You cannot understand an English idiom by doing its literal translation. But, these idioms are super common and you will have to understand them in order to understand English. In fact, these idioms are super fun to use in daily life conversations with friends and family.

Idioms are widespread, so you must understand them in order to understand English. This post will highlight some major and most commonly used English idioms that people use in their conversations. So let’s get started!

25 common English idioms

Hit the books

Hit the books literally means to physically hit your reading books, but this phrase is also used to indicate that you intend to study:

Sorry, I cannot go for a picnic, I have to hit the books.

Hit the sack

This literally means hitting or beating a sack (a large bag), but idiomatically it means you are going to bed.

It is time for me to hit the sack, I am done with the day.

Twist someone’s arm

To twist someone’s arm would be painful if taken literally, but if someone twists your arm, it simply means they have persuaded you to do something you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

I was not going hiking but my friends twisted my arm and got me to go.

Stab someone in the back

What this idiom actually means is that we have hurt someone who trusted us by betraying them.

I cannot believe he could cheat on me and stab me in the back. I feel broken.

Sit tight

This does not imply that you sit down and clench your fists. When someone tells you to sit tight, what they really mean is to wait patiently.

Sit tight while I go see your teacher for the meeting.

These English idioms can help you improve your English speaking skills, so we recommend you generate handy notes for yourself.

Pitch in

If you try to take this phrase literally, it makes no sense. Figuratively, it means to contribute (give) to something or someone or to participate.

Let’s all pitch in money to organize a birthday party for Susan.

Face the music

When someone tells you to face the music, they mean that you must confront the reality of a situation and accept all of its consequences.

You need to face the music. You failed the match because you didn’t practice.

Ring a bell

When someone says something you have heard before but don’t remember exactly, use this phrase to let them know it’s familiar but you might need a refresher.

This introduction rings a bell, but I cannot remember the person’s name.

Apart from these English idioms, there are several happy expressions in English. These expressions can help you explain your happy feelings and moments with the people around you. Learning different phrases will broaden your knowledge base and give you the confidence required to speak English in public.

Blow off steam

If you are having strong feelings and want to get rid of them, you will blow off steam by doing something to relieve stress.

If Anna gets mad, she will usually go on a drive to blow off steam.

Cut to the chase

When someone tells you to cut to the chase, it means you have been talking too long and need to cut out all the unnecessary details in order to get to the point. When used with someone like a boss or teacher, this idiom can be considered rude or disrespectful.

We don’t have ample time so I am going to cut to the chase.

Up in the air

When we think of something being up in the air, we imagine it floating or flying in the sky, but in reality, if someone tells you that something is up in the air, it means that it is uncertain or unsure.

Our Turkey plan is up in the air until John gets a weekend off.

Get over something

Consider something that bothers you, but as time passes, you no longer feel as strongly about it as you once did. This means you have moved on, you are no longer concerned about it, and it no longer has a negative impact on you.

It took me a while but eventually, I got over it.

Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth

This refers to someone who comes from a wealthy and successful family.

Annie is born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she doesn’t need to worry about anything.

To go from rags to riches

This means you have progressed from being penniless to having a lot of money.

Flora went from rags to riches. She was once living in a two-room apartment but now owns a mansion.

To give a run for one’s money

When competing with someone, you can say they gave you a run for your money if you feel like you had to work really hard to surpass them:

John really gave me a run for my money in the cricket match. He almost beat me!

To pony up

This means you need to pay for something or settle a debt.

Pony up and give me the $50 you owe me.

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This is the phrase you use when you have spent a certain amount of money but haven’t gained or lost any money.

The lunch treat cost me $100, but I almost broke even after winning $90 in a race.

To go Dutch

This English idiom is used when everyone pays for their own meal at a restaurant.

Usually we go Dutch when we eat out but this time Annie paid the bill since it was her birthday.

Midas touch

This idiom is derived from the legend of King Midas, who transformed everything he touched into gold.

It is used to describe someone who is very successful in their business ventures and makes a lot of money.

John really has the Midas touch. Every venture he starts becomes very successful.

As genuine as a three-dollar bill

This is an American idiom that means something is a fraud. The United States never issued three-dollar bills, so there is no genuine three-dollar bill.

Those leather shoes that they sell on the street are as genuine as a three-dollar bill.

Rule of thumb

If you hear someone say as a rule of thumb, they are referring to an unwritten general rule for whatever they are discussing. For example, there is no written rule requiring you to add oil to boiling water when cooking pasta, but it is a common practice.

As a rule of thumb, you should always wash your plate after dinner.

Find your feet

You could say I’m still finding my feet if you find yourself in a new situation, such as living in a new country and having to adjust to a new college. It indicates that you are still adjusting to your new surroundings.

I have been living in Canada for six months but I am still finding my feet.

A piece of cake

A piece of cake describes a task or job that is easy to get done.

John expected the test match to be difficult but it was a piece of cake.

Spice things up

To spice things up means to make them more fascinating or exciting.

Instead of just buying Annie a dress, let’s spice things up by taking her out for lunch.

Cool as a cucumber

Cucumbers have a refreshing flavor and leave you feeling cool and calm. So if you are as cool as a cucumber, you are a very calm and relaxed person.

Hard things do not bother John much, he is cool as a cucumber.

Frequently asked questions about English idioms


Learning English idioms is a plus especially if you are an English language learner. Just as English tongue twisters can help you understand and learn difficult words, English idioms can help you hold fun-filled and interesting English conversations.

Generate notes for yourself and always try to come up with a relevant English idiom that fits your situation.

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