In America, 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.
Learning some of the most popular American idioms and their meanings can help someone who is learning English as a second language sound more like a native English speaker.
List of Common American Idioms
Here are 80 of some of the most common American idioms and what they mean.
- Under the weather: someone is sick, ill, or doesn’t feel well for some reason.
- It’s not rocket science: something is not complicated or to not make things more complicated than they need to be.
- Hang in there: to keep going, keep moving forward, and to not give up with things get difficult.
- Cutting corners: used to describe an activity that someone is performing by taking shortcuts to get to the end result that could jeopardize the integrity of the final product in some way.
- Bite the bullet: to accept that something inevitable is about to happen, usually something negative.
- Better late than never : doing something a day late, a week late, etc. is better than to never do it at all.
- Go back to the drawing board: to begin all over because something wasn’t done right the first time.
- Hit the sack: to retire for the evening and go to sleep.
- We’ll cross that bridge when it gets here: to address the problem when it arises and not worry about it beforehand.
- Speak of the devil: someone you were just talking about showed up unexpectedly.
- That’s the last straw: your patience is wearing thin or you are completely out of patience with something or someone.
- On the ball: you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and you are doing a good job.
- Make a long story short: you are taking a lengthy story and abbreviating it by leaving some details out to make it briefer.
- A blessing in disguise: something you thought would be problem actually turned out to be something beneficial
- Get out of hand: situation or someone is spinning out of control.
- The best of both worlds: an ideal situation or scenario.
- Wrap your head around it: you are taking the time to understand something or you have already taken the time to understand something.
- Pulling your leg: you are just joking or kidding around with someone.
- Time flies when you’re having fun: you are having such a good time that you don’t pay attention to the time and before you know it, it’s really late.
- Get your act together: straighten up and do what you are supposed to do instead of goofing off.
- Let you off the hook: you are not going to blame someone or something for which they rightfully have the blame.
- A dime a dozen: something or someone is common and not unique.
- Break a leg: is used to wish someone good luck, typically regarding a performance.
- Call it day: to retire for the day, stop working and relax.
- Give you the benefit of the doubt: to trust what someone is saying as the truth.
- No pain, no gain: if you don’t work hard to achieve something, you won’t ever achieve it.
- Don’t get bent out of shape: don’t get upset over something.
- So far, so good: the progress so far is a success.
- To make matters worse: you are doing something to cause an already existing problem an even worse problem.
- Your guess is as good as mine: you don’t have a clue and that your best guess would most likely be mine too.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder: sometimes being away for a period of time can cause a person to care for you even more than they already did.
- Add insult to injury: compounding an already bad situation by doing something to make it even worse in some way.
- Act your age: to grow up because you are acting immaturely.
- Add fuel to the fire: making a bad situation, the “fire,” even worse by providing this hypothetical “fire” with the fuel is needs to burn even more.
- Ball-park figure: to give someone an approximate number or estimation, usually to do with money.
- Big fish in a little sea: someone is famous or well-known but are only so in their small town.
- Bite to eat: getting something to eat. generally more than just one bite.
- Don’t bite the hand that feeds you: don’t mistreat someone who is trying to help you out.
- Breaking ground: you are doing something new or something that has never been done before.
- Burst into tears: to begin crying all of a sudden.
- Cash in on it: to gain profit from doing something.
- Catch your eye: something or someone got your attention.
- Come out of the closet: to tell someone that you are gay.
- Come what may: what will be will be no matter what happens.
- The crack of dawn: right at dawn or right as the sun rises.
- Cut class: to not attend a class or classes that day.
- Cut loose: to not pay attention to the way you are acting, have fun, party.
- Dead ringer: someone or something looks exactly like someone or something else.
- Dirt cheap: something is extremely inexpensive.
- Drown your sorrows: to get drunk in order to forget all of your problems.
- Down in the dumps: you are upset, sad, or depressed because of something that happened.
- Easy as pie: something was very easy to do.
- Easy come, easy go: something was simple to obtain, but it was also very simple to lose.
- Everything but the kitchen sink: nearly everything a person owns.
- Elbow room: to have enough space for people so they won’t be bumping into one another.
- Eat your words: willing to admit that what you said was wrong.
- Eat your heart out: to be jealous or envious of someone or something
- Face the music: to stand up and admit that you did wrong and deal with the consequences.
- Fall short: not having enough of something that you need or to need more to make ends meet.
- Feel like a new person: to feel revived or refreshed.
- Follow your heart: to act based on your feelings for someone or something.
- Full plate: someone is extremely busy and does not have room in their schedule to do anything else.
- Get carried away: to blow something out of proportion or exaggerate it in some way.
- Get cold feet: to second guess something that you are doing and become frightened about actually going through with it.
- Get something off your chest: to admit something that you have not admitted before that is bothering you and causing you distress.
- Go Dutch: everyone pays for themselves when they are going out as a group.
- Go over with a fine-tooth comb: to look at something very closely to analyze every little detail.
- Golden opportunity: it is an opportune chance to do something that you may never get the chance to do again.
- Hand-me-down: something, typically clothing, that is passed down from an older child to a younger one in order to save money purchasing new things.
- Hands full: you have too much to do and have no room in your schedule to do anything else.
- Hit the spot: something was gratifying or fulfilling in some way.
- Hit a snag: you have encountered a problem or an issue along the way.
- Ill at ease: you are uneasy about something or uncomfortable.
- In mint condition: something has no flaws and is in perfect condition.
- In the same boat: someone is in a similar predicament.
- Jack of all trades: someone that is able to fix a lot of different things but who seems to be an expert in none of them.
- Just what the doctor ordered: someone got exactly what they needed.
- Keeping a low profile: to not draw attention to yourself so no one will notice you.
- Kick back: to relax and take it easy
- Knock on wood: to hope that something will happen and the bad luck will not affect the outcome or success; essentially saying “I hope” or “God willing”
Examples of American Idioms
- Marie’s pretty under the weather for the next couple of days.
- Come on, it’s only a crossword, it’s not rocket science.
- Hang in there, baby. You can pass the university entrance exam!
- The agency accused the airline of cutting corners on safety.
- If the Socialists win the election, they too will have to bite the bullet.
- They must go back to the drawing board and review the whole of youth training.
- I’m ready to hit the sack.
- Speak of the devil! John and I were just talking about you.
- That new teacher is really on the ball.
- To make a long story short, he is a very talkative person.
Hopefully this brief explanation regarding idioms has helped you to understand why they are used and the importance of figurative speech in the English language. While not being an all-inclusive list of every idiom, this information and the American idioms provided with their meanings is a good starting point for grasping the concepts of idioms and how they are used in communication. Learn the American idioms suggested here and then make your own list idioms to continue learning and you will sound like a native English speaker before you know it!
Popular American Idioms | Pictures
Common American Idioms with their Meanings
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List of Common American Idioms
Popular American Idioms with Meanings
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Last Updated on April 24, 2023