The Complete List of English Idioms, Proverbs, & Expressions

Idioms in English

Although English idioms don’t make sense at first, these unique expressions (together with proverbs) add substance and humor to our conversations. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “idiom” as a: “group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).”

This means that English idioms should not be taken literally, because their meaning is metaphorical. You don’t really wish someone would “break a leg,” do you? And it’s not actually “raining cats and dogs,” is it?

On the other hand, proverbs – which are equally important to learn in English – are “short, well-known pithy sayings, stating a general truth or piece of advice.” Proverbs like, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” have neither a metaphorical meaning nor a literal one. Still, their meaning is greater than the meaning of the individual words put together.

List of English Idioms, Proverbs & Expressions

English idioms aren’t easy to understand at first, especially if you’re speaking English as a second language. But learning their meanings is crucial if you want to sound more like a native. So let’s get started with our complete list of English expressions and proverbs!

Check out the infographic below to preview some of the most common idioms that made it on our list.

Idioms in English

English Idioms About People

  • To be on cloud nine – To be extremely happy
  • One-trick pony – A person with only one talent or area of expertise
  • Wouldn’t hurt a fly – A person that is inoffensive and harmless
  • Like a fish out of the water – Very uncomfortable
  • Fit as a fiddle – Very healthy and strong
  • To have your head in the clouds – To be daydreaming and/or lacking concentration
  • To be under the weather – To feel sick
  • To be as right as rain – To feel healthy or well again

English Idioms About Relationships

  • Like two peas in a pod – Two people who are always together
  • To give someone the cold shoulder – To intentionally ignore someone
  • To cut somebody some slack – To stop being so critical of them
  • To give someone the benefit of the doubt – To justify or excuse someone’s actions, and not assume malice
  • To let someone off the hook – To not hold someone responsible for something he/she has done wrong
  • To rain on someone’s parade – To ruin one’s plans or temper one’s excitement

English Idioms About Communication

  • To break the ice – To get the conversation going
  • To let the cat out of the bag – To reveal a secret
  • To spill the beans – To reveal a secret
  • To beat around the bush – To avoid talking about what is important
  • To pull someone’s leg – To say something that is not true as a way of joking
  • To get wind of something – To hear a rumor about something
  • To wrap your head around something – To understand something complicated
  • A penny for your thoughts – Tell me what you are thinking
  • To play the devil’s advocate – To argue against an idea for the sake of debate
  • To see which way the wind is blowing – To try to discover information about a situation before taking action
  • To hear something straight from the horse’s mouth – To hear from someone who personally observed a certain event
  • The elephant in the room – An obvious problem that people do not want to talk about
  • Comparing apples to oranges – Comparing two things that cannot be compared

English Idioms About Scenarios

  • A blessing in disguise – A good thing that seemed bad at first
  • The best of both worlds – Benefiting from two different opportunities at once
  • A perfect storm – The worst possible situation
  • To be on thin ice – To be in a risky situation
  • A snowball effect – A situation that becomes more serious and potentially dangerous over time
  • When it rains it pours – Everything is going wrong at once
  • To get out of hand – To loose control in a situation
  • To get a taste of your own medicine – To be treated the way you’ve treated others
  • To throw caution to the wind – To do something without worrying about the risk
  • To bite the bullet – To force yourself to do something unpleasant or difficult
  • Barking up the wrong tree – To pursue the wrong course of action
  • To go down in flames – To fail miserably at something

English Idioms About Time

  • Hold your horses – Wait a moment; slow down
  • To do something at the drop of a hat – To do something at once, without any delay
  • Once in a blue moon – Rarely
  • To take a rain check – To postpone a plan
  • To have bigger fish to fry – To have more important things to do with your time
  • To miss the boat – To miss an opportunity
  • Call it a day – It’s time to stop working on something

Miscellaneous Idioms in English

  • It’s raining cats and dogs – It’s raining very hard
  • A dime a dozen – Something is very common, or of no particular value
  • By the skin of one’s teeth – Narrowly or barely escaping a disaster
  • Come rain or shine – No matter the circumstances, something will get done
  • It costs an arm and a leg – It’s very expensive
  • It went to the dogs – Something is no longer as good as it was in the past
  • To run like the wind – To run very fast
  • Go on a wild goose chase – Go on a futile search or pursuit
  • A cloud on the horizon – Something that threatens to cause problems in the future

Need to hear the above idioms in example sentences before using them in conversation? Check out the video below to learn how to pronounce many of these common idioms.

Common English Proverbs

  • Better late than never – It is better to be late than never to arrive or complete a task
  • Time flies when you’re having fun – Time seems to move faster when you’re enjoying something
  • Actions speak louder than words – What someone does means more than what they say they will do
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch – Don’t make plans that depend on something good happening before you know that it has actually happened
  • Every cloud has a silver lining – Difficult situations usually have at least one positive aspect
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – Don’t risk everything on the success of one venture
  • Good things come to those who wait – Be patient
  • Kill two birds with one stone – Achieve two goals at once
  • There are other fish in the sea – There will be other opportunities for romance
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover – You shouldn’t determine the value of something by its outward appearance
  • Curiosity killed the cat – Being inquisitive may get you into trouble
  • Birds of a feather flock together – Similar people usually become friends
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder – When the people we love are not with us, we grow even more in love
  • It takes two to tango – Both parties involved in a situation are equally responsible for it
  • The ship has sailed – It’s too late
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right – If someone has done something bad to you, there’s no justification to act in a similar way
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do – When you are visiting another place, you should follow the customs of the people in that place
  • The early bird catches the worm – The one who takes the earliest opportunity to do something will have an advantage over others
  • Save up for a rainy day – Put some money aside for whenever it may be needed
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away – Apples are good for your health
  • Your guess is as good as mine – I’m unsure of the answer or solution to a problem
  • It takes one to know one – Someone must have a bad quality themselves if they can recognize it in other people
  • Look before you leap – Take calculated risks
  • Don’t cry over spilled milk – Stop worrying about things in the past because they cannot be changed
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink – You can’t force someone to make the right decision, even after guidance is given
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – The things you already have are more valuable than those you hope to get
  • You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar – You can get what you want by being nice

We hope you enjoyed this complete list of the most common proverbs and idioms in English. Can you think of any English idioms we missed? Leave a comment and let us know! And if you’d like to improve your English skills even more, try the free online English classes at TakeLessons Live.

Guest Author: Diana Lăpușneanu is a movie geek, story lover, and language learner at Mondly. She is passionate about creative writing, classical mythology, and English literature. You can follow Mondly on Instagram here.  

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What Piano Pedals Do + How to Use Them to Sound Like a Pro

What do the pedals on a piano do

Piano pedals are levers which alter the sound of the piano in a variety of different ways. The three types of pedals most pianos have are, from right to left: a sustain pedal, a sostenuto pedal, and a soft pedal.

Note: Some digital keyboards may only have one – the sustain pedal – which you can plug into the keyboard.

As you get more comfortable at the piano, you may start to wonder about these three pedals at the bottom. What do the pedals on a piano do? You’ll find the answers in this complete guide. We’ll go over each pedal’s effects, how to use them correctly, and how to recognize them in your sheet music.

What do the Pedals on a Piano do? 

The Sustain Pedal

piano pedals

The most commonly used out of all the piano pedals is the sustain (or damper) pedal. This pedal is the farthest right, and the right foot depresses it. The sustain pedals allows pianists to extend the sound of a note far longer than they could by simply pressing the key.

This allows pianists to hold notes for as long as indicated in the music, or as long as they feel appropriate. Some notes will have a fermata marking, which means to hold the note past the amount of time its value indicates.

One common usage for the sustain pedal is to hold long chords that are serving as an accompaniment to the melody. The other use of this pedal is to play with a “legato articulation.” This means connecting smoothly one note to the next, without any break in between the sounds.

One of its names is the “damper” pedal because it works by lifting the dampers off the strings so that the strings keep vibrating. What typically happens when a key is released from being pushed down is that the felt of the dampers stop the movement of the string.

For this reason, the sustain pedal provides an added richness to the sound through sympathetic vibration. In other words, the other strings (not in use) also vibrate along with the ones that are in use.

The Sustain Pedal in Sheet Music

Some music notates the exact places where you should depress and release the sustain pedal. It can also be up to you to decide when and how to use it, so its use won’t always be notated in your music.

The most common notation you’ll see is a symbol underneath the grand staff of the music. The symbol shows when to depress it (whether multiple times, or a single time), and when to release it.

Below is an example of what a pedaling symbol could look like. 

what do the pedals on a piano do (2)

In this example, the initial line indicates the start of the pedaling. The carrot in the middle indicates a quick release and re-depression of the pedal, and the final line indicates a complete release of the pedal.

Keep in mind that this symbol can be much longer in sheet music. It can even be just a single line if there is just one depression and release of the pedal. Here is another example-

piano pedals

Another way of notating the pedal in sheet music is by use of the word “Ped.” This indicates the beginning of a pedaling. A following asterisk (*) indicates the release of the pedal.

One more general way of marking pedaling is to indicate it at the beginning of the music, or section of music, with the indication “senza sordini.” This translates to “without dampers.”

How to Use the Sustain Pedal

When pedaling, it’s important to remember that the foot operates like a lever. Your heel is on the ground and the ball of your foot is depressing the pedal.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always leave your foot resting in contact with the pedal. This way, you can easily depress the sustain pedal when needed.

When you’re resting on the pedal, you can even keep it slightly depressed already to make your pedaling more efficient. You’ll notice that doing this doesn’t cause the pedal to engage yet.

When using the pedal, you’ll want to depress it slightly before you play a note, or right as you play a note. You’ll also usually want to change the pedal right after playing a note.

This level of coordination can be complex and it requires practice. Don’t be discouraged if you find it challenging to incorporate pedaling into your playing at first!

The Sostenuto Pedal        

The middle pedal is usually a sostenuto pedal. Out of the three piano pedals, pianists use this one the least often. The sostenuto pedal offers an exciting variation on the sustain pedal.

Instead of holding down every note struck, the sostenuto pedal allows you to hold down some but not others. This is often used to sustain long bass notes while allowing for melodic and harmonic lines to continue moving.

How to Use the Sostenuto Pedal

In your sheet music, you’ll see sostenuto pedaling indicated just like normal pedaling, except with the addition of the abbreviation “Sost.” To use this pedal, first strike and hold down the notes you wish to sustain while depressing the sostenuto pedal.

Once you’ve done so, you can release the keys you depressed, but they will still be sustained. You can play any additional notes you wish, but they won’t be sustained since they were depressed after you engaged the sostenuto pedal.

It’s also possible to use the sustain pedal as you would normally while using the sostenuto pedal simultaneously. The short video below shows the difference inside the piano between the sustain pedal and the sostenuto pedal.

Other Middle Pedal Variations

Today, most grand pianos are equipped with the sostenuto pedal, while upright pianos have a practice mute pedal instead of the sostenuto pedal in the middle. 

The practice mute pedal is quite straightforward: it quiets the sound of the whole piano by inserting a layer of felt between the hammers and the strings, so the sound is still created but not as loudly. This pedal is depressed with the left foot.

On a practical note, this is useful if you want to practice but need to reduce the volume level for others around. Another useful feature of this pedal is that you can usually lock it to the left so you don’t have to hold it down during your entire practice session.

You’ll likely never see a notation for the practice mute pedal in your sheet music since it’s only used for practice.

The middle pedal isn’t used frequently and it has different possibilities depending on the type of piano. Because of this, the pedal’s usage and purpose is often misunderstood.

While the practice mute pedal and the sostenuto pedal are the two most common middle pedals, it’s also possible that the middle pedal could be a sustain pedal for only the bass notes. This is a “bass damper.”

Additionally, it could be a “silent pedal.” A silent pedal blocks the hammers from striking the strings, allowing you to hear the sound in your connected headphones only. Or, it could be a pedal with no purpose other than visual show.

The Soft Pedal

what do the pedals on a piano do

Another name for the soft pedal is the “una corda” pedal. This far-left pedal appears to simply offer a reduction in the volume of sound. However, the true intention of the pedal is to also offer a change in the color and timbre of the sound.

Due to the change in color and volume, this pedal creates a sense of mystery, introspection, or awe.

When the una corda pedal was created, it meant that the whole keyboard and its hammers shifted slightly to the right. All the hammers hit only one string rather than the two they typically hit.

With modern pianos, using the una corda pedal now means that the keyboard shifts slightly to the right. So, the hammers hit two strings instead of the typical three that are now associated with each note.

This means it’s a bit of a misnomer today since “una corda” translates to “one string.” In addition, today’s upright pianos execute una corda a little differently than grand pianos. For this reason, the correct name for the upright piano’s pedal is a “half-blow” pedal.

Due to the angle of the strings in upright pianos, the keyboard doesn’t shift when una corda is depressed. Instead, the hammers approach the strings more closely, which leads to a similar effect of lowered volume.

How to Use the Soft Pedal

Like the sostenuto pedal, your left foot depresses this pedal as well. In your sheet music, you’ll see una corda pedaling indicated with the phrases “con sordino” and “una corda.” The following symbol also indicates una corda pedaling. 

piano pedals

The phrases “senza sordino” and “tre corde” tell you to release the soft pedal. You may also see the following symbol.

piano pedals

This video nicely shows how each of the three piano pedals sound. It also demonstrates good usage of all three pedals at the end of his improvisation.

Knowing how to use the piano pedals allows you to add finesse, accuracy, and color to your playing. While it may seem straightforward, pedaling at the piano is an art. There are many techniques you can use to make pedaling flawless within the music.

As a piano student, it’s always a good idea to get feedback and advice on how to master pedaling. TakeLessons is an excellent place to find a piano instructor for private lessons, or learn piano in online classes.

Have any more questions about what the pedals on a piano do? Leave a comment and let us know!

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