50 Most Common English Idioms and Phrases (With Examples)

50 Most Common English Idioms and Phrases (With Examples)

You are looking to take your English skills to another level?

English idioms and phrases are the way to do it.

By combining words that have completely different individual meanings, we get idioms.

English idioms are extremely common in everyday conversation and, therefore, essential for language progression.

"An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning..."

Learning new words is not sufficient to become a fluent English speaker but idioms and proverbs can truly boost your knowledge.

In the following lines, you will find some of the most common English idioms with their meanings and sentences:

1. A hard nut to crack

Explanation: usually a person who is very difficult to deal with

Example: I gave my best to be friendly with her, but she is simply a hard nut to crack.

2. All ears

Explanation: very concentrated or keen to listen to the other person who has your full attention.

Example: Children are all ears when the teacher tells them fairytales.

3. A picture is worth a thousand words

Explanation: It’s better to show than to tell; illustration conveys a stronger message than words.

Example: Such a beautiful portrait of a little girl represents how a picture is worth a thousand words. 

4. A piece of cake

Explanation: something easily done, simple task, or work.

Example: Anne said the test would be difficult, but it was a piece of cake. I’ll pass with no problem at all.

5. Better late than never

Explanation: It’s better to arrive late than not to come at all.

Example: We’ve been waiting for you for three hours, but better late than never. 

6. Born with a silver spoon in mouth

Explanation: Someone who is born in a very wealthy family.

Example: He does not need this job as much as I do; he is born with a silver spoon in his mouth. 

7. Bread and butter

Explanation: earnings of a person; indicate when a person earns for a living.

Example: You have to earn your own bread and butter. 

8. Break the ice

Explanation: to try to become friends with someone; to make a start of something.

Example: It’s always easiest to break the ice after I’ve had a few drinks.

9. Break a leg

Explanation: Good luck, best wishes.

Example: You have a test tomorrow? Break a leg!

10. Can judge a book by its cover

Explanation: you can’t judge something just by its appearance.

Example: The candidate doesn’t look very promising, but you can't judge a book by its cover. 

11. Chasing rainbows

Explanation: to follow your dreams, trying to do something that can’t be achieved.

Example: I understand you want to be a famous singer, but don’t chase rainbows. You are not a good singer!

12. Cool as a cucumber

Explanation: to be very calm and relaxed

13. Costs an arm and a leg

Explanation: when something costs too much money, it’s way too expensive.

Example: The show is excellent, but the tickets cost an arm and a leg. 

14. Cry over spilled milk

Explanation: to be upset about something that is already done or a mistake that can’t be changed.

Example: It’s no use crying over spilled milk. It was a bad investment. 

15. Draw a longbow

Explanation: to exaggerate, to lie.

Example: Anne is drawing a longbow. Do you believe her at all?

16. Easier said than done

Explanation: not as easy to do as it seems harder than you think.

Example: It's a lot tougher than that. It's one of those things that are easier said than done.

17. Eat like a bird

Explanation: to eat very little.

Example: Look at you! You have to eat more. You are eating like a bird. 

18. Feeling under the weather

Explanation: to feel ill, sick, having a hangover.

Example: I have my final test, but I’m feeling under the weather. I think I have a fever. 

19. Find your feet

Explanation: become confident in what you are doing, or familiar with some new situation or experience.

Example: I'm new to this city, so I'm still finding my feet. 

20. Food for thought

Explanation: an idea to think about; think about things that can arise from an event or situation.

Example: My daughter has given me some food for thought about how she organizes her toys.

21. Forty winks

Explanation: sleep a while mainly during the day; take a nap.

Example: My dad always likes to catch forty winks after lunch. 

22. Give a shot

Explanation: to try something you are not quite familiar with.

Example: I’m not prepared for my exam today. I will give it a shot. 

23. Go cold turkey

Explanation: to suddenly stop or quit some bad or addictive behavior, like stop smoking.

Example: He had been trying to quit smoking for a year but couldn't, so he decided to go cold turkey. 

24. Hit the hay/sack

Explanation: when someone is really tired and wants to go to sleep.

Example: Sorry guys, I have to hit the hay now!

25. Hold one’s peace.

Explanation: be silent.

Example: Just hold your peace if you don’t have anything smart to say.

26. It’s not rocket science

Explanation: It’s not difficult; it’s not complicated.

Example: Driving a car isn’t rocket science. I don’t understand why people don’t drive better.

27. Keep your chin up

Explanation: be brave and courageous in a tough situation.

Example: Don't let the difficulties intimidate you; keep your chin up. 

28. Kill two birds with one stone.

Explanation: accomplish two different things, jobs, or actions; solve problems at the same time.

Example: Cycling to work kills two birds with one stone. It saves money and gives you some exercise.  

29. Lose your marbles

Explanation: to go crazy, insane.

Example: I’ve been so bad lately that I thought I’m losing my marbles.

30. Make ends meet.

Explanation: make enough money to survive, to manage expenses.

Example: We need to start saving money in order to make ends meet. 

31. Make a long story short

Explanation: Tell something briefly.

Example: To make a long story short, I had a wonderful time during my vacation.

32. Never in a million years

Explanation: Absolutely never.

Example: Never in a million years would I think to fall in love with him.

33. On cloud nine

Explanation: to be extremely happy or cheerful.

Example: Susan is on cloud nine since she got married.

34. Once in a blue moon

Explanation: something happens very rarely, once after a very long time.

Example: I don’t know why she bought that music system. She uses it once in a blue moon.

35. Out of the woods

Explanation: the hardest part of something is over, but the situation isn’t still good.

Example: The surgery went well, but he’s not out of the woods yet.

36. Penny for your thoughts

Explanation: a way of asking someone else’s thoughts.

Example: You seem so serious. A penny for your thoughts.

Don't forget to work on learning new English words every day, not just idioms. 

37. Pull someone’s leg

Explanation: To joke with someone, to trick someone in a humorous way

Example: I think he was just pulling your leg when he said you’ve fallen in the exam.

38. Rain cats and dogs

Explanation: rain heavily, tremendously.

Example: It’s raining cats and dogs when the Monsoon comes.

39. Speak of the devil

Explanation: The person we were talking about showed up.

Example: Did you hear what happened to Anne yesterday? Oh, speak of the devil, there she is.

40. Square peg in a round hole

Explanation: When a person doesn’t fit into society when you find in a surrounding that doesn’t suit you.

Example: That lifestyle really doesn't suit Sally at all; she's like a square peg in a round hole. 

41. Takes two to tango.

Explanation: Specific actions can’t be performed alone; it takes two persons to participate; both persons are responsible for an action.

Example: If you want to play that game, you need a partner who plays with you. It takes two to tango. 

42. That’s the last straw

Explanation: Someone’s patience has run out, to be the latest in a sequence of unpleasant things that can’t be accepted.

Example: I’m not going to wait for the last straw. I’ll do something about the problem much sooner than you.

43. To cut corners

Explanation: to do something in an easy and very cheap way; to reduce time, money, expenses.

Example: My mom often had to cut corners when we were kids to feed all of us.

44. To go Dutch

Explanation: When everyone pays his bill.

Example: Last night we had a date, but we went Dutch because I’ve paid for my coffee and he paid his.

45. To have sticky fingers

Explanation: to be a thief.

Example: The manager fired his employee because he had sticky fingers. He stole 100$.

46. To sit tight

Explanation: wait patiently and take no action; stay where you are.

Example: Just relax and sit tight; we'll solve the problem for you.

47. Up in the air

Explanation: unresolved, undecided about something; full of doubt.

Example: I am not sure what the plans are. Everything was up in the air when I last spoke to him about it. 

48. What goes around, comes around.

Explanation: how you treat and behave to others will eventually come to you, too.

Example: All of his life, he treated his family with no respect, and now his son is doing the same to him. What goes around, comes around.

49. When pigs fly

Explanation: something that will never happen or highly unlikely to happen.

Example: He plans to clean his house every week, but he will probably do it only when pigs fly. 

50. Zip your lip

Explanation: To remain a secret or silent.

Example: I’ll tell you a secret about Marry, but zip your lip about it!

Practice makes perfect

To learn English idioms better, we’ve prepared some exercises that will help you test your knowledge.

Don’t be shy. Try and find out.

Please note that you will not need all listed idioms in the following exercises, so focus and pay attention.

 

I can’t wait to see you on premiere tomorrow night! __________________ !

I can’t believe that was our test. I think it was easier than some of our homework! It was a ______.

 

They were discussing the girl who was his new crush when she walked in. ____________________. 

The earthquakes hits _________________ in this part of the earth, we never felt it. 

He showed up for the wedding when they were already cutting the cake. __________________, I suppose. 

 

To_______________________________, he still stays in the apartment but now it is owned by someone else. 

You can't be serious about that! Stop ___________________. 

Such a beautiful portrait of a little girl - represents how ________________________. 

I am really tired after all that exercise. I am going to_______________. 

John asked Sarah whether she would go to the movies with him. Sarah replied that would happen __________________. 

It is sad to see that people always wait until ________________before they start to take any action in this country. 

It’s not right to blame only the other woman for his adulterous affair -__________________. 

I have never eaten Mexican food, but I will ______________ .

She has just returned from her vacation, but is feeling _______________and has a sore throat and running nose.

I have to go to the bank, and on the way back, I'll pick up the groceries also, ____________________. 

He really wants to go to that event. He's willing to pay __________________ for it. 

 

When drug addicts go ___________________ they experience a period of extreme suffering.

He has never worked hard for anything because he was________________________. His parents brought everything to him instead. 

Shall we _____________? No, not this time I’m paying the bill.

Peter is still new in his job; give him some time to ______________.

 

Answers:

9, B. 4, C. 39, D. 34, E. 5, F. 31. G. 37, H. 3, I. 49, J. 42, K. 41, L. 22, M. 18, N. 28, O. 13, P. 23, Q. 6, R. 6, S. 44, T. 19.

Is it necessary to use idioms while speaking English?

Idioms make your vocabulary wider and show that you have a deep knowledge of the language.

Is it possible to understand the meaning of the idiom without a dictionary?

If you have a context, you may grasp the meaning, but most of the idioms should be checked in the dictionary.

Do native speakers frequently use idioms?

There are many idioms that are well known and frequently used among the native speakers, but some of them become old and rarely used.

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