10 common English idioms and their meanings
Hello there, English learners!
Today, we are going to have some fun exploring the wonderful world of English idioms!
Idioms are expressions that are unique to a particular language. They add colour and flair to our sentences, and can make conversations more interesting and engaging!
From “once in a blue moon” to “spill the beans,” there are plenty of fun and quirky expressions to explore!
Idioms are a great way to expand your vocabulary and the nuances of English, and it’ll make you sound like a native speaker!
So, without further ado, let’s start!
1. Break a leg
Break a leg??? Oh dear, that sounds violent!
You’d be surprised to learn that “break a leg” is actually used to wish someone good luck before a performance or an event!
You might be wondering why on earth would we wish someone to break a leg when we want them to succeed…
Turns out, it has its roots in the theatre world!
Back in the olden days, actors believed that wishing someone “good luck” before a performance was actually bad luck!
So, instead, they started wishing each other to “break a leg” as a way to reverse the bad luck and actually bring good luck!
Of course, we don’t want anyone to break their leg (ouch!)
So, how would you use it? Here’s an example:
“My first musical debut is going to be held tonight”
“Well, break a leg!”
2. Bite the bullet
Compared to “break a leg”, “bite the bullet” has a pretty serious origin!
Back in the olden days, where medical procedures weren’t as advanced as they are today, and especially with the crisis during the war, soldiers sometimes had to undergo surgery without anaesthesia.
To help dull the pain, they would often be given a bullet to bite on.
The idea was that biting the bite would distract them from the pain and prevent them from screaming – thus alerting the enemy of their whereabouts.
Today, we use the phrase “bite the bullet” to face a difficult situation head-on, even if it’s painful or uncomfortable.
So, next time you are faced with a tough situation, you can tell yourself to “bite the bullet” and get through it like a brave soldier!
3. Cost an arm and a leg
Let me just clarify, we are not referring to any sale of body parts!
The idiom “cost an arm and a leg” is used to describe something very expensive. It’s like saying that the price is so high, you’d give up something as precious as your arm and your leg to afford it!
For example, if you go to a fancy restaurant and the bill comes out to Rp 1,000,000,- you might say, “Wow! That meal cost an arm and a leg!”
4. Barking up the wrong tree
This idiom is referring to someone who is pursuing the wrong course of action or looking for something in the wrong place!
It’s like when a dog starts barking up a tree, thinking there’s a squirrel or a cat up there, but actually, there’s nothing and the poor dog is just wasting its energy!
Similarly, if you’re “barking up the wrong tree”, you’re putting effort into something that won’t give you the answer or solution you are looking for!
For example, if you see someone accusing the wrong person of stealing their lunch, you could say “Hey, you’re barking up the wrong tree! I saw Emma eating your sandwich earlier!”
5. Once in a blue moon
We can use this idiom to describe something that doesn’t happen very often!
You see, a blue moon doesn’t actually refer to the color of the moon (the moon doesn’t turn blue, don’t worry!)
Instead, it’s referring to when there are two full moon phases in a month, which is quite a rare occurrence!
So when we say that something is “once in a blue moon”, it means that we are describing a very rare event. It’s like seeing a shooting star or finding a four-leaf clover. It’s a special and exciting moment that we don’t get to experience all the time!
So, next time you hear someone saying “once in a blue moon”, you’ll know they are describing something rare and special!
6. Spill the beans
“Spill the beans” is an expression that means to reveal a secret or share an information that is meant to be kept private!
Picture this: you and your bestie are having a sleepover. Suddenly, your bestie starts talking about her crush!
You could say, “Oh my gosh! You spilled the beans! Tell me everything! Who is it? Do they like you back? Don’t leave out any details!”
See, it’s like a playful way to encourage someone to share something interesting and secretive with you!
Of course, remember that you shouldn’t pressure anyone to share something they are not comfortable with! However, in a lighthearted way, “spill the beans” can be a fun and harmless way to uncover some juicy gossip!
7. Under the weather
Have you ever felt crummy and just… not great?
Perhaps you had a throbbing headache and a runny nose…
Or maybe you just felt tired and didn’t feel like doing anything.
When you feel like that, you can say that you’re feeling “under the weather”!
You might be wondering why we use this phrase?
I mean, what does under the weather even mean? Weather is all around us, right?
Well, actually, this idiom comes from a time when people believed that changes in the weather could make you sick. For example, if it was cloudy or rainy outside, people might blame the weather for their illness.
So, there you have it! “Under the weather” is just another way to say that you are not feeling well. If you are feeling under the weather, get some rest, eat nutritious food, and keep yourself hydrated!
8. A piece of cake
Have you ever heard this idiom before?
When someone says that something is “a piece of cake”, they mean that something is really easy and simple. Kind of like how eating a delicious piece of cake can be super easy, right?
Imagine that you are playing a game and you’re moving on to a very tough opponent. However, you’ve spent a lot of time grinding and levelling up your character. So, you could say, “this is going to be a piece of cake!” since you know you won’t have any problem defeating the opponent.
Now, excuse me. I think I’ll need to go and find some cake to eat…
9. Getting cold feet
Have you ever heard someone say they are getting cold feet?
No, they’re not talking about actually feeling chilly on their toes!
When someone says they are getting cold feet, they mean that they are starting to feel nervous or scared about something they previously felt excited or confident about!
Imagine that you’re going to give a speech at a conference.
You’ve been preparing for weeks and you felt confident that you’re gonna ace this!
But, as you’re preparing to take the stage, you start to feel nervous and uneasy…
Your heart starts racing, your palms are sweaty, and you start to wonder whether this is a good idea after all…
It means that you’re getting cold feet!
It’s like your feet suddenly turn to ice and you just can’t move forward…
But don’t worry! This is completely normal! Take some deep breaths and remind yourself why you wanted to do it in the first place!
10. Hit the nail on the head
This idiom means that you have done something exactly right!
Picture it, you’re playing darts with your friends. You threw a dart and it landed exactly on the centre of the dartboard!
That’s what it feels like when you’ve “hit the nail on the head” – it’s like hitting the bullseye!
It’s like if a group is brainstorming ideas for a project and someone suggests the perfect idea that everyone loves. You can say, “Wow! You’ve really hit the nail on the head with that idea!”
That’s a wrap on English idioms, at least for now! We might do a part 2, so stay tuned!
I hope you’ve learned something new!
And lastly, I’ll leave you with this idiom…
Practice makes perfect!
So, keep on practising! Soon enough you’ll start incorporating these idioms into your conversations like a pro!
Do you want to speak English with confidence?
Most people lack confidence when they speak English. They are afraid to make mistakes and are embarrassed to speak in front of others.
This is because they have been taught English the wrong way!
Most English courses waste your time and money on useless exercises that don’t bring results. Even worse, they teach you bad habits that are very difficult to unlearn.
As a result, you become confused and lack confidence. This is wrong!
At IELC, we teach English the right way
Our goal is to get you speaking in English with fluency and confidence as fast as possible. We want to give you the skills you need to fulfil your potential!
Our experienced teachers will guide you along every step of the learning process to ensure that you are not wasting your time, money, and energy on useless language exercises & wrong methods.
With our modern campus and technology, we are equipped to provide the best possible courses for children, teens, and adults, including:
Online and on campus IELTS courses
Online and on campus TOEFL PBT courses
Online and on campus TOEFL iBT courses
We offer our classes in group classes or private classes.
No matter what your goals are, our team will help you achieve these goals by providing you with Indonesia’s best English courses!
Talk to our team today to get your FREE consultation and take your first step towards success.
IELC Managing Director