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Idioms list

Here are some common English idioms though there are many, many more!

Idioms Description Example
At the drop of a hat Without hesitation, immediately. She would help me at the drop of a hat, she is such a great friend.
Beat around the bush Avoid the important issue. Please don’t beat around the bush! Just tell me if there is something for me to worry about or not.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush Having something for certain is better than risking it for more as you may lose both. John won $100 dollars at cards last night. They wanted him to gamble again to win more, but he decided that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush so he kept the money.
Blood, sweat and tears A lot of effort and hard work It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears for him to get to the top of the mountain.
Best of both worlds Have all advantages My job is both well paid and flexible – I have the best of both worlds.
Ball park figure A rough estimate; approximation They haven’t calculated precisely, but they suggested a ball park figure of nearly $2 million.
Catch someone red handed To see or catch somebody in the middle of commiting a crime. He was just climbing through the window with the jewellery in his pocket when the police arrived. He was caught red handed!
Catch 22 A frustrating situation – you cannot do the first thing until the second thing is done, but you cannot do the second thing unless the first is done. I can’t get a job without a driving licence, and I can’t afford a driving licence unless I have a job. It’s a Catch 22 situation.
Cut corners Something is not done properly (to save money) If they hadn’t cut corners, the accident wouldn’t have occurred.
Draw the line Deciding when a person or an action has gone too far. I don’t mind you borrowing the car, but I draw the line at you not returning it all weekend.
Devil’s advocate To present a counter argument. It’s good that he plays devil’s advocate – it makes us think about all possibilities.
Elbow grease Hard work or physical effort The best way to clean the floor is hot soapy water and a lot of elbow grease.
Far cry from Very different from The reality of the situation is a far cry from what they wanted to achieve.
Give the benefit of the doubt Believe what someone says without proof I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt – it’s better than not trusting anyone.
Get a kick out of (something) To find something funny or entertaining I really get a kick out of playing computer games.
Have a whale of a time To have a lot of fun. I had a whale of a time at the party on Saturday!
In the heat of the moment Overwhelmed by present circumstances. She didn’t mean it, she said it in the heat of the moment.
Jump on the bandwagon Join a popular trend or activity. Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon as it is proving to be such a popular idea.
Judge a book by its cover To assume something based on appearance. “See that man over there, with the old t-shirt and torn jeans? He’s actually a millionaire!” “Really? Well, I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover!”
Keep (your) eye on the ball To stay focussed, give something full attention. His boss advised him that he really needed to keep his eye on the ball if he wanted to succeed.
Let off steam Relieve strong / negative feelings without hurting others. I had to let off steam and tell them what I really thought rather than keep it all to myself.The children ran around in the playground and let off some steam after studying hard all morning.
Last straw Final problem in a series of problems This is the last straw! I need to leave and look for a new job, I’ve had enough.
Make up (your) mind To make a decision She still hasn’t decided what dress to wear – I wish she’d make up her mind!
On the ball Understand a situation well The new boss is so on the ball – he’s so efficient.
Once in a blue moon Happens very rarely. You were so lucky to win that. That happens once in a blue moon!
Over the moon To be very excited or happy He had a new car for his birthday and he’s over the moon with it!
Piece of cake Done easily That exam was a piece of cake! I’m sure I’ve done well.
Pass the buck Not taking responsibility; passing the blame to someone else. Nobody admitted it was their fault – they just passed the buck and told me to contact customer service.
See eye to eye Be in agreement with someone They have never seen eye to eye and are always disagreeing.
Sit on the fence Does not want to choose or make a decision. You really can’t sit on the fence, we need to know what you really think we should do.
To hear something straight from the horse’s mouth Hear something from someone of authority Don’t listen to office gossip, ask the boss and get the information straight from the horse’s mouth!

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