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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Face the music (to)
Meaning: to accept the consequences of an act which you are responsible
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.
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.
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
In someone’s shoes (to be)
Meaning: to be in someone else’s situation.
Keep someone posted (to)
Meaning: to keep someone informed.
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.
Method to one’s madness
Meaning: Strange actions that appear meaningless to outsiders, but in the end are done for a good reason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Up-and-up (to be on the)
Meaning: to be honest.
Variety is the spice of life
Meaning: differences make life interesting.
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it
Meaning: to take care of a problem when it arises.
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.
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.