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English speakers often use idioms in their speech. Idioms are phrases with special meanings. These meanings are not always easy to guess from the literal meanings. In this section, you can find some of the most common idioms used in English.


Chapter 1 Idioms Exercises and questions

Answer these questions about idioms


Talking About Idioms (March 9th 2013) Check out our videos here.
It's a piece of cake.

get a word in edgeways

To find it impossible to take part in a conversation because
the other person is talking continously

Won't say boo to a goose

Can't say boo to a goose
To be so timid that one cannot even make the mildest protest,
however badly one is treated.

Carry the can

To carry the can means to take the blame for something,
even though others are also responsible.

This was probably a military expression orginally. It is thought to
refer to the man chosen to carry the beer container for a group of soldiers.

Caught Red Handed

To discover someone while they are doing something bad or illegal..

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
What do you mean?
If you put all your eggs in one basket, you are putting all your effort,
money or resources into one thing. The danger is that if that thing is unsuccessful, you risk losing everything.

Don't Rock the Boat

What do you mean?
1. If someone rocks the boat, they are disrupting a stable,
settled situation, usually by interfering, or by trying to do
things differently.
2. If someone tells you, not to rock the boat, they mean
that you shouldn't do anything that would upset or change the way things are.

Sit on the fence

To sit on the fence means to not give a definite opinion about
something, or not say which side you support in a conflict.

Idiom Egg on your face

If someone has or gets egg on their face they look stupid
because of something that they have done. To be humiliated.

Full of beans

To be full of beans means to be full of energy, and be very active.
Why does it mean this?
This saying comes from a way of describing horses which were full of energy
when they had been fed well.

Have a shot at it

To have a try to see how well you do.

Head in the clouds

Head in the clouds.
To be out of touch with reality. To have your head in the clouds. It's no good asking him what to do, he has his head in the clouds.

in hot water

Guess the meaning.
  1. To lie in the bath when the water is too hot for comfort.
  2. To be in a tricky situation that might lead to trouble.
  3. To boil an egg.
  4. To go sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.

It's all greek to me

Guess the meaning.
  1. Everything is from Greece.
  2. It is all in the Greek language, which I don't understand.
  3. I can't understand anything about it.
  4. It's very old.

kill two birds with one stone

To kill two birds with one stone, means to manage to do two things at the same time.
Example: I went back to England at Christmas and killed two birds with one stone. I managed to visit my parents and my friends.

Cat out of the bag

What do you mean?
To let the cat out of the bag means to give away a secret, usually without meaning to, or against someone else's wishes.

Why does it mean this?
This saying comes from a trick played by traders at country fairs. Pig traders sometimes tried to fool customers by giving them a sack, into which they had secretly put a cat, which was worth less money than a pig. If the cat got out, the trick was discovered.

Example:It was meant to be a surprise party but Harry let the cat out of the bag by asking what time it started.

water off a duck's back

be (like) water off a duck's back !
If criticism is water off a duck's back to someone, it has no effect on them at all

miss the boat

To miss the boat means to miss or fail to take an opportunity to do something.

monkey around

Do random, unplanned work or activities or spend time idly
- Not be serious - To act foolishly.

Nip it in the Bud

Nip Something in the Bud to prevent a small problem from getting worse by stopping it soon after it starts. The strike was nipped in the bud by some clever negotiation.

No spring chicken!

It's amazing, Jeff goes running every morning
and he's at least 65 years old.
He is certainly no spring chicken.

opening a can of worms

That would be opening a can of worms!
What do you mean?

If a situation is described as being a can of worms, it is much
more complicated than it seems. If someone says, "that would be
opening a can of worms." they mean that doing something would lead
to all sorts of complicated problems, and that it would be better to leave
things as they are.

pie in the sky

Have you ever seen a pie in the sky?
No, nor have I.

Pie in the sky describes something that is
very unrealistic.

Here are some suggestions for the recording:

A piece of cake

When you know what you're doing, it's a piece of cake. Glad to help. It was a piece of cake.
Note the form of this Idiom.
It was a piece of cake.
Not ( I have a piece of cake to do )

pigs might fly

Something that you say which means you think there is no
chance at all of something happening or speaking about an impossibility.

"I'll pay you back on Friday- I promise.
- Yes, and pigs might fly.

Put my thinking cap on

Meaning: Take time for consideration of some questions or
to think hard and carefully.

raining cats and dogs

If it is raining cats and dogs, it is raining heavily. This is a rather
old-fashioned expression, and you are probably more likely to read this
methaphor in a book than to hear it said. Now, people are more likely to say,
"it's pouring hard" or "bucketing down" to mean raining heavily.

"Did you enjoy the picnic yesterday?"
"No! We had to eat in the car. It was raining cats and dogs!""

Rocket Science

Does it matter if someone says,"You're no rocket scientist?
Yes, it does! This phrase means not very intelligent.

Saved by the bell

A boxing idiom. When a boxer is just about to get knocked out or is badly losing, and the bell goes off to end the round, he is very lucky. We say that he has been saved by the bell.


Don't get shirty with me young man!

Smells Fishy

If something sounds or smells fishy you are suspicous about it.

deserves a medal

Somebody deserves a medal - spoken
Used to say that you admire the way someone
dealt with a situation or problem.

Start the ball rolling

To start the ball rolling means to start an activity, particularly
if it is something with which other people will join in.

Swing a cat

There's no/not enough room to swing a cat. ! - said about a place or space that is very small
- An awkwardly small, confined space

The Apple of Your Eye

If someone is the apple of your eye, it means that
you love them very much. It is often used to describe the way
a parent feels about a child.

The pot calling the kettle black

This classic saying is used to tell people
who criticise someone else they could as well looking
in the mirror.

That's the way the cookie crumbles

If someone says, "that's the way the cookie crumbles," they
mean that you have to accept the way things have happened, even.
if they haven't worked out as you wanted.

Till the cows come home

- for ever
- For a long but indefinite time.

You can argue about that till the cows come home. You won't ever agree.'
You can diet until the cows come home, and you still won't be a size 4.

To lose your train of thought

Sorry for that lapse of concentration, I overheard a remark and lost my train of thought.

To be under the thumb

To be under the thumb Under someones control.
Means to be dominated by someone. He's got the ​committee ​firmly under his thumb - they ​agree to whatever he ​asks.

Wild Goose Chase

To go on a wild goose chase. To go on a profitless journey. To take part in a useless search. Most wild goose chases are unsuccessful because wild geese fly very high and fast and are therefore difficult to shoot. Example: I went on a wild goose chase all over the town looking for that adapter, until I discovered that they no longer make them.

Idioms with laugh, cry and tears

1 Complete the gaps with laugh, cry or tears. Which phrases do you already know? Which can you guess?

Chapter 2 Idioms on Video

Learn English Idioms. Watch the videos and learn from examples.

I've a bone to pick with you!

When you have a bone to pick with someone, it means that you are annoyed about something they have said or done, and you want to talk to them about it.

This saying may refer to dogs squabbling over a bone that more than one of them wants to eat.

Like a bull in a china shop

A bull in a china shop
If someone behaves like a bull in a china shop,
they are clumsy when they should be careful.

a lot on your plate

If someone has a lot on their plate, they have a lot of work
to do, or a lot of problems to deal with. To have enough on your plate
means the same thing.

Snake in the grass

If someone is a snake in the grass, they are pretending to be
friendly, but are really intending to do harm.

As easy as pie

As easy as pie. Meaning: very easy
If something is as easy as pie it is very easy to do.
Example: Midterm should be as easy as pie if you prepare well.
Baking great bread is as easy as pie with this brand-new breadmaker

As sick as a parrot

sick as a parrot !

- very disappointed
- If someone's sick as a parrot about something, they are unhappy, disappointed or depressed about it.

Burn the candle at both ends

If you burn the candle at both ends, you are staying up late
and getting up early.

Call it a day

To call it a day, to stop working - often said when the workers
feel they have done enough for one day.
It could also mean that it would be better to put an end to an arrangement .
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