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

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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