In every language including English, there are many wise sayings. We use the wise sayings time and again to refer to a certain situation or to offer advice about how to lead a life and sometimes to convey some principles, values, and underlying ideas. These sayings are passed on from generation to generation and depict the values of a certain culture or society. These sayings are called idioms.

However, when these sayings are used for comparison purposes, then they are called proverbs. The sentences are usually incomplete sentences and have a figurative meaning that often works with pictures.

Idioms Definition

It is a group of common words or phrases that have an underlying meaning which is different from the meanings that the composite words suggest. For example “kick the bucket” in the literal sense means to kick a bucket but the underlying meaning of the idiom is “to die.” A native speaker would understand both meanings. However, an idiom is different from other figures of speech such as metaphor, simile, hyperbole or even a proverb.

Metaphor- creates an image by applying implicit comparisons such as “the man of steel.”

Simile- Creates an image by applying explicit comparisons such as “faster than a speeding bullet.”

Hyperbole- It exaggerates an image beyond the actual truth such as “missed by a mile.”

Idioms should also not be confused with proverbs. An idiom is a collection of words or phrases together that convey a different meaning from the dictionary definition of individual words whereas proverbs are simple sayings that convey a truth based on practical experiences or common sense.

In other terms, idioms are called as a form of speech or expression of any language that is grammatically correct as that particular phrase or words together, but the individual meanings of the words cannot be understood. There are numerous numbers of idioms originated from different cultures that are at present used in English references and most of these idioms are used in an informal setting.

List of Common Idioms and their meanings

A hot potato

Most talked about the current disputed issue. Discussing an issue (usually current) which many people are discussing and which is most often disputed.

A penny for your thoughts

A manner of asking what the other person is thinking. 

Actions speak louder than words

A person’s intention can be understood by what they do instead of what they are saying. 

Add insult to injury

To promote a loss further by mockery or indignity. To intensify and further worsen an unfavourable situation.

At the drop of a hat

Instantly; immediately; without any type of hesitation.

Back to the drawing board

When someone starts all over again after several failed attempts.

Ball is in your court

The decision or the next step is left on the other person.

Barking up the wrong tree

Searching in the wrong place or accusing the wrong individual.

Be glad to see the back of

Happy when a particular person leaves.

Beat around the bush

Avoiding the primary topic. Not talking about the actual issue.

Best of both worlds

Having all the advantages of receiving the best of everything.

Best thing since sliced bread

A very good plan, idea. A unique and good innovation/invention.

Bite off more than you can chew

Take on more tasks than one can handle.

Blessing in disguise

A good thing which is not realized at the moment but later recognized.

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Burn the midnight oil

Work very hard, work till late at night, it also refers or suggest to the time before electric lighting.

Can’t judge a book by its cover

Cannot judge something or someone mainly on the basis of appearance.

Caught between two stools

When a person has difficulty in choosing between two things or two alternatives.

Costs an arm and a leg

Very costly, very expensive. 

Cross that bridge when you come to it

Tackle a problem when it becomes absolutely necessary but not before.

Cry over spilt milk

Complain about something that has happened in the past.

Curiosity killed the cat

Being too curious or inquisitive can lead a person to an unpleasant or bad situation.

Cut corners

When a certain thing is done badly to save money.

Cut the mustard [ may be derived from “cut the muster”]

To live up to the expectation, to meet the expectations, to perform well, adequate enough to participate or compete in something, to succeed.

Devil’s Advocate

To give counterarguments in a particular situation.

Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched

Don’t plan for something from before because it may not happen.

Don’t give up the day job

When a person is not very good at something or a person is suggesting another to do a work more professionally.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Don’t reveal all your resources, don’t use all resources in one possibility.

Drastic times call for drastic measures

In an emergency or critical situation, one should take drastic actions.

Elvis has left the building

Something is over. The show has come to an end.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Suggest a person to be optimistic in difficult times because difficult times can also lead to better days.

Far cry from

Very different  from something

Feel a bit under the weather

Slightly ill or sick, not feeling well.

Give the benefit of the doubt

Try to trust someone without any proof, or having some faith on someone.

Hear it on the grapevine

Hearing rumours about something or someone.

Hit the nail on the head

Answering something accurately, exactly, correctly.

Hit the sack/sheets/hay

To go to bed 

In the heat of the moment

Being overwhelmed in a particular situation and reacting accordingly.

It takes two to tango

Actions or communications require more than one person

Jump on the bandwagon

Join a popular activity, trend, etc.

Keep something at bay

Keep something far and away.

Kill two birds with one stone

To finish two different works at the same time. Accomplishing different goals by a single move.

Last straw

The final step in a series of problems.

Let sleeping dogs lie

Do not irritate or disturb a difficult situation as it can result in problems and complications.

Let the cat out of the bag

To reveal a hidden information.

Make a long story short

Explaining something long in important or key points by leaving out the details.

Method to my madness

It is an assertion that even though an individual’s approach may seem random, there actually is a particular technique and structure to it.

Miss the boat

Missing a particular opportunity

Not a spark of decency

Lack of manners.

Not playing with a full deck

A person lacking intelligence.

On the ball

When a person understands the situation properly.

Once in a blue moon

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A picture paints a thousand words

A visual presentation is explained better than words.

Piece of cake

Easy job or task. Simple

Put wool over other people’s eyes

Deceive someone into thinking a certain thing.

See eye to eye

Two or more people agreeing to a particular opinion.

Sit on the fence

When a person does not want to select or make a decision.

Speak of the devil!

When the person in topic arrives when other people have just been talking about that person.

Steal someone’s thunder

To take someone’s credit.

Take with a grain of salt

This means not to take what someone says very seriously.

Taste of your own medicine

When something is done to a person or something happens to a person that is done by the same person to someone else.

To hear something straight from the horse’s mouth

To receive the information from an authoritative or actual source.

Whole nine yards

Everything. All of it.

Wouldn’t be caught dead

Would never prefer to do something

Your guess is as good as mine

To be unclear about a situation or to not know about an answer to a situation or a question.

More Idiom Examples with their meanings

“A bitter pill”

A situation or information that is unpleasant but must be accepted.

“ A dime a dozen”

Anything that is common, inexpensive, and easy to get or available anywhere.

“Ace in the hole”

A hidden or secret strength, or unrevealed advantage.

“Achilles’ heel”

A metaphor for a fatal weakness in spite of overall strength.

“All ears”

Listening intently; fully focused or awaiting an explanation.

“All thumbs”

Clumsy, awkward.

“Apple of discord”

Anything causing trouble, discord, or jealousy.

“Balls to the wall!”

Full throttle; at maximum speed.

“Basket case”

One made powerless or ineffective, as by nerves, panic, or stress.

“Beat a dead horse”

To uselessly dwell on a subject far beyond its point of resolution.

“Bed of roses”

Easy and comfortable.

“Bite the bullet”

To endure a painful or unpleasant situation that is unavoidable.

“Bite the dust”

Euphemism for dying or death.

“Break a leg”

A saying from the theatre that means “good luck”.

“Bust one’s chops”

To say things intended to harass.

“By the seat of one’s pants”

To achieve through instinct or do something without advance preparation.

“By the skin of one’s teeth”

Narrowly; barely. Usually used in regard to a narrow escape from a disaster.

“Call it a day”

To declare the end of a task.

Cat nap

A nap.

Chalk up or Chalk it up to

To attribute something to a particular cause.

“Champ at the bit” or “Chomp at the bit”

To show impatience or frustration when delayed.

“Cheap as chips”

Inexpensive or good value

“Chew the fat”

To chat idly or generally waste time talking.

“Chink in one’s armour”

An area of vulnerability

“Clam up”

To become silent; to stop talking.

“Cold shoulder”

To display aloofness and disdain.

“Couch potato”

A lazy person.

“Crocodile tears”

Fake tears or drama tears. (fake cry)

“Cut a rug”

To dance

“Cut the cheese”

To fart. Also, cut the mustard

“Don’t have a cow “

Don’t overreact.

“Drop a dime “

Make a telephone call; to be an informant.

“Elephant in the room”

An obvious, pressing issue left unaddressed due to its sensitive nature.

“Fit as a fiddle”

In good physical health.

“For a song”

Almost free. Very cheap.

“From A to Z”

Covering a complete range; comprehensively.

“From scratch / to make from scratch”

Make from original ingredients; start from the beginning with no prior preparation

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“He/She is a sandwich short of a picnic”

The person is lacking intelligence

“Get bent out of shape”

To take offense; to get worked up, aggravated, or annoyed

“Grasp the nettle”

To tackle a problem in a bold manner, despite the difficulty or complexity of doing so; sometimes refers to solving a problem despite short-term adverse consequences.

“grass is always greener on the other side”

A phrase implying that a person is never satisfied with their current situation; they think others have it better.

“Have a blast”

To have a good time or to enjoy oneself.

“Have eyes in the back of one’s head “

Someone can perceive things and events that are outside of their field of vision.

“Hit the road “

To leave.

“I bet”

When you understand why someone has a particular opinion or feels a particular way; “of course”, “indeed”. May also be used sarcastically.

“Ignorance is bliss “

Life is good when you’re naive to the hardships happening all around

“Jump ship “

Leave a job, organization, or activity suddenly.

“Look a gift horse in the mouth “

To find fault with something that has been received as a gift or favour

No horse in this race

No vested interest in the outcome of a particular contest or debate

“Off one’s trolley” or
“Off one’s rocker”

Crazy, demented, out of one’s mind, in a confused or befuddled state of mind, senile.

“Off the hook”

To escape a situation of responsibility, obligation, or (less frequently) danger.

“Piss in one’s cornflakes”

To annoy, upset, or disappoint through spiteful or irresponsible behaviour.

“Pop one’s clogs” (UK)

Euphemism for dying or death.

“Preaching to the choir”

To present a side of a discussion or argument to someone who already agrees with it; essentially, wasting your time.

“Pull somebody’s leg”

To tease or to joke by telling a lie.

“Pushing up daisies”

Euphemism for dying or death.

“Put the cat among the pigeons”

To create a disturbance and cause trouble.

“Raining cats and dogs”

Raining really strong or hard.

“Right as rain”

Needed, appropriate, essential, or hoped-for and has come to mean perfect, well, absolutely right.

“screw the pooch”

To screw up; to fail in dramatic and ignominious fashion.

“Shoot the breeze”

To chat idly or generally waste time talking.

“Shooting fish in a barrel”

Frivolously performing a simple task.

“Sleep with the fishes”

Euphemism for dying or death.

“Spin one’s wheels”

Expel much effort for little or no gain.

“Sunny smile”

Very happy.

“Take the biscuit” (UK)

To be particularly bad, objectionable, or egregious.

“Take the cake” (US)

To be especially good or outstanding.

“Throw under the bus”

To betray or sacrifice someone for selfish reasons.

“Through thick and thin”

In both good and bad times.

“Thumb one’s nose”

To express scorn or to disregard.

“Tie one on”

To get drunk.

“To steal someone’s thunder”

To take credit for something someone else did.

“Trip the light fantastic”

To dance

“under my thumb”

under my control

“Wild goose chase”

A frustrating or lengthy undertaking that accomplishes little.

“You bet”

Equivalent to saying “that’s for sure” or “of course”. May also be used sarcastically.

“X Marks the spot”

When someone finds something they have been looking for.

“He/She/They hold(s) the cards”

He/She/They controls the situation.

“You can say that again”

That is very true; expression of wholehearted agreement

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