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Idioms starting with letter A

What are idioms?

Idioms are phrases or expressions which are commonly used in everyday conversation, mostly by native speakers of English. The meaning of the idioms might not be that straight forward for new English speaker, however having good command of it will certainly helps to make your English sound more fluent.

The metaphorical nature of idioms makes conversation more interesting and flows in certain situation. You've probably heard some of them even though you don't fully understand the words. Let us help you increase your idioms knowledge by browsing through our extensive collection of idioms alphabetically.

  • above one’s station
    higher than one’s social class or position in society.
    He has been educated above his station and is now ashamed of his parents’ poverty.
    She is getting above her station since she started working in the office. She ignores her old friends in the warehouse.
  • above someone’s head
    too difficult or clever for someone to understand.
    The children have no idea what the new teacher is talking about. Her ideas are way above their heads.
    She started a physics course, but it turned out to be miles above her head.
  • according to one’s (own) lights
    according to the way one believes; according to the way one’s conscience or inclinations lead one.
    People must act on this matter according to their own lights.
    John may have been wrong, but he did what he did according to his lights.
  • act the goat
    deliberately to behave in a silly or eccentric way; to play the fool. (Informal.)
    He was asked to leave the class because he was always acting the goat.
    No one takes him seriously. He acts the goat too much.
  • advanced in years
    old; elderly.
    My uncle is advanced in years and can’t hear too well.
    Many people lose their hearing somewhat when they are advanced in years.
  • afraid of one’s own shadow
    easily frightened; always frightened, timid, or suspicious.
    After Tom was robbed, he was afraid of his own shadow.
    Jane has always been a shy child. She has been afraid of her own shadow since she was three.
  • aid and abet someone
    to help someone, especially in a crime or misdeed; to incite someone to do something which is wrong.
    He was scolded for aiding and abetting the boys who were fighting.
    It’s illegal to aid and abet a thief.
  • airs and graces
    proud behaviour adopted by one who is trying to impress others by appearing more important than one actually is.
    She is only a junior secretary, but from her airs and graces you would think she was managing director.
    Jane has a very humble background—despite her airs and graces.
  • all at sea (about something) confused; lost and bewildered.
    ---Mary is all at sea about the process of getting married.
    When it comes to maths, John is totally at sea.
  • all ears (and eyes) listening eagerly and carefully. (Informal.)
    ---Well, hurry up and tell me! I’m all ears.
    Be careful what you say. The children are all ears and eyes.
  • all Greek to me
    unintelligible to me. (Usually with some form of be.)
    I can’t understand it. It’s Greek to me.
    It’s all Greek to me. Maybe Sally knows what it means.
  • all hours (of the day and night)
    very late in the night or very early in the morning.
    Why do you always stay out until all hours of the day and night?
    I like to stay out until all hours partying.
  • all over bar the shouting
    decided and concluded; finished except for the formalities. (Informal. An elaboration of all over, which means “finished.”)
    The last goal was made just as the final whistle sounded. Tom said, “Well, it’s all over bar the shouting.”
    Tom has finished his exams and is waiting to graduate. It’s all over bar the shouting.
  • all thumbs
    very awkward and clumsy, especially with one’s hands. (Informal.)
    Poor Bob can’t play the piano at all. He’s all thumbs.
    Mary is all thumbs when it comes to gardening.
  • all to the good
    for the best; for one’s benefit.
    He missed his train, but it was all to the good because the train had a crash.
    It was all to the good that he died before his wife. He couldn’t have coped without her.
  • any port in a storm
    a phrase indicating that when one is in difficulties one must accept any way out, whether one likes the solution or not.
    I don’t want to live with my parents, but it’s a case of any port in a storm. I can’t find a flat.
    He hates his job, but he can’t get another. Any port in a storm, you know.
  • apple of someone’s eye
    someone’s favourite person or thing.
    Tom is the apple of Mary’s eye. She thinks he’s great.
    Jean is the apple of her father’s eye.
  • armed to the teeth
    heavily armed with weapons.
    The bank robber was armed to the teeth when he was caught.
    There are too many guns around. The entire country is armed to the teeth.
  • as a duck takes to water
    easily and naturally. (Informal.)
    She took to singing just as a duck takes to water.
    The baby adapted to the feeding-bottle as a duck takes to water.
  • as black as one is painted
    as evil or unpleasant as one is thought to be. (Usually negative.)
    The landlord is not as black as he is painted. He seems quite generous.
    Young people are rarely as black as they are painted in the media.
  • as black as pitch
    very black; very dark.
    The night was as black as pitch.
    The rocks seemed black as pitch against the silver sand.
  • as bold as brass
    brazen; very bold and impertinent.
    She went up to her lover’s wife, bold as brass.
    The girl arrives late every morning as bold as brass.
  • as bright as a button
    very intelligent; extremely alert.
    The little girl is as bright as a button.
    Her new dog is bright as a button.
  • as calm as a millpond
    [for water to be] exceptionally calm. (Referring to the still water in a pond around a mill in contrast to the fast-flowing stream which supplies it.)
    The English channel was calm as a millpond that day.
    Jane gets seasick even when the sea is calm as a millpond.
  • as cold as charity 1.
    very cold; icy.
    The room was as cold as charity.
    It was snowing and the moors were cold as charity. 2. very unresponsive; lacking in passion.
    Their mother keeps them clean and fed, but she is cold as charity.
    John’s sister is generous and welcoming, but John is as cold as charity.
  • as fit as a fiddle
    healthy and physically fit. (Informal.)
    In spite of her age, Mary is as fit as a fiddle.
    Tom used to be fit as a fiddle. Look at him now!
  • as happy as a lark
    visibly happy and cheerful. (Note the variations in the examples.)
    Sally walked along whistling, as happy as a lark.
    The children danced and sang, happy as larks.
  • as happy as a sandboy and as happy as Larry; as happy as the day is long
    very happy; carefree.
    Mary’s as happy as a sandboy now that she is at home all day with her children.
    Peter earns very little money, but he’s happy as Larry in his job.
    The old lady has many friends and is happy as the day is long.
  • as hungry as a hunter
    very hungry.
    I’m as hungry as a hunter. I could eat anything!
    Whenever I jog, I get hungry as a hunter.
  • as large as life (and twice as ugly)
    an exaggerated way of saying that a person or a thing actually appeared in a particular place. (Informal.)
    The little child just stood there as large as life and laughed very hard.
    I opened the door, and there was Tom, large as life.
    I came home and found this cat in my chair, as large as life and twice as ugly.
  • asleep at the wheel
    not attending to one’s assigned task; failing to do one’s duty at the proper time.
    I should have spotted the error. I must have been asleep at the wheel.
    The management must have been asleep at the wheel to let the firm get into such a state.
  • as near as dammit
    very nearly. (Informal.)
    He earns sixty thousand pounds a year as near as dammit.
    She was naked near as dammit.
  • as plain as a pikestaff
    very obvious; clearly visible. (Pikestaff was originally packstaff, a stick on which a pedlar’s or traveller’s pack was supported. The original reference was to the smoothness of this staff, although the allusion is to another sense of plain: clear or obvious.)
    The ‘no parking’ sign was as plain as a pikestaff. How did he miss it?
    It’s plain as a pikestaff. The children are unhappy.
  • as pleased as Punch
    very pleased or happy. (From the puppetshow character, who is depicted as smiling gleefully.)
    The little girl was pleased as Punch with her new dress.
    Jack’s as pleased as Punch with his new car.
  • as quiet as the grave
    very quiet; silent.
    The house is as quiet as the grave when the children are at school.
    This town is quiet as the grave now that the offices have closed.
  • as safe as houses
    completely safe.
    The children will be as safe as houses on holiday with your parents.
    The dog will be safe as houses in the boarding-kennels.
  • as sound as a bell
    in perfect condition or health; undamaged.
    The doctor says the old man’s heart is as sound as a bell.
    I thought the vase was broken when it fell, but it was sound as a bell.
  • as thick as thieves
    very close-knit; friendly; allied. (Informal.)
    Mary, Tom, and Sally are as thick as thieves. They go everywhere together.
    Those two families are thick as thieves.
  • as thick as two short planks
    very stupid. (Informal.)
    Jim must be as thick as two short planks, not able to understand the plans.
    Some of the children are clever, but the rest are as thick as two short planks.
  • as thin as a rake
    very thin; too thin.
    Mary’s thin as a rake since she’s been ill.
    Jean’s been on a diet and is now as thin as a rake.
  • at a loose end
    restless and unsettled; unemployed. (Informal.)
    Just before school starts, all the children are at a loose end.
    When Tom is home at the week-ends, he’s always at a loose end.
    Jane has been at a loose end ever since she lost her job.
  • at a pinch
    if absolutely necessary.
    At a pinch, I could come tomorrow, but it’s not really convenient.
    He could commute to work from home at a pinch, but it is a long way.
  • at a rate of knots
    very fast. (Informal.)
    They’ll have to drive at a rate of knots to get there on time.
    They were travelling at a rate of knots when they passed us.
  • at death’s door
    near death. (Euphemistic.)
    I was so ill that I was at death’s door.
    The family dog was at death’s door for three days, and then it finally died.
  • at first glance
    when first examined; at an early stage.
    At first glance, the problem appeared quite simple. Later we learned just how complex it really was.
    He appeared quite healthy at first glance.
  • at full stretch
    with as much energy and strength as possible.
    The police are working at full stretch to find the murderer.
    We cannot accept any more work. We are already working at full stretch.
  • at half-mast
    half-way up or down. (Primarily referring to flags. Can be used for things other than flags as a joke.)
    The flag was flying at half-mast because the general had died.
    We fly flags at halfmast when someone important dies.
    The little boy ran out of the house with his trousers at half-mast.
  • at large
    free; uncaptured. (Usually said of criminals running loose.)
    At midday the day after the robbery, the thieves were still at large.
    There is a murderer at large in the city.
  • at liberty
    free; unrestrained.
    You’re at liberty to go anywhere you wish.
    I’m not at liberty to discuss the matter.
  • at loggerheads (with someone)
    in opposition; at an impasse; in a quarrel.
    Mr. and Mrs. Jones have been at loggerheads with each other for years.
    The two political parties were at loggerheads during the entire legislative session.
  • at one’s wits’ end
    at the limits of one’s mental resources.
    I’m at my wits’ end trying to solve this problem.
    Tom could do no more to earn money. He was at his wits’ end.
  • at sixes and sevens
    disorderly; completely disorganized. (Informal.)
    Mrs. Smith is at sixes and sevens since the death of her husband.
    The house is always at sixes and sevens when Bill’s home by himself.
  • at someone’s beck and call
    always ready to obey someone.
    What makes you think I wait around here at your beck and call? I live here, too, you know!
    It was a fine hotel. There were dozens of maids and waiters at our beck and call.
  • at the bottom of the ladder
    at the lowest level of pay and status.
    Most people start work at the bottom of the ladder.
    When Ann was declared redundant, she had to start all over again at the bottom of the ladder.
  • at the drop of a hat
    immediately and without urging.
    John was always ready to go fishing at the drop of a hat.
    If you need help, just call on me. I can come at the drop of a hat.
  • at the eleventh hour
    at the last possible moment. (Biblical.)
    She always handed her term essays in at the eleventh hour.
    We don’t worry about death until the eleventh hour.
  • at the end of one’s tether
    at the limits of one’s endurance.
    I’m at the end of my tether! I just can’t go on this way!
    These children are driving me out of my mind. I’m at the end of my tether.
  • at the expense of someone or something
    to the detriment of someone or something; to the harm or disadvantage of someone or something.
    He had a good laugh at the expense of his brother.
    He took employment in a better place at the expense of a larger income.
  • at the top of one’s voice
    with a very loud voice.
    Bill called to Mary at the top of his voice.
    How can I work when you’re all talking at the top of your voices?
  • avoid someone or something like the plague
    to avoid someone or something totally. (Informal.)
    What’s wrong with Bob? Everyone avoids him like the plague.
    I don’t like opera. I avoid it like the plague.
20 January, 2021