Resources for learning English Idiom Examples

In this article there is a list of the most common idioms and access to a huge range of resources with many hundreds of other idioms. There are exercises, example sentences, idioms by category like animal or money related.

What are Idioms and why are they important?

  • idioms are phrases that have a different meaning than their individual words.
  • This is said to be figurative language rather than the literal meaning.
  • This means that it is good if you understand the meaning of common idioms when someone says them. 
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Introduction to Idioms

In this introduction there are several simple idiom examples with definitions, examples sentences, example conversations and idiom exercises.

If you want understanding of the basics of idioms, to look up an idiom, browse through a list, amuse yourself with the funny nature of idioms or learn as a beginner or to improve your English, here is the perfect place to start. Good luck!

feeling under the weather idiom with image of woman unwell

Under the weather does not mean to be under a cloud, but what does it mean? Find out by visiting our “under the weather” page.

Idiom Examples in Sentences

  • A long list of idioms from a wide range of categories.
  • This shows how to use idioms in context with examples and explanations.
  • Learn how to incorporate idioms into your everyday speech
idioms written in colorful letters for students
a messy puppy, animal idiom, a dog covered in paint

Idioms and Phrases by Category

There are special pages devoted to idioms by category, including these lists with definitions and example sentences:

  • Animal
  • Food
  • Money
  • Nature
  • Travel
  • Love
  • Life and Death

Idiom Quizzes and Exercises

This summary page gives you access to is to 7 quizzes and exercises that initially give definitions, example sentences, example conversations,  and then exercises to help learn English idioms.

idioms written in colorful letters for students
student learning business idioms in a library

Business Idioms

  • Learn idioms related to business

100 Common Idioms

We’ve put together 100 common English idioms that are written and spoken by native English speakers.

A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush

  • Something you have now is worth more than the possibility of something better in the future.
  • Jenny decided not to risk her stable job for a chance at a new one. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A Piece of Cake

  • Something very easy to do.
  • The math test was a piece of cake; Sarah finished it in no time.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

  • What people do is more important than what they say.
  • Mark promised to help, but Emily noticed actions speak louder than words when he never showed up.

Add Insult to Injury

  • To make a bad situation even worse.
  • Losing the game was bad enough, but his friends laughing at him added insult to injury.

All Ears

  • Listening carefully or eagerly.
  • When Jenny mentioned a secret project, everyone became all ears, eager to hear the details.

Back Against the Wall

  • Being in a difficult or desperate situation with no options.
  • With the deadline approaching, Sarah felt like she had her back against the wall.

Ball Is in Your Court

  • It’s your turn to take action or make a decision.
  • Emily apologized, and now the ball is in your court; will you forgive her?

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

  • Pursuing a mistaken or misguided course of action.
  • If you think I took your pen, you’re barking up the wrong tree; I didn’t even see it.

Beat Around the Bush

  • Avoiding the main topic; not getting to the point.
  • Instead of directly saying no, he kept beating around the bush, making the situation confusing.

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

  • A fantastic or great invention or idea.
  • Emily thinks smartphones are the best thing since sliced bread; she can’t imagine life without one.

Bigger Fish to Fry

  • Having more important things to deal with.
  • With exams coming up, Sarah has bigger fish to fry than planning a party.

Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

  • Taking on a task that is way too big or beyond one’s ability.
  • Starting a business alone can be overwhelming; don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Bite the Bullet

  • To endure a painful or difficult situation with courage.
  • Despite the challenging circumstances, Mark decided to bite the bullet and face his fears.

Bite Your Tongue

  • To stop yourself from saying something you might regret.
  • When Jenny criticized Emily’s cooking, Mark had to bite his tongue to avoid an argument.

Blessing in Disguise

  • Something good that isn’t recognized at first.
  • Losing his job turned out to be a blessing in disguise; it pushed him to pursue a better career.

Blow Off Some Steam

  • To release pent-up energy or frustration.
  • After a stressful week, Sarah likes to blow off some steam by going for a long run.

Blue Sky Thinking

  • Creative thinking that is not limited by preconceived notions.
  • To solve the problem, they encouraged blue-sky thinking, allowing for innovative solutions.

Break a Leg

  • A way to wish someone good luck.
  • Before the play, the director told the cast to break a leg for a successful performance.

Break the Ice

  • To initiate a conversation in a social setting.
  • To break the ice at the party, Emily started telling a funny story.

Burn Bridges

  • To damage relationships, making it difficult to go back.
  • Quitting without notice can burn bridges and harm future job prospects.

Burn the Midnight Oil

  • To work late into the night.
  • With the deadline approaching, Mark had to burn the midnight oil to finish the project.

By the Book

  • To strictly follow the rules or procedures.
  • Sarah always does things by the book to avoid any mistakes or misunderstandings.

By the Skin of Your Teeth

  • Narrowly avoiding a disaster or failure.
  • Mark passed the exam by the skin of his teeth; one more mistake, and he would have failed.

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Call It a Day

  • To decide to stop working on something.
  • After hours of cleaning, Sarah decided to call it a day and relax.

Cat Got Your Tongue

  • A question to ask someone who is unusually quiet.
  • When Mark didn’t respond to the question, Emily teased, “Cat got your tongue?”

Caught Red-Handed

  • To be discovered in the act of doing something wrong.
  • Jenny was caught red-handed taking cookies from the jar before dinner.

Caution to the Wind

  • To take a risk without worrying about the consequences.
  • Emily threw caution to the wind and decided to travel the world, despite not having a plan.

Chip off the Old Block

  • Someone who resembles their parent in character.
  • Mark is a chip off the old block; he inherited his father’s sense of humor.

Chip on Your Shoulder

  • Holding a grudge or having an attitude of resentment.
  • Sarah always has a chip on her shoulder after an argument with her friend.

Cost a Pretty Penny

  • To be very expensive.
  • The new phone Mark wanted cost a pretty penny, so he decided to save money instead.

Cost an Arm and a Leg

  • To be extremely expensive.
  • Repairing the car would cost an arm and a leg, so Sarah decided to buy a new one.

Cry Over Spilled Milk

  • To be upset about something that has already happened and cannot be changed.
  • After breaking the vase, Emily decided not to cry over spilled milk and cleaned it up.

Cut Corners

  • To take shortcuts, often sacrificing quality.
  • Sarah warned Mark not to cut corners when building the furniture; it might fall apart.

Cut to the Chase

  • To get to the main point without unnecessary details.
  • Instead of small talk, Emily preferred people who cut to the chase in conversations.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

  • To not be upset about something that has already happened and cannot be changed.
  • Mark reassured Emily, saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk; accidents happen.”

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

  • To not form an opinion based solely on appearance.
  • Sarah learned not to judge a book by its cover after discovering the shy girl was a brilliant artist.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

  • To not risk everything on a single venture.
  • Mark diversified his investments; he knew not to put all his eggs in one basket.

Ear to the Ground

  • Being well-informed or knowledgeable about a situation.
  • Sarah keeps her ear to the ground by reading the news daily.

Easier Said Than Done

  • Describing a task that is much more difficult to do than to talk about.
  • Emily told Mark to relax, but staying calm during a crisis is easier said than done.

Egg on Your Face

  • To be embarrassed or humiliated, especially in public.
  • After Mark’s mistake was exposed, he had egg on his face in front of the entire team.

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

  • Optimism that a difficult situation will lead to better things.
  • Sarah lost her job, but every cloud has a silver lining; she found a better opportunity.

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Fingers Crossed

  • A gesture or expression of hope for good luck.
  • Mark had an important interview, and everyone wished him luck, fingers crossed.

Fish in the Sea

  • Many available options, especially in terms of potential romantic partners.
  • After a breakup, Emily’s friends reminded her that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

Fish Out of Water

  • Feeling uncomfortable or out of place.
  • At the formal event, Mark, who preferred casual settings, felt like a fish out of water.

Fit as a Fiddle

  • Being in excellent physical health.
  • Despite his age, Mark remained fit as a fiddle, exercising regularly.

Fly on the Wall

  • Observing a situation without being noticed.
  • Emily felt like a fly on the wall, listening to a conversation she wasn’t meant to hear.

Forest from the Trees

  • Failing to see the bigger picture due to focusing on small details.
  • Mark was so involved in the project that he couldn’t see the forest from the trees.

Game Changer

  • Something that significantly alters a situation or strategy.
  • The new technology was a game-changer for the industry, revolutionizing the way things were done.

Get a Taste of Your Own Medicine

  • To experience the same negative treatment one has inflicted on others.
  • After teasing his friends, Mark got a taste of his own medicine when they pranked him back.

Get Bent Out of Shape

  • To become overly upset or angry about something.
  • Sarah told Mark not to get bent out of shape over minor issues; it’s not worth it.

Get Cold Feet

  • To become nervous or anxious, especially before an important event.
  • Emily was getting cold feet before her first public speaking engagement.

Get Out of Hand

  • To become uncontrollable or chaotic.
  • The argument between Sarah and Mark quickly got out of hand, with both raising their voices.

Get the Ball Rolling

  • To initiate a process or activity.
  • Sarah suggested a team meeting to get the ball rolling on the new project.

Get Your Head Around Something

  • To understand or come to terms with a complex idea or situation.
  • Emily needed some time to get her head around the challenging concept.

Go Back to the Drawing Board

  • To start over because a plan or project failed.
  • After the failed experiment, the scientists had to go back to the drawing board.

Go Down in Flames

  • To fail or end disastrously.
  • Mark’s ambitious business venture went down in flames, leading to financial ruin.

Goose That Laid the Golden Egg

  • A source of great profit or success.
  • The successful product was their goose that laid the golden egg, bringing in substantial revenue.

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Hang in There

  • To persevere or endure despite difficulties.
  • Mark encouraged Sarah to hang in there during a challenging time at work.

Happy Camper

  • Someone content and satisfied.
  • After receiving good news, Emily was a happy camper for the rest of the day.

Head Over Heels

  • Completely and deeply in love.
  • Mark fell head over heels for Emily the moment he met her.

Hit the Books

  • To study intensely or read books for a long period.
  • Emily had to hit the books to prepare for her upcoming exams.

Hit the Ground Running

  • To start a new endeavor with energy and enthusiasm.
  • On the first day of the job, Sarah was ready to hit the ground running.

Hit the Hay

  • To go to bed or sleep.
  • After a long day, Mark was ready to hit the hay and get a good night’s sleep.

Hit the Nail on the Head

  • To describe precisely or identify the main point.
  • Sarah hit the nail on the head when she identified the root cause of the problem.

Hit the Road

  • To begin a journey or leave a place.
  • After the party, it was time to hit the road and head home.

Hit the Sack

  • To go to bed or sleep.
  • It was getting late, so Emily decided to hit the sack and get some rest.

Hold Your Horses

  • To be patient and wait.
  • Mark told Sarah to hold her horses; they would leave for the airport soon.

In the Loop

  • Being informed or part of a group with insider knowledge.
  • Emily made sure to keep Mark in the loop regarding the upcoming changes in the project.

Jump on the Bandwagon

  • To join others in supporting a popular trend or activity.
  • After seeing the success, many companies decided to jump on the bandwagon and offer similar products.

Jump the Gun

  • To act prematurely or before the appropriate time.
  • Mark jumped the gun by announcing the project before it was officially approved.

Keep Your Chin Up

  • To stay positive and optimistic in difficult situations.
  • Sarah encouraged Mark to keep his chin up despite facing challenges at work.

Kick the Bucket

  • A euphemism for dying.
  • Mark joked that he wouldn’t kick the bucket until he achieved all his life goals.

Kill Two Birds with One Stone

  • To accomplish two tasks with a single effort.
  • Sarah combined grocery shopping with picking up her dry cleaning, killing two birds with one stone.

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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

  • To avoid restarting a conflict or stirring up trouble.
  • After the argument, Emily decided to let sleeping dogs lie and not bring it up again.

Let the Cat Out of the Bag

  • To reveal a secret.
  • Mark accidentally let the cat out of the bag by mentioning the surprise party.

Like a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

  • Extremely nervous or uneasy.
  • Before the presentation, Emily felt like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Look Before You Leap

  • To consider the consequences before taking action.
  • Mark advised Sarah to look before she leaped into a new business venture.

Miss the Boat

  • To miss an opportunity.
  • Emily regretted not applying for the job earlier; she felt like she had missed the boat.

On the Same Page

  • Having a shared understanding or agreement.
  • Mark and Sarah needed to be on the same page to successfully complete the project.

On Thin Ice

  • In a risky or precarious situation.
  • Mark knew that his actions put him on thin ice with his boss.

On Top of the World

  • Feeling extremely happy and successful.
  • After the promotion, Sarah felt on top of the world.

Once in a Blue Moon

  • An event that occurs very rarely.
  • Mark and Emily only went on a date once in a blue moon due to their busy schedules.

Out of the Blue

  • Unexpectedly or suddenly.
  • Sarah received a job offer out of the blue, surprising everyone.

Out of the Woods

  • Out of danger or free from a difficult situation.
  • After weeks of uncertainty, Mark was finally out of the woods with his health.

Play It by Ear

  • To improvise or decide on a course of action as events unfold.
  • Sarah preferred to play it by ear rather than sticking to a rigid plan.

Pull Someone’s Leg

  • To tease or joke with someone.
  • When Mark claimed to have met a celebrity, Emily thought he was pulling her leg.

Raining Cats and Dogs

  • Raining very heavily.
  • Mark and Sarah decided to postpone their outdoor plans when it started raining cats and dogs.

Raise the Bar

  • To set higher standards or expectations.
  • Emily’s success raised the bar for what was considered an outstanding achievement.

Read Between the Lines

  • To understand a hidden or implied meaning in addition to the literal one.
  • Sarah’s message seemed positive, but when you read between the lines, you could tell she was upset.

Rule of Thumb

  • A general principle or guideline that is usually practical and simple to apply.
  • As a rule of thumb, it’s good to save at least 10% of your income for the future.

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Salt of the Earth

  • A person or group of people who are considered to be good, honest, and reliable.
  • Tom is the salt of the earth; he always helps his neighbors and never expects anything in return.

Sat on the Fence

  • To avoid making a decision or taking a side in a dispute or controversy.
  • Instead of choosing a political party, Mark decided to sat on the fence and remain neutral.

See Eye to Eye

  • To agree on something or share the same opinion.
  • Despite their differences, they always find a way to see eye to eye on important matters.

See the Forest for the Trees

  • To see the bigger picture rather than getting lost in small details.
  • Sometimes it’s important to step back and see the forest for the trees to make better decisions.

Spill the Beans

  • To reveal a secret or disclose confidential information.
  • Emily couldn’t keep the surprise party a secret and accidentally spilled the beans to Sarah.

Take a Back Seat

  • To take a less important or active role in a situation.
  • After years of leading the team, Susan decided to take a back seat and let someone else take charge.

Take It Easy

  • To relax and not exert too much effort or stress.
  • After a busy week, John likes to take it easy on the weekends and unwind.

Taste Your Own Medicine

  • To experience the same negative treatment that one has given to others.
  • After years of making fun of his colleagues, Tim had to taste his own medicine when they started teasing him.

The Ball Is in Your Court

  • The responsibility is now yours to make a decision or take action.
  • Mark has offered his help; now the ball is in your court to decide if you want it.

The Grass Is Always Greener

  • The belief that what others have or do is better than one’s own situation.
  • Jane thought about changing jobs, but her friend reminded her that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Think Outside the Box

  • To think creatively and consider unconventional ideas.
  • In order to solve the complex problem, the team needed to think outside the box and explore new solutions.

Through Thick and Thin

  • To stay supportive and loyal to someone in both good and bad times.
  • Despite the challenges, John and Lisa stuck together through thick and thin.

Throw Caution to the Wind

  • To take a risk or act without considering the potential consequences.
  • Despite the uncertainty, Emily decided to throw caution to the wind and pursue her dream.

Throw in the Towel

  • To give up or surrender; to admit defeat.
  • After struggling with the project, Susan decided to throw in the towel and ask for help.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

  • Time seems to pass quickly when you are enjoying yourself.
  • Emily and Mark didn’t realize it was midnight; time flies when you’re having fun.

Two Birds with One Stone

  • To achieve two goals with a single action.
  • By studying together, they managed to finish the project and prepare for the exam—killing two birds with one stone.

Under the Weather

Up in the Air

  • A situation that is uncertain or undecided.
  • The future of the project is up in the air; we’re still waiting for a decision from the management.

When Pigs Fly

  • Something that will never happen or is highly unlikely.
  • Mark promised to clean his room when pigs fly, which means it’s not going to happen.

Your Guess Is as Good as Mine

  • Used when one doesn’t know the answer to a question.
  • When asked about the outcome, Susan shrugged and said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

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Common English Idioms

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