Idioms

The English language has many idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions or phrases are difficult because their meanings are not literal, but metaphorical. For example the expression, It’s raining cats and dogs does not mean that these animals are falling from the sky, but that it’s raining very heavily. The following idioms are common in American English. They are listed in alphabetical order for your convenience; click on the letter below to skip to that group.

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
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

 
A
A friend in need is a friend indeed

Meaning: a friend who helps you out any time you need them.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Meaning: having only a little information regarding a certain subject could lead to trouble.

A penny saved is a penny earned

Meaning: it’s important to be frugal.

A watched pot never boils 

Meaning: if you wait for something to happen, it never will.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Meaning: the longer people are away from you, the more you appreciate or love them.

Actions speak louder than words

Meaning: accomplishing things is better than just talking about them.

All things to all people (can’t be)

Meaning:  you can’t please everyone.

All’s fair in love and war

Meaning: when two people fight to win the love of the same person, they can use every method, because there are no rules of fair play.

All’s well that ends well

Meaning:  if a bad situation turns out good, it was worth the trouble of  struggling with the problem.

As plain as the nose on one’s face 

Meaning: something obvious.

At the end of one’s rope 

Meaning:  to be at the limit your patience or endurance.

B
Beauty is only skin deep

Meaning: appearances of people or objects can be deceptive and something that may look good, might turn out to be bad.

Beat around the bush

Meaning: To be indirect or vague about information.

Beggars can’t be choosers

Meaning: people who are in need of help should accept it, even if it’s not exactly what they want.

Behind someone’s back (to do something)

Meaning: to do something  without telling a person; usually implies something malicious.

Better late than never

Meaning: doing something late is better than not doing it at all.

Better safe than sorry 

Meaning: it’s better to take your time and use caution, than rush and make errors.

Birds of a feather flock together

Meaning: people with similar interests will usually attract each other.

Bite one’s tongue (to) 

Meaning: to hold back from saying something because it’s better not to; usually something negative.

Blind leading the sightless (the)

Meaning: one inexperienced person instructing another inexperienced person.

Blow something out of proportion (to)

Meaning: to exaggerate, or make a story worse than it really is.

Break the news to someone (to) 

Meaning: to  have to tell someone news that is upsetting to them.

Brush with death (to have a)

Meaning: to have a near-death experience.

C
Catch someone’s eye (to)

Meaning:  someone or something that attracts someone’s attention.

Cold feet (to get)

Meaning: to lose the courage to do something.

Come clean (to)

Meaning: to tell the truth.

Curiosity killed the cat 

Meaning: people who are excessively inquisitive about things, especially other people’s business, usually get into trouble because of this nosiness.

D
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

Meaning: don’t assume success until it actually happens

Don’t hold your breath 

Meaning: don’t have high expectations about something.

Don’t put the cart before the horse

Meaning: don’t do things out of order.

E
Easy come, easy go

Meaning: anything that can be easily acquired, can be easily taken away

Every cloud has a silver lining

Meaning:  when negative things occur, positive things usually follow them.

Every dog has its day 

Meaning: everyone will get their chance to shine.

Eat someone out of house and home (to)

Meaning: to eat all of the food in someone’s house.

Eye-to-eye (to see)

Meaning:  to agree or to disagree with someone.

Eyes bigger than one’s stomach (to have)

Meaning: to anticipate being able to eat more food than is actually possible.

F
Face the music (to) 

Meaning: to accept the consequences of an act which you are responsible

Face-to-face 

Meaning: to speak or see someone in person.

Fair shake (to give someone a)

Meaning: to treat someone fairly.

Familiarity breeds contempt 

Meaning: the more that you know about someone, the more you begin to find faults and to dislike the person.

Fit as a fiddle (to be) 

Meaning: to be in perfect health.

Fly off the handle (to)

Meaning: to lose one’s temper.

G
Geek out (to)

Meaning: To talk continuously about something in very minuscule detail.

Get worked up (to)

Meaning: to become upset about something.

Get a hold of oneself (to) 

Meaning:  to keep control of one’s emotions

Get on someone’s nerves (to)

Meaning: to agitate or annoy someone.

Get the hang of something (to)

Meaning: to learn how to do something.

Get up enough nerve to do something (to)

Meaning: to summon up the courage to do something.

Go in one ear and out the other (to) 

Meaning:  not to pay attention to what someone says.

H
Hand-to-hand combat

Meaning; fighting with the hands without weapons.

Hang in there (to)

Meaning: to  persevere in a difficult situation.

Have a good head on one’s shoulders (to)

Meaning:  someone who is very intelligent and rational.

Have a sweet tooth (to)

Meaning: to love sweets.

Haste makes waste

Meaning; If you do something in a hurry, you’ll make mistakes.

Hold one’s own (to) 

Meaning: to be very capable at something without any assistance.

Honesty is the best policy

Meaning: You’ll always get good results if you’re honest.

If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen

Means: if you can’t take the pressure, then you should remove yourself from the situation

I
In someone’s shoes (to be)

Meaning: to be in someone else’s situation.

K
Keep someone posted (to)

Meaning: to keep someone informed.

L
Let bygones be bygones

Meaning: forget about  past disagreements and arguments.

Let’s take this offline (used mainly during meetings when a member of the audience brings up a topic not really related to the discussion; and continues talking)

Meaning:  I look forward to discussing this topic later.  Note: it’s a polite synonym for “shut up already!”

Like a duck to water  

Meaning: When someone learns how to do something very quickly and they enjoy it.

Live and let live

Meaning: don’t judge others; let them live their lives and you live yours.

M
Method to one’s madness

Meaning: Strange actions that appear meaningless to outsiders, but in the end are done for a good reason.

N
Not playing with a full deck

Meaning: someone who’s crazy, or who lacks intelligence.

Nip something in the bud (to)

Meaning: to stop something quickly before it has a chance to get worse.

No news is good news 

Meaning: if you haven’t received any news, then it’s better than receiving bad news.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Meaning: If you never try to do something challenging, you’ll never gain anything.

Nothing but skin and bones (to be)

Meaning:  to be excessively thin.

O
On second thought

Meaning: to rethink or reconsider something.

On the level (to be)

Meaning: to tell the truth.

One good turn deserves another

Meaning: If you do something good for someone they will return the favor.

Out of sight, out of mind

Meaning: When you don’t see someone or something, you don’t think about them.

P
Practice makes perfect

Meaning: the more you work at something, the better you’ll become.

Pop the question (to)

Meaning: to propose marriage.

Practice what you preach

Meaning: to follow the same advice you give to others.

Pull someone’s leg (to) 

Meaning: to joke or tease someone.

R
Raincheck (to take a)

Meaning: to decline to do something now, but will do it in the future.

Raining cats and dogs (to be)

Meaning: raining very hard

Run out of steam (to)

Meaning: to be completely exhausted or tired.

S
Seeing is believing

Meaning: You only believe something only when you actually see it.

Start from scratch (to)

Meaning: to start something all over from the beginning.

Show one’s true colors (to)

Meaning: to reveal your true personality.

Sleep a wink (not to)

Meainig: not to get any sleep.

Start from square one (to)

Meaning: to start from the very beginning.

T
Take something in stride (to)

Meaning: to accept a situation without getting upset

Take something lying down ( to)

Meaning: to accept a situation without fighting back.

That’s out of the question!

Meaning: it won’t even be considered.

The ball is in your court

Meaning: the decision is yours to make

The early bird gets the worm

Meaning: The person who begins their work the earliest gets all the opportunities.

The last straw (to be)

Meaning: to be all one can tolerate.

The more the merrier

Meaning: The more people involved in a particular activity, the more fun it will be.

The shoe’s on the other foot

Meaning: a situation is suddenly reversed.

There are plenty of other fish in the sea

Meaning: There are many other opportunities in the world.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat

Meaning: There are many ways to achieve one’s goal.

Tie the knot (to)

Meaning: to get married.

To kill two birds with one stone

Meaning: resolve two problems with a single action.

Turn over a new leaf (to)

Meaning: change one’s bad habits.

U
Up-and-up (to be on the)

Meaning: to be honest.

V
Variety is the spice of life

Meaning: differences make life interesting.

W
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it 

Meaning: to take care of a problem when it arises.

What’s up?

Meaning: what is happening?

When it rains, it pours

Meaning: when one thing happens a lot of similar things also happen at the same time.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play

Meaning: when the authority figures are not around, people have a tendency to  misbehave.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Meaning: when a person desires something bad enough, they will find a way to get it.

Y
You can’t judge a book by its cover 

Meaning:  don’t judge people by appearance only.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks 

Meaning: It’s difficult to learn new information when one becomes old.