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

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Learn English Idioms

A list of English idioms with definitions and examples:

face (that) only a mother could love
a very ugly face.

Look at that poor girl. That's a face that only a mother could love.

Category | relationship

face that would stop a clock
The phrase a face that would stop a clock refers to an ugly face.

He was a wicked-looking man, with a face that would stop a clock.
She refused to marry a rich good looking young French who proposed to her. Instead, she chose to live with a muscular thug with a face that would stop a clock.

Category | time

face the music
said when someone accepts to confront the unpleasant consequences of one's actions.

After failing to manage the crisis, the manager had to face the music.

Category | parts of the body

fact of life
Something that cannot be avoided.

It is a pity that drug abuse has become a fact of life in the Olympic Games.

Category | life

facts of life
the details about sex and reproduction.

His parents told him the facts of life when he was ten years old.

Category | sexuality

fair-haired boy
(also blue-eyed boy) a person highly regarded and by someone or a group and treated with special favor

Before he was fired out, he had been the fair-haired boy of the boss.

Category | colors

fair-weather friend
someone who is your friend only when the times are good.

Don't rely on him.He's a fair-weather friend.

Category | relationship

fall at the final hurdle
If you fall at the final hurdle, you fail to accomplish something near the end of your attempt.

A related idiom is the following:

fall at the first hurdle.

The above idiom means to fail at the beginning of something that you are trying to do.

Congratulations John! You are doing a good job! Just make sure you don't fall at the final hurdle!

Category | sport

fall at the first hurdle
If you fall at the first hurdle, you fail to accomplish something at the very beginning of the attempt.

A related idiom is the following:

fall at the final hurdle.

The above idiom means to fail near the end of something that you are trying to do.

Mary fell at the first hurdle when she failed to raise the amount of money she needs for her business plan.

Two European Commission nominees fall at the first hurdle.

Category | sport

fall for someone
to fall in love with someone.

He fell for her because she's so beautiful.

Category | love

fall from grace
The idiom fall from grace refers to a loss of status, respect, or prestige.

The idiom comes from a Christian reference to the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience.

The politician has fallen from grace and has become very unpopular.

Category | religion

fall head over heels for someone
to be in love with someone very much; hopelessly smitten.

They fell head over heels in love with each other.

Category | love

fall in love
to begin feeling attracted to someone and love him or her.

When Jane and Math met for the first time, they fell madly in love.

Category | relationship

fall in love with someone
To come to have feelings of love directed at another person or a thing

They fell in love with each other from the moment they saw each other.

Category | love

fall off the back of a lorry
A euphemism for something acquired illegally or stolen.

He was trying to sell me a new laptop which I suspect fell off the back of a lorry.

Category | travel

fall on deaf ears
Of a request, complaint, etc, to be ignored.

Every time I ask him to do something for me, it falls on deaf ears.

Category | parts of the body

fall out of love
to stop being in love with someone.

She fell out of love with him when she knew he had been hiding secrets from her.

Category | love

fall prey to
(also fall victim to) to become a victim.

When she married him, she fell prey to his greed.

Category | animals

fall through the cracks
to be missed; to escape the necessary notice or attention

Complete every item, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Category | general

fan the flames
to make a bad feeling or situation become worse or more intense.

His racial declarations fanned the flames of the ethinc war.

Category | nature

father figure
The phrase father figure usually refers to an older man who is respected and who is characterized by power, authority, or strength.

The kids respected him as a father figure.

Category | relationship

feast for the eyes
visually pleasing sight.

Look at that painting. It's really a feast for the eyes.

Category | parts of the body

feel blue
to feel sad.

She felt blue after her divorce.

Category | colors

feel it in one's bones
The phrase to feel something in one's bones means to have an intuition or hunch about something or to have a strong conviction as a result of one's own practical experience or instinct.

He is going to fail. I can feel it in my bones.

Category | parts of the body

feel like a million
(Also feel like a million bucks, feel like a million dollars)
To feel like a million means to feel well and healthy, both physically and mentally.

It is a wonderful day! I feel like a million dollars.

Category | numbers

feel your age
The phrase feel your age means to realize that you are growing old.

I really felt my age at work. All my colleagues looked very young.

Category | age

fifth column
The phrase fifth column refers to a group within a country at war who are sympathetic to or collaborate with its enemies.

The origin of the idiom

As far as the origin of the idiom 'fifth column', Wikipedia states that the phrase was used by rebel general Emilio Mola during the Spanish Civil War. He boasted that while his four columns of troops approached Madrid, a "fifth column" of supporters inside the city were working with him to defeat the Republican government under Francisco Caballero:
During the Siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, Nationalist general Emilio Mola told a journalist in 1936 that as his four columns of troops approached Madrid, a "fifth column" (Spanish: Quinta columna) of supporters inside the city would support him and undermine the Republican government from within.

The term was then widely used in Spain, and Ernest Hemingway used it as the title of his only play, which he wrote in Madrid while the city was being bombarded and published in 1938 in his book The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories.

"There are some people bent on blowing up the situation in the country. I call them the fifth column. They are not an opposition. They want to stage a rebellion in the country. Their dream is to topple the government and overthrow the president." Alexander Lukashenko

<img src="/images/voc/idioms/fifth-column-4.jpg" title="fifth column" alt="fifth column meaning"/>

Category | numbers

fifth wheel
Anything superfluous or unnecessary.

I felt like a fifth wheel when they started looking at each other affectionately.

Category | travel

fight fire with fire
If you fight fire with fire, you use the same methods and tactics that your opponent is using against you.

Shakespeare referred to the same meaning in King John, 1595:

Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror

After the competitive offers from rival firms, our company has decided to fight fire with fire and reduce prices.

Category | war

fight like cat and dog
to argue and fight violently.

Those two children always fight like cat and dog.

Category | animals

fight the good fight
If you fight the good fight, you try very hard to do what is right so as to have a clean conscience.

The origin of this idiom comes from the Bible, Timothy 6.12 (King James Version):
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

The phrase was also quoted in a classic favorite hymn and Christian song written by Rev. John Samuel Bewley Monsell and published in Hymns of Love and Praise for the Churchs Year (1863):

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength, and Christ thy Right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

He said what he had to say. He fought the good fight and left with a clear conscience.

Category | war

fill someone's shoes
The phrase to fill someone's shoes is an idiomatic expression that means to take over someone's function or responsibilities and fulfill them satisfactorily

My father will retire soon and he expects my elder brother to fill his shoes at the store.

Category | clothes

find one's way around something
If you find your way around something, you discover a way to move around it without getting lost.

A similar idiom is:

"know one's way around something."

Meaning, to be very familiar with a particular place or activity.

Don't worry. I am sure I can find my way around this task.
He is apparently a professional. He knows his way around affiliate marketing.

Category | travel

fine art
The phrase fine art refers to something requiring highly developed techniques and skills.

They are good at the fine art of web development.

Category | art

to make small adjustments to something until optimization is achieved

They need to fine-tune their plan before they start the project.

Category | music

fish for compliments
To try to induce someone to make a compliment.

He is fishing for compliments.

Category | animals

fish story
The phrase fish story refers to an exaggerated story.


This idiomatic expression comes from the usual exaggeration by fishermen of the size of the fish that got away.

Another variation of this idiom:

fish tale

I don't believe you. What you are trying to tell me is just a fish story.
It is an incredible story, but this is no fish tale.
Don't try to fool me with your fish story.

Category | animals

fit as a fiddle
If you are as fit as a fiddle, you are well and fit.


The term fiddle means violin while the word “fit” used to mean “suitable for the purpose,” a meaning that is different from today’s use of the word. It is only since the 19th century that “fit” has had the sense of “in good shape” or “in good condition”.

One of the first recorded forms of this simile is by the English pamphleteer, poet, and playwright Thomas Nashe who wrote in Have With You To Saffron-Walden, Or, Gabriell Harveys hunt is up (1596):
...his methode as right as a fiddle.

Notice that the phrase is used with the adjective "right" not with "fit." Other versions of the idiom use the adjective "fine" (i.e., as fine as a fiddle.

Later, the phrase fit as a flea has become popular in British English. In addition to the alliteration, this idiom (i.e., “fit as a fly”) is probably derived from the idea that a flea has to be very fit to demonstrate such wonderful flying skill.

Although she’s in her 90s, she’s (as) fit as a fiddle.
It’s amazing how he feels (as) fit as a fiddle after the heart surgery.

Category | health

flight of fancy
If your idea is described as a flight of fancy, it is an imaginative but entirely unrealistic idea.


This idiom refers to suggestions, ideas, or statements as a flight of fancy because they are as irrealistic as the imagination when it takes off.

The idiom has been used since the mid-1600s.

Synonyms of the phrase include: daydream, reverie.

I had a flight of fancy of becoming a champion of the world in boxing in spite of my weak body disposition.

He will never be elected president because his campaign is full of flights of fancy.

He engaged in flights of fancy such as winning the lottery and buying a jet.

Category | travel

flimflam artist
The phrase flimflam artist refers to a swindler, especially one who goes after a big game and prepares for it carefully.

The origin of the word flimflam is perhaps comes from a Scandinavian origin (compare Old Norse flim "a lampoon".)

Don't trust him! He is a flimflam artist.

Category | art

fly in the face of
If an action flies in the face of conventions, it seems to be in direct opposition to them.

His new collection of poems is very daring and certainly flies in the face of tradition.

Jane's opinions fly in the face of conventions.

Category | parts of the body

Food for thought
If you give someone food for thought, you provide them with information or knowledge that is worthy of contemplation.


This late-nineteenth-century metaphor transfers the idea of digesting from the stomach to pondering something in the mind.

Providing something as food for thought implies that it is very much like the food that needs to be digested. Accordingly, the useful insights obtained from the process of digesting the information are similar to the nutrients that feed the body.


The verb ruminate is a synonym for the phrase. It uses a similar analogy. It alludes to ruminants, such as cows, that digest their food by chewing it over and over.
Other synonyms of the idiom are:

- Mental stimulation.
- Mental nourishment.
- Something to think about.
- Subject-for-thought.
- Intellectual-nourishment.
- Something-to-chew-on.

The ideas developed in this book have certainly given me food for thought.
His suggestion gave us food for thought.
Their proposal for becoming our partners is food for thought.

Category | food

foot in the door
To get a foot in the door means to make initial contact or to get an opportunity.

The origin of the idiom

The origin of the idiom comes from a tactic used by door-to-door salesmen. These salesmen usually block the door from being closed using their foot so that they can get the chance to convince the house owner to buy his product.

This tactic has evolved to become a business technique called: 'foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique'. It is a compliance tactic that aims at getting a person to agree to a large request by having them agree to a modest request first.

He made the first contact with the boss. This helped him get a foot in the door.

<enter><img src="/images/voc/idioms/foot-in-the-door.jpg" alt="foot in the door" title="foot in the door"/></center>

Category | home

foot-in-mouth disease
If you have foot-in-mouth disease, you have the tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.


The expression alludes to two other expressions:

1. "The foot-and-mouth disease" is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects livestock.
2. “To put one’s foot in one’s mouth” refers to verbal blunder.

While the origin of the above expressions goes back to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the phrase "have foot-in-mouth-disease" is newer, dating from the mid-twentieth century.

The phrase is used to refer to a person who unintentionally states things that are silly, tactless, or hurtful.

He has the foot-in-mouth disease, particularly when he's asked to speak on public occasions.
She has foot-in-mouth disease once again.
He'd better shut up his mouth. He has foot-in-mouth disease whenever he speaks.

Category | health

for a song
very cheaply.

She bought the house for a song.

Category | money

for all I care
used to suggest that you don't care.

You can go to the party alone, for all I care

Category | general

for love nor money
said when it is difficult to get something or persuade someone.

You can't get help for love nor money these days.

Category | money

for my money
in my opinion.

For my money, Bill is the best one to choose as a partner.

Category | money

for Pete's sake
The phrase for Pete's sake is used to expresses frustration, exasperation, annoyance.

The phrase is a variant of for Christ's sake, for God's sake.

Pete refers perhaps to Saint Peter

For Pete's sake, turn off the TV! I need some rest.

Category | names

for the ages
The phrase for the ages is an idiomatic expression that refers to something that will be memorable and noteworthy; standing the test of time.

His speech wasn't a speech for the ages. It was barely a speech for the evening.

Category | time

for the life of me
This idiom is used colloquially to mean "if one's (own) life depended on it." It

I couldn't for the life of me remember where I met her.

Category | life

for the love of God
The phrase for the love of is used to express surprise, exasperation, annoyance, or some similar feeling

For the love of Mike, or for the love of Pete are variations of this phrase.

For the sake of... is another way to use this idiom.

For the love of God, stop shouting!

Category | love

Forbidden fruit
If you refer to something as a forbidden fruit, you mean it is an illicit pleasure or something desired that cannot be had.


The phrase alludes to the religious monotheist story about the fruit that God forbade Adam not to eat in the Garden of Eden.

According to the biblical and Quranic scriptures, Adam and Eve are exiled from Eden after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
— Genesis 2:16–17

And their Lord called out to them: Did I not forbid you both from that tree and say to you that the Shaitan is your open enemy?
— Quran 7:22

The nature of the fruit alluded to in these narratives is unclear but the Western World depicts it as an apple.

He has her in his mind, and no matter what it takes, he is going to find a way to enjoy his forbidden fruit.
He was her forbidden fruit, and she was doomed to be a sinner.

Category | food

Freudian slip
The phrase Freudian slip (also called parapraxis) refers to a mistake in speech that shows what the speaker is truly thinking.

Jane: He is such a bighead. Have you heard what he has just said?
Nancy: Yes, sure. Instead of saying "nobody's perfect," he said, "nobody else is perfect." That's a Freudian slip.

Category | names

frog in one's throat
To have a frog in one's throat means to be unable to speak clearly because one's throat is dry or blocked.

The idiom may refer to real hoarseness or the inability to speak because of fear.

The origin of the phrase

Why do we say frog in your throat?

The story goes that because people used to drink from ponds and streams, there was a fear that they could swallow frog’s eggs which may hatch in one's throat. This was believed to cause choking feeling in the back of the throat.

The legend has it that quacks (that is unqualified traveling doctors) used to sell fake cures for throat problems. They deceived people by having an assistant who pretended to have a ‘frog in his throat’. The fake doctor would give medicine to the assistant causing him to cough up a live frog and all of a sudden recover his voice!

I can hardly talk! I have a frog in my throat because of the cold weather.

A: Have you noticed that Jane had a frog in her throat? She was so terrified that she couldn't utter a word.
B: Yes, she couldn't believe that she was caught red-handed and that she would spend the rest of her life in jail.

Whenever he had to speak in public, he gets a frog in his throat.

Category | animals

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What are idioms?

Related materials

Recommended books: