50 Popular English Idioms
1. CRUNCH TIME: the period of time just before a project has to be completed and everyone has to work hard
- I’m not getting enough sleep these days. It’s crunch time at work.
2. LET YOUR FREAK FLAG FLY: to let others see your uniqueness
- My colleagues were surprised at the Christmas party- I let my freak flag fly and showed them a break dance routine.
3. GET OUT OF HAND: when you lose control of things, they get out of hand
- The party got out of hand and the guests started to throw bottles at each other.
4. GET YOUR HEAD AROUND IT: to understand something
- I just can’t get my head around the fact that Joe is leaving us.
5. DIG IN YOUR HEELS / STICK TO YOUR GUNS: to refuse to compromise or change your mind
- My parents wanted me to give up writing, but I dug in my heels and went on to become a famous writer.
- My parents wanted me to give up writing, but I stuck to my guns and went on to become a famous writer.
6. POUND THE PAVEMENT: to walk the streets looking for a job
- I’d been pounding the pavement for months before I found a job in a fast food restaurant.
7. PULL A RABBIT OUT OF A HAT: to do something unexpected that may have seemed impossible
- I thought we were going bankrupt, but my partner pulled a rabbit out of his hat and we landed a major contract.
8. LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED: to do everything you can to achieve your goal
- I’ll leave no stone unturned until I find out who did this.
9. GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM: to do something you’ve wanted to do for a long time and don’t want to postpone any longer
- I wasn’t sure how she was going to react, but I had to get it out of my system, so I told her I had found another woman.
10. STEP UP YOUR GAME: to start performing better
- If you want to win this competition, you’ll have to step up your game.
11. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER: to calm down and behave normally
- I understand you’ve had a bad day, but pull yourself together and get on with your job, will you?
12. SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT: either start performing better or leave
- This is the last time I’m telling you to arrive on time. Shape up or ship out.
13. CUT SOMEBODY SOME SLACK: to give somebody a break/ not to judge somebody severely
- I was extremely busy last week. Cut me some slack and I’ll finish the report by tomorrow morning.
14. BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH: when you do something by the skin of your teeth, you only just succeed/ nearly fail
- I hadn’t studied much, but passed the test by the skin of my teeth.
15. ONCE IN A BLUE MOON: when something rarely ever happens
- We used to see him all the time, but now he just visits us once in a blue moon.
16. GO DOWN IN FLAMES: to end or fail suddenly and spectacularly
- She’d wanted to become Managing Director, but her career went down in flames when they found out she’d been leaking information to our competitors.
17. TAR SOMEONE WITH THE SAME BRUSH: to believe that someone has the same bad qualities as others in a group
- I don’t think much of that band, but the singer shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush. She’s got a fantastic voice.
18. COME OUT SWINGING: to be confrontational and strongly defend yourself at the beginning of a debate
- Our local MP came out swinging against the current leadership and demanded that the government resign.
19. HANG IN THERE: wait and be patient
- I know you’d really like to call him, but I don’t think that’s the right thing to do now. Just hang in there and he will call you.
20. SHOOT FROM THE HIP: to speak directly
- If you want to get on well with your boss, try not to shoot from the hipnext time. You don’t want to offend him, do you?
21. GO THE EXTRA MILE: to make a special effort/try very hard to achieve your goal
- If you want to become proficient in English, you’ll have to go the extra mile and start learning idioms.
- My English class was great, we learnt so much because our teacher was the best, she always went the extra mile for us.
22. RUNNING ON FUMES: to continue to stay awake when feeling exhausted
- I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go home now. I haven’t slept for twenty hours and I’m running on fumes.
23. SOLD ME OUT: to snitch on someone, or let their secret out
- I asked you to keep it to yourself! I can’t believe you sold me out, I trusted you!
24. YOU SOLD ME (ON SOMETHING): you convinced me of something, because you were persuasive
- OK, you’ve sold me. I’ll go to the match with you.
25. BLEW ME AWAY: when something blows you away, you’re extremely impressed by it
- The exhibition just blew me away. I’d never seen so many beautiful paintings before.
26. BLOW SMOKE: to exaggerate or say things that aren’t true to make you seem better/ more knowledgeable than in reality
- I’m not blowing smoke. I have honestly read War and Peace by Tolstoy.
27. CRY WOLF: to call for help when you don’t need it
- Do you think Peter is in trouble or is he just crying wolf?
28. COULDN’T CARE LESS: used to express total lack of interest in something
- That man stole a bottle of wine from the shop.
- Oh, really? I couldn’t care less.
29. BE CHUFFED TO BITS: to be pleased and happy
- Hey, thanks for the present! I’m chuffed to bits.
30. FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER: to be ill or unable to do regular activities
- I think I’m going to have to take the day off work. I feel quite under the weather today.
31. BE TICKLED PINK: to be excited and happy
- She was tickled pink by all the compliments she’d received.
32. A BAKER’S DOZEN: thirteen
- Check out our baker’s dozenlanguage learning tips.
33. COMFORT FOOD: food that makes you feel better, because it reminds you of your childhood
- After a tiring day, it’s so nice to make some comfort food and settle down with a good book.
34. SKELETON CREW: the minimum number of people needed to keep a service/office operating
- Can you come back after the holidays? We’re operating with a skeleton crew at the moment.
35. LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY: to let something happen, no matter what happens next
- I must tell John how I feel about him,let the chips fall where they may.
36. NO-BRAINER: an easy decision
- Do you think I should propose to Judy?
- Come on, it’s a no-brainer. She’s such a fantastic woman!
37. A STONE’S THROW: very near
- The hotel was a stone’s throw fromthe beach. I loved it.
38. HEAR ON THE GRAPEVINE: to hear a rumour or unconfirmed story
- I heard on the grapevine that Charlie and Sarah are dating at the moment.
39. SIT ON THE FENCE: to stay neutral and not take sides
- Well don’t you think I’m right, he’s been acting differently hasn’t he?
- I’m sitting on the fence with this one, you’re both my good friends.
40. TAKE WHAT SOMEONE SAYS WITH A PINCH OF SALT: regard something as exaggerated, or only believe a part of something
- Did you hear what Tina said happened in the office yesterday?
- Oh, I would take anything she says with a pinch of salt.
41. FREAK OUT: to become very angry, scared or excited
- Mum, don’t freak out! I married a guy in Las Vegas.
42. BE A CATCH: be someone worth marrying/having
- John is taking me out tonight. He’ssuch a catch, I hope he’ll propose.
43. PIECE OF CAKE: when something is extremely easy to do
- Do you think you could beat him in a race?
- Yeah, piece of cake. I’m definitely a lot faster than him.
44. HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD: used if something someone says, is precisely correct
- My doctor hit the nail on the head. He knew exactly what was wrong with me!
45. COSTS AN ARM AND A LEG: when something is very expensive
- My son wants that mountain bike for his birthday, but it’ll cost an arm and a leg!
46. HIT THE BOOKS: to study very hard
- Do you want to go for lunch somewhere nice?
- No thanks, I’m going to hit the books. I have an exam coming up soon.
47. BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW: to take on something that is too much for you to handle
- He recently got promoted and took on some new responsibilities, but he’s just too busy. He bit off more than he could chew, and I don’t think he can handle it anymore.
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48. WHEN PIGS FLY: this means that something will never happen
- Aren’t you going to buy that dream house you told me about?
- Ugh, I will when pigs fly. It’s just so expensive, I don’t think it’ll happen.
49. DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: this means don’t make a decision based on a brief impression or outward appearance
- I don’t like our new neighbours very much, they’re quite strange.
- Hey, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Give them a chance, I think they’re just a bit quirky but really nice!
50. YOU ROCK: you are great
- Thanks for the tickets, Rob. You rock!
51. MISS THE BOAT: when someone has missed their opportunity to do something
- Have you applied for that job yet?
- No, I think I may have missed the boat. I should’ve done it last week.
I hope you are tickled pink to have learnt all these exciting idioms. Is there anything else you would like to learn about? Let us know in the comment area below.
English Idioms Related to School and Education
1. PUT / GET YOUR THINKING CAP ON
To engage your mind and think in a serious manner.
- Right, we need to figure out how we’re going to solve this problem before mum and dad get back, solet’s put our thinking caps on!
2. DRAW A BLANK
To get no response from someone when they are asked a question.
- I asked him about his plans for Christmas, but I just drew a blank. He didn’t seem to understand what I was asking him!
3. BACK TO BASICS
An approach that uses traditional ideas and methods which have been successful in the past.
- They seem to prefer having everything back to basics in their office. They have minimal use of advanced technology, but apparently find everything simpler and easier to manage.
4. AS EASY AS ABC
Something that is very simple or easy.
- That jigsaw puzzle is as easy as ABC, I don’t understand why you’ve been struggling with it for so long.
Used to describe someone who copies another person’s work.
- I don’t like talking to her about my wedding plans because she’s such acopycat! I know she’ll steal my ideas and use them for her own wedding.
6. COVER A LOT OF GROUND
When a lot of work needs to be completed. If there is a lot of research to be done, or material to get through.
- Our team have done so well over the past two weeks, we’ve managed to cover so much ground that I feel this programme may be ready by the end of this month!
- We have to complete our research within the next month. We still have a lot of ground to cover, and I fear we may not get everything done in time.
7. COUNT NOSES
To count the number of people around you (generally used on a school trip, to check for missing students).
- My grandmother was constantlycounting noses at the birthday party. I think she felt responsible for all the children there!
8. EAGER BEAVER
Someone who works hard and is very enthusiastic.
- Mary is such an eager beaver, she always the first one to do whatever the boss asks. I think she’s hoping for a promotion!
9. DROP OUT OF SCHOOL (phrasal verb) / DROPOUT (noun)
To stop attending school completely (leave without graduating).
- She dropped out of school at the age of 14 to help her sick grandmother at home, but now she runs her own successful nursing home for the elderly!
- He’s a dropout, I can’t see him being anything successful with his current reputation.
10. SHOW OF HANDS
Raising hands to vote about something.
- With a show of hands, who would prefer to have longer working days but a shorter working week.
11. LEARN (SOMETHING) BY HEART / OFF BY HEART
To memorise something so well, that it can be written or recited without thinking.
- I can’t believe you learnt the whole Macbeth play by heart! Well done!
- She learnt all the compositions by Beethoven off by heart!
This is used to describe someone who reads a lot, all the time.
- You won’t be able to convince her to come out with us, she’s a realbookworm and will probably stay in to read!
13. FROM THE OLD SCHOOL / OF THE OLD SCHOOL
Holding attitudes or ideas that were popular and important in the past, but which are no longer considered relevant or in-line with modern trends.
- She was a teacher of the old schooland believed in strict discipline.
- My grandmother is from the old school, she made her children make their own lunches and walk to school.
14. THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
Learning through difficult experiences in life, as opposed to a formal, classroom education.
- I wasn’t able to go to college, but I learnt a lot in the school of hard knocks, it taught me a lot about life.
15. A FOR EFFORT
Giving someone recognition for trying hard to do something even though they may not be successful.
- Jenny definitely deserves an A for effort, she put so much work into her entry for the competition.
16. SCHOOL SOMEONE IN SOMETHING
To train, discipline or coach someone in something.
- She schooled her brother in patience.
17. CUT CLASS / PLAY HOOKY / SKIP CLASS
When someone plays truant and does not go to their lessons.
- David has been cutting class again; I haven’t seen him in any of our French lessons for the past week!
- They played hooky at college so they could be first in line for the concert tickets.
- The teacher told his parents that he’d been skipping classes! He’s not allowed to go out with us now.
18. SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
A particular philosophy, or a way of thinking about something.
- One school of thought holds that cats cause allergic reactions.
19. TELL TALES OUT OF SCHOOL / TELL TALES
To gossip or spread rumours.
- I wish Gina wouldn’t tell tales out of school so much, people find it hard to believe anything she says now, even if she is telling the truth!
20. YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS
This means it is difficult to make someone change the way they do something when they have been doing it the same way for a very long time.
- Jeremy tries so hard to show me how the computer works, but he doesn’t understand that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
21. THE OLD SCHOOL TIE / OLDBOY NETWORK
The way in which men who have been to the same expensive private school, help each other to find good jobs.
- The old school tie still has enormous power in most City companies.
- They don’t make any effort to find a job for themselves, the oldboy network does it all for them.
To try to develop an idea or think of new ideas.
- Let’s all separate into groups and try to brainstorm as many suggestions as possible for the next school play.
23. AN OLD HEAD ON YOUNG SHOULDERS
A child or young person who thinks and talks like an older person who has more life experience.
- Emily doesn’t fit in with the children at her school, she’s definitely an old head on young shoulders. She talks to them like a parent or teacher would!
24. CALL THE ROLL / TAKE THE ROLL
To call the names of a group of people (or students) and expect them to respond to show they are present.
- Jamie called the roll on the coach before we left to make sure that everyone had arrived.
25. CRACK A BOOK
To open a book to study (usually used in a negative sense).
- I kept telling my mum I didn’t need to study too hard for this exam because it’s easy, she wouldn’t listen to me though. She insisted I crack a book every evening!
26. CRANK OUT A PAPER
To write a paper or essay in a mechanical way.
- I had to crank out a new paperevery week to pass this course. It was really hard work!
27. FILL IN THE BLANKS
To supply missing words or information (this can be used in conversation or writing).
- I wasn’t here when the argument happened, so John filled in the blanks for me.
28. LEARN BY ROTE
To learn something by memorising it without giving any thought to what is being learnt.
- They had to learn the lyrics to two new songs by rote just before the show.
29. LEARN THE ROPES
To learn how to do a job properly, or how things work.
- It took me a while to learn the ropesin this law firm, some of their procedures are so complicated.
30. LEARN ONE’S LESSON
To suffer a bad experience and know not to do it again.
- I thought I was being funny by mocking Peter in front of everyone, but the way he reacted was so horrible. I’ve definitely learnt mylesson to not make a joke at someone else’s expense!
31. TEACH SOMEONE A LESSON
To do something to someone in order to punish them for something they’ve done.
- The boys next door wouldn’t stop playing pranks on the poor elderly couple across the road, so I played a prank on them to teach them a lesson!
32. PASS WITH FLYING COLOURS
To pass (a test) easily with a high score.
- I have some exciting news: I passed my driving test with flying colours!
33. SCHOOLBOY ERROR
A very basic or foolish mistake.
- He made a schoolboy error when he passed some of the responsibilities to Jonah, who took all the credit for everything they’d done.
34. A QUICK LEARNER
Someone who is able to learn a new skill or task very quickly.
- Kelly is a very quick learner; she has only been here for a week so far and has already taken on most of the previous secretary’s roles!
35. UNIVERSITY OF LIFE
The daily life and work where you learn more than you would by going to university.
- My grandfather began to work on the family farm when he was fourteen and learnt everything from the university of life.
36. SINGLE FILE
A line of people with one person standing behind another.
- We didn’t have any issues with crowd control at all. Everyone was eager to get an autograph from the band, but they waited patiently insingle-file.
37. MEET THE REQUIREMENTS FOR/OF SOMETHING
To fulfil the requirements for/of something.
- Unfortunately, I didn’t meet all their requirements for that job, so I didn’t get it.
38. MAKE THE GRADE
To be satisfactory and of an expected level.
- I didn’t make the grade for the final assignment, so I have to do it all over again!
39. HIT THE BOOKS
To begin to study hard.
- I hit the books as soon as I knew the date of the exam.
40. HAVE ONE’S NOSE IN A BOOK
To be reading a book.
- He always has his nose in a book, I wish he’d be a bit more sociable sometimes!
41. GOOF OFF / GOOF AROUND
To waste time, procrastinate.
- He spent all of last week goofing around, and now he’s panicking the day before the test!
42. TEACHER’S PET
A teacher’s favourite student.
- She always gets really good marks, I bet it’s because she’s teacher’s pet
15 COMMON ENGLISH IDIOMS AND PHRASES WITH THEIR MEANING
1. ‘The best of both worlds’ – means you can enjoy two different opportunities at the same time.
“By working part-time and looking after her kids two days a week she managed to get the best of both worlds.”
2. ‘Speak of the devil’ – this means that the person you’re just talking about actually turns up at that moment.
“Hi Tom, speak of the devil, I was just telling Sara about your new car.”
3. ‘See eye to eye’ – this means agreeing with someone.
“They finally saw eye to eye on the business deal.”
4. ‘Once in a blue moon’ – an event that happens infrequently.
“I only go to the cinema once in a blue moon.”
5. ‘When pigs fly’ – something that will never happen.
“When pigs fly she’ll tidy up her room.”
6. ‘To cost an arm and a leg’– something is very expensive.
“Fuel these days costs and arm and a leg.”
7. ‘A piece of cake’– something is very easy.
“The English test was a piece of cake.”
8. ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ – to accidentally reveal a secret.
“I let the cat out of the bag about their wedding plans.”
9. ‘To feel under the weather’ – to not feel well.
“I’m really feeling under the weather today; I have a terrible cold.”
10. ‘To kill two birds with one stone’ – to solve two problems at once.
“By taking my dad on holiday, I killed two birds with one stone. I got to go away but also spend time with him.”
11. ‘To cut corners’ – to do something badly or cheaply.
“They really cut corners when they built this bathroom; the shower is leaking.”
12. ‘To add insult to injury’ – to make a situation worse.
“To add insult to injury the car drove off without stopping after knocking me off my bike.”
13. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ – to not judge someone or something based solely on appearance.
“I thought this no-brand bread would be horrible; turns out you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
14. ‘Break a leg’ – means ‘good luck’ (often said to actors before they go on stage).
“Break a leg Sam, I’m sure your performance will be great.”
15. ‘To hit the nail on the head’ – to describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem.
“He hit the nail on the head when he said this company needs more HR support.”
To test your new-found knowledge here are some sentences to practice with. Fill in the blank!
A) I can’t afford this purse! It _______. I won’t be able to pay my rent!
B) His birthday was supposed to be a surprise! I can’t believe you _____. Now he knows!
C) Ha! John has been promising to paint the house for five years…. Maybe when _______.
D) Yeah, it’ll _______. I need to sign some papers at Jenny’s school anyway so i’ll pick her up for you too.
E) I don’t really like going out to bars anymore. I only go _______.
F) I’m sorry I can’t come into work today. I’m ________. I have a sore throat and runny nose.
G) They tried ________ when installing the pipes for the house and now we have leaks only one month after purchasing it!
H) We missed our flight to Paris because the connecting flight was late and to ______ they made us pay for a new ticket as if it was our fault!
I) I can’t wait to see you perform on stage tonight! ______!
J) Jane is just never on time to work, it’s really annoying. O wow, ______ here she comes…
K) So we’re going to London, then Munich, then we will fly out of Athens, right? Great. I’m so glad to be traveling with someone I _______ with.
L) Wow, she found her dream man and has now landed an amazing job. She really does have ______.
M) OK, she might not be the most attractive but _________. I’m sure she is a sweetheart.
N) I have been trying to figure this out for ages. Thanks so much, you’re right. You _______.
O) I can’t believe that was our test. I think it was easier than some of our homework! It was a ______.