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15 Essential Idioms | Everyday Expressions

Idioms are often used by native speakers in conversation and they can always be found in TV series, books and films. If you want to have a good command of the English language, it’s important that you get to grips with some of them and understand what they really mean.

Some of you might be asking, "what even is an idiom? Anything thing that sounds that close to idiot, can't be that great...". Well, An idiom is a commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. They use language in an unusual and imaginative manner and need to be learnt as a whole otherwise they're difficult to understand.

Let’s have a look at some of the most frequently used idioms in the English language. Once your done, there's an exercise sheet for you to fill in and check what you've learnt.


The ball is in your court

Meaning: it's your responsibility now; it's up to you.

This idiom refers to life rather than a sport though. If you’ve got the ‘ball’, the choice is yours and someone is waiting for your decision.

Use in context:

  • I've done all I can, now the ball's in your court.

  • She's already apologised, now the ball's in his court.

Through thick and thin

Meaning: to be loyal no matter what.

Often used to describe families or BFFs, ‘through thick and thin’ means that you’re by each other’s side no matter what happens, through the bad times, as well as the good.

Use in context:

  • My best friend has supported me through thick and thin.

  • My husband has supported Liverpool through thick and thin. He is a true fan.

Cool as a cucumber

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Cool as a cucumber.

Meaning: calm and composed, especially under stressful situations. If you're as 'cool as a cucumber' it means that you're very laid back, without any worries and not affected by pressure.

Use in action:

  • She was as cool as a cucumber during her job interview.

  • Ronaldo was as cool as cucumber as he scored the match-winning penalty.

Over the moon

Meaning: extremely happy; excited.

Use in action:

  • The school football team won two championships. They are over the moon!

  • She was over the moon with her new iPhone that she got for her birthday.

It takes two to tango

Meaning: both parties involved in a situation or argument are equally responsible for it.

The phrase refers to the South American tango dance, which requires two partners to perform.

Use in context:

  • Don't blame me for the argument. It takes two to tango! You are equally responsible.

Hit the sack

Meaning: To go to bed.

One of my favourite expressions. When you've had a long day and all you want to do is curl up in your own bed and close those eyes!

Use in context:

  • Guys, I’m shattered. I think it's time for me to hit the sack.

  • Where’s Danny? Oh he hit the sack about half an hour ago.

On the ball

Meaning: To be quick to understand and react to things.

This phrase probably came from sports, when players were told to 'keep their eyes on the ball'. To stay focused and be at their best.

Use in context:

  • I didn't sleep well last night and I'm not really on the ball today.

  • He has done a great job. He was really on the ball.

Piece of cake

Meaning: To be very easy to do or accomplish. Something that's a 'piece of cake' is as easy as eating a delicious piece of cake would be.

Use in context:

  • I was finished really early, the exam was a piece of cake!

Mmmmmm... cake

Miss the boat

Meaning: It’s too late. If you were too slow to take advantage of an opportunity, or too slow to act, then you 'missed the boat'! You don't want to miss the boat...

Use in context:

  • I forgot to apply for that study abroad program, now I’ve missed the boat.

  • He should have sold his house last year. Now he's missed the boat.

Pull someone’s leg

Meaning: to make someone believe something that is not true as a joke.

This is the perfect phrase to learn if you’re a fan of practical jokes. ‘Pull their leg’ is similar to ‘wind someone up’.

Use in context:

  • I panicked when he said the test was tomorrow, but then I realised he was just pulling my leg.

  • You can't be serious about that! Stop pulling my leg.

Break a leg

Meaning: To wish someone luck. Not to be confused with 'pulling someone's leg'!

This idiom is not at all threatening. Often accompanied by a thumbs up, ‘break a leg!’ is an encouraging cheer of good luck. It originates from the world of theater when performers thought that saying 'good luck' would actually bring them bad luck, so 'break a leg' was used instead.

Use in context:

  • My first performance on stage is tonight. "Well, break a leg!"

  • You have an exam tomorrow? Break a leg!

No, not literally 'under the weather'!

Under the weather

Meaning: to feel sick; unwell.

Use in context:

  • I didn't go to work today as I was feeling a bit under the weather.

  • Sheena was feeling a bit under the weather, so she decided not to go to the movie with her friends.

So next someone tells you that they feel under the weather, don’t offer them an umbrella, say that you hope they feel better soon!

Every cloud has a silver lining

Meaning: every sad or unpleasant situation has a positive side to it.

Sometimes we shorten the phrase and just say, 'every cloud'... Which means the same thing.

Use in action:

  • If I hadn't missed my plane, I never would have met you. Every cloud has a silver lining!

  • Even though he lost the match, he gained experience and was now more confident. Every cloud has a silver lining.

To bite the bullet

Meaning: to force yourself to do something unpleasant or difficult.

This comes from medieval times, before the discovery of anaesthesia, when soldiers who were hurt in battle and needed surgery were made to bite on something hard to keep them from screaming out in pain, normally a bullet.

Use in context:

  • I hate going to the dentist, but I'll just have to bite the bullet.

  • Mary has to learn to bite the bullet and face her fear of flying.

Beat around the bush

Meaning: To avoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable.

In the UK, people often try to be polite and sometimes avoid telling the truth or to appear rude or too direct. They prefer to 'beat around the bush' and be nice.

Use in context:

  • Don't beat around the bush - get to the point!

  • Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really want.


Now you've finished reading through, it's time to test your knowledge. Click on the link below and enjoy our 'Idioms Exercise Sheet'.

15 Essential Idioms - Exercise Sheet

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