Have you reached an advanced level in English but would like to give your speaking skills that extra push? Try learning idioms to spice up your English conversation skills. English idioms for conversation are everywhere, which is why knowing when to use appropriate idioms and phrases will help your English sound more natural and fluent. Besides, it’s fun using new and interesting expressions instead of the same old boring vocabulary you learned at school.
Read about the idioms, then play idiom games 1 and 2!
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1. To miss the boat
Meaning: use this idiom to express that an opportunity was missed.
Example: I didn’t buy any bitcoins while they were affordable. I really missed the boat!
2. To beat around the bush
Meaning: When someone beats around the bush, it means they are speaking about unimportant or irrelevant things in order to stall time and not answer a question or address a topic directly.
Example: He was beating around the bush and talking about the soccer game because he didn’t want to tell his children the cat had died.
3. To see eye to eye
Meaning: to completely agree with someone.
Example: I see eye to eye with my boss on everything, except when it comes to working weekends.
4. To take it with a pinch (or grain) of salt
Meaning: to try not to take something too seriously.
Example: I’m not saying your aunt is lying about dating Elvis Presley when she was younger, I’m just saying to take what she says with a pinch of salt.
5. Once in a blue moon
Meaning: We use this expression to say that something does not happen often.
Example: I don’t see my brother very often, but every once in a blue moon he will drop by the house unexpectedly.
If you love idioms like these, check out English Idioms in Use and become an idiom expert!
6. To spill the tea
Meaning: to share gossip
Example: You haven’t told me about your sister’s new boyfriend yet. I think it’s time for you to spill the tea!
7. The ball is in your court
Meaning: We use this to say that the other person should make the next move or decision.
Example: I sent a letter of apology to the neighbors, so now the ball is in their court. They can choose if they want to accept my apology or not.
8. To twist someone’s arm
Meaning: to persuade or coerce someone into doing something.
Example: I really didn’t want to go out drinking after work, but my colleagues twisted my arm.
9. to stab someone in the back
Meaning: to do something hurtful to someone who completely trusted you.
Example: I can’t believe my colleague stabbed me in the back and told the boss I wasn’t really sick last week. I thought we were friends.
Discover the true stories behind the English Language's 64 most popular Idioms in The Illustrated Histories of Everyday Expressions
10. To go cold turkey
Meaning: to abruptly quit doing something addictive, like smoking or drinking alcohol.
Example: I couldn’t reduce the number of cigarettes I smoked every day, so I decided to quit cold turkey.
Fun fact: You may wonder why quitting an addiction is referred to as going ‘cold turkey’. Apparently, When people experience withdrawal symptoms after quitting a drug habit, their skin often exhibits goose bumps, which resemble the skin of a plucked turkey!
11. to face the music
Meaning: This means to “face reality” or to confront a situation and accept all the consequences or punishment involved.
Example: You have been avoiding me for three weeks now; I think it’s time for you to face the music and tell me why you didn’t come to my birthday party.
12. To be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth.
Meaning: This idiom describes someone who was born into wealth and privilege.
Example: It will be difficult for him to have to work now that his parents lost all their money. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and never worked a day in his life.
13. To cost an arm and a leg
Meaning: We use this to say that something cost a huge amount of money.
Example: My son got accepted to Harvard University. I’m proud of him, of course, but it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg!
14. To go Dutch
Meaning: This means that two people divide the bill equally instead of one person treating the other, especially when dating.
Example: I was surprised that my date suggested we go Dutch at the restaurant last night. He’s the one who invited me!
Why do we call the act of everyone paying individually ‘going Dutch’? There are different theories, but the expression traces back to either a trade war between England and the Netherlands in the 17th century or to the Pennsylvania Dutch community in the United States. The Pennsylvania Dutch had the habit of paying up front and individually so as not to owe money at the local taverns. By the way, it is important to note that the Pennsylvania Dutch do not have origins in the Netherlands. Indeed, the word “Dutch” is a corruption of the German word for German, “Deutsch”, and the people actually originate from Germany.
15. To live hand to mouth
Meaning: To live on very little money.
Example: I’m sorry I can’t lend you any money right now. I’ve been living hand to mouth since I lost my job.
16. A piece of cake
Meaning: You can use this idiom to say something is very easy.
Example: I thought it would be difficult to learn English online, but it’s actually a piece of cake!
17. Food for thought
Meaning: This means that something is worth thinking about.
Example: The pandemic gave the government food for thought about whether we should invest in a better healthcare system.
18. Under the weather
Meaning: If you feel under the weather, this means you do not feel very well. You may not be sick, but you could have a slight cold, headache or tiredness.
Example: I don’t want to go to school today. I’m not exactly sick, but I feel under the weather.
19. To break the ice
Meaning: This is when you say or do something, usually upon first meeting, to make the atmosphere more relaxed and friendly.
Example: I was so nervous at the job interview, but fortunately the interviewer told a little joke to break the ice.
20. To bury one’s head in the sand.
Meaning: to ignore a situation by pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Example: I wish you would stop burying your in the sand about your drinking problem. You will never change the problem by ignoring it!
The English language is rich in idioms and expressions. If you would like your English to sound more sophisticated, make a note of any new idioms you pick up and try using them in sentences. One useful resource you can use is Google. If you’re not sure about an idiom’s meaning, you can google it to find a good explanation and keep a list of new idioms in your phone or in a notebook.
If you would like to practice any of the above idioms, please write me your example sentences in the comments and I will let you know how they sound. Memorizing the meaning of these English idioms for conversation is great, but not enough. It is important to know not only the meaning of the idiom, but also how to use it in a sentence and in the appropriate context. I would also love to hear about YOUR all-time FAVORITE English idiom!