100 English Idioms and Their Meanings

Oh no, it’s raining cats and dogs!

No, there aren’t any pets falling from the sky! This is actually a common English idiom that means “It’s raining a lot.”

An idiom is a phrase that has a different meaning than its literal meaning. And you’re guaranteed to hear at least one (or ten) at any given time.

The list below is made up of idioms that English speakers use constantly in any conversation.


Top 100 English Idioms You’ll Use All the Time

Above board

“Above board” means legal, open or honest.

– Are you sure this type of business is above board?

– Yeah, of course. Etsy is totally legal.

A load off (someone’s) mind

If something that’s been bothering you is finally taken care of, it’s “a load off your mind.”

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Can you do me a favor and pay my share of the rent this month? That would really be a load off my mind.

At odds

When things or people are “at odds,” they’re in conflict, or against each other.

I think your caffeine habit is at odds with your ability to relax. You need to stop drinking so much coffee.

Beat the odds

When you “beat the odds,” you succeed at something in an unlikely way.

With such low grades in the first three years of college, I didn’t think I was going to be able to graduate. But somehow, I beat the odds.

Be on board (with…)

To “be on board” with something is to be willing to go along with it, or to be enthusiastic about it.

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– I thought we could start our own clothing store on Etsy. Are you on board?

– Ooh, that sounds great. Absolutely!

Bring (something) up

To “bring something up” means to introduce that subject.

I was going to ask him to pay me back, but he was in a really bad mood. So I didn’t bring it up.

“Bringing up” can also refer to raising, or parenting, a child.

I always try to be polite. That’s just how my dad brought me up.

Call it a day/night

When you “call it a day” or “call it a night,” you stop whatever you’re doing, usually at least until the next day.

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Okay, everybody! Let’s call it a night  for now and start fresh tomorrow.

Call (someone) out

To “call someone out” is to accuse them of something, or to point out why something they did or said is a problem. 

You’ll also often hear that someone—or even an entire company—”got called out.”

When viewers called them out  for the sexist content in their video, they should have removed it. Instead, they doubled down and insisted that they had done nothing wrong.

Call the shots

If you’re the boss or leader, and you’re the one who tells people what to do, you “call the shots.”

Now that I’m the one calling the shots, things are going to be a lot different around here.

Close call

If something bad almost happens to you but then it doesn’t, you had a “close call.”

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That car just almost hit us! What a close call!

Crush (it/something)

“Crushing” something, like “nailing it,” is doing a really good job on it.

Don’t be nervous about your job interview. I’m sure you’re going to crush it.

Cut corners

“Cutting corners” means not doing something completely, often in a situation that involves work or money.

We’re going to put all of our time and money into this business. No cutting corners.

Cut it out

When you tell someone to “cut it out,” you’re telling them to stop something they’re doing or saying.

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– Dude, that was totally your fault. You didn’t signal before you changed lanes. Are you sure you really passed the driver’s test?

–Hey, cut it out! You’re supposed to be on my side.

Cut out for

If you’re “cut out for” something, you’re the right person for it. This can be used to talk about a career, a job or another activity.

I’m impressed that you solved our tax issues so quickly. You’re really cut out for accounting.

Cut (someone) off

You can “cut someone off” in conversation by interrupting them.

You can also “cut someone off” in traffic by pulling in front of them without signaling.

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Did you see that guy cut me off?  He’s lucky I didn’t run right into him!

Cut (someone) some slack

“Cutting someone some slack” means not judging or criticizing them too much.

Look, I need you to cut me some slack  right now. I’m stressed out about my divorce, so I’m a little distracted.

Doesn’t hold water

If an idea or an argument doesn’t “hold water,” it doesn’t make sense.

I’m sorry, but your claim just doesn’t hold water. You don’t even give any evidence to back it up.

Double down

To “double down” is to put even more effort into an action once it begins to fail.

There’s a positive version of “doubling down,” which can describe taking a smart risk. But it’s often used to describe the behavior of someone who’s losing an argument, or who reacts badly to being corrected.

He could have just fixed the mistake. Instead, he doubled down and told me I was the one who was wrong.

Feel (something) out

You can “feel out” a situation, a place or a person. In any of these cases, you’re trying to get a better sense of something or someone.

– How’s your new job?

– It’s okay. The people there seem kind of weird, but I’m still feeling things out.

Flesh out

To “flesh out” an idea or a topic is to expand it and add details.

I love your idea for this article, but I was wondering if you could flesh out the main points.

(Fly) under the radar

To be “under the radar” is to be invisible or out of sight. This is often used in the expression “fly under the radar.”

We’ve been flying under the radar  for a while. Now I think it’s time to start actively selling our services to people.

Get a grip

If someone is panicking or being irrational (not making sense), someone else might tell them to “get a grip.”

– I have no idea how I’m going to pass this test. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me!

– Hey, get a grip! There’s no reason to think that. You’re going to do fine.

Get ahold of (oneself)

“Getting ahold of yourself” is similar to “getting a grip.”

– I just don’t know how we’re going to figure out this money problem.

Get ahold of yourself! We need to stay calm and work together on this.

Get a load of (something)

If you’re excited to show or tell someone something, you might use this idiom. It’s often used when people are about to share gossip.

Hey, get a load of this! I heard the neighbors are finally getting a divorce.

Get away with (something)

If you do something that you should get in trouble for, but you don’t get in trouble, you “got away with it.”

I ate my roommate’s doughnuts, but she didn’t see me do it, so I got away with it.

Get one’s feet wet

To “get your feet wet” means to start doing something new, usually in a gentle way that’s not too difficult.

I want to be a journalist, so I thought I’d get my feet wet with this Intro to Journalism course.

Get out

“Get out” is short for “get out of here.” You might use this phrase to tell someone to literally go away. But you can also use it if someone says something you find unbelievable.

It’s like you’re saying (usually in a funny, teasing way), “That’s so ridiculous that I can’t even be around you right now.”

What? You haven’t seen the Jordan Peele film “Get Out?” How is that possible? Get out!

Get with it

You might think that someone who’s “out of touch” needs to “get with it,” or adapt to a current time or situation.

– You’re still wearing boot-cut jeans? You need to get with it!

– What are you talking about? Boot-cut jeans never went out of style!

Go all in

“Going all in” refers to taking a risk or making a commitment.

Are you sure you still want to get married? I just don’t get the feeling that you’re ready to go all in.

Go all out

“Going all out” is putting a lot of effort or expense into something. It’s often used when talking about a celebration of some kind.

You should have seen the wedding cake! They really went all out.

Go off

When someone “goes off,” they strongly express their thoughts or feelings on something, usually a lot and angrily—in other words, they “go off” like a bomb.

If someone talks or yells angrily at you about something, you might say they went off on you.

My roommate finally found out I’ve been stealing her food, and she totally went off on me.

More recently, the phrase “go off I guess” has become popular as a way to dismiss someone else’s opinion or preference. It’s sort of like saying, “Whatever, I don’t care.” It’s used with different levels of seriousness, and has become a meme.

The first “Back to the Future” movie will always be the best, but go off I guess.

Hang around

To “hang around” means to spend time in a certain spot, often without a clear purpose.

Those teenagers are always hanging around in the parking lot. I don’t know what they’re up to, so it makes me nervous.

Hang in there

Telling someone to “hang in there” is a way of reassuring them that they’ll get through a difficult time.

I know that things look bad now, but hang in there. They’re going to get better.

Hang out

“Hanging out” is also spending time in a place, but it’s usually used to talk about being social or relaxing.

Hey, why are you guys standing around in the parking lot? Come hang out with us on the patio.

Have a crush on (someone)

To “have a crush on someone,” or to simply “crush on” them, is to have strong affectionate feelings for that person that are usually somewhat romantic.

This phrase is usually only used to describe situations where the other person doesn’t know how you feel about them.

Aw, you have a crush on him! I saw the way you looked at him when he came in the room.

Have it in for (someone)

When you “have it in for someone,” you have something against that person, to the point where you may do things to make their life more difficult or see them fail.

Karen in accounting must really have it in for me. She reported me for taking extra breaks, even though everyone does that.

Have the upper hand

To “have the upper hand” is to have an advantage over someone.

She knows I have a criminal record. So she has the upper hand if it’s her word against mine.

Hold it

You can use this phrase to tell someone to stop doing something, or to not start doing it.

Hold it! I think we need to go over the details again before we begin.

Hold off (on something)

“Holding off” means delaying or waiting to do something

Chris and I always end up arguing when we hang out, so I think I’m going to hold off on  seeing him for a while.

Hold on

“Hold on” can be used in exactly the same way as “hold it.” It can also be used like “hang in there,” to support someone going through a difficult time.

Just hold on a little longer and you’ll see your hard work begin to pay off. You’re doing great.

Hold out

To “hold out” is to keep something from someone (like a secret), or to wait for something better (like an offer or deal).

They offered me the job, but I decided to hold out for something better.

Hold up

An argument or idea that doesn’t make sense can also be described as not holding up.

However, “holding up” can additionally refer to getting along through a bad situation, or “hanging in there.”

Hey, I just called to see how you’re holding up. I know you’re going through a hard time.

Hole up

To “hole up” is to take shelter or hide somewhere.

I don’t feel like talking to anyone. I just want to hole up in my room and watch TV.

Hung up on (something)

If you’re “hung up on something,” you’re just not able to stop thinking about it.

Are you still hung up on  losing that volleyball game? Don’t worry, we’ll win next time.

In on (something)

To be “in on” something (usually something that’s a secret or not public knowledge) is to know about it.

I didn’t realize you knew about our Etsy business. Who else is in on  this?

In the loop

To be “in the loop” also has to do with having knowledge of something. While it, too, can refer to knowing a secret, it’s often more about knowing the details of a situation.

You have to keep me in the loop about our financial situation. Otherwise, how am I going to help?

Jump at the chance

If you “jump at the chance” to do something, that means you eagerly take the opportunity.

I feel like we should jump at the chance to not have regular jobs.

Jump down (someone’s) throat

When you “jump down someone’s throat,” you get mad at them for something they do or say—and you let them know! This expression is often used to show that someone reacted in an overly angry way to something small.

My boss would jump down my throat  if I pointed out that he’d made a mistake.

Jump ship

When you “jump ship,” you get yourself out of a situation, or abandon a plan.

The job didn’t even pay very well, so I decided to jump ship

Jump through hoops

When someone makes you “jump through hoops,” they make you do a lot of things to get what you want.

This phrase is often used to talk about bureaucratic (business or government) procedures, when complicated and boring tasks like paperwork are involved.

I had to jump through so many hoops to get my last job. The interview process took forever.

Keep (something) under wraps

To “keep something under wraps” is to keep it a secret. Unlike “sweeping something under the rug,” “keeping something under wraps” doesn’t necessarily mean that the idea is to hide it forever.

I think it’s best to keep this information under wraps  for now, just so people don’t get the wrong idea.

Keep your cool

To “keep your cool” is to stay calm.

I have a really big crush on this girl, so it’s, like, impossible to keep my cool around her.

Leave (someone) hanging

To “leave someone hanging” is to not communicate with them on something they expected to hear about.

They said they would call to let me know whether I have the job, but they never did. They just left me hanging.

Mix up

To “mix up” two things is to mistake one for the other.

People always mix up me and my brother, though I don’t think we look that similar.

Nail down

To “nail down” something is to establish or figure it out.

The first step is to nail down a business plan.

Nail (it/something)

To “nail” something is to do a great job at it.

– I totally nailed my presentation!

Off the hook

To be “off the hook” means to not be in trouble for something, or to not be in trouble anymore.

Someone else confessed to eating the doughnuts, so I guess that means I’m finally off the hook.

One up 

To “one up” someone is to outdo (do something better than) them, or to try to make yourself look better than them.

I mentioned completing my first 5K, and he had to tell everyone that he runs marathons. I don’t know why he always has to one up me.

On it

If you tell someone you’re “on it,” you’re saying that you’re taking care of something now, or will shortly.

– Have you washed the dishes yet?

– Not yet, but I’m on it!

On/off the table

If something is “on the table,” it’s being considered.

I think we should keep all of our options on the table  for now.

If something is “off the table,” it’s not an option.

Your grades at school didn’t improve, so buying you a new phone is completely off the table.

Out of touch

If you’re “out of touch,” you don’t have an understanding of current times. This can refer to someone’s politics or their taste in things like music or fashion.

My parents are so out of touch. They don’t even know how to use Google.

Over the counter

When medication or other treatment is sold “over the counter,” you can buy it without a doctor’s prescription.

– Are your allergy pills prescription?

– No, you can get these over the counter.

Play it cool

“Playing it cool” is very similar to keeping your cool. “Play it cool” tends to be used more often when it comes to staying calm in a particular situation.

Try to play it cool during the interview. Don’t let them know how desperate you are for this job.

Pull a fast one

To “pull a fast one” is to trick someone in some way. Compared with “pulling someone’s leg,” which is almost always a joke, “pulling a fast one” can be more serious.

That guy from craigslist pulled a fast one on me. He sold me a broken guitar!

Pull punches

To “pull punches” is to be careful how you word something to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. This phrase is almost always used in the negative, to describe a situation where someone says exactly what they mean.

Man, this movie reviewer really doesn’t pull punches. It sounds like she hated this film.

Pull (someone’s) leg

To “pull someone’s leg” is to lie to them, but usually in teasing, joking way.

– Did you know that a tiger escaped from the zoo and is hanging around in our backyard right now?

– Ah, stop it! You’re pulling my leg!

Pull through

To “pull through” is to get through some kind of tough situation, like an illness or injury.

He was in pretty bad shape after the accident, but he managed to pull through.

Pull (yourself) together

If someone tells you to “pull yourself together,” it’s similar to telling you to get a grip or get ahold of yourself. This phrase is used more often when there’s a specific reason you need to control negative thoughts or feelings.

Hey, listen, you need to pull yourself together  for the big game tomorrow.

Push (someone’s) buttons

To “push someone’s buttons” is to do something (usually intentionally) to get a strong reaction from them.

My little brother Gary really knows how to push my buttons. He can be so irritating.

Rein it in

Telling someone to “rein it in” can be like telling someone to “take it down a notch.” It’s like saying, “Calm down!”

– Woo! Haha! This is great! Isn’t this great?

– Rein it in, Gary! Some of us are just trying to enjoy a quiet afternoon.

“Rein in” by itself can also be used to talk about limiting something, like the spending of money.

We really need to rein in the amount we’re spending on movies every month.

“Rein” is often misspelled as “reign.” “Rein” is correct in these expressions because it refers to tightening the reins on a horse. 

Sleep in

To “sleep in” is to sleep late.

I never get enough sleep during the week, so I sleep in on weekends.

Stand for

When you “stand for” something, you’re in favor of that thing, or represent it.

In this organization, we stand for kindness towards others.

If you don’t stand for something, it means you won’t tolerate it.

I won’t stand for name-calling in my house!

Stand up to

To “stand up to” someone (or something) is to refuse to let them overpower or intimidate you.

Instead of teaching kids to stand up to bullies, we should make sure they aren’t being bullied in the first place.

Take a crack at (something)

When you “take a crack at something,” it means you’re trying something, usually for the first time.

– This game is awesome!

– It looks fun! Can I take a crack at  it?

Take a dig at (someone)

To “take a dig at someone” or “take digs at someone” is to criticize or make fun of them.

– I can’t believe you died before getting past the first level!

– Hey, cut it out! You don’t have to take digs at  me like that.

Take a hike

Telling someone to “take a hike” is a not-so-nice way of telling them to leave, or of expressing that you’re not interested in something.

– Hi, I’m selling candy to support my volleyball team. Would you be interested in buying…

– Absolutely not! Take a hike!

Take a load off

“Take a load off” is a casual way to invite someone to sit down.

Come on in! Take a load off!

Take a stand

“Taking a stand” means stating your belief in an issue, or committing to a cause.

You can’t just sit by and watch things happen without you. It’s time to take a stand.

Take a stand on (something)

If you “take a stand on” something that means you have a particular opinion about it. Two people can take different stands on the same issue.

It’s time to take a stand on  homelessness. I believe that everyone should be provided free housing.

Take/Bring it down a notch

To “take (someone) down a notch” is to humble them or do something to stop them from being arrogant (self-centered).

But if you tell someone to “take it down a notch” or “bring it down a notch,” you’re telling them to calm down.

Can you take it down a notch?  I can hear you laughing all the way down the hall.

Take heart

To “take heart” is to find support, strength or reassurance.

It felt bad to close down the business, but we took heart in knowing we were doing the right thing.

Take one for the team

“Taking one for the team” is doing something undesirable for the benefit of a larger group, like friends or coworkers.

I decided to take one for the team and admit full responsibility for messing up the project.

Take (one’s) time

“Taking your time” means moving at your own pace, even if it’s slow.

Please take your time  looking over the contract. I understand this is a big decision.

Take over (for someone/something)

To “take over” can mean to take control of a place or organization. This might be used when one business takes control of another. It can also just mean to take on a responsibility that used to belong to someone else.

I will take over for  Janet when she retires next week. She already showed me how the phone system works.

Take (something) on

When you accept a new project or responsibility, you “take it on.”

They wanted to know if I would take on  the secretary position. Of course I said yes!

Take stock (of something)

This idiom means to analyze something, or consider its current state.

We took stock  of the business situation, and it wasn’t good, so we decided to jump ship.

Take up (something)

Ever started a new hobby, sport or some other activity? You could say you “took it up.”

I’ve been thinking about taking up  photography.

Throw in the towel

“Throwing in the towel” means giving up or accepting defeat.

I’ve been working so hard trying to pass this physics course, but it’s just too difficult. I’m ready to throw in the towel.

Throw (someone) for a loop

If something “throws you for a loop,” you’re shocked or surprised by it.

They seemed like the perfect couple. It really threw me for a loop  when they called off the wedding.

Throw (someone) under the bus

“Throwing someone under the bus” can mean letting that person take the blame for something you did. It can also refer to other situations where you put someone else at a disadvantage in order to gain from a situation or avoid responsibility.

I can’t believe you threw me under the bus  by telling June that I was the one who ate those doughnuts. You ate a lot of them, too.

Touch base

To “touch base” with someone is to check in with them, usually for a particular reason. This phrase is often used in the workplace.

Hi! I just wanted to touch base with you and see how the project is going.

Touch on (something)

“Touching on” a subject means introducing it. It has a similar meaning to “bring up.”

I thought that the article would be about how to start your own business, but it didn’t even touch on  that.

Touch up

“Touch up” means to restore something (make it more like when it was newer) or improve it somehow.

My brother-in-law touches up old furniture in his garage and sells it online.

Under the rug

This phrase is typically used in the expression “to sweep (something) under the rug.” To sweep something under the rug is to cover it up and keep it a secret. Usually the “something” is something shameful or embarrassing.

They tried their best to sweep the scandal under the rug, but everyone found out about it.

Under the table

This is the opposite of “above board.” If someone is doing business “under the table,” it’s secretive and possibly not legal.

She was getting paid under the table to do work that wasn’t part of her job description.

Up for (something)

If you’re “up for” something—usually an activity of some kind—that means you’re willing to do it and probably at least somewhat enthusiastic.

Hey, who’s up for  beach volleyball?

Up to (something)

If you’re “up to” something, you might be planning or doing something that you don’t want others to know about. (Maybe something that isn’t “above board.”)

I don’t know what you’re up to, but I know it’s not good.

Up to speed

If someone is “up to speed,” they’re up to date or familiar with something.

I know you’re new here, but I don’t think it should take you too long to get up to speed.

Water down (something)

To “water down” something is to make it weaker or less pure.

I don’t mind having my essay edited, but I hope they don’t water down  the good parts.

Whip up (something)

To “whip up” something is to make it quickly. It’s often used to refer to cooking.

I was thinking about whipping up  some grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.


Start listening for these English idioms. You’ll hear them everywhere, so they’re handy to know! If someone talks about having a crush or whipping up a meal, for example, you won’t have to take them literally.

Jot down every time you hear a phrase that sounds strange. If the literal meaning doesn’t fit with the sentence, then it’s likely to be slang or an idiom.

If there aren’t any English speakers around to listen to, you can still get idiom practice with English books, videos, TV shows and other media. They can feature realistic English conversations, which ultimately means a high chance of idioms and expressions. 

Another resource is the language learning program FluentU, which teaches you how to speak English naturally through videos.

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If you want to learn some more idioms, check out this post:


Because they’re so common, knowing idioms is essential to getting fluent. Take the time to learn these top idioms, and you’ll get closer to crushing it in English!

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