What is an idiom? An idiom is an expression or phrase whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. In other words “Idioms mean something different than the individual words.” Students often confuse idioms with proverbs. However, these are two different things. Proverbs are well-known for stating a piece of advice or general fact. For example, a picture is worth a thousand words is a proverb – a general truth. Let us consider the idiom ‘bite off more than you can chew‘. What you meant is that you are trying to do something that is too hard for you. Read this blog to know 100 useful and common idioms with examples and meanings.
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Idioms and their Meanings Quiz
What is an Idiom? – Meaning and Definition
A set of words, or, to put it another way, a phrase, that has a meaning beyond the words’ literal meanings is known as an idiom. The Cambridge Dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words in a fixed order that has a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own,” while the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words.”
A set of words that have a different meaning when used collectively than when each word is used individually is referred to as an idiom, according to the Collins Dictionary. A more detailed definition may be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. They define an idiom as “a statement in the usage of a language that is distinctive to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be deduced from the conjoined meanings of its constituents” (e.g., up in the air for “undecided”) or in its grammatically unconventional word usage (e.g., give way).
Why Use Idioms in Sentences?
Only when they are utilised correctly and in the appropriate contexts can idioms be an effective language tool. The fact that one cannot just rely on the meaning of individual words to grasp what the full phrase means is the sole thing that makes studying idioms a time-consuming process.
Idioms should not be utilised in writing for academic or professional purposes. In a more lighthearted setting, idioms may add personality to your work or speaking. Idioms can also be used to convey sarcasm or puns. You need to utilise idioms carefully, just like you would with any other language feature. The only issue is that it would be meaningless or have no impact to a group of individuals who are unfamiliar with the idiom you are employing. Therefore, you should always make sure that the audience you are utilising idioms with can understand their meaning.
100 Common Idioms with Examples & their Meanings
Have to come across commonly used English idioms while watching American TV series or movies? English expressions, proverbs and idioms play an important role in everyday English both written and spoken. As idioms do not always make literal sense, students should be familiar with their meanings and how to use them. This may appear to be a lot of work, but idioms are fun! It is often called a manner of speaking that sounds more native, so it’s really useful to master some of these expressions.
So, here’s a list of the top 100 common idioms with their meanings and sentence examples:
|Beat around the bush||To avoid talking about what’s important|
|Get your act together||Get organized and do things effectively|
|Hit the sack||Go to sleep|
|Your guess is as good as mine||I do not know|
|Good things come to those who wait||To have patience|
|Back against the wall||Stuck in a difficult circumstance with no escape|
|Up in arms||Being grumpy or angry about something|
|Scrape the barrel||Making the most of the worst situations or things because you can’t do anything about it|
|Burn your boats/bridges||Doing something that makes it impossible to go back to the original state.|
|Break fresh/ new ground||Doing something that has never been done before|
|Sell like hot cakes||Quick sellout|
|Run around in circles||Putting efforts into something that is not a worthwhile result|
|On cloud nine||Being very happy|
|Left out in the cold||Being ignored|
|Blow hot and cold||Alternate inconsistently between moods and actions|
|Cut corners||Doing something in an easier and least expensive manner|
|Boil the ocean||Taking up an almost impossible or overly ambitious project|
|Keep an ear to the ground||Staying informed and updated about everything|
|Eat like a horse||Eating too excessively|
|A snowball effect||The aspect of momentum in every event and how they build upon each other|
Important Tip to Learn Idioms with Examples and their meanings:
It is comparatively easier to remember words unlike idioms because idioms (phrases) contain 3 or more words. And, remembering a chain of words and then speaking them in the correct sequence is not easy. But, one thing you can do is to repeat the idiom and its meaning a few times loudly and then use it in 2 to 3 different sentences.
21. In for a penny, in for a pound
Meaning: That someone is intentionally investing his time or money for a particular project or task.
Example: When Athlead was booming, Jim was in for a penny and in for a pound, that’s how much dedicated he was.
22. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush
Meaning: An opportunity in hand, currently, is better than a prospect in the future, because time never repeats itself.
Example: The detective apprehended 3 criminals and saw another one running but didn’t chase him, because she knew a bird in one hand is better than two in the bush.
23. Chip off the old block
Meaning: A person is similar in behaviour or actions to his parents.
Example: When grandmother saw her grandson collecting coins like her son used to do, she knew he was a Chip off the old block.
24. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Meaning: Treat people the same way you want to be treated.
Example: I felt Peter was a little cold today towards that homeless man, he should do unto others as he would have them do unto him, because who knows about time.
25. Don’t cry over spilt milk
Meaning: Don’t cry over what has happened as it can not be fixed.
Example: Walter failed his examination but his dad came and said just one thing, “Son, Don’t cry over spilt milk.”
26. Every cloud has a silver lining
Meaning: Bad things one day eventually lead to good things.
Example: See, yesterday you were so morose as your phone was stolen but look at you today, you got a promotion. Is it rightly said that every cloud has a silver lining.
27. Beside yourself with joy
Meaning: To be extremely happy.
Example: I can see that you are beside yourself with joy on being selected for the job, congratulations.
28. Fair and square
Meaning: Being direct or fair.
Example: To tell you fair and square, I did everything that I was meant to do, but I still feel unfulfilled.
29. Having an Ace up the sleeve
Meaning: Have an advantage that is currently being withheld for future purposes.
Example: Brian kept quiet at the board meeting, who knew he had an Ace hidden up his sleeve the whole time.
30. A black sheep
Meaning: Being a disgrace for the family.
Example: They don’t talk about Olive anymore, turns out he was the Black sheep for the family, he married someone else while he was still arranged to his fiancé.
31. Hook, line and sinker
Meaning: Doing something or trying to achieve something with thoroughness and passion.
Example: I have set my mind to go through the spreadsheets by Monday and I am working for it Hook, line and sinker.
32. Looking to your laurels
Meaning: Not be lost in your achievements and losing the sight of what is supposed to happen.
Example: Look to your laurels but do not rest on it.
33. Bear a grudge
Meaning: To continue to feel angry or unfriendly for someone or something because of a particular past incident.
Example: I Bear a grudge against him for not taking me into confidence.
34. By the skin of your teeth
Meaning: To just barely get by or make it.
Example: Lester made the dance team By the skin of his teeth, you see the audition gates were about to get closed.
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35. Down for the count
Meaning: Tired; giving up.
Example: My pet dog is down for the count after playing the whole day with the frisbee.
36. Draw the line
Meaning: To stop before a point where something okay gets not okay.
Example: Hey buddy, that’s enough, Draw the line before someone comes and beats you to a pulp.
37. Easier said than done
Meaning: Not as easy as it appears to be.
Example: Listen, losing weight is easier said than done, many people lack commitment.
38. Break a leg
Meaning: Saying good luck to someone.
Example: Hey Barry, it’s time for you to get on the stage and present your monologue, break a leg.
39. Up a creek without a paddle
Meaning: In an unlucky situation.
Example: Dan tried to dine and dash yesterday at a Chinese place but he was stopped by the waiters, guess he was up a creek without a paddle yesterday.
40. Give it a whirl
Meaning: To give something a try.
Example: I am absolutely terrified of skydiving, but I think once in my life, I will give it a whirl.
41. Fish out of water
Meaning: To be out of your comfort zone.
Example: Tom felt like a fish out of water when his girlfriend took him to a Star Wars convention in LA.
42. In the fast lane
Meaning: A life filled with excitement.
Example: When Chris turned forty, he decided to live his life in the fast lane and quit his job for his hobbies.
43. Go the extra mile
Meaning: To make an extra effort.
Example: He was willing to go the extra mile for the love of his life, Mia.
44. Snug as a bug in a rug
Meaning: Warm and cosy.
Meaning: The baby looks as snug as a bug in a rug next to her mother.
45. Step up your game
Meaning: To start performing better
Example: Jennifer better step up her game if she wants to make big in Basketball.
Idioms are used as a figurative language, i.e. the use of words in an imaginative and unusual manner. Take a look at more idioms with examples.
46. To not see the wood for the trees
Meaning: To be so involved in trivial matters that you don’t get the important facts.
Example: He always argues on the silliest topics, it’s like he can’t see wood for the trees.
47. Lose your marbles
Meaning: To go insane.
Example: Our mailman has lost his marbles, every day he drops Mr. Smith’s mail on our door.
48. Straight from the Horse’s mouth
Meaning: Directly from the person involved.
Example: Listen to the news straight from the horse’s mouth, his factory burned down right in front of his eyes.
49. Crying Wolf
Meaning: To ask for help when you don’t need it.
Example: You have cried Wolf so many times that no one believes you now.
50. Palm off
Meaning: Pass off something as genuine when it is spurious.
Example: This shopkeeper always palms off old stock to the customers.
51. Has bigger fish to fry
Meaning: Has more important work to do.
Example: Please don’t bother me today with any calls, I have bigger fish to fry.
52. Look before you leap
Meaning: Calculate the risks before advancing towards a possibility.
Example: You can’t just sell all of your shares when the market is low, look before you leap, Trump is coming tomorrow, it is possible the shares will grow.
53. On thin ice
Meaning: In a precarious or risky situation.
Example: Andy played hooky from work for a week saying he was sick, now his boss said that he is on very thin ice.
54. Play devil’s advocate
Meaning: To argue, just for the sake of it.
Example: He was not agreeing to back off, as if he was playing devil’s advocate.
Besides, knowing about various idioms with examples, a good vocabulary can take you to places in competitive exams as well as in life. Here’s our blog on 50 difficult words with meanings for you to master your speaking skills now!
55. Rain on someone’s parade
Meaning: To spoil a moment.
Example: He told his wife that he doesn’t want to rain on her parade, but they had to shift their vacation dates.
56. Take a rain check
Meaning: Postpone a plan.
Example: He asked me whether I would like to have dinner with his family, but I had a thing so I said, rain check.
57. Take it with a grain of salt
Meaning: Don’t take it too seriously.
Example: She tells great tales but we take whatever she says with a grain of salt.
58. Like a cakewalk
Meaning: So easy task.
Example: Everyone took hours to write the code but Adam did it like a cakewalk.
59. Throw caution to the wind
Meaning: Take a risk.
Example: The caretaker threw caution to the wind by taking a sick baby outside.
60. Penny-wise and Pound foolish
Meaning: Careful in trivial matters but wasteful or extravagant in large matters.
Example: That man eats Ramen noodles daily for dinner but for his dog, he threw a big party. He is indeed penny-wise and pound-foolish.
61. The whole nine yards
Meaning: Everything, all the way.
Example: I want to know everything there is to know about this merger, the whole nine yards of the deal.
62. The best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: A really good invention.
Example: Bluetooth is officially the best thing since sliced bread.
It is important to note that idioms themselves do not create complete sentences and they require additional context to give them a sense. Take a look at some more idioms with examples and their meanings:
63. Bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: Take on a difficult work that is beyond your capabilities.
Example: Andrew told his boss that he will triple the sales but in reality, he bit off more than he can chew and now all of us are in trouble.
64. Play by the ear
Meaning: To improvise.
Example: I just went to Canada and did everything by the ear, no itinerary, no schedules.
65. Ignorance is bliss
Meaning: You are better off not knowing some things.
Example: His wife always asked him what it was he did late at night, turned out, he was insider trading. But she knew nothing about this so she won’t be convicted, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
66. Put something on ice
Meaning: To put something on hold.
Example: As per the boss’ order, Michael has put his personal matters on ice.
67. You can say that again
Meaning: That’s absolutely true.
Example: “The Earth is bleeding”, you can say that again, pal.
68. Bite the bullet
Meaning: To get something over with because it is inevitable.
Example: Vik was diagnosed with second stage cancer but he didn’t want to get chemotherapy. By the will of his wife, he bit the bullet.
69. Go back to the drawing board
Meaning: Start over.
Example: It is not too late to go back to the drawing board and assess your mistakes.
70. Call it a day
Meaning: Stop working on something.
Example: Ah! So what we didn’t complete the puzzle today, let’s call it a day and come back again tomorrow.
71. Beating Around the Bush
Meaning: To talk about unnecessary things.
Example: When I asked my secretary about the missing file and documents, she was beating around the bush.
72. Be in a Tight Corner.
Meaning: Being in a difficult situation.
Example: Radha’s low grades despite her constant efforts has put her in a very tight corner.
73. At the 11th Hour
Meaning: At the last moment.
Example: While leaving for Shimla, Harshit kept his mobile phone charger in the bag at the 11th hour.
74. Swan Song
Meaning: The last piece of work of an artist before his/her death.
Example: This painting was M.F Hussain’s swan song.
75. Wild Goose Chase
Meaning: Futile Chase
Example: Catching the two thieves together on a jam-packed road was no less than a wild goose chase for the policeman.
76. Bury the Hatchet
Meaning: Ending a quarrel to make peace.
Example: My father buried the hatchet by equally diving the pasta between me and my sister.
77. To Bell the Cat
Meaning: To face a risk.
Example: He belled the cat when he was trying to escape the prison.
78. Turn a deaf ear
Meaning: To ignore what someone is saying.
Example: Whenever her mother complained of her excessive use of mobile phone, Anu turned a deaf ear.
79. At Sea
Example: I was at sea while choosing a lehenga for my sister’s wedding at Manish Malhotra’s store.
80. To be in the doldrums
Meaning: To be in a low spirit
Example: When I got to know about the increasing cases of COVID 19 in my area, I was in the doldrums.
81. Hit the books
Meaning: Going to study
Example: I won’t be able to come for dinner as I have to hit the books for my half-yearly examinations.
82. Twist someone’s arm
Meaning: To convince someone
Example: I was not planning to come to the party but by remaining me of all the good food you twisted my arm!
83. Stab someone in the back
Meaning: To betray a close person
Example: My uncle trusted his driver so much but he stabbed him at the back when he saw all the money bags.
84. Go cold turkey
Meaning: To quit or stop addictive or dangerous behaviour
Example: No one could believe that my father left eating sweets! He went cold turkey when the doctors told him that he has diabetes.
85. Ring a bell
Meaning: Sounds familiar
Example: Why does this name ring a bell in my head? Was this girl in my school?
86. Cut to the chase
Meaning: Getting to the important point
Example: As the submissions were to be made tonight, boss cut to the chase and asked us to start working.
87. Blow off steam
Meaning: Experiencing strong feelings like anger or stress
Example: Shina went running to blow off steam as she had a huge fight with mother.
88. Face the music
Meaning: Face the reality
Example: Shikha asked her husband to not run away from the problem and just face the music once!
89. To have sticky fingers
Example: The cashier had a sticky finger, he stole around $2000 and ran away from the bank.
90. Break the bank
Meaning: To be very expensive
Example: I had to break the bank to but these shoes!
91. Face the music
Meaning: Confront the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions.
Example: We have done it and now it’s time to face the music!
92. It is always darkest before the dawn
Meaning: Things will get better
Example: I know you have gone through the worst, but remember it is always darkest before the dawn.
93. Jump the gun
Meaning: To act on something promptly before the right time
Example: I think I jumped the gun by sending the e-mail before they tell the time.
94. Wear your heart on your sleeve
Meaning: Expressing yourself too openly
Example: She wears her heart on her sleeve and often gets hurt.
95. Cut no ice
Meaning: Fail to make an impact
Example: Your poetry cuts no ice with me.
96. Light at the end of tunnel
Meaning: Seeing signs of improvement in the future
Example: I see the light at the end of the tunnel for my relationship with her.
97. Through thick and thin
Meaning: Through good and bad times
Example: Books and music stay by your side through thick and thin.
98. Cry for the moon
Meaning: To ask for something that is rather difficult
Example: You are crying for the moon for this concert’s tickets!
99. Read between the lines
Meaning: Understanding the real message behind something
Example: If you try to read between the lines, her song is actually about me.
100. Pour out one’s heart
Meaning: To express openly
Example: I can’t pour my heart out to you if you are too distracted by everything around you.
Learn the 100 Common Idioms with their Meanings
20 Idioms with their Meanings and Sentences
Here are the most common 20 idioms with their meanings and sentences:
- A left-handed compliment
Meaning: Saying something insulting in the form of appreciative words.
Example: Her words on my blog seem like a left-handed compliment.
- Once in a blue moon
Meaning: Not very often
Example: I visit her place once in a blue moon.
- Call a spade a spade
Meaning: Talking frankly
Example: I will not lie about it and call a spade a spade.
- Flesh and blood
Meaning: Referring to someone in family or human nature
Example: It’s flesh and blood to feel such strong emotions at this time.
- Jam on the brakes
Meaning: Press brakes of a vehicle suddenly
Example: I had to jam on the brakes when I saw the deer.
- Notch up
Meaning: To win or create a record
Example: One Direction notched up the finale with their amazing voice!
- A slap on the wrist
Meaning: Just a small punishment
Example: You will get a slap on the wrist for painting this wall but don’t dare to do it again.
- Knee Jerk Reaction
Meaning: A quick response
Example: The statement was just a knee jerk reaction.
- Once bitten, twice shy
Meaning: Afraid of doing something again
Example: Once bitten twice shy, he can’t ski.
- Forty winks
Meaning: A short nap
Example: I will be just in for forty winks, I promise.
- Up for grabs
Meaning: Available for everyone
Example: This pizza slice is up for grabs!
- Old as the hills
Meaning: Someone very old
Example: The man looks as old as the hills.
- Back to square one
Meaning: Start all over again
Example: Your mistake brought us back to square one.
- Round the bend
Example: My neighbour is round the bend, don’t try to mess with her.
- Against the clock
Example: I have to hurry for the meeting, I am against the clock.
- Black and blue
Meaning: Something bruised
Example: What happened? Your eyes look black and blue.
- Have the blues
Example: After meeting her, I am feeling the blues.
- Be glad to see the back of
Meaning: Happy when someone leaves
Example: Tomorrow, I will be glad to see the back of her.
- Black out
Example: I blacked out after two drinks.
- Get in Shape
Meaning: To become strong or fit
Example: I need to make a proper schedule to get in shape before the graduation ceremony.
30 More Idioms with Examples and their Meaning for Students
Here are the most common 30 idioms with their meanings and sentences:
- Shoot from the hip
Meaning: To speak bluntly or rashly without thinking carefully
Example: Don’t feel bad about what he said. He has a habit of shooting from the hip, but he means no harm
- Shoot oneself in the foot
Meaning: To harm one’s own cause inadvertently
Example: Foolishly harm one’s own cause, as in He really shot himself in the foot, telling the interviewer all about the others who were applying for the job he wanted.
- In cold blood
Meaning: If you do something violent and cruel in cold blood, you do it deliberately and in an unemotional way.
Example: In a purposely ruthless and unfeeling manner, as in The whole family was murdered in cold blood.
- Draw first blood
Meaning: If you draw first blood, you cause the first damage to an opponent in a conflict or contest.
Example: To be the first to gain an advantage or score against an opponent. I drew first blood in the tournament and quickly dispatched my opponent.
- Ace up one’s sleeve
Meaning: A secret or hidden advantage that you can use when you need it
Example: Cheating at a card game by hiding a favourable card up one’s sleeve. I have an ace up my sleeve for this race—my stamina.
- Play your cards right
Meaning: To behave or work in a way that gives you an advantage or improves your odds of success.
Example: Play your cards right in college and you’ll get a great job after you graduate
- Egg on your face
Meaning: If you’ve egg on your face, you look stupid and face embarrassment because of something you’ve done.
Example: Terry had an egg on his face after boasting that the examinations were really easy, but ended up failing most of his papers.
- Kill the goose that lays the golden eggs
Meaning: To destroy something that gives you a lot of money to get immediate returns
Example: Tearing down the top attraction in the theme park, “The Haunted House”, would be akin to killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
- An arm and a leg
Meaning: If something costs an arm and a leg, it costs a lot.
Example: I want to buy a house by the beach, but it may cost me an arm and a leg.
- Behind one’s back
Meaning: If you do something behind someone’s back, you do it secretly without their knowledge (used in negative way).
Example: My colleague is really nice to me but I don’t trust him because I know he talks negatively about me behind my back
- Stab someone in the back
Meaning: Harm someone who trusts you.
Example: Don’t trust George; he’s been known to stab his friends in the back
- Take a back seat
Meaning: If you take a back seat, you choose not to be in a position of responsibility or power.
Example: The founder of the company decided to take a back seat and let the board members run the business.
- Back to the drawing board
Meaning: If you go back to the drawing board, you make a fresh start or try another idea because the earlier one didn’t succeed.
Example: It looks like my plans to kill the weeds in the garden failed. Back to the drawing board
- Right off the bat
Meaning: If you do something right off the bat, you do it immediately.
Example: Nathan was in the mood for a cheeseburger, so he hopped into his car and bought some fast food. After unwrapping the burger, he took a bite and right off the bat he knew that something was wrong; it didn’t taste right.
- Heart misses (skips) a beat
Meaning: If your heart misses a beat, you feel excited or nervous.
Example: Her heart missed a beat when she heard her name called out in the list of finalists, or When the bear appeared in front of us, my heart skipped a beat, or My heart stands still at the very thought of flying through a thunderstorm
- Have your heart in your mouth
Meaning: If you’ve your heart in mouth, you’re feeling extremely nervous.
Example: You sure don’t seem relaxed—in fact, it seems like your heart is in your mouth.
- Not the only fish in the sea
Meaning: Not the only suitable thing or person one can find
Example: When Bob walked out on Sally, all we could tell her was that he was not the only fish in the sea , or Bill knew she wasn’t the only pebble on the beach but he was determined to win her over.
- Not your cup of tea
Meaning: If you say that someone or something is not your cup of tea, you mean that they’re not the kind of person or thing you like.
Example: We couldn’t decide which movie to watch, so we ended up settling on a comedy. Half-way through the movie, I concluded that its humor was not my cup of tea.
- A piece of cake
Meaning: If something is a piece of cake, it’s easy to do.
Example: The boy found the project to be a piece of cake because it was incredibly easy.
- Call it a day
Meaning: If you call it a day, you stop what you’re doing because you’re tired of it or you’ve not been successful.
Example: I think we have done enough work today, I am feeling tired now, let’s call it a day.
- The pot calling the kettle black
Meaning: Accusing someone of faults that you yourself have
Example: I can’t believe that you are upset because I was late. That is the pot calling the kettle black. Peter called me a liar! That is the pot calling the kettle black.
- Call a spade a spade
Meaning: To speak truth even if it’s unpleasant
Example: That dress made her look fat, let’s call a spade a spade before she goes out wearing it and embarrasses herself.
- A bolt from the blue
Meaning: A sudden, unexpected event
Example: Let us hope the pandemic disappears. It came as a bolt from the blue in 2020.
- In the same boat
Meaning: If two or more persons are in the same boat, they’re in the same difficult situation.
Example: If you lose your job, I’ll lose mine. We are both in the same boat.
- Miss the boat/ bus
Meaning: To miss an opportunity
Example: He missed the boat when he did not apply for the job in time.
- Over my dead body
Meaning: If you say something will happen your dead body, you mean you dislike it and will do everything you can to prevent it.
Example: I told John that he could shave his head, over my dead body.
- Make one’s blood boil
Meaning: To make someone extremely angry
Example: When I hear stories of cruelty to animals, it makes my blood boil.
- Bounce something off someone
Meaning: If you bounce something off someone, you discuss ideas or plan with someone to get their view on it.
Example: I caught the rubber ball when it bounced off the wall. The light bouncing off of that mirror is blinding me—can we close the curtains?
- Bell the cat
Meaning: To undertake a risky or dangerous task.
Example: Someone has to bell the cat and tell the commissioner that his own started the violence
- Like a cat on hot tin roof
Meaning: In an uneasy or nervous state
Example: She’s waiting for the doctor to call with her test results, so she’s been like a cat on a hot tin roof all day
IELTS Speaking – 7 Idioms for a Band 9 Score
Learning idioms with examples and their meaning is the best way to master them and make your writing more engaging. Try to practice idioms with examples of your own. If you wish to seek further guidance on your English-language proficiency test preparation like TOEFL or IELTS and your career, you can check out Leverage Edu today and schedule a free consultation session now.