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33 Idioms With Meanings and Examples


Idioms are an important part of everyday English. They come up all the time in both written and spoken English.


What is an idiom?


An idiom is a phrase or expression that typically presents a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase; but some phrases become figurative idioms while retaining the literal meaning of the phrase.

Categorized as formulaic language, an idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.

Idioms occur frequently in all languages; in English alone there are an estimated twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions.

33 Idioms in English

Learn to use idioms and common expressions that will make your English sound original. Remember, they are words or phrases that are not meant to be taken literally.

1. Make ends meet: It is said when something is hardly enough (on the strength of hands).

  • It's true. things are so expensive nowadays that it's very difficult to make ends meet.
  • Many people suddenly found it difficult to make ends meet.

2. Feel like a million dollars: It is said when feeling very happy.

  • He says he's feeling like a million dollars.
  • If I will get that job I will feel like a million dollars.

3. Money talks: It is said as a bribe or money will speak for me (everything with money).

  • If you want us to help you out, here's some advice - money talks.
  • Don't worry. I have a way of getting things done, money talks.

4. On the line: It is said when there is a risk of losing something or someone.

  • He was warned that his job was on the line.
  • My mom was on the line. 

5. I could eat a horse: I am extremely hungry. Often used in the expression "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."

  • When will dinner be ready? I'm so hungry I could eat a horse. 

6. Hang on: It is said about endurance and perseverance.

  • But somehow or other they were able to hang on.
  • Hang on a minute - I'll be with you in a moment!

7. Lose (one's) shirt: It is said when you lose a lot of money.

  • He told me he lost his shirt at the races.
  • This is my last chance—I'll lose my shirt if this business venture fails.

8. Out of the woods: It is said when you are between danger and safety.

  • He was still out of the woods.
  • But she's not out of the woods yet.

9. Eating (someone): It is said when someone is annoyed.

  • Hey, Adam. What's been eating you lately.
  • What’s eating you?

10. Wet blanket: It is said when pessimism.

  • Adam was not invited to go on the outing with the rest of the group because he's such a wet blanket.
  • He's only going to be a wet blanket and take the fun out of everything.

11. Going under the knife: It is said when going to do something dangerous.

  • She answered back that "we going under the knife".
  • I think you'll have to go under the knife.

12. Knock (someone's) socks off: It is said when you make someone excited.

  • Nothing too much with me, but you ought to see Khalifa's new car. It'll knock your socks off.
  • The show of support from everyone just knocked my socks off.

13. Scratch (someone's) back: To provide one with a favor; to do something generous, helpful, or beneficial for someone. Usually implies that the favor is expected or hoped to be returned in the future.

  • If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
  • I don’t mind helping him out this time; he’s scratched my back many times.

14. Turn (someone) off: To dull someone’s interest in someone or something.

  • Well, it started of OK, but he really turned me off when we went for a snack after the movie.
  • I will turn him off because of his bad talks.

15. Kick the bucket

A: To die.

  • If they invent a hoverboard before I kick the bucket, I'm definitely going to try it, no matter how old I am.

B: To stop working completely; to break down.

  • I had this truck for nearly 30 years before it finally kicked the bucket. 

16. Bend over backwards: To exert a lot of effort towards some end. This phrase is often used to express frustration when one's efforts go unrecognized.

  • Her fears turned out to be unfounded, since everybody bent over backwards to help her.
  • I'm so sore after bending over backwards and doing all those weird stretches at yoga this morning.

17. Jump the gun: To start something before it is permissible, appropriate, or advisable. The phrase alludes to starting to run in a foot race before the starting gun goes off.

  • When her dad found out he jumped the gun and told them before Ahmed.
  • Yousuf jumped the gun and sent the proofs to the printer before the boss.

18. All thumbs: Uncoordinated or clumsy with one's hands.

  • I guess I'm all thumbs because I'm so nervous.
  • Can you untangle this thread for me? I'm all thumbs today.

19. Play it by ear: To decide how to act in or deal with a particular situation in an adaptive, flexible, or improvised way, based on the circumstances. A reference to playing a song without referencing sheet music or a recording.

  • I don't know what we will do. Let's play it by ear.
  • I am not sure whether my plan will work or not, so let just play it by ear

20. Not have a leg to stand on: To have no evidence, support, or justification for one's argument or actions.

  • He won't have a leg to stand on unless he can prove that.
  • You may think you're in the right, but you don't have a leg to stand on.

21. Get off (someone's) back: To stop nagging or pestering one about something. Often said as an imperative.

  • Look! Get off my back! I can't go anywhere.
  • Would you please get off my back? I'm not going to the interview.

22. Drive (someone) up a wall: It is said when you lead someone to anger.

  • They say I drive them up a wall with all the loud banging.
  • The loud music played by my neighbors is driving me up the wall.

23. String (someone) along: To maintain someone's attention or interest, probably insincerely.

  • She realized that he was just stringing her along.
  • I decided to string along and see if they found anything interesting. 

24. Leave (someone) high and dry

A: Literally, to allow one to remain dry and unaffected by water, typically flood waters.

  • We get some pretty bad storms around here, but the levee has always left us high and dry, thank goodness. 

B: To leave one in a situation in which one has little chance of escaping or improving.

  • You really left me high and dry when you forgot to pick me up last night. I had no way of calling or getting home!

25. Spill the beans: To reveal something that was meant to be a secret.

  • So who spilled the beans about her affair with David?
  • If I spill the beans, will you promise not to tell anyone else?

26. Bite the dust

A: Of a person, to die.

  • We were so lucky to avoid that massive accident—we might have bitten the dust!

B: To be near a complete breakdown or loss of functionality.

  • Judging by all that noise coming from her car, I'm pretty sure it's about to bite the dust.

C: To become unpopular or irrelevant.

  • Sadly, it doesn't take long for the latest technological innovations to bite the dust.

27. Bend over backwards: To exert a lot of effort towards some end. This phrase is often used to express frustration when one's efforts go unrecognized.

  • Her fears turned out to be unfounded, since everybody bent over backwards to help her.
  • I'm so sore after bending over backwards and doing all those weird stretches at yoga this morning.

28. Cough up

A: To expel something through coughing. A noun or pronoun can be used between "cough" and "up."

  • While I was sick, I found myself constantly coughing up phlegm.

B: To vomit. A noun or pronoun can be used between "cough" and "up."

  • When I had food poisoning, I felt like I coughed up everything I'd ever eaten in my life. 

C: To divulge something. A noun or pronoun can be used between "cough" and "up."

  • I'm sure he'll cough up the name of his accomplice once we send in our toughest investigator. 

D: To give something to someone, often after a period of evasion. A noun or pronoun can be used between "cough" and "up."

  • Joey's thugs cornered me and made me cough up the money I owed them.

E: To surrender the lead in a game or competition. A noun or pronoun can be used between "cough" and "up."

  • With their shaky defense, I wouldn't be surprised if they coughed up this 10-point lead. 

29. Eat and run: To eat and then leave very soon after.

  • I'm sorry to eat and run, but I have to catch the next train back to the city.
30. Be on (one's) back: To be constantly nagging one about something.
  • Ugh, my mom is on my back all the time about my grades, but I just have no interest in the classes I'm taking this semester.

31. Back at it (again): Having resumed doing something, often something negative or unpleasant.

  • I tried to stop biting my nails, but I'm back at it already.

32. The ghost at the feast: Someone or something that acts as a reminder of something negative and thus ruins the enjoyment of something. Primarily heard in UK.

  • I think I'll stay home. I'm afraid that since everyone knows about my recent diagnosis, I will be the ghost at the feast.

33. A straw will show which way the wind blows: Proverb Something very small or minor can be indicative of something much more important.

  • I know he didn't lie to you about something major, but he still lied. A straw will show which way the wind blows is all I'm saying.


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