English Idioms Idioms and idiomatic expressions in English An idiom is a group of words in current usage having a meaning that is not deducible from those of the individual words. For example, “to rain cats and dogs” – which means “to rain very heavily” – is an idiom; and “over the moon” – which means “extremely happy” – is another idiom. In both cases, you would have a hard time understanding the real meaning if you did not already know these idioms! A (26) B (26) C (27) D (25) E (25) F (27) G (26) H (25) I (25) J (25) K (25) L (25) M (27) N (25) O (25)
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There are two features that identify an idiom: firstly, we cannot deduce the meaning of the idiom from the individual words; and secondly, both the grammar and the vocabulary of the idiom are fixed, and if we change them we lose the meaning of the idiom. Thus the idiom “pull your socks up” means “improve the way you are behaving” (or it can have a literal meaning); if we change it grammatically to “pull your sock up” or we change its vocabulary to “pull your stockings up”, then we must interpret the phrase literally – it has lost its idiomatic meaning. How should one index an idioms reference?
Do we list the idiom “kick the bucket” under K for “kick” or B for “bucket”? Given that Internet users have the option of searching for individual words with the search function, the approach we have taken is to list all idioms in strict alphabetical order, omitting the indefinite and definite articles (a, an, the) and some pronouns if they occur at the beginning of the idiom. Thus, for example, the idiom “kick the bucket” is indexed under K, while the idiom “a ballpark figure” is indexed under B. Many idioms originated as quotations from well-known writers such as Shakespeare.
For example, “at one fell swoop” comes from Macbeth and “cold comfort” from King John. Sometimes such idioms today have a meaning that has been altered from the original quotation. Some idioms are typically used in one version of English rather than another. For example, the idiom “yellow journalism” originated and is used in American English. Other idioms may be used in a slightly different form in different varieties of English. Thus the idiom “a drop in the ocean” in British and Australian English becomes “a drop in the bucket” in American English.
However, in general, globalization and the effects of film, television and the Internet mean that there is less and less distinction between idioms of different varieties of English. In this reference we have tagged an idiom with one variety of English or another only when the idiom really is restricted to a particular variety of English or to indicate that the idiom originated in that particular variety of English. Quick searches: Formal English idioms Informal English idioms American English idioms British English idioms 26 Idioms beginning with A Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes.
Idioms above board If something is above board, it’s been done in a legal and honest way. above the law If someone is above the law, they are not subject to the laws of a society. Achilles’ heel An Achilles’ heel is a weakness that could result in failure. across the board If something is across the board, it relates to all without exception. add fuel to the fire If you add fuel to the fire, you do something to make a bad situation even worse. add insult to injury Someone adds insult to injury if they say or do something to upset you a second time, after you’ve already been upset somehow. gainst all odds | against all the odds If you do something against all odds, or against all the odds, you do it even though there were many problems and it didn’t seem possible to do. agree to differ | agree to disagree If two people agree to differ, or agree to disagree, they accept that they have different opinions about something and stop trying to change each other’s opinion. ahead of the game You are ahead of the game if you have an advantage over your competitors in any activity in which you try to do better than others, such as in business, academia, sports, etc. ll hell broke loose Informal You can say “all hell broke loose” if a situation suddenly became violent or chaotic. all the rage Informal If something is all the rage, it’s very popular or it’s in fashion at the moment. an acid test An acid test is something that shows the true worth or value of something or someone. an act of God Formal Something like an earthquake or a tornado can be called an act of God. an ax to grind (1) If you have an ax to grind with someone, you have a problem with them, or a complaint against them, which you’d like to discuss. an axe to grind (2)
If you have an axe to grind, you have a strong opinion about something and you express this opinion whenever you can. another string to your bow If you have another string to your bow, you have another way of making a living. answer the call of nature If you answer the call of nature, you go to the toilet. around the clock If something occurs around the clock, it goes on all day and all night. as soon as possible | asap If you do something as soon as possible (sometimes abbreviated to “asap”), you do it at the first possible opportunity. asking for trouble
If someone is asking for trouble, they’re doing something risky that could lead to a problem. at a loose end If you’re at a loose end, you have nothing to do. at cross-purposes If you’re at cross-purposes with someone, you think you’re both talking about the same thing but you’re actually talking about different things. at loose ends If you’re at loose ends, you feel restless and unsettled because you don’t have anything to do. at sea | all at sea If you’re at sea, or all at sea, you’re confused about something and not sure what to do. at the drop of a hat
If you do something at the drop of a hat, you do it immediately, without preparation or planning. at your wits’ end If you’re at your wits’ end, you’re upset and frustrated because you’ve tried everything you can think of to solve a problem, and nothing has worked. 26 Idioms beginning with B Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (your) bread and butter Your bread and butter is your livelihood or the source of your income. a bad hair day Informal If you’re having a bad hair day, everything seems to be going wrong for you. a bag of tricks
Someone’s bag of tricks is their collection of techniques or methods for getting a job done or for achieving a goal. a ballpark figure | a ballpark estimate If you give a ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate, you give a number which you think is fairly close to the actual one. a blessing in disguise You can say something is a blessing in disguise if it appears to be bad at first, but it results in something very good in the end. back to square one If you have to go back to square one, you have to stop and start again, usually because something isn’t working as well as expected. ack to the drawing board You can say “back to the drawing board” when a plan or a design has failed, and you decide to begin all over again. backed into a corner If you’re backed into a corner, you’re in a difficult situation that will be hard to get out of. bark up the wrong tree Informal If you’re barking up the wrong tree, you’re looking for something in the wrong place or going about something in the wrong way. bear the brunt If you bear the brunt of something, you suffer the worst of its impact or its effects. beat around the bush | beat about the bush
If you beat around the bush, or beat about the bush, you don’t say something directly, usually because you don’t want to upset the person you’re talking to. beat the rap Informal If someone beats the rap, they avoid being found guilty of a crime. behind someone’s back If you do something behind someone’s back, you do it without letting them know about it. behind the eight ball Informal If you’re behind the eight ball, you’re in a difficult or dangerous position. behind the times If someone is behind the times, they are old-fashioned and their ideas are out of date. beside the point
You can say something is beside the point if it has nothing to do with what’s being talked about or with the reason something is being done. beyond a shadow of a doubt Something is true “beyond a shadow of a doubt” if there is no possibility at all that it isn’t true. bite your tongue | hold your tongue If you bite your tongue, or hold your tongue, you force yourself not to say something you really want to to say. blow your own horn | blow your own trumpet If you blow your own horn, or blow your own trumpet, you proudly boast about your own talents and successes. break the ice
If you break the ice you say or do something to create a more relaxed atmosphere when meeting people for the first time. break your heart If someone breaks your heart, they cause you a lot of emotional pain by ending a romantic relationship, or by deeply hurting you in some other way. burn your bridges | burn your boats You have burned your bridges, or burned your boats, if you were in a situation and you then left it after doing something that made it impossible to go back there. by the book If you do something by the book, you do it strictly according to the rules or the official procedures. by word of mouth
If something becomes well-known by word of mouth, it becomes well-known because people are telling each other about it, and not because of advertising or other marketing tools. the back of beyond | the back of the beyond You can say a place is in the back of beyond, or the back of the beyond, if it’s very far from towns or cities. the ball’s in your court If someone you’re negotiating with says “the ball’s in your court”, they think it’s your turn to make a move or make an offer. 27 Idioms beginning with C Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes.
Idioms a chip off the old block Someone can be described as a chip off the old block if they are very similar in character to one of their parents, usually their father. a couch potato You can say someone’s a couch potato if they’re very lazy and they spend a lot of time sitting around watching TV and eating junk food. call a spade a spade If you call a spade a spade, you tell the truth in a straightforward and direct way, even if the truth is not pleasant. call it a day Informal If you call it a day, you stop doing something that’s usually related to work. an of worms Informal If you say a situation or an issue is a can of worms, you think that getting involved in it could lead to problems. can’t see the forest for the trees If you can’t see the forest for the trees, you can’t see the whole situation clearly because you’re looking too closely at small details, or because you’re too closely involved. can’t see the wood for the trees If you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the whole situation clearly because you’re looking too closely at small details, or because you’re too closely involved. carte blanche Formal
If you give someone carte blanche, you give them freedom to do whatever they want in a situation. caught red-handed If someone is caught red-handed, they are caught in the act of doing something wrong such as cheating or stealing. change your tune If you change your tune, you change your opinion about something or your attitude towards someone. chew the fat | chew the rag If you chew the fat, or chew the rag, you have a long, friendly chat with someone. chickens come home to roost If chickens are coming home to roost, someone is suffering the unpleasant consequences of their bad actions in the past. clean as a whistle
If something is as clean as a whistle, it’s extremely clean, or for a person it can mean they have a perfect record and have never done anything illegal. come a cropper Informal If you come a cropper, you fall over, or you make a mistake which has serious consequences for you. come clean If you come clean about something, you let people know about it after keeping it a secret. come in handy Informal You can say something might come in handy if you think it might be useful. come to a head You can say a situation or a problem comes to a head if it reaches a crisis point and dealing with it can no longer be avoided. ome to grips with | get to grips with If you come to grips with something, or get to grips with something, you deal with the problems or challenges it poses. come to your senses If you come to your senses, you see things clearly and begin to act sensibly after a period of confusion and unwise behaviour. come up trumps If you come up trumps, you succeed in something that you may not have been expected to succeed in. cook the books | cook the accounts If someone cooks the books, or cooks the accounts, they keep inaccurate accounts for a business, usually in order to pay less tax. ost the earth | charge the earth If something costs the earth, or they charge the earth for it, it’s very expensive. couldn’t care less Informal You can say “I couldn’t care less” when you don’t care about something, or it doesn’t matter to you. cover your tracks If you cover your tracks, you make sure no-one can find evidence of what you’ve done. cross that bridge when we come to it You can say “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” if someone mentions a problem that might occur in the future, but you want them to think about what’s happening now instead. cut to the chase Informal
If you tell someone to cut to the chase, you want them to get straight to the main point of what they are saying. the cream of the crop If something or someone is in the cream of the crop, they are among the best of a class of things or people. 25 Idioms beginning with D Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a done deal Informal A done deal is an agreement or a decision that is final. a drop in the bucket If an amount is a drop in the bucket, it’s a very small portion of the amount that’s needed. a drop in the ocean
If an amount is a drop in the ocean, it’s a very small portion of the amount that’s needed. damned if you do and damned if you don’t If you say “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” you’re saying that no matter what someone does, they’ll be criticised for it. day to day If something happens day to day, it’s part of the usual daily routine. de rigeur Formal If something is de rigeur, it is necessary to have if you want to be fashionable or be accepted into a particular social scene. dead in the water If something is dead in the water, it has no chance of succeeding or of making any progress. ead to the world Informal If you’re dead to the world, you are sound asleep. deep pockets You can say a person or an organisation has deep pockets if they have lots of money. dig one’s own grave If you dig your own grave, you do something unwise that will result in your own failure or downfall in the future. dig up dirt If you dig up dirt on someone, you try to find details from their past to make them look bad in the present. dig your heels in If you dig your heels in, you stubbornly resist something or refuse to change. dirt cheap You can say something is dirt cheap if it costs very little money. o someone’s dirty work If you do someone’s dirty work for them, you do something unpleasant for them because they don’t want to do it for themselves. do you the world of good If something does you the world of good, it makes you feel a lot better. do your best If you do your best, you do something as well as you possibly can, or to the best of your ability. dot the i’s and cross the t’s If you dot the i’s and cross the t’s, you do something very carefully to make sure you haven’t made any mistakes. down in the dumps | down in the mouth Informal If you’re down in the dumps, or down in the mouth, you’re feeling sad. own to earth If someone is down to earth, they are practical and sensible. drag your feet | drag your heels If you drag your feet, or drag your heels, you do something slowly because you don’t really want to do it. draw a blank Informal If you draw a blank, you get no response when you ask for something, or get no results when you search for something. dressed (up) to the nines Informal If you are dressed to the nines, or dressed up to the nines, you are wearing very smart clothes for a special occasion. drink like a fish Informal If someone drinks like a fish, they drink a lot of alcohol. rop a bombshell If you drop a bombshell, you announce some shocking news. the die is cast We can say the die is cast after a decision has been made that will strongly affect a situation, and it can’t be reversed. 25 Idioms beginning with E Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (have) egg on your face Informal You have egg on your face if you’ve said or done something wrong, and it’s made you feel embarrassed or stupid. (something) escapes you If you say something escapes you, it means you can’t remember it. an end in itself
If something is an end in itself, it’s done for its own pleasure or benefit rather than for some other purpose like making money. an even break If you get an even break, you get a fair opportunity to succeed in your ambition or to achieve your goals. an eye-opener You can say something’s an eye-opener if it’s made you realize something you hadn’t been aware of before. each to their own You can say “each to their own” when you want to point out that we’re all different and we all like different things. ear to the ground Informal If you have your ear to the ground, you know what’s really going on in a situation. arn your stripes If you earn your stripes, you do something to prove that you have the skills or ability for a particular job or rank. easier said than done You say something is easier said than done when it looks easy to do, but in fact it’s quite difficult to do. easy as pie | easy as abc If something’s as easy as pie, or easy as abc, it’s very easy. easy come, easy go Informal You can say “easy come, easy go” to express the idea that if something comes to someone easily, such as money they get without working hard for it, they can lose it just as easily and it won’t matter to them much.
Easy does it! Informal You can say “Easy does it! ” when you want someone to do something more carefully or more slowly. easy money You can say “easy money” to describe money that someone gets without having to make much effort. easy on the eye If something is easy on the eye, it is pleasant to look at. eat humble pie If you eat humble pie, you admit that you are in the wrong and behave apologetically. eat your words If you eat your words, you admit that something you said was wrong. elbow grease If something needs elbow grease, it needs a lot of hard physical work. nough is enough You can say “enough is enough” if you think someone shouldn’t do something because they’ve done it too many times already, or because they’ve been doing it for too long. err on the side of caution If you err on the side of caution, you are overly careful in your approach to something. esprit de corps Formal A feeling of pride and comradeship shared by members of a group such as a military unit or a sports team. every now and then If something happens every now and then, it happens occasionally, but not too often. every trick in the book
If someone uses every trick in the book to achieve something, they use any method available, even if it involves some deception. Everything’s coming up roses. you can say “everything’s coming up roses” if everything is turning out very well for someone or for something. expand | broaden | widen your horizons If you expand your horizons, you broaden your outlook on life and its possibilities. eyes like a hawk If someone has eyes like a hawk, they have very good eyesight and they notice everything. 27 Idioms beginning with F Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes.
Idioms a fair-weather friend A fair-weather friend is a person who will only be your friend when things are going well for you. a fait accompli Formal If something is a fait accompli, it is certain to happen. a flash in the pan You can say something or someone is a flash in the pan if they’re popular or effective for a short time only. a foregone conclusion You can say the result of something is a foregone conclusion if everyone knows what it’s going to be before it happens. face the music If someone has to face the music, they have to accept the consequences of doing something wrong. ace to face If people meet face to face, they meet in person in the real world. fair and square If something was done fair and square, it was done in an honest and straightforward way, without cheating. fall from grace If you fall from grace, you do something that results in a loss of respect and support, especially among those who influence your life or career. feather your own nest If you feather your own nest, you use your position or your job illegally for personal gain. feel the pinch If you are feeling the pinch, you’re finding it harder to survive on your income. ew and far between You can say things are few and far between when there aren’t many of them around. fight a losing battle If you fight a losing battle, you try to do something even though it can’t be done. fight fire with fire If you fight fire with fire in a conflict or a contest, you use the same methods or “weapons” as your opponent. fill somebody’s shoes If you can fill somebody’s shoes, you can replace them and do what they do. find your feet If you’re still finding you’re feet, you’re still adjusting to a new place or a new situation. firing on all cylinders
If you’re firing on all cylinders, you’re functioning as well as you possibly can. fly off the handle Informal If you fly off the handle, you are so angry about something that you lose control of yourself and start screaming and shouting. for a song If you buy or sell something for a song, you buy or sell it at a very cheap price. for my money You can say “for my money” to mean the same as “in my opinion”. for the time being If something will be the way it is “for the time being”, it will be that way for a limited period of time only. forty winks Informal If you have forty winks, you have a short sleep, or a nap. resh as a daisy If you feel as fresh as a daisy, you feel energetic and lively. friends in high places If you have friends in high places, you know people in powerful positions in business or government. from every walk of life | from all walks of life If you meet people from every walk of life, or from all walks of life, you meet different types of people from different levels of society. from now on If you do something “from now on”, you do it from now until some unknown time in the future. from time to time If you do something from time to time, you do it occasionally, but not very often. full of yourself
If you are full of yourself you think you’re better or more important than you really are. 26 Idioms beginning with G Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a gut feeling If you have a gut feeling, you sense something about a person or a situation, without knowing why, but you’re sure what you sense is true. get a look in If you get a look in, you get a fair chance to do something. get a word in edgeways | edgewise If you can’t get a word in edgeways, you can’t say anything because someone else is talking so much. get away from it all Informal
If you get away from it all, you go somewhere to escape from your usual daily routine. Get cracking! Informal You can say “Get cracking! ” if you want someone to hurry up and do something faster. get it off your chest If you get it off your chest, you tell somebody about something that’s been bothering you and you’ve been thinking about a lot. get off on the wrong foot If you get off on the wrong foot, you start something poorly, or begin with a mistake. get to the bottom of If you get to the bottom of something, you find out its real cause or the true story behind it. get your act together
If you get your act together, you greatly improve your attitude and peformance in relation to something such as your work, or to life in general. give it a shot | give it a whirl Informal If you give something a shot, or give it a whirl, you try doing something for the first time, usually for fun. give it your all If you give (it) your all, you try as hard as you can to succeed in something. give someone a hard time If you give someone a hard time, you bother them or make trouble for them. give the green light If you give something the green light, you give permission for it to be done, or allow it to happen. go down a treat
If something goes down a treat, it’s a great success and everyone enjoys it. go for broke If you go for broke, you risk everything, or use all your resources and energy, in order to achieve something. go out of business If a company goes out of business, it stops trading and closes down. go out on a limb If you go out on a limb, you put yourself in a risky position in order to support someone or something. go over your head If someone goes over your head, they go to someone with more authority than you in order to get something that you would normally grant, possibly because they think you won’t give it to them. o overboard If you go overboard, you do something too much or you do it with excessive enthusiasm. go through the motions You go through the motions when you do something without putting any real effort or thought into it. go with the flow If you go with the flow, you relax and go along with whatever is happening. going down Informal If you know what’s going down, you know what’s happening in a situation. going great guns If you’re going great guns, you’re going really well in whatever you’re doing. grease someone’s palm Informal If you grease someone’s palm, you pay them a bribe. rin and bear it If you grin and bear it, you accept a difficult situation and try not to let it upset you. the gift of the gab | the gift of gab If you’ve got the gift of the gab, or the gift of gab, you have the natural ability to talk in a way that people find entertaining or persuasive. 25 Idioms beginning with H Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (your) hands are tied You can say your hands are tied if you’re prevented from doing something that you’d normally have the power or the authority to do. (your) heart goes out to (someone)
If your heart goes out to someone, you feel great sympathy for them. (your) heart is in the right place If your heart is in the right place, you try to do the right thing, even if things don’t always work out for the best. (your) heart isn’t in it If your heart isn’t in something you’re doing, you don’t really want to do it. a head start If you have a head start, you start something ahead of others or with an advantage over others. a hidden agenda If someone has a hidden agenda, they have a secret plan or motive for doing something. half-baked Informal If something is half-baked, it hasn’t been properly thought out or planned. ang in there | hang on in there Informal You can tell someone to hang in there, or hang on in there, if they’re in a difficult situation and you want to encourage them, or tell them not to give up. hard to come by If something is hard to come by, it is difficult to find. hard to swallow Something that someone has said is hard to swallow if it’s difficult to believe. have a heart-to-heart If you have a heart-to-heart with someone, you have an honest talk and share your feelings with each other. have a soft spot for If you have a soft spot for someone or something, you feel a warm affection for them. ave second thoughts If you’re having second thoughts about something, you’re having doubts about a decision you’ve made. have your hands full If you have your hands full, you’re busy. have your head in the clouds If someone has their head in the clouds, they are out of touch with the everyday world and can be unrealistic or naive as a result. have your work cut out (for you) If you have your work cut out for you, you have a difficult task to do or a challenging situation to face. heads will roll You can say “heads will roll” if people are going to lose their jobs after making a mistake. hit it off
If you meet someone for the first time and the two of you hit it off, you get along really well and have a great time together. hit the hay | hit the sack If you hit the hay, or hit the sack, you go to bed. hit the nail on the head If you hit the nail on the head, you describe the exact nature of something such as a problem, a solution, or a situation. hit the roof You can say someone hits the roof if they lose their temper and show their anger. hold the fort If you hold the fort, you look after a place or a business while the person who is normally in charge is away. hold your head high | hold your head up high
You can hold your head high, or hold your head up high, if you feel proud of something. hold your own If you hold your own, you are as successful as other people in a situation, or as good as others at an activity. hot under the collar If you are hot under the collar, you feel angry or annoyed about something. 25 Idioms beginning with I Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms an ivory tower You can say someone’s in an ivory tower if they’re in a place that separates them from everyday life, such as a university. I owe you one! Informal You can say “I owe you one! when someone has done something for you and you’d be happy to return the favour one day. if all else fails You can say “if all else fails” before saying what you’ll do if your plans don’t work out as well as you’d like. if I were you You can say “if I were you” when giving advice to someone. if push comes to shove You can say “if push comes to shove” before saying what you’ll do if things don’t go as well as you’d like, and you’re forced to do something that you’d rather not do. if worst comes to worst You can say “if worst comes to worst” before saying what you’ll do if your plans don’t work out. ignorance is bliss
You can say “ignorance is bliss” when you want to say that not knowing about something unpleasant can be better than knowing about it and worrying about it. ill at ease If you’re ill at ease, you feel tense or you can’t relax in a situation. in a bind | fix | jam If someone is in a bind, or in a jam, or in a fix, they’re in a bad or difficult situation. in a nutshell Informal You can say “in a nutshell” if you’re about to describe something as briefly as possible, or you’re going to sum something up. in a row If something happened several times in a row, it happened several times in an unbroken sequence. n any case You can say “in any case” before giving an additional reason for doing or not doing something, or instead of saying “anyway”. in deep water If you’re in deep water, you’re in some sort of trouble or in a difficult situation. in someone’s bad books Informal If you’re in someone’s bad books, they are not pleased with you. in someone’s good books Informal If you’re in someone’s good books, they are pleased with you. in the black If a person or a company is in the black, their assets are greater than their debts. in the dark If you’re in the dark about something, you don’t know about it. n the long run If you talk about something “in the long run”, you mean over a long period of time. in the red If a person or a company is in the red, their debts are greater than their assets. in two minds If you’re in two minds about something, you can’t decide what to do, or you can’t decide which option is the best. it’s high time If you say it’s high time something was done, you think it should have been done already, and is overdue. It’s written all over your face. If you say “it’s written all over your face”, you’re saying that the expression on someone’s face is showing their true feelings or thoughts. tchy feet Informal If you have itchy feet, you feel the need to go somewhere different or do something different. the icing on the cake | the frosting on the cake If something is the icing on the cake, or the frosting on the cake, it makes a good situation or a good result even better. the ins and outs If you know the ins and outs of something, you know all the details about it and understand how it works. 25 Idioms beginning with J Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a jack of all trades
If you’re a jack of all trades, you have many skills and can do many different jobs. a jam session If musicians play in a jam session, they play whatever they feel like playing in an informal setting. jobs for the boys If you say “jobs for the boys” you’re referring to the fact that people in positions of power sometimes use their power to give jobs to their friends or family members. jockey for position If you jockey for position, you try to get yourself in a good position in relation to others who’re competing for the same opportunity or the same goal. jog your memory
If something jogs your memory, it helps you to remember something. joie de vivre If you have joie de vivre, you feel the joy of living. Join the club! You can “Join the club! ” to someone who has just experienced something unpleasant that you’ve also experienced, or to someone who’s in an unfortunate position that’s similar to your own. join the ranks of If someone joins the ranks of a group or class of people, they become part of that group. joined at the hip If two people or things are joined at the hip, they’re so closely linked as to be almost inseparable. ump down your throat | jump all over you If someone jumps down your throat, or jumps all over you, they strongly criticise you or scold you. jump for joy You can say someone “jumped for joy” if they were very happy about something. jump on the bandwagon If someone jumps on the bandwagon, they join a movement or follow a fashion that has recently become popular. jump out of your skin Informal You jump out of your skin when something suddenly shocks you and your whole body jumps. jump the gun If you jump the gun, you start doing something too soon. jump through hoops | go through hoops
You can say you had to “jump through hoops” or “go through hoops” if you had to complete a lot of tasks before being permitted to do something. jump to conclusions If you jump to conclusions, you decide something is true, or make a judgement about something, before having enough information to be sure you’re right. junk food Food that is bad for us because it contains large amounts of harmful substances like artificial colouring, preservatives, salt, refined sugar, and so on. just in case You can say “just in case” when describing a possible future problem and a precaution that has been, or should be, taken against it. ust in time | just in the nick of time If you do something just in time, or just in the nick of time, you do it just before time runs out. Just my luck! You can say “Just my luck! ” when something goes wrong for you, or when something inconvenient happens. just shy of Informal You can say something is just shy of an amount if it’s just short of that amount. just the ticket You can say something is just the ticket if it’s the perfect thing or if it’s exactly what’s needed. just what the doctor ordered Informal You can say something was just what the doctor ordered when it was exactly what was needed. he jewel in the crown If something is the jewel in the crown, it’s part of a group or set of similar things, and it’s the best of them all. the jury is still out We can say the jury is still out when a decision still hasn’t been made about something. A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 25 Idioms beginning with K Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a kick in the teeth If you get a kick in the teeth, something bad happens to you or you feel that you’ve been treated poorly. a knight in shining armour | armor
If someone is a knight in shining armour, they help you when you are in a difficult situation. a knuckle sandwich Informal If you give someone a knuckle sandwich, you punch them. keep a low profile If you keep a low profile, you try not to do anything that will draw attention to you or create interest in you. keep abreast of If you keep abreast of something, you always know about the latest news and developments in relation to it. keep an eye on If you keep an eye on someone, you make sure you know what they’re doing. keep it under your hat If someone tells you a secret and you keep it under your hat, you don’t tell anyone. eep something at bay If you keep something at bay, you stop something that could be a problem for you from getting too close or from getting worse. keep something in mind If you keep something in mind, you remember some information or advice and consider it at some time in the future. keep track of If you keep track of something or someone, you continue to know what’s happening with them. keep up with the Joneses People who try to keep up with the Joneses are people who feel it’s important to show that they’re as successful as others (such as their rich neighbours, “The Joneses”). eep your nose clean If you keep your nose clean, you stay out of trouble by making sure you don’t do anything wrong. keep your word If you keep your word, you do what you promised to do. kick the bucket Informal If someone kicks the bucket, they die. kick the habit If you kick the habit, you manage to stop doing something that has become a bad habit. kill the goose that lays the golden egg If you kill the goose that lays the golden egg, you destroy something that has made you a lot of money. kill time You kill time when you do something to amuse yourself while waiting for something. ill two birds with one stone If you kill two birds with one stone, you achieve two things with the one action. kiss and make up If you kiss and make up with someone, you get over a disagreement and become friendly again. Knock it off! You can say “Knock it off! ” when someone is doing something wrong, or something that’s annoying you, and you want them to stop it. knock your socks off If something knocks your socks off, it amazes you and surprises you. know the ropes If you know the ropes, you know how to do a job properly, or you know how things work and how to get things done. know what’s what
If you know what’s what, you have a lot of experience and you understand things well. know where you stand If you know where you stand, you know exactly where you fit in a social or work situation, or in someone’s life. know your stuff If you know your stuff, you’re very good at what you do, and you know a lot about it. 25 Idioms beginning with L Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a law unto themselves If somebody is a law unto themselves, they do things their own way and follow their own ideas about how to live instead of following what others do. abour of love | labor of love A labour of love is work that’s done for pleasure or for someone’s benefit rather than for money. lay down the law If you lay down the law, you tell people what they should do in a forceful and stern way. lead the way If you lead the way, you show others where to go or what to do. lead you astray If someone leads you astray, they set a bad example and you behave badly also, or they encourage you to do the wrong thing. learn the ropes If you learn the ropes, you learn how to do a job properly, or how things work and how to get things done. earn your lesson If you learn your lesson, you learn something about life from making a mistake. leave no stone unturned If you leave no stone unturned, you look everywhere in order to find something, or try everything in order to achieve something. leave well enough alone | let well enough alone If you leave well enough alone, or let well enough alone, you don’t try to improve or change something that’s already good enough. lend someone a hand If you lend someone a hand, you help them. let off steam If you let off steam, you do something to release pent-up emotion or energy. et the cat out of the bag If you let the cat out of the bag, you let someone know a secret. let your hair down If you let your hair down, you enjoy yourself by doing whatever you feel like doing and not worrying about what other people might think. life of the party | life and soul of the party If you are the life of the party, or the life and soul of the party, you are the liveliest and most entertaining person at a social gathering. light at the end of the tunnel If you can see light at the end of the tunnel, you can see some sign of the end of a difficult period. ike a fish out of water You feel like a fish out of water if you’re surrounded by people who are different to you, and it’s making you feel a little uncomfortable. live it up Informal If you live it up, you enjoy yourself by doing things that cost a lot of money. live on your wits | live by your wits If you live on your wits, or live by your wits, you don’t have a regular job but you survive by cleverly manipulating people or situations. lock, stock and barrel You can say “lock, stock and barrel” to mean every single thing when you’re talking about a collection of things. lose face
If you lose face, your status falls and you aren’t respected as much as you were. lose your head If you lose your head, you become very angry about something. lost for words You are lost for words if you’re so surprised by something that you can’t think of anything to say. love at first sight If you experience love at first sight, you love someone from the first moment you see them. the last straw Something is the last straw if it’s the latest in a series of annoying or upsetting events, and it’s the one that finally makes you do something about the situation. the lion’s share
You can say something is the lion’s share if it’s the biggest share or portion of something. 27 Idioms beginning with M Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a matter of life and death If something is a matter of life and death, it’s extremely important and it could involve someone’s survival. a means to an end You can say something is a means to an end if it’s the way to reach a goal, or the way to achieve something. a mixed blessing You can say something is a mixed blessing if it seems to be good, but in fact has bad effects as well as good effects. ade of money If you are made of money, you have lots of money. make a killing If you make a killing, you make a lot of money from a sale or a deal of some sort. make a mountain out of a molehill If you make a mountain out of a molehill, you make a small problem seem to be a much bigger problem. make a song and dance about something If you make a song and dance about something, you make a big deal out of, or a fuss over, something that isn’t very important. make ends meet If you make ends meet, you earn just enough to pay for a place to live and your daily expenses. ake hay while the sun shines If you make hay while the sun shines, you make good use of the chance to do something while it lasts. make the most of If you make the most of something, you get as much as possible from it. make up your mind If you make up your mind, you make a decision. make yourself at home If you make yourself at home, you relax and feel comfortable in someone else’s home. meet someone halfway If you meet someone halfway, you compromise with them and agree to some of their demands, but not all of them, in order to come to an agreement. meet your match
If you meet your match, you meet someone who can do as well as you, or better than you, in something that you’re good at. mend your ways If you mend your ways, you improve your behaviour and stop doing things that cause trouble. middle-of-the-road If something is middle-of-the-road, it’ll appeal to the majority of people and not be radical or challenging. Mind your own business! Informal If you say “Mind your own business! ” to someone, you’re telling them to stop interfering in things that don’t concern them, or to stop asking personal questions. miss the point
If you miss the point of something you hear or read, you don’t understand what it really means. more often than not If something happens more often than not, it happens quite often, but not all the time. more than meets the eye You can say there’s more to something than meets the eye if it’s more complex, more important or more interesting than it seems at first. much ado about nothing If you say something is much ado about nothing, you think it’s an overreaction to something that shouldn’t have caused so much trouble. much of a muchness Informal If two or more things are much of a muchness, they are very similar to each other. umbo jumbo If you describe what someone says or writes as mumbo jumbo, you think it doesn’t make sense or it’s not clear because it’s too complex. music to your ears If something is music to your ears, it’s just what you want to hear. the middle of nowhere If a place is in the middle of nowhere, it’s far from where most people live. the moment of truth The moment of truth is a time when the truth about something is revealed, or when an important decision is made. the movers and shakers You can say people are the movers and shakers in a place or a situation if they are the ones with the power to make decisions.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 25 Idioms beginning with N Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (someone’s) name is mud Informal If someone’s name is mud, other people are angry with them, or they’re no longer popular, because they’ve done something wrong. a narrow escape If you have a narrow escape, you survive a dangerous situation, but only just. a necessary evil If you say something is a necessary evil, you don’t like it but you understand that it has to be accepted sometimes or it has to exist. a nest egg
If you have a nest egg, you have money put away for the future. a new lease of life If someone has a new lease of life, they have a new enthusiasm for living. a new lease on life If someone has a new lease on life, they have a new enthusiasm for living. a night on the town | out on the town If you have a night on the town, or go out on the town, you go out for dinner and then go to a show or a dance club or some other entertainment venue. a night owl You’re a night owl if you like to stay up and do things late at night. neck and neck If two competitors are running neck and neck in a race, they are almost level. eck of the woods Informal A neck of the woods is a neighbourhood or a district, usually rural. neither here nor there You can say something is neither here nor there if it’s not important, or not relevant. nerves of steel If you have nerves of steel, you are very brave and not many things make you scared or nervous. Never mind. You can say “never mind” when you want someone not to worry or feel bad about something, or not to bother doing something. Never say die! You can say “Never say die! ” if you want to tell someone to keep trying while there’s still a chance of success. ext to nothing If something costs next to nothing, it costs very little, or nearly nothing. nip it in the bud If you nip something in the bud, you stop a problem from becoming serious by dealing with it as soon as you notice it. no holds barred If something is done with no holds barred, it’s done without restriction, rules or restraint. No sweat! Informal You can say “No sweat! ” if someone asks you if you can do something, and you’re sure you can do it. No way! Informal You can say “No way! ” when you want to strongly reject an offer, a request, or a suggestion. not your cup of tea
If something is not your cup of tea, it’s not what you like or what you’re interested in. nothing to write home about If you say something is nothing to write home about, you mean it isn’t very important or it isn’t very good. now and then | now and again If you do something now and then, or now and again, you do it occasionally. now or never If you say it’s now or never, you mean that something has to be done now or it can’t be done at all. the name of the game You can say something is the name of the game if it’s the most important thing you need to know or to have in order to succeed at something. he new kid on the block Informal If you are the new kid on the block, you are the newest person in a workplace or in an educational institute, or any other place or organization. v25 Idioms beginning with O Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (something) occurs to you If something occurs to you, you think of it. a one-track mind If someone has a one-track mind, they spend most of their time thinking about one subject. off the cuff If you speak off the cuff, you speak without planning what you will say beforehand. off the record
If you say something “off the record”, you don’t want it in the public record, or reported in the media. off the top of your head Informal If you give someone information off the top of your head, you do so from memory, without checking beforehand. off your own bat If you do something off your own bat, you do it without being asked to or told to. old hat If something is old hat, it’s old-fashioned and no longer seen as being modern and new. on the back burner If a plan or a project is on the back burner, it isn’t being worked on at present, but it might be completed in the future. on the ball Informal
If you’re on the ball, you’re alert and you know what’s going on around you. on the off-chance You can say you’re doing something “on the off-chance” if you’re doing it because it might lead to something that you want, even though it’s not definite. on the one hand | on the other hand You can say “on the one hand” before describing one of two contrasting ideas, options, or opinions, and then say “on the other hand” before describing the other one. on the record If you say something “on the record”, you say it on the understanding that it will be part of the public record, and can be reported in the media. n the strength of If you do something on the strength of certain advice or information, you do it because the advice or information suggests doing it. on your last legs | on its last legs Informal If you say you’re on your last legs, it can mean you’re close to exhaustion, or it can mean you’re close to death. If a thing is on its last legs, it’s close to breaking or wearing out. once and for all If you do something once and for all, you do it in a way that’s final and it means you’ll never have to do it again. once in a blue moon If something happens once in a blue moon, it happens very rarely. ne in a million If you say someone is “one in a million”, you mean they’re an exceptionally good person. out of the blue If something happens out of the blue, you’re not expecting it to happen and you’re surprised when it does. out of the question If something is out of the question, it cannot be considered because it’s impossible or it’s not allowed. out of your depth If you’re out of your depth, you’re in a situation that you don’t have the experience to handle, or the knowledge to understand. out-of-date (1) Something is out-of-date if it is old and therefore no longer useful or no longer accurate. ut-of-date (2) If something like a passport or a credit card is out-of-date, it cannot be used anymore because the period during which it was valid is over. over the moon Informal If you’re over the moon about something, you’re extremely happy and excited about it. over the top You can say something is over the top if you think it’s too extreme or it’s more than a situation needs or deserves. over your head If something you hear or read is over your head, or goes over your head, you don’t understand it because the language or the ideas are too advanced for you. 27 Idioms beginning with P
Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a pain in the neck Informal You can say someone is a pain in the neck if they annoy you, or something is a pain in the neck if you don’t like doing it. a pat on the back You’ve given someone a pat on the back if you’ve told them they’ve done something well, or done a good job. a piece of cake If you say that something is a piece of cake, you mean that it is extremely easy. a pipe dream A pipe dream is a plan or a dream for the future that could never come true or be achieved. paint the town red
If you paint the town red, you visit bars, nightclubs and other nightspots to have a good time. par for the course Informal If something is par for the course, it’s what you’d expect it to be. part and parcel of If something is part and parcel of an experience or a role in life, it is an important part of it and it cannot be avoided. pass the buck Informal If you pass the buck, you shift the responsibility for something to someone else in order to take the pressure off yourself. pay the price You pay the price for doing something when you experience the unpleasant results of doing it. ay through the nose Informal If you pay through the nose for something, you pay more than the usual price for it. pick somebody’s brains If you pick somebody’s brains, you ask them for detailed information or ideas about something. pick up the tab | pick up the bill Informal If you pick up the tab, or pick up the bill, you pay for yourself and your friends in a restaurant or a bar. plain sailing If something is plain sailing, it’s very easy to do and there are no problems to overcome. play it by ear If you play it by ear, you don’t plan ahead but you do whatever seems best at the time depending on the situation. laying with fire You’re playing with fire if you’re involved in an activity that could be dangerous, or could lead to problems in the future. pop the question Informal If you pop the question, you ask someone to marry you. pray on your mind If something is praying on your mind, you can’t stop thinking about it or worrying about it. pull out all the stops If you pull out all the stops, you do everything you can to make sure something is successful. pull someone’s leg Informal If you pull someone’s leg, you play a joke on them by saying something that isn’t true. pull your socks up Informal
You can say “pull your socks up” to someone if you think they should improve the way they are behaving or the way they are doing something. put all your eggs in the one basket Informal If you put all your eggs in the one basket, you put all your efforts or resources into one person, one thing or one plan, and if things don’t work out, you lose everything. put someone’s nose out of joint Informal If you put someone’s nose out of joint, you upset them by not treating them with as much respect or consideration as they think they deserve. put the brakes on If you put the brakes on something, you stop it or slow it down. ut your foot in it If you put your foot in it you say or do the wrong thing and usually make matters worse. put your foot in your mouth If you put your foot in your mouth you say or do the wrong thing and usually make matters worse. put your own house in order | get your own house in order If you say to someone “put your own house in order”, or “get your own house in order”, you think they should solve their own problems before telling someone else how to solve theirs. the pros and cons The pros and cons of something are its good points and bad points. 16 Idioms beginning with Q
Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms a quantum leap A quantum leap is a major step in the development of something, or in the improvement of something. a queer fish If someone’s a queer fish, they are a bit strange and can sometimes behave in an unusual way. a question mark over someone | something If there’s a question mark over someone, there’s some doubt about their future or their ability to do something. If there’s a question mark over something, there’s some doubt about its quality or its authenticity. question of time You can say “it’s only a question of time” before saying what you think will happen in the future. a quick fix Informal If something is a quick fix, it’s a quick and easy, but usually short-term, solution to a problem. a quick study If you’re a quick study, you can learn new things quickly. quaking in your boots If you’re quaking in your boots, you are very frightened. quality time If you spend quality time with someone, you spend time doing things that enrich your lives and improve your relationship. quick as a flash | quick as a wink | quick as lightning
If you’re as quick as a flash, or quick as a wink, or quick as lightning, you’re very quick. quick off the mark If you are quick off the mark, you are quick to react to an event or an opportunity. quick on the trigger | quick on the draw If you are quick on the trigger, or quick on the draw, you act quickly when solving problems or answering questions. quick on the uptake If you are quick on the uptake, you’re smart and you can understand things quickly. quid pro quo Formal If you do something as a quid pro quo, you do it on the understanding that something will be done for you in return. uiet as a mouse If you’re as quiet as a mouse, you’re very quiet. quit while you’re ahead This phrase can be used to express the idea that one should stop doing something that’s rewarding but risky before something bad happens. quite a bit of | quite a lot of If you’ve got quite a bit of something, or quite a lot of something, you have a fairly large amount of it. 26 Idioms beginning with R Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (it’s) raining cats and dogs You can say “it’s raining cats and dogs” if it’s raining very hard. a raw deal
If you think you got a raw deal, you think you weren’t treated fairly or as well as other people. a ray of sunshine Something is a ray of sunshine if it brings happiness to someone. a recipe for disaster Something is a recipe for disaster if it’s going to cause trouble or serious problems. a red-letter day A red-letter day is a day that is very important for some reason. a roller coaster | a roller-coaster ride You can say an experience is a roller coaster, or a roller-coaster ride, if it involves many emotional highs and lows, or really good times alternating with really difficult times. rack your brains | rack you brain
If you rack your brains, or rack you brain, you try hard to remember something or think of a solution to a problem or a puzzle. rags to riches If you go from rags to riches, you start out very poor and you become very rich. raison d’etre Formal Your raison d’etre is your reason for living, or the most important thing in your life. raring to go If you’re raring to go, you’re full of energy and you can’t wait to get started on whatever it is you’re doing. reach for the moon | reach for the stars If you reach for the moon, or reach for the stars, you are aiming to achieve something great, or do something very callenging. read between the lines
When you read between the lines you try to understand what someone implies, but doesn’t openly state, when they say or write something. recharge your batteries You recharge your batteries if you do something to regain your energy after a period of hard work. red light district A red light district is the area of a town or city in which prostitutes work. red tape Strict adherence to rules and regulations so that a procedure seems to take longer than necessary. right down your alley | right up your alley If something is right down your alley, or right up your alley, it would be perfect for you or ideal for your skills and interests. ight up your street If something is right up your street, it would be perfect for you or ideal for your skills and interests. ring a bell Informal If something rings a bell, it sounds familiar or you think you’ve heard it before. rock the boat Informal If you rock the boat, you do or say something that will upset people by changing a situation that they don’t want changed. rub it in Informal If you rub it in, you keep talking about something that embarrasses or upsets someone. ruffle someone’s feathers If you ruffle someone’s feathers, you do something to upset or annoy them. un out of steam If someone runs out of steam, they run out of energy or enthusiasm. If something runs out of steam, it loses momentum and slows down. run rings around | run circles around If you run rings around someone, or run circles around them, you do something much better than they do. run-of-the-mill Something is run-of-the-mill if it is ordinary and nothing special. the rat race The rat race is the highly competitive and stressful world of work and business. the real McCoy You can say something is the real McCoy if it’s genuine, and not a fake or a copy. 26 Idioms beginning with S
Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes. Idioms (it) stands to reason You can say it stands to reason that something should be so if it seems reasonable to you that it should be so. a shot in the arm Informal You can say something is a shot in the arm if it gives a person or an organisation renewed energy or enthusiasm. a sight for sore eyes Informal If something or someone is a sight for sore eyes, you are glad to see them. a skeleton in the cupboard | closet If you have a skeleton in the cupboard, or in the closet, you have a secret in your past which could damage you if it became known. slap on the wrist If someone gives you a slap on the wrist, they give you a mild punishment for making a mistake or doing something wrong. a slip of the tongue If you make a slip of the tongue, you make a small mistake when speaking. safe and sound If you are safe and sound, nothing has harmed you even though you could have been in danger. save the day If you save the day, you do something to ensure success or to solve a serious problem. see eye to eye If you see eye to eye with someone, you totally agree with them about something. see red If you see red, you become extremely angry. ee through rose-coloured glasses | rose-colored glasses If someone sees things through rose-coloured glasses, they see things as being better than they really are. serve someone right If you say “it serves you right”, you’re telling someone that their problem is the result of their own bad behaviour, and they deserve it. set the world on fire If you set the world on fire, you do something that creates a lot of excitment and makes you famous. set your sights on If you set your sights on something, or set your sights on doing something, it becomes the target of your ambition or the object of your attention. ettle a score If you settle a score with someone who has hurt you or insulted you in the past, you do something to hurt or insult them in return. shoot yourself in the foot If you shoot youself in the foot, you harm yourself in some way by doing something stupid or making a silly mistake. show your true colours | show your true colors You show your true colours if you show what you’re really like, or you reveal your true character. sick as a dog If you’re as sick as a dog, you’re very sick. skate on thin ice If you’re skating on thin ice, you’re doing something risky, or you’re in a ituation that could quickly become dangerous. snowed under If you are snowed under you have so much to do that you’re having trouble doing it all. so far, so good Informal You can say “so far, so good” when you’re in the middle of doing something, and everything has been going well. speak your mind If you speak your mind, you say what you really feel about something, or what you really think. start from scratch If you start from scratch, you begin something from the very beginning without using anything else as a starting point. state-of-the-art