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50 Popular English Idioms

1. CRUNCH TIME: the period of time just before a project has to be completed and everyone has to work hard

Im not getting enough sleep these days. Its crunch time at work.

2. LET YOUR FREAK FLAG FLY: to let others see your uniqueness

My colleagues were surprised at the Christmas party- I let my freak flag fly and showed them a break dance routine.
3. GET OUT OF HAND: when you lose control of things, they get out of hand

The party got out of hand and the guests started to throw bottles at each other.
4. GET YOUR HEAD AROUND IT: to understand something

I just cant get my head around the fact that Joe is leaving us.
5. DIG IN YOUR HEELS / STICK TO YOUR GUNS: to refuse to compromise or change your mind

My parents wanted me to give up writing, but I dug in my heels and went on to become a famous writer.

My parents wanted me to give up writing, but I stuck to my guns and went on to become a famous writer.
6. POUND THE PAVEMENT: to walk the streets looking for a job

Id been pounding the pavement for months before I found a job in a fast food restaurant.

7. PULL A RABBIT OUT OF A HAT: to do something unexpected that may have seemed impossible

I thought we were going bankrupt, but my partner pulled a rabbit out of his hatand we landed a major contract.
8. LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED: to do everything you can to achieve your goal

Ill leave no stone unturned until I find out who did this.
9. GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM: to do something youve wanted to do for a long time and dont want to postpone any longer

I wasnt sure how she was going to react, but I had to get it out of my system, so I told her I had found another woman.
10. STEP UP YOUR GAME: to start performing better

If you want to win this competition, youll have to step up your game.
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11. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER: to calm down and behave normally

I understand youve had a bad day, but pull yourself together and get on with your job, will you?
12. SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT: either start performing better or leave

This is the last time Im telling you to arrive on time. Shape up or ship out.
13. CUT SOMEBODY SOME SLACK: to give somebody a break/ not to judge somebody severely

I was extremely busy last week. Cut me some slack and Ill finish the report by tomorrow morning.

14. BY THE SKIN OF YOUR TEETH: when you do something by the skin of your teeth, you only just succeed/ nearly fail

I hadnt studied much, but passed the test by the skin of my teeth.
15. ONCE IN A BLUE MOON: when something rarely ever happens

We used to see him all the time, but now he just visits us once in a blue moon.
16. GO DOWN IN FLAMES: to end or fail suddenly and spectacularly

Shed wanted to become Managing Director, but her career went down in flameswhen they found out shed been leaking information to

our competitors.
17. TAR SOMEONE WITH THE SAME BRUSH: to believe that someone has the same bad qualities as others in a group

I dont think much of that band, but the singer shouldnt be tarred with the same brush. Shes got a fantastic voice.
18. COME OUT SWINGING: to be confrontational and strongly defend yourself at the beginning of a debate

Our local MP came out swinging against the current leadership and demanded that the government resign.
19. HANG IN THERE: wait and be patient

I know youd really like to call him, but I dont think thats the right thing to do now.Just hang in there and he will call you.
20. SHOOT FROM THE HIP: to speak directly

If you want to get on well with your boss, try not to shoot from the hip next time. You dont want to offend him, do you?

21. GO THE EXTRA MILE: to make a special effort/try very hard to achieve your goal

If you want to become proficient in English, youll have to go the extra mile and start learning idioms.

My English class was great, we learnt so much because our teacher was the best, she always went the extra mile for us.
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22. RUNNING ON FUMES: to continue to stay awake when feeling exhausted

Im sorry, but Ive got to go home now. I havent slept for twenty hours and Im running on fumes.
23. SOLD ME OUT: to snitch on someone, or let their secret out

I asked you to keep it to yourself! I cant believe you sold me out, I trusted you!
24. YOU SOLD ME (ON SOMETHING): you convinced me of something, because you were persuasive

OK, youve sold me. Ill go to the match with you.


25. BLEW ME AWAY: when something blows you away, youre extremely impressed by it

The exhibition just blew me away. Id never seen so many beautiful paintings before.
26. BLOW SMOKE: to exaggerate or say things that arent true to make you seem better/ more knowledgeable than in reality

Im not blowing smoke. I have honestly read War and Peace by Tolstoy.

27. CRY WOLF: to call for help when you dont need it

Do you think Peter is in trouble or is he just crying wolf?


28. COULDNT CARE LESS: used to express total lack of interest in something

That man stole a bottle of wine from the shop.

Oh, really? I couldnt care less.


29. BE CHUFFED TO BITS: to be pleased and happy

Hey, thanks for the present! Im chuffed to bits.


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30. FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER: to be ill or unable to do regular activities

I think Im going to have to take the day off work. I feel quite under the weathertoday.
31. BE TICKLED PINK: to be excited and happy

She was tickled pink by all the compliments shed received.


32. A BAKERS DOZEN: thirteen

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33. COMFORT FOOD: food that makes you feel better, because it reminds you of your childhood

After a tiring day, its so nice to make some comfort food and settle down with a good book.
34. SKELETON CREW: the minimum number of people needed to keep a service/office operating

Can you come back after the holidays? Were operating with a skeleton crew at the moment.

35. LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY: to let something happen, no matter what happens next

I must tell John how I feel about him, let the chips fall where they may.
36. NO-BRAINER: an easy decision

Do you think I should propose to Judy?

Come on, its a no-brainer. Shes such a fantastic woman!


37. A STONES THROW: very near

The hotel was a stones throw from the beach. I loved it.
38. HEAR ON THE GRAPEVINE: to hear a rumour or unconfirmed story

I heard on the grapevine that Charlie and Sarah are dating at the moment.
39. SIT ON THE FENCE: to stay neutral and not take sides

Well dont you think Im right, hes been acting differently hasnt he?

Im sitting on the fence with this one, youre both my good friends.
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40. TAKE WHAT SOMEONE SAYS WITH A PINCH OF SALT: regard something as exaggerated, or only believe a part of something

Did you hear what Tina said happened in the office yesterday?

Oh, I would take anything she says with a pinch of salt.


41. FREAK OUT: to become very angry, scared or excited

Mum, dont freak out! I married a guy in Las Vegas.

42. BE A CATCH: be someone worth marrying/having

John is taking me out tonight. Hes such a catch, I hope hell propose.
43. PIECE OF CAKE: when something is extremely easy to do

Do you think you could beat him in a race?

Yeah, piece of cake. Im definitely a lot faster than him.


44. HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD: used if something someone says, is precisely correct

My doctor hit the nail on the head. He knew exactly what was wrong with me!
45. COSTS AN ARM AND A LEG: when something is very expensive

My son wants that mountain bike for his birthday, but itll cost an arm and a leg!
46. HIT THE BOOKS: to study very hard

Do you want to go for lunch somewhere nice?

No thanks, Im going to hit the books. I have an exam coming up soon.


47. BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW: to take on something that is too much for you to handle

He recently got promoted and took on some new responsibilities, but hes just too busy. He bit off more than he could chew, and I dont

think he can handle it anymore.


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48. WHEN PIGS FLY: this means that something will never happen

Arent you going to buy that dream house you told me about?

Ugh, I will when pigs fly. Its just so expensive, I dont think itll happen.
49. DONT JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: this means dont make a decision based on a brief impression or outward appearance

I dont like our new neighbours very much, theyre quite strange.

Hey, you shouldnt judge a book by its cover. Give them a chance, I think theyre just a bit quirky but really nice!

50. YOU ROCK: you are great

Thanks for the tickets, Rob. You rock!


51. MISS THE BOAT: when someone has missed their opportunity to do something

Have you applied for that job yet?

No, I think I may have missed the boat. I shouldve done it last week

1. Acid Test:
Meaning - Acid test proves the effectiveness of something.

Example - I practiced hard at the dance sessions but the acid test will come when the master will assess our solo performances.

2. Cut the ground from under feet :


Meaning - When you cut the ground from under someone's feet, you do something which weakens their position.

Example - When team India hit more than 350 runs in the ODI, they cut the ground from under the opponent's feet.

3. Chase your tail:


Meaning - Spending a lot of time and energy doing a lot of things but actually achieving too little.

Example - He's been chasing his tail all week collecting data but the report is still not ready

4. Whole bag of tricks Meaning - Means trying all the clever means to achieve something.

Example - It was really difficult to find the information even after applying the whole bag of tricks.

5. Deliver the goods Meaning - Do what is expected or promised.

Example - I have given my car to a new mechanic for repair, hope he delivers the goods.

6. Fine-tooth comb Meaning - Examining something carefully to not miss out any details.

Example - The boss examined my report with a fine tooth comb before submitting it to the senior management.

7. Explore all avenues


Meaning - Trying out every possibility to get a result.

Example - It is a difficult thing to do but if we really want it done, we must explore all avenues.

8. Fast track something Meaning - Rating something higher on your priority list to achieve the desired result.

Example - In view of the seriousness of the crime, the civil society is pressing up on a fast track decision from the court.

9 . Get ducks in a row Meaning - Getting your things well organized.

Example - To ensure a successful product launch, we must get our ducks in a row.

10. Get the show on the road Meaning - Putting up a plan or idea into action.

Example - Now that we have compeleted all the legal formalities, let's get the show on the road.

11. Keep your fingers on the pulse Meaning - Being constantly aware of the most recent developments.

Example - An entrepreneur must keep his fingers on the pulse of the market to be successful.

12. Mean business Meaning - Being serious about what you announce.

Example - Now that all our policies about work are put up on intranet, we mean business.

13. Think on your feet Meaning - Adjusting quickly to changes and making fast decisions.

Example - A good sales man must be able to think on his feet to close the deal.

14. Sail through something Meaning - Being successful in doing something without difficulty.

Example - The presentation at the national conference was extremely important for the company. We sailed through it.

15. Tricks of the trade :


Meaning - Clever or expert way of doing something.

Example - Being into the construction business for last 10 years, I know all tricks of the trade.

16. Not let grass grow under feet Meaning - Don't delay in getting something done.

Example - As soon as he finished all the registration formalities, he put the house on sale. He doesn't let the grass grow under his feet.

17. Work like a charm Meaning - Works very well or has the desired effect.

Example - I had cloves from my sore throat and they worked like a charm.

18. Back-room boys Meaning - People who perform important work but have no contact with the public.

Example - Our back room boys deserve an applause for the success of this advertisement.

19. Dead wood Meaning - People or things which are no longer useful or necessary.

Example - The company bought in a lot of new computers. They no longer want the dead woods.

20. Get the axe Meaning - lose the job.

Example - The projects team was undergoing a major restructuring, recruitment executives were the first to get the axe.

21. Plum job Meaning - Desirable position which is well-paid and considered relatively easy .

Example - This looks like a plum job but it has its own bunch of complications.

22. Shape up or ship out Meaning - This expression is used to warn someone that if they do not improvetheir ways, they will have to leave their job.

Example - When Tom started neglecting the customers, he was told to shape up or ship out.

23. Golden handshake Meaning - Big sum of money given to a person when they leave a company or retire.

Example - The management of various PSUs wanted to cut down on the man power. They offered a golden hand shake to many of their aged
employees.

24. Separate sheep from goats Meaning - Examining a group of people and deciding their suitability

Example - Audition test was conducted by the director to separate sheep from goats.

25. Waiting in the wings Meaning - Waiting for an opportunity to take action, mostly to replace someone else in their job.

Example - The senior manager is going to retire in next 2 months. Two of his juniors who are waiting in the wings will have a fierce competition.

26. Eat, sleep and breathe something Meaning - Being so enthusiastic and passionate about somehting that
you think about it all the time.

Example - My son has recently learnt cycling. He eats, sleeps and


breathes it now.

27. With bells on Meaning - When you are delighted and eager to go somewhere, you are
said to go with bells on.

Example - The new year party at the beach is most awaited. I will be
there - with bells on.

28. Fever pitch Meaning - When a feeling is very intense and exciting, it is said to be at
a fever pitch.

Example - His love for music had reached a fever pitch before he
became a world known musician.

29. Blood, sweat and tears Meaning - Something that requires a lot of effort and hard work.

Example - Being the team of Indian cricket team is not just a matter of luck for him, it is his blood, sweat and tears which has got him here.

30. Have on the brain Meaning - Thinking or talking about it all day long.

Example - He has just got engaged. Now, he has his fiance on his brain all the time.

31. Fling yourself into Meaning - Doing something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Example - Flinging himself into the exercise routine is the reason for his good physique.

32. Raring to go Meaning - Being very eager and enthusiastic about the idea of doing something.

Example - My kids wish to see the animals. They are raring to go to zoo.

33. Xerox subsidy Meaning - Using the office photocopier for personal use.

Example - The office now has a strict policy about xerox subsidy.

34. Get a grip on yourself Meaning - Controlling your feelings to deal with a situation.

Example - Reema saw her jwellery and cash missing from the almirah. After the initial shock, she got a grip on herself and called up the police.

35. Hang on by fingernails Meaning - Continuing to do something in a very difficult situation.

Example - The market of watches has suffered a big loss after the arrival of mobile phones. The survivors are just hanging on by their fingernails.

36. Pull out all the stops Meaning - Doing everything you can to make something successful.

Example - The deadline for the project is fast arriving; we have pulled out all the stops for timely completion.

37. Buckle down Meaning - Doing some hard work with determination and full attention.

Example - Getting through the exam for civil services is possible when you have buckled down yourself.

38. First out of the gate Meaning - Being the first one to make a start at something.

Example - John and his friends had decided to voice their opinion against the new economic policy. John was the first one to be out of the gate.

39. Going places Meaning - Exhibiting talent and ability that will lead to a successful future.

Example - Rakesh was a performer at the school sports club. It was obvious that he was going places.

40. Have one's heart set on Meaning - Possessing a determination to obtain something.

Example - He has not become a renowned cardiologist just by chance. He has his heart set on it after his father passed away with a cardiac arrest.

41. Make headway Meaning - Progress in what you are trying to achieve.

Example - The police have made a headway with their investigation in the terror attack on the city last friday.

42. Punch above one's weightMeaning - Performing beyond your ability.

Example - He was not the best swimmer around but he could win the gold medal at the state swimming competition by working hard and punching
above his weight in the finals.

43. Sink your teeth into Meaning - doing something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Example - Marie joined the badminton coaching classes. She sank her teeth into the practice sessions.

44. Stand one's ground Meaning - Maintaining your position.

Example - He stood his ground in support of his friend inspite of several family interferences.

45. Close to home Meaning - A comment which is true and makes you uncomfortable is close to home.

Example - Tom's comment about his friend's unethical activities was quite close to home. He looked quite embarassed.

46. Carry the torch for Meaning - Having strong feelings for someone who can not be yours.

Example - He has been carrying a torch for Mamta, who is now married to Nitin, since they studied together in college.

47. Cork up something Meaning - Failing to express your emotions.

Example - She did not let her grief pour out when her father passed away. Its not good for her to cork up his feelings.

48. Cut to the quick Meaning - Hurting someone deeply or offending them.

Example - Joe had worked for 10 years with all his loyalty for his company. He was cut to the quick when his boss held him responsible for the
theft.

49. Fish out of water Meaning - Feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.

Example - Being a french, I felt like a fish out of water in the group of Japanese

50. Bee in one's bonnet Meaning - Carrying an idea which constantly occupies your thoughts.

Example - She is not happy in Africa. She has a bee in he bonnet about moving to Dubai.

51. Deep down Meaning - Describing what a person really feels deep inside or what is
he like.

Example - He appears to be indifferent to the success or failure of his


children but deep down he is highly concerned.

52. Have your heart in the right place Meaning - Refers to a person with good intentions; even though the
results are not that impressive.

Example - The dinner she had cooked wasn't the best but she had her
heart in the right place.

53. Groan inwardly Meaning - Refers to a feeling where you want to express despair, disapproval or distress, but you keep quite.

Example - She was quite disappointed at the sarcastic remark by her friend but looking at the situation sh groaned inwardly.

54. Beard the lion in his den Meaning - Challenge someone in his own area.

Example - If he doesn't come to see me today, I'll have to beard the lion in his den.

55. Keep a stiff upper lip Meaning - Refers to a person who doesn't show off his emotions.

Example - He heard the news about his father's demise but kept a stiff upper lip.

56. Go bananas Meaning - Refers to someone who behaves in a crazy way out of emotions.

Example - Your decision to go abroad for a year will make your family go bananas.

57. Lump in your throat Meaning - Refers to a tight feeling in your throat because of an emotion like sadness or gratitude.

Example - After all the hardships, I saw my son winning a gold medal today - I had a lump in my throat.

58. Hard as nails Meaning - Refers to a person without sentiments and sympathy for anyone.

Example - He has become as hard as a nail after his brother was brutally murdered.

59. Lick one's wounds Meaning - Trying to regain their confidence or boost up the spirits after a defeat.

Example - Raja is licking his wounds after being dropped from the Indian Cricket Team.

60. Proud as a peacock Meaning - Refers to an extremely proud person.

Example - His son is has finally become a doctor. He is as proud as a peacock.

61. Tongue-tied Meaning - Difficulty in expressing yourself because of nervousness or embarrassment.

Example - As her prospective in laws came to see her, she was completely tongue tied.

62. Look on the bright side Meaning - View an unpleasant situation in a positive light.

Example - You met with an accident but look on the bright side - you managed to get away just with some bruises.

63. Swallow one's pride Meaning - Accepting something humiliating or embarrassing.

Example - When his son was caught cheating in the exam. He had to swallow his pride and meet the principal.

64. Makes your flesh crawl Meaning - Something that makes you feel disgusting or nervous.

Example - The sight of the accident made my flesh crawl.

65. Speak volumes Meaning - Expresses a reaction without words.

Example - She came to pick me at the station at an odd hour. Her actions spoke volumes about her bravity.

66. Not turn a hair Meaning - Refers to not exhibiting any emotion where it is expected.

Example - He didn't turn a hair even after his office was raided by the CBI.

67. Reduce to tears Meaning - Getting into tears because of some one's behavior.

Example - Her best friend stopped talking to her. This reduced her to tears.

68. In the bag Meaning - Refers to a situation when you are sure that success is sure.

Example - The wickets of opponent team fell down very fast, vistory seemed to be in the bag at the end of 25 overs.

69. Blow up in face Meaning - Refers to a situation when a plan or project suddenly fails.

Example - It was difficult to get a place in the train to Mumbai. It blew up in the face when a train de-railed and blocked the track.

70. Bottom fell out Meaning - Refers to a situation when a plan or project fails.

Example - When the police announced a red alert in the city, the bottom fell out of their plan to hold a rally.

71.Cake not worth the candle Meaning - Refers to something in which result vs efforts are too less.

Example - He worked very hard to organize the party but very few guests walked in. The cake wasn't worth the candle.

72. Chance one's arm Meaning - Deciding to do something even though the chances of sucess are very little.

Example - She knew there was little chance of getting through the audition test but she decided to chance her arm.

73. Come up roses Meaning - Successful end results even though there may be some initial hiccups.

Example - After initial hiccups, the project seems to be coming up roses.

74. Cook someone's goose Meaning - Spoil other person's chances of success.

Example - When the opponent team saw Indian batsmen taking wicket after wicket, they realised that their goose was cooked.

75. Cut one's own throat Meaning - Doing something that will cause your own failure.

Example - Raghav is not sincere in the class since the beginning. He is cutting his own throat.

76. Foot in the door Meaning - Small but good start with a possibility for a bright future.

Example - With customers coming in, his new venture has got a foot in
the door.

77. Go great guns Meaning - Being successful.

Example - Ram's preparation for the final exams is going great guns. He
scored 90% marks in the practice test.

78. Dead in the water Meaning - Plan or project that has ceased to function and is not
expected to be re-activated in future.

Example - Because of the revolt from the civil society, the plan to get the
FDI in various sectors is now dead in the water.

79. Flying start Meaning - Something that is immediately successful.

Example - The film hit the box office with a flying start and collected the highest revenue on day 1.

80. Make a go of Meaning - Succeeding in your enterprise.

Example - With his hard work and dedication, he has made a go of his new venture.

81. Go to the dogs Meaning - Getting comparably less successful than before.

Example - With new corruption scams un-veiling everday, the country is going to dogs.

81. Go up in smoke Meaning - Something that ends before getting a result.

Example - With a vigilant police force around the town, the plan of antisocial elements to cause chaos went up in smoke.

82. Live on the breadline Meaning - Having very little income.

Example - The partition of the country has left many people on the breadline.

83. Make or break Meaning - Circumstances causing total success or total ruin.

Example - The huge investment in this big project with make or break him.

84. Landslide victory Meaning - Overwhelming victory received by a candidate of political party at an election.

Example - With a win of more of than 40% seats in the first two hours of counting, they are expecting a landslide victory.

85. Let slip through fingers Meaning - Failing to obtain or keep up a good opportunity.

Example - This opportunity can be your break through in the industry. Don't let it slip through your fingers.

86. Rags to riches Meaning - Becoming very rich while starting very poor.

Example - His innovative ideas in business got him from rags to riches.

87. On the pig's back Meaning - Refers to a person in successful and well situation.

Example - The tourism in the state was on the pig's back before the terror attacks hit the capital.

88. Miss the boat Meaning - Failing to take advantage of an opportunity because of slow actions.

Example - I managed to get a discount of 10% but could not get an early bird offer. Reaching late made me miss the boat.

89. Smash hit Meaning - Refers to music, films which are very successful.

Example - His music became a smash hit in a week's time.

90. Murphy's law Meaning - Means that if anything can go wrong, it will.

Example - Let's be prepared for the worst but don't forget the Murphy's law.

91. Place in the sun Meaning - Finding a place in the sun refers to a position which provides you all the success and happiness you want in your life.

Example - Getting married into the renowned business family in the town, she found a place in the sun.

92. Sink or swim Meaning - fail or succeed.

Example - The test will decide if he sinks or swims.

93. Champagne on a beer budget Meaning - Wanting expensive things that you can not afford.

Example - She always buys things out of her budget. She has developed a taste for champagne on beer budget.

94. Top dog Meaning - Very successful group, company, person, country etc.

Example - The economic survey proved that they are the top dogs of the IT industry.

95. Keep up appearances Meaning - Maintaining an outward show of prosperity or well-being while hiding your difficulties

Example - Keeping up the appearances was important for him to secure the new big projects.

96. Wooden spoon Meaning - Imaginary prize for the last person in a race.

Example - We won a wooden spoon at the fashion show.

97. Have the world by its tail Meaning - Very successful person who can shoose from a lot of opportunities.

Example - Being the pioneers in the pharmaceutical industry, they are now having the world by its tail.

98. Live beyond means Meaning - Spending more money than you can afford.

Example - He has a habit of living beyond his means. Most of the times, you will find him borrowing the money from his friends.

99. Live in an ivory tower Meaning - Living a lifestyle that saves you from the real world problems.

Example - Her inexperience in dealing with tough situations is because she has lived in an ivory tower

100. Hit the road running Meaning - Start performing immediately.

Example - She was our old employee. She hit the road running when she joined us back.