. ...
- Listen out for idioms.
Find the answers to these questions (and many more!) in the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms. This dictionary uncovers the meanings of myriad phrases and sayings that are used daily in the English language, encompassing more than 10,000 figurative expressions, similes, sayings, and proverbs.
- “Break a leg” – to wish someone good luck.
- “Cost an arm and a leg” – to be very expensive.
- “Bite the bullet” – to face a difficult situation bravely.
- “Beat around the bush” – to avoid getting to the point in a conversation.
|Beat around the bush||Avoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable|
|Better late than never||Better to arrive late than not to come at all|
|Bite the bullet||To get something over with because it is inevitable|
|Break a leg||Good luck|
As with any language, American English is full of idioms, especially when spoken. Idioms add color and texture to language by creating images that convey meanings beyond those of the individual words that make them up.How to memorize 40 vocabulary words? ›
- Use Memory Techniques. ...
- Create a learning environment. ...
- Put the words in context. ...
- Learn from real-life situations. ...
- Take it to the next level. ...
- Find the tools that work for you. ...
- Make it interactive. ...
- Focus on useful words.
- Keep an organised vocabulary notebook.
- Look at the words again after 24 hours, after one week and after one month.
- Read, read, read. ...
- Use the new words. ...
- Do word puzzles and games like crosswords, anagrams and wordsearches.
- Make word cards and take them with you. ...
- Learn words with a friend.
- Use flashcards (in moderation!)
- Try learning example sentences.
- Use it or lose it.
- Look up new words (the right way!)
- Write words down.
- Keep a notebook handy.
- Try using the plural form or different tenses.
- Use mnemonics.
|It's a piece of cake||It's easy||by itself|
|It's raining cats and dogs||It's raining hard||by itself|
|Kill two birds with one stone||Get two things done with a single action||by itself|
|Let the cat out of the bag||Give away a secret||as part of a sentence|
|Better late than never||Better to arrive late than not to come at all||by itself|
|Bite the bullet||To get something over with because it is inevitable||as part of a sentence|
|Break a leg||Good luck||by itself|
|Call it a day||Stop working on something||as part of a sentence|
|1||PROVERB||Absence makes the heart grow fonder|
|8||PROVERB||Beauty is in the eye of the beholder|
|MEANING||What is “beautiful” is different for each person|
|EXAMPLE||“I think their house is ugly, but they seem to like it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”|
|9||PROVERB||Better late than never|