Here are 15 common English idioms and phrases that will enrich your English vocabulary and make you sound like a native speaker in no time.
1. ‘The best of both worlds’ – means you can enjoy two different opportunities at the same time.
“By working part-time and looking after her kids two days a week she managed to get the best of both worlds.”
2. ‘Speak of the devil’ – this means that the person you’re just talking about actually turns up at that moment.
“Hi Tom, speak of the devil, I was just telling Sara about your new car.”
Are you ready to test your English level? Take a 10min free EF English Live test and identify the skills you need to improve
3. ‘See eye to eye’ – this means agreeing with someone.
“They finally saw eye to eye on the business deal.”
4. ‘Once in a blue moon’ – an event that happens infrequently.
“I only go to the cinema once in a blue moon.”
5. ‘When pigs fly’ – something that will never happen.
“When pigs fly she’ll tidy up her room.”
6. ‘To cost an arm and a leg’– something is very expensive.
“Fuel these days costs and arm and a leg.”
7. ‘A piece of cake’– something is very easy.
“The English test was a piece of cake.”
8. ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ – to accidentally reveal a secret.
“I let the cat out of the bag about their wedding plans.”
9. ‘To feel under the weather’ – to not feel well.
“I’m really feeling under the weather today; I have a terrible cold.”
10. ‘To kill two birds with one stone’ – to solve two problems at once.
“By taking my dad on holiday, I killed two birds with one stone. I got to go away but also spend time with him.”
11. ‘To cut corners’ – to do something badly or cheaply.
“They really cut corners when they built this bathroom; the shower is leaking.”
12. ‘To add insult to injury’ – to make a situation worse.
“To add insult to injury the car drove off without stopping after knocking me off my bike.”
13. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ – to not judge someone or something based solely on appearance.
“I thought this no-brand bread would be horrible; turns out you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
14. ‘Break a leg’ – means ‘good luck’ (often said to actors before they go on stage).
“Break a leg Sam, I’m sure your performance will be great.”
15. ‘To hit the nail on the head’ – to describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem.
“He hit the nail on the head when he said this company needs more HR support.”
To test your new-found knowledge here are some sentences to practice with. Fill in the blank!
A) I can’t afford this purse! It _______. I won’t be able to pay my rent!
B) His birthday was supposed to be a surprise! I can’t believe you _____. Now he knows!
C) Ha! John has been promising to paint the house for five years…. Maybe when _______.
D) Yeah, it’ll _______. I need to sign some papers at Jenny’s school anyway so i’ll pick her up for you too.
E) I don’t really like going out to bars anymore. I only go _______.
F) I’m sorry I can’t come into work today. I’m ________. I have a sore throat and runny nose.
G) They tried ________ when installing the pipes for the house and now we have leaks only one month after purchasing it!
H) We missed our flight to Paris because the connecting flight was late and to ______ they made us pay for a new ticket as if it was our fault!
I) I can’t wait to see you perform on stage tonight! ______!
J) Jane is just never on time to work, it’s really annoying. O wow, ______ here she comes…
K) So we’re going to London, then Munich, then we will fly out of Athens, right? Great. I’m so glad to be traveling with someone I _______ with.
L) Wow, she found her dream man and has now landed an amazing job. She really does have ______.
M) OK, she might not be the most attractive but _________. I’m sure she is a sweetheart.
N) I have been trying to figure this out for ages. Thanks so much, you’re right. You _______.
O) I can’t believe that was our test. I think it was easier than some of our homework! It was a ______.
So how did you do? Don’t forget to try and use these idioms and phrases when practicing your English. And do let us know if you need further clarification on commonly used idioms by leaving a comment below.
Want to learn more? Visit our website to start learning English online today!
Answers: 6, 8, 5, 10, 4, 9, 11, 12, 14, 2, 3, 1, 13, 15, 7
Learning common idioms first is the best way to begin building up your knowledge of these types of words and expressions.
This page has been divided up into 5 tables of 10 words, so you have 50 of the most common phrases, and you can learn them as a set at a time.
Soon some exercises will be added so you can practice each set of words, so keep an eye on this page.
Make sure that you have checked that you know exactly what idioms are and when to use them before you start practicing them.
These common idioms are for speaking rather than writing.
Common Idioms List
It cost me an arm and a leg to take my trip to Australia.
I was over the moon when he asked me to marry him.
Extremely pleased or happy
You are taking your IELTS test next week?? Aren’t you jumping the gun. You’ve only just started studying.
Doing or starting something too early
He comes round to see me once in a blue moon.
Happening very rarely
He’s got a chip on his shoulder.
Feeling inferior or having a grievance about something
I reckon getting a band 7 in IELTS will be a piece of cake! I’m very good at English.
The money sent by comic relief to help poverty in Africa is just a drop in the ocean. They need far more than this.
A very small part of something much bigger
Getting a low score the first time I took IELTS was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to study extremely hard so I got a much better score the next time.
Something positive that isn’t recognized until later
We have to actually do something about global warming. Actions speak louder than words.
It’s better to actually do something rather than just talking about it
I bumped into Jenny in town the other day. It's a small world.
Meeting someone you would not have expected to
Oh well, I got 5.5 in IELTS again. Back to the drawing board!
When an attempt to do something fails and it's time to start all over again using different methods
I hate my job so much I can’t bare going to work, but if I quit I don’t think I can get another job. I’m really stuck / caught between a rock and a hard place.
Having two very bad choices.
(note: stuck/caught can be omitted)
I have to bite my tongue so I don’t say what I really think of him!
Wanting to say something but stopping yourself.
Come on, cut to the chase. We haven’t got all day!
Leave out all the unnecessary details and just get to the point
Are you putting all of your savings into that company? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Putting all of ones resources into one possibility
Try not to worry about it. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Believing that every bad situation has a positive side / eventually leads to something good
It was difficult when I moved to another country but I eventually found my feet.
To become comfortable in what you are doing
My parents are very fixed in their ways. They won’t start using the internet.
Not wanting to change from the normal ways of doing things
I think he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. He is in a terrible mood.
To refer to someone who is having a bad day
My mother will always go the extra mile to help people.
Doing much more than is required when doing something
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s the reason he didn’t get the job.
Say exactly the right thing
Today’s going so badly. If it’s not one thing, it’s the other.
When everything seems to be going wrong
I just said it in the heat of the moment. I was angry. I know I shouldn’t have.
Saying or doing something suddenly without thinking about it
Keep an eye on him. I think he may cheat in the exam.
Watch someone or something carefully
Have you heard? John down the road has kicked the bucket.
I don’t want to argue with him again. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
Avoid a conflict
I told him what gift you have bought him for his birthday. Sorry, I didn’t mean to let the cat out of the bag.
Tell someone something that you were not supposed to
Don’t tell her what you really think of her if she’s helping you with your English! Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Hurt or upset someone who is helping you
I’m not sure which party he is going to vote for. He’s sitting on the fence.
Not making a firm decision between different choices
Everything she does is very over the top. She can’t just have a few drinks – se has to get really drunk.
Let’s keep studying for IELTS. Practice makes perfect.
Continuously doing something to improve
Don’t get upset about what he said. He’s just pulling your leg.
Sorry but I think I’ll take a rain check on that.
To decline an offer that you will take up later
As a rule of thumb, I don’t study at weekends. I spend the time with my family.
Principal that is strictly adhered / kept to
I can smell a rat. He said he has a PhD but he can’t even remember which university he studied at.
To sense that something is not right
She’s the spitting image of her mother.
To look exactly like someone else
The ball's in your court now. What are you going to do?
Telling someone it's now their turn to make a decision
Unfortunately I think he’ll be studying for IELTS until the cows come home. His English is very poor.
For a very long time
It was all tongue-in-cheek. He didn’t really mean what he said.
Something said in humour rather than seriously
She’s feeling under the weather today so she won’t be going to work.
We've had some big disagreements over the years, but it’s all water under the bridge now. We get on fine.
Things from the past that are not important anymore
You are what you eat so it’s better to have a healthy diet.
If you eat bad food, you’ll be unhealthy, if you eat good food, you’ll be healthy
You can’t judge a book by its cover. I need to get to know him before I decide what he is like.
The belief that outside appearances do not reveal what someone or something is really like
We're really working against the clock now. We must hurry.
Not having enough time to do something
Why are we bothering? We're flogging a dead horse. Our online business is making no money, so we should move on and do something else.
Attempting to continue with something that is finished / over
I bent over backwards to help him. I hope he appreciates it.
Doing all you can to help someone
So you have the IELTS test today?? Break a leg.
Ok, I'm playing devil's advocate here, but if marijuana is legalized, isn't it more likely young people will smoke it?
To put forward a side in an argument that may not be your own in order to show the counter-argument / ensure all sides are discussed
Hold your horses! We haven't won anything yet.
Telling someone who is getting ahead of themselves to wait / be patient
She is driving me up the wall. She won't stop talking.
|Annoying or irritating somebody|
Now that you know some common idioms you can start to practice with them. Some practice exercises for the words in the sets above will be added to the site soon.