Common Idioms in English

“Idioms are beautiful but illegitimate children of a language”

Idioms are the fixed expressions peculiar to a language. These contain groups of words with fixed order and a different meaning from the meaning of the words they are comprised of. These are the patterns woven into the texture of a language. The idioms do not have literal meaning but their meaning is figurative. They beautify writing and adorn expression.They are called the ornaments of the language. English language through centuries of evolution has assimilated idioms and phrases from almost every language of the world. With the passage of time, however, new meanings and significance have been acquired by idioms and phrases. While learning idioms, students should use them in their speech as well as in their writing. Given below is a list of popular idioms and phrases which are in common and current usage, illustrated through simple, forceful sentences which shall serve as models for students when they choose to make parallel sentences in order to assimilate them in the system of their linguistic knowledge.

Idioms in Human Language

There is a set of idioms and sentences in each language that is specific to this particular language. If these phrases are properly used, they enable language speakers to express their ideas more effectively than one can do with prose. They put the stuff in a nutshell. As with proverbs, the origins of idioms can be difficult to trace. They may have their origin in the social, political and cultural ethos. They may come from the history of the country in which language is spoken, flora and fauna, geographic features, religion and community social practices, events, personalities, famous utterances, literacy, myths and legends, and folklore. Sometimes foreign languages contribute to the language in which they come into contact with their own idiomatic expressions. These foreign languages are eventually adopted and become part of the host language. The idioms are not just the ornaments of a language. They add a touch of cultured elegance to the language. For example, no less than 25,000 language entries were anticipated in the standard Russian phraseological dictionary under preparation. For this reason, idioms become essential expressions, giving “a significant individual and national colourization” to every language( Fernando, 1983: 3).

The Role of Idioms in English

What happens in nearly all languages is also true for English, which draws elements from numerous sources freely. This explains the abundance of the English vocabulary and its great power to express subtle differences of meaning. The language is rich in language expressions that are peculiar to certain words, phrases, or expressions. These expressions have become part of the language habits of native English speakers through constant use over a period of time, and now remain an important element of the language.

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The Study of Idioms

The study of languages is an enriching experience not only from the linguistic point of view but from the point of view of human interests. Idioms have to be mainly treated as reflectors for a wide range of human activity as the term of revelations of the human heart. For idioms, historical and psychological indices are actually exciting. “They become truly significant when they are regarded as a means of investigating the tradition and character of a people. Anatole France wrote once, “is the universe in alphabetical order,” and idiomatic usage is that part of a dictionary which reveals the hopes, desires and ambitions of countless unknown men and women down the ages, “in which their fears, eccentricities and advice are immortalised.” These strong expressions perpetuated throughout the centuries in their language provide us with invaluable insights into the history of the human being. Each language has to be seen as a microcosm of the whole way of life of a nation, “the spirit and life” of a language and of a nation.


1. Apple of one’s eye = One’s dearest one: Haider being my only child in my family, is an apple of our eye.


An apple of one’s eye

2. Apple of discord= cause of quarrel: He became an apple of discord between them.
3. All and sandy= Everyone without any difference: The cultural show was open for all and sundry.
4. At daggers drawn= to be enemy or on bad terms: The two families are at daggers drawn over the issue of some land.

Common Idioms

5. At an arm’s length= To keep someone away or at a distance: Always keep the bad people at an arm’s length.
6. At one’s beck and call= at one’s command: The US keeps many countries at her beck and call.
7. At the outset= in the beginning: The successful people met with many challenges at the very outset.
8. All agog= happy and excited: We are all agog that our team won the match.
9. An Axe to grind =Selfish purpose: I think you have an axe to grind in this matter.
10. At a stone’s throw= Very near: Her house is located at a stone’s throw from mine.
11. To add fuel to fire= to excite or encourage further: He added fuel to fire instead of bringing a solution to the problem.
12. On the air= wireless broadcasting: The news bulletin will be on the air at 8 p.m.
13. At one’s fingers tip= to be expert or talented in With all the important knowledge at my fingers tip, I am confident of success.
14. To bear the brunt of= To bear the shock: The areas near the border have to bear the brunt of the enemy.
15. A burning question= an important issue: The burning question before the government is how to establish peace.

16. A feather in one’s cap= an achievement to be proud of: Her selection in MBBS has added on more feather in her cap.
17. To foot the bill= to pay the bill: Let us go to the hotel and foot the bill.
18. From hand to mouth= a miserable and hard existence: The teachers live from hand to mouth in India.
19. To go to the wall= to be ruined: In the struggle for existence,the weak always go to the wall.
20. To bring to the book= To punish, to scold: The man was brought to book for his misbehaviour with a girl.
21. At a low ebb= in the state of decline: The popularity of the party is at ebb these days.
22. To bury the hatchet= end enmity, be friends: They soon buried the hatchet and came to good terms.

23. To burn midnight oil= to study very hard: Success in exams smiles at those who burn the midnight oil.
24. A bed of roses= full of happiness and ease: Life is not a bed of roses but a hard struggle.

Common Idioms in English

25. To build castles in the air=to only dream things: You should not build castles in the air instead you should do something practical.
26. To beat about the bush= not to touch the point: Please do not beat about the bush, say clearly what you have to say.
27. To cut a sorry figure= To create a poor impression: The leader cut a sorry figure in his first speech.
28. To curtain lecture= A lecture given by a wife to her husband in bed: An irregular husband has often to listen to a curtain lecture.
29. To carry the day=to win: Our team played well and carried the day.
30. To curry favour = to win favour: He is trying to curry favour with his boss by praising him.

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31. A cat and dog life= a life with frequent quarrels: A cat and dog life spoils the happiness of a home.
32. To chew the cud= reflect, recall: It not useless to chew the cud of past events.
33.A turncoat= one who changes sides in political affiliations: The modern politicians are turncoats, they are not trusted.
34. To cool one’s heel= to wait for somebody patiently: You should have to cool your heels before you can see him.


Idioms in English

35. To call spade a spade= to speak in plain terms: He is not coward, he calls a spade a spade.
36. To clip one’s wings= to make a person weak: The government is clipping the wings of minorities for political gains.
37. To come off with flying colours= to succeed with honour: My sister came off with flying colours in the exam.

Common Idioms in English

Popular Idioms in English

38. To cry over spilt milk=to feel sorry for some loss that can not be repaired: It is of no use crying over the spilt milk.
39. A close-fisted man= a miser: He can not help you, he is a close-fisted man.
40. Dance to one’s tune= to carry out orders: The modern girls refuse to dance to their husband’s tune.
41. Damocle’s sword= an impending story: The fear of third World War hangs like the Damocle’s sword over our heads.
42. To eat the humble pie= to suffer humiliation: Those who quarrel have to eat the humble pie at last.
43. To eat one’s word= to back out: A true friend never eats his word.
44. A fool’s paradise= a state of joy based on false hopes: She is living in fool’s paradise if does thinks to get high marks without hard work.
45. To flog a dead horse= to waste time and energy: To ask a miser for help is like to flog a dead horse.
46. To fight shy of= to try to avoid: The brave never fight shy of difficulties.
47. To fan the flames= to increase anger or excitement: Her silly remarks fanned the flames of his anger.


48. To the finger nail= Completely: He is a rascal to the fingernail.
49. To follow suit: to follow the example of: Some workers left him, some followed suit.
50. Fit as a fiddle= in good condition: He is ninety but still, he is fit as a fiddle.

NOTE: More idioms will be added soon. If you know some commonly used beautiful idioms, you can also share with us. Sharing is caring!

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