Idioms are phrases which have meaning given by culture. It is a type of slang that you cannot find the meaning by looking at the words literal meanings. Many times these phrases rely on metaphors or analogies making idioms even trickier to figure out.
English uses idioms so frequently that even if you know the grammar and the rules it can be difficult to understand exactly what is being said. These sayings have developed over years of use so they may appear to be random although, they do have origin stories! Idioms are important not because of their origins, however. They matter because they can help to unlock some of the confusion while speaking with native speakers.
**One thing to note is that you must conjugate for the subject.
1. To twist someone’s arm- Twisting someone’s arm is to literally take their arm and pull it behind
their back. You may have seen this in action movies or TV shows about the law. It is used to get
someone to do something that is against their interest or something they do not want to do.
Basically this idiom is used in a way that you have convinced someone of something.
Laura- Will you take my kids to the pool today?
John- I am a bit busy.
Laura- Please John!!
John- Ok, You twisted my arm. I’ll take your kids.
2. To be under the weather- This idiom means literally to stand under the clouds, rain, or sun. That does not have much meaning. When someone says that you are under the weather it means
that you are feeling ill or sick. It is not a serious or life threatening sickness. Another way that
this idiom is used is with the words ‘feeling a little’
“Why did Julie miss work today?”
“She is a little under the weather.” Or “She is feeling a little under the weather.”
3. To cut to the chase- This idiom means that you are delaying the point of a story too long. Maybe
you are adding too many unnecessary details. This is a very casual way of speaking so use it with
friends or colleagues, but not bosses or professors. Often this is used when there is little time
for discussion and something needs to be attended to urgently.
“I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you what happened. Billy was caught cheating. He
has detention for a week.”
4. To get over something- It is possible to literally get over something like a rock or wall. The usage of this phrase however, is talking about intangible things rather than things you may climb over. Typically if something bad or unfortunate happens to you like losing a friend or stopping a
relationship are the things you would use this idiom for.
“I just lost my dog. He ran away. I am sure with time I will get over it, but I am still so
5. Break up with- This is very commonly used in English. It does not mean that you are literally
breaking something, but ending a relationship of some sort. It can be quitting a job, leaving your
significant other or even changing companies for cell phones.
“I broke up with my boyfriend because he cheated on me.”
“I broke up with my cell phone company because their rates were too high.”
6. Keep your chin up- Again this does not mean the literal translation of putting your chin to the
sky. It is more of a metaphor. It means to keep your head over the problems that are plaguing
you at the moment. It means to keep your dignity while you must deal with difficult situations.
“I will keep my chin up although, you have insulted me greatly.”
7. To look like a million bucks- This is a great compliment from anyone that says it to you.
Obviously you do not look like a stack of money. They are trying to say you look fabulous! It
should be reserved for when a friend of yours look particularly amazing.
“You look like a million bucks! That dress must have cost a fortune.”
8. The rule of thumb- This phrase originated from using your thumb as a device for measuring
things. It is used as an imprecise yet reliable way of measuring things rather than using a ruler or
measuring stick. There is some speculation that this was also in reference to spousal abuse
because a stick with a width greater than the thumb is too large to beat your wife with. This is
an outdated and unlawful practice. Basically what this phrase means is ‘in general.’
“By rule of thumb the edge of a cliff is a dangerous place to stand.”
9. To be on the ball- No, Please do not try to balance on a ball (unless you have experience!) This
idiom means to be on top of whatever subject you need to be focusing on. The term ‘on top of’
mean to have control over. This is an idiom that is typically used in a motivational sense or
giving someone praise. I believe it comes from being an excellent sportsman, particularly futbol!
“John you were really on the ball this quarter. Great sales numbers.”
“Let’s all be on the ball. We should all focus hard and get this done!”
10. A piece of cake- This is a super common idiom. It is used when you think that something is really easy. The full phrase is “easy as a piece of cake.” I think that it means easy because eating a
piece of cake is not something that someone typically would complain over.
“I got an A+ on the test. It was a piece of cake.”
11. To hit the nail on the head- To be exactly right about something. This is a phrase to be used
when there was extreme precision in a statement or decision that was made. Literally it means
to be precise with a hammer and nail. It can be used that way as well just in case you find
yourself in a conversation with a craftsman.
“I hit the nail on the head with my lottery numbers. I won a million dollars!”
12. To beat around the bush- This is used when there is a subject that is difficult or undesirable to
speak about. For example, if your friend was watching your pets while you were on vacation and
one of them ran away. They might beat around the bush.
“Jenny I have to tell you something... While I was watching your cat who I really love, I
was distracted and started to watch TV. I was watching only for a few minutes and
“Stop beating around the bush! Tell me what happened already!”
“I lost your cat. She ran right out the door. I looked for her but she was gone.”
13. Do not judge a book by its cover- This is one of the few idioms that you can figure out the
meaning just by looking at the words. It is fairly obvious that the cover of a book may vary
greatly from the inside of a book. The content, or what is included inside the book, it what is
truly important. Not just the drawings or art on the outside of the cover. You can use this as a
metaphor to describe other things or people.
“Look at that girl. She must like metal music because she is wearing all black and has
“Do not judge a book by its cover. Maybe she likes folk music. You just cannot know.”
14. Every cloud has a silver lining- This phrase comes from when the sun is behind a cloud it looks like the cloud has an outline of light. It is the most emphasized when it is a really dark stormy cloud. The meaning of this idiom is that when something is really bad you should try to look for the outline of light. Another way to say this is ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘it could be worse!’
Someone crashed into my car and destroyed it. But the insurance money will get me a better car! Every cloud has a silver lining.
15. To go the extra mile- This means to put in more work than you need to. Not to say that you
would have put in not enough effort, but that you are willing to put in more than necessary. It is
often used in working relationships as a motivational term.
“Did you see how hard Peter worked this year? He really put in the time and went the extra mile for our company.”