Common & Difficult Idioms with Examples 

What is an Idiom? – Meaning and Definition 

A set of words, or, to put it another way, a phrase, that has a meaning beyond the words’ literal meanings is known as an idiom. The Cambridge Dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words in a fixed order that has a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own,” while the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words.” 

A set of words that have a different meaning when used collectively than when each word is used individually is referred to as an idiom, according to the Collins Dictionary. A more detailed definition may be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. They define an idiom as “a statement in the usage of a language that is distinctive to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be deduced from the conjoined meanings of its constituents” (e.g., up in the air for “undecided”) or in its grammatically unconventional word usage (e.g., give way). 

Why Use Idioms in Sentences? 

Only when they are utilised correctly and in the appropriate contexts can idioms be an effective language tool. The fact that one cannot just rely on the meaning of individual words to grasp what the full phrase means is the sole thing that makes studying idioms a time-consuming process. 

Idioms should not be utilised in writing for academic or professional purposes. In a more lighthearted setting, idioms may add personality to your work or speaking. Idioms can also be used to convey sarcasm or puns. You need to utilise idioms carefully, just like you would with any other language feature. The only issue is that it would be meaningless or have no impact to a group of individuals who are unfamiliar with the idiom you are employing. Therefore, you should always make sure that the audience you are utilising idioms with can understand their meaning. 

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.  

Idiom Meaning Usage 
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. 

Idiom Meaning Usage 
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. 

Idiom Meaning Usage 
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 

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