Learn useful utterance idioms you should know in English with meaning and examples.
(A) Far Cry from
- Meaning: Very different from; a very different thing from
- Example: I know you’ve been working out at the gym, but that’s a far cry from being ready to enter an MMA competition.
(A) Fool and His Money Are Soon Parted
- Meaning: Stupid people make bad financial decisions or are easily cheated.
- Example: In the opinion of the speaker, a person has just spent money unnecessarily and is, therefore, a fool. Dave got a really bad deal on his new car. A fool and his money are soon parted.
Note: This is a proverb.
(If) Worst Comes to Worst
- Meaning: If the least favorable developments occur.
- Example: Let’s try to catch the train. If worst comes to worst, we can always take a taxi.
(Keep It) On the Down Low (D.L.)
- Meaning: Keep something secret
- Example: Soon everybody will know we’re engaged, but keep it on the down low for now.
Note: An older version of this was “Keep it on the Q.T.
(That’s) Neither Here Nor There
- Meaning: (That’s) irrelevant.
- Example: I know Walter is your brother, but that’s neither here nor there – he was at fault in the accident.
(To) Put Words Into Someone’s Mouth
- Meaning: Attributing an opinion to someone who has never stated that opinion
- Example: I never said I thought Don was a bad guy. You’re putting words in my mouth.
- Meaning: To leave, particularly quickly or at an advantageous time. To be forced to leave quickly.
- Example: If we don’t 23 skidoo, the police are going to find us here and take us in.
Note: This idiom is American, and by now very old-fashioned.
A Little Bird Told Me
- Meaning: I got this information from a source I cannot reveal.
- Example: How do you know Jeremy and I are going out? – A little bird told me.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
- Meaning: Fix something quickly, because if you don’t, it will just get more difficult to fix
- Example: Why not repair the car now, when it’s just losing a little coolant? It’ll be much more expensive if we have to replace the radiator. A stitch in time saves nine.
Note: This is an old English proverb.
Act High and Mighty
- Meaning: Be arrogant, presume that one is better than others
- Example: I don’t know why he’s acting so high and mighty – he’s the one who got us into this mess.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
- Meaning: One’s character and intentions are shown more accurately by one’s actions than by one’s words.
- Example: The boss is always talking about giving us raises, but actions speak louder than words. Let’s see if he does it.
Note: This is a proverb.
Age Before Beauty
- Meaning: Something said by a younger woman to an older one, for instance allowing her to pass through a doorway
- Example: Please go ahead! Age before beauty.
Note: Very old-fashioned; now generally said humorously.
Useful utterance idioms in English | Image 1
- Meaning: Sudden realization, the point at which one suddenly understands something
- Example: For a long time, the professor’s explanation of sines and cosines was unclear to me, but then I had an aha moment.
Note: Also “a-ha.”
Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt
- Meaning: Absolutely certain
- Example: I’m sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that my sister will succeed at university.
- Meaning: Things you want to see or do before you die
- Example: Seeing the Taj Mahal in India is on my bucket list.
By All Means
- Meaning: Of course, certainly
- Example: Is it OK if I go to the library after school? – By all means.
Note: Generally used in answer to a question asking permission, as in the example.
Call It a Night
- Meaning: End an evening’s activities and go home
- Example: It’s been fun, but we’d better call it a night. I have to be at work at 7:30 tomorrow.
- Meaning: An unfair attack; a statement that unfairly attacks someone’s weakness
- Example: When you criticized Christina for missing work, that was a cheap shot. We all know she’s been taking care of a sick child.
Note: This idiom comes from American football, where a cheap shot is a tackle made on a player who does not see the tackler coming.
Claim to Fame
- Meaning: Unusual feature or offering
- Example: Want to go to the 1890 Saloon? Their artichoke pizza is their claim to fame.
Close, But No Cigar
- Meaning: You are very close but not quite correct.
- Example: Is the answer 49? – Close, but no cigar!
Draw a Long Bow
- Meaning: Exaggerate, lie
- Example: Theoretically a VW Beetle could seat four people, but to call it a four-passenger car is to draw a long bow.
Note: This is a rather rare idiom.
Every Man for Himself
- Meaning: Pursue your own interests; don’t expect help from others.
- Example: In sales, people may act friendly, but really it’s every man for himself.
Fed Up with
- Meaning: Refusing to tolerate something any further; out of patience
- Example: I’m fed up with John’s inability to meet deadlines. If he’s late again, I’m going to fire him.
For Crying Out Loud (excl.)
- Meaning: An expression of extreme annoyance
- Example: Oh, for crying out loud! You were supposed to finish this project three weeks ago.
- Meaning: Hopelessly ruined, not working, messed up.
- Example: This project was a bad idea from the start. Now it’s FUBAR. Blame the boss.
Note: This is from World War II slang, “Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition,” and thus somewhat obscene, but often used in its acronym form. It’s also sometimes used to mean “drunk.”
Get A Word In Edgewise
- Meaning: Be able to say something while someone else is talking a lot
- Example: It’s hard to get a word in edgewise with Susan, but if you keep trying, she’ll eventually stop talking and listen to you.
Get the Picture
- Meaning: Understand what’s happening
- Example: Nobody’s talking to Alan because he’s probably going to be fired, and if you do, the boss will think you’re his friend and might fire you, too. Get the picture?
Give ’em Hell (often excl.)
- Meaning: Express something passionately to a group
- Example: Don’t be afraid during your speech – people want to hear strong opinions on this. Give ’em hell!
Note: This is very colloquial. A common use was in the campaign of US president Harry Truman, where the slogan “Give ’em hell, Harry!” was used.
Have Your Say
- Meaning: Express your opinion on something
- Example: Why don’t you attend the city council meeting tonight? You can have your say on the proposal for the new park.
He Who Laughs Last Laughs Best
- Meaning: Being victorious is often a matter of simply surviving a conflict
- Example: It was a bitter struggle for the presidency among several candidates, and a lot of feelings were hurt. But Alex was chosen, and he who laughs last laughs best.
- Meaning: Be careful!
- Example: Heads up! The boss just walked into the office.
Note: You can also use this as a noun, a heads-up, a warning.
Hold One’s Peace
- Meaning: Be silent
- Example: I wanted to speak up during the meeting, but I held my peace.
Note: In traditional wedding ceremonies, the cleric will ask, “Is there anyone who knows of any reason this man and woman should not be married? Speak now, or forever hold your peace.
I Wouldn’t Put It Past (Someone)
- Meaning: I think it’s quite possible that [this person] would do this.
- Example: I wouldn’t put it past Charlene to tell everyone we’re going out.
If It Had Been a Snake, It Would Have Bitten Me
- Meaning: It was very obvious, but I missed it.
- Example: My car key was on my desk the whole time. If it had been a snake, it would’ve bitten me.
If the Shoe Fits, Wear It
- Meaning: If this description of you is accurate, accept it.
- Example: Ana said I’m too much of a perfectionist. – If the shoe fits, wear it.
Note: A British variant is “If the cap fits, wear it.
It Won’t Fly
- Meaning: It won’t work; it won’t be approved.
- Example: You can submit the plan, but it won’t fly. The boss told us to cut $3,000 out of the budget, and your plan doesn’t do that.
Join the Club (excl.)
- Meaning: I feel sympathy for you because I have experienced something similar.
- Example: Amber just dumped me after we had been going out for three weeks. – Join the club. She did the same thing to me.
Last But Not Least
- Meaning: What I have just said does not reflect a ranking in importance.
- Example: I’d like thank Jennifer, Jack and Stanley. Last but not least, I’d like to thank Frances, who put in a lot of overtime on this project.
Leave Someone in the Lurch
- Meaning: Abandon someone in a difficult situation
- Example: You left me in the lurch! You didn’t pick me up at the bar, and the buses weren’t running.
Look the Other Way
- Meaning: Take no notice of violations of laws or rules, unofficially condone something
- Example: It’s illegal to import liquor there, but customs officials will look the other way if you bribe them.
- Meaning: Act cordial despite conflict
- Example: I’m sure you and Debbie can make nice on my wedding day, even though you usually quarrel like cats.
Much Of A Muchness
- Meaning: Essentially equal, not significantly different (said of a choice)
- Example: Do you want a red car or a blue one? – Oh, it’s much of a muchness to me.
Mum’s the Word
- Meaning: This is secret; don’t talk about this. Often used as an answer to a request not to talk about something.
- Example: You can’t tell anyone yet that I’ve been hired, OK? – Mum’s the word.
No Rhyme or Reason (to)
- Meaning: Without logic or pattern
- Example: Sometimes Susan will volunteer to help, and sometimes she’ll refuse angrily. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.
No Shit, Sherlock
- Meaning: That’s very obvious!
- Example: It’s raining hard. – No shit, Sherlock!
Note: This is obscene.
Not One’s Cup of Tea
- Meaning: Not something one is interested in
- Example: You go ahead to the concert, and I’ll meet you later – classical music isn’t my cup of tea.
Note: This is used only in the negative – you wouldn’t say that something was your cup of tea.
Not Sit Well with (Someone)
- Meaning: Be difficult to accept; make someone uncomfortable
- Example: My son’s decision to leave school doesn’t sit well with me.
Nothing to Write Home About
- Meaning: Unspectacular, ordinary
- Example: We tried that new steakhouse everyone’s talking about. It was OK, but I thought it was nothing to write home about.
On a Hiding to Nothing
- Meaning: Engaged in a futile task; attempting something impossible
- Example: If you’re looking for medications to restore your lost youth, you’re on a hiding to nothing.
Note: This is quite colloquial.
On the Down Low (D.L.)
- Meaning: Secretly
- Example: Theresa and Jim are a couple, but he’s been seeing Bernice on the D.L.
Note: “On the Q.T.” is an older version.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
- Meaning: Once one has had a bad experience with something, he or she will be reluctant to try it again.
- Example: I worked there for a while three years ago. I know it’s improved since then, but once bitten, twice shy.
Note: This is a proverb.
Or Else (by itself)
- Meaning: Or I will do something terrible to you.
- Example: OK, you can go out with your friends. But be home by 10, or else!
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
- Meaning: One problem has been solved, but it’s been replaced by a worse one.
- Example: We dealt with the legal issues surrounding our advertising, but now one of our products has been implicated in poisonings. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, I guess.
Out of the Way (1)
- Meaning: Not obstructing, not in the way
- Example: If you’ll get that chair out of the way, I’ll bring in your new sofa.
Out of the way (2)
- Meaning: Finished, taken care of
- Example: Now that we’ve got the advertising project out of the way, we can start work on the budget.
Out of the way (3)
- Meaning: In a remote locaion
- Example: My house is a bit out of the way, but follow these directions carefully and you’ll find it.
Out of This World
- Meaning: Fantastic, extraordinary
- Example: Have you had the fettucine alfredo at Giordino’s restaurant? It’s out of this world!
- Meaning: An encouraging speech given to a person or group
- Example: The coach gave us a great pep talk before the match, and we won.
Pull Out All the Stops
- Meaning: Do everything possible to accomplish something
- Example: When I visited Indonesia, my friends pulled out all the stops to make sure I would have a good time there.
Put Up with (Something)
- Meaning: Tolerate, accept
- Example: My boyfriend is always late when he comes to pick me up. I won’t put up with it anymore.
- Meaning: Ironically speaking; suggesting that if a phrase were written out, it would be in quotation marks to convey sarcasm
- Example: Since Anne is our quote unquote leader, we should follow her orders even if we think it’s crazy.
Raise One’s Voice
- Meaning: Talk loudly
- Example: We’ll be able to settle this disagreement more easily if you don’t raise your voice.
Shape Up or Ship Out
- Meaning: Behave properly or leave the organization
- Example: You’ve been taking three-hour lunch breaks way too often. It’s time for you to shape up or ship out.
- Meaning: Wait and do not go anywhere
- Example: I’m on my way to pick you up. Sit tight till I get there.
Note: This is often used as a command, as in the example.
- Meaning: In a favorable situation
- Example: With three strong new models hitting dealerships this year, Nissan is sitting pretty.
Speak of the Devil (and He Shall Appear)
- Meaning: The person we have just been talking about has entered.
- Example: Amber probably won’t agree with us – speak of the devil! Amber, what do you think about the new policy?
- Meaning: Sleep well!
- Example: I’m going home now. I’ll see you in the morning. Sweet dreams!
Useful utterance idioms in English | Image 2
Take It Easy
- Meaning: (as a command) Calm down!
- Example: Take it easy! When I mentioned your background I didn’t mean anything negative.
Tell It to the Marines
- Meaning: I don’t believe you; you must think I’m gullible.
- Example: You expect me to believe you have the money to buy a Porsche? Tell it to the marines!
Note: This is rather old-fashioned, but still used.
That’s a Stretch
- Meaning: What you are suggesting is very difficult to believe; I am very skeptical
- Example: You’re saying we’re going to be profitable by the end of the year? That’s a stretch.
That’s All She Wrote
- Meaning: That was the end of the story.
- Example: The boxers sparred for three rounds. Then, one punch from the champion, and that’s all she wrote.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
- Meaning: Although something may seem superficially new, it has not altered the basic situation.
- Example: The company has a new president, but it’s still a terrible place to work. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Whole Shebang
- Meaning: Everything, all the parts of something
- Example: If you buy this phone, we’ll include a battery, a case, a screen cover, insurance – the whole shebang.
There But For The Grace Of God Go I
- Meaning: I could easily have done what that person did.
- Example: Jake is an alcoholic. I have to be careful about drinking – there but for the grace of God go I.
Note: By now this is rather old-fashioned, said for literary effect.
Third Time’s a Charm
- Meaning: Even if you fail at something twice, you may well succeed the third time.
- Example: I just need to pass this course to graduate. I’ve already failed the final twice, but third time’s a charm!
Through Thick and Thin
- Meaning: In good times and bad
- Example: I can’t break up with Evan – he’s stuck with me through thick and thin.
Throw Someone for a Loop
- Meaning: Deeply surprise someone; catch someone off guard
- Example: It really threw me for a loop when you told me my ex-boyfriend is dating Amber.
To each his own
- Meaning: People have different tastes.
- Example: You like beets, but I can’t stand them. To each his own.
- Meaning: Insults directed at one’s opponent in a sporting event or contest
- Example: Before the match, the two teams exchanged trash talk, insulting each other’s abilities.
Turnabout Is Fair Play
- Meaning: If you suffer from the same suffering you have inflicted on others, that’s only fair
- Example: So, now you have to buy a round of drinks because our team won at pub quiz. Turnabout is fair play.
Vale of Tears
- Meaning: The world in general, envisioned as a sad place; the tribulations of life
- Example: We have only a short time in this vale of tears. We should try to enjoy ourselves when we can.
Note: This is from the Book of Psalms in the Christian Bible.
We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come to It
- Meaning: We’ll deal with that problem if and when it comes up
- Example: It’s possible that we’ll need more staff, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
What Do You Make of (Him)?
- Meaning: What is your evaluation of this person? What do you think of this person?
- Example: So, Jared has been working here for a week now. He puzzles me. What do you make of him?
What Goes Around Comes Around
- Meaning: The kind of treatment you give to others will eventually return to you; things go in cycles
- Example: You were rude to me when I started this job. Now I’m your boss. What goes around comes around – no, you can’t schedule your vacation for next week.
When In Doubt, Leave It Out
- Meaning: When unsure about something, omit it.
- Example: Should I include instructions on what to do if it overheats? – When in doubt, leave it out.
When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do
- Meaning: When you visit a new place, follow the customs of the people there
- Example: When I visit Indonesia, it seems strange to have to call the waitstaff instead of having them come and offer to help you. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
When It Rains, It Pours
- Meaning: Problems tend to come in groups.
- Example: First I got fired; then my boyfriend broke up with me. When it rains, it pours.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
- Meaning: If you have a strong desire to accomplish something, you will achieve it even in the face of considerable odds.
- Example: Nobody thought Amber would finish college after she flunked out in her first semester, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Note: Note: This is a proverb.
Worn to a Frazzle
- Meaning: Exhausted, completely worn out
- Example: After a day of shopping with my mother and listening to her problems, I was worn to a frazzle.
You Can Say That Again!
- Meaning: I agree totally!
- Example: We’re lucky the truck has arrived.- You can say that again!
You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
- Meaning: You can’t know people (or things) well by their external appearances.
- Example: Frank looks like a thug. But he actually enjoys Shakespeare and the opera. You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.
Your Guess Is as Good as Mine
- Meaning: I don’t know; I have no idea
- Example: Do you think we can finish tonight? – Your guess is as good as mine.
- Meaning: Me
- Example: The effects of the salary cuts will be bad. But they’re going to be especially bad for yours truly.
Note: Normally, “Yours truly” is a way of introducing one’s signature on a letter.