438 Idioms Every English Learner Should Know

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Idioms are a common way for native English speakers to convey ideas, but because these phrases are not meant to be taken literally, English learners might find mastering them to be like pulling teeth (difficult and unpleasant)! To help you in your English learning journey, we've compiled a list of the 438 most common idioms for use in everyday English writing and conversation. Start practicing today!

We offer flashcards to help you master these challenging idioms and more in our package 1,574 Flashcards All English Learners Need to Have, perfect for English learners to use at home or for ESL teachers in the classroom. We also offer English tutoring to further support English learners worldwide.

a baker's dozen
a basket case
a crazy person
a blessing in disguise
a good thing that first appears as a bad thing
a breath of fresh air
something new that adds life and energy to a situation
a change of heart
when you change your mind about something
a gray area
a vague or unclear area
a gut feeling
an intuitive feeling
a long haul
the option that takes the most time
a piece of cake
something very easy
a rip-off
something very over-priced
a rising tide lifts all boats
when an economy is performing well, all the people involved benefit from it
a rule of thumb
a personal principle
a stone's throw
very near
a storm is brewing
there will be trouble or emotional upset in the near future
add fuel to the fire
inflame or worsen a bad situation
add insult to injury
make an insulting situation even worse
against the grain
contrary to what is expected or preferred
all fired up
highly enthusiastic
an eye-opener
something that makes you see or think about something differently from then on
at the top of your lungs
in an extremely loud voice
at your fingertips
directly accessible
a ballpark figure
a rough estimate within acceptable bounds
bang for your buck
best return on investment
barking up the wrong tree
doing something that won't give you the results you want
be a catch
be someone worth marrying/having
a pain (in the neck)
something annoying/irritating
child's play
something so easy a child could do it
chuffed to bits
pleased and happy
in hot water
in trouble
in somebody's good books
thought of as someone's friend or ally
in the red
losing money
to be on somebody's back
to persistently urge somebody to do (or not to do) something
on the ball
thinking well and reacting quickly
on the same wavelength
thinking in a similar way to someone
only a matter of time
inevitable (this means something will happen sooner or later)
be that as it may
an expression that means "even though that is true" / "even so"
tickled pink
excited and happy
up in arms
very angry
beat a dead horse
continue or persist talking about a topic or issue beyond normal interest
beat around the bush
spend a long time getting to the main point of what you're saying, especially because it's embarrassing
beats me
I don't know
bend over backwards
make a great effort
between a rock and a hard place
in difficulty, faced with a choice between two unsatisfactory options
birds of a feather (flock together)
similar people tend to spend time with each other
bite off more than you can chew
take on something that is too much for you to handle
bite your tongue
refrain from saying something because you don't think it would be a good idea
blown away
extremely impressed by something
blow smoke
exaggerate or say things that aren't true to make you seem better or more knowledgeable than you are
blow something out of proportion
make something seem much more significant than it really is
break the ice
attempt to become friends with someone
breathe down somebody's neck
watch somebody very closely (often in an annoying way)
bring something to light
make something previously unknown become known
burn your bridges
ruin a relationship, resulting in you being unable to return somewhere
bury the hatchet
stop fighting and become friendly (a hatchet is a small axe)
bury your head in the sand
(try to) avoid a particular situation by pretending that it doesn't exist
buy it
believe something
by the skin of your teeth
when you nearly fail, and you only just succeed
call it a day
an expression said near the end of a day that means "That's enough for today. Let's end and go home"
call it a night
go to bed and sleep
call it even
declare debts paid
call it quits
quit or stop an activity
call somebody's bluff
make somebody prove that what he or she is saying is true
call the shots
make the decisions
calm before the storm
an unusually quiet period before a period of upheaval (problems, chaos)
can of worms
a difficult problem that produces additional problems
unable to see the forest for the trees
unable to see the whole situation clearly because you're looking too closely at small details
castle in the sky
a daydream, a hope, especially for your life, that's unlikely to come true
catch on
catch somebody's eye
grab somebody's attention and make him or her look at something
catch wind of something
learn about some news
change your mind
decide differently or have a different opinion than before
chasing rainbows
trying to do something that can't be achieved
clear as mud
not easy to understand
climb the corporate ladder
advance in a company by being promoted
close, but no cigar
a narrowly missed attempt or guess
go cold turkey
stop an addiction all at once, not gradually
come out swinging
be confrontational and strongly defend yourself at the beginning of a debate
costs an arm and a leg
is very expensive
you couldn't care less
you have a total lack of interest in something
cross that bridge when you come to it
not deal with a situation until you are actually in the situation
cross your fingers
hope for a good outcome (Westerners cross their fingers for good luck)
crunch time
the period of time just before a project has to be completed and everyone has to work hard
cry wolf
call for help when you don't need it
cut somebody some slack
be flexible or lenient with somebody
cut to the chase
get to the main point
the daily grind
the monotonous tasks of everyday work
a dead end
a path or situation that leads nowhere or offers no prospects
dig in your heels
refuse to compromise or change your mind
do the trick
cause the desired results
don't judge a book by its cover
don't make a decision based on a brief impression or outward appearance
down and out
without money and without prospects
down the drain
wasted, lost
down to earth
practical and sensible
drag your feet
deliberately hold back or delay
draw a blank
be unable to remember anything
drop out
quit school or withdraw from competition
easy as pie
very easily completed or accomplished
easy come, easy go
easily won and easily lost
easy on the eyes
eat like a bird
eat very little
elbow grease
hard work or physical effort
every cloud has a silver lining
there's a good aspect to every bad situation
face the music
take responsibility for what you have done
fall on deaf ears
be ignored or disregarded
fall through the cracks
be missed or overlooked
fed up
feel free
be uninhibited about doing something
feel like doing something
want to do something
few and far between
scarce, infrequent
experienced personally
fit the bill
be suitable
flunk out
be kicked out of school for not meeting academic standards
follow in somebody's footsteps
follow someone else's path
foot the bill
pay the bill for something
for good
for kicks
for pleasure or excitement
for the birds
for the time being
just for the present moment
freak out
become very angry, scared, or excited
from scratch
from nothing (without any prepared materials)
full of it
lying, exaggerating, or boasting
gain ground
progress or advance
get a grip
control your emotions
get a handle on
obtain a basic level of understanding or control
get a kick out of something
get enjoyment from something
get a move on
start going
get a word in edgewise
contribute to a conversation with people who are very talkative
get carried away
do something to excess
get cold feet
become nervous/frightened right before something you have planned to do
get cracking
get started immediately
get even
get revenge
get hitched
get married
get into deep water
be in trouble
get into gear
start moving at a faster speed
get it out of your system
do something you've wanted to do for a long time and don't want to postpone any longer
get on someone's nerves
annoy or irritate someone
get on someone's case
criticize, find fault, or lecture someone
get your act together
become serious, organized
get your feet wet
gain new experience
wake up on the wrong side of the bed
wake up in a bad mood
get out of hand
get out of control
get sacked
be fired
get something off your chest
say something serious or difficult that you have been thinking about for a while
get something straight
understand something correctly
get the ball rolling
take the first step to begin a process
get the hang of
learn how to do or use something
get the picture
understand what is being illustrated or explained
get the point
understand the general or main idea
get to the bottom of
find the underlying cause of a situation
get your act together
start behaving properly
get your foot in the door
complete the first step toward achieving an opportunity
get your head around something
understand something
give a hand
give it a go
try or attempt it
give it a shot
try it
give it your all
try your hardest
give somebody a piece of your mind
speak angrily to somebody about something bad he or she has done
give somebody free rein
give somebody full control of something
give somebody the benefit of the doubt
choose to believe something good about somebody instead of believing something bad (when you have the choice to believe either)
give someone the cold shoulder
ignore, snub, or reject someone
go all out
use all of your energy or resources to do something
go down in flames
end or fail suddenly and spectacularly
go downhill
become worse
go on about something
speak for too long about something uninteresting
go the extra mile
make a special effort
go up in smoke
be wasted
go with the flow
relax and go along with whatever is happening
hand it to someone
give someone credit or praise
hands down
without a doubt
hang in there
wait and be patient
happy camper
a person who is content or satisfied
have a blast
enjoy yourself thoroughly
have a bone to pick
have a grievance or complaint
have a chip on your shoulder
have anger about something that happened in the past
have a cow
get visibly upset
have a screw loose
be mentally unstable
have a shot at
have a chance
have a word with
talk, speak, or discuss with
you have had it up to here
you cannot handle any more of something that is aggravating you
have it in for somebody
be very angry at somebody
have second thoughts
have doubts
have the blues
feel depressed or sad
have your heart set on something
be firmly resolved to do something
have your work cut out
have a lot of work to do in little time
hear (something) through the grapevine
learn through rumor
tough and powerful
hit a snag
encounter an unexpected problem or obstacle
hit it off
immediately have a good relationship with someone
hit rock bottom
be in the lowest, unhappiest situation of your life
hit the books
study intensely
hit the hay
go to bed
hit the nail on the head
be precisely right or accurate
hit the roof
explode in anger
hit the sack
go to bed
hold your horses
slow down and wait
be all ears
be listening intently
if need be
if necessary
in a bind
stuck in a difficult situation
in charge
in a position of responsibility, leading or overseeing
in cold blood
in a ruthless and unfeeling manner
in hand
under control
in less than no time
in the bag
certain to be secured/obtained
in the doghouse
in trouble (usually a man in trouble with his wife)
in the middle of nowhere
in a place far away from anywhere known to you
in the nick of time
at the last possible moment
in the same boat
in a similar situation or predicament
jog somebody's memory
make somebody remember something
jump on the bandwagon
do what most other people are doing
jump the gun
do something too soon
just about
just my luck!
when something bad happens to you, you say this to imply that bad things often happen to you, and thus your luck is bad luck
just what the doctor ordered
what you need
keep a lid on something
keep something secret
keep an eye on
closely monitor
keep it down
be quiet
keep on
keep your nose to the grindstone
work hard or focus heavily on work
keep somebody in the dark
not tell somebody what's happening
keep track
monitor the time
kick around
treat badly
kick back
kick the bucket
kid around
engage in playful joking or teasing
knock it off
stop it
know something by heart
memorize something
know something like the back of your hand
be very familiar with something
know your stuff
know something well
learn the ropes
learn about something so you are comfortable with it
leave a bad taste in your mouth
create a bad feeling about something
to leave a lot to be desired
to be unsatisfactory
leave no stone unturned
do everything you can to achieve your goal
left, right, and center
let off steam
release anger and frustration
let somebody off the hook
let someone go free instead of holding him or her responsible for something bad
let the cat out of the bag
tell a secret so other people find out too early
let the chips fall where they may
let something happen, no matter what happens next
let the dust settle
allow a situation to become calm or normal again after something exciting or unusual has happened
let your freak flag fly
let others see your uniqueness
lie through your teeth
make outrageous false statements
like shooting fish in a barrel
extremely easy
like taking candy from a baby
very easy to achieve
long face
loose ends
unfinished business
lose your head
lose self-control
lose your marbles
become crazy
lose your mind
become crazy or insane
lost at sea
confused or unsure about something
make a difference
make a living
earn enough income to support yourself
make a mountain out of a molehill
exaggerate the severity of a situation
make believe
make do
survive/get by with what you have at that moment
make ends meet
have just enough money to cover expenses
make off with
make up your mind
make a decision
make waves
cause trouble
make your day
used to say that something has made your day special (and great)
makes sense
seems reasonable/right
many moons ago
a long time ago
means business
is serious
mind your own business
concern yourself with only your own interests and not interfere in the affairs of others
miss the boat
miss the opportunity to do something
miss the point
fail to grasp the most important part of something
mixed up
money doesn't grow on trees
money is not easily obtained
monkey around
behave in a silly or playful way
nail it down
finalize it
never mind
don't worry about it
nip something in the bud
stop a bad situation from becoming worse by taking action at an early stage of its development
no hard feelings
don't worry
no spring chicken
somebody who is not particularly young
no sweat
it's easy to do
no way!
similar to "That can't be possible!" or "I don't believe you!"
an easy decision
not a chance
absolutely not
not have a clue
have no idea or absolutely no knowledge (about something)
not have the foggiest idea
not know something at all
nothing to sneeze at
something worthwhile
nothing to write home about
ordinary and unexceptional
odds and ends
miscellaneous things
of age
old enough
off your rocker
off the beaten track
away from the area most people visit/go
off the cuff
without preparation
off the hook
out of trouble
off the mark
inaccurate, wrong
off the top of your head
without great thought, investigation, or preparation
on a roll
on a streak of continuous progress or success
on edge
anxious, tense, nervous, or irritable
on your toes
alert, prepared, ready, or attentive
on the back burner
set as a lower priority
on the blink
broken or inoperative (often said of electronic or mechanical devices)
on the button
exactly, precisely
on the dot
on the level
honest, sincere, and straightforward
on the line
at risk
on the tip of your tongue
when you are almost able to remember something, but you can't
once in a blue moon
your bark is worse than your bite
you seem more aggressive and mean than you really are
your lips are sealed
you will keep a secret
out of line
not in accordance with how somebody is supposed to behave
out of order
does not work
out of sight, out of mind
if you do not see someone regularly, you will stop thinking about him or her
out of the blue
without previous warning
out of the woods
the hardest part of something is over
paint the town red
go on a partying spree
pass the buck
pass blame to somebody else
pay the price for something
suffer as a consequence of doing something
pay through the nose
pay an excessive amount of money
pick somebody's brain
ask someone many questions so you can learn from him or her
play devil's advocate
argue against somebody just so you can hear his or her reasoning
play it by ear
not make a plan but instead decide what to do as you do it
play your cards right
make the appropriate moves/choices
point the finger
assign blame
pound the pavement
walk the streets looking for a job
pour oil on troubled waters
try to make people feel better and become friendly again after an argument
pull a rabbit out of a hat
do something unexpected
pull somebody's leg
tease, deceive, or fool someone
pull teeth
do something very difficult or unpleasant
pull your weight
do your share of the work
pull yourself together
calm down and behave normally
push your luck
expect continued good fortune
put a sock in it
stop talking
put all your eggs in one basket
put all of something you have in the same area (generally viewed as a bad thing to do)
put your foot down
insist, demand, or refuse
put your mind to it
channel your effort toward a particular goal
put something on hold
postpone something
rain cats and dogs
rain very heavily
rain or shine
no matter what happens
raise (a few) eyebrows
make people slightly shocked or surprised
raise a stink
complain loudly
raise the bar
raise standards or expectations
read between the lines
find the hidden meaning in something that is written or said
red tape
rules and regulations that prevent you from achieving something easily
right on the money
exactly right
it rings a bell
it's familiar to you, but you can't remember where you heard it
rock the boat
go against the status quo
rub the wrong way
irritate or annoy
running on fumes
staying awake when feeling exhausted
safe and sound
sail close to the wind
act just within the limits of what's legal or socially acceptable
salt of the earth
honest and good
scared to death
extremely frightened
scope out
scratch the surface
barely begin
see eye to eye
have the same views on something
see red
become very angry
be able to sell ice to Eskimos
be able to sell anything to anyone
sell like hot cakes
sell fast
set the record straight
clarify what is true/factual about a story or thing
set your heart on something
be firmly resolved to do something
shake a leg
shape up or ship out
either start performing better or leave
shoot from the hip
speak directly
shoot the breeze
talk or converse idly
shrug off
minimize the importance of something
sit on the fence
stay neutral and not take sides
sit tight
wait patiently
sitting pretty
in a good financial situation
skeleton crew
the minimum number of people needed to keep a service/office operating
a slip of the tongue
a mistake in speaking
something slips your mind
you forget or overlook something
small talk
discussion about light topics such as the weather
sold you out
told on you or let your secret out
sour grapes
something said out of jealousy
speak your mind
say what you honestly feel
spill the beans
reveal a secret
stand your ground
firmly maintain your opinion or position
step up your game
start performing better
stuck in a rut
stuck in a situation in which you cannot make any progress
take a back seat
let someone else take charge
take a breather
take a short break
take a chance
risk something
take a crack at
attempt or try
take a spill
fall or trip or experience a sudden drop
take something for granted
assume too confidently that you'll have something in the future or forever
take the heat
endure the consequences, blame, anger, or scrutiny
take the plunge
begin an important/difficult task that you've been thinking about for a long time (note: to plunge is to dive into something)
take what someone says with a pinch of salt
regard something as exaggerated, or only believe a part of something
talk shop
talk about work-related things
a tall tale
a greatly exaggerated story
tar someone with the same brush
believe that someone has the same bad qualities as others in a group
the ball is in your court
you now have control of the situation
the be all and end all
something so good that it will end the search for something better
the bottom line
the final result
the fine print
the information typed in a smaller font, usually on a contract
the icing on the cake
an additional thing that makes something good become great
know the ins and outs
know all aspects of something
the last straw
the final thing that causes something to collapse or somebody to lose his or her temper/get angry
the pits
a miserable or unpleasant situation
the tip of the iceberg
just a small part of something much bigger
the whole shebang
the entire thing
the word spread
the news spread ("the word" = some news)
there's nothing to it
it's very easy
think twice
consider something carefully before proceeding
through the roof
suddenly and excessively high
throw a fit
begin acting like an angry child
tie the knot
get married
time flies
time passes quickly
to each his own
everyone is entitled to personal preferences
hold out an olive branch
offer to make peace (with a rival or enemy)
keep something at bay
keep a threat from coming too near
unable to say anything
twist somebody's arm
make a great effort to convince somebody to do something for you
under your breath
softly spoken
under the gun
under pressure to perform or meet a deadline
under the sun
in existence
under the weather
not feeling well
until you are blue in the face
for a hopelessly long time
up for grabs
available for anyone
up in the air
up to something
scheming or devising
up to speed
having all the current information
new and becoming successful
ups and downs
good times and bad times
wake up and smell the coffee
face reality
walking on air
very excited or happy
watch like a hawk
observe very closely
water down
make weaker
weather a storm
survive a dangerous event or effectively deal with a difficult situation
well off
wet behind the ears
when all is said and done
in the end
when it rains, it pours
many big things or bad things happen all at once
when pigs fly
never (pigs will never fly, so this means something will never happen)
when push comes to shove
if/when the situation becomes difficult
whet your appetite
make you want more
with flying colors
exceptionally well
wolf in sheep's clothing
a person who appears innocent but really isn't
work your butt off
work very hard
you would not be caught dead
you would never do something
you can say that again!
you definitely agree with what has just been said
you name it
whatever you want
you rock
you are great
you sold me (on something)
you convinced me of something because you were persuasive
zero in on something
focus on something

Was learning these idioms a piece of cake (very easy)? If you haven't mastered all 438 yet, keep practicing at home or in the classroom with our package 1,574 Flashcards All English Learners Need to Have. And remember, if you want to practice your English one on one with an experienced tutor, we offer English tutoring just for learners like you.

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