Most Common English Idioms

English idioms are widely used in spoken English as well as in written English. An idiom is a sequence of words and has a meaning that is different from the individual word meanings. An example of an English idiom is ‘a penny for you thoughts’ which is used to ask someone what he is thinking about. You need to learn English idioms to strengthen you English vocabulary.

Since the meanings of idioms are different from literal meanings of the words, they are hard to remember. But, by learning a few of them everyday you will have a good stock of English idioms. I used to learn 5 new idioms everyday. When you are learning a new word make it a habit to check if there is any idiom with that word. If you find an idiom with that word learn the meaning and usage of that idiom. This way you won’t have to tear your hair out over English idioms.

To start with learn these English idioms first. These English idioms are very common and you will find them often in spoken and written English. Make sentences with these English idioms and that will help you to remember them.


Common English Idioms that Pop up in Daily Conversations Quite Often


English IdiomMeaning
get the hang of somethingTo be or become completely proficient or skilled in something
get the pictureTo understand or comprehend
not have a clueTo have no idea about something
jump to conclusionsMake conclusions before being presented with all the evidence.
put two and two togetherTo figure something out; to deduce or discern something.
read between the linesThis English idiom has two meanings:

1. To infer a meaning that is not stated explicitly
2. Read what is implied but not expressed on the surface

bear something in mindTo suddenly think of something or someone
food for thoughtThis English idiom has two meaning:

1. Information or knowledge that is worthy of contemplation.
2. Anything that provides mental stimulus for thinking

off the top of your headNot carefully thought out and might be wrong
on the tip of your tongueYou know something but can’t actually remember it.
ring a bellTo spark a previously forgotten memory.
at cross purposesMisunderstanding or having different aims from one another.
in black and whiteExplicitly, in writing, clearly and without doubt or misunderstanding, without any grey areas.
in the loopInformed; up to date; current; part of the discussion.
keep someone postedTo give latest information about something
spill the beansTo Reveal the truth
touch baseTo consult, visit, or communicate.
the bottom lineThe most important and basic fact
the icing on the cakeSomething wonderful at the end of something good.
in two mindsNot able to make a decision or opinion
on the back burnerNot immediately; in a low priority or delayed manner.
play it by earDecide on one’s actions as one goes along, depending on the situation
sit on the fenceTo remain neutral on a certain topic, to not have a stance or opinion.
the tip of the icebergThe small perceptible part of a much larger situation or problem that remains hidden.
break the iceTo start to get to know people, by avoiding awkwardness.
get off on the wrong footTo make a good (or bad) start at something.
get on someone’s nervesTo annoy or irritate; to bother.
give someone the cold shoulderTo show intentional unfriendliness.
save faceTo take an action or make a gesture intended to preserve one’s reputation or honour.
bend over backwardsTo make a great effort; to take extraordinary care; to go to great lengths.
be there for someoneTo be available to provide support or comfort for someone.
in the same boatIn the same situation or predicament; having the same problems.
lend a handTo help or assist, especially voluntarily.
a pat on the backAn expression of approval or congratulation.
not one’s cup of teaNot what one likes or is interested in.
jump on the bandwagonTo profit from a craze; to join a trend.
keep a low profileStay out of public notice, avoid attracting attention to oneself
steer clear of somethingTo deliberately avoid something or someone
try your hand at somethingTo try doing something for the first time
your heart isn’t in somethingNot enthusiastic about something
call it a dayTo cease the activity for the day.
call it quitsTo conclude; to quit or stop an activity, especially after applying oneself to it for a significant period of time.
enough is enoughSomething should be stopped.
from scratchThe English idiom has two meanings:

1. From the beginning; starting with no advantage or prior preparation.

2. From basic materials or raw ingredients.

nip something in the budSuppress or destroy something at an early stage.
set the ball rollingCause something to start happening.
up and runningOperational, in operation
burn the candle at both endsTo work too much, go to bed late and get up early.
cut cornersTo do something the cheapest or easiest way
do your level bestTo do something as best as you can.
go all outTo try hard to achieve something.
go the extra mileTo make an extra effort; to do a particularly good job.
not lift a fingerTo not help someone to do something
pull your socks upTo make an effort to improve one’s work, performance, or behaviour.
above boardOpenly, without deceit.
beat around the bushTo avoid answering a question; to stall; to waste time.
come clean To confess; admit.
fair and square Totally fairly and undoubtedly; without cheating.
blow the whistle on someoneTo tell someone in authority about something that you think is bad and should be stopped.
give the game away Inadvertently reveal something secret.
a hidden agenda A secret motive
pull someone’s legTo teach; To subject to a playful hoax or joke.
a white lie A harmless or trivial lie
give someone hellSeverely reprimand or make things very unpleasant for someone.
go through the roofThis English idiom has two meanings:

1. (of prices or figures) reach extreme or unexpected heights.
2. suddenly become very angry.

have a chip on your shoulderTo feel angry or resentful.
have /throw a fit To become very angry or upset.
make your blood boil Infuriate someone.
a pain in the neck A source of annoyance or nuisance.
a sore point A state of affairs, action, or belief which is an enduring basis for disagreement or dissatisfaction
get cold feet To become nervous or anxious and reconsider a decision about an upcoming event.
give someone the creeps To give someone a feeling of uneasiness or mild fright.
the last straw A further difficulty or annoyance, typically minor in itself but coming on top of a series of difficulties, that makes a situation unbearable.
on edge Tense, nervous or irritable.
clear the air To assuage a hostile situation.
give someone a piece of your mind rebuke someone.
 in someone’s bad books  Someone is not pleased with you
 kiss and make up To settle one’s differences and forgive.
see eye to eye To be in full agreement.
 back to the drawing board Back to the beginning following an unsuccessful attempt.
hit the nail on the headTo identify something exactly; to arrive at exactly the right answer.
save the dayTo rescue a person or situation from imminent danger or major failure.
be barking up the wrong treeTo be pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action.
gain groundTo become farther from another traveling the same course.
get one’s act togetherGalvanize oneself into organizing one’s affairs effectively.
go around in circlesTo do or talk about the same thing without achieving anything
light at the end of the tunnelA better situation after long hardship.
castles in the airDaydreams.
a long shotAn attempt or guess that has only the slightest chance of succeeding or being accurate.
out of the blueunexpectedly; without warning or preparation
be asking for troubleBehave in a way that is likely to result in difficulty for oneself.
a vicious circleA repeating situation or condition in which one problem causes another problem that makes the first problem worse
in safe handsIn the possession of, or protected by, someone who can be trusted.
play it safeTo take a cautious, risk-free approach.
put all your eggs in one basketTo depend for your success on a single person or plan of action
to be on the safe sideIn order to have a margin of security against risks.
cost and arm and a legTo be extremely expensive
down the drainWasted, squandered; irretrievable.
make ends meetto have enough money to cover expenses; to get by financially; to get through the pay period (sufficient to meet the next payday).
a small fortuneThis English idiom is tricky. Small is not always small!

A large amount of money.

call the shotsTo make the decisions; to be in charge; to give orders.
get out of handTo become difficult to control
go over someone’s headTo take up an issue with another person’s boss or other superior rather than beginning or continuing to deal with the original person.
on top of somethingThis English idiom has two meanings:

1. In control of a situation and aware of changes

2. In addition to

pass the buckTo transfer responsibility or blame from oneself onto another.
pull stringsTo manipulate a situation, especially by asking favours of others; to use one’s influence with others to attain a desired goal.
twist someone’s armUsed other than as an idiom: To apply torsion along the length of the arm of (a person).
off limitsIf an area of land is off-limits, you are not allowed to enter it.

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