Instantly enhance your writing in real-time while you type.
With LanguageTool

Common Idioms in English and What They Mean

powered by LanguageTool

Are you struggling to understand English idioms? We don’t blame you! Idioms can be challenging to learn. Below, we’ll go over eleven English idioms to help you gain an understanding of these unusual expressions.

White text over gradient gray background reads: Common English Idioms.
The English language has countless idioms.
English Idioms: Quick Summary

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning which differs from the literal meanings of the individual words. Idioms are challenging for non-native speakers to learn because their meanings are not always obvious. For example, the expression break a leg means good luck.

What Are Idioms?

Idioms are expressions that have meanings that cannot be deduced solely from the words used to create them. Put differently, idioms have entirely different meanings compared to the individual words used within them.

For example, if you’ve never heard of the idiom kick the bucket, you might think it has something to do with physically striking a bucket with your foot. In fact, this phrase has nothing to do with kicking a bucket. To kick the bucket means “to die.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about when my time comes to kick the bucket.

There’s no way to know that, except by familiarizing yourself with that phrase and others like it.

Idioms are an essential part of the English language because they make it more vivid and illustrative. We’ll go over eleven common idioms used in everyday English.

Common English Idioms and Their Meanings

1. Bite the bullet

To bite the bullet means to endure a difficult situation with determination, even if it’s unpleasant.

When Jenna got suddenly sick, I had to bite the bullet and present our findings, even though I have an intense fear of public speaking.

2. Cost an arm and a leg

Don’t be frightened if someone tells you something costs an arm and a leg. We promise your limbs are safe. When someone uses this idiom, it means that something is extraordinarily expensive.

It cost an arm and a leg, but I was able to find the rare model train my dad has been looking for.

3. Cry over spilled milk

If you’re crying over spilled milk, that means you’re wasting time and energy worrying about something that already happened and cannot be changed.

We can’t do anything about the implemented changes, so it’s best not to cry over spilled milk.

4. Kill two birds with one stone

No birds were harmed in the making of this idiom. To kill two birds with one stone means to accomplish two tasks with one single action or effort. It’s often used in situations where one can save time and resources through efficiency and productivity.

I’m going to kill two birds with one stone and pass by the post office on the way to the appointment.

5. On thin ice

The idiom on thin ice means to be in a risky or precarious situation where any mistake or misstep could lead to serious consequences. Picture yourself walking on thin ice. You’d have to walk slowly and be careful, if not, you risk falling through.

I was late to work three times this week, so I’m on thin ice with my boss and need to improve my punctuality.

6. See eye to eye

If you and your best friend see eye to eye on something, that means you mutually agree or share similar opinions on a certain subject. It’s often used in situations that involve a resolved disagreement or misunderstanding.

After hours of discussion, my partner and I finally see eye to eye on what our next business venture will be.

7. Speak of the devil

Speak of the devil is an idiom that people use when a person who was just mentioned suddenly appears. Don’t be taken aback by the use of the word devil. This idiom is frequently used playfully to acknowledge a coincidence.

Speak of the devil! We were just talking about you, Maria!

8. Take a rain check

If you invite a friend out, and they ask to take a rain check, that means they’re politely declining the invitation and intending to accept it at a later date. This idiom expresses the desire to maintain the relationship, even though one cannot actively participate at the moment.

Thanks for the dinner invitation, but I’m going to have to take a rain check because I have to babysit my little sister.

9. Take it with a grain of salt

To take something with a grain of salt means not fully believing or trusting something that someone says. This idiom is used to encourage others to listen to a statement and apply critical thinking, as there may be some facts or information missing.

He has a lot of advice to offer, but you should take it with a grain of salt because this is his first time working on a project like this.

10. Time is money

Time is money means time is valuable and therefore shouldn’t be wasted. This idiom implies that wasting time is equivalent to wasting money. It’s often used to encourage productivity and efficiency.

We need to come up with a way to gain more clients because time is money, and the business is in a risky position right now.

11. Under the weather

If someone tells you they’re feeling under the weather, that means they’re feeling sick or are in low spirits. This idiom is often used as a way to explain that someone is sick, without getting into the details.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to work today because I’m feeling a bit under the weather.

Why Learn English Idioms?

As we already mentioned, the English language has a seemingly endless number of ever-evolving idioms, with new ones emerging regularly. Learning and memorizing each one is impossible, but it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with common English idioms to improve your fluency.

Want another easy way to improve your fluency? Use LanguageTool as your writing assistant. Not only does it correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, but it can also rephrase sentences to be more fluent! Plus, it’s a piece of cake to use. Give it a try!

Graphic shows a piece of cake with the words "piece of cake" over it.
“Piece of cake” is an English idiom that means something is easy to accomplish.

Unleash the Professional Writer in You With LanguageTool

Go well beyond grammar and spell checking. Impress with clear, precise, and stylistically flawless writing instead.

Get started for free
We Value Your Feedback

We’ve made a mistake, forgotten about an important detail, or haven’t managed to get the point across? Let’s help each other to perfect our writing.