Famous American Idioms - wordscoach.com

150+ Famous American Idioms

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.

Cutting corners

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!

Beef up

Meaning: to strengthen something

Example: The company plans to beef up our fringe benefit.

Eager beaver

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.


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!

Disco nap.

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.

Cat nap

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.

Famous American Idioms - wordscoach.com

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.

Touch base

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.

Ball-park figure

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.

Breaking ground

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.

Cut class

Meaning: to not attend a class or classes that day.

Example: Kids cut class and ran down the street to watch the fire.

Cut loose

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.

Dead ringer

Meaning: someone or something looks exactly like someone or something else.

Example: I heard he was a dead ringer for the Eagle.

Dirt cheap

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.

Cheap shot

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.

Game plan

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?

Elbow room

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.

Fall short

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.

Famous American Idioms - wordscoach.com

Bare bones

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.

Ruffle feathers

Meaning: To irritate or annoy someone.

Example: I like him but sometimes he can really ruffle my feathers.

Full plate

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

Go Dutch

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.

Golden opportunity

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.

Hands full

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.

Kick back

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.

Wet blanket

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.

Famous American Idioms - wordscoach.com

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