150 Common & Difficult Idioms with Examples
What is an idiom? An idiom is an expression or phrase whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. In other words “Idioms mean something different than the individual words.” Students often confuse idioms with proverbs. However, these are two different things. Proverbs are well-known for stating a piece of advice or general fact. For example, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is a proverb – a general truth. Let us consider the idiom ‘bite off more than you can chew‘. What you meant is that you are trying to do something that is too hard for you. Read this blog to know 100 useful and common idioms with examples and meanings.
100 Common Idioms with Examples
Have to come across commonly used English idioms while watching American TV series or movies? English expressions, proverbs and idioms play an important role in everyday English both written and spoken. As idioms do not always make literal sense, students should be familiar with their meaning and how to use them. This may appear to be a lot of work, but idioms are fun! It is often called a manner of speaking that sounds more native, so it’s really useful to master some of these expressions.
So, here’s a list of the top 100 common idioms with meanings and sentence examples:
|Beat around the bush||To avoid talking about what’s important|
|Get your act together||Get organized and do things effectively|
|Hit the sack||Go to sleep|
|Your guess is as good as mine||I do not know|
|Good things come to those who wait||To have patience|
|Back against the wall||Stuck in a difficult circumstance with no escape|
|Up in arms||Being grumpy or angry about something|
|Scrape the barrel||Making the most of the worst situation or things because you can’t do anything about it|
|Burn your boats/bridges||Doing something that makes it impossible to go back to the original state.|
|Break fresh/ new ground||Doing something that has never been done before|
|Sell like hot cakes||Quick sellout|
|Run around in circles||Putting efforts into something that is not worthwhile result|
|On cloud nine||Being very happy|
|Left out in the cold||Being ignored|
|Blow hot and cold||Alternate inconsistently between moods and actions|
|Cut corners||Doing something in an easier and least expensive manner|
|Boil the ocean||Taking up an almost impossible or overly ambitious project|
|Keep an ear to the ground||Staying informed and updated about everything|
|Eat like a horse||Eating too excessively|
|A snowball effect||The aspect of momentum in every event and how they build upon each other|
Important Tip to Learn Idioms with Examples
It is comparatively easier to remember words unlike idioms because idioms (phrases) contain 3 or more words. And, remembering a chain of words and then speaking them in the correct sequence is not easy. But, one thing you can do is to repeat the idiom a few times loudly and then use it in 2 to 3 different sentences.
Now check out 80 idioms with examples and their meanings:
21. In for a penny, in for a pound
Meaning: That someone is intentionally investing his time or money for a particular project or task.
Example: When Athlead was booming, Jim was in for a penny and in for a pound, that’s how much dedicated he was.
22. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush
Meaning: An opportunity in hand, currently, is better than a prospect in the future, because time never repeats itself.
Example: The detective apprehended 3 criminals and saw other one running but didn’t chase him, because she knew a bird in one hand is better than two in the bush.
23. Chip off the old block
Meaning: That a person is similar in behaviour or actions like his parents.
Example: When grandmother saw her grandson collecting coins like her son used to do, she knew he was a Chip off the old block.
24. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Meaning: Treat people the same way you want to be treated.
Example: I felt Peter was a little cold today towards that homeless man, he should do unto others as he would have them do unto him, because who knows about time.
25. Don’t cry over spilt milk
Meaning: Don’t cry over what has happened as it can not be fixed.
Example: Walter failed his examination but his dad came and said just one thing, “Son, Don’t cry over spilt milk.”
26. Every cloud has a silver lining
Meaning: Bad things one day eventually lead to good things.
Example: See, yesterday you were so morose as your phone was stolen but look at you today, you got a promotion. Is it rightly said that every cloud has a silver lining.
27. Beside yourself with joy
Meaning: To be extremely happy.
Example: I can see that you are beside yourself with joy on being selected for the job, congratulations.
28. Fair and square
Meaning: Being direct or fair.
Example: To tell you fair and square, I did everything that I was meant to do, but I still feel unfulfilled.
Want to get admission to your dream university abroad? Then, Register Here!
29. Having an Ace up the sleeve
Meaning: Have an advantage that is currently being withheld for future purposes.
Example: Brian kept quiet at the board meeting, who knew he had an Ace hidden up his sleeve the whole time.
30. A black sheep
Meaning: Being a disgrace for the family.
Example: They don’t talk about Olive anymore, turns out he was the Black sheep for the family, he married someone else while he was still arranged to his fiancé.
31. Hook, line and sinker
Meaning: Doing something or trying to achieve something with thoroughness and passion.
Example: I have set my mind to go through the spreadsheets by Monday and I am working for it Hook, line and sinker.
32. Looking to your laurels
Meaning: Not be lost in your achievements and losing the sight of what is supposed to happen.
Example: Look to your laurels but do not rest on it.
33. Bear a grudge
Meaning: To continue to feel angry or unfriendly for someone or something because of a particular past incident.
Example: I Bear a grudge against him for not taking me into confidence.
34. By the skin of your teeth
Meaning: To just barely get by or make it.
Example: Lester made the dance team By the skin of his teeth, you see the audition gates were about to get closed.
Ever thought what it takes to be a fluent speaker? You might have been lured into paying a hearty amount of money to build fluency in the English language. Here’s how to speak fluent English in 30 days.
35. Down for the count
Meaning: Tired; giving up.
Example: My pet dog is down for the count after playing the whole day with the frisbee.
36. Draw the line
Meaning: To stop before a point where something okay gets not okay.
Example: Hey buddy, that’s enough, Draw the line before someone comes and beats you to a pulp.
37. Easier said than done
Meaning: Not as easy as it appears to be.
Example: Listen, losing weight is easier said than done, many people lack commitment.
38. Break a leg
Meaning: Saying good luck to someone.
Example: Hey Barry, it’s time for you to get on the stage and present your monologue, break a leg.
39. Up a creek without a paddle
Meaning: In an unlucky situation.
Example: Dan tried to dine and dash yesterday at a Chinese place but he was stopped by the waiters, guess he was up a creek without a paddle yesterday.
40. Give it a whirl
Meaning: To give something a try.
Example: I am absolutely terrified of skydiving, but I think once in my life, I will give it a whirl.
41. Fish out of water
Meaning: To be out of your comfort zone.
Example: Tom felt like a fish out of water when his girlfriend took him to a Star Wars convention in LA.
42. In the fast lane
Meaning: A life filled with excitement.
Example: When Chris turned forty, he decided to live his life in the fast lane and quit his job for his hobbies.
43. Go the extra mile
Meaning: To make an extra effort.
Example: He was willing to go the extra mile for the love of his life, Mia.
44. Snug as a bug in a rug
Meaning: Warm and cosy.
Meaning: The baby looks as snug as a bug in a rug next to her mother.
45. Step up your game
Meaning: To start performing better
Example: Jennifer better step up her game if she wants to make big in Basketball.
Idioms are used as a figurative language, i.e. the use of words in an imaginative and unusual manner. Take a look at more idioms with examples.
46. To not see the wood for the trees
Meaning: To be so involved in trivial matters that you don’t get the important facts.
Example: He always argues on the silliest topics, it’s like he can’t see wood for the trees.
47. Lose your marbles
Meaning: To go insane.
Example: Our mailman has lost his marbles, every day he drops Mr. Smith’s mail on our door.
48. Straight from the Horse’s mouth
Meaning: Directly from the person involved.
Example: Listen to the news straight from the horse’s mouth, his factory burned down right in front of his eyes.
49. Crying Wolf
Meaning: To ask for help when you don’t need it.
Example: You have cried Wolf so many times that no one believes you now.
50. Palm off
Meaning: Pass off something as genuine when it is spurious.
Example: This shopkeeper always palms off old stock to the customers.
51. Has bigger fish to fry
Meaning: Has more important work to do.
Example: Please don’t bother me today with any calls, I have bigger fish to fry.
52. Look before you leap
Meaning: Calculate the risks before advancing towards a possibility.
Example: You can’t just sell all of your shares when the market is low, look before you leap, Trump is coming tomorrow, it is possible the shares will grow.
53. On thin ice
Meaning: In a precarious or risky situation.
Example: Andy played hooky from work for a week saying he was sick, now his boss said that he is on very thin ice.
54. Play devil’s advocate
Meaning: To argue, just for the sake of it.
Example: He was not agreeing to back off, as if he was playing devil’s advocate.
Besides, knowing about various idioms with examples, a good vocabulary can take you to places in the competitive exams as well as in life. Here’s our blog on 50 difficult words with meanings for you to master your speaking skills now!
55. Rain on someone’s parade
Meaning: To spoil a moment.
Example: He told his wife that he doesn’t want to rain on her parade, but they had to shift their vacation dates.
56. Take a rain check
Meaning: Postpone a plan.
Example: He asked me whether I would like to have dinner with his family, but I had a thing so I said, rain check.
57. Take it with a grain of salt
Meaning: Don’t take it too seriously.
Example: She tells great tales but we take whatever she says with a grain of salt.
58. Like a cakewalk
Meaning: So easy task.
Example: Everyone took hours to write the code but Adam did it like a cakewalk.
59. Throw caution to the wind
Meaning: Take a risk.
Example: The caretaker threw caution to the wind by taking a sick baby outside.
60. Penny wise and Pound foolish
Meaning: Careful in trivial matters but wasteful or extravagant in large matters.
Example: That man eats Ramen noodles daily for dinner but for his dog, he threw a big party. He is indeed penny wise and pound foolish.
61. The whole nine yards
Meaning: Everything, all the way.
Example: I want to know everything there is to know about this merger, the whole nine yards of the deal.
62. The best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: A really good invention.
Example: Bluetooth is officially the best thing since sliced bread.
It is important to note that idioms itself do not create complete sentences and they require additional context to give them a sense. Take a look at some more idioms with examples:
63. Bite off more than you can chew
Meaning: Take on a difficult work that is beyond your capabilities.
Example: Andrew told his boss that he will triple the sales but in reality, he bit off more than he can chew and now all of us are in trouble.
64. Play by the ear
Meaning: To improvise.
Example: I just went to Canada and did everything by the ear, no itinerary, no schedules.
65. Ignorance is bliss
Meaning: You are better off not knowing some things.
Example: His wife always asked him what it was he did late at night, turned out, he was insider trading. But she knew nothing about this so she won’t be convicted, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
66. Put something on ice
Meaning: To put something on hold.
Example: As per the boss’ order, Michael has put his personal matters on ice.
67. You can say that again
Meaning: That’s absolutely true.
Example: “The Earth is bleeding”, you can say that again, pal.
68. Bite the bullet
Meaning: To get something over with because it is inevitable.
Example: Vik was diagnosed with second stage cancer but he didn’t want to get chemotherapy. By the will of his wife, he bit the bullet.
69. Go back to the drawing board
Meaning: Start over.
Example: It is not too late to go back to the drawing board and assess your mistakes.
70. Call it a day
Meaning: Stop working on something.
Example: Ah! So what we didn’t complete the puzzle today, let’s call it a day and come back again tomorrow.
71. Beating Around the Bush
Meaning: To talk about unnecessary things.
Example: When I asked my secretary about the missing file and documents, she was beating around the bush.
72. Be in a Tight Corner.
Meaning: Being in a difficult situation.
Example: Radha’s low grades despite her constant efforts has put her in a very tight corner.
73. At the 11th Hour
Meaning: At the last moment.
Example: While leaving for Shimla, Harshit kept his mobile phone charger in the bag at the 11th hour.
74. Swan Song
Meaning: The last piece of work of an artist before his/her death.
Example: This painting was M.F Hussain’s swan song.
75. Wild Goose Chase
Meaning: Futile Chase
Example: Catching the two thieves together on a jam-packed road was no less than a wild goose chase for the policeman.
76. Bury the Hatchet
Meaning: Ending a quarrel to make peace.
Example: My father buried the hatchet by equally diving the pasta between me and my sister.
77. To Bell the Cat
Meaning: To face a risk.
Example: He belled the cat when he was trying to escape the prison.
78. Turn a deaf ear
Meaning: To ignore what someone is saying.
Example: Whenever her mother complained of her excessive use of mobile phone, Anu turned a deaf ear.
79. At Sea
Example: I was at sea while choosing a lehenga for my sister’s wedding at Manish Malhotra’s store.
80. To be in the doldrums
Meaning: To be in a low spirit
Example: When I got to know about the increasing cases of COVID 19 in my area, I was in the doldrums.
81. Hit the books
Meaning: Going to study
Example: I won’t be able to come for the dinner as I have to hit the books for my half-yearly examinations.
82. Twist someone’s arm
Meaning: To convince someone
Example: I was not planning to come to the party but by remaining me of all the good food you twisted my arm!
83. Stab someone in the back
Meaning: To betray a close person
Example: My uncle trusted his driver so much but he stabbed him at the back when he saw all the money bags.
84. Go cold turkey
Meaning: To quit or stop addictive or dangerous behaviour
Example: No one could believe that my father left eating sweets! He went cold turkey when the doctors told him that he has diabetes.
85. Ring a bell
Meaning: Sounds familiar
Example: Why does this name ring a bell in my head? Was this girl in my school?
86. Cut to the chase
Meaning: Getting to the important point
Example: As the submissions were to be made tonight, boss cut to the chase and asked us to start working.
87. Blow off steam
Meaning: Experiencing strong feelings like anger or stress
Example: Shina went running to blow off steam as she had a huge fight with mother.
88. Face the music
Meaning: Face the reality
Example: Shikha asked her husband to not run away from the problem and just face the music once!
89. To have sticky fingers
Example: The cashier had a sticky finger, he stole around $2000 and ran away from the bank.
90. Break the bank
Meaning: To be very expensive
Example: I had to break the bank to but these shoes!
91. Face the music
Meaning: Confront the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions.
Example: We have done it and now it’s time to face the music!
92. It is always darkest before the dawn
Meaning: Things will get better
Example: I know you have gone through the worst, but remember it is always darkest before the dawn.
93. Jump the gun
Meaning: To act on something promptly before the right time
Example: I think I jumped the gun by sending the e-mail before they tell the time.
94. Wear your heart on your sleeve
Meaning: Expressing yourself too openly
Example: She wears her heart on her sleeve and often gets hurt.
95. Cut no ice
Meaning: Fail to make an impact
Example: Your poetry cuts no ice with me.
96. Light at the end of tunnel
Meaning: Seeing signs of improvement in the future
Example: I see the light at the end of the tunnel for my relationship with her.
97. Through thick and thin
Meaning: Through good and bad times
Example: Books and music stay by your side through thick and thin.
98. Cry for the moon
Meaning: To ask for something that is rather difficult
Example: You are crying for the moon for this concert’s tickets!
99. Read between the lines
Meaning: Understanding the real message behind something
Example: If you try to read between the lines, her song is actually about me.
100. Pour out one’s heart
Meaning: To express openly
Example: I can’t pour my heart out to you if you are too distracted by everything around yourself.
20 Idioms with their Meanings and Sentences
Here are the most common 20 idioms with their meanings and sentences:
- A left-handed compliment: Saying something insulting in the form of appreciative words.
Her words on my blog seem like a left-handed compliment.
- Once in a blue moon: Not very often
I visit her place once in a blue moon.
- Call a spade a spade: Talking frankly
I will not lie about it and call a spade a spade.
- Flesh and blood: Referring to someone in family or human nature
It’s flesh and blood to feel such strong emotions at this time.
- Jam on the brakes: Press brakes of a vehicle suddenly
I had to jam on the brakes when I saw the deer.
- Notch up: To win or create a record
One Direction notched up the finale with their amazing voice!
- A slap on the wrist: Just a small punishment
You will get a slap on the wrist for painting this wall but don’t dare to do it again.
- Knee Jerk Reaction: A quick response
The statement was just a knee jerk reaction.
- Once bitten, twice shy: Afraid of doing something again
Once bitten twice shy, he can’t ski.
- Forty winks: A short nap
I will be just in for forty winks, I promise.
- Up for grabs: Available for everyone
This pizza slice is up for grabs!
- Old as the hills: Someone very old
The man looks as old as the hills.
- Back to square one: Start all over again
Your mistake brought us back to square one.
- Round the bend: Crazy
My neighbour is round the bend, don’t try to mess with her.
- Against the clock: Rushed
I have to hurry for the meeting, I am against the clock.
- Black and blue: Something bruised
What happened? Your eyes look black and blue.
- Have the blues: Sad
After meeting her, I am feeling the blues.
- Be glad to see the back of: Happy when someone leaves
Tomorrow, I will be glad to see the back of her.
- Black out: Faint
I blacked out after two drinks.
- Get in Shape: To become strong or fit
I need to make a proper schedule to get in shape before the graduation ceremony.
30 More Idioms with Examples for Students
- Shoot from the hip
To speak bluntly or rashly without thinking carefully
- Shoot oneself in the foot
To harm one’s own cause inadvertently
- In cold blood
If you do something violent and cruel in cold blood, you do it deliberately and in an unemotional way.
- Draw first blood
If you draw first blood, you cause the first damage to an opponent in a conflict or contest.
- Ace up one’s sleeve
A secret or hidden advantage that you can use when you need it
- Play your cards right
To behave or work in a way that gives you an advantage or improves your odds of success.
- Egg on your face
If you’ve egg on your face, you look stupid and face embarrassment because of something you’ve done.
- Kill the goose that lays the golden eggs
To destroy something that gives you lot of money to get immediate returns
- An arm and a leg
If something costs an arm and a leg, it costs a lot.
- Behind one’s back
If you do something behind someone’s back, you do it secretly without their knowledge (used in negative way).
- Stab someone in the back
Harm someone who trusts you.
- Take a back seat
If you take a back seat, you choose not to be in a position of responsibility or power.
- Back to the drawing board
If you go back to the drawing board, you make a fresh start or try another idea because the earlier one didn’t succeed.
- Right off the bat
If you do something right off the bat, you do it immediately.
- Heart misses (skips) a beat
If your heart misses a beat, you feel excited or nervous.
- Have your heart in your mouth
If you’ve your heart in mouth, you’re feeling extremely nervous.
- Not the only fish in the sea
Not the only suitable thing or person one can find
- Not your cup of tea
If you say that someone or something is not your cup of tea, you mean that they’re not the kind of person or thing you like.
- A piece of cake
If something is a piece of cake, it’s easy to do.
- Call it a day
If you call it a day, you stop what you’re doing because you’re tired of it or you’ve not been successful.
- The pot calling the kettle black
Accusing someone of faults that you yourself have
- Call a spade a spade
To speak truth even if it’s unpleasant
- . A bolt from the blue
A sudden, unexpected event
- In the same boat
If two or more persons are in the same boat, they’re in the same difficult situation.
- Miss the boat/ bus
To miss an opportunity
- Over my dead body
If you say something will happen your dead body, you mean you dislike it and will do everything you can to prevent it.
- Make one’s blood boil
To make someone extremely angry
- . Bounce something off someone
If you bounce something off someone, you discuss ideas or plan with someone to get their view on it.
- Bell the cat
To undertake a risky or dangerous task.
- Like a cat on hot tin roof
In an uneasy or nervous state
IELTS Speaking – 7 Idioms for a Band 9 Score