10 English Language Idioms You Need To Know

Have you ever been lost in a conversation with native English speakers because they used idioms that went over your head? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Idioms are phrases or expressions that have a figurative meaning different from the literal meaning of the words themselves. They add color and flavor to the language, but can also be confusing for non-native speakers.

To help you navigate through these linguistic obstacles, we’ve compiled a list of 10 English language idioms you need to know. These idioms are commonly used in everyday conversations and will give you an insight into the cultural context behind them. Understanding their meanings will not only improve your communication skills, but also make you feel more confident when speaking with native English speakers.

So let’s dive in and expand our vocabulary!

What Are Idioms?

Have you ever heard someone say ‘break a leg’ before going on stage, or ‘raining cats and dogs’ during a thunderstorm? These are examples of English language idioms.

But what exactly are idioms?

An idiom is a phrase that has a figurative meaning different from its literal definition. In other words, it’s a group of words that have a specific cultural or historical context and cannot be translated directly into another language.

For example, the idiom ‘kick the bucket’ means to die, but if you were to translate it word for word in another language, it wouldn’t make sense.

Idioms can add color and expressiveness to our speech and writing, but they can also cause confusion for non-native speakers who may not understand their intended meaning without proper explanation.

The Importance Of Idioms In English Language

As we have learned in the previous section, idioms are phrases or expressions that do not translate literally from their individual words. They play an important role in language learning as they convey cultural context and help learners understand how native speakers communicate.

The importance of idioms in language learning cannot be overstated. Not only do they add color and flair to everyday conversations, but they also provide insight into a culture’s values, beliefs, and customs. However, there are common misconceptions about idioms that can make them intimidating for English language learners. Some may believe that idioms should be memorized word-for-word or avoided altogether because of their figurative meaning. To dispel these myths, it is crucial to approach idioms with an open mind and learn them through exposure and practice.

Idioms often reflect historical events or popular culture references.

Idioms vary by region within a country and across different English-speaking countries.

Idioms can take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used.

Learning commonly used English language idioms is essential for achieving fluency and natural-sounding speech. By incorporating idiomatic expressions into your vocabulary, you can better express yourself and connect with others on a deeper level.

So next time someone tells you ‘break a leg’ before a performance, don’t panic – embrace the opportunity to learn something new!

Commonly Used English Language Idioms

Did you know that idioms have been used in literature for centuries? From Shakespeare’s famous ‘break the ice’ to Dickens’ ‘skeleton in the closet,’ these expressions add color and depth to written works.

In fact, idioms are so prevalent in pop culture that we often use them without even realizing it.

Idioms also play a significant role outside of literature and entertainment. They offer insight into cultural values and historical events.

For example, the idiom ‘barking up the wrong tree’ originated from hunting dogs being trained to chase prey up trees. If a dog barked at one tree but the prey was actually in another, they were said to be ‘barking up the wrong tree.’ This phrase has since evolved to mean pursuing a mistaken or misguided course of action.

Understanding this context adds richness and meaning to our language usage.

Moving on from commonly used idioms, let’s explore some with historical and cultural significance.

Idioms With Historical And Cultural Significance

Origin stories and cross cultural variations are important aspects to consider when learning idioms with historical and cultural significance. These idioms often have roots in the history or folklore of a particular culture, making them rich with meaning and context.

For example, the idiom ‘to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps’ is widely used in American English to refer to someone who has achieved success through their own efforts, without any external help. However, few people know that it originated from a satirical essay written by Jonathan Swift in 1726, where he mockingly suggested that poor Irish people could solve their problems by selling their children as food for wealthy British landlords. Over time, the phrase lost its original ironic tone and became an emblematic expression of the American Dream.

Other idioms may have different meanings or connotations depending on the country or region where they are used. For instance, while ‘the elephant in the room’ is generally understood to mean an obvious problem or issue that no one wants to talk about, some cultures use other animals like a ‘skeleton in the closet’, a ‘cat among pigeons’, or even a ‘banana skin underfoot’.

Understanding these cross-cultural variations can help avoid misunderstandings and promote effective communication across linguistic borders.

When learning and using idioms in conversation, there are several tips that can be helpful for non-native speakers.

Tips For Learning And Using Idioms In Conversation

As the saying goes, ‘actions speak louder than words.’ This holds true when it comes to using idioms in conversation. While understanding and incorporating them can add depth and color to your language, improper use can lead to confusion or even offense.

Idiom misconceptions are a common problem for English learners. Many assume that idioms have literal translations or universal meanings, but this is not always the case. For example, the phrase ‘kick the bucket’ means to die, but its origin remains uncertain.

Understanding cultural context and usage is essential for mastering idioms. Incorporating idioms in writing can also enhance creativity and interest. However, be mindful of audience and tone as some may find excessive use distracting or unprofessional. It’s best to stick with commonly known phrases or those relevant to the topic at hand.

In summary, while learning and utilizing idioms can elevate one’s language skills, caution must be taken regarding their proper meaning and usage. Idioms should complement rather than detract from communication effectiveness. By expanding knowledge on these unique expressions through practice and research, they can become an asset in expressing thoughts and emotions effectively in any situation.

10 funny British idioms and their explanations

Funny British IdiomExplanation
1Bob’s your uncleA phrase used to conclude a set of simple instructions, similar to “there you have it” or “it’s that easy”
2Donkey’s yearsA very long time
3Full of beansTo be very energetic or lively
4Mad as a hatterCompletely crazy or eccentric
5Not my cup of teaNot something one likes or is interested in
6Raining cats and dogsRaining very heavily
7Take the biscuitTo be the most remarkable or foolish of a particular group or set of actions
8Throw a spanner in the worksTo cause problems or disruptions for a plan or project
9Up the wooden hill to BedfordshireGoing to bed or getting ready for sleep
10Wouldn’t touch it with a barge poleTo avoid something or someone because they are undesirable or unappealing

10 funny American idioms and their explanations

Funny American IdiomExplanation
1A few fries short of a Happy MealNot very intelligent or mentally unstable
2All hat, no cattleDescribing someone who talks big but has little substance or action behind their words
3Bigger fish to fryMore important things to deal with
4Break a legA way to wish someone good luck, especially before a performance
5Cry over spilled milkTo be upset about something that has already happened and cannot be changed
6Hold your horsesTo wait a moment or be patient
7Out of the frying pan and into the fireMoving from a bad or difficult situation to one that is even worse
8Put all your eggs in one basketTo rely too heavily on one thing or opportunity
9Shoot the breezeTo chat or talk casually
10The whole nine yardsEverything; the full extent or entirety of something

10 funny Irish idioms and their explanations:

Funny Irish IdiomExplanation
1Acting the maggotBehaving foolishly or mischievously
2Away with the fairiesDaydreaming or not paying attention
3Cat melodeonSomething that’s terrible or of poor quality
4Dead onCompletely accurate or exactly right
5Donkey’s earsA long period of time
6Giving outComplaining or scolding
7Like a bag of catsDescribing someone who is extremely nervous or agitated
8Put the heart crossways in someoneTo frighten or startle someone
9The gift of the gabThe ability to speak persuasively or eloquently
10Throwing shapesActing tough or showing off, especially when trying to impress someone

10 funny Australian idioms and their explanations:

Funny Australian IdiomExplanation
1A few kangaroos loose in the top paddockA person who is not very bright or is acting foolishly
2As useful as an ashtray on a motorbikeDescribing something or someone that is completely useless
3Back of BourkeA very remote place, far away from anything
4Crack a tinnieTo open a can of beer
5Fair dinkumGenuine, honest, or true
6Flat out like a lizard drinkingTo be extremely busy or working hard
7Going off like a frog in a sockDescribing someone or something that is very active, energetic, or lively
8Having a Barry CrockerHaving a bad day or not doing well (rhyming slang for “shocker”)
9Not the full quidSomeone who is not very intelligent or a bit slow-witted
10To have a Captain CookTo have a look or to take a quick glance at something

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Origin Of Idioms In English Language?

The origin of idioms in the English language is a fascinating topic that sheds light on the evolution of language and culture.
Idioms are expressions whose meanings cannot be understood through their literal interpretation, but rather through cultural context or historical usage.
The origins of these sayings can vary from biblical references to ancient Greek mythology, as well as British history and folklore.
Their cultural significance in modern times lies in their ability to convey complex ideas and emotions with brevity, adding depth and color to our communication.
Understanding the roots of idiomatic phrases not only enriches our vocabulary but also exposes us to diverse cultures and traditions that have contributed to shaping the English language over time.

Are There Any Idioms That Have Different Meanings In Different English-Speaking Countries?

Commonly misunderstood idioms can cause confusion and even embarrassment for non-native English speakers. However, regional variations of idioms also exist within the English-speaking world that can add to the complexity.
For example, ‘knock up’ in British English means to make someone pregnant, while in American English it simply means to wake someone up. Similarly, ‘chips’ in Britain are what Americans call ‘French fries,’ whereas in America, ‘chips’ refer to thin slices of potato fried until crisp.
It is important to be aware of these differences when communicating with people from different regions or cultures.

Can Idioms Be Used In Formal Writing Or Only In Casual Conversations?

When it comes to using idioms, there is a fine line between formal and casual usage.
While idiomatic expressions may be commonly used in everyday conversations, their appropriateness may vary depending on the context of professional settings.
In more formal situations such as academic writing or business communications, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid using idioms altogether.
However, when used appropriately, they can add color and personality to your writing or speech.
Ultimately, understanding how and when to use idiomatic expressions can make all the difference in effective communication in both casual and professional environments alike.

How Can I Practice Using Idioms In Conversation Without Sounding Unnatural?

To avoid sounding unnatural when using idioms in conversation, it’s important to practice techniques that will help you seamlessly incorporate them into your speech.
One common mistake people make is forcing an idiom into a sentence where it doesn’t fit naturally. Instead, try to use the idiom in context and pay attention to how native speakers use them in everyday conversations.
Another helpful technique is to listen for idiomatic expressions in TV shows or movies and repeat them aloud until they become more familiar.
With consistent practice, you’ll be able to effortlessly include these colorful phrases in your conversations without feeling awkward or out of place.

Are There Any Idioms That Have Fallen Out Of Use In Modern English Language?

Lost idioms are a fascinating topic for language enthusiasts, and it’s interesting to note that some expressions that were once commonly used have fallen out of use in modern English.
These phrases may have been replaced by newer slang or simply become outdated over time.
Some lost idioms, however, still make appearances in pop culture references such as old movies or TV shows.
It can be fun to explore these forgotten sayings and see if any resonate with today’s audience.
Perhaps bringing back a few lost idioms could add color and charm to our everyday conversations!


In conclusion, idioms are a crucial part of the English language and understanding them can greatly improve your communication skills. As the saying goes, ‘Actions speak louder than words,’ but adding an idiom to your conversation can make what you say more impactful.

It’s important to note that some idioms may have different meanings or origins in various English-speaking countries. However, practicing their use in conversation can help you become more fluent and comfortable with using them.

While they may be seen as informal, there are certainly appropriate settings for including idioms in formal writing. Don’t let unfamiliarity with idioms hold you back from expressing yourself effectively.

Take time to learn and practice these common expressions so you can confidently communicate like a native speaker. Remember, ‘practice makes perfect!’