Twenty-Four Common Idioms with Meanings and Examples
Although Common Idiom Conversation Questions is a relatively new page on Print Discuss, I think ESL students should gradually learn idioms from soon after they start learning English. There are so many idioms, and it’s not easy to learn many at once, so it makes sense to build knowledge of them bit by bit. They should focus on the most common ones first, with the goal of recognizing their meaning long before being able to use them accurately (which can be difficult).
Below are the idioms I used to make the question set, along with their meanings and examples:
Hit the sack - to go to bed
Well, I’m ready to hit the sack.
Pull someone’s leg - to tease someone, to say something that isn’t true for the purpose of humor
You won the lottery?! Are you pulling my leg?
Under the weather - to feel a little sick
I’m feeling under the weather, so I think I’ll stay home today.
Spill the beans - to reveal a secret
Diago already spilled the beans - I know you’re pregnant!
Through thick and thin - over time and through difficult periods
He supported me through thick and thin.
Once in a blue moon - not very often
We only go out for dinner once in a blue moon.
The best/greatest thing since sliced bread - a really great thing or person, or a great new invention
ChatGPT is the best thing since sliced bread!
See eye to eye - to agree or have the same opinion as someone else
I’m glad we see eye to eye on this issue.
Jump on (get on, climb on) the bandwagon - to start doing something or liking something that has become popular already
One fast food company came out with healthy options, and pretty soon all the fast food chains were jumping on the bandwagon.
A piece of cake - something that is easy to do
The first quiz was a piece of cake.
Beat around the bush - to not speak directly, to talk around an issue and avoid the main point
Stop beating around the bush and tell me what happened!
Hit the books - to study
The test is next week. I need to hit the books.
Twist someone’s arm - to persuade someone to do something they don’t want to do
I was going to stay home, but Maria twisted my arm.
Stab someone in the back - to betray someone who trusts you
I heard what you said about me. How could you stab me in the back like that?
Quit cold turkey - to quit something completely and at once
It was hard, but I quit smoking cold turkey.
Blow off steam - to do something to use up energy and relax, like talking, exercise, or drinking
I go for a run when I need to blow off steam.
Pay an arm and a leg - to pay a lot
She paid an arm and a leg for her new phone.
Go dutch - to share the cost of something, usually food
We were poor students, so we always went dutch in those days.
Keep one’s chin up - to stay positive and hopeful when times are difficult
Nothing gets him down. He always keeps his chin up.
Not one’s cup of tea - not what someone likes
My family is into sailing, but it’s not my cup of tea.
Cut corners - to do something in an easy or cheap way which might lead to results of lower quality
I was running out of time, so I cut a few corners.
Have a sweet tooth - to like sweet foods a lot
My grandma had a sweet tooth, so she was always baking cakes and slices.
Break the ice - to do something that makes people relax when they are meeting for the first time
To break the ice, I just ask people questions.
Give someone the cold shoulder - to ignore or be unfriendly toward someone
She’s giving me the cold shoulder because she’s mad at me.
For more on what idioms are and how I teach them, go here.