150+ Popular American Idioms You Need to Know!

American idioms are used on a daily basis in television shows, in normal conversations, and in all types of other interactions. Below are some of the most popular used American idioms and their meanings. Learning these idiomatic phrases in America will help you to understand and communicate efficiently.

What Are American Idioms?

To someone who lives outside of the United States, sometimes the way that Americans express themselves can sound like we are talking in tongues. This is because we have a way of putting two or more words together that don’t make sense according to the literal definition to people who haven’t grown up listening to such phrases and don’t know they are not to be taken literally.

Sometimes the meanings of these phrases known as idioms are easy to figure out from the context of how they are used. However, others are quite a bit more complicated to determine the meaning of. It is important to learn that words don’t always follow there literal meaning here in America in order to communicate effectively in this country and understand what is going on around you. 

Popular American Idioms | Picture 1

American Idioms Pin

Common American Idioms with Meaning

Here are 150 of some of the most common American idioms and what they mean.

Idiom Meaning
A blessing in disguise A good thing that seemed bad at first
A dime a dozen Something common
A penny for your thoughts A way of asking what someone is thinking
A piece of cake Something very easy to do
A tough nut to crack A difficult problem or a difficult person
Absence makes the heart grow fonder Being away from someone makes you like them more
Act your age Behave maturely and not childishly
Actions speak louder than words What you do is more significant than what you say
Add fuel to the fire Worsen an already bad situation
Add insult to injury To make a bad situation worse
All ears Fully listening
All thumbs Clumsy or awkward with one’s hands
An arm and a leg Very expensive or costly
At the drop of a hat Without any hesitation; instantly
Back to square one Having to start all over again
Back to the drawing board When an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over
Ballpark figure Rough estimate
Barking up the wrong tree Looking in the wrong place; accusing the wrong person
Beat a dead horse To waste time doing something that has already been attempted
Beat around the bush Avoiding the main topic; not speaking directly about the issue
Bend over backwards Do whatever it takes to help
Better late than never Better to arrive late than not to come at all
Between a rock and a hard place Stuck between two very bad options
Big fish in a little sea A person who is important in a small place
Bite the bullet To get something over with because it is inevitable
Bite to eat A snack or small meal
Biting off more than you can chew Taking on a task that is way too big
Blow off steam To express anger or frustration
Break a leg Good luck (often said to actors before they go on stage
Break the ice To initiate a social conversation or interaction
Breaking ground To start a new venture or phase; to pioneer
Burn the midnight oil To work late into the night, especially studying
Burst into tears To suddenly start crying
Burst your bubble To destroy someone’s illusion or delusion
By the skin of your teeth Just barely; by the narrowest of margins
Call it a day To stop working for the rest of the day
Can’t cut the mustard Not able to handle the task or meet the standard
Catch someone’s eye To attract someone’s attention
Catch your eye Something that grabs your attention
Chew the fat To chat or gossip
Cold feet Nervous just before a big event
Cold turkey To suddenly stop an addictive habit without tapering off
Come out of the closet To reveal a secret about oneself, especially one’s sexuality
Come what may Whatever happens
Cost an arm and a leg Very expensive or costly
Cry over spilt milk To be upset about something that cannot be undone
Cry wolf To raise a false alarm
Cut class To skip a class without permission
Cut corners To do something poorly or cheaply
Cut loose To relax or behave in an unrestrained way
Cut to the chase To get to the point; to skip unnecessary details
Cutting corners Doing something poorly or omitting steps to save time or money
Dead ringer A person or thing that looks exactly like another
Dirt cheap Very inexpensive
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you Don’t hurt or anger someone who is helping you or paying for you
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch Don’t plan on benefits that haven’t materialized yet
Don’t get bent out of shape Don’t get upset
Down in the dumps Feeling sad or depressed
Drive someone up the wall To irritate or annoy someone greatly
Drop in the bucket A very small part of something much bigger
Drown your sorrows To drink alcohol to forget your problems
Easier said than done More difficult than you think
Easy as pie Very easy (similar to “a piece of cake”)
Easy come, easy go When something, especially money, is easily gotten and then lost
Eat crow To admit you were wrong about something you defended
Eat your heart out To feel extremely jealous about something
Eat your words To take back what you said
Elbow room Enough space to move comfortably
Every cloud has a silver lining There’s something good in every bad situation
Everything but the kitchen sink Almost everything and anything has been included
Face the music To confront the consequences of one’s actions
Fall on deaf ears When a suggestion or warning is ignored
Feel a bit under the weather Feeling slightly ill
Feel like a new person Feeling much better in health or spirit
Fit as a fiddle In good physical health
Flash in the pan Something that shows potential or looks promising in the beginning but fails to deliver anything in the end
Fly by the seat of your pants To do something by instinct without proper planning
Follow your heart To do what you believe is right
Full plate To have a lot of things to deal with or a lot of tasks to perform
Get a taste of your own medicine To experience the same unpleasantness that you’ve given others
Get carried away To be overly excited and lose control
Get cold feet To become nervous or fearful about something that you planned to do
Get out of hand To become difficult to control
Get something off your chest To talk about something that has been bothering you
Give someone the cold shoulder To intentionally ignore someone or treat them unfriendly
Give you the benefit of the doubt To believe someone’s statement, without proof
Go Dutch Each person pays for themselves
Go back to square one To start over because of a failure or lack of success
Go back to the drawing board To start a task over because the last try failed
Go for broke To risk everything in one big effort
Go over with a fine-tooth comb To examine or look for something very carefully
Golden opportunity An outstanding chance to do or achieve something
Hand-me-down An item that is passed down from one person to another
Hands full Very busy
Hang in there Persevere, not give up
Hit a snag Encounter an unexpected problem
Hit the nail on the head Describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem
Hit the sack Go to bed
Hit the spot Satisfy a need or desire
Ill at ease Feeling uncomfortable or worried about something
In hot water In trouble
In mint condition In perfect condition, like new
In the same boat In the same situation; similarly situated
It takes two to tango Actions or communications need more than one person
It’s not rocket science Not very complicated; easy to understand
Jack of all trades A person who can do many different types of work
Jump on the bandwagon Join others in doing something that is becoming fashionable
Just what the doctor ordered Exactly what is needed or wanted
Keep your chin up Remain cheerful in a difficult situation
Keeping a low profile Staying out of public notice, avoiding attention
Kick back To relax or recline
Kick the bucket To die
Kill two birds with one stone To solve two problems with one action
Knock on wood To express a hope for one’s good luck to continue
Let the cat out of the bag To reveal a secret unintentionally
Let you off the hook To not hold someone responsible for something
Make a long story short Tell something briefly without unnecessary details
Miss the boat To miss an opportunity
No pain, no gain You have to work hard for something you want
On the ball Doing a good job, being prompt, or being responsible
Once in a blue moon Very rarely
Out of the blue Something happening unexpectedly
Over the moon Extremely pleased or happy
Piece of cake Something that is very easy to do
Pull someone’s leg To joke with someone
Pulling your leg Teasing someone with a story or a joke
Put all your eggs in one basket To risk everything on a single venture
Rain on someone’s parade To ruin someone’s plans or dampen their enthusiasm
Rock the boat To cause problems within a group or organization
Run out of steam To lose energy or enthusiasm
Saved by the bell Rescued from an unpleasant situation at the last moment
See eye to eye To agree with someone
Sit on the fence To not take sides in a dispute; to remain neutral
So far, so good Things are going well so far
Speak of the devil The person we were just talking about has appeared
Spill the beans To reveal a secret
Take it with a grain of salt To not take what someone says too seriously
That’s the last straw The final problem in a series of problems
The ball is in your court It is your decision this time
The best of both worlds A situation wherein one can enjoy two different opportunities
The bigger they are, the harder they fall The more powerful a person is, the more difficult their fall can be
The early bird catches the worm The person who takes the earliest opportunity will gain the advantage
The last straw The final problem in a series that causes one to finally lose patience
The whole nine yards Everything; all of it; the full extent
There’s no such thing as a free lunch Everything comes with a cost; nothing is given for free
Throw in the towel To give up; to admit defeat
Time flies when you’re having fun You don’t notice how long something lasts when it’s enjoyable
Under the weather Feeling ill or sick
Up in the air Uncertain or unresolved
We’ll cross that bridge when it gets here We’ll deal with that problem when it actually happens
When pigs fly Something that will never happen
Wrap your head around it To come to understand something complicated or unusual
You can’t judge a book by its cover You shouldn’t judge something or someone by appearance alone

Common American Idioms with Example

Idiom Example Sentence
A blessing in disguise Losing that job was a blessing in disguise because it led me to start my own business.
A dime a dozen Those antique plates are beautiful, but they’re a dime a dozen at flea markets.
A penny for your thoughts You’ve been quiet all night—a penny for your thoughts?
A piece of cake I thought the test would be difficult, but it was a piece of cake.
A tough nut to crack The new client is a tough nut to crack, but I think we’ll eventually win them over.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder I used to hate the time apart, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Act your age Stop throwing a tantrum and act your age!
Actions speak louder than words Don’t just tell me you’re going to change; actions speak louder than words.
Add fuel to the fire Arguing about politics will just add fuel to the fire at family dinners.
Add insult to injury After he was late, he added insult to injury by forgetting his promise.
All ears Tell me about your day—I’m all ears!
All thumbs I can’t seem to fix this—I’m all thumbs today.
An arm and a leg That designer dress cost me an arm and a leg.
At the drop of a hat She’s always ready to help out at the drop of a hat.
Back to square one The deal fell through, so it’s back to square one for us.
Back to the drawing board Our plan didn’t work, so it’s back to the drawing board.
Ballpark figure Can you give me a ballpark figure of the project’s cost?
Barking up the wrong tree If you think I stole your ring, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Beat a dead horse Let’s not beat a dead horse; we’ve already discussed this issue at length.
Beat around the bush Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really think.
Bend over backwards She bent over backwards to make sure her guests felt comfortable.
Better late than never I’m sorry I’m late to your birthday party, but better late than never, right?
Between a rock and a hard place I’m caught between a rock and a hard place with the decision between two bad options.
Big fish in a little sea He prefers to be a big fish in a little sea, so he’s staying at the local firm.
Bite the bullet I guess I just have to bite the bullet and get these taxes done.
Bite to eat Let’s grab a bite to eat before the movie starts.
Biting off more than you can chew She bit off more than she could chew by taking on that extra project.
Blow off steam Going for a run helps me blow off steam after a stressful day.
Break a leg Break a leg at the audition today!
Break the ice I’ll tell a joke to break the ice at the meeting.
Breaking ground The company is breaking ground on a new research facility.
Burn the midnight oil I have to burn the midnight oil to finish this report by tomorrow.
Burst into tears She burst into tears when she heard the sad news.
Burst your bubble I hate to burst your bubble, but you didn’t actually win the lottery.
By the skin of your teeth He escaped the accident by the skin of his teeth.
Call it a day We’ve been working for ten hours straight. Let’s call it a day.
Can’t cut the mustard If he can’t cut the mustard, we’ll need to find someone else for the job.
Catch someone’s eye The beautiful painting caught my eye as soon as I entered the gallery.
Catch your eye Did anything catch your eye at the store?
Chew the fat Old friends met up to chew the fat over a cup of coffee.
Cold feet He got cold feet before his wedding and decided to postpone it.
Come out of the closet After years of hiding, he finally came out of the closet to his family.
Come what may I’ve made my decision, and come what may, I’ll stick to it.
Cost an arm and a leg This car repair is going to cost an arm and a leg.
Cry over spilt milk There’s no use crying over spilt milk—let’s just move on and try again.
Cry wolf If you keep calling for help when you don’t need it, people will think you’re crying wolf.
Cut class He was caught cutting class and got detention.
Cut corners You won’t pass the inspection if you cut corners on the construction.
Cut loose After the exams, everyone was ready to cut loose and relax.
Cut to the chase Enough small talk. Cut to the chase and tell me what you really want.
Cutting corners Cutting corners on this project could lead to safety issues later on.
Dead ringer He’s a dead ringer for the actor we saw in that movie last week.
Dirt cheap I found this dress at a thrift store for dirt cheap.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you Be careful not to criticize your boss—that’s like biting the hand that feeds you.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch Don’t count your chickens before they hatch; the deal isn’t finalized yet.
Don’t get bent out of shape Don’t get bent out of shape over a little mistake.
Down in the dumps He’s been down in the dumps since his team lost the championship.
Down to the wire The project went right down to the wire, but we finished on time.
Drive someone up the wall The constant drilling is driving me up the wall.
Drop in the bucket The money we’ve raised so far is just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed.
Drown your sorrows After the breakup, he went to the bar to drown his sorrows.
Easy as pie Once you get the hang of it, using this software is easy as pie.
Easy come, easy go He’s not too bothered about losing the money—easy come, easy go.
Eat crow After bragging about his skills, he had to eat crow when he was beaten in the first round.
Eat your heart out Eat your heart out, I got tickets to the sold-out concert!
Eat your words When she saw his success, she had to eat her words for doubting him.
Elbow room Can we go somewhere else? There’s hardly any elbow room in this bar.
Every cloud has a silver lining Remember that every cloud has a silver lining, even when things seem tough.
Everything but the kitchen sink She packed everything but the kitchen sink for her weekend trip.
Face the music He knew he’d made a mistake and it was time to face the music.
Fall on deaf ears His warnings about the storm fell on deaf ears and no one was prepared.
Feel a bit under the weather I’m going to take a sick day since I’m feeling a bit under the weather.
Feel like a new person After a good night’s sleep, I felt like a new person.
Fit as a fiddle Even at 80 years old, my grandfather is fit as a fiddle.
Flash in the pan His success was just a flash in the pan; he couldn’t replicate it.
Flat out like a lizard drinking I’ve been flat out like a lizard drinking all week at work.
Fly by the seat of your pants Without any planning, we flew by the seat of our pants and booked a last-minute trip.
Follow your heart When it comes to love, it’s best to follow your heart.
Full plate I can’t take on another project right now; I’ve got a full plate.
Get a taste of your own medicine After teasing his sister, he got a taste of his own medicine when she pranked him back.
Get carried away He got carried away at the auction and ended up buying more than he intended.
Get cold feet She was excited about skydiving, but got cold feet when the plane took off.
Get out of hand The party got out of hand and the neighbors called the police.
Get something off your chest If something’s bothering you, just get it off your chest.
Get your act together You need to get your act together if you’re going to pass this class.
Give someone the cold shoulder She gave him the cold shoulder at the party after their argument.
Give you the benefit of the doubt I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time, but please don’t be late again.
Go Dutch We didn’t want either of us to pay for the whole date, so we decided to go Dutch.
Go back to square one The project failed, so we have to go back to square one.
Go back to the drawing board Our ideas were rejected, so it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Go for broke He went for broke and bet all his money on the last horse race.
Go over with a fine-tooth comb The editor went over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb.
Golden opportunity This job offer is a golden opportunity for me to advance my career.
Hand-me-down My little brother always gets my hand-me-down clothes.
Hands full She’s got her hands full with the new twins.
Hang in there Times are tough right now, but hang in there and things will get better.
Hit a snag We hit a snag in the plans when we realized we were out of funding.
Hit the nail on the head You hit the nail on the head when you said the problem was the power supply.
Hit the sack I’m exhausted after today’s work; it’s time to hit the sack.
Hit the spot That cold drink really hit the spot after the long hike.
Ill at ease He felt ill at ease in the formal attire at the casual party.
In hot water She’s in hot water now that the boss found out about the mistake.
In mint condition I bought a vintage car that’s still in mint condition.
In the same boat We’re all in the same boat when it comes to these new company policies.
It takes two to tango They’re both to blame for the argument; it takes two to tango.
It’s not rocket science You don’t need to be a genius to understand it; it’s not rocket science.
Jack of all trades He’s a jack of all trades, skilled at carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work.
Jump on the bandwagon Once the product went viral, everyone jumped on the bandwagon to buy it.
Just what the doctor ordered This vacation is just what the doctor ordered for relieving my stress.
Keep your chin up Even though you didn’t win, keep your chin up and be proud of how well you did.
Keeping a low profile After the media scandal, he’s been keeping a low profile.
Kick back Let’s kick back and relax this weekend at the lake house.
Kick the bucket My old car finally kicked the bucket, so now I need a new one.
Kill two birds with one stone By biking to work, I get some exercise and save money on gas—killing two birds with one stone.
Knock on wood I’ve never had a car accident, knock on wood.
Let the cat out of the bag He let the cat out of the bag about the surprise party.
Let you off the hook I’ll let you off the hook this time, but please don’t do it again.
Make a long story short To make a long story short, we got lost but eventually found our way home.
Miss the boat If you don’t buy the tickets now, you’ll miss the boat on the early bird discount.
No pain, no gain You have to train hard to win the marathon—no pain, no gain.
On the ball She’s really on the ball with responding to client requests.
Once in a blue moon I only see him once in a blue moon since he moved abroad.
Out of the blue He decided to move to Canada out of the blue.
Over the moon She was over the moon when she found out she was pregnant.
Piece of cake The test was a piece of cake; I finished it in no time.
Pulling your leg Don’t get upset; I was just pulling your leg with that joke.
Put all your eggs in one basket Investing all your money in one company is like putting all your eggs in one basket.
Rain on someone’s parade I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I heard that concert might be canceled.
Rock the boat Don’t rock the boat by bringing up that topic at dinner.
Run out of steam After the first ten miles, I ran out of steam and had to walk.
Saved by the bell He was about to answer a difficult question when the bell rang, saved by the bell.
See eye to eye We don’t see eye to eye on many issues, but we’re still good friends.
Sit on the fence You need to make a decision and stop sitting on the fence.
So far, so good The project is progressing well; so far, so good.
Speak of the devil Speak of the devil, here comes John now!
Spill the beans Come on, spill the beans! What’s the surprise?
Take it with a grain of salt I’ve heard the rumor, but I’m taking it with a grain of salt until I see proof.
That’s the last straw Him coming home late again was the last straw, and she decided to leave him.
The ball is in your court I’ve done all I can do, now the ball is in your court.
The best of both worlds Working part-time and taking care of my kids gives me the best of both worlds.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall He was a top executive, but the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The crack of dawn We’ll need to leave at the crack of dawn to avoid traffic.
The early bird catches the worm Let’s start early on this project—the early bird catches the worm.
The last straw The car breaking down was the last straw, so I decided to sell it.
The whole nine yards When she throws a party, she goes for the whole nine yards with decorations.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch You may have received a free ticket, but remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Throw in the towel After several failed attempts, he threw in the towel and accepted defeat.
Time flies when you’re having fun I can’t believe the party is over already; time flies when you’re having fun.
Under the weather I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, so I’ll stay home.
Up in the air The decision about the merger is still up in the air.
We’ll cross that bridge when we get there Don’t worry about potential problems; we’ll cross that bridge when we get there

Popular American Idioms | Picture

Famous American Idioms You Need to Know

American Idioms Pin

List of Common American Idioms

American Idioms Pin

Popular American Idioms with Meanings

American Idioms Pin

American Idioms | Video


Idioms List 1

Idioms List 2 (A-Z)

13 thoughts on “150+ Popular American Idioms You Need to Know!”

  1. Good list! My husband came to the US in 1976 and was always confused when women at worked talked about making things from scratch. I didn’t see it here so maybe you want to add it.


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