Idiom Examples

American English

This is an illustrated list of idiom examples in American English. 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.

Resources on English Idioms:

- English Idioms

- English Idioms Exercises and Videos

- British English Idioms

- Idiom Examples

- Teaching Idioms: How to Teach Idioms in 4 Steps

- A Guide to Understanding and Using Idiomatic Expressions

- Idioms of "Happy": The Top 10 You Should Know

- 10 Useful Business Idioms in English

This page contains a list of some of the most common American English Idioms. It is organized alphabetically by the first word of the idiom. Click on each letter below to jump directly to a certain letter of the alphabet.


  • a blessing in disguise = something good that seems bad at first

    I lost my job, but it was a blessing in disguise because now I can spend more time with my children.

  • all Greek to me = meaningless, beyond my understanding

    The map was all Greek to me
    confused man
  • as easy as pie = very simple

    That test was as easy as pie.

  • a slap on the wrist = a mild punishment

    After the fight, my brother only got a slap on the wrist.

  • at the drop of a hat = immediately

    I will help you at the drop of a hat.

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  • bend over backwards = help in any way that you can

    John will bend over backwards to help you.

  • bite off more than you can chew = take on too much responsibility

    My sister has a full-time career, three children, and is the coach of the soccer team. I hope she has not bitten off more than she can chew.

  • blow one's top = become very angry

    He blew his top when he heard the bad news.
    angry man
  • break a leg = good luck

    *This is a common way to say, "Good luck," when someone is going to perform on stage.

  • break someone's heart = make someone sad

    Judy broke Bill's heart when she divorced him.

  • break up = stop dating

    Bill and Mary broke up after a month of dating.

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  • catch some Zs = go to sleep, take a nap

    I am tired. I think I am going to catch some Zs.

  • change one's mind = to think differently

    I do not like her and nothing you say will change my mind.

  • chicken = scared; coward

    My brother is too chicken to jump off the diving board at the pool.
    scared boy
  • cool = neat; awesome

    His new car is so cool!

  • crack someone up = make someone laugh

    My brother likes to tell jokes! He cracks me up!

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  • dime a dozen = cheap; common; easy to get

    Those shirts are a dime a dozen.

  • down in the dumps = feeling very sad

    Sandy was feeling down in the dumps after she lost her job. 

  • drive someone up the wall = annoy

    The kids are stuck inside today and they are driving me up the wall
mother with kids

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  • egghead = smart person

    Susan got a 100% on another exam. She is an egghead.

  • elbow grease = hard work; effort

    Use some elbow grease when you wash the dishes.

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  • feeling blue = feeling sad

    Dan was feeling blue after his team lost the championship game.

    sad man

  • fire someone = release someone from their job

    Sam's boss fired him because he was late to the meeting.

  • frog in one's throat = scratchy voice; not able to speak normally due to soreness or coughing

    Excuse me while I clear this frog in my throat.

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  • get a kick out of something = find something funny or amusing

    She gets a kick out of watching the dogs play in the yard.

  • get going = leave; depart

    We better get going so we are not late for church.

  • get on someone's nerves = annoy; irritate

    You really get on my nerves when you do not listen to me!

  • get over it = stop thinking about something that is bothering you; move on

    The fight happened a week ago. It is time to get over it!

  • give someone a hand = help

    Let me give you a hand with those papers.

    woman carrying papers

  • grab a bite = get something to eat

    Where do you want to grab a bite for lunch?

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  • hard feelings = anger; bad feelings

    Nick got Tim's job, but Tim doesn't have any hard feelings towards him.

  • hard-headed = stubborn

    My dad is hard-headed and will never change his mind once he has decided something.

  • head over heels = very excited; in love

    She fell head over heels for him on their first date.
    man and woman on a date
  • hit the books = study

    The exam is tomorrow. You better hit the books.

  • hit the sack or hit the hay = go to bed

    I am tired. I think I will hit the hay.

  • hold your horses = wait; be patient

    I will be there in 5 minutes! Hold your horses!

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  • in someone's face = getting aggressive with someone

    He was angry with me and got in my face.

  • in time = not late

    If we leave now, we will arrive just in time for the wedding.

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  • jaywalk = cross the road in the middle of the street without a cross walk

    It is dangerous to jaywalk on a busy street.

    police officer

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  • keep an eye on someone = watch

    Please keep an eye on your sister while I am gone.

  • keep in touch = stay in contact by writing letters or calling

    My friend is moving to Canada, but she promised to keep in touch by calling once a week.

    woman talking on phone

  • kick the bucket = die

    Tim's goldfish kicked the bucket yesterday.

  • kidding = joking

    He was just kidding when he told you to go home.

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  • lend your ear = listen

    Students! Please lend me your ears!

  • lend someone a hand = help

    Can you lend me a hand with these boxes?

  • let the cat out of the bag = tell a secret; tell about a surprise

    She let the cat out of the bag about the surprise party.

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  • make up your mind = decide

    I cannot make up my mind whether I want chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

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  • new kid on the block = new person in a group

    She doesn't know the rules because she is the new kid on the block.

  • nuts = crazy

    My mom is nuts about her grandchildren.
grandmother with baby

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  • on time = not late

    I like to be on time for church.

  • out of the blue = when something happens without notice

    I was surprised when Lisa came to visit out of the blue!

  • over the top = extreme; too much

    She went over the top by hiring a clown for her son's birthday!

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  • piece of cake = very easy

    Today's lesson was a piece of cake.

  • pig out = eat a lot

    We pigged out on Grandma's pancakes.


  • pulling someone's leg = teasing, joking, tricking

    Do not believe him. He is just pulling your leg.

  • pooped = very tired

    It was a long day at work! I am pooped!

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  • quick study = someone who learns something fast

    She will be the manager at work soon. She is a quick study.

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  • raining cats and dogs = raining hard; lots of rain

    It rained cats and dogs during last night's thunderstorm.

  • rise and shine = wake up, get out of bed

    It is 9:00 and time to rise and shine!

    man in bed

  • run-down = needs repair

    The house was cheap to buy because it was very run-down.

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  • saved by the bell = saved at the last possible moment

    He was going to ask me for help, but I was saved by the bell when the phone rang.

  • sick as a dog = very sick

    Tony had the flu. He was sick as a dog for a week.

    sick man

  • spitting image = looks exactly alike

    Sarah is the spitting image of her mother.

  • step on it = hurry

    We are going to be late if you do not step on it!

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  • take it easy = relax

    I am just going to stay at home and take it easy this weekend.

  • tie the knot = get married

    My parents tied the knot in 1973.


  • toss-up = the results could go either way; a tie

    My favorite flavor of ice-cream is a toss-up between chocolate and strawberry

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  • under the weather = feeling sick

    I did not go to work yesterday because I was feeling under the weather.

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  • vanish into thin air = disappear

    Where were you? You vanished into thin air as soon as the meeting finished.

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  • What for? = Why?; What do you need me for?

    Please get to work early tomorrow.

    What for?

  • What's up? = What is happening? What is new?

    I am glad you called. What's up?

  • when pigs fly = something that will never happen

    I will go on a date with you when pigs fly!

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  • x-rated = not for children; only for adults

    I changed the television channel because that show was x-rated and there were children watching.

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  • you are what you eat = you must eat healthy foods to be healthy

    For more energy, you should eat some vegetables instead of chips. 

    Remember, you are what you eat.

    pig eating a donut

  • yucky = tastes bad

    That mushroom pizza was yucky. I did not eat it.

  • yummy = tastes good; delicious

    These cookies are yummy!

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  • zip your lips = be quiet

    That was a secret! Zip your lips!

This was a list of idiom examples in American English. Now that you understand, it is time to practice! Get our ESL Books.

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