Idioms are commonly heard in everyday speech in English. You will hear native speakers use them frequently, and you'll hear idioms on television, in movies, on the Internet, and on your radio.
To explain simply, idioms are expressions that don't make grammatical sense and don't have a literal meaning. For example, the old phrase, “It's raining cats and dogs’, of course doesn't mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky. It just means that it's raining heavily outside.
Idioms aren't always easy to make sense of, but the better you understand popular and commonly used idioms, the better you can communicate in English with other English language learners and native speakers! Becoming familiar with idioms will really help you increase your competency in English.
There are lots of idioms that are old and not commonly used nowadays. I'm going to introduce and explain 25 idioms that are very popular and used often by native speakers. Let's get started in our understanding of these popular idioms!
1. Pull yourself together
To compose yourself, or to calm down. For example:
- She was really upset about her test score, but she pulled herself together and studied harder for the next test.
- I know you're very excited about the concert, but you need to pull yourself together.
2. Comfort food
A kind of food that feels familiar and can remind you of your childhood or food from home. For example:
- For an American, comfort food might be mashed potatoes or a slice of apple pie with ice cream.
- After traveling around Europe for six months, he just wanted to eat some comfort food made by his mom.
3. On the fence
To be undecided about something. For example:
- I'm still on the fence about whether to take a vacation to the mountains or the beach.
- Kate is on the fence over whether she wants to go to the gym or watch a movie.
4. Sit tight
To wait for something. For example:
- She asked her professor for the exam results, but he told her to sit tight and wait for them.
- The queue for the restaurant is really long, so I guess I have to sit tight for a while.
5. Shake (it) off
To get rid of bad feelings or negative emotions. For example:
- I know you've had a bad day Ben, how about we go for a run to shake it off?
- She couldn't shake off feeling scared after walking home alone in the dark.
6. Go the extra mile
To do something extra or more than what is necessary. For example:
- I went the extra mile and did the reading assignment for the next two weeks.
- She went the extra mile and brought three homemade desserts to the birthday party.
7. A great catch
Someone who has many good qualities and would make a great partner. For example:
- Not only is she beautiful, but she is very intelligent and has a kind heart. She's a great catch!
- Everyone has a different opinion of a great catch. To me, someone who shares similar interests with me is a great catch.
8. Go down in flames
To end badly. For example:
- My speaking presentation will go down in flames if I don't practice a lot.
- The couple were fighting all the time, and eventually their relationship went down in flames.
9. Shape up
The improvement of something, including an attitude or state of mind. For example:
- Anna was in a bad mood earlier, I hope she shapes up.
- The weather is starting to shape up, maybe we can go to the beach later.
10. Old school
Something from a long time ago. For example:
- The phrase 'pulling my leg' is old school, not many people say that anymore.
- The Walkman and CD players are really old school, we have iPods and smartphones to play music on now!
11. Running on fumes
To have very little energy or motivation. For example:
- I've been studying for this test all day, and now I'm running on fumes.
- After two hours of working out at the gym this morning with no breakfast, I'm running on fumes.
12. Get out of hand
To lose control or become unmanageable. For example:
- Over 100 people came to the party and it quickly got out of hand.
- A small disagreement can get out of hand if someone becomes angry.
13. Crunch time
A critical time when action needs to be taken. For example:
- The soccer team is down by one goal and there's five minutes left. Now it’s crunch time to score.
- My essay is due tomorrow and it's crunch time. I still have to write three more pages.
An easy decision. For example:
- Deciding to sleep late on a Saturday is a no-brainer, it's my day off!
- Choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla is a no-brainer, chocolate is my favourite!
15. Face the music
To be confronted with the consequences of your actions. For example:
- He needs to face the music and apologize for hurting her feelings.
- Instead of complaining about my test score, I'm going to face the music and just study harder next time.
16. Best of both worlds
To get the best out of two situations. For example:
- My new job pays well and I also love waking up to go to work every day. It's the best of both worlds.
- This dessert is the best of both worlds. It's actually really healthy, and tastes great too.
17. Couldn't care less
To care very little about something. For example:
- I couldn't care less about the basketball game. I don't really like basketball.
- She couldn't care less about watching that movie. She isn't a fan of action films.
18. Get (something) out of my head
To stop thinking about something. For example:
- I can't get that song out of my head. I've been singing it all day!
- After a wonderful date last evening, she couldn't get him out of her head.
19. It’s a small world
A coincidence or a surprise. For example:
- What a small world! She saw someone from her high school while traveling in Germany.
- It turns out that my new co-worker Sarah is friends with my cousin. What a small world!
20. Step your game up
To work harder at something. For example:
- He's really stepping his game up. He's going to the gym twice a day.
- I need to step my game up and study English more.
21. Blow me away
To be amazed or impressed by something. For example:
- It blows me away how dedicated she is to studying French. She studies it for three hours everyday
- I was blown away at the concert. It was much better than I ever imagined it would be.
22. Hit the books
To study hard or diligently. For example:
- It's time to hit the books. I have a math test tomorrow.
- You should stop listening to music and hit the books.
23. Keep your chin up
To have a positive or optimistic attitude about something. For example:
- I'm sorry you had a bad day, but keep your chin up. Tomorrow will be much better than today.
- Keep your chin up and think positively. Everything will work out for the best.
24. Get over it
To stop thinking about something or to stop letting something bother you. For example:
- The new Lego Batman movie was so good, I can't get over it.
- I'm disappointed it's raining because I wanted to go to the beach. I'll get over it soon.
25. Blow off steam
To get rid of negative feelings or strong emotions. For example:
- I'm so angry. I'm going for a run to blow off steam.
- A good way to blow off steam after a long day is to read a book or take a rest.
I hope you've enjoyed reading all of those wonderfully descriptive idioms. Do you have any other questions about popular idioms that you've heard or encountered in English? Leave a comment and I'll be sure to do my best to answer you!