Idioms are expressions that have a meaning that isn’t immediately obvious from the words themselves. Every language has them, and fluent speakers use them casually without even thinking about them. But for young students or those learning English as a second language, these phrases can be really confusing. Use “Idiom of the Day” lessons with your class to help them learn these expressions and get comfortable using them.
We’ve put together a list of some of the most common English idioms, complete with meanings and examples. Share these Idiom of the Day images with your students to deepen their understanding and use of American English idioms in no time flat!
Idiom Examples To Use in Idiom of the Day Lessons
1. A fish out of water
Meaning: Someone in an uncomfortable position or situation
Example: It was Allison’s first day at her new school, and she felt like a fish out of water.
2. Add insult to injury
Meaning: Do something to make a bad situation worse
Example: Learning she failed her science test on the same day her best friend moved away added insult to injury.
3. All ears
Meaning: Eager to listen to what someone has to say
Example: The class was all ears when Ms. Ali mentioned a way to earn extra credit on the test.
4. Ants in your pants
Meaning: Can’t sit still
Example: “Stop wriggling while I’m braiding your hair!” Kehlani’s mom said. “You have ants in your pants this morning.”
5. Anything but
Meaning: Not at all
Example: When they heard about the pop quiz, the students were anything but excited.
6. Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: To be looking for answers in the wrong place
Example: James thought Christopher was the one who broke the vase, but he was barking up the wrong tree.
7. Be a fly on the wall
Meaning: To watch something happen without anyone knowing you’re there
Example: Nico wished he could be a fly on the wall when his sister discovered the toad he’d left in her shoe!
8. Beat around the bush
Meaning: To avoid saying what you mean, often because it would be difficult or uncomfortable
Example: Don’t beat around the bush. Just tell me why you can’t come to my birthday party on Friday.
9. Beef up
Meaning: To make something stronger
Example: My teacher recommended I beef up my essay with stronger examples to support my main point.
10. Bigger fish to fry
Meaning: More important things to do
Example: Don’t waste my time with silly little things today. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
11. Bite the bullet
Meaning: To do something that’s uncomfortable or not fun and get it over with
Example: After putting it off for several days, Alex decided to bite the bullet and start work on the history project.
12. Break a leg
Meaning: Good luck! Often used in the theater before a play or performance.
Example: Is your piano recital tonight? Well, break a leg!
13. Break the ice
Meaning: To do or say something that will make people feel more comfortable
Example: OK, since none of us have met before, let’s introduce ourselves and break the ice by sharing our favorite ice cream flavor.
14. Call it a day
Meaning: To stop working on something and plan to pick it up again later
Example: After working for three hours on her science fair project, Sofia decided to call it a day.
15. Chip off the old block
Meaning: A person who is similar to a parent in some way
Example: Kayden loves to play chess as much as his dad does. He’s a real chip off the old block.
16. Costs an arm and a leg
Meaning: To describe something that is very expensive
Example: A new PlayStation costs an arm and a leg, so you’d better start saving now if you want to buy one.
17. Cut somebody some slack
Meaning: To ease up on someone, to allow them some leeway or another chance
Example: Even though Jake was late with his English essay, Ms. Davis decided to cut him some slack since she knew he’d had the stomach flu.
18. Cutting corners
Meaning: To do something quickly and badly in order to save time or money
Example: Liza cut corners on her math homework so she could watch TV, and ended up getting most of the answers wrong.
19. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
Meaning: Don’t depend on something before it’s happened
Example: I know you’re sure you’re going to get the lead in the spring play, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
20. Drop the ball
Meaning: To make a mistake
Example: Aisha said she’d make the poster for our project, but she forgot. She really dropped the ball on this one.
21. Every cloud has a silver lining
Meaning: No matter how bad something seems, there’s usually a good side to it as well
Example: Jamal was disappointed that his soccer game was canceled, but it gave him time to go the movies with his friends, and his mom pointed out that every cloud has a silver lining.
22. Get out of hand
Meaning: To become difficult to control
Example: Ms. Rodriguez told her students they could chat while they worked, as long as the noise level didn’t get out of hand.
23. Get something out of your system
Meaning: Do the thing you’ve been wanting to do so you can move on
Example: Mr. Patel knew his students were eager to try out the new playground equipment, so he told them to go ahead and get it out of their system before they started class.
24. Get your act together
Meaning: Behave properly, or organize your thoughts so you can do something successfully
Example: After the third time he was late to class, Connor’s teacher told him he needed to get his act together and start showing up on time.
25. Get your ducks in a row
Meaning: To get things organized or make plans
Example: I have so many things to get done today! I need to get my ducks in a row before I get started.
26. Give someone the benefit of the doubt
Meaning: To trust what someone says, even if you’re not entirely sure what they’re saying is true
Example: Charlotte wasn’t sure Amelia was really late because she missed the bus, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.
27. Give someone the cold shoulder
Meaning: To ignore someone, usually because you’re upset or angry with them
Example: Will and Jessica were mad at Emma, so they decided to give her the cold shoulder until she apologized.
28. Go back to the drawing board
Meaning: To start something over again with a completely new idea
Example: When her science experiment failed completely, Hailey knew it was time to go back to the drawing board.
29. Hang in there
Meaning: Don’t give up, keep on trying
Example: “I’m sorry you’re having a rough day,” Lucas told Olivia. “Hang in there. I’m sure things will be better tomorrow.”
Meaning: Something that might be good sometimes and bad other times
Example: Anna was a bit hit-or-miss when it came to remembering to take out the trash on Thursdays.
31. Hit the sack/hit the hay
Meaning: To go to bed
Example: “Nine o’clock!” said Mia’s dad. “It’s time to turn off the TV and hit the sack.”
32. Hold your horses
Meaning: Slow down, stop and think about what you’re doing
Example: “Hold your horses!” their dad said. “You can’t go swimming until you put on sunscreen.”
33. It’s not rocket science
Meaning: Used to describe something that isn’t complicated or difficult
Example: All you have to do is put the books back on the right shelf. It’s not rocket science!
34. It’s raining cats and dogs
Meaning: To rain very hard
Example: I hope you brought your umbrella. It’s raining cats and dogs out there!
35. Let someone off the hook
Meaning: To not hold someone responsible for something
Example: Logan was caught running in the hallway, but Ms. Walker let him off the hook because she knew he was late for the bus.
36. Miss the boat
Meaning: To be too late for something that’s already started or is over
Example: Sarah wanted to join the lacrosse team, but she was too late to sign up and missed the boat.
37. On cloud nine
Meaning: Extremely happy about something
Example: When Wyatt learned he’d gotten a perfect score on both his math and science tests, he was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.
38. On the ball
Meaning: To be quick and alert, dealing with things right away
Example: Alice got all her homework done and practiced her clarinet before dinner. She’s really on the ball today!
39. On thin ice
Meaning: In a risky situation or position
Example: When Mrs. Chen had to ask Ava and Noah to stop talking for the fourth time that day, she warned them both that they were on thin ice.
40. Play it by ear
Meaning: To figure things out as you go
Example: We didn’t get a schedule in advance, so we’ll just have to play it by ear as the day goes along.
41. Pull someone’s leg
Meaning: To tease someone or try to fool them
Example: No, the cafeteria isn’t really giving away free ice cream. I was just pulling your leg!
42. Pull yourself together
Meaning: To calm yourself down when you’re very upset
Example: I know you’re upset that your team lost the game, but you need to pull yourself together and go congratulate the winners.
43. Second wind
Meaning: A fresh burst of energy
Example: Quinn thought she was too tired to go to the party after playing soccer all afternoon, but then she got a second wind.
44. Spill the beans
Meaning: To give away a secret
Example: Isabella’s surprise party was ruined when Sarah spilled the beans a few days before.
45. Take a rain check
Meaning: To postpone a plan until another time
Example: I’d love to play basketball after school, but I’ve got to go home to mow the lawn. Can I take a rain check?
46. The ball is in your court
Meaning: The decision or next step is up to you
Example: Nick’s mom told him he could either join the basketball team or sign up for karate class, so he had to choose one. “The ball is in your court,” she said.
47. The early bird gets the worm
Meaning: Those who arrive first have the best chance for success or receive the best things
Example: Grayson and Jayden showed up to find the best seats in the room already taken. “The early bird gets the worm!” said Maya with a grin.
48. The elephant in the room
Meaning: A large, obvious issue or problem that people are avoiding mentioning or dealing with
Example: After waiting for Joseph to explain his bright green hair all through dinner, his mom finally decided it was time to address the elephant in the room.
49. The icing on the cake
Meaning: Something that makes a good situation even better
Example: The band was excited to learn they’d earned a place in the regional competition. Finding out it would take place at Disney World was the icing on the cake.
50. The last straw
Meaning: The last in a series of events that causes someone to run out of patience
Example: “That’s the last straw!” said Elena after her little brother’s ball landed in her cereal bowl. “Go play outside!”
51. The whole nine yards
Meaning: Everything, all the way
Example: Grace and Nora went the whole nine yards to make sure Hannah’s birthday party was really special.
52. Through thick and thin
Meaning: When things are good and also when they’re bad
Example: Sophie and Chloe had been best friends since first grade, sticking together through thick and thin.
53. Time flies when you’re having fun
Meaning: When you’re having a good time, you don’t notice how quickly the time is passing
Example: “Recess is over already?” said Ben. “I guess time flies when you’re having fun!”
54. To get bent out of shape
Meaning: To get upset about something
Example: I didn’t mean to step on your foot—there’s no need to get bent out of shape about it.
55. To make a long story short
Meaning: To give the basic facts about something instead of a long explanation
Example: To make a long story short, Liam tripped over his shoelace and that’s how he broke his wrist.
56. Under the weather
Meaning: To be sick
Example: Miguel won’t be at the scout meeting today because he’s feeling a little under the weather.
57. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it
Meaning: If that problem comes up, we’ll deal with it then, not right now
Example: We might have a snow day on Monday, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
58. Wrap your head around something
Meaning: To understand something complicated or surprising
Example: It’s hard to wrap your head around just how big the universe is.
59. You can say that again
Meaning: I completely agree with what you just said
Example: “This pizza is the best food I ever ate!” exclaimed Mateo. “You can say that again!” Dylan agreed.
60. Your guess is as good as mine
Meaning: When you have no idea what the answer is to a question or problem
Example: “Do you know how to solve number four in our math homework?” Maria asked. “Your guess is as good as mine,” David replied, shrugging his shoulders.
What other idioms do you teach in your Idiom of the Day lessons? Come share in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus if you like this Idiom of the Day article, check out 13 puns and jokes only a true grammar nerd will get.