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:

I can't put a name to someone
said when you can't remmeber someone's name.

She was my classmate. I remember her face but I can't put a name to her.

Category | names

I could murder something
If you say I could murder something, it means that you really want to eat or drink something.

I could murder a pizza.

Category | crime

I wasn't born yesterday
If you say you 'I wasn't born yesterday' you mean that you are not stupid enough to believe anything said to you.

The phrase refers to the fact that wisdom comes as a result of the experiences one has throughout one's life. If you compare someone to a newborn baby, you mean that they are naive with no experiences with the world.

You say you would pay me back as soon as possible, but I don't believe you. I wasn't born yesterday, you know.
I am not easy to fool. I wasn't born yesterday.
I know he will not change overnight. I am not born yesterday.

Category | age

I'll eat my hat
said to suggest that you will be surprised if something happens.

If his business becomes successful, I'll eat my hat.

Category | clothes

I'm a Dutchman
The phrase I'm a Dutchman is used to stress the fact that something is extremely unbelievable or completely unacceptable.

This idiom is used as a statement of disbelief.

The origin of I'm a Dutchman'

The phrase originates in Anglo-Dutch hostility during the 17th century because of trade disputes and naval embargoes. This military and commercial rivalry led the Dutch and the English to insult each other.

In an article published on March 26, 2013, for the Daily Mail, Andrew Alexander entitled his article 'If this is the last euro crisis', I'm a Dutchman...' highlighting the fact that the European Union will likely suffer from other major political and economic crises.

I heard that Alice will attend the meeting. Well, in that case, I'm a Dutchman.

If this boxer wins the match, then I'm a Dutchman.

He's going to lie about his secret relationship with that beautiful actress or I'm a Dutchman.

If that's her real eyelashes, then I'm a Dutchman.

Category | nationalities

if the shoe fits, wear it
The phrase if the shoe fits, wear it means if something applies to you, then accept it.

This expression originated as if the cap fits and dates from the early 1700s.

Lacy: The teacher says that I need to spend more time with my son.
Nancy: Well, if the shoe fits, wear it.

Category | clothes

if you want peace, prepare for war
The adage if you want peace, prepare for war means that if a country is well armed and is strong, its opponents will be less likely to attack it.

The general said that believing in disarmament is not a good idea and added: "if you want peace, you must prepare for war."

Category | war

ill-gotten gains
money or other possession gained dishonestly.

All his ill-gotten gains are hidden somewhere in his bedroom.

Category | money

in a body
said when a group of people do something together.

The workers went in a body to the boss to ask for higher wages.

Category | parts of the body

in a coon's age
The phrase in a coon's age means in a very long time.

The word coon refers to a raccoon, an omnivorous mammal, native to the Americas.

She hasn't seen him in a coon's age. She is so happy to meet him again.

Category | age

in a dead heat
said when two or more competitors finish a race or a competition at exactly the same time or with exactly the same result.

The two horses finished the race in a dead heat.

Category | sport

in a fog
(Also in a haze.)
This idiom is used when someone is confused, dazed, disoriented.

After he heard the bad news, he was in a fog for a moment.

Category | weather

In a nutsheel
In summary.

The truth in a nutshell is that I know nothing about what they want me to do in this job.

Category | food

in a split second
in just very short time.

Every thing was calm. But just in a split second a storm hit the whole region causing a lot of victims.

Category | time

in bad shape
In bad physical condition.

Bill is in bad shape. He needs to exercise regularly and go on a diet.

Category | health

in cold blood
The phrase to do something in cold blood is an idiomatic expression that means to do something without feeling or with cruel intent.

This idiom is frequently used to talk about a crime.

The woman killed her baby in cold blood. It is just horrible.

Category | crime

in front of one’s nose
The phrase in front of one's nose refers to something that is plain, clearly apparent, or obvious.

A variation of this idiom is:

under one's nose

Here is an example of the idiom in a famous quote by George Orwell:

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

1. The answer to the question was right in front of her nose, but she just couldn't figure it out.

2. We've been looking for a solution to our financial problems for a long time while it was right in front of our noses.

3. I searched for my keys for the whole day and finally found them right under my nose.

4. If they had paid more attention, they would have discovered that the answer to the riddle was under their noses the whole time.

Category | parts of the body

in God's name
(also in the name of God, in the name of heaven,in God's name, in heaven's name) used to add emphasis.

What in God's name did you do to that poor girl?

Category | religion

in name only
(Also, only in name)

The phrase in name only means nominally, not essentially.

They were married only in name; the fact is that they lived in different countries.

Category | names

in one's cups
If someone is their cups, they are drunk or in the act of consuming alcohol liberally.


The origin of the phrase to be in one's cups is uncertain. However, it seems likely that the word ‘cups’ refers to cups of wine.

He couldn't be understood because he was in his cups.
She was in her cups when she broke the vase.

Category | furniture

in plain English
The phrase in plain English is an idiomatic expression that means in clear, simple language.

Please, tell me what you mean in plain English.

The instructions are too technical. Why don't they write it in plain English?

Category | language

in someone's pocket
The phrase to be in someone's pocket means to be dependent on someone financially and consequently under their influence.

The committee must surely have been in his pocket.

Category | clothes

in the air
said about something that is happening or about to happen.

Everybody in the company know that change is in the air.

Category | nature

in the bag
Certain or extremely likely to occur; assured about the success of somoething.

Don't worry about the final exam. It's in the bag.

Category | general

in the best of health
very healthy.

He's in the best health because he exercises regularly and doesn't eat junk food.

Category | health

in the blink of an eye
very quickly.

He disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Category | parts of the body

in the cold light of day
This idiom is used when you see things objectively, clearly and calmly, without the emotions you had at the time they occurred.

Later, in the cold light of day, John realized his mistake. But it was too late; the harm was done.

Category | weather

in the dock
To be on trial in court

The accused stood in the dock.

Category | crime

in the eyes of the law

In the eyes of the law you are not allowed to treat people like that.

Category | law

in the family way
(also in a family way) pregnant.

I've heard that Leila is in the family way. Is that true?

Category | sexuality

in the firing line
If people are in the firing line, they are in a situation where they are likely to be criticized or attacked.

Another variation of this idiom:

To be in the line of fire

It is also possible to say that someone is out of the firing line or out of the line of fire if they are no more in a situation where they are vulnerable to criticism or attack.

1. She is sometimes in the firing line because of her daring opinions.

2. The prime minister is in the line of fire due to his latest liberal reforms.

3. The company tried to get out of the firing line by responding favorably to the demands of the customers.

Category | war

in the money
very rich

He's in the money. He's extremely rich.

Category | money

in the nick of time
The phrase in the nick of time means at the last possible moment, just before it's too late.

The word nick refers to a notch, cut, or indentation on an edge or a surface.

I arrived at the train station in the nick of time and took the last train to the capital city.

Category | time

in the oven
If a woman has one in the oven, it means that she is pregnant.

She probably has one in the oven.

Category | furniture

in the pink

He has been in the pink since he decided to go on a diet and exercise regularly.

Category | colors

in the same boat
In the same situation; having the same problems.

A: Can you lend me 100 dollars?
B: Sorry,I am broke. I am in the same boat

Category | travel

in the wake of
following, as a result of.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigns his position as head of the International Monetary Fund in the wake of sexual assault charges.

Category | general

in the zone

He's doing a good job. He's in the zone!

Category | general

in this day and age
In the present.

In In this day and age, horrible crimes are very common occurrence.

Category | age

in tune (with somebody/something)
said when you have a good understanding of someone or something.

He was in tune with new technologies.

Category | technology and science

in two shakes of a lamb's tail
In a very short time.

He did the job in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

Category | animals

in your dreams
The phrase in your dreams means that you don't believe that something which is desired by someone will happen.

Marry a star? In your dreams!

Category | dreams

Indian file
The phrase Indian file refers to a line of people or things arranged one behind another.

This idiom is especially used in the US. The British alternative for it is Indian file.

The origin of the phrase 'Indian file'

The phrase Indian file makes a reference to the perception settlers had about the American Indians' walk - that is in a line one behind the other on trails through the forest.

In French, a similar expression ('file indienne') is used to refer to the way Indians used to move in the woods.

Indian file

"In about an hour they returned very much intoxicated, singing their dead war songs, and every warrior naked, painted black from head to foot: as they approached the house in Indian file, each one repeated the following words […]" <a href="https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Indian_file" target="_blank">1791, Voyages And Travels Of An Indian Interpreter And Trader, page 69. </a>

Category | nationalities

into a jam
(also in a jam) in a difficult situation.

He found himself in a jam when he was caught cheating.

Category | food

invest time in something
If you invest your time in something, you put your time, effort, or energy into a project.

Leila had invested her time in voluntary work before she joined a university in England.
He invested five months of his time writing this book.
She invests her time in the upbringing of her child.
The father invests his time in securing the future of his kids.
The company invested more time in developing their technology.

Category | time

it beats me
used to suggest that you don't understand something.

It beats me how she passed the exam.

Category | sport

it goes without saying
The phrase it goes without saying is an idiom. It refers to something that is so obvious that it is needless to say it.

It goes without saying that you have to wake early tomorrow morning if you want to participate in the marathon competition.

Category | language

It has someone's name on it
said about somthing that belongs to someone or meant for someone.

This piece of cake has my name on it.

Category | names

it never rains but it pours
This expression is used to mean that things do not just happen occasionally, but all all at the same time.

I woke up late, missed the bus and when I arrived to work I realized I lost my purse. It never rains but it pours.

Category | weather

it takes two to tango
the expression it takes two to tango means that for something to work properly the cooperation of both parties is needed.

Tango is a dance originating in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The phrase originated in a song, Takes Two to Tango, which was written and composed in 1952 by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning.

For the success of the negotiations, both companies should make some concessions; it takes two to tango, you know.

Category | music

it's a jungle out there
The phrase it's a jungle out there is an idiomatic expression which refers to a threatening environment where it is difficult to survive.

"It's a Jungle Out There" is also a song written by Randy Newman and used as the theme song for the TV series Monk. The lyrics allude to Monk's plethora of fears and warn that some degree of cautiousness and attention is necessary to stay alive, given everyday life's many dangers.

Another idiom that uses the term the jungle as a metaphor for a dangerous and threatening environment is the expression the law of the jungle in reference to a world where the the strongest will survive.

Working in that company is so difficult. It's a jungle out there.

Category | nature

It's about time
Used to express impatience at the eventual occurrence of something that should have occurred a long time ago.

It's about time that women should be considered equal to men in this country.

Category | time

it's all Greek to me
The phrase it's all Greek to me is an idiom in English, referring to something that is not understandable.

The idiom is used in 1599 in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, as spoken by Servilius Casca to Cassius after a festival in which Caesar was offered a crown:

CASSIUS: Did Cicero say any thing?
CASCA: Ay, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUS: To what effect?
CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I'll ne'er look you i' the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me. I could tell you more news too: Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar's images, are put to silence. Fare you well. There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.

(William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1599))

See more about this expression on Wikipedia

Other variations of this idiom:

  • It's Greek to me

  • That's Greek to me

  • It's Chinese to me

1. I've read this book but it's all Greek to me.
2. My friend tried to explain to me how to use a new software he had developed, but it was all Greek to me.

Category | language

it's all Greek to someone
The phrase 'it's all Greek to me' means that something is completely unintelligible as if it is written in a language that one does not speak.

The origin of the phrase 'it's all Greek to me'

It is believed that the phrase comes from a direct translation of a similar phrase in Latin: "Graecum est; non legitur" meaning "it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read". This phrase was used more and more by monk scribes in the Middle Ages because knowledge of the Greek alphabet and language was decreasing among those who were copying manuscripts in monastic libraries.

The phrase appears in 1599 in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, as spoken by Servilius Casca to Cassius after a festival in which Caesar was offered a crown:

CASSIUS: Did Cicero say any thing?

CASCA: Ay, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUS: To what effect?

CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I'll ne'er look you i' the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me. I could tell you more news too: Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar's images, are put to silence. Fare you well. There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.
— William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1599)

I watched a documentary about black holes, but it was all Greek to me.

I tried reading that science book, but it was all greek to me.

She doesn't like his classes because it's all Greek to her.

I'm afraid these instructions are Greek to me.

Category | nationalities

it's not rocket science
If something is not rocket science, it is not difficult to understand.

Category | technology and science

It's your funeral
The phrase It's your funeral! is used to mean that if someone has to face the consequences of his or her actions.

Alan: I want to try my lack of gambling.
John: Go if you want. It's your funeral!

Category | death

itchy feet
Feeling of a need to travel.

She has itchy feet again. She says she will travel to Brazil.

Category | travel

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