VOCABULARY - IDIOMS


Idiomatic Expressions - List in Alphabetical Order


idioms

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:

back in the game
The phrase back in the game means resuming an action after an absence.

Similar idioms:



  • back in action



I was absent because I was ill, but now I'm back in the game.
After his divorce, he called his first love. It seems that he is back in the game.
After he recovered from his injury, he's finally back in the game.


Category | sport

back on one's feet
The phrase back on one's feet refers to recovering from an illness or from a problem.

I am broke for the moment, but I'll get back on my feet as soon as I start working again.

Category | parts of the body

back the wrong horse
to support someone or something that later cannot be successful.

Don't back the wrong horse! You know he cannot win the elections.

Category | animals

back to the salt mines
If you go back to the salt mines, it means you have to return back to the workplace.

The vacation is over. Back to the salt mines!

Category | work

backseat driver
1. A passenger in a car who insists on giving the driver directions.
2. Anybody offering unsolicited or unwelcome advice.

My brother is such a backseat driver. I hate traveling with him.

Category | travel

bad blood
unpleasant feeling between different people.

There is bad blood between Nancy and Leila. They are rarely in good terms with each other.

Category | relationship

bad egg
bad person

Just ignore him. He's a bad egg.

Category | food

bad news travels fast
The phrase bad news travels fast means that news about misfortune and trouble circulates quickly.

The phrase 'ill news spreads apace' is another idiom which has the same meaning.

Origin



The expression refers to the idea that people usually share information about trouble quickly. Good news, however, often goes unnoticed.

Charles Dickens popularized this idiom in his novel "Life And Adventures Of Martin Chuzzlewit":

'Oh, but you mustn't let it be,' said Tom. 'There's a true saying that nothing travels so fast as ill news; and if the slightest harm had happened to Martin, you may be sure you would have heard of it long ago. I have often wished to say this to you,' Tom continued with an embarrassment that became him very well, 'but you have never given me an opportunity.'


Another related idiom is the following:

No news is good news

1.
John: "How have you heard of his arrest by the federal police?"
Jane: "Well, bad news travels fast."

2. In small towns, bad news travels fast.

3. As the saying goes, bad news travels fast. I called my husband to tell him about my car accident, but my sister had already sent him a text message.


Category | travel

bag of bones
an extremely thin person.

He's turning into a bag of bones. He lost so much weight.

Category | health

bag of tricks
a set of techniques and methods.

Why don't you use your bag of tricks to help us solve this problem?

Category | general

ball of fire
a person who is especially hard-working, high-achieving, ambitious, or active.

They say he is a real ball of fire. He has already demonstrated his wish to climb higher.

Category | sport

ball someone or something up
1. To make a mess of, destroy or ruin; to interfere with someone or something.
2. To roll something up into a ball.

1. Someone has balled my car up.
2. She balled the paper up in anger.


Category | sport

ball-breaker
(Also a ball-buster.) This refers either to a job or situation that is demanding and arduous and punishing or to a demanding woman who destroys men's confidence.

My job is such a ball-breaker! My boss expects me to work over the weekend again.
Men try to avoid her because she is a real ball-breaker.


Category | sport

banana repulic
A small country, especially one in Central America, that is dependent on a single export commodity (traditionally bananas) and that has a corrupt, dictatorial government.

Banana republic countries need democratization.

Category | food

bank on
to expect something or rely on.

Can I bank on your friend's predictions about the stock market?


Category | money

baptism of fire
The idiom baptism of fire refers to a very difficult first experience someone undergoes.

The term baptism is a religious ceremony in which one is initiated, purified, or given a name.

My first day as the manager of the restaurant was a real baptism of fire.

Category | religion

be a barrel of laughs
be enjoyable or entertaining.

This movie is a real barrel of laughs.

Category | general

be a chicken
be a coward.

Don't be a chicken. Talk to her about your love for her.

Category | animals

be a cold fish
be a person who is distant and unfeeling

He rarely talks to his colleagues. He's a cold fish.

Category | animals

be an item
said about a couple when they are having a romantic relationship.

I heard that Leila and Joe are an item.

Category | relationship

be better than sex
said about something which is very enjoyable or exciting.

Riding a horse is a real fun. It's better than sex.

Category | sexuality

be dead in the water
said when something has no chance of succeeding or of making any progress.

Our projects will be dead in the water if we don't have a good plan.

Category | nature

be dead in the water
The idiom dead in the water means that something is unsuccessful and it seems impossible that it will be successful in the future.

The whole economy is dead in the water.

Category | death

be dead to the world
to be sleeping.

I think she has woken up. She was dead to the world ten minutes ago.

Category | nature

be full of beans
said about someone who is active, lively, healthy and has a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

He's always full of beans when he goes to work.

Category | health

be glad to see the back of someone
To be happy to get rid of someone; to be happy because someone has left.

The youg man was glad to see the back of his father-in-law after he had stayed for a month.

Category | parts of the body

be in bed with
This idiom may have the following meanings:
1. To have sexual intercourse with someone.
2. To cooperate with another person or an entity (e.g. an organization, a government, etc) secretly which causes people to become suspicious of you.

1. You are a beautiful sensual woman and just because you ended up in bed with him on the first date does not mean your chances of having an actual relationship with him are ruined.
2. I don't trust the manager; he is clearly in bed with the president.


Category | sexuality

be in black and white
(also be down in black and white) to be written down.

My conditions to accept the job were in black and white in the contract.

Category | colors

be in deep water
to be in serious trouble.

The government is in deep water because of its plans for tax increases.

Category | nature

be in hot water
to be in a difficult situation

He was in hot water because of his speech about racism.

Category | nature

be in somebody's shoes
to be in the situation that another person is in.

I wouldn't like to be in Nancy's shoes. She'll have a lot of problems with her boss.

Category | clothes

be in the land of the living
be awake or to be alive.

He was working all night long. I don't think he'll be in the land of the living before noon.
I haven't seen him for ages. I'm surprised to find him stil in the land of the living


Category | nature

be like a fish out of water
to feel uncomfortable in a situation

After her divorce, she was like a fish out of water.

Category | animals

be new to the game
The phrase to be new to the game is an idiomatic expression that refers to a lack of experience in a particular activity.

I can't teach this class. I have never had any training in teaching mathematics. I am new to the game.

Category | sport

be no oil painting
If someone is no oil painting, they are not good-looking.

She is very intelligent, but she's no oil painting.

Category | art

be nuts about
If you are nuts about something, you are very enthusiastic about it or greatly in love with it.

He's nuts about books.

I'm nuts about this type of music.


Category | food

be on cloud nine
feel extreme happiness or elation

She was on cloud nine when he proposed to marry her.

Category | numbers

be on the ball
to be well-informed and respond promptly.

We need someone who's on the ball to help us implement our plan.

Category | sport

be part of the furniture
if someone or something is part of the furniture, they have been somewhere so long as to seem an integral part of the place.

She worked for that company for so long that she became part of the furniture.

Category | furniture

be sick and tired of
The phrase to be sick and tired of something or of doing something is an idiomatic expression which means to be angry and bored because something unpleasant has been happening for a long time.

Another variation of this idiom is:

be sick to death of

I'm sick and tired of hearing your excuses!

I'm sick to death of your misbehavior!


Category | health

be the cat's whiskers
The phrase to be the cat's whiskers is an old idiomatic expression. If you feel you are the cat's whiskers, you consider yourself to be the center of the universe.

Other variations of this idiom are:


  • be the cat's meow

  • be the cat's pajamas



She thinks she is the cat's whiskers in her new dress.

Category | animals

bean counter
An accountant.

The company is hiring a new accountant.

Category | work

bear fruit
The phrase bear fruit means to yield successful results.

He thinks his new plan will undoubtedly bear fruit.

Category | food

bear one's cross
If someone bear one's cross they endure burden or difficulties.

A cross is a Christian religious symbol. It is viewed as a symbol of Jesus's crucifixion.

I know it is a difficult situation you are experiencing, but you have to bear your own cross. I can't help you. I am sorry.

Category | religion

beat a dead horse
(Also flog a dead horse.) To persist or continue far beyond any purpose, interest or reason.

If you continue talking about something that cannot be changed, you are beating a dead horse.

Category | animals

beat a retreat
to leave hastily in the face of opposition.

When they saw the police coming, they beat a retreat.

Category | sport

beat around the bush
To treat a topic, without mentioning its main points, often intentionally, because the topic is difficult or unpleasant.

Stop beating around the bush and tell me what the the problem is!

Category | nature

beat the clock
To do something before a deadline.

They managed to beat the clock and arrive a few minutes before the conference started.

Category | time

beat the rap
To beat the rap means to evade conviction and punishment for a crime.

The lawyer helped John beat the rap after being caught by the police.

Category | crime

beats me
(Aso it beats me) I don't know; I have no idea.

Mickeal: What's the longest river in the world?
Alan: Beats me!


Category | sport

bed of roses
if a situation is a bed of roses, it is a pleasant or easy situation.

The job she has got recently is no bed of roses with such long hours of work.
Teaching a class of trouble makers is not a bed of roses.
This house is no bed of roses, but it’s all we can afford right now.


Category | nature

beef up
To strengthen or make something more effective.

They beefed up their offer with another million dollar.

Category | animals

before you can say Jack Robinson
very quickliy.

He can do difficult mathemaical operations before you can say Jack Robinson.

Category | names

behind bars
in jail or prison.

That guy over there has been behind bars for five years.

Category | general

behind bars
To be in prison.

He spent three years behind bars.

Category | crime

behind closed doors
in private; in one's private life.

What you do with your partners behind closed doors is none of my business.

Category | general

behind one's back
In one's absence

He was talking nonsense on my back when I arrived.

Category | parts of the body

bells and whistles
The phrase bells and whistles refers to extra, fancy add-ons or gadgets on something like a phone, a car or a computer.

This cars is loaded with all the bells and whistles, but it's too expensive.

Category | technology and science

below the salt
If someone is below the salt they are common or of low standing.

The phrase dates back to the medieval table customs. During those times salt which was a valuable seasoning was placed in the middle of a dining table and the lord and his family were seated "above the salt" and other guests or servants "below the salt".

(See also above the salt)

In medieval times servants used to sit below the salt.

Category | food

bend the law
The phrase to bend the law means to cheat a little bit without breaking the law.

Another variation of the idiom is bend the rules

He just bent the law a little bit to get what he wanted.

Category | law

Benjamin of the family
This regers to the youngest child of the family.

Bill is the benjamin of the family.

Category | names

bet your bottom dollar
This idiom is used to say that one can be sure about something.

You can bet your bottom dollar. The whole thing will end tragically.

Category | money

better the devil you know
(also better the devil you know than the devil you don't) it is sometimes better to deal with someone or thing you know than to deal with a new person or thing who could be even worse.

Nancy is such a difficult girl to work with, but better the devil you know.

Category | religion

between life and death
A situation involving the danger of dying or being killed.

The little kid lay all night long between life and death.

Category | death

between life and death
This phrase is used to refer to a situation where both living and dying are possible.

After his terrible accident, he was for a long time between life and death.

Category | life

between the devil and the deep blue sea
The phrase between the devil and the deep blue sea is an idiom referring to a dilemma, a choice between two undesirable situations.

The phrase was first used by Robert Monro in his expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes, 1637:
I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea.

A variation of this idiom is:
between a rock and a hard place

More about this idiom on wikipedia

She is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. She has to choose between staying with her nasty husband and leaving him, taking care of her children all alone.

Category | religion

beyond words
The phrase beyond words is an idiomatic expression that refers to an overwhelming situation where one cannot find words to express ones emotions.

The experience is more than one can describe it with words.

Another variation of this idiom is:

beyond description

I am thankful beyond words.

Category | language

beyond your wildest dreams
The phrase beyond your wildest dreams means in a way you had never imagined before.

They have become rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Category | dreams

Big Apple
The phrase Big Apple is a nickname for New York City.

Have you visited the official website of the Big Apple?

Category | food

big bucks
Lots of money.

The new managing director must be making big bucks after his promotion.

Category | money

big cheese
The phrase a big cheese refers to an important or influential person in a group or organization.

Other variations of the same idiom:



  • big shot gun

  • big wheel

  • big enchilada




Apparently, he's a big cheese at NASA.

Don't act like a big shot among your old friends


Category | food

big deal
Something very important, difficult, or of concern.

It's no big deal if you don't finish.

Category | general

big fish in a small pond
One who has achieved a high rank or is highly esteemed, but only in a small, relatively unimportant, or little known location or organization.

Another variation of this idiom is:

a big frog in a small pond

Dr. Jones could get a professorship at an Ivy League university, but he enjoys being a big fish in a small pond too much to ever leave Hanover College.

Category | animals

big frog in a small pond
The phrase big frog in a small pond refers to a very important person in a place where there are less important people. This idiom alludes to a large frog that dominates other less challenging frogs.

If you refer to a person as a big frog in a small pond it means that she/he is overqualified compared to others.

Another variation of this idiom is:

big fish in a small pond meaning

He is a big frog in a small pond. He has nobody to compete with in this company.

Category | animals

big girl's blouse
The phrase a big girl's blouse is a British and Australian idiomatic expression which refers to an effeminate or weak man or boy.

Don't care about what he is saying! Let's go! He's just a big girl's blouse.

Category | clothes

big head
the phrase a big head refers to a conceited or arrogant person.

Jane: She is such a bighead!
Lisa: why?
Jane: She's always talking about herself.


Category | parts of the body

big mouth
said about someone who tend to say things which are meant to be kept secret.

He is such a big mouth.He told them every thing.

Category | parts of the body

big wheel
A person with a great deal of power or influence, especially a high-ranking person in an organization.

She's a big wheel at IBM.

Category | general

bird's-eye view
The phrase a bird's-eye view is an idiomatic expression. Literally, it refers to a view seen from high above. Figuratively the phrase means a brief survey of something or a quick look at something.

1. We got a bird's-eye view of the town from th top of the high building.
2. The presentation provides a bird's-eye view of how to start a business online.


Category | animals

birthday suit
The idiom birthday suit is a slang term for the naked human body.

It was embarrassing for her to be seen in her birthday suit.

Category | clothes

bite me
An expression of discontent, aggravation or anger.

Why are you shouting like that? Oh, bite me!

Category | general

bite the dust
The phrase bite the dust has two meanings:

1. to die
2. to break; to fail.

1. Too many soldiers bit the dust in the second world war.
2. My laptop finally bit the dust.


Category | death

bite your lip
to make an effort not to react to something.

He didn't like the management of the business but he had to bite his lip.

Category | parts of the body

bitter pill to swallow
(Also swallow a bitter pill) Said about something unpleasant that must be accepted or endured.

After the disappointment and defeat, to declare bankruptcy was a bitter pill to swallow for him.

Category | health

black and blue
covered in bruises

He was black and blue the day after the accident


Category | colors

black out
to lose consciousness.

He blacked out when he fell.

Category | health

black sheep
A disreputable member of a family or a group.

They say he's the black sheep of the Bakers.

Category | colors

black-and-white
said when you have a simplistic opinion about situations while they are in fact more complicated.

I think terrorism isn't a black-and-white issue.

Category | colors

blank canvas
The phrase blank canvas refers to something with no content such that it can be easily filled with completely new things.

The phrase comes from the painter's canvas that has yet to be painted on.

Children are blank canvasses. It's easy to make them believe whatever you want.

Category | art

blank cheque
This phrase is used to mean that one is given an unlimited freedom of action.

The president has been given a blank check to conduct a war against the enemy.

Category | money

blast from the past
What does it mean when someone says blast from the past?

The phrase refers to something or someone from your past that reappeared into your life again.

I used to watch this animated cartoon when I was a kid. What a blast from the past!

Category | time

blessing in desguise
a blessing in disguise is said when a misfortune has some unexpected benefits

His failure to pass the exam was a blessing in disguise. This made him realize the importance of hard work.

Category | general

blind date
A social meeting where the two people have never met before.

I went on a blind date yesterday but it was a total fiasco.

Category | love

blood is thicker than water
family relations are more important than all other relationships.

Even if Nancy and her brother often argue, they always forgive each other. Blood is thicker than water.

Category | relationship

blow a fuse
become uncontrolably angry; lose your temper.

Hey, don't blow a fuse.

Category | technology and science

blow a kiss
To kiss one's hand, then blow on the hand in a direction towards the recipient.

We haven't yet kissed, but she blew me a kiss as the train pulled out of the station. That meant a lot to me

Category | general

blow one's own horn
(also toot one's own horn) to brag; to talk boastfully.

Nancy likes to blow her own horn.

Category | music

blue coat
The phrase blue coat is a slang that refers to either a policeman, a soldier, or stufdent in a certain prestigious British school.

The phrase can be spelt:

  • bluecoat

  • blue coat



The origin of the phrase



The blue color is a distinctive code. Policemen, soldiers as well as students in British bluecoat schools wear blue uniforms.

I have just seen a bluecoat passing by.

The criminal was pursued by a blue coat, who fired at him.


Category | colors

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

He was the blue-eyed boy of the boss.

Category | colors

blue-sky thinking
This refers to thinking that is unrealistic. This phrase may also refer to creative ideas that diverge from current beliefs or ideas.

Blue-sky thinking has long been denigrated, and because of the economic recession, such fanciful thinking may even be considered downright irresponsible.

Category | weather

Bob's your uncle
Said to mean "No problem", "the solution is simple", "there you have it" (appended to the end of a description of how to achieve something).

You want to go to the stadium? Go straight on until you reach the park, take the first left and Bob's your uncle!

Category | names

body language
The phrase body language is an idiom that refers to any gesture, position, or movement of the body or face, used to communicate non-verbally.

He hated her and his feelings were clearly expressed in his body language

Her body language was quite hostile and threatening.


Category | language

bolt from the blue
This refers to a complete surprise; something totally unexpected. In this phrase there is an allusion to a stroke of lightning from a clear blue sky.

The news that they are getting a divorce was a bolt from the blue.

Category | weather

boots on the ground
The ground forces actually fighting in a war or conflict at the time of speaking, rather than troops not engaged or being transported to the fighting.

The Pentagon may say we have enough, but that's not what I'm hearing from the boots on the ground.

Category | clothes

born to the purple
If someone is born to the purple or in the purple, they are born into a reigning family or privileged class.

She was the only child born to the purple.

Category | colors

bottomless pit
The phrase a bottomless pit refers to:
1. Someone with a seemingly boundless appetite.
2. A situation that seems to have no limits.

1. He eats every last bit of food in the house. He is really a bottomless pit.
2. We'll be feeding a bottomless pit if we try to keep that factory open.


Category | general

break your back
If you break your back to do something, you work very hard to do it.

I am not going to break my back to this job for such a low salary.

Category | work

breathe one's last
The phrase breathe one's last means to die.

After he had suffered from leukemia for years, he breathed his last at about three o'clock in the morning.

Category | death

bright as a button
intelligent.

He has a daughter who is as bight as a button.

Category | technology and science

bring a knife to a gunfight
(Also, take a knife to a gunfight)
To enter into a confrontation or other challenging situation without being adequately equipped or prepared.

We lost the deal against much equipped competitors because we brought a knife to a gunfight.

Category | war

bring home the bacon
get a job and bring home money earned from this job.

When her husband got fired, she decided to look for a job because someone's got to bring home the bacon.

Category | food

bring the curtain down
To bring the curtain down to something means to bring something to an end.

I am asking for a divorce. It's time to bring the curtain down.

Category | furniture

bring to knees
to destroy or defeat someone or something.

Sanctions were imposed in an attempt to bring the country to its knees.
The strikes brought the economy to its knees.


Category | parts of the body

bring to the table
To bring something to the table means to contribute something to a group effort.

It is all about you bring to the table.

Category | furniture

broken dreams


The phrase broken dreams refer to dreams, plans, or goals that didn't come true.

Quotes about broken dreams



“In every human heart is a place where you put all your broken dreams. When something doesn't work out, no matter what it may be, you just have to give it up and stuff it in with your broken dreams. And make sure you keep the lid on tight.”

Sayo Masuda

broken dreams (idiom)/

Jane had her share of broken dreams in her marriage.


Category | dreams

browned off
annoyed, upset, angry, bored, fed up, disgusted.

He was browned off when he was ill treated.

Category | colors

brush with death
If someone has a brush with death, they have an experience in which one almost dies.

He started valuing his life since he had a brush with death during the 2004 tsunami.

A brush with death teaches us to value Life.

A brush with death always helps us to live our lives better.


Category |

build bridges
to improve relationships between people.

They wanted to build bridges between Nancy and Alan to settle the conflict once for all.

Category | relationship

burn candles at both ends
If you burn candles at both ends, you work very hard, day and night.

She has been burning candles at both ends to finish a book about the history of the United States of America.

Category | work

burn one's fingers
To burn one's fingers means to suffer consequences of one's actions. The expression is used especially in a financial context.

He burned his fingers in the stock market.

Category | parts of the body

burn the midnight oil
Work hard, especially late into the night.

She was burning the midnight oil preparing for her daughter's wedding when she had a heart attack.

Category | work

bury head in the sand
If you bury your head in the sand, you avoid or try to avoid, a particularly problematic situation by pretending that it does not exist.

Origin


The phrase comes from the supposed belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when they are frightened so that they can hide from predators.

John: I am trying to quit smoking weeds.
Bill: I remember you told the same thing last year.
John: This time, I am determined.
Bill: John, you can't bury your head in the sand about your addiction. You need to join a rehab center.


Category | parts of the body

bury the hatchet
The phrase to bury the hatchet is an idiomatic expression; it means to make peace.

Another variation of this idiom is:

hang up (one's) hatchet

A hatchet refers to a small, short-handled axe for use in one hand. Getting rid of it indicates an intention to make peace.

John and Alan buried the hatchet and are now good friends.

Category | war

butter up
To praise or flatter excessively.

Why are you buttering up the boss?

Category | food

button (up) one's lip
to stop talking.

Please, button up your lip and keep the news secret till tomorrow.

Category | technology and science

by the grace of God
Through the kindness and help of God.

By the grace of God, his son managed to pass the exam.

Category | religion

by the name of
called.

I met a doctor by the name of John.

Category | names

by the numbers
If you do something by the numbers, you are doing it in a strict, mechanical way, without using your imagination or creativity.

His work is done by the numbers. There is nothing original about it!

Category | numbers

by the skin of one's teeth
The phrase by the skin of one's teeth is an idiomatic expression that means just barely; by a narrow margin.

In this idiom, reference is made to an imaginary skin on one's teeth. So if you do something by the skin of your teeth, you only just succeed in doing it by an amount equal to the thickness of that skin.

I passed the exam by the skin of my teeth.

Category | parts of the body

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