What are the most common English idioms you have encountered so far? Have you learned a phrase in which the literal meaning of the sentence made absolutely no sense at all? Well, that’s because idioms should not be taken literally. In fact, understanding the context in which the idiom is used will help you understand the phrase or expression. This is why learning the most common English idioms is a key component to becoming a native English speaker.
Let’s take the following idiom as an example:
“My new sports car cost me an arm and a leg but I absolutely love it!”
Now, if we were to understand the sentence in its literal sense, we would come to the conclusion that I had to give up my body parts and in this instance, an arm and a leg from my body in order to purchase the brand new sports car. This paints a funny picture in our minds, doesn’t it? It is funny because it would never really happen!
The idiom “cost me an arm and a leg” is an expression to denote how expensive something is and in this case, how expensive the brand new sports car is. It’s an overly exaggerated expression but in context, it certainly helps to paint a picture in our mind of just how much money you were willing to pay for the brand new sports car, right?
There are so many online resources for the most common English idioms, like this one. When you speak with native English speakers, like our Cambly Tutors, see if you can spot the idioms they use. Practicing the idioms with the tutors is a great way to advance your English.
To get you started, here are the most commonly used English idioms and their meanings. Learning English idioms is important if you wish to converse, understand and speak as a native English speaker. Idioms are indicators of cultural and historical events and are actually greatly insightful if you take the time to study the origin of the idiom.
Pulling someone’s leg.
“Wait, we have a math test today? Are you pulling my leg?”
Meaning: You are making a joke or making something up.
“The football game was hands down my favourite experience!”
Meaning: Easily. Guaranteed victory. Without hesitation or question.
Pull yourself together.
“Mary, you must pull yourself together and present your speech.”
Meaning: To gain control of one’s emotions/actions. To behave normally or calmly.
So far, so good.
“There’s still a lot of preparation for the presentation but so far, so good.”
Meaning: To express satisfaction in a progress. Good progress without any present issues/problems.
Speak of the devil.
“Speak of the devil, look who just arrived to the party? It’s Dave and he’s brought pizza!”
Meaning: To be speaking about someone or something and have them or it suddenly appear in person.
Better late than never.
“We had almost finished our dinner by the time our friends joined us. It was better late than never as we all enjoyed dessert together.”
Meaning: It’s best to be tardy/late than to not show up at all.
A blessing in disguise.
“My flight was delayed for two days due to the snowstorm but it was a blessing in disguise because that’s how I met my girlfriend!”
Meaning: What may have seemed as bad or unlucky turns out to be positive or for the better.
Miss the boat
“My friend offered to drive me to Los Angeles this weekend but I think I missed the boat.”
Meaning: To miss a chance or opportunity.
Cross your fingers.
“Cross your fingers this surprise proposal goes off without a hitch.”
Meaning: A wish for good luck.
Have a change of heart.
“Unfortunately the trip has been cancelled because James had a change of heart.”
Meaning: Change of mind.
Bite the bullet.
“My car had stopped and there was no other option. I had to bite the bullet and walk to the nearest town to get gas, which was 25 miles away.
Meaning: To undergo a painful or uncomfortable situation even if you do not want to.
A penny for your thoughts.
“You’ve been awfully quiet this morning. A penny for your thoughts?”
Meaning: To ask someone what they are thinking.
The ball is in your court.
“The ball is in your court. Seasons tickets to the baseball game are almost sold out but there’s still time to get a pair.”
Meaning: The next decision or step is yours to make.
Best of both worlds.
“You get the best of both worlds with the location of this apartment. You’re in the city but you’ve got none of the traffic noise to bother you. Oh, and the view of the park from here is fantastic!”
Meaning: All of the advantages/positives. A win-win situation.
Best thing since sliced bread.
“Having heated car seats in the winter is the best thing since sliced bread.”
Meaning: A good idea/plan/invention. A development or innovation that is innovative or the best.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover. The story and characters seem interesting, so let’s give the movie a chance, okay?!”
Meaning: Don’t judge/presume something or someone based on their appearance(s).
“Unfortunately the construction company cut corners in the development phase and now the building has issues like a leaking roof.”
Meaning: To take shortcuts in order to save money, which leads to poor results.
Piece of cake.
“That chemistry exam was a piece of cake!”
Meaning: A job/task that is very easy to accomplish.
Take with a grain of salt.
“The manager is usually stressed out and in a poor mood so take his attitude with a grain of salt.”
Meaning: Don’t take what someone says or does too seriously.
Feeling under the weather.
“Our staff went out last night to celebrate the holidays and now I’m feeling under the weather.”
Meaning: Feeling ill, unwell or hung over from drinking too much alcohol.
Cat got your tongue?
“Hey Mark, cat got your tongue? You didn’t say a word to Anna.”
Meaning: A sudden inability to speak. At a loss for words. Being unusually quiet.
Go the extra mile.
“I’m going to go the extra mile for this client because they deserve all the help they can get right now.”
Meaning: To make a big effort.
I have butterflies in my stomach.
“Oh no, I suddenly have butterflies in my stomach. I’m not sure I can remember my speech.”
Meaning: To feel very nervous.
Go down in flames.
“I have a company review next week and I’m afraid my career might go down in flames.”
Meaning: To fail in a fantastic way.
Once in a blue moon.
“Once in a blue moon Tom will make an effort to cook dinner for me. He’s quite a good chef!”
Meaning: A rare event/moment/occurence.
A fish out of water.
“I didn’t know anyone at the party last night and felt like a fish out of water.”
Meaning: To be out of place/to be in unfamiliar territory.
Sleep on it.
“Hm, this car is great but slightly out of my budget. I will sleep on it and get back to you.”
Meaning: To think about something before making a decision.
Hit the books.
“Let’s hit the books hard this weekend.”
Meaning: To study.
Hit the sack.
“It’s getting late and I have work tomorrow. I’m going to hit the sack.”
Meaning: To sleep. To go to bed.
Twist my arm.
“I had to twist his arm a bit, but David finally agreed to watch the romantic comedy with me.”
Meaning: To convince someone to do something they initially didn’t want to.
Author: Grace Armani, Cambly Tutor
If you’d like to keep this conversation going with Grace, give her a call on Cambly or make a reservation with her here: https://www.cambly.com/en/student/tutor/Grace%20Armani