55+ Common Idiomatic Expressions | Other Ways to Say

Learn Common Idiomatic Expressions in English with meaning and examples (H – Z).

List of useful Idiomatic Expressions in English. 

Hatchet Job

  • Meaning: A strong attack on someone’s reputation; intentionally destructive criticism; calumny
  • Example: There’s a newspaper here that always supports the government and can be counted on to do a hatchet job on any potential opponents.

Haul Over the Coals

  • Meaning: To scold someone severely
  • Example: My teacher really hauled over the coals today about talking in class.

Note: Rake (someone) over the coals” is the usual American version.

Heart and Soul

  • Meaning: With all one’s energy or affection
  • Example: Bob never worked hard before, but he threw himself into his new job heart and soul.

Note: “Body and soul” is also used.

Home Truths

  • Meaning: Honest, often painful criticism
  • Example: My teacher expressed some home truths to me – I argued with her at first, but I had to admit she was right.

Hot Mess

  • Meaning: Something or someone in a state of extreme disorder
  • Example: In my 20s I was a hot mess, but after I turned 30 I tried to live a more orderly life.

In One Fell Swoop

  • Meaning: All at once, in a single action
  • Example: I finished all my homework in one fell swoop.

Just for the Record

  • Meaning: I would like to make it clear that …
  • Example: Just for the record, I never said Samantha was doing a bad job.

Keep (Something) at Bay

  • Meaning: Maintain a distance from something or someone
  • Example: We used my car horn to keep the bear at bay until the forest rangers arrived.

Let the Genie Out of the Bottle

  • Meaning: Reveal something hitherto suppressed
  • Example: Once the reporter let the genie out of the bottle and revealed official corruption, many more examples came to light.

Live Large

  • Meaning: Have a luxurious lifestyle
  • Example: After I sold my company, I was living large – penthouse apartment, big car, eating out every night.

Note: This is of African American origin.

Make One’s Mark

  • Meaning: Attain influence or recognition
  • Example: I’ve been working in this field for ten years, but I don’t really feel I’ve made my mark.

Make Waves

  • Meaning: Cause controversy, disturb a calm group dynamic
  • Example: You just started working here. I’m sure you think there should be changes, but for now don’t make waves.

Useful Idiomatic Expressions in English – Other ways to say | Image 1

55+ Common Idiomatic Expressions in English | Other Ways to Say

…Idiomatic Expressions in English…

Nailing Jelly/Jello/Pudding To A Wall/Tree

  • Meaning: An impossible task
  • Example: Getting Mark to commit to marrying me is like nailing Jello to a tree.

Note: This is not common.

No Names, No Pack Drill

  • Meaning: If no one can be identified, no one will be punished.
  • Example: Certain people around here-”no names, no pack drill-”are not contributing enough to the project.

Off the Beaten Path

  • Meaning: Remote; not a usual destination; not easily reached
  • Example: This restaurant is off the beaten path, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the trouble in getting there.

On a Roll

  • Meaning: Succeeding consistently
  • Example: Ellen is on a roll – she’s gotten an A on her last three exams.

Out of Line

  • Meaning: Improper, behaving improperly
  • Example: Your comment in the meeting was out of line. I want you to apologize to Theresa.

Out of Luck

  • Meaning: Unlucky in a single instance; temporarily unfortunate
  • Example: You’re out of luck. Debbie just left. She’ll be back at 1.

Out of Nowhere

  • Meaning: Unexpectedly
  • Example: Two horses were neck and neck for most of the race, but a third horse came out of nowhere to win.

Out of Order

  • Meaning: Not working properly
  • Example: The restroom is out of order. You’ll have to go to the next floor up.

Out of the Blue

  • Meaning: Unexpectedly
  • Example: Out of the blue, John called and said he was going to visit me. I haven’t seen him for 15 years.

Out of the Picture

  • Meaning: No longer under consideration; eliminated from a contest
  • Example: Caitlin says Jack is out of the picture. She’s trying to choose between William and Jason as her date for the dance.


  • Meaning: A page-turner is an exciting book that’s easy to read, a book that’s difficult to put down.
  • Example: When I go to the beach, I don’t want a book that I have to focus closely on-”I prefer a real page-turner.”Stephen King’s novels are page-turners. They may be a thousand pages long, but you can finish them very quickly.”

Point of No Return

  • Meaning: A place from which it is impossible to go back to the starting point
  • Example: We’ve reached the point of no return on this hike – if we keep walking, we won’t be able to make it back to town before dark.

Put the Genie Back in the Bottle

  • Meaning: Try to suppress something that has already been revealed or done
  • Example: Once you give kids additional freedoms, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle and make them obey rules.

Note: This is usually used in the negative-”it’s hard to put a genie back in a bottle.

Queer the Pitch

  • Meaning: Interfere with someone’s plans; make something more difficult
  • Example: Although he supports the prime minister’s party, he’s trying to queer the pitch for that party’s candidates.

Rake (Someone) Over the Coals

  • Meaning: To scold someone severely
  • Example: My teacher really raked me over the coals today about talking in class.

Note: Rake (someone) over the coals” is the usual American version.

School Of Hard Knocks

  • Meaning: Difficult real-life experiences from which one has learned
  • Example: I never went to college. I worked starting when I was 17, and I got my education in the school of hard knocks.

Set the World on Fire

  • Meaning: Do something amazing; have a brilliant stretch in one’s career
  • Example: I don’t think Teresa will set the world on fire with her writing, but her books are selling consistently.

Show Me an X And I’ll Show You a Y

  • Meaning: There is a consequence to X that you may not have thought of.
  • Example: Show me a man with a tattoo, and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.’- Jack London.

Six of One, a Half Dozen of the Other

  • Meaning: The two choices have no significant differences.
  • Example: It doesn’t matter to me whether we go food shopping first or get the car’s oil change – it’s six of one, a half dozen of the other.

Note: Ourside the USA, “a six and two threes” is also used.

Small Beer

  • Meaning: Unimportant, insignificant
  • Example: Our sales have risen, but they’re still small beer compared with those of our main competitor.


  • Meaning: A malfunction; a chaotic situation
  • Example: After all the snafus, I’m surprised the product launch is happening even close to the scheduled date.

Spick and Span

  • Meaning: Clean and neat
  • Example: Your room is messy. I’m leaving now, and when I come home I want to see it spick and span.

Stand (Someone) In Good Stead

  • Meaning: Be useful in the future
  • Example: You may not think you need this tool, but it will stand you in good stead in the future.

Note: This is used in the future tense, as in the example.


  • Meaning: Certain to occur
  • Example: This horse is a sure-fire winner. If you bet on him, you can’t lose!

Useful Idiomatic Expressions in English – Other ways to say | Image 2

English Idioms

…Idiomatic Expressions in English…

Take (Someone) to the Cleaners (1)

  • Meaning: Swindle
  • ExampleBe careful when visiting foreign cities – you won’t be aware of the con artists’ tricks, and they’ll take you to the cleaners

Take (Someone) to the Cleaners (2)

  • Meaning: Defeat badly
  • Example: It was predicted to be a close game, but we took the other team to the cleaners.

Take A Powder

  • Meaning: To leave, especially in order to avoid a difficult situation
  • Example: Just when we were getting to the hard work, Juan took a powder, and we haven’t seen him all day.

Take the Shine Off (Something)

  • Meaning: To do something that diminishes a positive event
  • Example: We won the championship, but the riots after the match took the shine off the team’s accomplishment.

Take the Starch out of (Someone)

  • Meaning: Make someone less confident or less arrogant
  • Example: The boss criticized Walter’s presentation. It really took the starch out of him.

Take Your Life in Your Hands

  • Meaning: Undergo extreme risk
  • Example: They don’t maintain that road in winter. If you drive up there, you’re taking your life in your hands.

Tee Many Martoonies

  • Meaning: Too many martinis, scrambled to suggest drunkenness
  • Example: I said some things I shouldn’t have last night. I probably had tee many martoonies.

Note: This is quite rare.

Test the Waters

  • Meaning: Try something out in a preliminary way
  • Example: We haven’t decided about expanding into Europe, but we’re testing the waters with a few stores there.

The Jig Is Up

  • Meaning: A secret illicit activity has been exposed; your trickery is finished
  • Example: The jig is up for the stock scammers – the FBI busted the ring last night.

Thin On The Ground

  • Meaning: Rare, seldom encountered
  • Example: Good restaurants are thin on the ground in this town.

This Has (Person X) Written All Over It

  • Meaning: [Person X] would really like or be well suited to this.
  • Example: A big German document just came in e-mail. This job has Frank written all over it – he speaks fluent German.

Throw a Wet Blanket on (Something)

  • Meaning: Discourage plans for something
  • Example: Barbara threw a wet blanket on our plans for a party, reminding us that no alcohol is allowed in the building.

To the Letter

  • Meaning: Exactly (said of instructions or procedures)
  • Example: I followed the instructions in the manual to the letter, but I still couldn’t replace my timing belt.

Tread Water

  • Meaning: Maintain a current situation without improvement or decline
  • Example: I’ve been working hard for a year, but I’m just treading water. I need a job that pays more.

Note: This idiom has a slightly negative flavor, as in the example.

Under Wraps

  • Meaning: Temporarily hidden, secret
  • Example: I want the new model kept under wraps until the product launch on Tuesday.

University of Life

  • Meaning: Difficult real-life experience, as opposed to formal education
  • Example: I never had the advantage of an Oxford degree-”all my experience comes from the university of life.

Note: School of hard knocks in North America is similar.

Up for Grabs

  • Meaning: Available for anyone
  • Example: Positions in our new Hanoi office are up for grabs for anyone who speaks Vietnamese. See me if you’re interested.

Wouldn’t be Caught Dead

  • Meaning: Would absolutely not allow myself to do this
  • Example: I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a coat that color.

You Know the Drill

  • Meaning: You are already familiar with the procedure.
  • Example: When you leave, shut off all the lights  and lock the room with the safe. You know the drill.

Zig When One Should Be Zagging

  • Meaning: To make an error; to choose an incorrect course
  • Example: My problem during my 20s was that too often I would zig when I should be zagging.

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