What are idioms?

An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning conventionally understood by native speakers. Idioms don’t mean exactly what the words say. «Kick the bucket»    «Spill the beans»
The meaning of these expressions is different from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which they are made. They have a hidden meaning which is used figuratively.

Actions speak louder than words:      People’s intentions can be judged better by what they do than what they say.

Add insult to injury:                             To further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavourable situation.

All ears:                                               Awaiting an explanation.

An arm and a leg:                                Very expensive or costly. A large amount of money.

Around the clock:                                 At any time of the day or night

Around the corner:                               Will happen soon.

As time goes by:                                  The passing of one moment to the next.

Back to basics:                                     An approach that uses traditional ideas that have previously worked.

Bad apple:                                           Troublemaker or undesirable person in a group.

Ball is in your court;                              It is up to you to make the next decision or take the next step.

Barking up the wrong tree:                   Looking in the wrong place. Accusing the wrong person.

Best of both worlds:                              Enjoying the advantage of two things simultaneously.

Better late than never:                           It is better to do something late than not at all.

Bite off more than you can chew:         To take on a task that is way too big.

Black sheep:                                         Undesirable member of a group.

Blessing in disguise:                             Something good that isn’t recognised as at first.

Blind date:                                             Pre-arranged social interaction between people who have never met.

Blow up in the face:                               A plan or project that suddenly fails.

Bookworm:                                            Someone who reads a lot.

Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth:   Born into a rich and affluent


Brainstorm:                                            Develop or think of new ideas.

Burn the midnight oil:                             To work late into the night, alluding to the time

                                                               before electric lighting.

Call it a day (or night):                            Stop doing something for a while or until the  

                                                               next day (or night).

Cash cow:                                              Dependable source of income.

Costs an arm and a leg:                         When something is very expensive.

Cover a lot of ground:                             Complete a lot of work or a wide range of things.

Crack of dawn:

Cross that bridge when you come to it:   Deal with a problem if and when it becomes   necessary, not before.

Cry over spilt milk:                                  Complain about a loss from the past.

Cut corners:                                            When something is done quickly, and  

                                                                typically badly, to save money.

Days are numbered:                                Expected to be in a role or to die soon.

Don’t give up the day job:                        You are not very good at something. You

                                                                 could definitely not do it professionally.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket:      Don’t make everything dependent on only

                                                                 one thing.

Explore all avenues:                                 Investigating or examining every option.

Eye-catching:                                           Tending to attract attention.

Feeling under the weather:                       Feeling unwell.

Fish out of water:                                      Feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar


Foot in the door:                                       Small but good start with the possibility of a bright


For the time being:                                   An action or state will continue into the future but

                                                                 is temporary.

From now on:                                           From this time forward.

From time to time:                                    Occasionally or not very often.

Getting sacked (or axed, or fired):           To lose your job.

Give the benefit of the doubt:                   Believe someone’s statement, without proof.

Give the green light:                                 Provide permission to proceed.

Go belly up:                                              Fail completely.

Going places:                                           Demonstrating talent and ability that will lead to


Golden boy:                                              Young man idolised for a great skill, typically in


Golden opportunity:                                  A very good opportunity that may never present

                                                                  itself again.

Grass is always greener on the other side:   The alternative solution may seem better even

                                                                       if that isn’t always the case.

Green with envy:                                       Extremely jealous or full of envy.

Grey area:                                                 Unclear or undefined.

Hard as nails:                                            Without sentiment or sympathy for anyone.

Hard time:                                                 Something that is difficult or to suffer hardship.

Head in the clouds:                                   Having unrealistic or impractical ideas.

Hear it on (through) the grapevine:           Hear something through informal or unofficial

                                                                  means, like rumours or gossip. Passed from

                                                                  one person to another.

Heart is in the right place:                         Having good intentions, even if the results may

                                                                  not be impressive.

Here today, gone tomorrow:                     When desirable things, such as money or

                                                                  happiness, are temporary.

Hit the big time:                                         To become successful.

Hit the nail on the head:                            Do or say something exactly right.

Hit the road:                                               Begin travelling or leave.

Hit the sack (or sheets, or hay):                Go to bed.

In the bag:                                                 Something that is assured or a guaranteed


In the heat of the moment:                        Overwhelmed by what is happening in the


In the interim:                                             Between two events or something that is


In the long run:                                           Over a period of time.

In the red:                                                   In debt with your bank. To have a negative bank

                                                                   balance or to owe money to the bank.

In the right place at the right time:             When something happens fortuitously or when

                                                                   given an unexpected opportunity.

In the wrong place at the wrong time:        When something unlucky happens that would

                                                                    not normally have happened.

In tune with someone (on the same wavelength):  Have the same ideas and be in

                                                                                agreement with someone else.

Itchy feet:                                                    Strong impulse to travel or go somewhere.

Judge a book by its cover;                          Judge something primarily on appearance.

Kept in the dark:                                           Not knowing the secrets or truth.

Kill time:                                                       Do something whilst waiting.

Learn something off by heart:                      Memorise so well, that it can be written or

                                                                     recited without thinking.

Learn the ropes:                                           Learn how to do a job or task properly.

Let sleeping dogs lie:                                   Leave a situation undisturbed, since it would

                                                                     otherwise result in trouble or complications.

Let the cat out of the bag:                            Share information that was previously


Lightning fast:                                              Very fast.

Lights are on but nobody is home:              Someone is stupid or lacking intelligence.

Like clockwork:                                            Happens at very regular times or intervals

                                                                     without fail.

Look on the bright side:                                View an unpleasant situation in a positive light.

Lump in your throat:                                     Tight feeling in the through because of an

                                                                      emotion like sadness, pride or gratitude.

Make a long story short:                               Come to the point without superfluous or

                                                                      unnecessary details.

Make my day:                                               Something that makes me very happy or

                                                                     satisfies me.

Make or break:                                             Circumstances causing total success or total


Make the grade:                                           Be satisfactory or at an accepted level.

Make time:                                                    Find time to do something as a priority.

Making headway:                                         Making progress in what you are trying to do.

Miss the boat;                                                Miss a chance or opportunity.

No time like the present:                               The belief it is better to do something right

                                                                      away instead of waiting.

No time to lose:                                             Start something right away, otherwise it won’t

                                                                      be finished on time.

Now or never:                                               Something that should be done now or it will

                                                                      never be done.

Off to a flying start:                                       Something that is immediately successful or

                                                                      has begun well.

On the ball:                                                   When someone understands the situation well

                                                                      or is doing well.

On time:                                                        Not being late or something happening at the

                                                                      expected time.

Once in a blue moon:                                      Happens very rarely or once in a lifetime.

Only time will tell:                                            The truth, answer or result, will be revealed at

                                                                        some future point.

Out of the blue:                                               Appear suddenly from nowhere and without


Out of the red:                                                 No longer in debt.

Out of time;                                                     No time left to do something or a set time has

                                                                        been reached.

Pass with flying colours:                                  Pass with a high score.

Piece of cake:                                                  A job, task or other activity that is easy or


Pitch black:                                                     Very dark with zero or almost zero visibility.

Put it in black and white:                                 Write down for confirmation or evidence.

Rags to riches:                                                Becoming very rich whilst starting very poor.

Raring to go:                                                    Being very eager or enthusiastic about the


Rat race:                                                         Exhausting and repetitive routine.

Red flag:                                                         Signal or indication that something is not

                                                                        working properly of correctly.

Red hot:                                                          New and exciting, creating much demand.

Red tape:                                                        Set of rules and/or regulations that slow or  

                                                                        stop progress.

Sail through something:                                  Being successful as something without


Save time:                                                       Do something quickly or in a way that allow

                                                                        time for other things.

Seeing eye to eye:                                          Two or more people agree on something.

Sell ice to Eskimos:                                         Persuade people to go against their best

                                                                        interests or to accept something


Shelf life:                                                         The expected duration of lifespan of

                                                                        something (typically food, drink or medicine).

Show of hands:                                               Raising hands to vote about something.

Sink or swim:                                                   Fail or succeed.

Sinking teeth into something:                          Doing something with a lot of energy and


Sit on the fence:                                              Unable or unwilling choose or make a


Sleeping (or silent) partner:                           Person who has put money into a business

                                                                      or venture but who is not involved in running it.

Slice of the pie:                                               A share of something, such as money, profits,


Smash hit:                                                       A big success.

Snowed under:                                               Having too much to do.

Sooner or later:                                              Something is certain to happen but it isn’t

                                                                       known when exactly.

Spanner in the works:                                    Suddenly disrupt something by introducing

                                                                       something unexpected or unwanted.

Spill the beans:                                               Reveal a secret.

Standing ground:                                            Maintaining your position

Standing the test of time:                                Something that lasts or continues to work well

                                                                         for a long time.

Straight from the horse’s mouth:                     From the authoritative source.

Stuck in a time warp:                                       Not changed for a very long time, when

                                                                         everything else around has.

Take each day as it comes:                             Deal with things as and when they happen.

Take with a grain (or pinch) of salt:                  Not to take what someone says too

                                                                         seriously. Be sceptical about something.

Taste of your own medicine:                            Something happens to you, or is done to

                                                                         you, that you have done to someone else.

The big time:                                                    The top level of a profession

The moment of truth:                                        When an important decision is made or the

                                                                          truth about something is revealed.

The ship has sailed:                                          A particular opportunity has passed and is

                                                                          no longer available.

Time is money:                                                 Time is a valuable commodity. Payment is

                                                                          needed before doing something.

Too many chiefs and not enough Indians:        Too many people telling others what to do.

Tough cookie:                                                   Very determined person.

Tricks of the trade:                                            Clever or expert way of doing something.

True colours:                                                     Someone’s actual character.

Up in smoke:                                                     Something that ends before getting a result.

Wasting time:                                                    Doing something with no purpose.

White as a sheet (or ghost):                               In a state of great fear or anxiety.

White collar:                                                       Officer worker.

White elephant:                                                  Expensive item that’s costly to maintain and

                                                                           not particularly useful.

White lie:                                                            Little or harmless lie told to be polite and

                                                                           avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Works like a charm;                                           Works very well or as expected.

Wouldn’t be caught dead:                                   Would never like to do something.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks:               People used to doing things a certain

                                                                            way are often unable to change their ways.

Your guess is as good as mine:                          Not knowing the answer.

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