70 English Idioms That'll Help You Become Fluent in No Time
Review this list of idioms to improve your fluency and learn more about the English language.
Anyone who has ever taken a stab at teaching English as a second language is familiar with our many idioms. To native speakers, they appear easy, organic, and informal. But to those who are just learning the language, they can be anything but. If you think about it, the literal meaning surrounding most English idioms is random at best, and nonsensical at worst. Take a stab, really? How? Anyway, confusing as they may be, these expressions are well-integrated into the way we speak. To help you navigate through your next conversation, we've put together a list of the most common idioms around. You can practice these at home or in person with whoever you run into first!
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Why Is It Important to Practice Idioms When Learning English?
Idioms are so innately tied to the way we communicate, that the Department of State actually put together a guide to help new speakers identify and execute them effectively in everyday conversation. Academics have also emphasized the importance of including them in ESL teaching materials. Taking the time to sit down and learn some will help you understand the intricacies involved in any conversation with a native English speaker. Doing so will also improve your speaking skills, giving you access to new and exciting ways of expressing yourself.
Common English Idioms
Through thick and thin meaning
Meaning: Through good times and bad.
She was going through a difficult time, but she knew her friends would be there for her through thick and thin.
Bite the bullet
Meaning: To approach an intimidating situation promptly and with determination.
He was scared of confronting his brother, but he decided to bite the bullet and talk to him.
Chip off the old block
Meaning: A way to express that someone shares specific characteristics and traits with their parents.
Considering how he led the meeting, you could certainly tell he was a chip off the old block.
Ring a bell
Meaning: When something seems familiar, but you can't recall specifics.
I'm not sure where I know that saying from, but it definitely does ring a bell.
To play devil's advocate
Meaning: To argue against someone's point for the sake of sparking debate, even if you don't believe in what you're saying.
I agreed with what she was saying, but I wanted to play devil's advocate to see how she would respond to some criticism.
A taste of your own medicine
Meaning: To be treated in the same way you treat others.
I didn't want to make her feel excluded, but it was time she experienced a taste of her own medicine.
Draw the line
Meaning: To set a limit or boundary.
I didn't want to appear rigid, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
Hang in there
Meaning: To persevere; to remain optimistic in the face of a challenge.
I know it's tough but you just need to hang in there; you'll get through this.
Sit on the fence
Meaning: To remain neutral and impartial. It can also be used to describe someone who tries to avoid conflict by not taking a side.
I was hoping for more support during the debate, but she decided to sit on the fence instead.
Cut to the chase
Meaning: Get to the main point of the story without adding any unnecessary details.
I don't need to hear every detail, just cut to the chase already.
Lose one's touch
Meaning: To no longer perform well in an area you once excelled in.
I used to be a great piano player, but I've lost my touch over the years.
Face the music
Meaning: To accept or confront the consequences of your actions.
He was tired of running, so he decided it was time to face the music and turn himself in.
Jump on the bandwagon
Meaning: To participate in a popular trend regardless of your interest or understanding of it.
I protested for a while, but I finally decided to jump on the bandwagon and get a pair of Crocs.
Hit the books
Meaning: To study in a serious and focused way.
I haven't seen her for a couple of weeks, she must really be hitting the books.
Fair and square
Meaning: A situation that is just, honest, and straightforward.
There was no cheating involved, he won the race fair and square.
Down for the count
Meaning: A way to describe a situation in which the person involved is unavailable or incapacitated.
I was hoping to see him at the party tonight but it seems like he's down for the count.
The whole nine yards
Meaning: Giving or doing everything possible to realize the full extent of something.
The weather was awful, but I wanted to go the whole nine yards and finish the trail.
Read between the lines
Meaning: To pick up on the subtleties and subtext of any given situation.
Her message seemed friendly on the surface, but if you read between the lines, you could easily pick up on the hostility.
Look before you leap
Meaning: To exercise caution before moving forward with a specific endeavor.
I support the move, I just want to make sure that you look before you leap and do a little more research beforehand.
Get in shape
Meaning: To improve your physical and overall health.
I want to get in shape so I decided to start going to the gym again.
Actions speak louder than words
Meaning: What you do carries more meaning than what you say.
She said she was excited about our engagement, but actions speak louder than words and she decided not to attend the bridal shower.
Hook, line, and sinker
Meaning: To believe something entirely and without hesitation.
She believed everything he said that day, hook, line, and sinker.
Give it a whirl
Meaning: To try something out or to attempt to do something for the first time.
I've been reading about the many health benefits of yoga, so I decided to give it a whirl.
Meaning: To remain patient and take no action.
I understand you're frustrated, but we just need to sit tight until this gets resolved.
Go back to the drawing board
Meaning: To revisit your initial idea or plan.
I thought it was a good pitch, but clearly there are some issues, so it's best we go back to the drawing board.
It's not rocket science
Meaning: Referring to something obvious or apparent.
Of course you should lock your doors at night, this isn't rocket science.
English Idioms About Nature
Beat around the bush
Meaning: To avoid a certain subject or fail to address the real issue at hand.
Please stop beating around the bush and tell me exactly what happened.
It's always darkest before the dawn
Meaning: Things always seem to be at their worst right before they begin to improve.
Don't worry, you'll start feeling better soon and realize that it's always darkest before the dawn.
Throw caution to the wind
Meaning: To abandon all heed in pursuit of something, even if you may fail.
She decided to throw all caution to the wind and pursue her dream job, even though the market is tough.
Once in a blue moon
Meaning: To do something rarely, or infrequently.
I will occasionally have a cigarette, but only once in a blue moon.
Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: To waste your energy on something or someone who has no intention of satisfying your request.
He thought she was going to give him her number, but he was barking up the wrong tree.
Every cloud has a silver lining
Meaning: There is something positive to take from every obstacle.
She was going through a difficult time, so I wanted to remind her that every cloud has a silver lining.
Can't see the forest for the trees
Meaning: To be so caught up in minor details that you cannot see the entirety of the situation.
He was so focused on the project that he couldn't see the forest for the trees and began neglecting the company's overall mission.
Come rain or shine
Meaning: To follow through on a plan no matter what disruptions the weather presents.
Come rain or shine, this birthday party is going to happen.
Put something on ice
Meaning: To delay doing something or put something on hold.
The process of planning a wedding became so overwhelming that they decided to put things on ice for a while.
Under the weather
Meaning: To feel sick or slowed down.
I'm feeling a little under the weather so I'll be working from home today.
Blow off steam
Meaning: To get rid of pent-up energy or aggression.
Do you want to grab a drink tonight? I need to blow off some steam after that meeting.
Treading on thin ice
Meaning: To find yourself in a precarious or risky position, unaware of the potential consequences.
Be careful with what you say to your sister, you're already treading on thin ice with her.
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Common Idioms Involving Body Parts
Break a leg
Meaning: A way of wishing someone good luck.
Break a leg at your performance tonight.
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Meaning: To be openly emotional.
It's hard for me to conceal how I feel, you know I always wear my heart on my sleeve.
To wrap one's head around
Meaning: To understand or accept a complex and confusing situation.
Give me a minute to wrap my head around what's going on here.
Keep an ear to the ground
Meaning: To remain well-informed in certain areas or events.
We're unsure about how this will affect sales, so keep an ear to the ground on how other companies are navigating this change.
To bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: To commit to more responsibilities or tasks than you can handle.
I think I bit off more than I can chew with all these extracurriculars.
See eye to eye
Meaning: To agree or share an opinion with someone else.
We don't always see eye to eye, but we respect each other's opinions.
To fall on deaf ears
Meaning: To be ignored or disregarded in some way.
She had some good suggestions but they all fell on deaf ears and not one was accepted by the board.
Twist someone's arm
Meaning: To persuade or pressure someone into doing something they don't want to do.
I had to twist his arm to get him to agree to come to the party.
Pull someone's leg
Meaning: To playfully deceive someone; to tease or joke in a humorous way.
I'm just pulling your leg, I wouldn't actually message him from your phone.
English Idioms About Food
Spill the beans
Meaning: To tell someone everything you know about someone or something.
All right, spill the beans—how did the date go last night?
The best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: A good and useful innovation.
I love the new espresso machine! I think it's the best thing since sliced bread.
Take it with a grain of salt
Meaning: To accept that an anecdote or story may not be entirely accurate.
I know it's upsetting, but it's important to take everything he says with a grain of salt.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: To not concentrate all of your efforts in one area.
I think the job interview went well, but I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket so I'm still applying.
Going cold turkey
Meaning: To quit entirely and all at once.
She didn't even try to wean off smoking, she just quit cold turkey.
A piece of cake
Meaning: Something that can be executed or completed easily.
I was worried about the final exam but it really was a piece of cake.
Sell like hot cakes
Meaning: A popular item that is selling quickly and better than expected.
You better get those concert tickets soon; they're selling like hotcakes!
Familiar Animal Idioms
Meaning: To ask for help when you don't actually need it.
Don't pay attention to her, she's always crying wolf.
Has bigger fish to fry
Meaning: To have more substantial issues to deal with.
I'm not getting involved in this argument, I've got much bigger fish to fry.
Fish out of water
Meaning: A way to describe someone who is new to a situation and operating uncomfortably.
Coming from the suburbs, she was walking around New York City like a fish out of water.
Straight from the horse's mouth
Meaning: To receive information directly from the source.
I heard the news straight from the horse's mouth.
Get butterflies in your stomach
Meaning: To feel nervous or anxious about something.
I always get butterflies in my stomach before a big presentation.
Ants in your pants
Meaning: To be restless or unable to sit still.
The kids started to get ants in their pants toward the end of the ride.
Let sleeping dogs lie
Meaning: To evade conflict by avoiding communication.
I know you want to confront him about what he did, but sometimes it's best to let sleeping dogs lie.
Wild goose chase
Meaning: A pointless pursuit of something that cannot actually be obtained.
The detectives were sent on a wild goose chase, with each tip leading to a dead end.
Idioms About Money
In for a penny, in for a pound
Meaning: To fully commit to something, even if it may be challenging or expensive.
I've already spent so much money on this vacation, but I figure, "In for a penny, in for a pound," so I splurged on the more expensive tour.
Meaning: A reference to the power or influence money has in decision-making.
Money talks, which is why he was able to avoid going to trial.
Penny-wise and pound-foolish
Meaning: To be cautious about small amounts of money but careless when it comes to big-picture investments.
I thought it was smart to buy cheap cars, but with the money I've spent on repairs, the decision has proved to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Put your money where your mouth is
Meaning: To follow through on a promise with action or financial support.
If you're so confident about your investment strategy, why don't you put your money where your mouth is?
Make ends meet
Meaning: To earn enough money to cover your basic needs.
It's tough to make ends meet on minimum wage, but we manage.
Meaning: A business or product that generates a lot of profit.
The new line of products has been a cash cow for the company.
Don't give up your day job
Meaning: To imply that someone is not very good at doing something.
I appreciate you trying to learn how to cook, but I wouldn't give up your day job.
Break the bank
Meaning: To spend more money than you can afford.
I want everything to look nice for the event, but don't break the bank on decorations.
That's it for our list of idioms, but be sure to check back with us soon for more ways to connect to the world around you. You can also sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss out on what's next!