50 English Idiom Examples

This page has 50 English idiom examples to help you use English better and to sound more like a native speaker.

An idiom is a descriptive phrase that does not mean the same as the individual words do.

  • For example:
  • To “bend someone’s ear” does not mean that you really grab someone’s ear and pull and bend it with your hand. If you did that people would not be very happy as it might be painful. What it really means is that you talk to someone about something a lot and try to get them to agree with you.

The words paint a visual picture that is often quite strange or funny, but which really means something else. This means that you need to learn what each idiom example means as you cannot work out the meaning from the words.

If someone uses a phrase that you do not understand or that seems to be a bit strange, it could be that they have used an idiom. You might be able to guess what the idiom means from the context in the sentence, but if not, and to make sure, you should probably look it up using this list of idiom examples. Then remember it and try to use it yourself at another time so your English sounds more advanced.

About Using This Page’s Idiom Examples

For each of the 50 idiom examples in the list on this page there is a form of the idiom, an explanation of what it means and an example of it being used. All of this is presented in as concise a form as possible. There is no explanation of where the idiom came form or why it might mean what it means. Just what you need to know to be able to use each of the idiom examples.

The idiom as presented in each entry is just an example: it can change depending on the situation in which it is being used.

  • For example:
  • Chat him up” is the form presented on this page. It could also be:
  • Chat her up
  • Chat Jane up
  • Chatted him up
  • Will chat him up

The form can change depending on how it will be used. The pronoun can change to reflect the person being referred to, or even a person’s name can be used. Then the tense can be changed to match the situation that the idiom is used in.

Idioms Worksheets

When you have finished learning all of the idiom examples on this page you can look at the idioms worksheets page to test your knowledge with vocabulary, listening and writing exercises and worksheets.

Spoken Idiom Examples

This recording has the 50 idiom examples being spoken by a native English speaker so you can hear the correct pronunciation. Listen to the recording as many times as you need to so that you can learn the correct way to say them.

List of 50 Idiom Examples

1. A penny for your thoughts

  • A way to ask someone what they are thinking about.
  • A: “A penny for your thoughts.”
  • B: “I am just thinking about what to eat tonight.”

2. Actions speak louder than words

  • To say that it is easy to claim you will do something but what you really do is all that matters.
  • A: “I think that what you are doing is very important.”
  • B: “Good. But remember that actions speak louder than words. So come and help at the weekend.”

3. Ball is in your court

  • To say that it is someone else’s responsibility to make a decision or do something.
  • Here is all the information I could find. The ball is in your court about what to do with it.

4. Beat up

  • To hit someone and win a fight with them.
  • They were beaten up by the robbers who broke into the shop.

5. Behind one's back

  • To do something so that it is hidden from someone and they do not know about it.
  • She went to see the boss behind my back and told him that she had done all the work.

6. Bite one's tongue

  • To not say something that you want to say.
  • I wanted to tell her to stop complaining and get on with it, but I bit my tongue.

7. Blood from a stone

  • Something that is very difficult or very hard to do.
  • Getting him to pay his bill on time is like getting blood from a stone.

8. Broken record

  • To say the same thing many times, or to repeat something even though everyone knows about it.
  • My boss is just like a broken record the way he says I have to wash my hands before making food.

9. Change your mind

  • To decide to do something different after already having said you will do something else.
  • A: “Let’s go out tonight.”
  • B: “I thought you wanted to watch television.”
  • A: “I did, but I have changed my mind.”

10. Chat him up

  • To talk with someone you find attractive to try to make them like you.
  • David has been chatting her up all night but she just looks bored.

11. Come down to earth

  • To realize what something is really like and see that it is harder or more difficult than you thought.
  • After his first day on the job he had to really come down to earth and see that it was hard work.

12. Cross that bridge when I come to it

  • To say you will deal with a problem when you need to and not before.
  • The heating in the house does not work, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it in the winter.

13. Dead last

  • To be the very last contestant in a race or completion.
  • I came in dead last, but at least I completed the marathon.

14. Don't know the first thing about it

  • To have no knowledge about something.
  • What happened in the meeting was private and she doesn’t know the first thing about it as she was not there.

15. Drag your feet

  • To do something slowly.
  • She does not want to do that job, so has been dragging her feet all day.

16. Fall flat on my face

  • To make a mistake.
  • She fell flat on her face when trying to give the presentation as it was far too short.

17. Fend for yourself

  • To have to manage by yourself with no help from anyone.
  • When I went to university I had to fend for myself and cook my own meals.

18. Fight tooth and nail

  • To use all your strength and ability to achieve something, or to be in very vicious combat.
  • I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that I get one of the free donuts that are delivered on Fridays.

19. From the bottom of my heart

  • To mean something full and with all your ability.
  • When I said I loved her I really meant it from the bottom of my heart.

20. Gathering dust

  • Something that has been left and not used for a long time, or something that has been forgotten.
  • Since we got computers the typewriters have been gathering dust.

21. Give a hand

  • To help someone with something.
  • Will you please give a hand to Lucy as she has a lot of work?

22. Have a blast

  • To have a very good time.
  • I hope you have a blast when you go out tonight.

23. Have deep pockets

  • To be able to afford many expensive things.
  • He has deep pockets as he often brings lots of snacks for us all to share.

24. Have the final say

  • To be the person that has the authority to make the final decision.
  • I think this is a good idea, but Jane has the final say on it.

25. In over your head

  • To be involved in something that is too difficult for you to finish.
  • I was in over my head but did not have any option other than continuing.

26. Jig is up

  • A phrase to say when something that is illegal has been found and is being stopped. 
  • The police office shouted to the criminals that “the jig is up. Come out.”

27. Lick your wounds

  • To go away and recover from a bad experience or defeat.
  • He has sat in the corner licking his wounds all afternoon after being told off by the boss.

28. Look out for number one

  • To do something so that you will get all the benefit.
  • You need to look out for number one before helping other people.

29. Money doesn't grow on trees

  • To say that you should think carefully about spending money as there is only a limited amount.
  • I can’t believe you’ve bought more clothes. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

30. Month of Sundays

  • A very long time.
  • I will never be able to do this, not even in a month of Sundays.

31. Off the beaten track

  • To be difficult to find, or to be very isolated and remote.
  • I am going on holiday to a cottage that is off the beaten track, so I should be able to relax.

32. On the double

  • To do something quickly, or to say something should be done quickly.
  • Put your books away and tidy up the classroom. Come-on - quickly - on the double.

33. Point of no return

  • The time that you can no longer change your mind, or when you have to do what you are doing now.
  • This is the point of no return: if we continue the project has to be successful or we will lose our jobs.

34. Put you in a bad mood

  • To make you upset, or to make you angary about something. 
  • Every time I have to drive in the big city it puts me in a bad mood.

35. Rack my brain

  • To think about something very hard, or to try to remember something.
  • I racked my brain but could not think of any way to fix the problem.

36. Roll out the red carpet

  • To treat someone as if they were a very important person.
  • Every time she comes to visit everyone makes it look nice and rolls out the red carpet.

37. Second nature

  • Something that you find very easy to do.
  • Playing tennis is like second nature to me as I have been doing it so long.

38. Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat

  • To win or be successful at the very last moment when it appeared that you would lose or fail.
  • The football team never gave up and finally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the last minute.

39. Stand on ceremony

  • To expect that everything is done in the proper and very formal way.
  • Please do not stand on ceremony, just get some food to eat and find somewhere to sit.

40. Taking care of business

  • A way to say that you are doing what you are required to do.
  • A: “What have you been doing?”
  • B: “Oh, just taking care of business.”

41. That'll be the day

  • To say that you do not believe something will happen.
  • That’ll be the day, when Andy is early for work.

42. The cart before the horse

  • To start to do something before all the preparation has been finished.
  • Sitting down to eat before the food has finished cooking is putting the cart before the horse.

43. There's one born every minute

  • A way to say that you think someone did something that was very silly or stupid.
  • A: “James fell into a hole yesterday. He was looking at his phone and not where he was going.”
  • B: “There’s one born every minute.”

44. Till the cows come home

  • For a long time.
  • I will have to keep working until the cows come home if I am going to finish this today.

45. Till you're blue in the face

  • To have to say the same thing over and over again to someone without them paying attention to you.
  • I told her not to do that till I was blue in the face, but she did it and will now have to clean up the mess.

46. Tough time of it

  • To have difficulty doing something, or to experience a difficult period.
  • I am having a tough time of it as my wife is ill and I need to do everything.

47. Turn the air blue

  • To swear a lot.
  • He turned the air blue when he hit his thumb by mistake with the hammer.

48. Variety is the spice of life

  • To say that having different experiences makes life fun and interesting.
  • I believe that variety is the spice of life, so I tried every type of beer the pub had.

49. Wash your hands of it

  • To finish something or to give it away so that it is no longer your responsibility.
  • I gave him the keys for the car and washed my hands of it.

50. Watch your P's and Q's

  • To tell someone to be polite and to use good manners.
  • He is very old so you need to watch your P’s and Q’s with him.
› 50 English idiom examples

Back to top of page

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Back to top of page