English Idioms and Phrases: A List with Meanings & Examples

 

English Idioms and Phrases

Find Common English Idioms and Phrases

This page features a comprehensive list of common English idioms and phrases for language learners and teachers. The meanings for each expression are provided, along with example sentences to clarify the meanings in context.

Here are some of the key features of the list of expressions at the bottom of the page:

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A Searchable List of Common English Idioms and Phrases

ExpressionsMeaningsExamples
a bitter pillsomething unpleasant that must be acceptedAwarding the trophy to her enemy was a bitter pill to swallow.
a dime a dozencommon and available any whereCorrupt cops are a dime a dozen in this city.
a little bird told mesomeone told me a secretA little bird told me that you're getting a divorce.
a penny for your thoughtsask for adviceCould I have a penny for your thoughts? I don't know how to solve this problem.
ace in the holea hidden strength or advantageThey'll win the game since their rookie goalkeeper is an ace in the hole.
Achilles' heelsomeone's weaknessVodka is his Achilles' heel. He only loses his composure when he drinks it.
actions speak louder than wordsjudge what someone does rather than what they sayHe said he was faithful, but he always comes home late at night. His actions certainly speak louder than words.
add insult to injuryworsen an unfavorable situationShe added insult to injury by picking her little brother's ice cream off the dirty floor and sticking it in his mouth.
all earslisten carefully"Are you paying attention?" Jane asked. Jack responded, "I'm all ears!"
all thumbsclumsyI'm all thumbs today. I keep dropping my phone!
an arm and a legvery expensiveThat new car costs an arm and a leg.
ants in your pantsanxious or nervousFrank had ants in his pants before taking his exam.
at the drop of a hatinstantlyAt the drop of a hat, I called my sister when I heard she was pregnant!
back to the drawing boardbegin something all over againIt was back to the drawing board after the team failed to make the playoffs.
ball is in your courtthe decision is up to youWe offered him an extra million dollars. The ball is in his court if he wants to sign the contract.
bark up the wrong treelook in the wrong place or falsely accuseHe asked me if I broke his laptop. I said he was barking up the wrong tree.
basket caseerratic or panickyShe became such a basket case when she discovered her ex was at the party.
beat a dead horsedwell on a topic beyond resolutionI told you several times that I won't do it. Don't beat a dead horse!
beat around the bushavoid talking about something specificallyStop beating around the bush! Get to the point already!
best of both worldsenjoy two different opportunitiesJoe got the best of both worlds when he married Amy who was his best friend and a supermodel.
bite off more than one can chewtake on more responsibility than what is manageableHe was multitasking and getting stressed, so I told him not to bite off more than he could chew.
bite the bulletto endure an unpleasant and unavoidable situationRebecca hated her job, but she bit the bullet and completed her contract.
bite the dustdie or failThe hunter fired his gun and the deer bit the dust.
black sheepunaccepted group memberTom was the black sheep of the family and preferred to do things on his own.
break a leggood luckBefore the final exam, the teacher told his students to break a leg.
burn the midnight oilwork late into the nightThe student burned the midnight oil in order to pass the test.
bust one's chopssay something insultingShe always busts his chops about his fashion style.
by the seat of one's pantsachieve instinctively or quicklyTony did his impromptu speech by the seat of his pants without any preparation.
by the skin of one's teethbarely or narrowlySara finished the test by the skin of her teeth just before the bell rang.
call it a dayfinish workLet's call it a day. It's time to go home.
cat napa short sleepMy father always takes a cat nap after work.
cat's got one's tonguesaid when someone doesn't speakCat's got your tongue? You haven't said a word since we arrived.
cheap as chipsvery inexpensiveThis cup of coffee was only 50 cents. Cheap as chips!
chicken outavoid doing something because of fearMary was going to go skydiving, but she chickened out.
chink in one's armorvulnerable areaBob was a great teacher, but the chink in his armor was his fear of public speaking.
clam upbecome quietTom always clams up when you ask him about his ex-girlfriend.
copy catsomeone who copies anotherYou're such a copy cat! Do your own work!
couch potatolazy personDon't be such a couch potato and do some work for once!
crocodile tearsfake tearsHer little daughter always cries crocodile tears to get whatever she wants.
cut the cheesefartWho cut the cheese? It smells awful in here.
cut the mustardmeet expectationsGeorge's work ethic didn't cut the mustard, so he got fired.
cut the rugdanceI love this song! Let's go on the dance floor and cut the rug!
dog daysvery hot daysThe dog days of summer are really humid and uncomfortable.
don't count chickens before they hatchdon't plan for something that may not happenZoe bought the dress, before anyone asked her to the prom. I told her not to count her chickens before they hatch.
drop like fliesdye or give up quicklyThe other candidates dropped like flies at the end of the election.
eager beaversomeone who is excited about somethingShe's such an eager beaver when checking updates on Instagram.
elephant in the rooma sensitive unaddressed issueThe couple's money problem was an elephant in the room. They never talk about finances.
every cloud has a silver liningbe optimisticShe got fired but found a better job she. Every cloud has a silver lining.
fishystrange or suspiciousSomething fishy is going on. He takes his wedding ring off when he leaves.
fit as a fiddlegood physical healthLook at those abs! You are as fit as a fiddle!
get bent out of shapeget upsetThe waiter got so bent out of shape when the customer tipped him a penny.
give a cold shoulderto deny or ignoreShe game him a cold shoulder when he asked for her phone number.
grass is always greener on the other sideothers always have it betterWhenever she complains about her hometown, I remind her that the grass is always greener on the other side.
have a blasthave a good timeWe all had a blast at the party!
have a cowget upsetDon't have a cow! It's not like I scratched the car on purpose!
have eyes in the back of one's headperceptiveHis girlfriend must have eyes at the back of her head. She always knows what he's up to.
heard it through the grapevinehear a rumorI heard it through the grapevine that you were getting nose surgery.
hit the nail on the headto be precisely accurate or correctI couldn't have said it better myself. You really hit the nail on the head.
hit the roadleaveWhen the bell rang, the teacher told the students to hit the road.
hit the sack / sheets / haygo to sleepI'm so tired. It's time to hit the sack.
hold your horseswait and be patientHold your horses! I'll be ready in a minute.
holy cowthat is surprisingHoly cow! Did she really dye her hair blue?
horse aroundplay roughlyStop horsing around kids. You're in the library.
I betI think soI bet she's going to arrive late to work again.
in the dog housein troubleThe coach won't let me play. I'm in the dog house.
it takes two to tangoit takes more than one personThere is now way she robbed the store alone. It takes two to tango. Someone helped her break in.
jump shipescapeThe employees all jumped ship when they heard the company was going bankrupt.
kick the bucketdieI hope I can travel the world before I kick the bucket.
kill two birds with one stoneaccomplish two things at onceWhy not kill two birds with one stone and brush your teeth in the shower?
kitty cornerdiagonally across fromStarbucks is kitty corner to the gas station.
let the cat out of the bagreveal a secretDon't let the cat out of the bag about the birthday party.
make from scratchmake with original ingredientsMy wife made me a delicious omelette from scratch.
method to my madnesshaving a purpose despite some disorganizationI know my desk is a mess, but there is a method to my madness. It makes everything easier to access.
monkey see, monkey dosilly people copy each otherMonkey see, monkey do. Your brother spilt ketchup on his shirt too.
nest eggsaved moneyShe has a huge nest egg, so she doesn't have to work anymore.
off one's rockercrazyJanet is licking food off the floor. She must be off her rocker.
off the hookescape obligationThe boss let him off the hook and said he didn't have to work today.
once in a blue moonrarelyThe truck driver visits his kids once in a blue moon.
piece of cakeeasyThe test was a piece of cake. Everyone got an A!
pig outeat a lotLast night, I pigged out on a bag of potato chips.
piss in one's cornflakesto annoy out of spiteShe always pisses in his cornflakes because of what he did to her last year.
pull somebody's legtease or joke aroundI'm just pulling your leg. Don't take it too seriously.
pushing up daisiesdieYou'll be pushing up daisies if you don't quit smoking.
raining cats and dogsraining heavilyIt's raining cats and dogs. Remember your umbrella.
rat racecompetitive struggleI escaped the rat race in the office and moved to Hawaii.
right as rainfeeling very well or fitAfter a walk through the park, I feel as right as rain. My mind feels clear.
screw the poochfailCarl really screwed the pooch on the exam. He's the only one who failed.
shoot the breezechitchatLet's grab lunch and shoot the breeze.
shooting fish in a barreleasy or not challengingFor my brilliant little brother, setting up the Wifi connection is like shooting fish in a barrel.
sleep with the fishesdieBefore pulling the trigger, he told the gangster to sleep with the fishes.
smell a ratsuspect deceptionI smell rat. I know I left my wallet on my desk, but it's gone.
spill the beansreveal a secretWho spilt the beans about my brother's surprise birthday party?
steal someone's thunderto take credit for someone else's achievementSome companies steal another's thunder and ignore copyright laws.
straight from the horse's mouthdirectly from the sourceThe boss said we're bankrupt. The news came straight from the horse's mouth.
take the bull by the hornsbe brave and face a challengeIf you want to be rich, take the bull by the horns and work harder.
take the cakeespecially good or outstandingHis slapshot definitely takes the cake. It's the best in the league!
take with a grain of saltnot take too seriouslyYou should take everything she says with a grain of salt. Don't get too offended by her.
the birds and the beessex educationI remember learning about the birds and the bees in middle school.
the lion's sharethe majorityShe was upset because her sister got the lion's share of the inheritance.
the whole nine yardseverythingWe covered the whole nine yards in the meeting. There's nothing left to do.
through thick and thinin good and bad timesHe loved his wife through thick and thin.
throw under the bussacrifice someone as a scapegoatThe player threw the goaltender under the bus saying he was the reason they lost the game.
tongue in cheeknot meaning what one is sayingWhen I said to fly to Hawaii, I was speaking tongue in cheek. I didn't actually think you would book a ticket!
under my thumbunder my controlMick said the girl was under his thumb. She was the sweetest pet in the world.
under the weatherfeel sickSorry, I can't come to work today. I'm feeling a bit under the weather.
until the cows come homefor a long timeShe can watch Netflix until the cows come home.
wild goose chaselengthy undertaking that accomplishes littleMaking the playoffs is now a wild goose chase. The team should focus on player development.
you betabsolutely or "of course"Marge told Bart to take out the trash. He said, "Sure, mom. You bet!"
you can say that againthat is definitely true"This movie is so boring," she said. "You can say that again," her friend replied with a yawn.

*Updated: March 24, 2017

 

 

 

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