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熟語 | Idioms and Phrases

熟語 – idioms〔語句の文字通りの意味からは類推できない意味を持つようになった表現。〕& phrases

Why learn idioms?

Learning idiomatic expressions is a very important part of the language-learning process. Much of everyday speech is based on colloquial and slang vocabulary – much of this vocabulary is based on idioms.

Our collection of English idioms will teach you the type of language that native speakers use every day. You will become more fluent in English and will be able to communicate better.

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English to Japanese Dictionary:

Double click on any English word, other than a link or page title, to check the meaning in Japanese. A separate popup dictionary page will open.

Idioms & Phrases: Free Study List

Set 1

  1. About time:
    Nearly time, high time.
    It’s about time you bought a new car!
  2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder:
    Proverb that means that our feeling for those we love increases when we are apart from them.
    You know what they say? Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  3. (To) act high and mighty:
    To act proudly and arrogantly.
    Vocalist Kyle Medina comments, “I wrote this song mainly about how people act high and mighty, talk a ton of negativity and trash, but are essentially not as holier than thou as they present themselves.
  4. Actions speak louder than words:
    Proverb meaning that’s it’s better to do something about a problem than to talk about it.
  5. (To) act one’s age:
    To behave in a more mature way. Frequently said to a child or teen.
    Bill, stop throwing rocks! Act your age!
  6. (To) add fuel to the fire:
    To make a bad problem even worse.
    You don’t need to add fuel to the fire!
  7. (To) add insult to injury:
    To make a bad situation even worse.
  8. Against the clock:
    To attempt to do something “against the clock” is to attempt to do something as fast as possible usually before a deadline.
  9. All-out:
    Complete. Very strong.
    They did an all-out search for the missing boy and they found him.
  10. All set:
    Ready (to go).
    All set?
  11. All thumbs:
    Awkward. Clumsy.
  12. A little bird told me:
    When someone says “a little bird told me” it means they don’t want you to know who told them.
  13. All in a day’s work:
    Typical. Normal. Expected.
    Talking to famous celebrities is all in a day’s work for some Hollywood reporters.
  14. (From) all walks of life:
    (From) all social, economic, and ethnic groups.
    People from all walks of life voted for him, but he still lost the presidential election.
  15. Apple of someone’s eye:
    Someone’s favorite person (and sometimes thing).
    Sarah was the apple of Tom’s eye for quite a long time. He was very much in love with her.
  16. Armed to the teeth:
    Heavily armed.
    The rebels were armed to the teeth.
  17. At all hours (of the night):
    Very late at night, throughout the night.
    Her boyfriend would call her at all hours of the night.
  18. At each other’s throats:
    Fighting or arguing heavily.
    They were at each other’s throats. The arguments never stopped.
  19. At this stage:
    At this point.
    At this stage, it’s difficult to say who will win the election.
  20. (a) ball-park figure:
    A rough estimate.
    Can you give me a ball-park figure of what this project will cost?
  21. (To get on the) bandwagon:
    To begin to like something/start doing something because it’s popular, “hip“, or everyone else is doing it.
    You don’t need to get on the bandwagon!
  22. (To) bank on something:
    To count or rely on something.
  23. (To) bark up the wrong tree:
    To ask the wrong person. To make the wrong choice.
    The gangster told the cops they were barking up the wrong tree in thinking he was responsible for the robbery.
  24. (A) basket-case:
    A very nervous person, someone at the verge of being neurotic.
    All the stress from the divorce turned John into a basket case.
  25. (To) be a fan of someone/ something:
    To like, idolize, admire someone/ or something.
    I’m not a big fan of heavy metal music.

Set 2

  1. (To) be in one’s element:
    To be completely comfortable doing something; To do something that comes very naturally to someone.
    When it comes to speaking in public, the Senator is in his element.
  1. (To) be up to no good:
    To be planning something bad, mischievous, etc.
    I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was up to no good.
  1. (To) beat around the bush:
    To avoid getting to the point.
    Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really think.
  1. (To) beg to differ:
    A polite way of saying “to disagree“, most often heard in the phrase “I beg to differ!
  1. Behind (someone):
    In the past.
    I used to smoke, drink, and take drugs, but all that is behind me now.
  1. Believe it or not:
    Used at the beginning sentence to state that something is true whether one chooses to believe it or not.
    Believe it or not, I still care for her.

Big fish in a little sea:
A person who’s famous/ well-known but only in an unimportant place (city or area).

(To have a) big mouth:
To not be able to keep a secret. ex. “Don’t tell her anything. She’s got a really big mouth.”

Big-shot (noun/adjective):
An important person. ex. “All the big-shots at headquarters never listen to what we have to say.”; “A big-shot reporter.”

(A) Bimbo:
A foolish/empty girl. The term “male bimbo” is also used. ex. “John only talks about his car and his clothes – he’s a real male bimbo.”

(The) birds and the bees:
Sex. Human reproduction. ex. “It’s about time I talked to my son about the birds and the bees.”

(A) bite to eat:
A snack, some food. ex. “Let’s go grab a bite to eat before we go to the game.”

(To) bite the hand that feeds you:
To do harm to someone who helps you.

(To) bite one’s tongue:
To struggle not to say something that you want to say.
“I wanted to tell her everything, but I had to bite my tongue because I had promised Bill I would not (tell her).”

Black sheep (of the family):
The worst, least accepted member of a family.

(A) Blast:
A great time. A fun time.
“We had a blast at the party last night.”

(To) blow someone’s cover:
To reveal someone’s secret, or true identity.
“The spy was very careful not to blow her cover.”

(To) break even:
To neither win nor lose.
“Michael thought he would lose $200, but he ended up breaking even.”

(To) break new ground:
To do something that hasn’t been done before. To innovate.
“Dr. Davis was breaking new ground in cancer research.”

(To) break someone’s heart:
To cause someone (strong) emotional pain.
“Fiona broke James’ heart when she refused to marry him.”

(To) break the news to someone/ to break “it” to someone:
To tell someone some important news, usually bad news.
“I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your wife has been cheating on you.”

(To) burst into tears:
To start crying suddenly.

(To) call it a day:
To end work and go home.
“Let’s call it a day. It’s getting late.”

  1. (To) carry a tune:
    To be able to sing on key (accurately).
    “She has an awful voice! She can’t carry a tune.”

Set 3

(To) cash in on something:
To profit from something.
“The actor wanted to cash in on his popularity by opening a restaurant.”

(A) catch:
When talking about wives, husbands, girlfriends, etc., people sometimes say “He’s quite a catch” or “She’s quite a catch” – which means “He/she is a great partner – it’s good to be in a relationship with him/her (usually because of his/her personality, money, or looks)”

(To) catch someone’s eye:
To get someone’s attention through eye contact.

(A) cheap drunk:
Also knows as “a cheap date”. A person who becomes drunk after only one or two drinks.
“Victor had one gin and tonic and was already slurring – what a cheap drunk!”

(A) clean bill of health:
A report from the doctor that one’s health is good. Good results from a doctor’s medical examination.
“I went in for my yearly physical and got a clean bill of health from Dr. Jones”.

(To) clear the table:
To remove all dishes, cutlery, etc. from a table after a meal.

(A) close call:
Something that is close to danger or an accident.
“That was a close call! The train almost hit the motorbike.”

From the Atlantic to the Pacific coast in the United States.
“Our car made the coast-to-coast trip in 70 hours”.

(To) come away empty handed:
To return without anything. To expect to receive something but to end up receiving nothing.
“The union workers came away empty handed from the negotiations.”

(To) come to an end:
To finish. To stop.
“When the road came to an end, we turned left.”

(To) come out of the closet:
To reveal that one is gay.

Come to think of it:
I just remembered.
“Hey, come to think of it, I do have a sleeping bag you can borrow.”

(To) come up short:
To not quite achieve one’s goal.
“The students tried to raise $1,000 for the school play, but they came up short.”

Come what may
Whatever happens. No matter what happens.

Copycat (noun or adjective)
Someone who imitates/mimics another person *not really used in a positive sense*

(To) cover a lot of ground:
To go through a lot of information.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground in my English class in the past two months.”

(To) cover for someone:
To make excuses for someone or to conceal someone’s errors.

(At the) crack of dawn:
Right at dawn (when the sun comes up).
“We left at the crack of dawn.”

(To) crash:
To sleep. To go to bed.

(To) cramp someone’s style:
To limit someone in some way. To limit someone from expressing themselves fully.

(To) cry one’s eyes out:
To cry hard.
“When her grandfather died, she cried her eyes out for three days straight.”

(To) cut class:
To not go to class. To skip going to class.
“Jacob was a very bad student. He was always cutting class to go smoke with his buddies.”

(To) cut loose:
To act or speak freely, without holding back ( = without restraint).
“When the three of us are together we really cut loose.”

(A) cut above (something):
Superior/ better (than something).
“The commercial said that this car company is ‘a cut above the rest’.”

Set 4

(To) die of boredom:
To be very bored.
“Science Shows You Can Die of Boredom, Literally.”

(A) dead ringer:
A look-alike.
“He’s a dead ringer for Jude Law” (He looks exactly like Jude Law).

Dirt cheap:
Very cheap (inexpensive).
“The hotel we stayed in was dirt cheap, but our room was very nice.”

(A) dog’s age:
A very long time.
“I haven’t seen him in a dog’s age.”

Don’t hold your breath:
Don’t wait for it to happen because it probably won’t.
“You think David will break up with Tina? Don’t hold your breath!”

Don’t let it get you down:
Don’t let it upset you. Don’t allow it to make you feel bad.

(To) do the dishes:
To wash the dishes.
“Did you do the dishes?”

(A) downer:
An event that causes one to be sad.
“Your girlfriend broke up with you? What a downer!”

Down the drain:
Wasted. Lost forever.
“I tried for five years to run this business and now I’m bankrupt. Five years down the drain.”

(A) drag:
Boring; a disappointment.
“The party was a real drag” or “My car broke down… What a drag!”

(To) drive a hard bargain:
To be firm when bargaining about something. You drive a hard bargain = It’s hard to win when bargaining with you.
“You drive a hard bargain, but alright, I’ll pay you $10 for the lamp.”

(To) drive someone crazy:
To make someone very agitated, upset, or emotional (either in a good or bad way).
“That teacher is so awful! He drives me crazy with his attitude.”

(To) drop it:
To stop talking about something. “I told you to drop it! I don’t want to talk about it.”

(To) drown one’s sorrows:
To get/ become drunk.

(To) drop the ball:
To make a mistake. (WARNING: This idiom is overused in the business world).
“So it was John’s fault? Yes, John really dropped the ball on this one.”

(A) dream come true:
A great thing. A dream or wish that has become reality.
“Living in California is like a dream come true.”

Down in the dumps:
Sad. Depressed.

(To) dump someone: (very informal):
To end a relationship with someone; to break up with someone. To stop seeing someone (romantically).
“She dumped me.”

a strong verbal scolding.
“Katie’s father really gave her an earful when she came home at 4 AM.”

Not so fast. Calm down!
“Easy! Don’t eat so fast!”

(As) easy as pie:
Very easy.

Easy come, easy go:
PROVERB. Said to explain the loss of something that was very easily obtained in the first place.

Tolerant. Laid-back. Relaxed.

(To) eat one’s heart out:
To be envious or jealous. ex. “Eat your heart out Frank, I’m going to Paris!”

(To) eat out of someone’s hands:
To do whatever someone else wants.
“James would do anything for Vicky. She had him eating out of her hands.”

(To) eat one’s words:

To admit that what one said was wrong.
“You think I won’t be able to find work in one week? I’m going to make you eat your words.”

Elbow room:
Enough space (room) to feel comfortable.

Enough is enough:
That is enough and there should be no more.

(To) enter one’s mind:
To cross one’s mind. To start thinking about something. “You want me to become a doctor? The thought never even entered my mind.”

Everything but the kitchen sink:
Almost everything one can think of.

Every so often:
Once in while. Occasionally.

Every other:
Every second. Alternate.
“In Los Angeles, every other person is an actor.”


(To) face the music:
To accept the (unpleasant) consequences of what you have done.

(To) fall flat (on one’s face):
To fail. To be unsuccessful. ex. “The play fell flat on its face.”

Fair-weather friend
A person who is only your friend when things are going well for you.

(To) feel like a new person:
To feel refreshed, rejuvenated.

(To) fall into place:
To become organized. To fit together.
“Once I started meditating, everything in my life began to fall into place.”

(To) fall short:
To lack something.
“We tried to raise fifty thousand dollars, but we fell short by about ten thousand.”

(A) falling out:
A disagreement/break in a friendship.
“We had a falling out over what she said.”

(A) far cry:

Very different (often in a worse way).
“This wine is nice, but it’s a far cry from the wine we had yesterday.”

(To) feel like a new person:

To feel refreshed, rejuvenated.

(To) feel out of place:

To feel like you don’t belong.
“We went to Mary’s party last night. There were many strange people there and I felt a little out of place, so we left.”

(A) Fifth wheel:

Useless, out of place, unnecessary.
“There were only couples there… I felt like a fifth wheel.”

(To) fill someone’s shoes:

To replace someone. To do something someone else used to do.
“Cathy has been working here for 20 years. It’s going to be hard to find someone to fill her shoes.”

(A) fine line:
Not much difference.
“Sometimes there’s a fine line between love and infatuation.”

First and foremost:
First and most importantly.

First thing:
Before anything else.
“Call me first thing tomorrow morning.”

(To) fish for a compliment:
To try very hard to get a compliment from someone.

(To) fix someone (some food – like cocoa, oatmeal, etc.):
To prepare (some food) for someone.
“I’ll fix you a cup of cocoa.”

Flat broke:
Very poor. Having absolutely no money.

(To) follow one’s heart:
To act according to your feelings/ emotions.
“I couldn’t decide what to do so I just followed my heart.”

Food for thought:
Something to think about.

(A) fork in the road:
A point when a road splits in two directions.

Free and easy:
Casual. Not very serious.
“Sarah was looking for a free and easy relationship.”

(A) fresh pair of eyes:
A new reader, someone who hasn’t seen something before.
“Hey can you come check out this report? We need a fresh pair of eyes.”

(A) full plate:
A busy schedule.
“Mark can you help me with this project? Not really, I’ve got a full plate right now.”

Fun and games:
Playing around. Time spent doing worthless things.
“OK, Neil, the fun and games are over. It’s time to get down to work.”

(To) get a move on:
To go or do something quickly, to get going, etc.
“Hey if we want to make the 8:00 PM show we should get a move on.”

(To) get carried away:
To exaggerate/ go too far/ to become emotional.
“I got carried away. I bought 10 shirts!”
“She got carried away when she started talking about the war.”

(To) get caught up:
To become involved, especially emotionally.
“I just got caught up in his plan and couldn’t think straight.”

(To) get cold feet:
To become timid or frightened.
“I usually get cold feet when I have to speak in public.”

(To) get down to business:
To start working seriously.
“Enough playing around – let’s get down to business.”

(To) get that all the time:
To hear something constantly.
“Hey, you really look like Brad Pitt! Yeah, I get that all the time.”

(To) get one’s foot in the door:
To get started in a process. To attain a favorable position which will help one work toward a goal.
“I’m trying to find a better job, but I can’t get my foot in the door. (To) get one’s fill of something:
To have enough of something. To have a lot of something. ex. “She’s had her fill of trouble lately.”

(To) get on someone’s nerves:
To annoy someone. To bother or irritate someone.

(To) get rid of (something/someone):
To eliminate. To throw away. To hide.
“This detergent gets rid of dirt better than any other one that I’ve used.”, “Get rid of the cigarette – your mother’s coming!”

(To) get something off one’s chest:
To say something that has been on your mind. To say something that has been bothering you.
“Did you tell her about Hawaii? Yes, and I felt much better once I got that off my chest.”

(To) get the blues:
To become sad or depressed.

(To) get something straight:
To clarify something. To understand something clearly.

(To) give someone a call:
To call someone (on the telephone).

(To) give someone the benefit of the doubt:
To believe in someone despite information that makes them seem guilty of something. ex. “Hey, don’t believe the rumors – give him the benefit of the doubt.”

(To) give someone a piece of one’s mind:
To bawl someone out. To let someone know how one really feels. “After that driver took my parking spot, I really gave him a piece of my mind.”

(A) go-getter:
an aggressive employee, a hard worker. “Jim is a real go-getter. He’s always taking the initiative.”

(To) go Dutch:
To go halves.
When a group of people go out and everyone pays for him/herself.

(To) go overboard:
To do too much. To exaggerate.
“They really went overboard with the party preparations.”

(To) go up in flames:
To burn. To be consumed in flames.

(To) go over something with a fine toothed comb:
To go over something very carefully, esp. checking for errors.
“Here’s the report – Make sure to go over it with a fine toothed comb.”

(To) go to someone’s head:
To make someone overly conceited or proud.
“That award that he won really went to his head.”

(To) a golden opportunity:
A good chance to succeed, a good investment. ex. “I didn’t have money to buy that restaurant. I missed a golden opportunity.”


Usually said of clothing that has been passed on from one person to another. ex. “A hand-me-down dress.”

Hands down:
Easily. By far.
“She is hands down the most beautiful girl in class.”

Hang on:
Be prepared for fast and/or rough movement.

(To) hang on someone’s every word:
To listen very carefully to someone.
“Grandpa was telling a story and the kids were hanging on his every word.”

(To) hate someone’s guts:
To hate someone very much.

(To) have a big mouth:
To be a gossiper. To be a person who can’t keep a secret.
“Don’t tell her anything! She has a big mouth.”

(To) have a lot going for (someone):
To have a lot of good things in one’s life. To have many things working to one’s benefit.
“She has a lot going for her – she’s smart, she’s attractive, she has a good job, etc.”

(To) have a sweet tooth:
To love to eat candy or other sweets.

(To) have an edge:
To have an advantage.

(To) have mixed feelings (about something):
To be unsure or uncertain about something.

(To) have one’s hands full:
To be busy, occupied with some kind of activity, work, etc.
“I have my hands full with my three children.”

(To) have one’s heart set on something:
To really want something to happen. To expect something to happen.
“Julie has her heart set on going to London this summer.”

(A) hit:
A popular song or film.
“Titanic was a hit (movie).”

(To) hit the spot:
To satisfy a need exactly. To be exactly right (often said about food or drinks).
“That was a delicious meal – It hit the spot.”

(To) hit bottom:
To reach the lowest point.

(To) hit the road:
To leave, start on a trip, etc.
“It’s already 9:00 AM – We have to hit the road!”

(To) hit a snag:
To run into a problem.
“The project hit a snag when testing failed to produce favorable results”

Hold on!
“Hold on, I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

(To be) homesick:
To miss one’s home, country, city, etc.
“Francesca is really homesick. She really wants to go back to Italy.”

How on earth… ? How in the world… ?
When asking a question, “How on earth…” and “How in the world…” emphasize the fact that something incredible or very hard to believe happened.
“How on earth did you get that job? (it was very hard to get)”
“How on earth did you fix that car!? (it was impossible to fix)” etc.

If worst comes to worst:
If things get really bad.
“If worst comes to worst, we can always fire him.”

“She seemed to be ill-at-ease talking to the doctor about her problems”.

In bad taste:
Rude. Vulgar. Obscene.
“John’s jokes are always in bad taste.”

In broad daylight:

Publicly visible in the daytime. ex. “This city is very dangerous. You can get robbed in broad daylight.”

In good shape/ condition:

Physically and functionally sound and sturdy. “Shape” is generally used more for people. ex. “The car is in good condition. Bill is in good shape.”

In mint condition:

In perfect condition (not used for people).

In no mood to do something:

To not feel like doing something. To not want to do something. ex. “I’m in no mood to cook dinner tonight.”

In season:

Currently available for selling (often said of fresh fruit and vegetables). ex. “Tomatoes are very cheap now because they’re in season.”

In stock:

Available for purchase, as in goods in a store. ex. “Do you have any more of these books in stock? No, I’m sorry we don’t.”

In the air:

Everywhere. All around.

In the long run:

Over a long period of time. Ultimately. ex. “He smokes a lot now, and I’m afraid that in the long run it will cost him his health.”

In the same boat:

In the same situation (usually negative).

In and out:

Coming in and going out often. ex. “She’s been in and out all day.”

In with:

Friendly with. Friends with. ex. “At high school he was in with the wrong crowd. That’s why he always got in trouble.”

In advance:

Ahead of time.


Very crowded. ex. “The stadium was jam packed on Saturday.”

(To) jam on the brakes:

To hit/ step on the brakes suddenly to stop the car.


A person who knows how to do a lot of different things.

(To) jump all over someone/ jump down someone’s throat:

To criticize or blame someone. ex. “As soon as I brought up going out with my friends, she jumped all over me.”

(To) jump the gun:

To get something started too soon. To start too soon. ex. “We have to do a lot more work before we launch this product. We don’t want to jump the gun.”

(To) jump at:

To quickly accept. ex. “The journalist jumped at the chance to interview Madonna.”

Just about:

Almost. ex. “I’m just about finished.”

Just now:

Just a minute ago.

Just what the doctor ordered:

Exactly what is needed. ex. “This vacation is great! It’s just what the doctor ordered.”

(To) keep a low profile:

To lay low. To not attract attention to oneself by talking loudly, dressing in flashy clothes, causing trouble, etc. ex. “The bank robbers knew that they had to keep a low profile until they crossed the border.”

(To) keep an eye on:

To watch. To pay attention to. ex. “I have to go to the store. Can you please keep an eye on the baby for 10 minutes?”

(To) keep a straight face:

To force oneself not to laugh, even though one wants to. ex. “He was saying the stupidest things, and I was finding it hard to keep a straight face.”

(To) keep one’s cool:

To remain calm.

(To) keep one’s word:

To uphold one’s promise. ex. “He’s a very honorable person who always keeps his word.”

(To) keep someone posted:

To keep someone informed.

(To) keep someone up:

To not allow someone to sleep. ex. “The neighbors’ party kept me up all night.”

(To) keep something to oneself:

To not let others know about something. To not reveal something. ex. “Hey, don’t tell anyone about your time in prison. Keep it to yourself.”

(To) keep track of:

To maintain a record of. ex. “I don’t know where all my money goes. It’s hard to keep track of my expenses.”

(A) kept man/woman:

Someone who is in a relationship where the other person pays for everything. ex. “Stephen’s girlfriend always pays for everything. He’s such a kept man.”

(To) kick back:

To relax.

(To) kick oneself:

To regret.

(To) kill time:

To waste time.

Knock it off!:

Stop it!

Knock on wood:

A phrase said to cancel out (imaginary) bad luck.

(To) know something inside-out:

To know something completely and thoroughly. ex. “Let me show you around – I know this neighborhood inside-out.”

(To) know the score:

To know the facts. To know how things go.


A person who acts like they know everything. ex. “Robert is so conceited! Yeah, he’s a real know-it-all.”

(A) lady-killer:

A handsome man; a man who charms women. This does NOT mean “killer of ladies!” :)

Last but not least:

Last in order but not last in importance. ex. “Last but not least I’d like to thank my parents.”

Last ditch (adj.):

Final (*has a slight connotation of “desperate”*). ex. “They made a last-ditch effort to win the game, but came up short.”

(To) lay a finger on someone:

To touch someone even very slightly. ex. “If you so much as lay a finger on him, you will be in trouble.”

(To) lay low:

SEE “Keep a low profile”

(To) leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth:

To leave a negative impression on someone.

(To) leave someone high and dry:

To leave someone helpless. ex. “Don’t leave me high. Don’t leave me dry.” – Radiohead

(To) leave someone in peace/ alone:

To stop bothering someone. ex. “Leave me alone! I don’t want to talk to anyone.”

(To) let off steam:

To release energy or anger. ex. “Victor went drinking, and got into a fight. That’s OK, he’s just letting off a little steam.”

(To) let someone off the hook:

To release someone from responsibility. ex. “Natalie said she didn’t want to wash the dishes, but her mom didn’t let her off the hook.”

(To) let something slide:

To neglect something. To ignore something. ex. “I’m going to let it slide this time, but next time be more careful!”

(A) lift:

A ride. ex. “She gave me a lift to the airport.”

Little by little:

Slowly, gradually. ex. “Little by little she started to like living in New York City.”

(A) little off:

Not quite even, normal. ex. “There was something a little off about the way she was behaving.”

(To) lock horns:

To argue. To have a dispute. To disagree.

(To) look the other way:

To ignore something on purpose. ex. “In some countries, customs officials can be paid to look the other way.”

(A) long shot:

Something that has a slim (small) chance of happening. “They might win, but it’s a long-shot.”

(To) lose (someone):

This is often used when someone is chasing someone OR being chased by someone. If you’re being chased by someone and you manage to get away you can say – “I lost him!” – The person chasing you can say the same thing – “I lost him” :)

(To) lose one’s temper:

To become angry.

(To) lose one’s train of thought:

To forget what one was thinking/ talking about. ex. “What was I saying? I lost my train of thought.”

Lost in thought:

Busy thinking.

(To) lower one’s voice:

To talk more softly. ex. “Lower your voice, my parents are asleep.”

(A) lucky break:

Good luck, good fortune. ex. “I was supposed to speak at the meeting today, but I found out it was cancelled. What a lucky break!”

(To) make a beeline for:

To head directly to. ex. “Whenever he comes into the cafeteria, he makes a beeline for the fried shrimp.”

(To) make a bundle:

To make a lot of money (one time). “I made a bundle when I sold my Microsoft stock last month.”

(To) make a long story short:

To bring a story to an end; To sum things up.

(To) make a pass at someone:

To make romantic advances. To “hit on”. ex. “Karl was fired because he made a pass at his co-worker Fiona.”

(To) make believe:

To pretend. ex. “When your friends come, let’s make believe ( = pretend) we don’t know each other.”

(To) make ends meet:

To have enough money to pay one’s basic expenses; to just to get by. “This town is so expensive that it’s hard to make ends meet sometimes.”

(To) make good money:

To make a lot of money (regularly). ex. “Shawm doesn’t like his job, but he makes good money.”

(To) make light of something:

To treat something as if it were trivial or unimportant. ex. “Don’t make light of the situation – it’s more serious than you think.”

(To) make life miserable for someone:

To cause someone lots of problems. ex. “Patricia’s boss is making life miserable for her.”

(To) make up one’s mind:

To make a decision. ex. “I’ve made up my mind – I’m moving to Costa Rica.”

(To) make oneself at home:

To feel as comfortable as one would being at home. “During your visit just make yourself at home.”

(To) make someone’s head spin:

To make someone dizzy or disoriented. ex. “All that alcohol made my head spin.”

(To) make something from scratch:

To make something by starting with the basic ingredients. ex. “Did you bake that cake? No, I made it from scratch.”

(To) meet someone halfway:

To compromise with someone. ex. “They settled the argument by deciding to meet each other halfway.”

(To) mention something in passing:

To mention something casually.

(The) middle of nowhere:

A very isolated place. “Our car broke down in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town was 100 miles away!”

(To) mind one’s own business:

Not to interfere/ get involved in the business of others. “Sometimes it’s best to mind your own business.”

Money talks:

Having money helps one get things done.

(There’s) more than meets the eye:

More complicated/more interesting. “There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Maria = Maria is more interesting (or complicated, depending on the context) than she appears.”

(To) move up in the world:

To increase one’s standing socially, etc. To become successful.

(A) must:

Necessary. “In Los Angeles, having a car is a must.”

neck and neck:

Very close (almost even), as in a race. “The two candidates were running neck and neck a month before the election.”

neck of the woods:

Area. Part of a country. ex. “What’s happening in your neck of the woods?”

(To) need a hand:

To need help.

Neither here nor there:

Not relevant. ex. All of a sudden he started talking about his car – a topic which was neither here nor there.

Nest egg:

Saved money.

Never mind:

Don’t worry about it. ex. “Did you pick up my photos? Never mind, I’ll do it myself tomorrow.”

(To) nip something in the bud:

To end something at an early stage.

No laughing matter:

A very serious matter. ex. “Hey, why are you smiling? This is no laughing matter!”

No picnic:

Not easy. Very difficult and problematic. ex. “Let me tell you, driving in that snowstorm was no picnic.”

No rush:

You don’t have to hurry. ex. “Do you want this done by this evening? No, there’s no rush – you can finish it tomorrow.”

No skin off my nose:

I don’t care because it doesn’t affect me.

No sweat:

No problem.

No wonder:

It’s not surprising. ex. “He only slept for two hours last night? No wonder he’s so tired.”

(To) not be born yesterday:

To be experienced, knowledgeable. ex. “Of course I know that trick! I wasn’t born yesterday.”

Not in the least?:

Not at all. ex. “Were you surprised that he failed the FCE? Not in the least.”

Not likely:

Probably will not happen. ex. “You think George will learn a lesson from this? Not likely.”

Not much of:

Pretty bad. ex. “He’s not much of a cook, but at least he tries.”

Now and then:


Not wrong:


Odd man out:

An unusual or atypical person (or thing). ex. “In a high school where everyone was tough, I was the odd man out.”


Rude. Vulgar.


Not working at one’s job. ex. “the policeman couldn’t help me because he was off-duty.”

Off the air:

No longer on TV (or the radio). ex. “They took that show off the air in November because nobody watched it.”

Off the hook:

No longer having to do something, no longer blamed or under suspicion. ex. “Ok, you’re off the hook. Your brother says he’ll clean the bathroom.”

Off the record:


Off the top of one’s head:

Spontaneously. Without thinking too much. “How many cafes are there in this town? Off the top of my head I can think of about 6.”

On one’s mind:

Occupying someone’s thoughts. Being thought about. ex. “You were always on my mind.”

(To do something) on one’s own accord:

Willingly, without anyone forcing one to do something. “Did you make him apologize? No, he did it on his own accord.”

On second thought:

Having given something more thought. ex. “On second thought, maybe you should sell your house and move into an apartment.”

On the go:

Busy. Moving around busily. ex. “Jim is always on the go. He can never find time to talk to me.”

On the house:

Something that is given away free by a merchant. “How much for the apple? Don’t worry. It’s on the house!”

On the loose:

(Most often used speaking about criminals) – free; not captured; “The bank robbers are still on the loose.”

On the tip of one’s tongue:

About to be said. Almost remembered.

On the wagon:

Not drinking alcohol. ex. “Hey let’s go out for a couple of beers tonight. I can’t – I’m on the wagon.”

Once in a while:


On the surface:
Superficially; Considering only the obvious details, like appearance of someone or something.

Other side of the tracks:
The poorer part of a town.

Out cold:
Unconscious. ex. “The boxer was out cold.”

Out of sorts:
Not quite oneself; In a bad/strange mood. ex. “Tom has been out of sorts recently.”

(A) pain in the butt:
A problematic person/thing. Chronic complainer. “I hate doing my taxes. It’s such a pain in the butt.” “Stop being such a pain in the butt – all you do is complain!”

(To) pass the buck:
To blame someone else.

(To) pass the time:
To do something to keep busy. “What do you do to pass the time around here?”

(A) pat on the back:
A sign of approval – “To give someone a pat on the back” means to show them that you approve of something that they did.

(To) pay an arm and a leg/ pay a fortune:
To pay a lot of money. ex. “I hate to have to pay an arm and a leg for a tank of gas.”

(A) peeping Tomm:
Someone who looks through people’s windows.

(A) piece of cake:
Very easy. ex. “Hey how did you do on the test? Good – it was a piece of cake for me.”

(To give someone) a piece of one’s mind:
To scold, reprimand someone (for something they did). ex. “After I found out how badly Peter had treated his girlfriend, I gave him a piece of my mind.”

(To) pitch in:
To help with something (especially financially). ex. “Let’s all pitch in and buy him a nice present.”

(To) pick up the tab:
To pay a bill. ex. “John, you picked up the tab last time – Let me pay this time.”

(To) play second fiddle to someone:
To be second in importance to someone. ex. “Sam didn’t join the team because they already had a star and Sam didn’t wanted to play second fiddle to anyone.”

(To) play something by ear:
To improvise. To see how things go and make a decision later. ex. “What do you want to do tonight? I don’t know, let’s just play it by ear.”

(To) play it safe:
To act or be safe. To do something safely.

(To) play the field:
To date many different people instead of going steady. “After Mary broke up with Jim, she started playing the field.”

(A) poker face:
A face with no expression. Also common is “to be poker-faced.”

An adjective that describes someone (or something) that tries to preach how one should live, etc. eg. “A preachy movie”

Pressed for time:
In a hurry.

(To) promise someone the moon:
To promise someone lots of extravagant things (unrealistically). ex. “He promised her the moon, but couldn’t deliver on any of his promises.”

(To) puke:
To vomit. To throw up.

(To) pull someone’s leg:
To kid, play a joke on someone.

(To) pull a fast one:
To cheat or to deceive.

Pure gold:
If something is “pure gold” it is “the best”, “fantastic”, “amazing”.

(To) push one’s luck:
To expect continued good fortune.

(To) put up a good fight:
To try very hard.
“Well, although my team lost, they put up a good fight, so I’m not upset.”

Quick study:
Someone who is able to memorize or learn something quickly and easily.”I was worried she wouldn’t be able to get up to speed quickly enough, but she proved to be a quick study.”

Quite a few:
Many. ex. “There were quite a few people at the concert yesterday.”

Quite a bit:
A lot.

(As) quiet as a mouse:
Very quiet.

Quick on the uptake:
Quick to understand.

Quick and dirty:
Fast and simple, not very sophisticated.

(To) rack one’s brain:
To try very hard to think of something. ex. “I racked my brain but I couldn’t remember his name.”

(To) rain cats and dogs:
To rain very hard. ex. “It was raining cats and dogs last night.” NB: *Although this is a fun idiom, in our opinion it is ARCHAIC = it’s best to say “It was raining very heavily” instead*

Rain or shine:
No matter what the weather is like.

(To) raise (some) eyebrows:
To shock. ex.”The art show raised some eyebrows due to its explicit content.”

(A) redneck:
Generally refers to someone who has either bigoted or narrow-minded opinions. Often used in the context of people who live in small towns or in the country.

(To) read between the lines:
To try to understand what is meant by something that is not written/said clearly. “Linda tried to be cheerful and said she was okay, but reading between the lines, I could see she was really upset.”

(A) regular guy:
A normal, average man (said in a fairly positive way). “John? I don’t know, I guess he’s just a regular guy.”

(To) rest one’s case:
When someone says “I rest my case”, it means that you both have just witnessed proof that their point of view/argument is correct.

Right off the bat:
Right away. Immediately. First thing.

(To) ring in the new year:
To celebrate the beginning of the New Year at midnight on December 31st.

(To) ring a bell:
To remind, vaguely recognize something. “Have you ever listened to Alex Chilton? I’m not sure – the name rings a bell, though. ( = I think I’ve heard the name before)” or “I’m sorry, that doesn’t ring a bell = I’m sorry I don’t recognize/know that”

(A) rip-off or (To) rip-off:
“A” rip-off is something that costs more than it should. “The popcorn prices at the movie theater are a rip-off”. “To” rip someone off means to steal from someone, or to cheat someone.
“The mechanic ripped me off. He was supposed to give me back a 20 and he only gave me back 10.”

(To) risk one’s neck (to do something):
To risk (sometimes physical) harm to accomplish something.
“He’s always been very mean to me. I don’t plan to risk my neck to save his job.”

(To) rob the cradle:
To go out with (or marry) someone who is much younger than you are.
“Victor’s new wife is 25 years younger than him. Talk about robbing the cradle!”

(To) rock the boat:
To disturb an otherwise stable situation.

Bad, nasty.
“I’ve done a lot of rotten things in the past.”

(To) rub someone the wrong way:
To irritate someone.
“I’m not going out if your cousin is going. She really rubs me the wrong way.”

(To) rub elbows with someone:
To associate with someone.
“When her singing career took off, Kathleen was able to rub elbows with the rich and famous.”

(To) run a fever:
To have a fever.

(To) run in the family:
To happen/ occur often in the family (through generations).
“Frank is always so angry. Yeah, his bad temper runs in the family.”

Safe and sound:
Safe. Unharmed.
“It was a rough trip but we got there safe and sound.”

(To) save money for a rainy day:
To reserve something for some future need.
“I’ve saved a little money for a rainy day.”

(To) save the day:
To produce good results when bad results are expected.
“Colin saved the day by remembering to bring the map.”

(A) score to settle:
To get even. To pay someone back for something negative that they did.
“Don’t stop me. I have a score to settle with him.”

(To) scratch the surface:
To begin finding out about something.

Second nature (to someone):
Easy and natural. “Scoring goals is second nature to him.”

(To) see eye to eye on something:
To have a similar opinion on something.
“Despite their differences, the two candidates in fact see eye to eye on most issues.”

(To) see fit:
To deem, believe to be appropriate.
“You can do that any way you see fit.”

(To) see the writing on the wall:
To see that something is going to happen.

(To) serve someone right:
To serve as appropriate punishment for someone.
“They put him in jail for 5 years? Serves him right!”

(To) set foot somewhere:
To go or enter somewhere.
“If I were you I wouldn’t set foot in that town.”

(To) set one’s sights on something:
To select something as one’s goal.

(A) shot in the arm:
A boost.
“The good financial news was a real shot in the arm for Steve’s company.”

(To) sit on one’s hands:
To do nothing.

(To) sit tight:
To wait (patiently).
“Sit tight, your mother will be here soon.”

Skeleton(s) in the closet:
A shocking/ disturbing secret.

(To) sleep on something:
To think about something overnight.
“I’m not sure if I want to buy this car. I think I should sleep on it.”

(To) stand up for something:
To fight for, support.
“The elected official promised to stand up for the poor.”

(To) stir up trouble:
To cause trouble.
“Sometimes I think she gets great pleasure from stirring up trouble.”

A gullible person or someone who is easily impressed by something ( eg. “a sucker for gadgets” = someone who is easily impressed by gadgets)

Suit yourself:
Have it your way; As you wish; “I wouldn’t walk around that neighborhood at night, but if you really want to, suit yourself.”

(To) swallow something hook, line, and sinker:
To believe something (usually a lie) completely. “Margaret told him a flat-out ( = complete and utter) lie and he swallowed it hook line and sinker.”

(To) take it:
To endure trouble, criticism, or abuse.
“Say whatever you want about me, I can take it.”

Take it easy!
Relax! (Also used in “to take it easy” = to relax, to spend a day relaxing, etc.)

Take it or leave it:
To accept it the way it is or to forget it.
“That’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”

(To) take it’s toll:
To cause damage (or loss).
“The long hours he puts in at work have begun to take their toll on his health.”

(To) take something/ someone for granted:
To accept something/ someone (without gratitude) as a matter of course.
“We tend to take a lot of things for granted.”

(To) take something lying down:
To endure something unpleasant without fighting back.
“I’m not going to take this type of treatment lying down!”

(To) take something with a grain of salt:
Not to take something that someone says too seriously.

(To) take someone under one’s wing:
To protect (and teach) someone.
“Arthur took the new employee under his wing and taught him everything he knew.”

(To) take the rap (for something):
To accept responsibility, admit that one is guilty of something.
“I thought that Bill was responsible, but his friend Tom took the rap for the mixup.”

(To) think straight:
To think clearly. ex. “I was so tired that I couldn’t think straight.”

(To) throw someone for a loop:
To confuse or shock someone.
“His last comment really threw me for a loop… I had no idea what he meant!”

(To) tie the knot:
To get married.

(To) tighten one’s belt
To spend less money.
“After Becky lost her job, we really had to tighten our belts for a while.”

To save his/her life:
At all/ completely. ex. “She can’t sing to save her life.”

Told you so!:
Basically when someone says “told you so!”, it’s like saying “See – I was right!”.

Tongue in cheek:
“Quentin made a tongue-in-cheek remark to his dad.”

(To) touch on (something):
To mention/talk about.
“During the meeting, we touched on the plans to rebuild the school.”

True to one’s word:
Keeping one’s promise.
“I wasn’t sure he would pay me, but he turned out to be true to his word.”

(To) try your luck:
To attempt something. To try to see if you can do/win something.
“I’m going to try my luck at the slot machines.”

(To) try someone’s patience:
To do something annoying that may cause someone to lose patience.

(To) turn a blind eye to something:
To ignore something and pretend you did not see it.
“The usher turned a blind eye to the boy who snuck into the theater.”

(To) turn one’s back on (something/someone):
To forget or ignore (something/someone)
“You should never turn your back on your friends.”

(To) two-time someone:
To be in a relationship and to have another boyfriend/girlfriend without telling your first boyfriend/girlfriend.
“I dumped him when I found out he was two-timing me with Mary.”

Under construction:
Being built or repaired.
“This road has been under construction for six months.”

Under fire:
Being attacked.
“The soldiers came under fire when they approached the city.”

Under the table:
“Many illegal immigrants try to find work under the table.”

Under the weather:
Sick. Ill.
“I’m feeling a bit under the weather today.”

Up and about:
Recovered from an illness.
“Hey it’s nice to see you up and about. You must feel a lot better.”

Up for grabs
Available for anyone to try to get.
“The Swedish telecom market is still up for grabs.”

Up in the air:
“His future at this company is up in the air.”

Conservative, nervous, nit-picky. “Stop being so uptight, relax a bit!”

Up to it:
Capable of, fit for. ex. “Do you feel up to playing a game of tennis?”

Up to one’s neck in something:
Very much involved in something. To have a lot of something. ex. “I can’t go out tonight. I’m up to my neck in work.”

Up to par:
Meeting normal standards.

(To) use every trick in the book:
To use every method possible.

(To) vanish into thin air:
To disappear without leaving a trace.

Variety is the spice of life:
Proverb meaning life is made more interesting by doing new or different things.

Very last:
The last. ex. “We were able to buy the very last tickets to the concert.”

Very well:
OK. Agreed.

Vicious circle:
Sequence of cause and effect with bad results. ex. “He had fallen into a vicious circle of drinking too much and then losing his job and then drinking even more.”

Wait-and-see attitude:
A skeptical attitude. An attitude where someone will just wait and see what happens.

(To) wait tables:
To work as a waiter/ waitress in a restaurant.

(To) wait on someone hand and foot:
To serve someone very well. To do anything someone asks you. ex. “I don’t mind making you coffee, but don’t expect me to wait on you hand and foot!”

(To) wash one’s hands of someone/something:
To end one’s association with someone or something. ex. “I washed my hands of Tom. I wanted nothing more to do with him.”

No longer important/ in good form. “Why do you hang out with that washed-up actor?”

(To) waste one’s breath:
To talk in vain. To waste one’s time talking.

Way to go!:
Good job! Congratulations! (*sometimes used sarcastically*)

Wear and tear:
Damage as a result of normal use. ex. “They put a lot of wear and tear on their truck during their long road trip.”

(To) wear out one’s welcome:
To stay too long (at an event, at someone’s house, etc.) ex. “Let’s only stay with them for 2 days – I don’t want us to wear out our welcome.”

Wealthy. ex. “Her parents are well-off.”

Wet blanket:
A person who discourages others from having fun.

What makes someone tick:
What motivates someone. ex. “He’s such a mysterious guy. I don’t quite know what makes him tick.”

What’s with (someone)?:
What’s wrong with (someone)?. ex. “What’s with you? You’ve been acting strange all day!”

(A) whole lot:
A lot, too many. ex. “There aren’t a whole lot of good restaurants in this neighborhood = There aren’t too many good restaurants in this neighborhood”

(To be) wide awake:
To be completely awake. “Were you sleeping? No, I was wide awake.”

(A) wild goose chase:
A futile/hopeless pursuit. “We thought he gave us a good lead, but it ended up being a wild goose chase.”

(At one’s) wits’ end:
If you’re “at your wits’ end” it means that you’ve tried everything to fix, solve a problem or to come up with a solution, and you’re almost going crazy from being unable to do this.

With no strings attached:

(To) work out for the best.
To work out in the best possible way. ex. “It seems bad now, but things will work out for the best.”

X marks the spot:
This is the exact spot.

Operating all year. ex. “This facility is open year-round.”

A person who tries to be liked by agreeing with everything said, especially by a boss.

You bet!
Yes! Sure! I agree! No problem!

You can say that again:
That is true (stress on “that”). ex. “It sure is hot today! You can say that again!”

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks:
A proverb meaning that old people can’t learn anything new.

You don’t say:
Used to show surprise at something that is being said. ex. “You don’t say! He was really struck by lightning?”

Your guess is as good as mine:
I don’t know any better/ more than you know.

(To) zero in on something:
To aim or focus directly on something. ex. “I would like to zero in on another important issue.”

(To) zonk out:
To fall asleep.

English Idioms | Idioms and Phrases


His way of teaching was very impressive and enjoyable to the students.

Miho Matsui (PhD: American Literature)

Associate Professor, Sapporo City University

(Previously named Sapporo School of the Arts, Design and Nursing School)


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