110 Idiom Examples Everyone Should Know

Idioms are expressions that have a meaning that isn’t immediately obvious from the words themselves. Every language has them, and fluent speakers use them casually without even thinking about them. But for young students or those learning English as a second language, these phrases can be really confusing. Share these idiom examples with your students to deepen their understanding and use of American English idioms in no time flat!

We’ve put together a list of some of the most common English idioms, complete with meanings and examples. Try using them for Idiom of the Day lessons, posting them around the classroom, or creating an idiom examples bulletin board.

Get a free Google Slides deck of all 110 idioms to use with your students by filling out the form on this page.

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A fish out of water

Meaning: Someone in an uncomfortable position or situation

Example: It was Allison’s first day at her new school, and she felt like a fish out of water.

Add fuel to the fire

Meaning: To make things worse

Example: Celia added fuel to the fire by accusing the opposing team of cheating.

Add insult to injury

Meaning: Do something to make a bad situation worse

Example: Learning she failed her science test on the same day her best friend moved away added insult to injury.

All bark and no bite

Meaning: Full of big talk but not willing to take meaningful action

Example: Don’t be afraid of him when he gets mad. He’s all bark and no bite.

All ears

Meaning: Eager to listen to what someone has to say

Example: The class was all ears when Ms. Ali mentioned a way to earn extra credit on the test.

Ants in your pants

Meaning: Can’t sit still

Example: “Stop wriggling while I’m braiding your hair!” Kehlani’s mom said. “You have ants in your pants this morning.”

Anything but

Idiom slide with description of the idiom Anything but
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Meaning: Not at all

Example: When they heard about the pop quiz, the students were anything but excited.

Bad egg

Meaning: A person who causes trouble or is dishonest

Example: Most of the group were kind and honest, but a few bad eggs caused trouble for the rest.

Barking up the wrong tree

Meaning: To be looking for answers in the wrong place

Example: James thought Christopher was the one who broke the vase, but he was barking up the wrong tree.

Be a fly on the wall

Meaning: To watch something happen without anyone knowing you’re there

Example: Nico wished he could be a fly on the wall when his sister discovered the toad he’d left in her shoe!

Beat around the bush

Meaning: To avoid saying what you mean, often because it would be difficult or uncomfortable

Example: Don’t beat around the bush. Just tell me why you can’t come to my birthday party on Friday.

Beef up

Meaning: To make something stronger

Example: My teacher recommended I beef up my essay with stronger examples to support my main point.

Bend over backward

Meaning: To try very hard to do something, even if it causes you problems

Example: I’ve been bending over backward to plan this party at the last minute.

Bigger fish to fry

Meaning: More important things to do

Example: Don’t waste my time with silly little things today. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Bite the bullet

Meaning: To do something that’s uncomfortable or not fun and get it over with

Example: After putting it off for several days, Alex decided to bite the bullet and start work on the history project.

Blessing in disguise

Meaning: An apparently bad thing that turns out to be good in some way

Example: Dashaun was disappointed he couldn’t go to the party, but after everyone who attended got food poisoning, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Bone to pick

Meaning: To be angry at someone about something and want to talk about it

Example: I’ve got a bone to pick with you! You need to stop leaving your junk all over my desk.

Bread and butter

Meaning: A person’s main source of income

Example: Khalil loves playing with his band on the weekends, but giving guitar and piano lessons is his bread and butter.

Break a leg

Meaning: Good luck! Often used in the theater before a play or performance.

Example: Is your piano recital tonight? Well, break a leg!

Break the ice

Meaning: To do or say something that will make people feel more comfortable

Example: OK, since none of us have met before, let’s introduce ourselves and break the ice by sharing our favorite ice cream flavor.

Burn your bridges

Meaning: To do something that makes it impossible to return to the way things were before

Example: If you insult your boss when you resign, you’ll burn your bridges with that company.

Butter up

Meaning: To flatter or praise someone to get their help or support

Example: Malik is being really nice to me all of a sudden. I think he’s trying to butter me up and get me to vote for him for class president.

Call it a day

Meaning: To stop working on something and plan to pick it up again later

Example: After working for three hours on her science fair project, Sofia decided to call it a day.

Change of heart

Meaning: To change your opinion about something

Example: Ms. Ramirez used to be opposed to allowing dogs at school, but she’s had a change of heart.

Cherry on top

Meaning: To make something that is already good even better

Example: We won free tickets to the concert, but the cherry on top was learning we’d also won backstage passes!

Chicken out

Meaning: To be too afraid to do something

Example: She stood on the high diving board for almost 10 minutes, but in the end Dionne chickened out and came back down the ladder instead of jumping.

Chip off the old block

Meaning: A person who is similar to a parent in some way

Example: Kayden loves to play chess as much as his dad does. He’s a real chip off the old block.

Cool as a cucumber

Meaning: Calm and serene, often in a difficult situation

Example: While everyone else panicked about the pop quiz, Inez was cool as a cucumber.

Costs an arm and a leg

Meaning: To describe something that is very expensive

Example: A new PlayStation costs an arm and a leg, so you’d better start saving now if you want to buy one.

Crack a window

Meaning: Open a window slightly

Example: It’s so stuffy in here. Can someone please crack a window for some fresh air?

Cream of the crop

Meaning: The very best of a group

Example: Everyone knows that Harvard and Yale only accept the cream of the crop.

Cross your fingers

Meaning: To wish someone luck or hope for something to happen

Example: Headed to your audition? I’ll cross my fingers that you get the part you want!

Cry over spilled milk

Meaning: To feel sorry over something that has already happened, even though it’s not helpful

Example: It’s too bad you broke your phone, but there’s no use crying over spilled milk.

Cry wolf

Meaning: To lie about something to get attention or help

Example: If you keep crying wolf, no one will believe you when you’re really hurt.

Cut somebody some slack

Meaning: To ease up on someone, to allow them some leeway or another chance

Example: Even though Jake was late with his English essay, Ms. Davis decided to cut him some slack since she knew he’d had the stomach flu.

Cutting corners

Meaning: To do something quickly and badly in order to save time or money

Example: Liza cut corners on her math homework so she could watch TV and ended up getting most of the answers wrong.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

Meaning: Don’t depend on something before it happens

Example: I know you’re sure you’re going to get the lead in the spring play, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Drag your feet

Meaning: To be reluctant to do something

Example: Rohan knew he needed to start his research paper, but he just kept dragging his feet.

Draw a blank

Meaning: To fail to remember something

Example: Keiko studied hard for the test, but when it came time to answer the question, she drew a blank.

Drop the ball

Meaning: To make a mistake

Example: Aisha said she’d make the poster for our project, but she forgot. She really dropped the ball on this one.

Eagle eye

Meaning: Close or careful watch on something

Example: Ever since I broke a glass, my parents keep an eagle eye on me when I’m washing dishes.

Ear to the ground

Meaning: To be well informed or try to learn more about events

Example: Keep your ear to the ground and see if you can learn more about their plan.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Idiom slide with description of the idiom Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
We Are Teachers

Meaning: No matter how bad something seems, there’s usually a good side to it as well

Example: Jamal was disappointed that his soccer game was canceled, but it gave him time to go to the movies with his friends, and his mom pointed out that every cloud has a silver lining.

For the birds

Meaning: Worthless or no good

Example: Those cheap pens are for the birds; they barely work at all.

Get off my back

Meaning: Used to ask someone to stop bugging you about something

Example: I told you I’d mow the lawn this weekend—now get off my back!

Get out of hand

Meaning: To become difficult to control

Example: Ms. Rodriguez told her students they could chat while they worked, as long as the noise level didn’t get out of hand.

Get something out of your system

Meaning: Do the thing you’ve been wanting to do so you can move on

Example: Mr. Patel knew his students were eager to try out the new playground equipment, so he told them to go ahead and get it out of their system before they started class.

Get your act together

Meaning: Behave properly, or organize your thoughts so you can do something successfully

Example: After the third time he was late to class, Connor’s teacher told him he needed to get his act together and start showing up on time.

Get your ducks in a row

Meaning: To get things organized or make plans

Example: I have so many things to get done today! I need to get my ducks in a row before I get started.

Get your feet wet

Meaning: To take a small step in an effort to learn or do something new

Example: Before joining the cross-country team, Melanie got her feet wet by running a few local 5K races.

Give it a whirl

Meaning: To try something

Example: I’ve never made a cake from scratch, but I’m willing to give it a whirl.

Give someone the benefit of the doubt

Meaning: To trust what someone says, even if you’re not entirely sure what they’re saying is true

Example: Charlotte wasn’t sure Amelia was really late because she missed the bus, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Give someone the cold shoulder

Meaning: To ignore someone, usually because you’re upset or angry with them

Example: Will and Jessica were mad at Emma, so they decided to give her the cold shoulder until she apologized.

Go back to the drawing board

Meaning: To start something over again with a completely new idea

Example: When her science experiment failed completely, Hailey knew it was time to go back to the drawing board.

Go the extra mile

Meaning: To do more than you’re required to do

Example: Minh went the extra mile and really impressed the selection committee.

Gut feeling

Meaning: A reaction based on an emotional response instead of reason

Example: I want this project to work out, but I’ve got a gut feeling we’re doing things the wrong way.

Hang in there

Meaning: Don’t give up, keep on trying

Example: “I’m sorry you’re having a rough day,” Lucas told Olivia. “Hang in there. I’m sure things will be better tomorrow.”

Happy as a clam

Meaning: Very content with a situation

Example: Give her a book, some hot chocolate, and a warm blanket, and she’s happy as a clam.

Hit-or-miss

Meaning: Something that might be good sometimes and bad other times

Example: Anna was a bit hit-or-miss when it came to remembering to take out the trash on Thursdays.

Hit the sack/hit the hay

Meaning: To go to bed

Example: “Nine o’clock!” said Mia’s dad. “It’s time to turn off the TV and hit the sack.”

Hold your horses

Meaning: Slow down, stop and think about what you’re doing

Example: “Hold your horses!” their dad said. “You can’t go swimming until you put on sunscreen.”

Hook, line, and sinker

Meaning: Completely tricked or deceived

Example: I told my teacher the dog ate my homework, and she fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

In the same boat

Meaning: To be in the same bad situation as other people

Example: We’re all in the same boat here; let’s help each other out and fix the problem.

It’s not rocket science

Meaning: Used to describe something that isn’t complicated or difficult

Example: All you have to do is put the books back on the right shelf. It’s not rocket science!

It’s raining cats and dogs

Meaning: To rain very hard

Example: I hope you brought your umbrella. It’s raining cats and dogs out there!

Let someone off the hook

Meaning: To not hold someone responsible for something

Example: Logan was caught running in the hallway, but Ms. Walker let him off the hook because she knew he was late for the bus.

Miss the boat

Meaning: To be too late for something that’s already started or is over

Example: Sarah wanted to join the lacrosse team, but she was too late to sign up and missed the boat.

On cloud nine

Idiom slide with description of the idiom On Cloud Nine
We Are Teachers

Meaning: Extremely happy about something

Example: When Wyatt learned he’d gotten a perfect score on both his math and science tests, he was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

On the ball

Meaning: To be quick and alert, dealing with things right away

Example: Alice got all her homework done and practiced her clarinet before dinner. She’s really on the ball today!

On the same page

Meaning: To agree with someone

Example: I think you and I are on the same page; we both agree that recycling is important.

On thin ice

Meaning: In a risky situation or position

Example: When Mrs. Chen had to ask Ava and Noah to stop talking for the fourth time that day, she warned them both that they were on thin ice.

Out of the blue

Meaning: Suddenly and without warning

Example: Everything was going fine when out of the blue, Joey said they were really mad about something.

Out on a limb

Meaning: To take a risk for someone or something

Example: I’m going to go out on a limb and give them the extra funding they’re asking for.

Piece of cake

Meaning: Extremely easy

Example: Putting the new desk together was a piece of cake.

Pig out

Meaning: To eat a whole lot all at once

Example: Come over for dinner and we’ll pig out on pizza and ice cream.

Play it by ear

Meaning: To figure things out as you go

Example: We didn’t get a schedule in advance, so we’ll just have to play it by ear as the day goes along.

Pleased as punch

Meaning: Extremely happy about something

Example: Tia is pleased as punch about going to Hawaii for spring break.

Pull someone’s leg

Meaning: To tease someone or try to fool them

Example: No, the cafeteria isn’t really giving away free ice cream. I was just pulling your leg!

Pull yourself together

Meaning: To calm yourself down when you’re very upset

Example: I know you’re upset that your team lost the game, but you need to pull yourself together and go congratulate the winners.

Run in circles

Meaning: To try very hard but have little or no success

Example: We’re just running in circles here; we need a plan before we do any more work.

Second wind

Meaning: A fresh burst of energy

Example: Quinn thought she was too tired to go to the party after playing soccer all afternoon, but then she got a second wind.

See eye to eye

Meaning: Agree with someone about something

Example: No matter how long they argued, they couldn’t seem to see eye to eye about painting the room orange.

Sell like hotcakes

Meaning: To sell quickly and in large amounts

Example: The latest iPhone model is selling like hotcakes!

Sleep like a log

Meaning: Sleep very soundly without waking

Example: After a long day at the beach, Jayma slept like a log that night.

Slip your mind

Meaning: To forget something

Example: I meant to do the laundry, but it totally slipped my mind.

Spill the beans

Meaning: To give away a secret

Example: Isabella’s surprise party was ruined when Sarah spilled the beans a few days before.

Start off on the wrong foot

Meaning: To start a relationship or activity badly

Example: After starting off on the wrong foot, Robin and Hayden finally figured out how to work together.

Take a rain check

Idiom slide with description of the idiom Take a Rain Check
We Are Teachers

Meaning: To postpone a plan until another time

Example: I’d love to play basketball after school, but I’ve got to go home to mow the lawn. Can I take a rain check?

The ball is in your court

Meaning: The decision or next step is up to you

Example: Nick’s mom told him he could either join the basketball team or sign up for karate class, so he had to choose one. “The ball is in your court,” she said.

The early bird gets the worm

Meaning: Those who arrive first have the best chance for success or receive the best things

Example: Grayson and Jayden showed up to find the best seats in the room already taken. “The early bird gets the worm!” said Maya with a grin.

The elephant in the room

Meaning: A large, obvious issue or problem that people are avoiding mentioning or dealing with

Example: After waiting for Joseph to explain his bright-green hair all through dinner, his mom finally decided it was time to address the elephant in the room.

The icing on the cake

Meaning: Something that makes a good situation even better

Example: The band was excited to learn they’d earned a place in the regional competition. Finding out it would take place at Disney World was the icing on the cake.

The last straw

Meaning: The last in a series of events that causes someone to run out of patience

Example: “That’s the last straw!” said Elena after her little brother’s ball landed in her cereal bowl. “Go play outside!”

The whole nine yards

Meaning: Everything, all the way

Example: Grace and Nora went the whole nine yards to make sure Hannah’s birthday party was really special.

Think on your feet

Meaning: To react quickly in a tricky or fast-moving situation

Example: Dani excels at basketball because she’s so good at thinking on her feet.

Through thick and thin

Meaning: When things are good and also when they’re bad

Example: Sophie and Chloe had been best friends since first grade, sticking together through thick and thin.

Time flies when you’re having fun

Meaning: When you’re having a good time, you don’t notice how quickly the time is passing

Example: “Recess is over already?” said Ben. “I guess time flies when you’re having fun!”

To get bent out of shape

Meaning: To get upset about something

Example: I didn’t mean to step on your foot—there’s no need to get bent out of shape about it.

To make a long story short

Meaning: To give the basic facts about something instead of a long explanation

Example: To make a long story short, Liam tripped over his shoelace and that’s how he broke his wrist.

Under the table

Meaning: To do something secretly, often used to refer to working for pay unofficially (and illegally)

Example: Gabi knew she shouldn’t, but she took a job working under the table so she didn’t have to worry about paying taxes.

Under the weather

Meaning: To be sick

Example: Miguel won’t be at the Scout meeting today because he’s feeling a little under the weather.

Up in arms

Idiom slide with description of the idiom Up in Arms
We Are Teachers

Meaning: Very angry about something

Example: When they heard the plans to cut down the old oak tree, the townspeople were up in arms.

Up in the air

Meaning: Uncertain or unsettled

Example: Until we know if it’s going to rain or not, our weekend plans are up in the air.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it

Idiom slide with description of the idiom We'll Cross That Bridge When We Come to It
We Are Teachers

Meaning: If that problem comes up, we’ll deal with it then, not right now

Example: We might have a snow day on Monday, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

When pigs fly

Meaning: Something that will probably never happen

Example: Would I ever go sky-diving? When pigs fly!

Wild goose chase

Meaning: A senseless or hopeless attempt to do something

Example: They looked all over for a copy of the new video game, but in the end it turned out to be a wild goose chase.

Wrap your head around something

Meaning: To understand something complicated or surprising

Example: It’s hard to wrap your head around just how big the universe is.

You can say that again

Meaning: I completely agree with what you just said

Example: “This pizza is the best food I ever ate!” exclaimed Mateo. “You can say that again!” Dylan agreed.

Your guess is as good as mine

Meaning: When you have no idea what the answer is to a question or problem

Example: “Do you know how to solve number four in our math homework?” Maria asked. “Your guess is as good as mine,” David replied, shrugging his shoulders.

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Plus, puns and jokes only a true grammar nerd will get!

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