English Idioms

An idiom is one type of figurative language in the English language.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

An idiom is a commonly used phrase that does not mean what it says.

Idioms should not be taken literally. That means that you should not believe it exactly as it is written.

For example, if a teacher wants her students to listen, she might say:

Lend me your ears!

If we understood this phrase with a literal meaning, it would mean that the teacher is asking the students to remove their ears and give them to her


That would be strange! It could never happen.

Lend me your ear is actually an idiom, so we do not use the literal meaning. Instead, we understand it by its figurative meaning.

Lend me your ear is a way to ask for someone's attention. The teacher is asking her students to listen when she speaks.

student listening

Let us look at another example like this.

He has lost his marbles!

This is another common American English idiom.

This phrase does not mean that he literally had some marbles and now he cannot find them.

man losing his marbles

Lost his marbles is figurative language. It is an idiom that means someone is acting crazy or insane.

crazy man

Idiom examples – American English

Here are a few common American English idioms and their meanings.
  • raining cats and dogsraining cats and dogs

    (When it is raining heavily, you can say it is raining cats and dogs.)

    It rained cats and dogs last night.

  • hit the sack/hit the hay

    (If someone is going to hit the sack or hit the hay, they are going to bed.)

    I'm tired. I'm going to hit the hay.

  • get over it

    (It means to overcome a problem. When someone is complaining about something, you might tell them to get over it (stop thinking about it).

    It has been a week since I broke your window. It is time to get over it!

  • drive someone up the wall

    (If someone is driving you up the wall, they are irritating or annoying you.)

    It is almost summer break and my friends are driving me up the wall.

  • tie the knot

    (When people get married, they tie the knot.)man sleeping

    My parents tied the knot in 1973.

  • catch some Zs

    (If you want to catch some Zs, you want to go to sleep.)

    After work, I am going to catch some Zs.

  • under the weather

    (When you are feeling ill, you are under the weather.)

    Tom missed work. He was feeling under the weather yesterday.

  • a slap on the wrist

    (A slap on the wrist is a very mild punishment.)confused woman

    After the fight, I was in big trouble, but my brother just got a slap on the wrist.

  • all Greek to me

    (If I say something is all Greek to me, I am telling you I do not understand it.)

    The instructions are all Greek to me.

  • on its last leg

    (If your car is on its last leg, it needs a lot of repair.)

    Nick will have to buy a new car soon. His car is on its last leg.
car repair

Click here for a longer, alphabetical list of common American English idioms.

British English idioms

Idioms can be unique to a language, culture, or area. This means that an American English idiom may not have the same meaning (or any meaning at all) in another language or culture.

Although American English and British English are similar, they do not always use the same idioms.

To learn more about the differences between idioms in American English and British English, click on this link:

British English Idioms

British flag

This was an overview of English idioms. Now that you understand, it is time to practice! Get our ESL Books.

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