Most Common Idioms

Phrasal Verbs in English with Examples
March 29, 2020
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Most Common Idioms

1. A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Something that appears bad at first but ends up having good results
Missing that plane turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I got to spend more time with my family.

2. A SANDWICH SHORT OF A PICNIC
A humorous way of saying someone is stupid or is a bit mad
He brought only shorts and t-shirts when he went to Sweden in the winter – I think he might be a sandwich short of a picnic!

3. A STONE’S THROW
Something is very close or near
Luckily the wedding is just a stone’s throw from our hotel so we can walk there.

4. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
What you do is more important than what you say; someone’s words may not be trustworthy
Person A: “John keeps saying he wants to take me out for dinner, but then he never does!”
Person B: “Actions speak louder than words.“

5. ADD FUEL TO THE FIRE
When someone does something to make a bad situation worse
When Sarah started laughing during the argument, it really added fuel to the fire!

6. ADD INSULT TO INJURY
To make a bad situation worse
As if breaking my arm isn’t bad enough, to add insult to injury I have to pay £1,000 in hospital fees as I didn’t have travel insurance!

7. ALL EARS
To be eagerly waiting to hear about something
Person A: “I have to tell you about what happened on our trip to Spain…”
Person B: “I’m all ears!”

8. AT A CROSSROADS
To be at a point in your life when you need to make an important decision
I was at a crossroads when I was offered a job in the US, but my boyfriend wanted to stay in London.

9. BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
To be wrong or misguided about the reason for something
He thinks the company’s problems can be solved just by firing the sales team, but he’s barking up the wrong tree.

10. BEAT ABOUT THE BUSH
To talk about unimportant things because you’re avoiding a particular topic
Stop beating about the bush! Are you planning to quit university, or not?

11. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
It’s better to do something late than not at all
Person A: “Sorry I missed your birthday! There’s a card in the post.”
Person B: “Don’t worry. Better late than never!”

12. BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
To be in a difficult situation where both options are bad
Person A: “If I go to the wedding mum will be upset, but if I don’t go then I’ll be letting down the rest of the family!”
Person B: “Sounds like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”

13. BITE OFF MORE THAN ONE CAN CHEW
To do too much or take something on that is too difficult
Person A: “I’m going to start that weekend job at the museum on top of my full-time job because I really need the money.”
Person B: “Sounds like a lot of work! Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

14. BITE THE BULLET
To decide to do something that is difficult or unpleasant, but necessary
You’re going to have to bite the bullet and tell your ex-(girlfriend) that you need the apartment back.

15. BLOW OFF STEAM
To do something that helps you get rid of stress, energy or anger
After my meeting with the boss, I went for a run to blow off steam.

16. BOB’S YOUR UNCLE
To say that a set of instructions or task is simple or easy
To make the salad dressing, you just put oil, vinegar, honey and mustard into a bowl, mix them together and bob’s your uncle!

17. BOG-STANDARD
Something that is very ordinary or basic, nothing special
Despite the excellent reviews, we thought the restaurant was just bog-standard.

When learning idioms in English, you need to watch out for old-fashioned expressions. For example, you probably know the idiom ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’. However, most Brits would never use this expression now. It is outdated. Instead we say: ‘It’s bucketing it down!’, ‘It’s chucking it down!’ or ‘It’s pi*sing it down!’.
18. BOTCH/BODGE JOB
Work that has been done badly, in a clumsy, lazy way
The original builders did such a bodge job of our kitchen that we had to get it completely redone.

19. BUDGE UP
An informal way of asking someone to move to make room for you
Could you budge up a bit so I can sit down?

20. BUILDER’S TEA
Strongly-brewed English breakfast tea with milk
I’ll have a builder’s tea, please.

21.BURY ONE’S HEAD IN THE SAND
To refuse to think about or confront serious issues or situations
Martin just buries his head in the sand when it comes to his financial problems.

22. BUST ONE’S CHOPS
To work very hard on something, or to harass someone
I was busting my chops all night to get that report finished!
Stop busting my chops! I’ll mow the lawn later.

Note: In British English slang, the word ‘chops’ is used to mean ‘mouth’. So the idiom above literally means ‘punch in the mouth’.

23. BY THE SKIN OF ONE’S TEETH
To narrowly succeed in doing something
The traffic was terrible so we only made the plane by the skin of our teeth!

24. CALL A SPADE A SPADE
To state the truth about something even if it’s unpopular or unpleasant
I know he’s your brother, but let’s call a spade a spade: he’s pretty lazy.

25. CALL IT A DAY
To stop working on something
It’s almost 9pm. I think we should call it a day and finish the report tomorrow.

26. CHEAP AS CHIPS
When something is inexpensive or good value for money
It doesn’t look it, but our new sofa was (as) cheap as chips!

27. CHINESE WHISPERS
Information or rumours that have been passed on by many people and are no longer reliable
John and Maggie from the office haven’t actually announced they’re getting a divorce. It’s probably just Chinese whispers.

28. CHIP ON ONE’S SHOULDER
To hold a grudge/be angry about something that happened in the past, or to be arrogant and think too highly of oneself
Whenever we mention his childhood, he gets really angry. He’s got a chip on his shoulder about it.
The new sales guy at the office has a real chip on his shoulder. He’s not even that good!

29. CLAM UP
To become silent or stop talking
When Bill came into the room, Jenny just seemed to clam up. I think she likes him!

30. COLD FEET
To get nervous or to have second thoughts about doing something
He’s getting cold feet about the wedding, but I told him that was perfectly normal.

31. (THE) COLD SHOULDER
To deliberately ignore someone
I got the cold shoulder from Anna at the party. I guess she’s still annoyed with me.

32. COST A BOMB
When something is very expensive
That Italian meal cost a bomb! We won’t be going back there, unless we win the lottery!

33. COST AN ARM AND A LEG
When something is very expensive
The new bar in town was really fancy, but my drink cost an arm and a leg!

34. COUCH POTATO
A lazy person who doesn’t do much exercise and spends a lot of time on the sofa watching television
My husband has turned into a couch potato since he lost his job.

35. COULDN’T CARE LESS
To show indifference to something or a total lack of interest
I couldn’t care less if Harry comes out tonight or not! I don’t really like the guy.

36. CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT
A warning that being inquisitive or curious can get you into trouble
Person A: “Where are you going at this time of night?”
Person B: “Curiosity killed the cat!”

37. CUT A LONG STORY SHORT
To get to the point, to not include unnecessary detail
To cut a long story short, she has to move back to the US until her new visa comes through.

38. CUT CORNERS
To do something in the easiest way possible (usually not very well) in order to save time or money
We had to cut corners to get the project done within our budget and by January.

39. CUT SOMEONE SOME SLACK
To avoid being critical or judgmental of someone (even if they deserve it)
Person A: “Hannah’s late for the second time this week!”
Person B: “Cut her some slack! The traffic’s awful this morning.”

40. CUT TO THE CHASE
To get directly to the point when speaking, to not give unnecessary detail
I have to leave in a minute so can you cut to the chase? What exactly do you want me to do?


41. DIG ONE’S HEELS IN
To refuse to do something or change your mind, especially when people are trying to persuade you
I wanted to go on the earlier train, but Mary dug her heels in so we had to get the later one.

42. DOG EAT DOG (ALSO ‘CUT THROAT’)
A situation that is very competitive, where people are willing to harm each other’s interests to get ahead
The music industry is dog eat dog these days.
I’d stay out of the legal sector. It can be a cut throat business.

43. DON’T GIVE UP THE DAY JOB
Used in a humorous way to tell someone they’re not very good at something
Person A: “What do you think of the haircut I gave Hannah?”
Person B: “Don’t give up the day job, mate!”

44. DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
A warning not to put all your resources or efforts into just one thing
Although you’ve made an offer on this house, I would still visit some others. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.

45. DON’T RUN BEFORE YOU CAN WALK
A warning not to try something difficult before you understand the basics
If you’re not very good at swimming, I’d stay in the shallow end and keep close to the side. You don’t want to run before you can walk.

46. DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES
In a very challenging situation you need to take extreme actions
She moved to Australia after she found out about her husband’s affair. I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures!

47. EASY DOES IT
To slow down or do something slowly/carefully
Easy does it! Those boxes you’re holding are very fragile.

48.EAT A HORSE
To be extremely hungry
I am so hungry I could eat a horse.

49. (The) ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
An important and obvious topic that everyone knows needs to be discussed, but that isn’t brought up or mentioned
David leaving the company was the elephant in the room during that meeting – no one wanted to bring it up!

50. EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING (often just: EVERY CLOUD…)
Even a bad situation may have a positive aspect to it
I might have lost my job, but at least I don’t have that awful journey into work every day. Every cloud…!

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