English idioms, proverbs, and expressions are an important part of everyday English. They come up all the time in both written and spoken English. Because idioms don't always make sense literally, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the meaning and usage of each idiom. That may seem like a lot of work, but learning idioms is fun, especially when you compare English idioms to the idioms in your own language.
Learning to use common idioms and expressions will make your English sound more native, so it's a good idea to master some of these expressions. The tables below are organized by how common the idioms are in American English. You can start by learning the very common English idioms, since these are the ones you'll encounter regularly watching American movies or TV, or visiting the United States. When you've mastered those, move on to rest. None of the idioms on this page are unusual or old fashioned, so you can be confident using any of them with native English speakers from all English-speaking countries.
The most common English idioms
These English idioms are extremely common in everyday conversation in the United States. You will hear them in movies and TV shows and can use them to make your English sound more like that of a native speaker.
|A blessing in disguise||a good thing that seemed bad at first||as part of a sentence|
|A dime a dozen||Something common||as part of a sentence|
|Beat around the bush||Avoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable||as part of a sentence|
|Better late than never||Better to arrive late than not to come at all||by itself|
|Bite the bullet||To get something over with because it is inevitable||as part of a sentence|
|Break a leg||Good luck||by itself|
|Call it a day||Stop working on something||as part of a sentence|
|Cut somebody some slack||Don't be so critical||as part of a sentence|
|Cutting corners||Doing something poorly in order to save time or money||as part of a sentence|
|Easy does it||Slow down||by itself|
|Get out of hand||Get out of control||as part of a sentence|
|Get something out of your system||Do the thing you've been wanting to do so you can move on||as part of a sentence|
|Get your act together||Work better or leave||by itself|
|Give someone the benefit of the doubt||Trust what someone says||as part of a sentence|
|Go back to the drawing board||Start over||as part of a sentence|
|Hang in there||Don't give up||by itself|
|Hit the sack||Go to sleep||as part of a sentence|
|It's not rocket science||It's not complicated||by itself|
|Let someone off the hook||To not hold someone responsible for something||as part of a sentence|
|Make a long story short||Tell something briefly||as part of a sentence|
|Miss the boat||It's too late||as part of a sentence|
|No pain, no gain||You have to work for what you want||by itself|
|On the ball||Doing a good job||as part of a sentence|
|Pull someone's leg||To joke with someone||as part of a sentence|
|Pull yourself together||Calm down||by itself|
|So far so good||Things are going well so far||by itself|
|Speak of the devil||The person we were just talking about showed up!||by itself|
|That's the last straw||My patience has run out||by itself|
|The best of both worlds||An ideal situation||as part of a sentence|
|Time flies when you're having fun||You don't notice how long something lasts when it's fun||by itself|
|To get bent out of shape||To get upset||as part of a sentence|
|To make matters worse||Make a problem worse||as part of a sentence|
|Under the weather||Sick||as part of a sentence|
|We'll cross that bridge when we come to it||Let's not talk about that problem right now||by itself|
|Wrap your head around something||Understand something complicated||as part of a sentence|
|You can say that again||That's true, I agree||by itself|
|Your guess is as good as mine||I have no idea||by itself|
Common English idioms & expressions
These English idioms are used quite regularly in the United States. You may not hear them every day, but they will be very familiar to any native English speaker. You can be confident using any of them when the context is appropriate.
|A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush||What you have is worth more than what you might have later||by itself|
|A penny for your thoughts||Tell me what you're thinking||by itself|
|A penny saved is a penny earned||Money you save today you can spend later||by itself|
|A perfect storm||the worst possible situation||as part of a sentence|
|A picture is worth 1000 words||Better to show than tell||by itself|
|Actions speak louder than words||Believe what people do and not what they say||by itself|
|Add insult to injury||To make a bad situation worse||as part of a sentence|
|Barking up the wrong tree||To be mistaken, to be looking for solutions in the wrong place||as part of a sentence|
|Birds of a feather flock together||People who are alike are often friends (usually used negatively)||by itself|
|Bite off more than you can chew||Take on a project that you cannot finish||as part of a sentence|
|Break the ice||Make people feel more comfortable||as part of a sentence|
|By the skin of your teeth||Just barely||as part of a sentence|
|Comparing apples to oranges||Comparing two things that cannot be compared||as part of a sentence|
|Costs an arm and a leg||Very expensive||as part of a sentence|
|Do something at the drop of a hat||Do something without having planned beforehand||as part of a sentence|
|Do unto others as you would have them do unto you||Treat people fairly. Also known as "The Golden Rule"||by itself|
|Don't count your chickens before they hatch||Don't count on something good happening until it's happened.||by itself|
|Don't cry over spilt milk||There's no reason to complain about something that can't be fixed||by itself|
|Don't give up your day job||You're not very good at this||by itself|
|Don't put all your eggs in one basket||What you're doing is too risky||by itself|
|Every cloud has a silver lining||Good things come after bad things||by itself|
|Get a taste of your own medicine||Get treated the way you've been treating others (negative)||as part of a sentence|
|Give someone the cold shoulder||Ignore someone||as part of a sentence|
|Go on a wild goose chase||To do something pointless||as part of a sentence|
|Good things come to those who wait||Be patient||by itself|
|He has bigger fish to fry||He has bigger things to take care of than what we are talking about now||by itself|
|He's a chip off the old block||The son is like the father||by itself|
|Hit the nail on the head||Get something exactly right||by itself|
|Ignorance is bliss||You're better off not knowing||by itself|
|It ain't over till the fat lady sings||This isn't over yet||by itself|
|It takes one to know one||You're just as bad as I am||by itself|
|It's a piece of cake||It's easy||by itself|
|It's raining cats and dogs||It's raining hard||by itself|
|Kill two birds with one stone||Get two things done with a single action||by itself|
|Let the cat out of the bag||Give away a secret||as part of a sentence|
|Live and learn||I made a mistake||by itself|
|Look before you leap||Take only calculated risks||by itself|
|On thin ice||On probation. If you make another mistake, there will be trouble.||as part of a sentence|
|Once in a blue moon||Rarely||as part of a sentence|
|Play devil's advocate||To argue the opposite, just for the sake of argument||as part of a sentence|
|Put something on ice||Put a projet on hold||as part of a sentence|
|Rain on someone's parade||To spoil something||as part of a sentence|
|Saving for a rainy day||Saving money for later||as part of a sentence|
|Slow and steady wins the race||Reliability is more important than speed||by itself|
|Spill the beans||Give away a secret||as part of a sentence|
|Take a rain check||Postpone a plan||as part of a sentence|
|Take it with a grain of salt||Don’t take it too seriously||as part of a sentence|
|The ball is in your court||It's your decision||by itself|
|The best thing since sliced bread||A really good invention||as part of a sentence|
|The devil is in the details||It looks good from a distance, but when you look closer, there are problems||by itself|
|The early bird gets the worm||The first people who arrive will get the best stuff||by itself|
|The elephant in the room||The big issue, the problem people are avoiding||as part of a sentence|
|The whole nine yards||Everything, all the way.||as part of a sentence|
|There are other fish in the sea||It's ok to miss this opportunity. Others will arise.||by itself|
|There's a method to his madness||He seems crazy but actually he's clever||by itself|
|There's no such thing as a free lunch||Nothing is entirely free||by itself|
|Throw caution to the wind||Take a risk||as part of a sentence|
|You can't have your cake and eat it too||You can't have everything||by itself|
|You can't judge a book by its cover||This person or thing may look bad, but it's good inside||by itself|
Familiar English idioms & proverbs
These English idioms and proverbs are familiar and easily understood by native English speakers, but they are not usually used in everyday conversation. If you haven't mastered the more frequent idioms yet, they are a better place to start, but if you're already familiar with those expressions, the idioms below will further spice up your English.
|A little learning is a dangerous thing||People who don't understand something fully are dangerous||by itself|
|A snowball effect||Events have momentum and build upon each other||as part of a sentence|
|A snowball's chance in hell||No chance at all||as part of a sentence|
|A stitch in time saves nine||Fix the problem now because it will get worse later||by itself|
|A storm in a teacup||A big fuss about a small problem||as part of a sentence|
|An apple a day keeps the doctor away||Apples are good for you||by itself|
|An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure||You can prevent a problem with little effort. Fixing it later is harder.||by itself|
|As right as rain||Perfect||as part of a sentence|
|Bolt from the blue||Something that happened without warning||as part of a sentence|
|Burn bridges||Destroy relationships||as part of a sentence|
|Calm before the storm||Something bad is coming, but right now it's calm||as part of a sentence|
|Come rain or shine||No matter what||as part of a sentence|
|Curiosity killed the cat||Stop asking questions||by itself|
|Cut the mustard||Do a good job||as part of a sentence|
|Don't beat a dead horse||Move on, this subject is over||by itself|
|Every dog has his day||Everyone gets a chance at least once||by itself|
|Familiarity breeds contempt||The better you know someone the less you like him||by itself|
|Fit as a fiddle||In good health||as part of a sentence|
|Fortune favours the bold||Take risks||by itself|
|Get a second wind||Have more energy after having been tired||as part of a sentence|
|Get wind of something||Hear news of something secret||as part of a sentence|
|Go down in flames||Fail spectacularly||as part of a sentence|
|Haste makes waste||You'll make mistakes if you rush through something||by itself|
|Have your head in the clouds||Not be concentrating||as part of a sentence|
|He who laughs last laughs loudest||I'll get you back for what you did||by itself|
|Hear something straight from the horse's mouth||Hear something from the person involved||as part of a sentence|
|He's not playing with a full deck||He's dumb||by itself|
|He's off his rocker||He's crazy||by itself|
|He's sitting on the fence||He can't make up his mind||by itself|
|It is a poor workman who blames his tools||If you can't do the job, don't blame it on others||by itself|
|It is always darkest before the dawn||Things are going to get better||by itself|
|It takes two to tango||One person alone isn't responsible. Both people are involved.||by itself|
|Jump on the bandwagon||Follow a trend, do what everyone else is doing||as part of a sentence|
|Know which way the wind is blowing||Understand the situation (usually negative)||as part of a sentence|
|Leave no stone unturned||Look everywhere||as part of a sentence|
|Let sleeping dogs lie||Stop discussing an issue||as part of a sentence|
|Like riding a bicycle||Something you never forget how to do||as part of a sentence|
|Like two peas in a pod||They're always together||as part of a sentence|
|Make hay while the sun shines||Take advantage of a good situation||as part of a sentence|
|On cloud nine||Very happy||as part of a sentence|
|Once bitten, twice shy||You're more cautious when you've been hurt before||by itself|
|Out of the frying pan and into the fire||Things are going from bad to worse||by itself|
|Run like the wind||Run fast||as part of a sentence|
|Shape up or ship out||Work better or leave||by itself|
|Snowed under||Busy||as part of a sentence|
|That ship has sailed||It's too late||by itself|
|The pot calling the kettle black||Someone criticizing someone else he is just as bad||as part of a sentence|
|There are clouds on the horizon||Trouble is coming||by itself|
|Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones||People who are morally questionable shouldn't criticize others||by itself|
|Through thick and thin||In good times and in bad times||as part of a sentence|
|Time is money||Work quickly||by itself|
|Waste not, want not||Don't waste things and you'll always have enough||by itself|
|We see eye to eye||We agree||by itself|
|Weather the storm||Go through something difficult||as part of a sentence|
|Well begun is half done||Getting a good start is important||by itself|
|When it rains it pours||Everything is going wrong at once||by itself|
|You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar||You'll get what you want by being nice||by itself|
|You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink||You can't force someone to make the right decision||by itself|
|You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs||There's always a cost to doing something||by itself|
Here are 15 common English idioms and phrases that will enrich your English vocabulary and make you sound like a native speaker in no time.
1. ‘The best of both worlds’ – means you can enjoy two different opportunities at the same time.
“By working part-time and looking after her kids two days a week she managed to get the best of both worlds.”
2. ‘Speak of the devil’ – this means that the person you’re just talking about actually turns up at that moment.
“Hi Tom, speak of the devil, I was just telling Sara about your new car.”
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3. ‘See eye to eye’ – this means agreeing with someone.
“They finally saw eye to eye on the business deal.”
4. ‘Once in a blue moon’ – an event that happens infrequently.
“I only go to the cinema once in a blue moon.”
5. ‘When pigs fly’ – something that will never happen.
“When pigs fly she’ll tidy up her room.”
6. ‘To cost an arm and a leg’– something is very expensive.
“Fuel these days costs and arm and a leg.”
7. ‘A piece of cake’– something is very easy.
“The English test was a piece of cake.”
8. ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ – to accidentally reveal a secret.
“I let the cat out of the bag about their wedding plans.”
9. ‘To feel under the weather’ – to not feel well.
“I’m really feeling under the weather today; I have a terrible cold.”
10. ‘To kill two birds with one stone’ – to solve two problems at once.
“By taking my dad on holiday, I killed two birds with one stone. I got to go away but also spend time with him.”
11. ‘To cut corners’ – to do something badly or cheaply.
“They really cut corners when they built this bathroom; the shower is leaking.”
12. ‘To add insult to injury’ – to make a situation worse.
“To add insult to injury the car drove off without stopping after knocking me off my bike.”
13. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ – to not judge someone or something based solely on appearance.
“I thought this no-brand bread would be horrible; turns out you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
14. ‘Break a leg’ – means ‘good luck’ (often said to actors before they go on stage).
“Break a leg Sam, I’m sure your performance will be great.”
15. ‘To hit the nail on the head’ – to describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem.
“He hit the nail on the head when he said this company needs more HR support.”
To test your new-found knowledge here are some sentences to practice with. Fill in the blank!
A) I can’t afford this purse! It _______. I won’t be able to pay my rent!
B) His birthday was supposed to be a surprise! I can’t believe you _____. Now he knows!
C) Ha! John has been promising to paint the house for five years…. Maybe when _______.
D) Yeah, it’ll _______. I need to sign some papers at Jenny’s school anyway so i’ll pick her up for you too.
E) I don’t really like going out to bars anymore. I only go _______.
F) I’m sorry I can’t come into work today. I’m ________. I have a sore throat and runny nose.
G) They tried ________ when installing the pipes for the house and now we have leaks only one month after purchasing it!
H) We missed our flight to Paris because the connecting flight was late and to ______ they made us pay for a new ticket as if it was our fault!
I) I can’t wait to see you perform on stage tonight! ______!
J) Jane is just never on time to work, it’s really annoying. O wow, ______ here she comes…
K) So we’re going to London, then Munich, then we will fly out of Athens, right? Great. I’m so glad to be traveling with someone I _______ with.
L) Wow, she found her dream man and has now landed an amazing job. She really does have ______.
M) OK, she might not be the most attractive but _________. I’m sure she is a sweetheart.
N) I have been trying to figure this out for ages. Thanks so much, you’re right. You _______.
O) I can’t believe that was our test. I think it was easier than some of our homework! It was a ______.
So how did you do? Don’t forget to try and use these idioms and phrases when practicing your English. And do let us know if you need further clarification on commonly used idioms by leaving a comment below.
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Answers: 6, 8, 5, 10, 4, 9, 11, 12, 14, 2, 3, 1, 13, 15, 7