Idiomatic Expressions - List in Alphabetical Order


List of idioms in alphabetical order

A list of idioms arranged in alphabetical order (with definitions and examples.) For a list arranged in categories, click here

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Learn English Idioms

A list of English idioms with definitions and examples:

dad fetch my buttons
said to express a surprise.

Dad fetch my buttons! He won a lot of money in the lotery.

Category | technology and science

dance on someone's grave
To celebrate a person's death triumphantly.

He said to his enemies that he would recover his strength and would surely dance on their graves.

Category | death

dance with death
try to do something that involves a lot of risks.

He danced with death when he tried to negotiate a deal with that dangerous criminal.

Category | general

dark horse
The phrase dark horse is an idiomatic expression that refers to a usually little-known person who unexpectedly wins or succeeds, especially in a competition of some sort.

The first known mention of the phrase is in Benjamin Disraeli's novel The Young Duke (1831). Disraeli's protagonist, the Duke of St. James, attends a horse race with a surprise finish: "A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph."

More on this idiom on Wikipedia

Jane turned out to be a dark horse. Although she had suffered from a severe illness this year, she managed to win the race.

Category | animals

darken someone's door
To darken someone's door means to be an unwelcome visitor.

Never darken my door again!

Category | furniture

daydream about someone or something
This phrase means to have fantasies about someone or something while one is awake.

He's daydreaming about running away to a warm Caribbean island.

Category | dreams

dead and buried
No longer in use or under consideration, irrelevant, forgotten.

All past animosities are dead and buried now.

Category | death

dead duck
said about someone or something that is is doomed to failure or death.

Due to enough unfavorable intelligence about the enemy, the attack they were intending to launch was a dead duck right from the start.

Category | animals

dead loss
something described as a dead loss is absolutely unsuccessful or useless (a complete failure)

When it comes to math, my sisiter is a dead loss.

Category | general

dead meat
Someone in danger of death or severe punishment.

You'll be dead meat if you go on treating these poor people like that.

Category | death

dead right
If someone is dead right, it means that they are absolutely correct.

Nancy: His wife is really beautiful.
Lacy: you're dead right!

Category | death

dead serious
The phrase dead serious is an idiomatic expression that means one is absolutely serious and is not joking.

Tim: I won the lottery
Barbara: Stop lying.
Tim: I'm dead serious.

Category | death

dead to the world
Said about someone who is sound asleep or unconscious.

He slept right through the night and was still dead to the world when I went out.

Category | death

dead wood
Workers no longer contributing to an organization.

There's a lot of dead wood in this company.

Category | death

desert a sinking ship
The phrase desert a sinking ship means to stop being involved in a situation because failure is imminent.

Like rats deserting a sinking ship is a related phrase. The reference to rats can be explained by the fact that they are reported to be the first ones to flee a sinking ship or a min where there is a gas leak. The idea is that if rats leave a mine or a ship, it's wise to follow.

She knew it was time to desert a sinking ship because she had read all the reports about the catastrophic financial situation of the company.

Category | travel

devil finds work for idle hands to do
People are inclined to do frivolous or harmful things to get rid of their boredom when they don't do anything useful.

My husband made sure that the children are always occupied doing something because you know the devil finds work for idle hands to do.

Category | work

devil of a time
If you have a devil of a time, you have a very difficult time.

Before she divorced, Ann had had a devil of a time with my her husband.

Category | time

careless, reckless or defiant.

He has a rather devil-may-care attitude to his wife's illness.

Category | religion

dice with death
If someone dices with death, they do something risky or dangerous that could even cause their death.


The verb dice means to play dice or gamble. This gave rise to the adjective dicey, referring to something unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

The phrase was used in the media in the twentieth century to suggest the perils taken by racing drivers.

Now the expression is used to describe risky actions. Accordingly, when someone does something risky that may cause their death, it is as if they are gambling with their life.

If you drive while you are drunk you are dicing with death.
Don’t dice with death. Drugs will destroy your life.
Some teenagers dice with death when they take selfies in dangerous places just to post them on their favorite social media.

Category | death

different as night and day
If things or people are different as night and day, they are completely unlike each other.

Although they are brothers, they are as different as night and day.
We are close friends but we are different as night and day.
We are as different as day and night but still, we love each other

Category | time

dime a dozen
Said about anything that is common, inexpensive, and easy to get or available any where.

We don't need someone like him in this company. People with his skills are a dime a dozen these days.

Category | money

dip your toe in the water
(also dip a toe in the water) said when you start something carefully because you are not sure whether it will work or not.

I am doing some volunteer work at the new school to try and dip my toe in the water of working in the education field

Category | parts of the body

dirty work
(also do the dirty work) unpleasant work or dishonest action.

1. I don't know but I feel there is some dirty work going on in this company.
2. I always have to do the dirty work. I never have fun.

Category | work

do a number on
The phrase to do a number on is an idiomatic expression that means to treat harshly, to hurt or to damage

I did a number on my back when I sat working on the computer for a long time.
This market is really doing a number on professionals.

Category | numbers

do the dirty work
The phrase do the dirty work means to do the disagreeable, illegal or dishonest things.

He always sends his assistant to do his dirty work.

Category | work

do the trick
said about something that works.

Some lemon juice should do the trick to make this sauce more delicious.

Category | general

dodge a bullet
To manage to avoid a difficult or undesirable situation.

The President appears to have dodged a bullet in the investigation.
Anne dodged a bullet with the closing of the investigation, but her troubles aren't over.
He is out of trouble now, but it is too early to talk about dodging a bullet.

Category | war

dog's age
The idiom dog's age refers to a long period of time.

A coon's age is a variation of this idiom.

Hi Jane!It's been a dog's age since we last met.

Category | age

dog's life
a miserable, unhappy existence.

I have to work everyday from dawn to sunset and come back home to take care of the children. It's really a dog's life.

Category | life

said about a world where people do anything to be successful.

It's disheartening to know that we are living in a dog-eat-dog world.

Category | animals

dogs are barking
If your dogs are barking, this means that your feet are hurting.

Interesting fact:

There is a brand of shoes called Hush Puppy. The connection between this brand and the expression "dogs are barking" is obvious: the shoes Hush Puppies are supposedly so comfortable and your feet won't hurt when you wear them.

See more about Hush Puppy on wikipedia

My dogs are barking because I walked ten miles.

Category | animals

dollars to donuts
This idiomatic expression is used to suggest that something is very likely to be true or that one is certain about something.

I'll bet you dollars to donuts she won't accept his marriage proposal.

Category | money

don't get me wrong
an expression said when you fear someone does not understand what you say.

Don't get me wrong but I think your plan may not work.

Category | relationship

done to death
if something is done to death, it is used or discussed so many times that it has become boring.

That theme has been done to death by generations of poets.

Category | death

The phrase To be a doormat or to be treated like a doormat describes a weak person who is abused by others and submits to domination.

His colleagues treat him like a doormat.

Category | furniture

double-edged sword
A benefit that carries some significant but non-obvious cost or risk.

Being a genius child is a double-edged sword because you cannot communicate with ordinary children.

Category | war

drag one's feet
To procrastinate, put off; to dawdle, avoid, or make progress slowly and reluctantly.

He's been dragging his feet about doing his homework.

Category | parts of the body

drama queen
The phrase drama queen refers to a person who tends to react to every event or situation in an over-dramatic or exaggerated way.

She is such a drama queen! She always tends to exaggerate things.

Category | art

drastic times call for drastic measures
The idiom drastic times call for drastic measures means that when you face extreme and undesirable situations, it is sometimes necessary to take extreme actions.

Desperate times call for desperate measures is another variation of the idiom.

We had to let go five of our workers because the company had problems selling the new product. Drastic times call for drastic measures!

Category | time

draw fire
If you draw fire, you attract hostile criticism.

His new book has drawn fire from many feminists.

Category | war

draw in one's horns
(also pull in one's horns) to become less impassioned, aggressive, or argumentative; to back down from a fight; to yield or capitulate.

He wanted to fight again but we managed to calm him down and get him to draw in his horns.

Category | music

draw the curtain on / over
To draw the curtain on or over something means to bring it to an end.

I think it's time for me to draw the curtain on a long career of teaching.

Category | furniture

draw the shortest straw
To be selected to do an undesirable task (by drawing the shortest straw or otherwise).

I drew the short straw and got stuck doing the whole project alone.

Category | nature

dream come true
The phrase a dream come true refers to something that you have always hoped for and that has happened.

Meeting her favorite star is a dream come true.

Category | dreams

dream on
The phrase dream on is an idiomatic expression used to express skepticism and say that something is unlikely to happen.

A related idiom:

in your dreams

Bob: "I think Jane is mad about me."
John: "Dream on!"

Category | dreams

dream ticket
The phrase dream ticket refers to an ideal alliance between two people, usually candidates in an election.

Clinton and Gore were a dream ticket in the American presidential election of 1992.

Category | dreams

dressed up to the nines
when someone is dressed up to the nines, they are wearing fashionable or formal clothes for a special occasion.

They were invited to a wedding . That's why, they were dressed up to the nines.

Category | numbers

drink like a fish
If you drink like a fish, you drink alcohol excessively.


Fish don’t breathe air. Instead, they get their oxygen from the large volume of water they pass through the absorption surfaces of gills. By analogy, a person who drinks alcohol excessively is said to drink like a fish.
One of the earliest uses of the phrase was in 1640, precisely in The Night-Walker, Or The Little Thief - a comedy play written by John Fletcher and later revised by his younger contemporary James Shirley:
“Give me the bottle, I can drink like a Fish now, like an Elephant.” blockquote>

1. Alan really drank like a fish yesterday.
2. She asked for a divorce because her husband drinks like a fish.

Category | animals

drive a hard bargain
Negotiate forcefully.

It's gonna be a tough negotiations with them. They drive a hard bargain.

Category | travel

drive someone up the wall
To irritate or annoy someone; to make a person very angry or bored; to infuriate.

Her persistent nagging drove me up the wall.

Category | travel

drop a bombshell
The phrase drop a bombshell refers to an alarming and unexpected announcement.

Another variation of this idiom is:
drop a bomb.

His wife dropped a bombshell when she said she loved another man.
They dropped a bomb when they announced that the president would resign for health reasons.

Category | war

drop a dime
to drop a dime means to make a phone call, usually calling the police to inform on or betray someone.

He went out to drop a dime on John.

Category | money

drop in the bucket
Something so strong that it doesn't count or doesn't have any importance or significance.

His contribution was just a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the team.

Category | nature

drop the subject
to stop discussing a subject.

Please drop the subject. I don't want to discuss it further.

Category | general

Dutch treat
The phrase 'Dutch treat' refers to a meal or entertainment for which each person pays his or her own expenses.

A similar idiom is 'going Dutch'.

The origin of the phrase

The origin of the phrase 'Dutch treat' or 'go Dutch' goes back to the 17th century when England and the Netherlands were rivals and fought constantly over trade routes and political boundaries. The phrase has a negative meaning, suggesting that the Dutch were stingy. Hence the fact that the phrases 'Dutch treat' and 'going Dutch' imply that everyone has to pay his due.

It is exasperating to try to figure out who owes what for a Dutch treat dinner.

Some women prefer a dutch treat dinner on a first date.

Category | nationalities

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