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

To learn English idioms can take some time. But some of them are more popular than others, that will come handy. An idiom is a phrase whose meaning isn’t obvious from looking at the individual words. They have developed over time and 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 just won’t make sense together. Instead, one needs to learn them in context so he can understand their true meaning.

A herculean task – a hard or difficult job.
The eradication of poverty in India is a herculean task for any government.

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

To cut corners – to do something badly or cheaply.
They really cut corners when they built this bathroom; the shower is leaking.

To add insult to injury – to make a situation worse.
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.
I thought this no-brand bread would be horrible; 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).
Break a leg, Sam, I’m sure your performance will be great.

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

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

The apple pie order – a very dear one.
Ravi is an apple of his mother’s eye.

A red-letter day – a very important day.
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.
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.
They finally saw eye to eye on the business deal.

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

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

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

To cost an arm and a leg – something is very expensive.
Fuel these days costs and arm and a leg.

A piece of cake – something is very easy.
The English test was a piece of cake.

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

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

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

Die in harness – die while doing one’s duty.
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.
Ram came off with flying colours, knocking off many prizes in college annual sports.

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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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