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400 Popular Idiomatic Expressions, Meanings and Examples

What is an Idiomatic Expression?

An idiom is a statement or expression whose meaning does not correspond to the literal meaning of its words. In other words, “idioms have distinct meanings than individual words.” Idioms and proverbs are frequently confused by people. However, these are not the same thing.

Proverbs are well-known for expressing advice or broad facts. For example, the proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a universal fact. Consider the idiom “bite off more than you can chew.” You meant that you are attempting to achieve something too difficult for you. Read on to learn about 400 useful and frequently used idioms, examples, and definitions.

Idioms and meanings

Idiomatic Expressions and Their Meanings With Examples

1. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Meaning: A purposeful investment of time or money in a specific endeavor or task.

Example: When crypto was thriving, Jim was in it for a penny and in it for a pound; that’s how passionate he was.

2. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

Meaning: A current chance is preferable to a prospect since time never repeats itself.

Example: The detective arrested three offenders and noticed another fleeing but did not pursue him because she understood that a bird in one hand is worth two in the bush.

3. Chip off the old block

Meaning: A person’s behavior or deeds are similar to those of his parents.

Example: When grandmother noticed her grandson accumulating pennies like her son, she recognized him as a Chip off the old block.

4. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Meaning: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Example: I thought Peter was cold today towards the homeless man; he should do unto others as he would have them do unto him because no one knows tomorrow.

5. Don’t cry over spilt milk.

Meaning: Don’t cry about what happened because it can’t be changed.

Example: Jane failed her exam, but her mother walked over and told her, “My daughter, don’t cry over spilt milk.”

6. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Meaning: Things that go wrong eventually go right.

Example: You were depressed yesterday because your phone was stolen, but look at you today: you have been gifted a brand new phone. It is correct to say that every cloud has a silver lining.

7. Beside yourself with joy

Meaning: To be immensely pleased.

Example: Congratulations on getting chosen for the position. It feels great to see you beside yourself with joy.

8. Fair and square

Meaning: Being straightforward or fair.

Example: To tell you fair and square, I did everything I was supposed to, but I still feel dissatisfied.

9. Having an Ace up the sleeve

Meaning: Have an edge that is being held back for future use.

Example: Ada remained silent during the board meeting, unaware she had an Ace in his sleeve the entire time.

10. A black sheep

Meaning: Being an embarrassment to the family.

Example: No one invites George to the meetings anymore because it turns out he was the family’s black sheep, marrying someone else despite still being engaged to his fiancée.

11. Hook, line and sinker

Meaning: Doing or attempting to do something thoroughly and passionately.

Example: I have set a goal of going through the spreadsheets by Monday, and I am working towards it Hook, line, and sinker.

12. Looking to your laurels

Meaning: Not getting caught up in your accomplishments and losing sight of what is supposed to happen.

Example: His Dad advised him to look to his laurels but not to sit on them.

13. Bear a grudge

Meaning: To remain angry or hostile toward someone or something because of a previous occurrence.

Example: I Bear a grudge against her for taking me for granted.

14. By the skin of your teeth

Meaning: To barely scrape by or make it.

Example: John was chosen for the dancing team. The audition gates were about to close by the skin of his teeth.

15. Down for the count

Meaning: I am tired; I am giving up.

Example: My dog is out for the count after a full day of frisbee play.

16. Draw the line

Meaning: To come to a halt before something acceptable becomes unacceptable.

Example: That’s enough, buddy. Draw the line before someone comes after you and beats you up.

17. Easier said than done

Meaning: It is not as simple as it appears.

Example: Passing the test is easier said than done. More than half of the class fails it yearly.

18. Break a leg

Meaning: Wishing someone good luck.

Example: Break a leg, Jane; it’s time for you to take the stage and deliver your speech.

19. Up a creek without a paddle

Meaning: In an unfortunate scenario.

Example: The thief attempted to scale the fence but was stopped by the watch night men; assume he was up a creek without a paddle yesterday.

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20. Give it a whirl

Meaning: To experiment with something.

Example: I am frightened of swimming, but  I am thinking about giving it a whirl once in my life.

21. Fish out of water

Meaning: to step outside of one’s comfort zone

Example: When his fiancée took him to a Star Wars conference in Los Angeles, Adrian felt like a fish out of the sea.

22. In the fast lane

Meaning: A life full of adventure.

Example: Chris turned forty and chose to live his life in the fast lane, quitting his job to pursue his passions.

23. Go the extra mile

Meaning: to go the additional mile

Example: He was eager to go the additional mile for Mia, his true love.

24. Snug as a bug in a rug

Meaning: Warm and inviting.

Meaning: Next to her mother, the baby appears to be as snug as a bug in a rug.

25. Step up your game

Meaning: to begin improving performance.

Example: Jane needs to step up her game if she wants to establish a name for herself in football.

26. To not see the wood for the trees.

Meaning: To be so preoccupied with petty concerns that you miss important information.

Example: She always complains over the dumbest issues, as if she can’t see the forest for the trees.

27. Lose your marbles

Meaning: To lose one’s mind.

Example: Every day, our postman delivers Mrs Arnold’s mail at our front door. It seems like he has lost his marbles.

28. Straight from the Horse’s mouth

Meaning: Straight from the source.

Example: Hear it from the horse’s mouth: he was killed right in front of his children

29. Crying Wolf

Meaning: To request assistance when you do not require it.

Example: Nobody believes you now because you have cried Wolf many times.

30. Palm off

Meaning: Pass something off as authentic when it is not.

Example: This retailer always palms off expired stock to his consumers.

31. Has bigger fish to fry

Meaning: Has more essential tasks to complete.

Example: Do not contact me for the job anymore; I have bigger fish to fry.

32. Look before you leap.

Meaning: Before moving forward with an option, weigh the hazards.

Example: Look before you leap; you cannot just sell all your belongings because he promised to relocate you to the United Kingdom.

33. On thin ice

Meaning: In a complex or unsafe circumstance.

Example: Andy missed work for a week because he was sick, and now his employer says he is on very thin ice.

34. Play devil’s advocate

Meaning: To argue only for the purpose of discussing.

Example: He refused to back down as if he were the devil’s advocate.

35. Rain on someone’s parade

Meaning: To ruin a moment.

Example: He apologized to his wife for ruining her parade, but they had to change their travel dates.

36. Take a rain check

Meaning: Change a plan.

Example: He invited me to supper with his family, but I had a prior commitment, so I asked him to take a rain check.

37. Take it with a grain of salt

Meaning: Take it lightly.

Example: She recounts fantastic stories, but we take everything she says with a grain of salt.

38. Like a cakewalk

Meaning: So simple a task.

Example: Everyone else spent hours writing the code, but Shane did it like a catwalk.  59.

39. Throw caution to the wind

Meaning: Take a risk.

Example: The caretaker threw caution to the wind by taking a sick baby outside.

40. Penny wise and Pound foolish.

Meaning: Cautious in minor affairs while, insignificant matters, being lavish or expensive.

Example: Abu drinks garri every day for dinner, yet he is prepared to lavish on girls. He is, indeed, penny wise and pounds foolish.

41. The whole nine yards

Meaning: Everything, from start to finish.

Example: I would like to know everything about that boy you are dating, the whole nine yards.

42. The best thing since sliced bread

Meaning: A fantastic invention.

Example: Going out today is the best thing since sliced bread.

43. Bite off more than you can chew

Meaning: Accept a demanding task that is above your abilities.

Example: Andrew promised his boss that he would triple sales, but in truth, he bit off more than he could chew, and now he is on the company’s sack list.

44. Play by the ear

Meaning: To be creative.

Example: I stayed in Abuja for two years by the ear, without knowing my way around the city.

45. Ignorance is bliss

Meaning: Some things are better left unknown.

Example: His wife had long wondered what he did late at night, and it came out he was an armed robber. But because she was unaware of this, she will not be convicted; sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

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46. Put something on ice.

Meaning: To postpone anything.

Example: John has put his wedding plans on ice under his father’s order.

47. You can say that again

Meaning: That is entirely correct.

Example: “Messi is the best player in the world” you can say that again, Amin.

48. Bite the bullet

Meaning: To get something done because it is unavoidable.

Example: James had an accident that affected his left leg badly. He doesn’t want it amputated, but his wife’s will he bit the bullet.

49. Go back to the drawing board.

Meaning: Restart the process.

Example: I made her understand it is not too late to return to the drawing board and correct her errors.

50. Call it a day

Meaning: Stop what you’re doing.

Example: Since we cannot finish the topic today, we call it a day and resume tomorrow.

51. Beating Around the Bush

Meaning: To discuss trivial matters.

Example: When I inquired about how the money was spent, my supervisor beat about the bush.

52. Be in a tight corner.

Meaning: Being in a challenging circumstance.

Example: Sarah’s poor health, despite the doctor’s efforts, Sarah’s poor health has left her in a tight corner.

53. At the 11th hour

Meaning: At the last second.

Example: James left for Real Madrid at the eleventh hour, leaving behind all the memories he had created with his teammates at Chelsea.

54. Swan Song

Meaning: An artist’s final effort before dying.

Example: The recording was Mr Azang’s swang song.

55. Wild Goose Chase

Meaning: Ineffective Pursuit

Example: Attempting to catch the two criminals on a congested road was a wild goose chase for the cop.

56. Bury the hatchet

Meaning: Putting an end to a fight to make peace.

Example: My uncle buried the hatchet by dividing the land evenly between my brother and me.

57. To bell the Cat

Meaning: To take a chance.

Example: When he was attempting to escape from the prison, he belled the cat.

58. Turn a deaf ear

Meaning: To disregard what someone says.

Example: Anu turned a deaf ear when her mother protested about her frequent cellphone use.

59. At Sea

Meaning: Confused

Example: I was at sea while shopping for a dinner gown for my girlfriend’s reunion party.

60. To be in the doldrums

Meaning: to be in a bad mood

Example: I was in the doldrums when I learned about the death of Yinka’s mother.

61. Hit the books

Meaning: Going to school

Example: He said he wouldn’t be able to attend lunch since he has to hit the books for his bar exams.

62. Twist someone’s arm

Meaning: To persuade someone

Example: I had no intention of attending the party, but you twisted my arm by promising me all the excellent moments

63. Stab someone in the back

Meaning: To betray a close person

Example: My uncle had so much faith in his driver, but when he saw all the money bags, he stabbed him in the back.

64. Go cold turkey

Meaning: To abstain from or stop engaging in addictive or harmful behavior

Example: No one could believe my father had gone out to consume chocolates! When the physicians told him he had diabetes, he quit cold turkey.

65. Ring a bell

Meaning: That sounds familiar.

Example: This scene rings a bell in my head. Is it from Lord of the rings?

66. Cut to the chase

Meaning: Get to the subject.

Example: Because the submissions were due tonight, the boss cut to the chase and instructed us to get to work.

67. Blow off steam

Meaning: Having solid emotions such as rage or stress

Example: Kate left the room to blow off the steam after a heated argument with her neighbour.

68. Face the music

Meaning: Face the facts

Example: Grace advised her husband not to run away from the problem but to face the music.

69. To have sticky fingers

Meaning: Thief

Example: The accountant had a sticky finger and stole roughly $3000 before fleeing the organisation.

70. Break the bank

Meaning: To be prohibitively expensive

Example: I had to break the bank to get these clothes.

80. It is always darkest before the dawn

Meaning: Things will improve.

Example: He has been through many things, but I advised him to remember that it is always dark before dawn.

90. Jump the gun

Meaning: To take action before the appropriate time

Example: I believe I jumped the gun by announcing the tournament winner before it was time for the announcement.

100. Wear your heart on your sleeve

Meaning: Too boldly expressing yourself

Example: She wears her heart on her sleeve and frequently gets hurt.

110. Cut no ice

Meaning: Failure to make an impression

Example: Your poem does not cut any ice with me.

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120. Light at the end of the tunnel

Meaning: Future indications of progress

Example: Despite the struggles, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

130. Through thick and thin

Meaning: In both good and bad times

Example: Shade and Boye have been good companions through thick and thin.

140. Cry for the moon

Meaning: To request something challenging to obtain.

Example: You cry for the moon for a football game ticket.

150. Read between the lines.

Meaning: Understanding the true meaning of something.

Example: If you read between the lines, you will realise that her song is about her love life.

160. Pour out one’s heart

Meaning: To freely express oneself

Example: I cannot pour my heart out to you if you are too preoccupied with your surroundings.

170. A left-handed compliment

Meaning: Saying anything nasty in the guise of gratitude.

Example: His comments on my success seemed more like a left-handed compliment

180. Once in a blue moon

Meaning: Not too often.

Example: I go to watch the games once in a blue moon.

190. Call a spade a spade

Meaning: To be completely honest

Example: I will not lie about it; let us call a spade a spade.

200. Flesh and blood

Meaning: Referring to a family member or human nature
Example: It is flesh and blood to have a panic attack at every little incidence.

210. Jam on the brakes

Meaning: Suddenly, apply the brakes to a vehicle.

Example: I had to slam the brakes when I noticed the deer.

220. Notch up

Meaning: To win or set a new record

Example: With their incredible vocals, Face-two notched up the finals.

230. A slap on the wrist

Meaning: It was only minor punishment.

Example: You will get slapped on the wrist for painting this wall, but don’t try it again.

240. Knee Jerk Reaction

Meaning: A prompt answer.

Example: The attitude was just a reflex reaction.

250. Once bitten, twice shy

Meaning: Fear of doing something new

Example: Once bitten twice shy, he really cannot dance.

260. Forty winks

Meaning: A quick nap

Example: I guarantee I will only be in for forty winks.

270. Up for grabs

Meaning: Everyone has access to it.

Example: This sharwama slice is up for grapes at a fair price.

280. Old as the hills

Meaning: Someone quite old

Example: The man appears to be as old as the hills.

290. Back to square one

Meaning: Begin anew

Example: We are back to square one because of your error.

300. Round the bend

Meaning: Crazy

Example: Do not meddle with my next-door neighbor; she is round the bend.

310. Against the clock

Meaning: Rushed

Example: I had to rush for the ceremony since I was moving against the clock.

320. Black and blue

Meaning: Something swollen

Example: What happened to John? His eyes looked black and blue.

330. Have the blues

Meaning: Sad

Example: He felt the blues after meeting with her.

340. Be glad to see the back of

Meaning: Happy when someone departs

Example: He made her understand that the organisation would be glad to see her back of her before the end of next month.

350. Blackout

Meaning: Faint

Example: He blacked out after taking the second bottle

360. Get in Shape

Meaning: To gain strength or fitness

Example: I must create a proper schedule to get in shape for the graduation ceremony.

370. Shoot from the hip

Meaning: To talk rashly or openly without serious consideration

Example: You should not feel awful about what he said. He has a penchant for shooting from the hip, but he is not malicious.

380. Shoot oneself in the foot

Meaning: Inadvertently harming one’s cause

Example: He shot himself in the foot by telling the interviewer about the other applicants for the desired job.

390. In cold blood

Meaning: If you commit a violent and cruel act in cold blood, you do so on purpose and without emotion.

Example: His family was murdered in cold blood.

400. Draw first blood

Meaning: When you draw first blood, you inflict the most harm on an opponent in a conflict or contest.

Example: Being the first to gain an advantage or score against a competitor. I won the tournament by drawing first blood and quickly dispatching my opponent.

English phrases, proverbs, and idioms play a significant part in written and spoken English. People should be familiar with the meaning of idioms and how to apply them because they do not always make literal sense. Although this appears to be a lot of work, idioms are enjoyable! It is sometimes referred to as a more native method of speaking; therefore, mastering some of these idioms is beneficial.

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