25 Essential English Idioms and Colloquialisms

Check out other posts in this series exploring proverbs in German, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Finnish, Romanian, Czech, Portuguese and Estonian.


Ever had a situation where someone was talking to you in English and you understood the words but didn’t quite know what they meant? They might have been using an idiom or colloquialism. These are terms or phrases used in certain situations that have a second, implied meaning which is usually a bit difficult to guess.

While successfully using idioms and colloquialisms in conversation is probably a task for the more advanced speakers, they can really help you sound like a native. And, even if you’re just starting out, learning a few of these turns of phrase can help you break the ice with mother-tongue speakers and provide you an insight into how their language has developed.

Idioms are unique to each language and reflect the historical and cultural circumstances in which it has evolved. To give you a head start in English, our teacher Sara has selected list of 25 idioms that can help you in everyday conversation:

1. Actions speak louder than words: meaning that one can better judge people’s intentions / what a person is like based on what they do rather than what they say.

2. Add insult to injury: when someone makes a bad situation even worse.

3. A penny for your thoughts: meaning that the other person would like to know what you were thinking.

4. Ball is in your court: someone would say this to you if they mean it is up to you to make the next decision or step in the given situation.


Also read: 4 Outdated English Grammar Rules


5. Barking up the wrong tree: meaning that someone is looking in the wrong place or accusing the wrong person.

6. Being the Devil’s advocate: is when one presents a counter argument; particularly an argument they don’t believe in, in order to start a debate.

7. Bite off more than you can chew: when you take on a project or task that is beyond what you are capable of.

8. Blow off steam: when someone in feeling stressed or angry they blow off steam to calm down and feel better again e.g. do exercise.

9. Burn the midnight oil: meaning that someone is working late into the night. Referring to the time before electric lighting.

10. Can’t judge a book by its cover: meaning that you cannot/should not judge something or someone based only on it’s/their appearance.

11. Cross that bridge when you come to it: meaning that you should deal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary, not before.


Also read: Learn Negotiation Skills to Improve Your English


12. Crying over spilt milk: is a situation when you complain about a problem from the past that cannot be changed.

13. Curiosity killed the cat: being curious can lead you into an unpleasant situation.

14. Cut to the chase: to get to the point of what you are saying. – If you’re speaking to a group of people, like your employees, and say I’m going to cut to the chase, it means that there are a few things that need to be said but there’s very little time, so you’ll skip to the important parts so everyone understands.

15. Drastic times call for drastic measures: meaning that when you are extremely desperate you need to take drastic actions.

16. Feel under the weather: meaning that you are feeling ill.

17. Give the benefit of the doubt: to believe someone’s statement, without proof / until proven otherwise.

18. In the heat of the moment: something happened / someone did something without thinking it through; overwhelmed by what was happening in the moment.

19. Kill two birds with one stone: to solve two problems at the same time.

20. Piece of cake: a job, task or other activity is very easy or simple.


Also read: What’s the Deal with Double Negatives in English?


21. Raining cats and dogs: is when it is raining very heavily.

22. See eye to eye: when two (or more people) agree on something.

23. Speak of the devil!: someone says this when the person you have just been talking about arrives.

24. Wouldn’t be caught dead: someone would never like to / would never do something.

25. Your guess is as good as mine: someone would say this if they do not know the answer to a question.

If you found this article useful and entertaining, keep an eye out for our follow up articles to learn more idioms and colloquialisms!