Useful for all levels

Idioms - alphabetical order

List of idioms in alphabetical order. You can see a list of idioms by topic following this link Idioms by topic


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A drop in the ocean
A small amount compared to the amount required.
A few sandwiches short of a picnic
Unintelligent. The expression is used to describe a person who is stupid or displaying a lack of intelligence.
A little bird told me
This expression is used when you have some information, but you don’t want to say where the information came from.
A piece of cake
Very easy.
A safe pair of hands
Someone other people trust to do a good job.
A slippery slope
A series of events that become out of control and create worse problems.
A stone’s throw
A short distance away from something. Not very far.
an uphill struggle
When making progress is very difficult.
As one door closes, another door opens
As one opportunity ends, another opportunity often follows.
As sick as a parrot
Very disappointed. This expression means that you are disappointed or unhappy about something that has happened.
At the end of my tether
To have no strength or patientte left.
(To) be swamped
To be overwhelmed by too much work.
(To) be over the moon
To be very pleased and happy.
Better the devil you know
Something bad and familiar is better than something bad and unknown. It is better or wiser to deal with someone you already know than to deal with someone you don’t (who might be even worse).
Big cheese
An important, influential person
(To) bite your lip/tongue
To stop yourself from saying something.
Call it a day
To stop doing what you are doing (usually work) for the day. You may 'call it a day' because you are tired, you have had enough or you need a break.
Canary in the coal mine
Someone or something that is an early warning for trouble or danger. An early indicator of greater danger due to a decline in health or welfare of something related.
Catch Somebody’s Eye
To attract someone’s attention or interest. This expression can be used when you make eye contact with someone.
Caught red-handed
To be caught in the act. To be found doing something wrong or illegal.
Caught with your pants down
To be found in a situation that embarrasses you. Caught doing something that you don’t want other people to know about.
Chase rainbows
To pursue unrealistic goals or dreams. To try to get something you can never have.
Cheap as chips
Very inexpensive.
To selectively choose only the best from a number of options. To choose things that support your position, while ignoring things that contradict it.
Chop chop
Hurry up! This expression is used to tell someone to hurry, or to do something faster.
Cold feet
A fear of doing something. A sudden nervousness about something you are about to do.
Couch potato
A person who lives a sedentary lifestyle, never doing any exercise.
Crush it
To succeed at something or do something extremely well.
Dark horse
Someone who wins something unexpectedly. A person, animal or team that competes in something and is not expected to win.
Down in the mouth
Sad or depressed. A person who is 'down in the mouth' is probably showing visible signs of unhappiness.
Eat your words
To admit that you’ve said something wrong.
Elephant in the room
An obvious problem or issue that people avoid talking about or even acknowledge.
Face the music
To accept responsibility for something you have done. To accept the consequences or criticism for your actions.
Feel Blue
To feel sad or depressed.
(To) fight tooth and nail
To try very hard to overcome opposition and get something you want.
Full of the joys of spring
Very happy. This expression is used to describe someone who is both happy and full of energy.
Get a wriggle on
Hurry up! This expression is used when you want to tell someone to do something faster.
Get bogged down with
To get stuck on a particular point and be unable to make progress.
(To) get on my nerves
To be made angry by sth.
Get the lie/lay of the land
To wait until you have all the information about a situation or problem
Get your feet wet
To try or start something. To begin gaining experience in something.
Get your skates on
Hurry up! This is used to tell someone to do something faster. The idiom 'get your skates on' is usually used as an order.
Gets my back up
To be made angry by sth.
Gild the Lily
To improve something unnecessarily. To further decorate something that already looks perfect.
(To) grin and bear it
To tolerate, put up with.
(To) have a nose for sth
To be good at finding a specific thing.
head and shoulders above
To be a lot better than other competitors.
Hit the books
Study. To study hard or with a concentrated effort for something.
Hit the nail on the head
To be exactly right about something. Find exactly the right answer. If you 'hit the nail' on the head you are accurate about a situation.
Hit the road
To leave or to depart on a journey.
Hold your horses
Wait. This expression is a command that tells someone to stop doing something or to wait for a moment.
I couldn't believe my eyes
To be very surprised.
In one ear and out the other
This expression is said about something that is said but not remembered - something quickly forgotten.
In someone’s black books
To be out of favour or in trouble with someone. You may have done something to annoy or upset them.

Keep a stiff upper lip
Not to show your emotions when you are upset.
Kiss and make up
To make friends after a disagreement or argument.
Let sleeping dogs lie
Leave something alone if it might cause trouble. This idiom advises you to leave inactive problems alone.
Let the cat out of the bag
To reveal a secret (usually used when you reveal a secret by accident).
Light at the end of the tunnel
The end of a difficult situation, or the solution to a problem. A sign that you are coming to the end of a troublesome period of time. An indication that a period of hardship is nearing an end.
Like turkeys voting for Christmas
A situation when people accept something that will have negative consequences for them.
Loan shark
Someone who lends people money and charges them an extremely high rate of interest - often illegally.
Loose cannon
An unpredictable person who may cause damage if he/she is not controlled.
(To) lose sb head
To lose control of sb behaviour.
Make hay while the sun shines
To make the most of an opportunity while it is available. To take advantage of a favourable situation for as long as you can.
Miss the boat
To miss an opportunity. To be too late to act to take advantage of something. To not take action quickly enough.
Music to my ears
Very pleasing information or news. If something is 'music to your ears' you are very happy to hear it!
Nail it
To succeed at something in an impressive way. To complete a task extremely well.
No dice
No. Not possible. This expression is used to refuse a request, to make it clear that something is not possible.
No skin off my nose
Not to care about something because it will not affect you.
Not a dry eye in the house
This expression is used to say that everyone (in a place) was emotional about something or crying.
On the nose
To be exactly right about something. To guess something correctly and accurately. You may be 'on the nose' about money or time.
On the same page
To be in agreement on something. To think in the same way or have access to the same knowledge or information.
On thin ice
In a risky situation.
On top of the world
Feeling wonderful. This idiom can be used when you are feeling ecstatic, glorious or delighted.
Once in a blue moon
Very rarely or almost never. If something happens 'once in a blue moon' it happens very infrequently.
Out of the woods
To be free from problems/danger.
Pain in the neck
Someone or something very annoying. Someone or something that causes trouble or irritation.
Paint the town red
To go out and celebrate. To have a party.
Pick somebody’s brain
To obtain information by asking someone questions.
(To) Play Devil’s Advocate
To express an opposing or unpopular point of view for the sake of argument.
Play it by ear
To decide what to do as a situation develops.
Pull your socks up
To do better. To make a real effort to improve. If you 'pull your socks' up you try even harder to achieve something.
(To) Put on a brave face
To behave as if a problem or difficult situation is not important or that it does not worry you.
Put a sock in it
Be quiet! Stop making so much noise. 'Put a sock in it' is an impolite expression and should be used with caution.


Raining cats and dogs
Raining very hard. This expression is used when it is raining very heavily.
Right as rain
Feeling fit and healthy.
Ring a bell
To sound or seem familiar. If something rings a bell it awakens a memory or reminds you of something.
Rob Peter to pay Paul
To solve a problem in a way that makes another problem worse.
Rotten apple
One bad person who has a bad effect on all others in the group.
Salt of the earth
This expression is used to refer to a person who is simple, honest and worthy. Someone who is genuine and unpretentious.
See eye to eye
To agree with someone about something – or in general. To see eye to eye is used when people completely agree with each other.
Set your sights (on something)
To focus on something. To set something as your goal or to decide on something that you want to achieve.
Shoot the breeze
To have an informal chat. To discuss unimportant or trivial things.
Smell Fishy or Fishy
Suspicious. This idiom is used when something is making us suspicious or when we believe somebody is being dishonest.
Square the circle
To try to do something that is impossible. An attempt to do something that is extremely difficult and is unlikely to be successful.
(To) stick my neck out
To take a risk.
Storm in a teacup
A small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion. A lot of fuss over a trivial matter.
Switch gears
To suddenly change what you are doing or discussing. To abruptly change the subject.
Take a rain check or Rain check
To politely refuse an offer or invitation, on the implication that you may accept it some time in the future.
Take (something) by storm
To suddenly become successful or popular.
Take something with a pinch of salt
To listen to a story or explanation of something with reasonable doubt. To view something with skepticism.
The apple of somebody’s eye
The person that you love the most. A person that you cherish or adore more than anyone else.
The Lion’s Share
The majority. This idiom is used to describe the largest part of something.
Tickled pink
Extremely pleased. To be delighted about something. Very amused or entertained by something.
Tie the knot
To get married.
Time flies
Time passes very quickly. This expression is used when you observe that a certain period of time has passed surprisingly quickly.
To be Skating On Thin Ice
To be doing something dangerous or risky.
To smell a rat
To suspect that something is wrong or that something dishonest is happening.
Too many irons in the fire
To have too much to do at the same time. To be engaged in too many activities at the same time.
Too much on my plate
To be too busy. To have too many things to deal with or a lot of things to worry about.
Tough cookie
someone who is strong enough to deal with difficult or violent situations.
Tread water
To put time and effort into something, but not get much of a result.
Twist somebody’s arm
To persuade somebody to do something that they do not want to do. To put pressure on someone in order to get them to do something. To coerce somebody.
Two left feet
To be clumsy or awkward with your feet. This idiom often refers to poor dancing and is aimed at people who are awkward when dancing.
Under the weather
To be feeling unwell. If you are under the weather you are feeling poorly or generally run-down (feeling bad because you are so tired).
Up in the air
Undecided. If something is 'up in the air', the plans for it are not completed.


Walk on air
Extremely happy or excited. If someone is 'walking on air' they are feeling elated.
Wet blanket
A negative person who ruins other people's good times.
Whet your appetite
To increase your desire for something. To stimulate your interest in something.
Wouldn’t say boo to a goose
If someone wouldn’t say boo to a goose, they are very timid and nervous.


To be a coward or easily scared. This expression is used to describe a person who is not brave.