Common Idioms And Meaning

English idioms, proverbs, and expressions are an important part of everyday English. They come up all the time in both written and spoken English. Because idioms don’t always make sense literally, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the meaning and usage of each idiom. That may seem like a lot of work, but learning idioms is fun, especially when you compare English idioms to the idioms in your own language.

None of the idioms on this page are unusual or old fashioned, so you can be confident using any of them with native English speakers from all English-speaking countries.

This List of commonly used idioms and sayings (in everyday conversational English), can help to speak English by learning English idiomatic expressions. This is a list, which contains exactly 66 of the most commonly used idioms and their meaning.

 

 

Idioms

Meaning

In less than no time Very quickly or soon
Bit on the side A person with whom you are unfaithful to your partner
Do your bit Make a useful contribution to an effort or cause
Have a bird Be very shocked or agitated
Strictly for the birds Not worth consideration; unimportant
A bird of passage Someone who is always moving on
Birds of a feather People with similar tastes, interests, etc
Shake (or tremble) like a leaf Tremble greatly, especially from fear
Lady Bountiful A woman who engages in ostentatious acts of charity to impress others
Twist (or turn) the knife Deliberately make someone’s grief or problems worse.
On a knife-edge In a tense situation, especially one finely balanced between success and failure
A labour of Hercules A task requiring enormous strength or effort
Go (or be) under the knife Have surgery
 Like a (hot) knife through butter Very easily
Scoop the kitty Be completely successful
Before you can say knife Very quickly

Idioms

Meaning

Break the bank

Win more money than is held by the bank.

A baptism of fire

A difficult introduction to a new job or activity.

Make a killing

Have a great financial success

Come into (or to) your kingdom

Achieve recognition or supremacy

Everything but the kitchen sink

Everything imaginable

High as a kite

Intoxicated with drugs or alcohol

Bar none

With no exceptions

Have bats in the (or your) belfry

Be eccentric or crazy

Like a bat out of hell

Very fast and wildly

In your birthday suit

Naked

Top (or head) the bill

Be the main performer or act in a show, play, etc

Like billy-o

Very much, hard, or strong

Kick the habit

Stop engaging in a habitual practice

Bite the dust

Be killed

Have kittens

Be extremely nervous or upset

Scoop the kitty

Be completely successful

Before you can say knife

Very quickly

With bated breath

In great suspense

Bay for blood Demand punishment or retribution.
Bring someone or something to bay Trap or corner a person or animal being hunted or chased.
A beam in your eye A fault that is greater in yourself than in the person you are finding fault with
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Someone who uses the pretence of kindliness to disguise their evil intent
Let the cat out of the bag
Share a secret that wasn’t intended to be shared
 Like a chicken with its head cut off
In a frenzied manner.
Cock and bull story
An unbelievable tale.
Cry wolf
Intentionally raise a false alarm.
Curiosity killed the cat
Being inquisitive can lead you into a dangerous situation.
Dog and bone
Cockney rhyming slang for telephone.
Dog days of summer The hottest days of the summer season.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch Don’t count on receiving some benefit until you actually have it.
Cloud-cuckoo-land
An imaginary idealistic state where everything is perfect. It is usually used with reference to someone who has an overly optimistic and unrealistic belief
Keep at bay
Keep something away.
Pigs might fly Said when referring to something that is highly unlikely
Pig out
To overeat in a slovenly manner.

HANDS ARE TIED

Not have the ability to help or take action

All bets are off

The outcome of a particular situation is unpredictable
Don’t bet on it Used to express doubt about an assertion or situation
You can bet your boots

You may be absolutely certain

AT HAND Available (used for objects, not people)

Bide your time

Wait quietly for a good opportunity

TRY YOUR HAND AT Try doing something for the first time.

Your better half

Your husband or wife

To hit the nail on the head to describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem
To add insult to injury to make a situation worse.

Bell, book, and candle

A formula for laying a curse on someone

GIVE A HAND / LEND A HAND To help somebody/ audience claps
Bell the cat

Take the danger of a shared enterprise upon yourself

Get off your bike Become annoyed
HAVE (GOT) YOUR HANDS FULL To be completely busy

 

Idioms

Meaning

No spring chicken
Said of people who are no longer young but may behave as though they were.
No room to swing a cat An awkward or confined space
Little fish in a big pond
Someone considered unimportant compared to their more significant peers.
Take someone aback Shock, surprise, or disconcert someone
In Abraham’s bosom In heaven, the place of rest for the souls of the blessed
The acid test A situation or event which finally proves whether something is good
or bad, true or false, etc
Have an ace up your sleeve Have a secret advantage
Aid and Abet Help someone to commit a crime
Airs and graces An affected manner of behaving, designed to attract or impress
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
When you receive a gift accept it with good grace and don’t find fault with it
Batten down the hatches Prepare for a difficulty or crisis.
Know how many beans make five Be intelligent
On the side of the angels On the side of what is right
Cat got your tongue?
A question addressed to someone who is inexplicably silent. The implication is that the person’s tongue is missing.
All bark and no bite
Having lots to say but not willing to engage in a fight.
Ain’t my first rodeo Said by someone who has experience of a situation
Donkey’s years
Cockney rhyming slang for ears. 2. A very long time
Charley horse Stiffness or cramp in the arm or leg.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
It’s better to have a lesser but certain advantage than the possibility of a greater one that may come to nothing.

Go bananas

Become extremely angry or excited, go mad.
Under the auspices of With the help, support, or protection of
Appeal to Caesar Appeal to the highest possible authority
Tied to one’s apron strings Too much under the influence and control of someone
The bare bones The basic facts about something, without any detail
Second banana The second most important person in an organization or activity,
Break a leg means ‘good luck’ (often said to actors before they go on stage).
Alleycat
A cat that lives wild in a town
Barking up the wrong tree Responding to something which isn’t the important issue.
As high as a kite Very high up in the sky
 Drink like a fish
Drink very heavily

Get to first base

Achieve the first steptowards your objective
A barrel of laughs A source of fun or amusement
With bated breath In great suspense, very anxiously or excitedly
Full of beans Lively, in high spirits
Like a bear with a sore head Very irritable
Go begging

Be available

Go belly up

Go bankrupt
Have a bellyful of

Become impatient after prolonged experience

You can’t judge a book by its cover to not judge someone or something based solely on appearance

WASH YOUR HANDS OF

To stop being responsible for
Beside yourself Overcome with worry, grief, or anger; distraught.
Your best bet The most favourable option available in particular circumstances.
Bells and whistles Attractive additional features or trimmings
SECOND HAND Something you know from another person or source, not directly.
CHANGE HANDS For an object to be passed or sold from one owner to another.
Give someone a bell Telephone someone
To cut corners to do something badly or cheaply
EXPERIENCE SOMETHING FIRST-HAND To experience something yourself
GET OUT OF HAND To get out of control.
TIP YOUR HAND To reveal a secret, especially about your own plans or opinions.
A piece of cake something is very easy
ON THE ONE HAND… ON THE OTHER HAND This expression is used to compare two aspects of a situation
KNOW LIKE THE BACK OF YOUR HAND To know a place very well
To feel under the weather to not feel well
TAKE MATTERS INTO OWN HANDS To take action on a problem
HANDS DOWN Obviously, unquestionably, without a doubt.
HAVE A HAND IN Have a role in.
Let sleeping dogs lie
Avoid restarting a conflict
Let the cat out of the bag to accidentally reveal a secret
See eye to eye this means agreeing with someone.
Once in a blue moon an event that happens infrequently.
To cost an arm and a leg something is very expensive
A HAND-ME-DOWN A piece of clothing that belonged to an older brother/sister and is passed to a younger brother/sister.
When pigs fly something that will never happen.
IN GOOD HANDS In the care of somebody good or knowledgeable.
The best of both worlds means you can enjoy two different opportunities at the same time
Speak of the devil this means that the person you’re just talking about actually turns up at that moment
Dropping like flies Many people either falling ill or dying.
Gnat’s bollock A very small (imaginary) unit of measurement.
Full of bull Talking hot air
Gee Gee Childish term for a horse
Flog a dead horse To attempt to make progress with something that has no future
Fleapit A downmarket cinema – allegedly verminous
Flea market A market used to buy and sell inexpensive goods. The kind of place that might sell carpets infested with fleas.
Factory farming Rearing livestock under industrial conditions.
White elephant An object that appears magnificent but which is a burdensome financial liability
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink You can encourage someone to to do something but, in the end, what they do is their own choice
A little bird told me I was told by an undisclosed source
A leopard can’t change his spots You cannot change your innate self
 A fly on the wall An unperceived observer – able to see and hear but not be seen or heard
 A fly in the ointment A small flaw that spoils the whole
 A fish out of water Someone in an unfamiliar circumstance
 A bull and cow Cockney rhyming slang for a row or argument.
Kill two birds with one stone Accomplish two things with a single action.
 The glorious twelfth
The 12th of August – the start of the British grouse shooting season
The bull in the bowler hat Jokey term for artificial insemination
The tail wagging the dog A small and usually insignificant factor (or person) dominates over one that is normally more powerful and influential.
Straight from the horses mouth Heard from the authoritative source
Sparrow fart Jokey term for the early morning
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Once animals (and people) are set in their ways they struggle to assimilate new ideas
A red rag to a bull A deliberate provocation.
A pig in a poke A commodity that is bought without first examining it.
Big fish in a small pond
An important person but only so within a small area of influence.
Smell something fishy Detect that something isn’t as it should be
Smell a rat To begin to suspect that things aren’t as they should be
Prick up your ears Listen very carefully – like a dog or horse with erect ears
Jump the shark Introduce a ridiculous or unbelievable plot device into a TV series in order to boost flagging ratings
Silver fox
Raining cats and dogs Raining very heavily
Rabbit and pork Cockney rhyming slang for talk
Hold your horses Be patient.
High on the hog Luxurious.
Kill two birds with one stone To do two things at the same time
Hear it on the grapevine Hear a rumor about someone
In stitches Laughing very hard till your sides hurt
Once in a blue moon Something that happens very rarely
Steal someone’s thunder Take credit for something that someone else has done
The ball is in your court It is up to you to take a decision or the next step.
The last straw The final problem in a series of problems.
Piece of cake Something that is very easy to accomplish
 Far cry from.  Very different from
Let the cat out of the bag Tell everyone a secret
Jump on the bandwagon Join a popular trend or activity
Last straw The final problem in a series of problems.
Keep something at bay Keep something away
Driving me up the wall Making something extremely irritated and annoyed
Bite off more than you can chew Take on something that you are not capable of doing
At the drop of a hat Without any second thought or hesitation.
Add insult to injury Make a bad situation worse.
Actions speak louder than words What someone does means more than what they say
A penny for your thoughts Used to ask what someone is thinking about
Costs an arm and leg Very expensive
Make a long story short Come to the point – leave out details
Call it a day Give up on something temporarily or permanently
Fat chance Incredibly unlikely to occur
Feeling a bit under the weather Feeling slightly ill.
Take with a grain of salt This means not to take what someone says too seriously.
Steal someone’s thunder. To take the credit for something someone else did
Piece of cake A job, task or other activity that is easy or simple.
A picture paints a thousand words A visual presentation is far more descriptive than words.
Once in a blue moon Happens very rarely
On the ball When someone understands the situation well.
Not playing with a full deck Someone who lacks intelligence.
Whole nine yards Everything. All of it.
 Taste of your own medicine  Means that something happens to you, or is done to you, that you have done to someone else

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