Would you like a pizza without any toppings?
No meat, no onions, no cheese!
How do you think it would taste?
Not very good, I’m sure.
What if we topped it with chicken, pepperoni, corn, mushrooms, bell peppers and mozzarella?
Now we’re talking!
We can spice up a plain pizza and make it more tasty by adding many different kinds of toppings.
So then, idioms in the English language are like toppings on a pizza.
They’re phrases with meanings that are usually different from the actual words. Native speakers use them to make their conversations more interesting.
Today, we’ll look at some delicious English idioms that I’m serving up.
But first, here are some useful tips to help you learn them.
Quick Tips for Learning English Idioms Effectively
- Picture the idiom in your mind. Many idioms are made up of words that create images of the expression. For example, when you hear the idiom “eat like a bird” (which we’ll discuss more below), what do you see? The picture that quickly comes to mind is that of a bird pecking at its food.
Visualizing pictures like this will help you remember idioms and can often help you understand their meanings better.
- Learn idioms in context. Don’t try to memorize idioms on their own. Instead, learn them in context by looking for examples of how and when they’re used.
One great resource for learning idioms in context is FluentU. This innovative tool lets you watch authentic English videos, like movie trailers, inspiring talks, news clips and more, while actively building your communication skills. Each video comes with interactive captions you can use to get the definition of any expression or word you don’t recognize (plus visual learning aids and pronunciations).
After you watch a video, FluentU provides tailor-made flashcards and exercises to make sure you remember what you’ve watched. It’s an awesome way to pick up new idioms, sayings and slang, and learn English the way native speakers really use it!
- Learning idioms by theme may also be helpful. You’ll notice that all the idioms on the list I’m sharing today contain words related to food. By grouping themed idioms together, it’ll be easier for you to remember their meanings.
- Learn a few at a time. Don’t try to learn too many idioms at once. Instead, learn a few at a time and practice using them. That way, you won’t get overwhelmed or discouraged.
20 Delicious English Idioms to Spice Up Your Daily Conversations
Everyone loves talking about food, and English speakers are no different! The following idioms are very common among English speakers and they can really add some flavor to your own speech.
Let’s get started:
1. Spice things up
You’ve probably guessed by now that to spice things up means to make them more interesting or exciting.
Instead of just buying Sam a birthday gift, let’s spice things up by taking him out for dinner.
2. A piece of cake
A piece of cake refers to a task or job that’s easy to complete or accomplish.
I expected the English test to be difficult but it was a piece of cake.
3. Cool as a cucumber
Cucumbers have a refreshing taste and leave you with a cool, calm feeling. So if you’re cool as a cucumber, you’re someone who’s very calm and relaxed.
My friend is nervous about taking his driving test but I’m cool as a cucumber.
4. Couch potato
A couch potato refers to someone who spends a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV.
After my uncle retired from his job, he became a couch potato.
5. Bring home the bacon
To bring home the bacon means to make an income or earn a living to support your family.
Ever since her father was injured, she’s been working two jobs to bring home the bacon.
6. In hot water
When someone is in hot water, they’re in a bad situation or serious trouble.
My brother is in hot water for failing all his college classes.
7. Compare apples and oranges
Apples are very different from oranges both in looks and taste. It’s hard to compare two things that are so unlike each other. So then, to compare apples and oranges is to compare two very different things.
I’m not sure which I enjoy more—pottery or dancing. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.
8. Not one’s cup of tea
If something is not your cup of tea, it’s an activity you have no interest in, don’t enjoy or don’t do well in.
Camping is really not my cup of tea so I’m going to visit my friend in New York instead.
9. Eat like a bird
How much does a bird eat? Not very much, right? So to eat like a bird is to eat very little.
Don’t trouble yourself cooking such a big meal. I eat like a bird.
10. Eat like a horse
Now, a horse is much bigger than a bird. So how much do you think a horse eats? That’s right, to eat like a horse is to eat a large amount of food.
My mother has to cook a lot of food when my brother comes to visit. He eats like a horse.
11. Butter [someone] up
To butter someone up is to please or flatter someone in order to win his or her favor. This separable phrase may be used in the format butter [someone] up or butter up [someone].
Everyone seems to be trying to butter up the new boss hoping to become her favorite.
12. Food for thought
Food for thought refers to something that’s worth thinking carefully about.
Moving to another state is food for thought for many of those affected by the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
13. A smart cookie
Here’s an easy one. A smart cookie is an intelligent person.
It shouldn’t be hard too hard for a smart cookie like you to learn Spanish.
14. Packed like sardines
What do you see when you open up a can of sardines? Yes, the fish crammed inside the can. So packed like sardines describes a place or situation that’s very crowded with people (or animals)—for example, a concert hall or sports event.
Were you at the football game last night? The stadium was packed like sardines.
15. Spill the beans
You accidentally knock over a bowl of beans and they all spill out. Think of this image and you’ll remember that spill the beans means to accidentally or prematurely give out information that’s supposed to be kept secret.
We were planning a surprise birthday party for Joyce this weekend. But this morning, Owen spilled the beans and now it’s no longer a surprise.
16. A bad apple
Imagine a basket of apples with one rotten apple inside. This picture will help you remember that a bad apple is someone who creates problems or trouble, or is a bad influence on the other people in a group.
Instead of focusing on college, he spends his time hanging out with bad apples.
17. Bread and butter
Bread and butter is a basic food that many of us eat. So the idiom bread and butter refers to a job that makes the money you need to live and afford basic necessities like food, housing, etc.
Fishing is the bread and butter of the friendly people who I met on the island last summer.
18. Buy a lemon
To buy a lemon means to buy something (usually a motor vehicle) that doesn’t work well and is therefore worthless.
The car looked so new and shiny I had no way of knowing I was buying a lemon.
19. A hard nut to crack
Is it easy to crack open a nut? Not always. Well, a hard nut to crack refers to a person who’s difficult to deal with or to get to know.
I tried to be friendly with her but I was told she’s a hard nut to crack.
20. Have a sweet tooth
Do you like eating cakes, candy and other sweet-tasting food? If you do, then you can say you have a sweet tooth.
Yes, I definitely have a sweet tooth. I can never walk past a bakery and not stop to buy myself a slice of chocolate cake.
So there you have it, 20 English idioms for spicing up any conversation. Learning them should be a piece of cake for smart cookies like you, right? Just remember to use the tips above and put in lots of practice. Good luck and happy learning!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.