Many English speakers can speak fluently and can communicate their meaning but will find themselves met with a phrase that completely throws them because it just doesn’t make sense.
What is an idiom?
An idiom is a phrase or expression that is universally understood to represent a concept or idea even though logically the words don’t make sense together. Usually they have a route where at one point they did make sense, but we’ve kept them and with the modern world, their literal meanings might not fit anymore but everyone understands exactly what you mean when you say them.
Why learn idioms?
Although learning idioms aren’t a necessity to have a command of the English language, if you want to break the barrier between fluency and native level then idioms are something you’re probably going to have to learn. If you want to fully integrate into English culture and you want to have conversations with native speakers on their level then idioms are something you’re going to have to learn.
They also help you to understand more about the history and culture of English speaking countries because idioms often have a cultural or historical route.
And they stop you from getting confused when you ask someone a question and they reply ‘your guess is as good as mine.’ Instead of thinking I didn’t want you to guess, you understand that they’re saying ‘sorry I don’t know.’
Common English Idioms
Best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: This is a way to say something is a really good invention or innovation. The implication being that sliced bread is the best invention we’ve ever had and whatever you’re talking about rivals that.
Blessing in disguise
Meaning: We use this to talk about things that may have seemed bad at first but end up turning out for the best, or bring something good with them.
Don’t give up the day job
Meaning: You use this when someone isn’t very good at something, implying that they should keep working because they wouldn’t be able to support themselves on the thing they’re not good at.
Hit the hay
Meaning: It’s a nice way to say you’re going to bed, like a farm animal going to sleep goes to lie down in it’s hay.
You’re pulling my leg
Meaning: When you think someone is winding you up or pulling a prank you say ‘you’re pulling my leg.’ It’s used for when you don’t believe someone or you think they’re trying to have a joke with you.
Storm in a teacup
Meaning: This is used to indicate an overreaction, anger or excitement over something that doesn’t really matter that much.
Get on like a house on fire
Meaning: Contrary to what you would expect, to get on like a house on fire actually means you get along very well with someone else.
Every cloud has a silver lining
Meaning: In every bad situation, something good will come out of it or there is always a good side to something that’s bad.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning: Don’t put all your hopes or money on one thing.
Good things come to those who wait
Meaning: It’s a way to tell people to be patient.
Go on a wild goose chase
Meaning: This is a pursuit of something absurd or that seems like a complete waste of time.
It’s raining cats and dogs
Meaning: This is pretty straight forward and just means that it’s raining really heavily.
Call it a day
Meaning: When it’s time to give up on something.
Hit the nail on the head
Meaning: When you’ve got something spot on.
Break a leg
Meaning: This is a way of saying ‘good luck,’ and is most commonly used in the theatre. Actually wishing someone good luck before they go on stage is considered bad luck.
Give the benefit of the doubt
Meaning: To believe the best in someone when you have the option of also thinking the worst.
It takes two to tango
Meaning: This is used to avoid placing the blame on one person. If a couple have an argument or someone has an affair, it’s a way of saying it takes two people to be involved in the argument or action, so you can’t put all the blame on one of them.
Heard it on the grapevine
Meaning: This is a way of saying you’ve heard rumours about someone or something. It’s not necessarily fact and you didn’t hear it from the person directly involved. Instead you heard it through whispers and gossiping.
Let sleeping dogs lie
Meaning: When something shouldn’t be brought up that’ll just cause hurt or conflict we say ‘let sleeping dogs lie’
Under the weather
Meaning: This is a way to say you’re feeling unwell. If you say you’re a bit under the weather it means you’re not very well but it’s not something seriously and is probably just a cold or something.
Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: When someone’s revealed some information that was supposed to be a secret we say let the cat out the bag.
Meaning: This is a way to say destroying relationships, because if you burn a bridge there’s no going back.
It’s not rocket science
Meaning: It’s a way of saying something is simple or easy to understand. Rocket science is considered to be something very difficult so saying ‘it’s not rocket science’ is a way of saying it’s easy.
You can say that again
Meaning: We use this when something is really obvious or you’re in agreement with what someone just said.
Method to the madness
Meaning: even though it may not seem conventional or even a random way of doing something, there is a reason why you’re doing it that way
A picture paints a thousand words
Meaning: It doesn’t matter what you say, you can see what’s really happening in the image.
Keep something or someone at bay
Meaning: Keep them away from you
Speak of the devil
Meaning: You use this when you’re talking about someone and they show up.
Beat around the bush
Meaning: When you don’t talk directly about something and instead talk around the topic.
To cost an arm and a leg
Meaning: This just means that something is really expensive.
Once in a blue moon
Meaning: Something that doesn’t happen very often.
A dime a dozen
Meaning: Something that’s very common and isn’t particularly special
To add insult to injury
Meaning: When a situation isn’t great and then something worse happens.
You can’t judge a book by it’s cover
Meaning: You shouldn’t judge someone by your first impressions if they’re based just on appearance.
Pull wool over someone’s eyes
Meaning: This is used when you deceive someone.
Your guess is as good as mine
Meaning: When someone has no idea what’s going on or doesn’t know the answer then they say this, because they don’t know so they would just be guessing like you would be if they answered.
Sit on the fence
Meaning: This means you’re undecided
A piece of cake
Meaning: This is used when something is really easy, we say it’s a piece of cake.
To cut corners
Meaning: To not do something properly or to skimp to save time or money.
At the drop of a hat
Meaning: To do something immediately or instantly
Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: When you’re pursuing the wrong course of action or accusing the wrong person of a thing.
The ball is in your court
Meaning: The next step in the situation is up to you.
Burn the midnight oil
Meaning: When you’re working late or in the evening/at night we use this phrase.
Steal someone’s thunder
Meaning: This is to take the attention of someone else. So if I was getting married, and my sister announced she was pregnant at my wedding she would be stealing my thunder.
Take it with a grain of salt
Meaning: This means not to take what someone says or does too seriously
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of common English idioms. If you can think of anymore that we’ve missed off then please let us know and we’ll happily add them to the list.
Many people can speak relatively fluent English, but it’s things like perfecting your accent and learning idioms that set you aside from other English learners and help you make the jump to fluency.