Reading Time: 22 minutes

Every language has its idioms and expressions. They are an integral part of the language. The English language is rich in idioms, too. Idioms are words or phrases that aren’t meant to be taken literally and usually have a cultural meaning behind them. Most English idioms are in the form of advice but also contain some underlying principles and values.

Learning English idioms can take some time. But some are more popular than others, which will be helpful. An idiom is a phrase whose meaning isn’t apparent from looking at the individual words. They have developed over time, so they might seem random to many. Idioms often rely on analogies and metaphors. If one can’t understand idioms, he will not be able to understand the context.

The key to understanding English idioms is never to look at them or read them in a literal sense -the words won’t make sense together. Instead, one must learn them in context to understand their true meaning.

A herculean task – a hard job.
E.g., The eradication of poverty in India is a herculean task for any government.

To kill two birds with one stone – solve two problems simultaneously.
E.g., I killed two birds with one stone by taking my dad on holiday. (I got to go away but also spend time with him.)

To cut corners – to do something poorly or cheaply.
E.g., They cut corners when they built this bathroom; the shower is leaking.

To add insult to injury – to make a situation worse.
E.g., To add insult to injury, the car drove off without stopping after knocking me off my bike.

You can’t judge a book by its cover – to not judge someone or something based solely on appearance.
E.g., I thought this no-brand bread would be horrible; it turns out you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Break a leg – means ‘good luck’ (often said to actors before they go on stage).
E.g., Break a leg, Sam; your performance will be great.

To hit the nail on the head – to describe precisely what is causing a situation or problem.
E.g., He hit the nail on the head when he said this company needs more HR support.

When pigs fly – something that will never happen.
E.g., When pigs fly, she’ll tidy up her room.

The apple pie order – a very dear one.
E.g., Ravi is the apple of his mother’s eye.

A red-letter day – a significant day.
E.g., The 15th of August is a red-letter day in the history of India.

The best of both worlds – means you can enjoy two different opportunities at the same time.
E.g., By working part-time and looking after her kids two days a week, she managed to get the best of both worlds.

See eye to eye – this means agreeing with someone.
E.g., They finally saw eye to eye on the business deal.

Apple pie order – neat and clean.
E.g., Students must wear their uniform in apple-pie order.

Once in a blue moon – an event that happens infrequently.
E.g., I only go to the cinema once in a blue moon.

A bed of roses – a very comfortable and pleasant condition.
E.g., Life is not a bed of roses.

To cost an arm and a leg – something is costly.
E.g., Fuel these days costs an arm and a leg.

A piece of cake – something is straightforward.
E.g., The English test was a piece of cake.

Let the cat out of the bag – to accidentally reveal a secret.
E.g., I let the cat out of the bag about their wedding plans.

To feel under the weather – to not feel well.
E.g., I’m really feeling under the weather today; I have a terrible cold.

Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth – someone from a wealthy and successful family.
E.g., Prince Harry was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Die in harness – die while doing one’s duty.
E.g., As the officer died in harness, his son was offered a job in the company.

Come off with flying colours – come out with great triumph.
E.g., Ram came off with flying colours, knocking off many prizes in college annual sports.

Acid testProves the effectiveness of something.
Actions speak louder than wordsPeople’s intentions can be judged better by what they do than what they say.
Add insult to injuryTo further a loss with mockery or indignity, to worsen an unfavourable situation.
After the watershedA time after which programmes for older audiences may be aired on TV.
Against the clockBeing rushed and having little time to complete something.
Ahead of timeSomething that happens early or before it is supposed to.
All earsAwaiting an explanation.
An arm and a legVery expensive or costly. A large amount of money.
Around the clockAt any time of the day or night
Around the cornerWill happen soon.
As time goes byThe passing of one moment to the next.
At the drop of a hatWithout any hesitation, instantly.
Back to basicsAn approach that uses traditional ideas that have previously worked.
Back to the drawing boardWhen an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over.
Bad appleTroublemaker or undesirable person in a group.
Ball is in your courtIt is up to you to make the next decision or take the next step.
Barking up the wrong treeLooking in the wrong place. Accusing the wrong person.
Be glad to see the back ofBe happy when a person leaves.
Beat around the bushAvoiding the main topic. Not speaking directly about the issue.
Beat the clockDo something quickly before it’s too late.
Bee in one’s bonnetCarrying and idea that’s constantly in your thoughts.
Behind the timesBeing old-fashioned.
Bells and whistlesLots of desirable features.
Best of both worldsEnjoying the advantage of two things simultaneously.
Best thing since sliced breadA good invention or innovation. A good idea or plan.
Better late than neverIt is better to do something late than not at all.
Bide one’s timeWaiting for further developments before taking action or making decisions.
Big cheeseInfluential person
Bird in the hand is worth two in the bushBetter to be satisfied with what you have than risk losing it by trying to get something better.
Bite off more than you can chewTo take on a task that is way too big.
Black and blueBadly bruised.
Black and whiteTake everything into consideration and over simply. Judge everything good or bad.
Black as nightVery dark and hard to see.
Black eyeBruise around the eye.
Black marketWhere goods are illegally bought and sold for profit.
Black outDarken by turning off or dimming the lights. Lose consciousness.
Black sheepUndesirable member of a group.
BlackballExclude or ostracise someone socially. Reject someone.
BlacklistExclude someone.
BlackmailExtort or take money from someone by threatening to use their secrets against them.
Blessing in disguiseSomething good that isn’t recognised as such at first.
Blind datePre-arranged social interaction between people who have never met.
Blood redDescription of something with a deep red colour.
Blood, sweat and tearsSomething that requires a lot of effort and hard work.
Blow a fuseSuddenly get very angry, perhaps over something unexpected.
Blow up in the faceA plan or project that suddenly fails.
Blue bloodFrom noble, aristocratic or wealthy family.
Blue collarWorking in a manual labour job.
Blue in the faceTry hard to win an agreement but usually unsuccessful.
Blue ribbonSuperior quality or distinction. The best of a group.
Bolt from the blueUnexpected bad news.
BookwormSomeone who reads a lot.
Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouthBorn into a rich and affluent family.
Bottom falls outA plan or project that fails.
BrainstormDevelop or think of new ideas.
Bread-winnerPerson that is the primary source of income for a family.
Bring home the baconEarn a living.
Broken watch is right twice a dayWhen something is lucky or successful but undeserving.
Buckle downWorking hard with determination and full attention.
Bun in the ovenPregnant.
Burn the midnight oilTo work late into the night, alluding to the time before electric lighting.
Butter upFlatter someone, usually because you want something from them.
By degreesSomething happens of develops gradually or little by little.
By the skin of your teethOnly just succeed.
Call it a dayStop doing something for a while or until the next day.
Calling timeDeciding to end something.
Carry the torch forHaving string feelings for someone who cannot be yours.
Cash cowDependable source of income.
Cat burglarThief who climbs into buildings.
Catch someone at a bad timeWhen it is inconvenient.
Catch someone red-handedCatch someone in the act of committing a crime or doing something they shouldn’t.
Chance one’s armDeciding to do something even though the chances of success are slim or unknown.
Chase rainbowsTry to achieve something that is very difficult, impossible or very desirable.
Chase your tailSpend a lot of time and energy but achieve nothing.
CheesyTacky, silly, inauthentic or cheap.
Clock-in/clock-outRecord the time of arrival and the time of departure.
Close to homeA comment that is true and makes you uncomfortable.
Cold shoulderPay no attention to.
Coming of ageWhen something develops completely and reached maturity. When a child becomes an adult.
Cook someone’s gooseSpoil the person’s chance of success.
CopycatSomeone who copies the work of another.
Costs an arm and a legWhen something is very expensive.
Couch potatoLazy person who watches too much TV.
Cover a lot of groundComplete a lot of work or a wide range of things.
Crack of dawnVery early in the morning. The first moments of sunrise.
Cross that bridge when you come to itDeal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary, not before.
Crunch timeWhen an important decision needs to be made by.
Cry over spilt milkComplain about a loss from the past.
Curiosity killed the catBeing Inquisitive can lead you into an unpleasant or dangerous situation.
Cut cornersWhen something is done quickly, and typically badly, to save money.
Cut one’s own throatDoing something that will cause your own failure or downfall.
Cut the mustardTo succeed; to come up to expectations; adequate enough to compete or participate.
Cut to the chaseGetting to the point.
Day to dayPart of a usual routine.
Days are numberedExpected to be in a role or to die soon.
Dead duckPlan or event that has failed or is certain to fail and therefore not worth discussing.
Dead in the waterPlan or project that has ceased to function and is not expected to re-activate.
Dead woodPeople or things that are no longer useful or necessary.
Deep downDescribing what a person really feels deep inside them
Deliver the goodsDo what is expected or required.
Devil’s AdvocateTo present a counter argument.
Do timeSpend time in prison.
Donkey’s yearsA very long period of time.
Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatchedDon’t make plans for something that might not happen.
Don’t give up the day jobYou are not very good at something. You could definitely not do it professionally.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basketDon’t make everything dependent on only one thing.
Double dateSocial interaction that involves two couples.
Drastic times call for drastic measuresWhen you are extremely desperate you need to take drastic actions.
Drawing a blankGet no response from someone when you ask them a question or to have no answer yourself.
DropoutStop attending school before it is time.
Dwell on the pastThinking too much about something that happened in the past.
Eager beaverEnthusiastic and hard worker.
Easy as ABCVery simple or easy.
Eat, sleep and breathe somethingBeing so enthusiastic and passionate about something that you think about it all the time.
Egg headStudious and academic person.
Elbow roomEnough space to move or work in.
Eleventh hourAt the very last minute or just in time.
Elvis has left the buildingThe show has come to an end. It’s all over.
Every cloud has a silver liningBe optimistic, even difficult times will lead to better days. Good can come from a bad situation.
Explore all avenuesInvestigating or examining every option.
Eye-catchingTending to attract attention.
Fallen in loveStart feeling love towards someone.
Far cry fromVery different from.
Feeling blueFeeling depressed or disconnected.
Feeling under the weatherFeeling unwell.
Fever pitchWhen a feeling is very intense and exciting.
Fill in the blanksSupply missing words or information.
First in, best dressedThe opportunity is afforded to the first to arrive or present themselves.
First out of the gateBeing the first one to make a start at something
Fish out of waterFeeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings
Foot in the doorSmall but good start with the possibility of a bright future.
For the time beingAn action or state will continue into the future but is temporary.
From now onFrom this time forward.
From time to timeOccasionally or not very often.
Full of beansExcited or very energetic and lively.
Full of the joys of springVery happy and full of energy.
Getting sackedTo lose your job.
Getting the show on the roadPutting a plan or idea into action.
Give the benefit of the doubtBelieve someone’s statement, without proof.
Give the green lightProvide permission to proceed.
Go belly upFail completely.
Going placesDemonstrating talent and ability that will lead to success.
Golden boyYoung man idolised for a great skill, typically in sport.
Golden handshakeLarge sum of money given to someone when they retire from a company.
Golden opportunityA very good opportunity that may never present itself again.
Grass is always greener on the other sideThe alternative solution may seem better even if that isn’t always the case.
Grease someone’s palmGive someone money in order to persuade them to do something dishonest.
Green thumbAbility to make plants grow or be good at gardening.
Green with envyExtremely jealous or full of envy.
Grey areaUnclear or undefined.
Hanging on by fingernailsContinuing to do something in a very difficult situation.
Hard as nailsWithout sentiment or sympathy for anyone.
Hard timeSomething that is difficult or to suffer hardship.
Having one’s heart set on somethingPossessing a determination to achieve something.
Head in the cloudsHaving unrealistic or impractical ideas.
Head over heels in loveVery much in love with someone.
Hear it on the grapevineHear something through informal or unofficial means, like gossip.
Heart is in the right placeHaving good intentions, even if the results may not be impressive.
Here today, gone tomorrowWhen desirable things, such as money or happiness, are temporary.
High timeWhen something should have been done already and is overdue.
Hit the big timeTo become successful.
Hit the booksBegin studying hard.
Hit the nail on the headDo or say something exactly right.
Hit the panic buttonAct quickly and without thinking in reaction to an unexpected event.
Hit the roadBegin travelling or leave.
Hit the sackGo to bed.
Hold the fortHave responsibility for something or care about someone while others are away or out.
Honest as the day is longSomeone that is trustworthy and honest.
Hot potatoSpeak of a current issue which many people are talking about and which is usually disputed.
Hour of needWhen someone really needs something – their last chance.
In due courseEverything will happen when it is supposed to or at the appropriate time.
In one’s own timeTaking as long as you want to complete something or completing something at your own pace.
In someone’s black bookBe in disgrace or disfavour with someone.
In the bagSomething that is assured or a guaranteed success.
In the blackIn profit.
In the blink of an eyeSomething that happens very quickly.
In the heat of the momentOverwhelmed by what is happening in the moment.
In the interimBetween two events or something that is temporary.
In the long runOver a period of time.
In the nick of time.Just before it is too late.
In the redIn debt with your bank. To have a negative bank balance or to owe money to the bank.
In the right place at the right timeWhen something happens fortuitously or when given an unexpected opportunity.
In the wrong place at the wrong timeWhen something unlucky happens that would not normally have happened.
In tune with someoneHave the same ideas and be in agreement with someone else.
It takes two to tangoActions or communications need more than one person.
Itchy feetStrong impulse to travel or go somewhere.
Judge a book by its coverJudge something primarily on appearance.
Jump on the bandwagonJoin a popular trend or activity.
Keep something at bayKeep something away or prevent something from happening.
Keeping up appearancesMaintaining an outward show of prosperity or well-being while hiding your difficulties.
Keeping your finger on the pulseBeing constantly aware of current developments.
Kept in the darkNot knowing the secrets or truth.
Kill timeDo something whilst waiting.
Kill two birds with one stoneAccomplish two different things at the same time.
Landslide victoryOverwhelming victory.
Last strawThe final problem in a series of problems that leads to a bad thing happening.
Laugh a minuteSomeone or something that is very funny.
Learn by roteLearn something by memorising it without thought to what is being learnt.
Learn something off by heartMemorise so well, that it can be written or recited without thinking.
Learn the ropesLearn how to do a job or task properly.
LemonNew vehicle that has many faults.
Let me see the colour of your moneyProve that you can afford something.
Let sleeping dogs lieLeave a situation undisturbed, since it would otherwise result in trouble or complications.
Let slip through fingersFailing to obtain or retain a good opportunity.
Let the cat out of the bagShare information that was previously concealed.
Lick one’s woundsTrying to regain confidence after a defeat.
Lightning fastVery fast.
Lights are on but nobody is homeSomeone is stupid or lacking intelligence.
Like clockworkHappens at very regular times or intervals without fail.
Like there’s no tomorrowDo something fast or energetic, as if it were the last opportunity to do so.
Lining up all the ducks in a rowBeing well organised in preparation for something.
Living beyond your meansSpending more than you can afford.
Living in an ivory towerLiving a lifestyle that saves or obscures you from real world issues.
Living on the breadlineHaving very little income.
Long arm of the lawFar-reaching power of the authorities.
Long time no seeNot seen since long ago.
Look on the bright sideView an unpleasant situation in a positive light.
Love at first sightStart feeling love towards someone the first time you see them.
Lovey-doveyMaking an excessive display of affection.
Lump in your throatTight feeling in the through because of an emotion like sadness, pride or gratitude.
Make a long story shortCome to the point without superfluous or unnecessary details.
Make my daySomething that makes me very happy or satisfies me.
Make or breakCircumstances causing total success or total failure.
Make the gradeBe satisfactory or at an accepted level.
Make timeFind time to do something as a priority.
Makes your flesh crawlSomething that makes you feel disgusted or nervous.
Making a go of itAttempting to succeed at something.
Making good timeCompleting something faster than expected.
Making headwayMaking progress in what you are trying to do.
Match made in heavenRelationship that is likely to be happy and successful.
Method to my madnessDespite one’s approach seeming random, there actually is structure to it.
Mile a minuteHappens very quickly.
Miss the boatMiss a chance or opportunity.
Monkey businessMischievous or deceitful behaviour.
Month of SundaysA very long period of time.
Murphy’s lawAnything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Never in a million yearsWill never happen.
No time like the presentThe belief it is better to do something right away instead of waiting.
No time to loseStart something right away, otherwise it won’t be finished on time.
Not letting grass grow under your feetNot delaying in getting something done.
Not letting moss grow overDoing something now or without delay.
Not playing with a full deckLacking intelligence.
Now and thenOccasionally.
Now or neverSomething that should be done now or it will never be done.
Off colourUnwell.
Off one’s rockerCrazy; demented; out of one’s mind; in a confused or befuddled state of mind; senile.
Off to a flying startSomething that is immediately successful or has begun well.
Old handPerson with a lot of experience in something.
Old schoolHolding ideas that were popular and important in the past but which are no longer so.
On the ballWhen someone understands the situation well or is doing well.
On the brainThinking or talking about something constantly.
On the rocksRelationship experiencing problems.
On timeNot being late or something happening at the expected time.
Once in a blue moonHappens very rarely or once in a lifetime.
Once upon a timeSomething that happened a long time ago.
Only time will tellThe truth, answer or result, will be revealed at some future point.
Out of the blueAppear suddenly from nowhere and without warning.
Out of the redNo longer in debt.
Out of timeNo time left to do something or a set time has been reached.
Paint the town redGo out and have a really good time at a party.
Pass with flying coloursPass with a high score.
Penny for your thoughtsA way of asking what someone is thinking.
Picture paints a thousand wordsVisual presentations are far more descriptive than words.
Piece of cakeA job, task or other activity that is easy or simple.
Pitch blackVery dark with zero or almost zero visibility.
Place in the sunA position that provides you all the success and happiness you want.
Pop the questionPropose marriage to someone.
Pot calling the kettle blackHypocritically criticise or accuse someone else is as guilty as the person criticising.
Pressed for timeBeing rushed or not having enough time to complete something.
Proud as a peacockVery proud
Pull the plugTerminate or discontinue something.
Pull wool over other people’s eyesDeceive someone into thinking well of them.
Pulling out all the stopsDoing everything you can to make something happen.
Punch above one’s weightPerforming beyond your ability.
Puppy loveTemporary infatuation between young people.
Put it in black and whiteWrite down for confirmation or evidence.
Put your thinking cap onEngage your mind and think in a serious manner.
Rags to richesBecoming very rich whilst starting very poor.
Raining cats and dogsRaining very heavily.
Raise the white flagAccept defeat and surrender to the other party.
Raring to goBeing very eager or enthusiastic about the idea.
Rat raceExhausting and repetitive routine.
Red flagSignal or indication that something is not working properly of correctly.
Red herringUnimportant matter that misleads and draws attention away.
Red hotNew and exciting, creating much demand.
Red in the faceEmbarrassed.
Red tapeSet of rules and/or regulations that slow or stop progress.
Red-eyeJourney that leaves late in the night and arrives early in the morning.
Road hogDangerous driver.
Roll out the red carpetGreet a person with great respect and give them a big, warm welcome.
Sail through somethingBeing successful as something without difficulty.
Save timeDo something quickly or in a way that allow time for other things.
School of hard knocksLearning through difficult experiences, as opposed to formal, classroom education.
School of thoughtParticular philosophy or way of thinking about something.
Schoolboy errorVery basic or foolish mistake.
Seeing eye to eyeTwo or more people agree on something.
Seeing redReact with uncontrollable rage.
Sell ice to EskimosPersuade people to go against their best interests or to accept something unnecessary.
Shelf lifeThe expected duration of lifespan of something (typically food, drink or medicine).
Show of handsRaising hands to vote about something.
Shown the red cardDismissed or told to leave.
Silver screenFilm industry
Single fileLine of people with one person standing behind another.
Sink or swimFail or succeed.
Sinking teeth into somethingDoing something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Sit on the fenceUnable or unwilling choose or make a decision.
Skip classNot go to school when you should.
Sleeping partnerPerson who has put money into a business or venture but who is not involved in running it.
Slice of the pieShare of something, such as money, profits, etc.
Smash hitA big success.
Snowed underHaving too much to do.
Sooner or laterSomething is certain to happen but it isn’t known when exactly.
Sour grapesPretending to dislike something you cannot have.
Spanner in the worksSuddenly disrupt something by introducing something unexpected or unwanted.
Speak of the devilWhen the person you have just been talking about arrives.
Speaks volumesExpress a reaction without words.
Spill the beansReveal a secret.
Standing groundMaintaining your position
Standing the test of timeSomething that lasts or continues to work well for a long time.
Steal someone’s thunderTake the credit for something someone else did.
Stiff upper lipNot showing emotions.
Storm in a teacupExaggerate a problem.
Straight from the horse’s mouthFrom the authoritative source.
Stuck in a time warpNot changed for a very long time, when everything else around has.
Swallow one’s prideAccepting something humiliating or embarrassing.
Sweet toothLiking for sweet-tasting foods.
Take each day as it comesDeal with things as and when they happen.
Take with a grain (or pinch) of saltNot to take what someone says too seriously. Be sceptical about something.
Taste of your own medicineSomething happens to you, or is done to you, that you have done to someone else.
Teacher’s petTeacher’s favourite student.
The big timeThe top level of a profession
The moment of truthWhen an important decision is made or the truth about something is revealed.
The ship has sailedA particular opportunity has passed and is no longer available.
The time is ripeThe right or most opportune moment to do something.
Thinking on your feetAdjusting quickly to change and making fast decisions.
This day and ageThese or modern times.
Tickled pinkVery pleased, thrilled or delighted about something.
Tie the knotGet married.
Time after timeDo something repeatedly
Time fliesWhen time passes quickly.
Time for a changeStop what you are doing and start doing something else.
Time heals all woundsFeelings of hurt will go away after some time has passed.
Time is moneyTime is a valuable commodity. Payment is needed before doing something.
Time is of the essenceWhen meeting a deadline is very important or critical.
Time of one’s lifeA time when someone is enjoying themselves.
Time on one’s handsWhen you can afford to wait before doing or achieving something.
Tongue-tiedDifficulty in expressing yourself because of nervousness or embarrassment.
Too many chiefs and not enough IndiansToo many people telling others what to do.
Too much time on one’s handWhen someone doesn’t have enough to do.
Top bananaMost important person in a group.
Top dogMost important person.
Tough cookieVery determined person.
Tricks of the tradeClever or expert way of doing something.
True coloursSomeone’s actual character.
Turn back the hands of timeReverse something or go back to a time in the past.
University of lifeDaily life and work where you learn more than you would through formal education.
Until hell freezes overSomething will never happen, no matter how hard or long you try for it to.
Up in smokeSomething that ends before getting a result.
Waiting in the wingsWaiting for an opportunity to take action.
Walk out on someoneLeave a partner and end the relationship.
Wasting timeDoing something with no purpose.
Well-oiled machineUnit of people or a group of things working well together.
Whale of a timeEnjoying something thoroughly.
White as a sheetIn a state of great fear or anxiety.
White collarOfficer worker.
White elephantExpensive item that’s costly to maintain and not particularly useful.
White lieLittle or harmless lie told to be polite and avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
WhitewashCover up or gloss over faults.
Whole nine yardsEverything. All of it.
With bells onWhen you are delighted and eager to go somewhere.
Wooden spoonImaginary prize for the last person in a race.
Works like a charmWorks very well or as expected.
Wouldn’t be caught deadWould never like to do something.
Year in, year outHappens every year for many years in a row.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricksPeople used to doing things a certain way are often unable to change their ways.
Your guess is as good as mineNot knowing the answer.