Idiomatic Expressions - wordcoach.co

100+ Useful Idiomatic Expressions from A-Z with Examples


Idiomatic Expressions from A-Z with Examples

Idiomatic Expressions! List of common idiomatic expressions and sayings in English with meaning and examples. Learn these English idioms to help your English sound naturally like a native speaker.

(A) Few X Short of a Y
Meaning:
Crazy, mentally impaired.
Example: Ned seems to make sense when you talk to him at first, but the more you listen, the more it seems he’s a few cards short of a deck.

(Get the) Short End of the Stick
Meaning:
(Emerge with) a disadvantage in a deal or negotiation; (get a) bad deal
Example: My older brother left me with the short end of the stick – he said I could use his car if I lent him money, but it’s not running!

(In) Full Swing
Meaning:
Completely in operation as planned
Example: Production was slow to ramp up, but now things are in full swing.

(The) Door Swings Both Ways
Meaning:
The same principle can apply mutually in a relationship
Example: In the realm of food, the door often swings both ways. For example, American food has borrowed many influences from Japan, but Japanese food has also been influenced by America.

(The) Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home
Meaning:
This person appears normal but is deficient in mental functioning, stupid
Example: Carl couldn’t even answer basic questions about the budget. With him, sometimes I think the lights are on, but nobody’s home.

(The) Whole Kit and Caboodle
Meaning:
The entire collection of something; all of something
Example: I’ll pay $300 for the whole kit and caboodle – we don’t need to waste time arguing over the value of each individual coin.

(The) X Factor
Meaning:
An aspect of a situation with an unknown impact; an indefinable appeal
Example: The votes of women will be an X factor in this election. No one knows which way they’ll go.

(To Be) Hoist By Your Own Petard
Meaning:
To be hurt by one’s own aggressive plans
Example: The dean implemented a foreign-language requirement for faculty, but then he couldn’t pass it himself. He was hoist by his own petard!

(To Be) Shit out of Luck (SOL)
Meaning:
To be completely out of luck; to experience very bad fortune
Example: I went to a restaurant in Buffalo, and they were out of Buffalo chicken wings. I guess I was just shit out of luck!

(To) Grasp (Grab) at Straws
Meaning:
To take desperate actions with little hope of success
Example: When the teacher called on her, Jean was grasping at straws – she had no idea how to answer the question.

(To) Pull Strings
Meaning:
Use influence that’s based on personal connections
Example: My uncle pulled strings and got me a summer job at a state legislator’s office.

(To) Shit It In
Meaning: Succeed easily; be doing well
Example: Don’t worry. We had a bad practice, but when game time comes we’ll shit it in.

A Life Of Its Own
Meaning:
An indepdendent existence
Example: At first my weaving was just a side project, but it’s taken on a life of its own – people have been buying my blankets.

Above Board
Meaning:
Openly, without deceit. Honestly, reputably.
Example: You might want to sneak a misleading clause into the contract, but it’s better if we keep everything above board.

Ace Up One’s Sleeve
Meaning:
A surprise advantage of which others are not aware.
Example: Susan had an ace up her sleeve when it came to dating Jason – she was friends with Jason’s sister, and she knew a lot about his interests.

Add Insult to Injury
Meaning:
Humiliate someone in addition to doing damage to him or her
Example: My boyfriend broke up with me. Then he added insult to injury by lying about when he had started seeing Valerie.

Airy Fairy
Meaning:
Whimsical, nonsensical, impractical
Example: The business plan is full of airy fairy ideas that would be impossible to actually implement.

All And Sundry
Meaning:
Everyone (separately) Each one.
Example: She told all and sundry that she was ready to forget her breakup and begin dating again.

All Set
Meaning:
Ready, prepared, finished
Example: We’re all set. Everything’s packed, Now we just have to get to the airport on time.

All The Same
Meaning:
Anyway; nevertheless; nonetheless.
Example: I know you want to leave. All the same, I’d rather stay and talk to a few more people.

All Very Well
Meaning:
True to a certain extent
Example: That’s all very well, but your argument breaks down when you try to apply it to the real world.

American Dream (The)
Meaning:
The belief among Americans that hard work leads to material success
Example: If we work hard, our children will have a better life than we had. That’s the American Dream.

And All That
Meaning:
Et cetera, and so on.
Example: For a proper golf experience, you need the right clubs, the right shoes, the right golf balls, and all that.

And So Forth
Meaning:
Indicates that a list continues in a similar manner, etc.
Example: Urban areas have many problems: unemployment, bad schools, crime, and so forth.

And The Like
Meaning:
And other similar items, etc.
Example: We collect small antique home furnishings: lamps, ashtrays, platters, and the like.

And Then Some
Meaning:
And even more than what has just been mentioned
Example: We’ll need all the equipment you’ve brought, and then some.

Answer Back
Meaning:
Respond impertinently; to talk back.
Example: Teenagers like to answer back when you tell them to do something.

Back At You
Meaning:
Same to you (used to return a greeting or insult)
Example: Hey, it’s great to see you! – Back at you.

Back in the Day
Meaning:
Formerly, when I was younger, in earlier times
Example: Back in the day, we used to bicycle all the way around the island, but I’m not in shape to do that anymore!

Beggar Thy Neighbour
Meaning:
To do something beneficial for oneself without worrying about how it affects others
Example: The country’s beggar-thy-neighbour currency policy will earn it enemies in the long run.

Best of Both Worlds
Meaning:
Combining two qualities that are usually separate
Example: With this car, you get the best of both worlds-it’s a high-performance car, but it’s also very durable.

Borrow Trouble
Meaning:
Take needless risks, invite problems
Example: Probably nothing will happen if we overload the boat, but why borrow trouble?

Carry the Can
Meaning:
To take the blame for something one did not do
Example: The general manager is being forced to carry the can for the mistakes of the owner, who refused to invest in top-flight talent.

Catch-22
Meaning:
A difficult situation from which there is no escape because options for avoiding it involve contradictions
Example: It’s a Catch-22 – we can’t get the fare discount without the loyalty card, but to get the loyalty card we’d have to take this flight.

Come to Grips With
Meaning:
To acknowledge a problem as a prelude to dealing with it
Example: We need to come to grips with the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Come By Something Honestly
Meaning:
Acquire something honestly, or inherit it
Example: I came by that knife honestly – my father gave it to me.

Come Clean
Meaning:
To confess; to admit to wrongdoing
Example: Son, we all know you stole the liquor from the cabinet. It’s time for you to come clean.

Draw a Line Under (Something)
Meaning:
To conclude something and move on to something else
Example: It’s time to draw a line under that relationship. I’m ready to look for someone new.

Draw the Line
Meaning:
To set a limit to what one will accept
Example: It’s OK if you have a bottle of beer from time to time, but using drugs is where I draw the line.

Drop a Line
Meaning: To write a letter or send an email
Example: Drop me a line when you’re back in the country, and we’ll get together.

Dry Run
Meaning:
A practice execution of a procedure
Example: The flight went perfectly in a dry run. I think we’re ready to start accepting charters.

Face the Music
Meaning:
To accept judgment or punishment
Example: We broke the rules for stock trading. It’s time to face the music – they’re going to catch us sooner or later.

Fall Prey to
Meaning:
Be victimized by; be harmed by; be vulnerable to
Example: When you’re sick, it’s very easy to fall prey to scammers who sell you worthless medicines.

Flash in the Pan
Meaning:
A one-time occurrence, not a permanent phenomenon
Example: Some believed that Donald Trump’s popularity was a flash in the pan; others thought he would have a more lasting impact.

Follow In Someone’s Footsteps (Tracks)
Meaning:
Follow the example laid down by someone else; supplant
Example: I know you’re worried about what will happen after Ruth retires, but I’m sure that with Jack following in her footsteps things will continue normally.

For Xyz Reasons
Meaning:
For multiple reasons, not worth specifying individually
Example: For xyz reasons I don’t want to go to the party. You go ahead!

Fourth Estate
Meaning:
The media and newspapers
Example: The Fourth Estate can direct public opinion, but they can’t shape it.

Get Along (with Someone)
Meaning:
To have a satisfactory relationship
Example: Andrew isn’t a perfect employee, but he gets along with everyone, and that’s important – it helps create a harmonious workplace.

Get the Run around
Meaning:
Be given an unclear or evasive answer to a question
Example: Every time I try to ask the boss when we might get raises, I get the run around.

Get With the Program
Meaning:
Figure out what everyone else already knows. Often used sarcastically, as a command
Example: Everyone else has already moved on to stage three. C’mon, get with the program!

Go Along (With)
Meaning:
Agree to something, often provisionally
Example: I’ll go along with the plan for now, but if the dollar drops I’ll have to reconsider.

Go Down in Flames
Meaning:
Fail in a spectacular way
Example: After the new model had to be recalled due to the diesel emissions scandal, the entire brand went down in flames.

Hatchet Job
Meaning:
A strong attack on someone’s reputation; intentionally destructive criticism; calumny
Example: There’s a newspaper here that always supports the government and can be counted on to do a hatchet job on any potential opponents.

Haul Over the Coals
Meaning:
To scold someone severely
Example: My teacher really hauled over the coals today about talking in class.

Heart and Soul
Meaning:
With all one’s energy or affection
Example: Bob never worked hard before, but he threw himself into his new job heart and soul.

Home Truths
Meaning:
Honest, often painful criticism
Example: My teacher expressed some home truths to me – I argued with her at first, but I had to admit she was right.

Hot Mess
Meaning:
Something or someone in a state of extreme disorder
Example: In my 20s I was a hot mess, but after I turned 30 I tried to live a more orderly life.

In One Fell Swoop
Meaning:
All at once, in a single action
Example: I finished all my homework in one fell swoop.

Just for the Record
Meaning:
I would like to make it clear that …
Example: Just for the record, I never said Samantha was doing a bad job.

Keep (Something) at Bay
Meaning:
Maintain a distance from something or someone
Example: We used my car horn to keep the bear at bay until the forest rangers arrived.

Let the Genie Out of the Bottle
Meaning:
Reveal something hitherto suppressed
Example: Once the reporter let the genie out of the bottle and revealed official corruption, many more examples came to light.

Live Large
Meaning:
Have a luxurious lifestyle
Example: After I sold my company, I was living large – penthouse apartment, big car, eating out every night.

Make One’s Mark
Meaning:
Attain influence or recognition
Example: I’ve been working in this field for ten years, but I don’t really feel I’ve made my mark.

Make Waves
Meaning:
Cause controversy, disturb a calm group dynamic
Example: You just started working here. I’m sure you think there should be changes, but for now don’t make waves.

Nailing Jelly/Jello/Pudding To A Wall/Tree
Meaning:
An impossible task
Example: Getting Mark to commit to marrying me is like nailing Jello to a tree.

No Names, No Pack Drill
Meaning:
If no one can be identified, no one will be punished.
Example: Certain people around here-”no names, no pack drill-”are not contributing enough to the project.

Off the Beaten Path
Meaning:
Remote; not a usual destination; not easily reached
Example: This restaurant is off the beaten path, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the trouble in getting there.

On a Roll
Meaning:
Succeeding consistently
Example: Ellen is on a roll – she’s gotten an A on her last three exams.

Out of Line
Meaning:
Improper, behaving improperly
Example: Your comment in the meeting was out of line. I want you to apologize to Theresa.

Out of Luck
Meaning:
Unlucky in a single instance; temporarily unfortunate
Example: You’re out of luck. Debbie just left. She’ll be back at 1.

Out of Nowhere
Meaning:
Unexpectedly
Example: Two horses were neck and neck for most of the race, but a third horse came out of nowhere to win.

Out of Order
Meaning:
Not working properly
Example: The restroom is out of order. You’ll have to go to the next floor up.

Out of the Blue
Meaning:
Unexpectedly
Example: Out of the blue, John called and said he was going to visit me. I haven’t seen him for 15 years.

Out of the Picture
Meaning:
No longer under consideration; eliminated from a contest
Example: Caitlin says Jack is out of the picture. She’s trying to choose between William and Jason as her date for the dance.

Page-Turner
Meaning:
A page-turner is an exciting book that’s easy to read, a book that’s difficult to put down.
Example: When I go to the beach, I don’t want a book that I have to focus closely on-”I prefer a real page-turner.”Stephen King’s novels are page-turners. They may be a thousand pages long, but you can finish them very quickly.”

Point of No Return
Meaning:
A place from which it is impossible to go back to the starting point
Example: We’ve reached the point of no return on this hike – if we keep walking, we won’t be able to make it back to town before dark.

Put the Genie Back in the Bottle
Meaning:
Try to suppress something that has already been revealed or done
Example: Once you give kids additional freedoms, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle and make them obey rules.

Queer the Pitch
Meaning:
Interfere with someone’s plans; make something more difficult
Example: Although he supports the prime minister’s party, he’s trying to queer the pitch for that party’s candidates.

Rake (Someone) Over the Coals
Meaning:
To scold someone severely
Example: My teacher really raked me over the coals today about talking in class.

School Of Hard Knocks
Meaning:
Difficult real-life experiences from which one has learned
Example: I never went to college. I worked starting when I was 17, and I got my education in the school of hard knocks.

Set the World on Fire
Meaning:
Do something amazing; have a brilliant stretch in one’s career
Example: I don’t think Teresa will set the world on fire with her writing, but her books are selling consistently.

Show Me an X And I’ll Show You a Y
Meaning:
There is a consequence to X that you may not have thought of.
Example: Show me a man with a tattoo, and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.’- Jack London.

Six of One, a Half Dozen of the Other
Meaning:
The two choices have no significant differences.
Example: It doesn’t matter to me whether we go food shopping first or get the car’s oil change – it’s six of one, a half dozen of the other.

Small Beer
Meaning:
Unimportant, insignificant
Example: Our sales have risen, but they’re still small beer compared with those of our main competitor.

Snafu
Meaning:
A malfunction; a chaotic situation
Example: After all the snafus, I’m surprised the product launch is happening even close to the scheduled date.

Spick and Span
Meaning:
Clean and neat
Example: Your room is messy. I’m leaving now, and when I come home I want to see it spick and span.

Stand (Someone) In Good Stead
Meaning:
Be useful in the future
Example: You may not think you need this tool, but it will stand you in good stead in the future.

Sure-Fire
Meaning:
Certain to occur
Example: This horse is a sure-fire winner. If you bet on him, you can’t lose!

Take (Someone) to the Cleaners (1)
Meaning:
Swindle
Example: Be careful when visiting foreign cities – you won’t be aware of the con artists’ tricks, and they’ll take you to the cleaners.

Take (Someone) to the Cleaners (2)
Meaning: Defeat badly
Example: It was predicted to be a close game, but we took the other team to the cleaners.

Take A Powder
Meaning:
To leave, especially in order to avoid a difficult situation
Example: Just when we were getting to the hard work, Juan took a powder, and we haven’t seen him all day.

Take the Shine Off (Something)
Meaning:
To do something that diminishes a positive event
Example: We won the championship, but the riots after the match took the shine off the team’s accomplishment.

Take the Starch out of (Someone)
Meaning:
Make someone less confident or less arrogant
Example: The boss criticized Walter’s presentation. It really took the starch out of him.

Take Your Life in Your Hands
Meaning:
Undergo extreme risk
Example: They don’t maintain that road in winter. If you drive up there, you’re taking your life in your hands.

Tee Many Martoonies
Meaning:
Too many martinis, scrambled to suggest drunkenness
Example: I said some things I shouldn’t have last night. I probably had tee many martoonies.

Test the Waters
Meaning:
Try something out in a preliminary way
Example: We haven’t decided about expanding into Europe, but we’re testing the waters with a few stores there.

The Jig Is Up
Meaning:
A secret illicit activity has been exposed; your trickery is finished
Example: The jig is up for the stock scammers – the FBI busted the ring last night.

Thin On The Ground
Meaning:
Rare, seldom encountered
Example: Good restaurants are thin on the ground in this town.

This Has (Person X) Written All Over It
Meaning:
[Person X] would really like or be well suited to this.
Example: A big German document just came in e-mail. This job has Frank written all over it – he speaks fluent German.

Throw a Wet Blanket on (Something)
Meaning:
Discourage plans for something
Example: Barbara threw a wet blanket on our plans for a party, reminding us that no alcohol is allowed in the building.

To the Letter
Meaning:
Exactly (said of instructions or procedures)
Example: I followed the instructions in the manual to the letter, but I still couldn’t replace my timing belt.

Tread Water
Meaning:
Maintain a current situation without improvement or decline
Example: I’ve been working hard for a year, but I’m just treading water. I need a job that pays more.

Under Wraps
Meaning:
Temporarily hidden, secret
Example: I want the new model kept under wraps until the product launch on Tuesday.

University of Life
Meaning:
Difficult real-life experience, as opposed to formal education
Example: I never had the advantage of an Oxford degree-”all my experience comes from the university of life.

Up for Grabs
Meaning:
Available for anyone
Example: Positions in our new Hanoi office are up for grabs for anyone who speaks Vietnamese. See me if you’re interested.

Wouldn’t be Caught Dead
Meaning:
Would absolutely not allow myself to do this
Example: I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a coat that color.

You Know the Drill
Meaning:
You are already familiar with the procedure.
Example: When you leave, shut off all the lights and lock the room with the safe. You know the drill.

Zig When One Should Be Zagging
Meaning:
To make an error; to choose an incorrect course
Example: My problem during my 20s was that too often I would zig when I should be zagging.

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