What is an idiom? Browse this list of frequently used idioms to help you improve and increase your English vocabulary words quickly with useful example sentences and ESL infographic.
What Is An Idiom?
An idiom is a common word or phrase which means something different from its literal meaning but can be understood because of their popular use.
Idioms are not the same thing as slang. Idioms are made of normal words that have a special meaning known to almost everyone. Slang is usually special words or special meanings of normal words that are known only to a particular group of people.
Take some examples of idioms to understand more what it is. “Break a leg” – This is a way to wish someone good luck. “To shed crocodile tears” means to cry about something but without actually caring or another example is “It’s raining cats and dogs” means it’s raining heavily.
Common English Idioms
- Hit the hay: Go to bed
- Tie the knot: To get married
- Eat crow: To have to admit that you made a mistake
- Bent out of shape: To feel upset or annoyed about something
- Pie in the sky: Something you hope will happen, but is very likely
- A bad egg: Someone who behaves in a dishonest way
- Buy a lemon: To buy something that doesn’t work well (usually refers to care)
- A drop in the bucket: A very small or unimportant amount
- Couch potato: Someone who lies around and barely moves
- To kill 2 birds with 1 stone: To solve 2 problems at once with 1 action.
- Break a leg: Good luck
- Spit it out: Say what you’re trying to say
- I have butterflies in my stomach: You’re either in love or nervous
- Get up on the wrong side of the bed: Someone that is having a horrible day
- A blessing in disguise: Seems bad, but is actually good
- A piece of cake: Easy
- Beating around the bush: Not discussing what is important/ procrastinating
- Big task on your hand: Having something important to finish
- Can’t stand (something): To dislike something
- Close but no cigar: Close but failed at the end
- Don’t swear it: Don’t worry about it
- Driving me bananas: Making me feel crazy
- Easier said than done: Easy to say, but hard to actually do
- Get out of town: I don’t believe you
- Get over it: Forget about the past
- Gone off track: Forgot about your future goal
- Hands down: For certain the right answer
- Hang on a second: Wait for a moment
- Have stumbled upon: To accidentally discover something
- Hold your horses: Wait/ calm down
- Inside scoop: The details
- In the bag: Will definitely happen
- I was knocked on my heels: I was surprised
- Under the weather: Not feeling well
- Peas in the pod: People who are close
- Through the grapevine: The informal spreading, gossip, or rumors
- On your high horse: Superior or arrogant position
- Cool as a cucumber: Very calm, not nervous
- Crocodile tears: Fake tears or false sadness
- Smart cookie: A person who is very intelligent
- On cloud nine: Blissfully happy
- Green with envy: Very jealous
- Goody two shoes: Someone who tries to be perfect
- Dog days of summer: The hottest, most humid days of summer
- Dressed to the nines: Dressed fashionably
- Top banana: A boss
- Barrel of laugh: Someone who is very funny
- Oddball: A weirdo or a strange person
- Over the hill/ Old as the hill: Someone who is very old
- Nutty as a fruit cake: Someone who is a bit crazy
- Like a dog with two tails: Extremely happy
- Life is just a bowl of cherries: The life is pleasant and uncomplicated
- Cry one’s eyes out: Cry a lot and for a long time
- Face like a wet week-end: Look sad and miserable
- Your heart sinks: Feel very unhappy and despondent
- Dime a dozen: Very common and no special value; easily available
- A penny saved is a penny earned: You will save money by being careful about how much you spend
- Change your tune: Change your opinion about something or someone
- As fit as a fiddle: To be healthy and physically fit
- Clean bill of health: A report or certificate that a person or animal is healthy
- Go under the knife: To have an operation in surgery, often a cosmetic surgery
- Green thumb: Grow lush without trying
- In the same boat: Same unpleasant or difficult situation
- Paddle one’s own canoe: To be able to act independently
- Put the cart before the horse: To do things out of the proper order
- Drive a hard bargain: To arrange a transaction so that it benefits oneself
- Hit the road: To leave
- Fight like cat and dog: Continually arguing with each other
- Fat cat: A negative description of a rich and powerful person
- Curiosity killed the cat: Being too curious can get you into trouble
- No room to swing a cat: Very small, not big enough
- A cat nap: A short sleep during the day
- Rain cats and dogs: Rain very heavily
- A scaredy-cat: Someone who is excessively scared or afraid
- Cool cat: Someone who has the respect of their peers in a young, casual way
- Cat on a hot in roof: Be extremely nervous
- A cat has nine lives: Cats seem to get away with dangerous things
- Even a cat can look at a king/queen: I have every right to do this
- Meeting of the minds: Strong instinctive agreement on something
- Under the impression: Believing something, perhaps mistakenly
- Out of sorts: Slightly ill, not feeling well
- Off one’s rocker: Crazy, nuts, insane
- Young at heart: Having a youthful outlook, regardless of age
- Take it easy: Don’t hurry, relax, don’t get angry
- Passing fancy: A temporary interest or attraction
- On the ball: Prepared, alert, competent
- On the fence: Undecided between two choices
- Mad as a hatter: Mentally ill, psychotic
- Draw a blank: Be unable to remember something
- Drive someone up the wall: Deeply irritate someone
- Down in the dumps: Depressed, sad
- Chuck a wobbly: To act in an emotional way
- Blow one’s stack: To lose one’s temper and explode in anger
- Air rage: Angry behavior inside an airplane
- A closed book: To be difficult to know or understand
- Cook the books: To change accounts and figures dishonestly, usually to get money
- Cream of the crop: The best of a group of similar things or people
- Once bitten twice shy: Said when you are frightened to do something again because you had an unpleasant experience doing it the first time
Here is the list of popular idioms with example sentences to help you understand more the meaning of each idiom.
Hit the hay
- It’s late, so I guess I hit the hay.
Tie the knot
- I wish you to tie the knot, a harmonious union lasting a hundred years! A happy newlywed, sweet sweet honey!
- Our neighbor had to eat crow yesterday.
Bent out of shape
- My bicycle wheel has got bent out of shape.
Pie in the sky
- Their plans to set up their own business are just pie in the sky.
A bad egg
- That guy is a bad egg.
A drop in the bucket
- This business is just a drop in the bucket of what he owns.
- You are such a couch potato on weekends.
To kill two birds with one stone
- We always emphasize to kill two birds with one stone. When we learn English we must make more use of it.
Break a leg
- I just wanted to drop you a note to say break a leg and all those other theatrical cliches.
Spit it out
- Spit it out! Have you lost your tongue?
I have butterflies in my stomach
- I had butterflies in my stomach as I went to get my exam results.
Get up on the wrong side of the bed
- Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?
A blessing in disguise
- His illness became a blessing in disguise, when he married his nurse.
A piece of cake
- The exam paper was a piece of cake.
Beating around the bush
- She snapped, blushing, and impatient with his beating around the bush.
Easier said than done
- This is easier said than done in white light but it’s well worth trying.
Get out of town
- I just wanted to open the throttle, get out of town and try to recapture some of that Misano magic.
Get over it
- He’ll get over it—young people are amazingly resilient.
- He smacked his hands down on his knees.
Hang on a second
- Hang on a second—I’ll just take off my painting things .
Have stumbled upon
- I felt very privileged to have stumbled upon such a rare sight.
Hold your horses
- Just hold your horses, Bill! Let’s think about this for a moment.
In the bag
- He reaches in the bag and starts to throw his bread upon the waters.
Under the weather
- You look a bit under the weather.
Through the grapevine
- I had heard through the grapevine that he was quite critical of what we were doing.
On your high horse
- Don’t get on your high horse with me.
As cool as a cucumber
- She looks efficient and as cool as a cucumber.
- They weep crocodile tears for the poor, but are basically happy with things as they are.
- Monroe herself, of course, was a smart cookie, but she knew enough to play dumb.
On cloud nine
- He will be on cloud nine when he gets some complimentary words.
Green with envy
- He was green with envy when he saw my new Jaguar car.
Dog days of summer
- Three dog days of summer, the grass behind the monastery had a large brown.
Dressed to the nines
- The girl is always dressed to the nines.
- He lost a good opportunity to become top banana.
- He has always been an oddball.
Over the hill/ Old as the hill
- He is over the hill as a professional athlete.
Nutty as a fruit cake
- London is a bit more of a problem, and you may think that I am a trifled confused, or even as nutty as a fruit cake, since it is New York which is colloquially known as ” the Big Apple “.
Like a dog with two tails
- The old lady was like a dog with two tails when her son and his wife came home from Australia with the grandchildren she ‘ s never seen before
Your heart sinks
- It’s so loud you can’t hear your heart sink.
Dime a dozen
- If only cookbooks by chefs really were a dime a dozen.
Change your tune
- Does this report mean you are changing your tune?
As fit as a fiddle
- The next day, the cat was almost as fit as a fiddle, the vet reported.
Clean bill of health
- Doctors continue to give all the siblings a clean bill of health.
Go under the knife
- The next day, the Winston Cup driver will go under the knife.
- They make a fun crop for the little green thumbs in your family.
In the same boat
- There were a lot of them who were in the same boat.
Paddle one’s own canoe
- To paddle one’s own canoe doesn’t necessarily mean denying any external assistance.
Put the cart before the horse
- You will put the cart before the horse if you emphasize the method at the expense of content.
Drive a hard bargain
- His ability to drive a hard bargain has often brought conflict.
Hit the road
- He hooked up and hit the road again.
Fight like cats and dogs
- As kids, we used to fight like cats and dogs.
- The report criticized boardroom fat cats who award themselves huge pay increases.
Curiosity killed the cat
- Please stop prying into my private life. Remember, curiosity killed the cat.
No room to swing a cat
- This bus is too crowded! I have no room to swing a cat!
A cat nap
- We told the men to go home when the rain slacked off and take a cat nap.
Rain cats and dogs
- In the middle of the picnic, it started to rain cats and dogs, and everybody got soaked.
- I happen to be a scaredy-cat.
- That Jefferson is one cool cat.
A cat has nine lives
- The modern belief that a cat has nine lives comes from this tradition.
Meeting of the minds
- Einstein died before this strange meeting of the minds could take place.
Under the impression
- I was under the impression you didn’t get on too well.
Out of sorts
- She’s been out of sorts since the birth of her baby.
Young at heart
- Dad might be nearly ninety but he’s still young at heart.
Take it easy
- Take it easy. You’re no spring chicken yourself, you know.
- People must always be clothed, and machines are not a passing fancy – they are here to stay.
On the ball
- I was lucky to get a bat on the ball there.
On the fence
- I was just sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happened.
Mad as a hatter
- Some purportedly went insane because of the exposure, leading to the expression “mad as a hatter.”
Draw a blank
- They drew a blank in their search for the driver.
Down in the dumps
- We can’t have you down in the dumps like this.
- Cabin crews are reporting up to nine cases of air rage a week.
A closed book
- I’m afraid physics will always be a closed book to me.
Cook the books
- Fudge the figures; cook the books; falsify the data.
English Idioms Infographic