English idioms with examples and meanings

What is an idiom?

An idiom is a group of words used as a general expression, the meaning of which cannot easily be deduced from the literal words they contain.

Idioms are often classified as figurative language, i.e. when words are used in a figurative or unusual way.

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In other words: idiomatic expressions have a different meaning from individual words.

For example, the expression “writing an idiom is a piece of cake” does not mean that writing an idiom is a “piece of cake” to be eaten.  On the contrary, “piece of cake” is a figurative expression that indicates that something is easy to do.

Idioms are most commonly used in America, but they are also frequently used in English in television programs, movies, written literature, and other media.

It is important to familiarize yourself with the meaning of common idioms, as they do not always have a literal meaning. Below is a list of the most popular and commonly used idioms in American English, with examples and their meanings.

Common English idioms

Blessing in disguise

Meaning: A good thing that seemed bad at first.

For ten pounds.

Meaning: something very common, not unique.

Adding insult to injury

Meaning: Making a bad situation worse.

Beating around the bush

Meaning: Avoiding sharing your true opinions or feelings because it makes you uncomfortable.

Biting the dust

Meaning: stop a bad situation or work now, because at some point you have to finish it.

The best of both worlds

Meaning: a choice or decision has all the advantages of two opposite things at the same time.

Bite off more than you can chew

Meaning: committing to doing something you don’t have the time, resources or ability to do.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Meaning: don’t judge someone or something by its appearance.

Do something on a whim.

Meaning: to do something on a spontaneous whim.

Being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Meaning: to choose between two unpleasant options.


Meaning: taking risky shortcuts to save time and/or money.

Devil’s advocate

Meaning: defending the opposing side in an argument to encourage further discussion.

Tasting your own medicine

Meaning: an attitude towards others (usually negative).

Offering goodwill

Meaning: believing someone’s story without evidence, even if it seems unbelievable.

You got it right.

Meaning: being absolutely right.

Leaving someone out

Meaning: not holding someone responsible for something

No pain, no gain

Meaning: you have to suffer to gain something.

Stay on your toes

Meaning: Being careful and doing your job well.

Once in a blue moon

Meaning: Something that happens rarely.

Speaking of the devil

Meaning: When the person you were just talking about shows up.

The straw that broke the camel’s back.

Meaning: The final act that makes the whole situation unbearable.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Meaning: I have no idea.

A dead ringer.

Intended meaning: Someone who looks a lot like another person.

Everything you need to know

Intended meaning: Everything. Everything.


Meaning: start working

Burning bridges.

Meaning: to destroy a relationship to the ground


Meaning: to be a good-for-nothing person: in excellent health

Burn in the fire

Meaning: to suffer a stunning setback

He/she has lost control of anger.

Meaning: someone who acts irrationally or does not think rationally

He/she is always the darkest before the dawn.

Meaning: things always get worse before they get better.

It takes two to tango.

Meaning: Usually, one person is not the only one responsible for the situation.

Like riding a bicycle.

Meaning: You never forget what needs to be done.

For better or for worse.

Meaning: Everyone goes through good and bad times.

Time is money

Meaning: Work faster and more efficiently

 Food expressions

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Meaning: You can’t please everyone.

It’s like two peas in a pod.

Meaning: Two people who are always together

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Meaning: Apples are good for your health and good for you.

I’ve heard that word of mouth spreads

Meaning: to hear a rumor about someone or something

It’s a small thing

Meaning: a task or act that is easy to accomplish

Bread and butter

Meaning: something you make or use to survive or thrive in a particular situation

Bring home the bacon

Meaning: to earn money, especially for a living

Cry over spilled milk

Meaning: to worry about the past or something that has been accomplished or resolved

Not my cup of tea.

Meaning: something you don’t like.

Take it with a pinch of salt.

Meaning: take it at your own risk

Top Banana

Meaning: the most influential or important person in a group or organization.

Rotten apple

Meaning: a troublesome person

Bad egg

Meaning: like a troublemaker, but worse; someone who seems downright dishonest or behaves badly

Good egg

Meaning: the opposite of “bad egg”; a person who is honest and trustworthy

Bigger fish is about to fry

Meaning: having more important things to do

Cold as a cucumber

Meaning: calm, especially under pressure

Potato on the sofa

Meaning: sedentary person who spends a lot of time sitting, often in front of the TV

Can’t work very well

Meaning: can’t keep up with the competition

Hard to grind

Meaning: not a whetstone: something or someone that is difficult to understand

Big cheese

Meaning: someone who is responsible for the work

Baked Buns

Meaning: pregnant

The apple of my eye

Meaning: to be loved and adored

Flattering someone.

Meaning: to be very nice to someone because you want something from them

To make someone mad

Meaning: to encourage someone to do something, usually something they shouldn’t do

In short.

Meaning: to summarize

Spill the beans.

Meaning: to tell everything: to reveal secret information

This is just a small sample of A Comprehensive List of 100 Idioms are found everywhere. They add color to everything from simple conversation to roadside advertising and convey a degree of cultural understanding and affinity. What’s your favorite common phrase? Share the wealth in the comments below!



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