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:

naked as a jaybird
The phrase naked as a jaybird means completely naked.

A variation of the same idiom is:

naked as a jay

It is not clear why the idiom refers to the jaybird. The latter is not normally stripped of its feathers.

1. He ran out naked as a jaybird into the the garden.
2. She walked out into the dinning room naked as a jaybird

Category | animals

name is mud
If someone's name is mud they are in trouble, disgraced, or discredited.

The idiom's origin is said to refer to Samuel Alexander Mudd (December 20, 1833 January 10, 1883) who was an American physician, imprisoned for conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. However, according to an online etymology dictionary, this phrase has its earliest known recorded instance in 1823, ten years before Mudd's birth, and is based on an obsolete sense of the word "mud" meaning "a stupid twaddling fellow".

See more about Samuel Alexander Mudd

If she doesn't prove her innocence, her name will be mud.

Category | names

name the day
fix the date of an important event, especially marriage.

Sarah and John are going to name the day soon.

Category | time

Nature abhors a vacuum
The phrase nature abhors a vacuum is attributed to Aristotle. It means every space in nature needs to be filled with something.

Nature abhors a vacuum and that presidential candidate is filling it with his populist promises and pompous declarations

Category | nature

necessity is the mother of invention
This proverb means that when people really need to do something, they will find a way to do it.

When her pen had run out of ink, she used her lipstick to write a short note to her husband who was at work.

Category | relationship

necessity knows no law
Necessity knows no law is a proverb. It means that being desperate and having no means may lead you to do illegal things.

He was dealing in illegal drugs because he had to feed four kids. Necessity knows no law.

Category | law

neither fish nor fowl
said of something not easily categorized or not fitting neatly into any established group.

I can't see what you want to say. Your proposal is neither fish nor fowl.

Category | animals

nervous Nellie
A nervous Nellie refers to someone whose personality and usual behavior are characterized by worry, insecurity, and timidity.

He is a nervous Nellie; He can't make a decision without the approval of wife.

Category | names

never mind
1. it's not important;
2. do not be concerned (about someone or something, or about doing something)

Category | general

never say die
The phrase never say die means never give up or surrender. It is used to encourage a person to keep trying.


Although the structure of the phrase never say die may seem strange, one may imagine that it has emerged as a reply to a statement such as “we are all going to die”, expressing despair in the face of fatal circumstances.

Idiomatically, it just means that one should not give up hope. The idiom reminiscent of the phrase "where there's life there's hope".

The expression can be also used as an adjective:

A never-say-die attitude refers to an unconquerable spirit. If you have such an attitude, you don't surrender or give up.

Another variation of the phrase is never say never.

1. Jane: It is difficult for me to continue working on this project.
Lisa: Come on Jane! Never say die! You just have to be patient.
2. You should never say die even if many things go wrong in your life.
3. Our team has a never-say-die attitude. No matter how things are bad for them, they always find a way to win.

Category | death

next to nothing
almost; hardly.

Although they paid him next to nothing, he liked the job.

Category | general

nine times out of ten
almost always.

In this country, nine times out of ten trains come late.

Category | numbers

nine to five
said about a job with normal daytime hours, a job that begins at nine o'clock in the morning and finishes at five.

She's tired of working nine to five.

Category | numbers

no comment
an "official" refusal to relay any further information, as a response to a newspaper reporter's question.

The district attorney said, "No comment," when the reporter asked if he knew the identity of the criminal.

Category | general

no spring chicken
said of a person who is no longer particularly young.

Although he's no spring chicken, he runs fast.
I remind you, my dear, that you are no spring chicken! You do not have the force to work twelve hours a day anymore!

Category | animals

no use to man or beast
said about something or someone that is completely useless.

That old car is no use to man or beast.

Category | men and women

not bat an eyelid
The phrase not bat an eyelid is an idiomatic expression that means to show no reaction or not to display even a hint of an emotional response.

She didn't even bat an eyelid when they told her that her husband had an affair with his secretary.

Category | parts of the body

not be short of a bob or two
The phrase not be short of a bob or two means to have a lot of money.

Her husband is not short of a bob or two.

Category | names

not come cheap
said about something that is of good quality and is therefore expensive.

Fast cars don't come cheap.

Category | money

not enough room to swing a cat
not very much space. Said abut a small place.

Their house was very small. There wasn't enough room to swing a cat.

Category | animals

not for a minute
not at all.

I don't want you to fail in your project. Not for a minute.

Category | time

not half bad
Pretty good; okay; decent.

It was my first attempt at cooking, but I tried it and it was not half bad.

Category | general

not have a cat in hell's chance
(also not have a snowball's chance in hell) not to be able to achieve something.

He hasn't a cat in hell's chance of getting the money he needs for the project.

Category | animals

not have a leg to stand on
not have a sound justification, a firm foundation of facts to prove something.

After the police caught him, he didn't have a leg to stand on to prove his innocence.

Category | parts of the body

not have a snowball's chance in hell
(also not have a cat in hell's chance) not to be able to achieve something.

He hasn't a snowball's chance of getting the money he needs for the project.

Category | religion

not hold water
said when an explanation, a reason or an argument is not sound, strong or logical.

Her reasons just didn't hold water.

Category | nature

not in a million years
The phrase not in a million years means never, not at any point or under absolutely no circumstances.

This idiom is a hyperbole. It is an alternative form of never in a million years.

Leila: "Do you think Liz will marry James?"
Rosa: "Not in a million years!"

Category | time

not miss a trick
said about someone who is extremely alert.

He was attentive to what the teacher was explaining. He didn't miss a trick.

Category | general

nothing is certain but death and taxes
The phrase nothing is certain but death and taxes means that everything in life is uncertain. The only things that you can be sure of are:
1. You will undoubtedly die.
2. You will certainly have to pay taxes.


This saying comes from the letters of Benjamin Franklin where he states:
Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

However, Franklin's letter is not the origin of the phrase; it appeared earlier in Daniel Defoe's The History of the Devil:
Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believ'd.
Daniel Defoe The Political History of the Devil 1726.

Lacy: I can't believe how much tax money I have to pay for starting this business.
Alice: You know, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

Category | death

nothing to sneeze at
not bad; decent; acceptable; worthwhile.

Their music may not be worthy of radio time, but it's nothing to sneeze at.

Category | general

now or never
said when you have to do something right now because you may not get another chance to do it later.

This is your chance. It's now or never!

Category | time

nurse someone back to health
to look after a sick person until he recovers.

He is fortunate to have such a caring wife.She was glad to nurse him back to health.

Category | health

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