100 Idiomatic Expressions That You’ll Use All the Time

100 Idiomatic Expressions That You’ll Use All the Time

Do you want to learn how to speak English like a native speaker?

Well if you really want to gain fluency, you are going to have to build up the number of idiomatic expressions that you understand and know how to use.

Idiomatic expressions are basically phrases where the meaning of the entire phrase doesn’t necessarily perfectly match the meanings of the words that make up the phrase.  

Confused? Well, if you want to learn more, you can check out this post of 20 idioms in English with their meanings and sentence examples.

Want to learn more? We’ve compiled a list here of 100 idiomatic expressions and their meanings.

1. At a crossroads – Needing to make an important decision

When you are at a crossroads, you are at a point in your life where you need to make a decision. The implication is that the decision you make will have big, life-altering consequences.

2. Bad apple – Bad person

You can use this idiom to describe someone who is not nice and maybe even criminal.

3. Barking up the wrong tree – Pursuing the wrong course

When you “bark up the wrong tree” you are pursuing the wrong solution to your problems.

4. Be closefisted – Stingy

If you are being “closefisted”, you don’t want to spend a lot of money.

5. Be cold-hearted – Uncaring

If you decide to be “cold-hearted”, you are making a deliberate decision not to care about someone or something.

6. Be on solid ground – Confident

When you are “on solid ground”, you are confident in your position or feel that you are safe.

7. Beat around the bush – Avoid saying

When you do this, you are taking a long time to say what you really need to say. You may be doing this because the “truth” is embarrassing or your unsure about how the listener will take it.

8. Behind you – Supportive

When you are “behind” someone, you are saying that they have your support.

9. Between a rock and a hard place – Facing difficulties

When you have to choose between two options, neither of which are ideal or “good”. 

10. Blow off steam – Try to relax

When you are stressed or upset about something, sometimes you need to do something to keep you from thinking about it. 

11. Born with a silver spoon in their mouth – Born wealthy

This idiomatic expression is used to describe someone who was born into a wealthy family.

12. Break the bank – Spend a lot

When you “break the bank”, you spend a lot of money on something. If something will “break the bank”, then it’s expensive.

13. Bright spark – Smart

A “bright spark” is someone who is smart and valuable to an organization.

14. Build a case – Argue your point

When you “build a case” for something, you are preparing to argue a point or convince someone that your opinion is the right one. 

15. Build castles in the sky – Daydream

When you fantasize about something you hope to have or achieve.

16. Burn your bridges – End a relationship

When you “burn your bridges” you end a relationship permanently. 

17. Butter up – Flatter

When you “butter” someone up, you are telling them nice things about themselves.

18. Bought a lemon – Bad bargain

If something you bought is a “lemon” it is a bad product. In a sense, you wasted your money on it.

19. Break the ice – Start a conversation

When you start a conversation with a strangers with the end goal of making new friends.

20. Calm before the storm – Peaceful

When you use this to describe your state of being or mind, you’re talking about a quiet period before anticipated trouble comes your way. 

21. Chasing rainbows – Pursuing dreams

When you try to follow your dreams. The implication here, however, is that you might be better off forgetting your dreams.

22. Clear as mud – Hard to understand

When you are confused about something or a situation.

23. Cool as a cucumber – Calm

This idiomatic expression is meant to describe someone who is calm and relaxed.

 24. Couch potato – Lazy

A couch potato is a lazy person. Specifically, someone who sprawls on their couch watching TV almost all day.

25. Cross that bridge when we get to it – Think about it later

When you say this, you are telling someone that you will think about something later. The implication is that it’s a problem or a decision that can be put off for now.

26. Chew it over – Think had about something

This idiom implies that you need to make an important decision and can’t afford to be hasty about it.

27. Come to light – Be revealed

When something “comes to light” something that was originally concealed from you is revealed.

28. Cut back on – Reduce

When you use this idiom, you are reducing something.

29. Cut to the chase – Speak concisely

When you tell someone to “cut to the chase”, you are expressing impatience. This is usually used when someone feels someone else is taking to long to deliver important news.

30. Crystal clear – Easy to understand

When you say that something is “crystal clear”, you are saying that it is understood.

31. Dead-end job – No more opportunities

When you are stuck in a “dead-end job”, you are in a career situation where there is no more room for advancement.

32. Dig deep – Strive

When you “dig deep” you put a lot of effort into a task.

33. Digging into – Looking closer

When you “dig into” something, you are looking for more information.

34. Don’t run before you can walk – Don’t assume something is easy

This is a descriptive idiom, it’s meant to make you think about how a baby needs to learn how to walk before they can run. It’s supposed to caution you about assuming you can just do something without learning the basics.

35. Down to earth – Practical

This describes someone who is known for being sensible and practical.

36. Eat like a bird – Small appetite

This is used to describe someone who doesn’t eat a lot.

37. Eat like a horse – Eat a lot

If you eat like a horse, you are eating a lot. You can “eat like a bird” most of the time but “eat like a horse” at a specific time because you are either very hungry or you really like the food.

38. Eat your words – Admit you were wrong

When you “eat your words” you are admitting that something you said earlier turned out to be wrong.

39. Every cloud has a silver lining – Things will get better

When you say this, you are telling yourself or someone else that you will get through your troubles.

40. Face the music – Face the consequences

When you “face the music”, you are owning up to a mistake and trying to make amends.

41. Find your feet – Adapt

When you are “finding your feet” you are learning how to adapt to a new situation, like a new job. 

42. Follow in their footsteps – Imitate

This idiom is often used between children and their parents, but it can also refer to a mentor or someone you admire. If you “follow in someone’s footsteps”, you do the same thing that they did.

43. Food for thought – Something to think about

If you are given “food for thought” you have been given something to think about.

44. A frosty reception – To be unwelcome

If you received a “frosty reception”, you are not welcome. 

45.  Fly off the handle – Rages

You can use this idiom to describe someone who is visibly angry over a situation. Often this means that someone is shouting and maybe gesturing violently and even causing damage to property. It also implies that the angry reaction is disproportionate to the situation. 

46. Get on with your life – Continue on after a setback

This is something you can say and should do after going through some problems. 

47. Give them a run for their money – Compete

If you are competing with someone, you are giving them a “run for their money.”

48. Go Dutch – Split the bill

You can use this idiomatic expression when dining out with friends. 

49. Go with the flow – Relax and get along

When you “go with the flow” you keep calm and just go along with whatever is happening around you.

50. Got off scot-free – Escaped

When you “get off scot-free”, you managed to escape any consequences for your actions.

51. Hard to swallow – Unbelievable

If someone told you something that you just can’t believe, they told you something that is “hard to swallow”.

52. Have your whole life in front of you – Young 

Someone who has their whole life in front of them is young and full of promise.

53. Hold out an olive branch – Apologize

When you do this, you try to make amends or peace with someone you’ve hurt or angered.

54. In hot water – In trouble

This idiomatic expression can be used to say that you are in a less than ideal situation.

55. Inching forward  - Making slow progress

When you say this, you’re saying things are proceeding slowly. 

56. Keep on the straight and narrow – Keep out of trouble

When you say this, you are implying that you are going to live in a morally correct way. 

57. Keep your chin up – Stay positive

Even if you’re going through a hard time, you should keep thinking positive. 

58. Kicked the bucket – Died

This is an irreverent phrase to say that someone has died. Be careful how you use it.

59. Let the cat out of the bag – Spoiled the secret

You “let the cat out of the bag” when you accidentally let someone in on a secret that they weren’t meant to know.

60. Look up to – Respect

When you “look up to” someone you are acknowledging that you respect them and value their opinion.

61. Loaded – Rich

When you call someone “loaded” you are saying that they are rich. 

62. Lost at sea – Confused

If a situation is making you feel confused or lost, this is the idiom to use.

63. Making ends meet – Careful budgeting

If you. don’t have much money, you need to “make ends meet”. This means you carefully budget what you do have to meet your needs.

64. Make a mountain out of a molehill –Exaggerate

This idiom is used to say that someone is being over-dramatic with their complaints or concerns.

65. Make waves – Change things

When you “make waves”, you change a situation dramatically. This can also mean that you caused trouble.

66. Nip in the bud – Stop

When you do this, you take action to keep a situation from getting worse.

67. No sweat – Easy

When you say “no sweat” you are saying that a task was easy

68. Not your cup of tea – Not something you like

If you say that something is “not your cup of tea” you are saying it’s not something you particularly like or enjoy.

69. Once in a blue moon – Rare

This implies something that either won’t happen or rarely happens.

70. Out in the open – Public knowledge

When something is “out in the open”, it is a matter of public knowledge.

71. Over the moon – Very happy

You can use this to describe the feeling of getting something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

72. On cloud nine – Very happy

Similar to being over the moon.

73. Packed like sardines – Crowded

If people are “packed like sardines” in a venue, they are standing very close together in a small space.

74. Piece of cake –Easy

If you say something is a “piece of cake” you are saying that it is easy.

75. Pitch in  - Contribute

When you “pitch-in”, you work with a group of people to reach a common goal.

76. Point of view – An opinion

Your “point of view” is what you think about someone or a situation. 

77. Pony up – Pay

If you are paying back a debt, you are “ponying up” the money.

78. Pour oil on troubled waters – Calm things down

This basically means that you played peacemaker and kept an argument from developing into a physical fight.

79. Put your head in the sand – Deny something unpleasant

When you have your “head in the sand”, you are deliberately ignoring a bad situation.

80.  Rags to riches – Became rich

Someone who went from “rags to riches” was born poor or underprivileged, but is now in a better social position.

81. Rain or shine – No matter what

This idiomatic expression is used to express the idea that nothing will stop you. 

82. Reap the rewards – Received the benefits

When you “reap the rewards”, you are getting the benefits of your good work.

83. Rings a bell – Sounds familiar

When you think that you’ve heard a piece of information before but are not so sure.

84. Rule of thumb – General practice

A “rule of thumb” is an unwritten rule that is followed by the majority.

85. Separate the wheat from the chaff – Decide what is valuable

This picturesque idiom refers to how, when you harvest wheat, you need to separate it from the stalks and leaves. So, it means that you pick out or choose what is valuable to keep.

86. Shell out money – Pay

When you “shell out money”, you pay for an item.

87. Sitting on the fence – Neutral

When you “sit on the fence” you are avoiding making a decision. Often, this is a decision between two people with different opinions.

88. Smart cookie – Smart person

You can use this idiom to describe someone intelligent.

89. Spice things up – Make things interesting

When you “spice things up” you do something to break out of your normal routine.

90.  Spill the beans – Tell

When you do this, you tell someone something they didn’t know. It may or not have been a secret previously.

91. Sticky fingers – Thief

If you accuse someone of having “sticky fingers” you are basically calling them a thief.

92. Take a side – Choose who to support

When you “take a side” in an argument, you are agreeing with one of those arguing.

93. Throw light on – Explain something

When you “throw light on” a situation, you help make sure that it is understood.

94. To move at a snail’s pace – Move slowly

This is another idiomatic phrase that’s meant to paint a picture. A snail moves slowly, so to move at its pace means things are going slowly.

95. Tread carefully – Be cautious

This implies that a situation is fraught and it might be easy to offend those involved.

96. Under the table – Secretive

When you do something “under the table”, you are trying to do something so that only a small amount of people are aware of it. It’s commonly used to describe something that is possibly unscrupulous. For example, bribes are given “under the table”.

97. Undermine your position – Act unconvincingly

When you behave in a way that makes you and your opinion seem untrustworthy.

98. Up in the air – Uncertain

When you say something is “up in the air”, you are saying that you are not sure that an event is happening.

99. Weather the storm – Survive

When you “weather the storm”, you endure a bad situation.

100. When it rains, it pours – Trouble comes

This refers to the fact that sometimes, many bad things happen to people at one time.

So there you have it, 100 idiomatic expressions and their meanings. These idioms are used by native English language speakers to add some color to their daily speech.

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