Understanding English Idioms With 80 Examples!

If you’re learning English, you may have heard native speakers using phrases that sound strange or confusing. These phrases are called idioms, and they can make it challenging to understand English. However, idioms are a crucial part of English, and mastering them can help you sound more fluent and natural when speaking with native speakers.
In this article, we will explain what idioms are, why they are essential, and provide some common examples that you can start using today.

What are idioms?

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning that cannot be deduced from the literal meaning of the words used. Idioms are often unique to a specific language or culture, and they can be challenging for non-native speakers to understand.

For example, the idiom “break a leg” is commonly used in the performing arts, but it has nothing to do with physically breaking your leg. Instead, it means “good luck” or “have a successful performance.” Another example is “spill the beans,” which means to reveal a secret.

It’s important to note that in academic writing, clarity and precision are key, and using idioms can obscure your intended meaning. Additionally, idioms can be culturally specific and may not translate well across different regions and languages. With some rare exceptions, it’s best to stick to more utilitarian and succinct language in academic writing to ensure that your ideas are communicated clearly and effectively to all readers.

Why are idioms important?

Learning idioms can help you improve your English communication skills in many ways. First, they can help you understand the meaning of everyday conversations between native speakers. Idioms are frequently used in informal conversations, and they can add color, humor, and nuance to a conversation.

Second, idioms can help you express yourself more effectively in English. Instead of relying on plain, literal language, using idioms can make your speech sound more interesting and natural. It can also help you convey complex ideas in a more straightforward way.

Finally, learning idioms can help you improve your overall language proficiency in any language. Knowing idioms gives a deeper understanding of a language’s culture, which will help you to speak and converse more naturally.

How to learn idioms

Learning idioms takes time and practice, but here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Read and listen to English-language materials, such as books, articles, and movies. Pay attention to any idioms that you come across.

  2. Use a dictionary or an online resource to find the meaning of any idioms you encounter—we’ve collected quite a few below, but there are plenty more that you can find online.

  3. Practice using idioms in context. Try to use them in everyday conversation with friends, family, or colleagues.

  4. Learn idioms in groups or themes. For example, you could learn idioms related to food, weather, or emotions.

Common idioms and their meanings

We’ve compiled a lengthy list of common English idioms and their meanings. With 80 (+1) idioms in this huge list, we hope you can find the one you’re searching for!

  1. A blessing in disguise” – Something that seems bad but ends up being good in the long run. Example: “Losing his job turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he ended up finding a better one soon after.”
  2. A dime a dozen” – Something that is very common and easy to find. Example: “Those cheap souvenirs are a dime a dozen in this tourist town.”
  3. A piece of cake” – Something that is very easy to do. Example: “Don’t worry, the test was a piece of cake.”
  4. A penny for your thoughts” – Asking someone what they are thinking or feeling. Example: “You’ve been awfully quiet, a penny for your thoughts?”
  5. A picture is worth a thousand words” – Visual images can convey a lot of information or emotion. Example: “The painting captured the beauty of the sunset so well, truly a picture is worth a thousand words.”
  6. Actions speak louder than words” – What someone does is more important than what they say. Example: “He said he would help, but his actions speak louder than words as he hasn’t done anything yet.”
  7. Beggars can’t be choosers” – If you are in a position of need, you must accept what is offered to you. Example: “I know you wanted a window seat, but you should be grateful to have any seat at all. Beggars can’t be choosers.”
  8. Better late than never” – Doing something late is still better than not doing it at all. Example: “She arrived after everyone had eaten, but better late than never, she was still able to enjoy the party.”
  9. Bite the bullet” – To face a difficult situation head-on and endure the consequences. Example: “I know it’s scary, but you need to bite the bullet and tell him how you feel.”
  10. Break the ice” – To start a conversation or break down social barriers. Example: “He told a joke to break the ice at the meeting.”
  11. Call it a day” – To stop working for the day. Example: “It’s getting late, let’s call it a day and continue tomorrow.”
  12. Can’t judge a book by its cover” – You can’t tell what something or someone is like just by appearances. Example: “She seemed shy at first, but once you get to know her, you realize you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
  13. “Caught between a rock and a hard place” – In a situation where both choices are bad. Example: “He’s caught between a rock and a hard place, he can either lose his job or work with a difficult colleague.”
  14. “Cry over spilled milk” – To be upset over something that cannot be undone. Example: “I know you made a mistake, but there’s no point in crying over spilled milk, we need to figure out how to fix it.”
  15. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” – Diversifying your resources or efforts to avoid total failure if one thing doesn’t work out. Example: “Instead of investing all your money in one stock, you should diversify your portfolio. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
  16. “Face the music” – To accept the consequences of one’s actions. Example: “He knew he was going to get in trouble, but he had to face the music and confess to what he did.”
  17. “Fit as a fiddle” – Being in very good health. Example: “After exercising regularly and eating healthy, she feels fit as a fiddle.”
  18. “Go the extra mile” – To make an extra effort to achieve something or help someone. Example: “He always goes the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction.”
  19. “Have a chip on your shoulder” – To be easily offended or looking for a fight. Example: “He always seems to have a chip on his shoulder and gets defensive over the smallest things.”
  20. “Hit the nail on the head” – To accurately identify or solve a problem. Example: “He hit the nail on the head when he suggested that we needed more training to improve our skills.”
  21. “In the same boat” – In the same situation as someone else. Example: “We’re all struggling with the same problem, we’re in the same boat.”
  22. “It’s raining cats and dogs” – It’s raining heavily. Example: “I forgot my umbrella and now it’s raining cats and dogs outside.”
  23. “Jump the gun” – To do something too early or prematurely. Example: “He jumped the gun by announcing the project before we had all the details sorted out.”
  24. “Keep your chin up” – To stay positive or optimistic in a difficult situation. Example: “Things may be tough now, but keep your chin up and things will get better.”
  25. “Kill two birds with one stone” – To accomplish two tasks with one action. Example: “I can drop off the package at the post office and pick up some groceries on the way back, killing two birds with one stone.”
  26. “Let the cat out of the bag” – To reveal a secret or surprise prematurely. Example: “I accidentally let the cat out of the bag by mentioning the surprise party to the birthday girl.”
  27. “Make a long story short” – To summarize a long or complicated story briefly. Example: “To make a long story short, we missed our flight and had to book another one.”
  28. “Miss the boat” – To miss an opportunity. Example: “I missed the boat on the job opportunity because I didn’t apply in time.”
  29. “No pain, no gain” – You have to work hard to see results. Example: “The workout may be tough, but no pain, no gain.”
  30. “On cloud nine” – To be extremely happy or joyful. Example: “After receiving the promotion, she was on cloud nine for days.”
  31. “Piece of work” – A difficult or unpleasant person. Example: “That guy is a real piece of work.”
  32. “Put all your cards on the table” – To be honest and upfront about everything. Example: “If we want to work together, we need to put all our cards on the table and discuss any potential issues.”
  33. “Rule of thumb” – A general principle or guideline. Example: “As a rule of thumb, you should save at least 10% of your income.”
  34. “See eye to eye” – To agree or have the same opinion as someone else. Example: “We may have different perspectives, but we see eye to eye on this issue.”
  35. “Steal someone’s thunder” – To take credit for someone else’s ideas or accomplishments. Example: “He stole my thunder by presenting my idea as his own.”
  36. “Take a rain check” – To decline an offer but suggest doing it at a later time. Example: “I’m busy tonight, but can I take a rain check and join you another time?”
  37. “The devil is in the details” – Small things can have a big impact or cause problems. Example: “The contract may seem straightforward, but the devil is in the details and we need to review it carefully.”
  38. “The early bird catches the worm” – Being proactive and getting things done early leads to success. Example: “He always gets to work early and gets the most done, the early bird catches the worm.”
  39. “The grass is always greener on the other side” – The belief that things are better or more desirable elsewhere. Example: “She thinks moving to a bigger city will solve all her problems, but the grass is always greener on the other side.”
  40. “The whole nine yards” – The complete or full extent of something. Example: “He gave it the whole nine yards, putting in extra effort to make sure the project was a success.”
  41. “Time flies” – Time seems to pass quickly. Example: “It feels like only yesterday that I started this job, but time flies and now it’s been three years.”
  42. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” – You can’t make assumptions about someone or something based on appearance alone. Example: “She may seem quiet and reserved, but you can’t judge a book by its cover, she’s actually very outgoing.”
  43. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” – Sometimes you have to make sacrifices or take risks to achieve a goal. Example: “We may have to make some difficult decisions to reach our goal, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
  44. “Your guess is as good as mine” – Neither of us knows the answer or solution. Example: “I’m not sure how to fix this issue, your guess is as good as mine.”
  45. “All ears” – Paying attention and eager to listen. Example: “I’m all ears, tell me more about your idea.”
  46. “Barking up the wrong tree” – Pursuing the wrong course of action or person. Example: “If you think I can help you cheat on the test, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
  47. “Break a leg” – A phrase used to wish someone good luck, especially before a performance. Example: “Break a leg in your audition, I know you’ll do great.”
  48. “Cut to the chase” – To get to the point without wasting time. Example: “Let’s cut to the chase and discuss the main issue.”
  49. “Drop the ball” – To make a mistake or fail to do something that was expected. Example: “I really dropped the ball by forgetting about the meeting today.”
  50. “Elephant in the room” – An obvious issue or problem that people are avoiding talking about. Example: “The fact that she never pays her share of the rent is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to bring up.”
  51. “Feather in your cap” – An accomplishment or achievement that is worth being proud of. Example: “Winning the award for best actor is a feather in his cap that he will always be proud of.”
  52. “Fish out of water” – Someone who feels uncomfortable or out of place in a particular situation. Example: “As an introverted person, attending a big party makes me feel like a fish out of water.”
  53. “Get your act together” – To improve your behavior or get organized. Example: “If you want to succeed in this job, you need to get your act together and start meeting deadlines.”
  54. “In the same boat” – In a similar situation. Example: “We’re all struggling with the same workload, we’re all in the same boat.”
  55. “Jump the gun” – To act prematurely or make assumptions before all the facts are known. Example: “It’s too early to tell who will win the election, don’t jump the gun and assume anything.”
  56. “Keep your chin up” – To stay positive and hopeful despite difficult circumstances. Example: “Even though you didn’t get the job, keep your chin up and keep trying.”
  57. “Make a long story short” – To summarize a lengthy explanation or story. Example: “I won’t bore you with all the details, but to make a long story short, we ended up lost in the city.”
  58. “On the ball” – Alert and efficient. Example: “He’s always on the ball, he never misses a deadline.”
  59. “Play devil’s advocate” – To argue against a popular opinion to stimulate debate and discussion. Example: “I don’t necessarily agree with his stance, but let me play devil’s advocate and argue his side.”
  60. “Rain on someone’s parade” – To spoil someone’s plans or happiness. Example: “I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I don’t think that plan will work.”
  61. “Rule of thumb” – A general principle or guideline. Example: “As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid eating too many sweets.”
  62. “The icing on the cake” – Something that makes a good situation even better. Example: “Winning the game was great, but the icing on the cake was getting a personal best score.”
  63. “Time is money” – Time is a valuable resource that should be used wisely. Example: “We need to be efficient with our time, time is money in this business.”
  64. “Twist someone’s arm” – To convince or persuade someone to do something they may not want to do. Example: “I had to twist his arm to get him to come to the party.”
  65. “Under the weather” – Feeling ill or unwell. Example: “I can’t come into work today, I’m feeling a bit under the weather.”
  66. “Up in the air” – Uncertain or undecided. Example: “We don’t know if the project will be approved, it’s still up in the air.”
  67. “Use your head” – To think logically and make good decisions. Example: “Use your head and think carefully before making any rash decisions.”
  68. “Variety is the spice of life” – A little bit of change and diversity can make life more interesting. Example: “Let’s try a different restaurant tonight, variety is the spice of life after all.”
  69. “Wear your heart on your sleeve” – To be openly emotional or vulnerable. Example: “She wears her heart on her sleeve and is not afraid to express her emotions.”
  70. “X marks the spot” – A phrase used to indicate the exact location of something. Example: “X marks the spot where the treasure is buried.”
  71. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” – You can’t have everything you want, sometimes you have to make a choice. Example: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too, you have to decide if you want to prioritize work or your personal life.”
  72. “Zero hour” – The exact moment when something is supposed to happen. Example: “We’ve been preparing for this event for weeks, and zero hour is finally here.”
  73. “Back to square one” – To start over again from the beginning. Example: “We tried to fix the problem, but it didn’t work, so now we’re back to square one.”
  74. “Cut to the chase” – To get to the main point without any unnecessary details. Example: “Let’s cut to the chase and get straight to the heart of the matter.”
  75. “Every cloud has a silver lining” – Even in a difficult situation, there is always a positive aspect to be found. Example: “Losing my job was tough, but every cloud has a silver lining, I have more time to pursue my passions now.”
  76. “From scratch” – To start something from the very beginning, with no existing foundation. Example: “We had to build the entire house from scratch, it was a lot of work but worth it.”
  77. “Get off your high horse” – To stop being arrogant or condescending. Example: “He needs to get off his high horse and start treating others with more respect.”
  78. “Hit the ground running” – To start a new job or project with a lot of energy and momentum. Example: “I’ve already read up on the company and its policies, so I’m ready to hit the ground running on my first day.”
  79. “In the blink of an eye” – Very quickly or suddenly. Example: “The car accident happened in the blink of an eye, one moment we were driving and the next we were spinning out of control.”
  80. “Jump through hoops” – To go to great lengths or endure a lot of difficulty to achieve something. Example: “I had to jump through hoops to get this job, but it was worth it in the end.”

Phew! That’s a lot of idioms. One could even say that they are “up to their ears” in idioms!

+1. “Up to my ears” – To be overwhelmed or to have too much of something. Example: “It’s going to take me hours to read all the emails in my inbox—I’m up to my ears in emails!”


Hopefully our list of idioms helped you to understand some strange English sayings that you might have encountered. Idioms are an essential part of English communication, and mastering them can help you improve your language skills and express yourself more effectively. With practice and persistence, you can learn to use idioms like a native speaker. So, keep your chin up, start using idioms in your everyday conversations, and break a leg!

And if you have any idioms to suggest that aren’t listed above or you’ve come across an idiom you don’t understand, please post it below!

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