If you’ve ever been in a conversation where someone used a phrase, and you didn’t know what it meant, it was probably among the idioms you need to know. Idioms are composed of words you know, but if taken literally, they do not make sense in the context in which they’re used. People whose native language isn’t English have an especially hard time with idioms. Since it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to guess the meanings of these expressions, here is a list of 35 idioms you need to know in order to function better in everyday conversation.
Table of contents:
- wet blanket
- when pigs fly
- variety is the spice of life
- turn a blind eye
- you can’t make bricks without a straw
- smell something fishy
- crocodile tears
- skid row
- slap on the wrist
- sour grapes
- piece of cake
- crack someone up
- actions speak louder than words
- spill the beans
- cold feet
- look a gift horse in the mouth
- at the drop of a hat
- backseat driver
- fair-weather friend
- wash dirty laundry in public
- bite off more than you can chew
- take the bull by the horns
- save face
- out of the frying pan and into the fire
- bury the hatchet
- beat around the bush
- all in the same boat
- baker’s dozen
- let the cat out of the bag
- once in a blue moon
- bring home the bacon
- curiosity killed the cat
- all greek to me
- a taste of your own medicine
- last but not least
1 Wet Blanket
You’ve probably heard this one several times. It refers to a person who spoils all the fun. This is one of the idioms you need to know, because it’s possible you’ve been called a wet blanket and didn’t realize it meant that you were ruining everyone’s good time. Join the laughs, and don’t be a wet blanket!
2 When Pigs Fly
It’s easy to guess what this means, because when will pigs fly? Never.
3 Variety is the Spice of Life
This idiom means that the more things you experience, the more exciting life will be.
4 Turn a Blind Eye
When you turn a blind eye, it means to ignore something you know is real. For example, if there weren’t late fees attached, I’d try to turn a blind eye to my student loans.
5 You Can’t Make Bricks without a Straw
This means that you can’t accomplish something without the necessary tools to do it.
6 Smell Something Fishy
The next time you’re talking to someone and they say, "something smells fishy" you don’t have to smell your breath! It means that something doesn’t seem right about the situation. You’ll probably hear this idiom a lot in detective or crime shows.
7 Crocodile Tears
When someone cries insincere tears, those tears are called crocodile tears.
8 Skid Row
Skid Row is a poor, rundown neighborhood where drug users and the homeless live. When someone says, "Don’t go to her house, she lives on Skid Row," don’t go! Invite her over for dinner instead!
9 Slap on the Wrist
When someone is said to have gotten a slap on the wrist, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were slapped on the wrist. It means they got a mild punishment.
10 Sour Grapes
It’s called sour grapes when you act like something is undesirable just because you can’t get it. Whenever you hear someone say, "I didn’t want the million dollars anyway…" it’s sour grapes.
11 Piece of Cake
You call a task a piece of cake when it can be easily accomplished.
12 Crack Someone up
This is my most used idiom. People are always cracking me up. When you crack someone up, it means that you’re making him or her laugh.
13 Actions Speak Louder than Words
People who are sick of hearing talk and no action use this idiom commonly. The expression means that what you do weighs more that what you say.
14 Spill the Beans
When someone spills the beans, it means they’ve revealed a secret. Once I told my friend not to spill the beans, and she asked, "What beans?" For this reason, this idiom is included on the list of idioms you need to know!
15 Cold Feet
This expression is used when someone gets too scared to do something in the moment it has to be done. People usually get cold feet when they have to do something in public or make a big change in their lives, like get married, perform on stage, or go on a trip.
16 Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
I’ve only recently heard this idiom, it means to be ungrateful and criticize a gift that some gives you. For instance, if your friend buys you a nice sweater, and you respond saying, "Ugh. I hate the color." Be grateful, and say thank you!
17 At the Drop of a Hat
This idiom refers to the willingness to do something immediately.
18 Backseat Driver
A backseat driver is a person on the sidelines who gives unwanted advice about your situation, similar to a person sitting in the backseat you car, critiquing your driving. Annoying!
19 Fair-weather Friend
A fair-weather friend is someone who’s around when everything’s great, but when the going gets tough, they’re nowhere to be found!
20 Wash Dirty Laundry in Public
When you wash dirty laundry in public, it means you’re discussing things out in the open that should be kept private.
21 Bite off More than You Can Chew
When someone tells you not to bite off more than you can chew, they mean don’t take on more than you can handle.
22 Take the Bull by the Horns
Taking the bull by the horn means to face a problem head on! Just like taking an actual bull by the horns, facing your problems directly can be scary, but sometimes it’s the best way.
23 Save Face
I was always confused by this idiom. I would always hear people talking about someone and how they are trying to save face, but I never knew exactly what they were talking about. When you save face, it means that you are doing something to keep your reputation and the respect of others, even if it’s not what you believe is the best thing to do.
24 Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire
This idiom refers to a situation that goes from bad to worse.
25 Bury the Hatchet
This expression simply means to make peace.
26 Beat around the Bush
I say this idiom frequently when people don’t say what they really mean. When you beat around the bush, it means that you talk around a point, rather that explicitly stating it.
27 All in the Same Boat
This means that everyone is in the same situation or facing the same challenges. If your whole class doesn’t know where to start on the homework assignment, then you’re all in the same boat.
28 Baker’s Dozen
A dozen is twelve, but a baker’s dozen is thirteen.
29 Let the Cat out of the Bag
Much like spilling the beans, letting the cat out of the bag is revealing a secret that shouldn’t have been shared.
30 Once in a Blue Moon
This is another idiom frequently used by moi! Once in a blue moon means very rarely. If someone asks how often you bathe, hopefully your answer isn’t "once in a blue moon"!
31 Bring Home the Bacon
To bring home the bacon, is to earn a living or bring home money to provide for a family. My husband and I don’t eat pork so, instead he say he brings home the turkey bacon! It always "cracks me up"!
32 Curiosity Killed the Cat
This expression means that asking questions and being curious can sometimes get you in a dangerous position.
33 All Greek to Me
When someone says, "It’s all Greek to me," they mean that they don’t understand. This idiom is commonly used when trying to read a map or instructions. If it doesn’t make sense to the reader, it might as well be Greek (assuming that the reader doesn’t know Greek).
34 A Taste of Your Own Medicine
When you’re given a taste of your own medicine, it means that you’re being treated how you treat others.
35 Last but Not Least
Finally, there’s "last but not least" which is an introduction to something or someone. With this idiom, the speaker is informing the audience that even though the item or person is listed last, it doesn’t mean that the person or thing is less important than the rest.
Because people use idioms in their everyday speech so often, it’s important to be familiar with the idioms that are commonly used! I don’t know about you, but I hear at least 7 or 8 idioms a day, and if I didn’t know what they meant, it would be a lot harder for me to comprehend natural everyday speech. What are your most commonly used idioms? Are there any more idiom meanings you’d like to share?
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