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.
call a spade a spadeto call something by its right name; to speak frankly about something, even if it is unpleasant.
Well, I believe it’s time to call a spade a spade. We are just avoiding the issue.
Let’s call a spade a spade. The man is a liar.
call it a dayto leave work and go home; to say that a day’s work has been completed; to bring something to an end; to stop doing something. (Informal.)
I’m tired. Let’s call it a day even though it’s only three o’clock.
They’re not engaged any more. They called it a day.
I haven’t finished this essay, but I’m calling it a day.
call of naturethe need to go to the lavatory. (Humorous.)
Stop the car here! I have to answer the call of nature.
There was no interval in the meeting to take account of the call of nature.
can’t hold a candle to someonenot equal to someone; unable to measure up to someone. (Also with cannot.)
Mary can’t hold a candle to Ann when it comes to playing the piano.
As for singing, John can’t hold a candle to Jane.
can’t make head nor tail of someone or somethingunable to understand someone or something. (Also with cannot.)
John is so strange. I can’t make head nor tail of him.
Do this report again. I can’t make head nor tail of it.
can’t see beyond the end of one’s noseunaware of and uncaring for the things which might happen in the future; not far-sighted. (Also with cannot.)
John is a very poor planner. He can’t see beyond the end of his nose.
Ann can’t see beyond the end of her nose. She’s taken a job without finding out if the firm is financially secure.
can’t see one’s hand in front of one’s faceunable to see very far, usually owing to darkness or fog. (Also with cannot.)
It was so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
Bob said that the fog was so thick he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face.
carry all before oneto be exceptionally successful.
He carried all before him on school prize day.
In the sports event, Mary just carried all before her.
carry a torch for someoneto be in love with someone who does not return love; to brood over a hopeless love affair.
John is carrying a torch for Jane.
Is John still carrying a torch for his lost love?
carry the weight of the world on one’s shouldersto appear to be burdened by many problems.
Look at Tom. He seems to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Cheer up, Tom! You don’t need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
carte blanchecomplete freedom to act or proceed as one pleases. (Literally, a white or blank card.)
We were given carte blanche to choose the colour scheme.
They were not instructed where to shop. It was a case of carte blanche.
cast in the same mouldvery similar.
The two sisters are cast in the same mould—equally mean.
All the members of that family are cast in the same mould, and all have ended up in prison.
catch one’s breathto resume one’s normal breathing after exertion; to return to normal after being busy or very active.
I ran so fast that it took me ten minutes to catch my breath.
I don’t have time to catch my breath. I have to start work immediately.
catch someone on the hopto find someone unprepared or defenceless. (Informal.)
The unexpected exam caught some of the pupils on the hop.
The police caught the suspect on the hop and without an alibi.
catch someone’s eyeto establish eye contact with someone; to attract someone’s attention.
Try and catch the barman’s eye.
The shiny red car caught Mary’s eye.
catch the sunto become sunburnt. (Informal.)
The baby’s face is red—she’s caught the sun.
Fair-skinned people catch the sun easily.
Cat got your tongue?Why don’t you speak?; Speak up and answer my question! (Informal.)
Answer me! What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?
Why don’t you speak up? Cat got your tongue?
caught over a barrelat the mercy of someone; under the control of someone. (Informal.)
I’m caught over a barrel, and I have to do what he says.
Ann will do exactly what I say. She’s caught over a barrel.
cause tongues to wagto cause people to gossip; to give people something to gossip about.
The way John was looking at Mary will surely cause tongues to wag.
The way Mary was dressed will also cause tongues to wag.
champ at the bitto be ready and anxious to do something; to be impatient. (Originally said about horses.)
The children were champing at the bit to get into the swimming-pool.
The hounds were champing at the bit to begin the hunt.
chance one’s armto do something risky or dangerous.
He certainly chanced his arm when he was rude to the boss’s wife.
Don’t chance your arm by asking for yet another day off.
change hands[for something] to be sold. (Refers to the changing of owners.)
How many times has this house changed hands in the last ten years?
We built this house in 1920, and it has never changed hands.
change horses in mid-streamto make major changes in an activity which has already begun; to choose someone or something else after it is too late.
I’m already baking a cherry pie. I can’t bake an apple pie. It’s too late to change horses in mid-stream.
The house is half built. It’s too late to employ a different architect. You can’t change horses in mid-stream.
change someone’s tuneto change the manner, attitude, or behaviour of a person, usually from bad to good, or from rude to pleasant.
The cashier was most unpleasant until she learned that I’m a bank director. Then she changed her tune.
“I shall fine you £150, and perhaps that will help change your tune,” said the judge to the rude defendant.
chapter and versedetailed sources of information. (A reference to the method of referring to biblical texts.)
He gave chapter and verse for his reasons for disputing that Shakespeare had written the play.
The suspect gave chapter and verse of his associate’s activities.
chapter of accidentsa series of misfortunes.
Yesterday was just a chapter of accidents—nothing went right.
The play rehearsal consisted of a chapter of accidents, but the opening performance was perfect.
cheek by jowl 1.side by side; close together.
The walkers had to walk cheek by jowl along the narrow streets.
The two families lived cheek by jowl in one house. 2. in co-operation; with a concerted effort.
The children worked cheek by jowl to make their mother’s birthday gift in time.
All members of the transition team worked cheek by jowl late into the night to get the job done.
cheesed offbored; depressed; annoyed.
He was cheesed off with his job.
She was cheesed off when she missed the bus.
He was too cheese-paring to eat properly.
The cheese-paring old woman will not give to the poor.
chew the cudto think deeply. (Informal. From the cow’s habit of bringing food back from the first stomach into the mouth to chew it, called chewing the cud.)
I can’t decide where to go on holiday. I’ll have to chew the cud.
He’s chewing the cud about what to do next.
chilled to the marrowand chilled to the bone very cold.
I was chilled to the marrow in that snowstorm.
The children were chilled to the bone in that unheated room.
chink in one’s armoura weakness or vulnerable point that provides an opportunity for attacking or impressing someone who is otherwise invulnerable.
His love for his child is the chink in his armour.
Jane’s insecurity is the chink in her armour.
chip off the old blocka person (usually a male) who behaves in the same way as his father or resembles his father. (Usually informal.)
John looks like his father—a real chip off the old block.
Bill Jones is a chip off the old block. He’s a banker just like his father.
chop and changeto keep changing or altering something.
The shop is always chopping and changing staff.
The firm is constantly chopping and changing its plans.
clap eyes on someone or somethingto see someone or something, perhaps for the first time; to set eyes on someone or something. (Informal.)
I wish she had never clapped eyes on her fiance?.
I haven’t clapped eyes on a red squirrel for years.
clear the airto get rid of doubts or hostile feelings. (Sometimes this is said about an argument or other unpleasantness. The literal meaning is also used.)
All right, let’s discuss this frankly. It’ll be better if we clear the air.
Mr. and Mrs. Brown always seem to have to clear the air with a big argument before they can be sociable.
climb downto admit that one is wrong; to admit defeat.
They were sure they were in the right, but they climbed down when we proved them wrong.
The teacher was forced to climb down and admit she had made a mistake.
clip someone’s wingsto restrain someone; to reduce or put an end to someone’s privileges or freedom.
You had better learn to get home on time, or your father will clip your wings.
My mother threatened to clip my wings if I kept staying out late.
cloak-and-daggerinvolving secrecy and plotting.
A great deal of cloak-and-dagger stuff goes on in political circles.
A lot of cloakand-dagger activity was involved in the appointment of the director.
close one’s eyes to somethingto ignore something; to pretend that something is not really happening.
You can’t close your eyes to the hunger in the world.
His mother closed her eyes to the fact that he was being beaten by his father.
cloud-cuckoo-landan imaginary perfect world.
He thinks that he will be able to buy a house easily, but he is living in cloud-cuckooland.
She hopes to get a job travelling abroad—she must believe in cloud-cuckoo-land.
clutch at strawsto seek something which is useless or unattainable; to make a futile attempt at something.
I really didn’t think that I would get the job. I was clutching at straws.
She won’t accept that he was lost at sea. She’s still clutching at straws.
cock-and-bull storya silly, made-up story; a story which is untrue.
Don’t give me that cock-and-bull story.
I asked for an explanation, and all I got was your ridiculous cock-and-bull story!
cock a snook at someoneto show or express defiance or scorn at someone.
He cocked a snook at the traffic warden and tore up the ticket.
The boy cocked a snook at the park attendant and walked on the grass.
cock of the walksomeone who acts in a more important manner than others in a group.
The deputy manager was cock of the walk until the new manager arrived.
He loved acting cock of the walk and ordering everyone about.
cold comfortno comfort or consolation at all.
She knows there are others worse off than her, but that’s cold comfort.
It was cold comfort to the student that others had failed also.
come a cropperto have a misfortune; to fail. (Literally, to fall off one’s horse.)
Bob invested all his money in the shares market just before it fell. Did he come a cropper!
Jane was out all night before she took her exams. She really came a cropper.
come away empty-handedto return without anything.
All right, go gambling if you must. Don’t come away empty-handed, though.
Go to the bank and ask for the loan again. This time try not to come away empty-handed.
come down in the worldto lose one’s social position or financial standing.
Mr. Jones has really come down in the world since he lost his job.
If I were unemployed, I’m certain I’d come down in the world, too.
come down to earthto become realistic or practical, especially after a period of day-dreaming; to become alert to what is going on around one. (Informal.)
You have very good ideas, John, but you must come down to earth. We can’t possibly afford any of your suggestions.
Pay attention to what is going on. Come down to earth and join the discussion.
come down with somethingto become ill with some disease.
I’m afraid I’m coming down with a cold.
I’ll probably come down with pneumonia.
come from far and wideto come from many different places.
Everyone was there. They came from far and wide.
We have foods that come from far and wide.
come full circleto return to the original position or state of affairs.
The family sold the house generations ago, but the wheel has come full circle and one of their descendants lives there now.
The employers’ power was reduced by the unions at one point, but the wheel has come full circle again.
come home to roostto return to cause trouble (for someone).
As I feared, all my problems came home to roost.
His lies finally came home to roost. His wife discovered his adultery.
come in for somethingto receive something; to acquire something.
Mary came in for a tremendous amount of money when her aunt died.
Her new play has come in for a lot of criticism.
come into somethingto inherit something.
Jane came into a small fortune when her aunt died.
Mary does not come into her inheritance until she comes of age.
come of ageto reach an age when one is old enough to own property, get married, and sign legal contracts.
When Jane comes of age, she will buy her own car.
Sally, who came of age last month, entered into an agreement to purchase a house.
come off second-bestto be in second place or worse; to be the loser.
You can fight with your brother if you like, but you’ll come off second-best.
Why do I always come off second-best in an argument with you?
come out in the washto work out all right. (Informal. This means that problems or difficulties will go away as dirt goes away in the process of washing.)
Don’t worry about their accusation. It’ll all come out in the wash.
This trouble will go away. It’ll come out in the wash.
come out of nowhereto appear suddenly.
Suddenly, a container lorry came out of nowhere.
The storm came out of nowhere, and we were unprepared.
come out of one’s shellto become more friendly; to be more sociable.
Ann, you should come out of your shell and spend more time with your friends.
Come out of your shell, Tom. Go out and make some friends.
come rain or shineno matter whether it rains or the sun shines. (Informal.)
Don’t worry. I’ll be there come rain or shine.
We’ll hold the picnic—rain or shine.
come round 1.finally to agree or consent (to something).
I thought he’d never agree, but in the end he came round.
She came round only after we argued for an hour. 2. to return to consciousness; to wake up.
He came round after we threw cold water in his face.
The boxer was knocked out, but came round in a few seconds. 3. to come for a visit; to stop by (somewhere).
Why don’t you come round about eight? I’ll be home then.
Come round some week-end when you aren’t busy.
come to a bad endto have a disaster, perhaps one which is deserved or expected; to die an unfortunate death.
I just know that the young man will come to a bad end.
The miserly shopkeeper came to a bad end and was declared bankrupt.
come to a headto come to a crucial point; to come to a point when a problem must be solved.
Remember my problem with my neighbours? Well, last night the whole thing came to a head.
The battle between the two factions of the town council came to a head yesterday.
come to an untimely endto come to an early death.
Poor Mr. Jones came to an untimely end in a car accident.
The older brother came to an untimely end, but the twin boys lived to a ripe old age.
come to a pretty pass to develop into a bad, unfortunate, or difficult situation.--- Things have come to a pretty pass when people have to beg in the streets.
When parents are afraid of their children, things have come to a pretty pass.
come to grief to fail or be unsuccessful; to have trouble or grief.--- The artist wept when her canvas came to grief.
The wedding party came to grief when the bride passed out.
come to light to become known; to be discovered.--- Some interesting facts about your past have just come to light.
If too many bad things come to light, you may lose your job.
come to the fore to become obvious or prominent; to become important.--- The question of salary has now come to the fore.
Since his great showing in court, my solicitor has really come to the fore in his profession.
conspicuous by one’s absence having one’s absence noticed (at an event).--- We missed you last night. You were conspicuous by your absence.
How could the bride’s father miss the wedding party? He was certainly conspicuous by his absence.
contradiction in terms a seeming contradiction in the wording of something.--- A wealthy pauper is a contradiction in terms.
A straight-talking politician may seem a contradiction in terms.
cook someone’s gooseto damage or ruin someone. (Informal.)
I cooked my own goose by not showing up on time.
Sally cooked Bob’s goose for treating her the way he did.
cook the booksto cheat in bookkeeping; to make the accounts appear to balance when they do not.
Jane was sent to jail for cooking the books of her mother’s shop.
It’s hard to tell whether she really cooked the books or just didn’t know how to add.
cool one’s heelsto wait impatiently (for someone). (Informal.)
I spent all afternoon cooling my heels in the waiting room while the doctor talked on the telephone.
All right. If you can’t behave properly, just sit down here and cool your heels until I call you.
cost a pretty pennyto cost a lot of money.
I’ll bet that diamond cost a pretty penny.
You can be sure that house cost a pretty penny.
cost the earthto cost an enormous sum of money. (Compare with pay the earth.)
That huge car must have cost the earth!
Do I look as though I can afford a house that costs the earth?
count headsto count people.
I’ll tell you how many people are here after I count heads.
Everyone is here. Let’s count heads so we can order the drinks.
crack a bottleto open a bottle. (Informal.)
Let’s crack a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
We always crack a bottle of port at Christmas.
cramp someone’s styleto limit someone in some way.
Having her young sister with her rather cramped her style on the dance floor.
To ask him to keep regular hours would really be cramping his style.
cross a bridge before one comes to itto worry excessively about something before it happens.
There is no sense in crossing that bridge before you come to it.
She’s always crossing bridges before coming to them. She needs to learn to relax.
cross one’s heart (and hope to die)to pledge or vow that the truth is being told.
It’s true, cross my heart and hope to die.
It’s really true—cross my heart.
cross swords (with someone)to enter into an argument with someone.
I don’t want to cross swords with Tom.
The last time we crossed swords, we had a terrible time.
cross the Rubiconto do something which inevitably commits one to a following course of action. (The crossing of the River Rubicon by Julius Caesar inevitably involved him in a war with the Senate in 49 b.c.)
Jane crossed the Rubicon by signing the contract.
Find another job before you cross the Rubicon and resign from this one.
crux of the matterthe central issue of the matter. (Crux is Latin for “cross.”)
All right, this is the crux of the matter.
It’s about time that we looked at the crux of the matter.
cry one’s eyesout to cry very hard.
When we heard the news, we cried our eyes out with joy.
She cried her eyes out after his death.
cry over spilled milkto be unhappy about having done something which cannot be undone. (Spilled can also be spelled spilt.)
I’m sorry that you broke your bicycle, Tom. But there is nothing that can be done now. Don’t cry over spilled milk.
Ann is always crying over spilt milk.
cry wolfto cry out for help or to complain about something when nothing is really wrong.
Pay no attention. She’s just crying wolf again.
Don’t cry wolf too often. No one will come.
culture vulturesomeone whom one considers to be excessively interested in the (classical) arts.
She won’t go to a funny film. She’s a real culture vulture.
They watch only highbrow television. They’re culture vultures.
cupboard loveaffection shown to someone just because of the things, such as food or clothes, they supply.
She doesn’t love her husband. It’s just cupboard love.
Her affection for her foster-parents is a pretence—simply cupboard love.
curl up (and die)to retreat and die; to shrink away because one is very embarrassed.
When I heard you say that, I could have curled up and died.
Her mother’s praises made her want to curl up.
curry favour (with someone)to try to win favour from someone.
The solicitor tried to curry favour with the judge.
It’s silly to curry favour. Just act yourself.
cut a fine figureto look good; to look elegant.
Tom really cuts a fine figure on the dance-floor.
Bill cuts a fine figure since he bought some new clothes.
And—to cut a long story short—I never got back the money that I lent him.
If I can cut a long story short, let me say that everything worked out fine.
cut and driedfixed; determined beforehand; usual and uninteresting.
I find your writing quite boring. It’s too cut and dried.
The lecture was, as usual, cut and dried. It was the same thing we’ve heard for years.
Our plans are all cut and dried; you can’t contribute anything now.
cut and thrustintense competition. (From sword-fighting.)
Peter tired of the cut and thrust of business.
The cut and thrust of the stock-market is not for John.
cut both waysto affect both sides of an issue equally.
Remember your suggestion that costs should be shared cuts both ways. You will have to pay as well.
If our side cannot take along supporters to the game, then yours cannot either. The rule has to cut both ways.
cut cornersto reduce efforts or expenditures; to do things poorly or incompletely. (From the phrase cut the corner, meaning to avoid going to an intersection to turn.)
You cannot cut corners when you are dealing with public safety.
Don’t cut corners, Sally. Let’s do the thing properly.
cut it (too) fineto allow scarcely enough time, money, etc., in order to accomplish something.
You’re cutting it too fine if you want to catch the bus. It leaves in five minutes.
Joan had to search her pockets for money for the bus fare. She really cut it fine.
cut no iceto have no effect; to make no sense; to have no influence.
That idea cuts no ice. It won’t help at all.
It cuts no ice that your mother is the director.
cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth and cut one’s coat to suit one’s clothto plan one’s aims and activities in line with one’s resources and circumstances.
We would like a bigger house, but we must cut our coat according to our cloth.
They can’t afford a holiday abroad—they have to cut their coat to suit their cloth.
cut one’s eye-teeth on somethingto have done something since one was very young; to have much experience at something.
Do I know about cars? I cut my eye-teeth on cars.
I cut my eye-teeth on Bach. I can whistle everything he wrote.
cut one’s teeth on somethingto gain one’s early experiences on something.
You can cut your teeth on this project before getting involved in a more major one.
The young police officers cut their teeth on minor crimes.
cut someone deadto ignore someone totally.
Joan was just about to speak to James when he cut her dead.
Jean cut her former husband dead.
cut someone down to sizeto make a person more humble.
John’s remarks really cut me down to size.
Jane is too conceited. I think her new managing director will cut her down to size.
cut someone to the quickto hurt someone’s feelings very badly. (Can be used literally when quick refers to the tender flesh at the base of fingerand toe-nails.)
Your criticism cut me to the quick.
Tom’s sharp words to Mary cut her to the quick.
cut teeth[for a baby or young person] to grow teeth.
Billy is cross because he’s cutting teeth.
Ann cut her first tooth this week.