These English idioms are common in everyday conversation in the United States. You will hear them in movies, the web series and can use them to make your English sound more like that of a native speaker.
List of American Idioms
Here is a list of some common American English idioms with definitions and examples:
All over the map.
Meaning: a conversation that does not stick to the main topic and goes off on tangents.
Example: The meeting today was all over the map and I don’t feel like we accomplished what we needed to.
Ants in your pants
Meaning: can’t sit still
Example: My children have ants in their pants because tomorrow is Christmas and they are excited about their presents.
Under the weather
Meaning: someone is sick, ill, or doesn’t feel well for some reason.
Example: I called in sick to work today because I was feeling under the weather.
It’s not rocket science
Meaning: something is not complicated or to not make things more complicated than they need to be.
Example: Basketball is not rocket science. It’s about putting the ball in the basket.
Bats in the belfry
Meaning: indicates that someone is behaving in an eccentric or less than sane manner
Example: The poor man have bats in the belfry – he wears such peculiar clothes.
Hang in there
Meaning: to keep going, keep moving forward, and to not give up with things get difficult.
Example: Work can get tough in the middle of a term but hang in there and it’ll be OK.
Blow off steam
Meaning: express anger or frustration.
Example: I was so happy I was able to go to the gym tonight. After a stressful work day it was great to blow off some steam and work out.
Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: having the wrong impression of a person or situation
Example: The police spent three months barking up the wrong tree on the murder investigation.
Meaning: used to describe an activity that someone is performing by taking shortcuts to get to the end result that could jeopardize the integrity of the final product in some way.
Example: Babies aren’t inexpensive, but there are ways to cut corners!
Meaning: to strengthen something
Example: The company plans to beef up our fringe benefit.
Meaning: someone who is very eager or excited to do something
Example: Being eager beaver, he sometimes is not well – liked by his colleagues.
Meaning: thinking about a song or lyrics from a song over and over
Example: The researchers found earworm infections last longer with musicians than with non-musicians.
Elephant in the room
Meaning: something that everyone in the room is aware of that probably needs to be addressed
Example: “Elephant in the room” is an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed.
For the birds
Meaning: something that is silly, ridiculous or ludicrous
Example: There would be no room for the birds to fly, and dead birds would fall on me as I walked.
Get your ducks in a row
Meaning: make proper plans; get things in order
Example: They should have had their ducks in a row beforehand, so they were ready to start the job when required.
Bite the bullet
Meaning: to accept that something inevitable is about to happen, usually something negative.
Example: I hate going to the dentist, but I’ll just have to bite the bullet.
Better late than never
Meaning: doing something a day late, a week late, etc. is better than to never do it at all.
Example: The agreement that has been reached is to be welcomed, but on the basis of “better late than never”.
Go back to the drawing board
Meaning: to begin all over because something wasn’t done right the first time.
Example: His government should go back to the drawing board to rethink their programme in time to return it to Parliament by September.
Get the hang of it
Meaning: To have the ability to complete a task and do it well; to go from beginner to intermediate.
Example: It was tough at first but now I am really getting the hang of it!
Gets my goat
Meaning: something that really bothers or annoys someone
Example: When I park in her space, it really gets her goat.
Read More: POPULAR IDIOMS AND THEIR MEANINGS
Hair of the dog that bit you
Meaning: whatever caused you to be in the situation you’re in, go get more of that
Example: Put a good face upon it, and drink another hair of the dog that bit you.
Hold your horses
Meaning: slow down; stop and think about what you’re doing
Example: Just hold your horses, Bill! Let’s think about this for a moment.
On a fishing expedition
Meaning: trying to get information out of someone without being fully aware of what you’re looking for
Example: The judge said the prosecutor was on a fishing expedition and stopped him.
Hit the sack
Meaning: to retire for the evening and go to sleep.
Example: He never hits the sack before midnight.
We’ll cross that bridge when it gets here
Meaning: to address the problem when it arises and not worry about it beforehand.
Example: My sister worries too much about what might happen when her kids grow up and move out, so people are always saying “you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it” to her.
Speak of the devil
Meaning: someone you were just talking about showed up unexpectedly.
Example: They were discussing the girl who was his new crush when she walked in. Speak of the devil.
Head over heels
Meaning: to be very much in love.
Example: Kim and Erica are adorable, they are head over heels for each other!
That’s the last straw
Meaning: your patience is wearing thin or you are completely out of patience with something or someone.
Example: My bruised knee is the last straw and it’s got to go.
Give props to
Meaning: show appreciation for
Example: We would like to give props to those who helped us tonight.
On the ball
Meaning: you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and you are doing a good job.
Example: We need someone who’s really on the ball to answer questions from the press.
Smell a rat
Meaning: to get a sense that there is a problem with something
Example: It is enough to make you smell a rat and be damned for your cynicism.
Straight from the horse’s mouth
Meaning: got information directly from the most knowledgeable source
Example: I learnt my quantum mechanics, so to speak, straight from the horse’s mouth.
To be a fly on the wall
Meaning: to wish to witness what is going on without anyone being aware that you are there
Example: What I’d give to be a fly on the wall when Davis finds out what’s happened to his precious cargo.
Here and there
Meaning: On occasion
Example: We get calls from that client here and there but not very often.
Make a long story short
Meaning: you are taking a lengthy story and abbreviating it by leaving some details out to make it briefer.
Example: We started going out and, to make a long story short, we ended up getting serious about one another.
A blessing in disguise
Meaning: something you thought would be problem actually turned out to be something beneficial
Example: Losing that job was a blessing in disguise really.
Get out of hand
Meaning: situation or someone is spinning out of control.
Example: Police were called in when the situation began to get out of hand.
The best of both worlds
Meaning: an ideal situation or scenario.
Example: She works in the city and lives in the country, so she gets the best of both worlds.
Before you know it.
Meaning: almost immediately.
Example: I will be there before you know it.
Wrap your head around it
Meaning: you are taking the time to understand something or you have already taken the time to understand something.
Example: I just couldn’t wrap my mind around what had happened.
Read More: 40 Common English Idioms
Pulling your leg
Meaning: you are just joking or kidding around with someone.
Example: My sister told me, the dog ate my food. I know she was pulling my leg.
Time flies when you’re having fun
Meaning: you are having such a good time that you don’t pay attention to the time and before you know it, it’s really late.
Example: Wow, it’s midnight already? I feel like we just got here. Time flies when you’re having fun!
Meaning: short nap usually taken before one goes out to a long evening engagement.
Example: It’s 4pm I think I’ll take a disco nap before we go out dancing tonight.
Get your act together
Meaning: straighten up and do what you are supposed to do instead of goofing off.
Example: Grow up, get your act together, try to behave like a professional.
Let you off the hook
Meaning: you are not going to blame someone or something for which they rightfully have the blame.
Example: John’s agreed to go to the meeting in my place so that gets/lets me off the hook.
Meaning: short nap.
Example: It has been a productive morning, I am going to take a cat nap after lunch.
A dime a dozen
Meaning: something or someone is common and not unique.
Example: Plastic toys like this are a dime a dozen.
Break a leg
Meaning: is used to wish someone good luck, typically regarding a performance.
Example: Break a leg at your performance tonight!
bang for your buck
Meaning: get the most benefit possible out of the money you spend
Example: Getting your cable TV, internet and mobile phone services together from one company offers the best bang for the buck
bought the farm
Meaning: to die unexpectedly
Example: My father had bought the farm at an auction, at what turned out to be an inflated price.
freeze someone out
Meaning: to deliberately leave someone out; to choose not to include someone who would expect to be included
Example: He believed that organizations like theirs were being frozen out.
Call it day
Meaning: to retire for the day, stop working and relax.
Example: Ok, we have done as much as we can for now, let’s call it a day
Give you the benefit of the doubt
Meaning: to trust what someone is saying as the truth.
Example: I didn’t know whether his story was true or not, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
No pain, no gain
Meaning: if you don’t work hard to achieve something, you won’t ever achieve it.
Example: I’ve worked for hours on those irregular French verbs, but no pain, no gain.
Don’t get bent out of shape
Meaning: don’t get upset over something.
Example: I’m not getting bent out of shape because people don’t respect my opinion.
So far, so good
Meaning: the progress so far is a success.
Example: The doctor did some quick tests. “So far so good,” she said.
That really knocked my socks off
Meaning: to be really impressed by something
Example: I’m going to take you to a restaurant that’ll knock your socks off.
Think outside the box
Meaning: think of new ideas outside the norm
Example: She goes on to urge companies to think outside the box and challenge the old ways of working.
To take a rain check
Meaning: to say no to an invitation when it is given, but suggest that it is likely to be accepted in the future
Example: I was planning to ask you in for a brandy, but if you want to take a rain check, that’s fine.
Top of the line
Meaning: the best possible version of something; the most luxurious or expensive options
Example: The computers used to be top of the line, but they have been superseded by more recent models.
Meaning: to communicate with someone regarding future plans
Example: It’s important to touch base with our allies in this issue.
Up my alley
Meaning: something that you really like, or something that is within your skillset
Example: She said, I will tell you this Bobby Kennedy is right up my alley.
To make matters worse
Meaning: you are doing something to cause an already existing problem an even worse problem.
Example: He laughed at her and then, to make matters worse, he accused her of lying!
Your guess is as good as mine
Meaning: you don’t have a clue and that your best guess would most likely be mine too.
Example: I asked her when the shipment would arrive. She said, “your guess is as good as mine.”
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Meaning: sometimes being away for a period of time can cause a person to care for you even more than they already did.
Example: The couple reunited after almost a year and understood that the absence had made their hearts grow fonder.
Add insult to injury
Meaning: compounding an already bad situation by doing something to make it even worse in some way.
Example: The company rejected his application for a job, and to add insult to injury, refused to pay his expenses.
Act your age
Meaning: to grow up because you are acting immaturely.
Example: After years of experimentation with colors and strokes, his painting has come of age.
Add fuel to the fire
Meaning: making a bad situation, the “fire,” even worse by providing this hypothetical “fire” with the fuel is needs to burn even more.
Example: The President said he wouldn’t add fuel to the fire by commenting without knowing all the facts.
Meaning: to give someone an approximate number or estimation, usually to do with money.
Example: The management was given a ballpark figure at the very beginning of the presentation.
Big fish in a little sea
Meaning: someone is famous or well-known but are only so in their small town.
Example: Here they can be big fish in a little pond.
Read More: Idioms by Category
Bite to eat
Meaning: getting something to eat. generally more than just one bite.
Example: You’ll feel better once you’ve had a bite to eat.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
Meaning: don’t mistreat someone who is trying to help you out.
Example: “I think you don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Jenkins said on CBS.
Meaning: you are doing something new or something that has never been done before.
Example: His latest movie is interesting, but not groundbreaking.
Burst into tears
Meaning: to begin crying all of a sudden.
Example: Some burst into tears as the news was broken.
Cash in on it
Meaning: to gain profit from doing something.
Example: Carpenters cashed in on the construction boom.
Catch your eye
Meaning: something or someone got your attention.
Example: While we were driving down the road, a small shop selling beautiful potteries caught my eye.
Come out of the closet
Meaning: to tell someone that you are gay.
Example: Once people decide to come out of the closet, it is pretty easy to do here.
Come what may
Meaning: what will be will be no matter what happens.
Example: The shuttle is heading into the air come what may.
The crack of dawn
Meaning: right at dawn or right as the sun rises.
Example: I often start work at the crack of dawn when there is a big order to get out.
Meaning: to not attend a class or classes that day.
Example: Kids cut class and ran down the street to watch the fire.
Meaning: to not pay attention to the way you are acting, have fun, party.
Example: Many were cut loose and left to fend for themselves in the job-poor wilderness.
Meaning: someone or something looks exactly like someone or something else.
Example: I heard he was a dead ringer for the Eagle.
Meaning: something is extremely inexpensive.
Example: Travel packages to Hawaii are dirt cheap during the off-season.
Behind the eight ball
Meaning: in a difficult position
Example: The football team got behind the eight ball in the first two games.
Call the shots
Meaning: to make the decisions; to decide what will be done
Example: The directors call the shots and nothing happens without their say-so.
Meaning: to take advantage of someone when they are down
Example: It was a cheap shot but an effective one.
Down to the wire
Meaning: completing or finishing something with no extra time remaining
Example: Negotiators again worked right down to the wire to reach an agreement.
Drop the ball
Meaning: to make a basic mistake
Example: Those who drop the ball return to number one and those below that number move up one place.
Meaning: to put a plan in place; to decide how things should be handled
Example: The game plan was right. We just didn’t follow the script.
Get the ball rolling
Meaning: to begin or get started; to put things into motion
Example: Early arrivals heard one of our own, the superb John Hurley, get the ball rolling in the upstairs bar.
Get ahead of the game
Meaning: to have an advantage over others
Example: Highlighting this move to renewables helped us convince Reading to get ahead of the game.
Drown your sorrows
Meaning: to get drunk in order to forget all of your problems.
Example: Drinking on your own or to drown your sorrows can get out of hand.
Down in the dumps
Meaning: you are upset, sad, or depressed because of something that happened.
Example: She’s a bit down in the dumps because she’s got to take her exams again.
Easy as pie
Meaning: something was very easy to do.
Example: Finding recipes in America is as easy as pie.
Easy come, easy go
Meaning: something was simple to obtain, but it was also very simple to lose.
Example: That is what is called easy money, but easy come easy go.
Everything but the kitchen sink
Meaning: nearly everything a person owns.
Example: I think we’ve packed everything but the kitchen sink!
Joined at the hip
Meaning: people who seem to be together all the time
Example: They were born joined at the hip and are learning to walk with artificial legs after being separated.
Keep at arm’s length
Meaning: to deliberately not let someone get too close
Example: They no longer trust her and are keeping her at arm’s length.
Long in the tooth
Meaning: old; of advanced years
Example: I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for this sort of thing.
Need elbow room
Meaning: to prefer to have plenty of space between you and other people
Example: That will give us the elbow room to deal with specific problems.
Read More: Idioms that came from movies!
No skin off my nose
Meaning: something isn’t going to affect you, so you don’t really care
Example: It’s no skin off my nose if you don’t take my advice.
Pick your brain
Meaning: to ask questions to find out someone’s thoughts or opinions on a topic
Example: Can I pick your brain about how you got rid of those weeds?
Meaning: to have enough space for people so they won’t be bumping into one another.
Example: There’s more elbow room in the restaurant since they extended it.
Eat your words
Meaning: willing to admit that what you said was wrong.
Example: Don’t brag so much. I guarantee you will eat your words sooner or later.
Eat your heart out
Meaning: to be jealous or envious of someone or something
Example: If you had any sense you’d forget him, but eat your heart out if you want to.
Face the music
Meaning: to stand up and admit that you did wrong and deal with the consequences.
Example: The others all ran off, leaving me to face the music.
Meaning: not having enough of something that you need or to need more to make ends meet.
Example: It is true that most plant foods fall short in one or more of the essential amino acids.
Apply some elbow grease
Meaning: put some physical effort into what you’re doing
Example: The polish needs a certain amount of elbow grease to apply.
Armed to the teeth
Meaning: in possession of a lot of weapons
Example: The tourists got out of the coach, armed to the teeth with cameras, binoculars, and guidebooks.
Meaning: a very basic model or version, with no extras or add-ons
Example: There are not even the bare bones of a garden here — I’ve got nothing.
Bundle of nerves
Meaning: very nervous or anxious about something
Example: The poor chap was a bundle of nerves at the interview.
By the skin of your teeth
Meaning: just barely
Example: He won, but only by the skin of his teeth
Get it off your chest
Meaning: share information about something that has been bothering you
Example: Tell me about it, get it off your chest.
Feel like a new person
Meaning: to feel revived or refreshed.
Example: After he had some time to recover from the surgery, he felt like a new person.
Follow your heart
Meaning: to act based on your feelings for someone or something.
Example: Follow your heart, but be quiet for a while first. Learn to trust your heart.
Meaning: To irritate or annoy someone.
Example: I like him but sometimes he can really ruffle my feathers.
Meaning: someone is extremely busy and does not have room in their schedule to do anything else.
Example: Senator Charles Schumer (D – NY) , among others , has a full plate of measures on offer.
Get carried away
Meaning: to blow something out of proportion or exaggerate it in some way.
Example: He tends to get carried away when watching wrestling on TV.
Get cold feet
Meaning: to second guess something that you are doing and become frightened about actually going through with it.
Example: People get cold feet. They get a space heater.
Get something off your chest
Meaning: to admit something that you have not admitted before that is bothering you and causing you distress.
Example: I had spent two months worrying about it and I was glad to get it off my chest
Get a kick out of it
Meaning: to be amused by something
Example: I love to do things for children because I get a kick out of it.
Give it your best shot
Meaning: try as hard as you possibly can; put forth your best effort
Example: Just give it your best shot and you’ll be fine.
Hit the mark
Meaning: to find the perfect or ideal solution; to be in exactly the right place
Example: You certainly hit the mark when you said that he was lazy.
Hit below the belt
Meaning: to capitalize on an opponent’s vulnerabilities in an unfair way
Example: Whichever camp you are in, the same celestial advice will apply – hit below the belt.
In the ballpark
Meaning: close to a suitable amount or suggestion
Example: This puts them in the ballpark and makes them a major player.
Read More: 10 Idioms for IELTS speaking that will boost your score
Meaning: everyone pays for themselves when they are going out as a group.
Example: She was surprised when he suggested they go Dutch.
Go over with a fine-tooth comb
Meaning: to look at something very closely to analyze every little detail.
Example: The police are going over the evidence with a fine-tooth comb.
Meaning: it is an opportune chance to do something that you may never get the chance to do again.
Example: Businesses have a golden opportunity to expand into new markets.
Meaning: something, typically clothing, that is passed down from an older child to a younger one in order to save money purchasing new things.
Example: Most of the boys wore hand-me-down military shirts from their fathers.
Meaning: you have too much to do and have no room in your schedule to do anything else.
Example: I had my hands full, but other than hitting one frond on a coconut tree, I was doing okay.
Hit the spot
Meaning: something was gratifying or fulfilling in some way.
Example: Eating a hamburger right now would hit the spot.
Hit me up
Meaning: communicate or let one know by calling, texting, emailing etc
Example: Hit me up when you have finished the presentation.
Hit a snag
Meaning: you have encountered a problem or an issue along the way.
Example: A police clampdown on car thieves hit a snag when villains stole one of their cars.
Ill at ease
Meaning: you are uneasy about something or uncomfortable.
Example: He always felt shy and ill at ease at parties.
In mint condition
Meaning: something has no flaws and is in perfect condition.
Example: Top notes present thrillingly, and Kollo’s technique is in mint condition after nearly 25 years.
In the same boat
Meaning: someone is in a similar predicament.
Example: Everyone has lost their job. We’re all in the same boat.
Jack of all trades
Meaning: someone that is able to fix a lot of different things but who seems to be an expert in none of them.
Example: Our gardener is a jack of all trades, he can do carpentering, decorating, a bit of plumbing, and so on.
Just what the doctor ordered
Meaning: someone got exactly what they needed.
Example: Ooh thank you, a nice cup of tea. Just what the doctor ordered.
Not for nothing
Meaning: to call attention to the next words out of the speaker’s mouth, usually followed by the word but…
Example: Not for nothing but did you notice the look on her face when you mentioned Patagonia?
Keeping a low profile
Meaning: to not draw attention to yourself so no one will notice you.
Example: Sun is believed to be keeping a low profile on the suit lest it catch flak for restricting the clone trade.
Two peas in a pod
Meaning: Very similar
Example: Tony and Angela are like two peas in a pod; I always see them together.
Meaning: to relax and take it easy
Example: You ought to kick back at such malicious slander.
Knock on wood
Meaning: to hope that something will happen and the bad luck will not affect the outcome or success; essentially saying “I hope” or “God willing”.
Example: Always ready to knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, bite my tongue, cross my fingers.
Keep me in the loop/Keep me posted
Meaning: stay in touch, keep one informed of your whereabouts.
Example: keep me in the loop about your weekend plans.
Know the score
Meaning: be aware of all relevant factors and variables
Example: We are trying to attract managers who know the score.
Read More: American idioms with meaning and example
Make the cut
Meaning: to be chosen, selected or included in something
Example: Make the cut through the floorboard as near as possible to the middle of a joist.
Monday morning quarterback
Meaning: someone who tries to call the shots after the action is already over
Example: Tom is often referred to as a Monday morning quarterback.
Move the goalposts
Meaning: to set your sights or standards even higher; to make something more challenging
Example: The answer to failure and sin is not to move the goalposts but to repent and try again.
Out of your league
Meaning: above or beyond what one is capable of attaining
Example: You do realize that she is a cartoon, and way out of your league?
Take the wind out of your sails
Meaning: to be disappointed.
Example: It really took the wind out of my sails when I found out I didn’t get the promotion.
Meaning: someone who is dull and keeps others from having fun
Example: The morose Mitchells wins the wet blanket award.
Your John Hancock
Meaning: your official signature
Example: Your John Hancock represents your responsibility for this matter.