150 Common & Difficult Idioms with Examples

150 Common & Difficult Idioms with Examples

150 Common & Difficult Idioms with Examples
Saru Niraula

What is an Idiom?

A phrase or expression is considered to be an idiom if it usually has a symbolic, non-literal meaning connected to it. However, some words keep their literal meaning while developing into figurative idioms. An idiom's symbolic meaning differs from its literal meaning and is categorized as formulaic language.

Students frequently mix up idioms with proverbs. These, however, are two distinct entities. It's common knowledge that sayings offer wisdom or universal truth. 

Have to encounter often-used English idioms while viewing American television programs or motion pictures? English idioms, proverbs, and phrases are widely used in written and spoken standard English. 

Idioms don't always make sense, literally. Therefore students need to understand what they mean and how to utilize them. 

Even though it might seem like a lot of work, idioms are enjoyable! It is frequently referred to as a speaking style that sounds more native. Thus learning some of these terms is helpful.

Top 10 Common and Difficult Idioms with Examples

Here are 150 standard and complex idioms, with definitions and usage examples:






Ignorance is Bliss

Some things are better off left unknown.

His wife often asked him what he did after work; he was engaging in insider trading. But since she was ignorant of this, she will not be found guilty; sometimes ignorance is bliss.


Put Something on Ice

to put off something.

Raju has put his personal affairs on ice following the boss' request.


Play by the ear

To improvise

She just went to Canada and did everything by ear, no itinerary, no schedules.


Play devil advocate

To argue purely out of curiosity.

He was acting like the devil's Advocate by refusing to back down.


Cut someone down to size.

It entails demonstrating to an egotist or overblown individual their actual value.

If the new guy talks further, the team lead must cut him down to Size.


To come to a head

A situation of crisis arises when it comes to a head.

Following the statewide lockdown, India's economy has come to a head.


Chicken and Egg situation

It is unclear who started this scenario and who is to blame for the other.

Does curiosity lead to learning, or does knowledge lead to interest? It's a chicken-and-egg situation.


On cloud nine

Being overjoyed is what it means to be on cloud nine.

For instance, I was pretty anxious before my exam but was on cloud nine when I passed it.


Under a cloud

When someone is suspected, they are said to be under a cloud.

He spent a lot of time under the cloud when the news spread.


Small cog in a large wheel

A man who has a relatively minor role in the bigger picture.

Shyam works as a clerk in his company. His work is like a small cog in a giant wheel.


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150 Common and Difficult Idioms with Examples

  • Turn a deaf ear

It is employed when you choose to disregard the words and beliefs of others.

Example: The authorities always appear to turn a deaf ear to his appeals.

  • Eat like a horse

When someone consumes enormous amounts of food, they are called "eating like a horse."

David, for instance, eats like a horse and moves like a cheetah.

  • An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

entails harming someone the same way he was.

As an illustration, if you harm him in any way, I will respond to you similarly! A tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye.

  • Face the music

When someone obtains feedback on their work from the opposition, it is used.

Example: My employer will face music accountability for the report I submitted last week.

  •  A flash in the pen

A circumstance or project that just occurred once and won't happen again

Example: The recent success of Barcelona can be compared to a flash in the pen.

  • Hold your horses

It signifies being persistent in your efforts.

Hold your horses for the upcoming campaign, boys!

  • Drag one’s feet

It entails working very slowly to do a task.

Don't assign him the work, for instance! He might drag his feet till the deadline.

  • Worth its weight in gold

highlights the importance or value of someone or something.

As an illustration, Rajat is worth his weight in gold. He is the only person who has coordinated the entire thing.

  • Go against the grain

It means that certain behaviours or viewpoints are wholly at odds with your ideals and convictions.

Example: Accepting crimes across the country goes against the grain.

  • Jump the gun

acting carelessly or act without giving it due thought.

As an illustration, he jumped the gun by delivering the presentation without first consulting his teammates.

  • Stick to your guns

It entails resolutely overcoming all challenges and obstacles.

Example: Despite his colleagues' criticism, he stuck to his guns.

  • Let one’s hair down.

It suggests a liberated and unstructured manner of social interaction.

Example: Despite constantly dressing formally, you occasionally let your hair down.

  • Hand-in-glove

It is employed when a group of people cooperates to carry out an unlawful or unethical task.

As an illustration, they collaborated closely to hand-in-glove information about the business.

  • Looking for a needle in the haystack.

The expression is comparable to trying to find a tiny item among a large number of other items or things.

Example: Trying to find his phone number was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

  • Wearing your heart on the sleeve

means becoming overly vulnerable with others in public.

Example: In your professional life, avoid wearing your heart on your sleeve!

  • move heaven and earth.

It denotes putting your all into anything.

Rahul, for instance, He moved heaven and earth to attend his ideal institution.

  • Hit the Bottle

It refers to overindulging in alcoholic beverages.

Example: He normally drinks cheaply, but yesterday he hit the bottle all night long.

  • Hit the book

It is a sign that someone is studying.

Example: My exams are coming up, so I need to hit the books.

  • Get someone off the hook.

It entails assisting someone in escaping a challenging circumstance.

As an illustration, I'll try to get him on the hook that he is a close friend of mine.

  •  Hit the sack

It denotes retiring to bed.

As an illustration, I've recently hit the sack to bed late.

  • Cut no ice

to have no impact or influence over the behavior or circumstances of another.

A good example is how he cut no ice to establish a rapport with the client throughout the meeting.

  •  On thin ice,

It denotes a dangerous situation.

He was on thin ice with the coach after scoring a duck in the championship game, for instance.

  • Strike while the iron is hot

It entails acting quickly and seizing an opportunity.

Example: Strike while the iron is hot because the bargain won't come around again.

  • Hit the Jackpot

This expression refers to someone's enormous and unexpected success.

Example: I hit the jackpot well on the last exam.

  • Have the last laugh

In a debate or when competing in some other way, the person who laughs last wins.

Example: Despite his early defeats in the debating tournament, Ram had the last laugh.

  •  See the light of a day.

when something is introduced to the public or makes its debut

The Telegraph, for instance, was seen the light of a day on July 7, 1982.

  • Light at the end of a tunnel

after experiencing many ups and downs, to have some hope.

Example: I finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel after making numerous attempts to contact the client.

  • Toe the line

It entails acting in a particular way that your authority wants you to act.

Example: My replacement will arrive shortly if I toed the line in my office.

  • Live on a borrowed line.

When something exists or lives longer than it should or than people would normally expect.

Example: After many years of living on a borrowed line, my ancient television finally stopped working.

  • Hold your tongue

It indicates ordering someone to finish their sentence.

Example: Hold your tongue unless you want to hear the repercussions.

  • Cry for the moon

Crying for the moon refers to pleading for something that is difficult or expensive to obtain.

Example: The old guy told the youngster, "Don't cry for the moon, son."

  • Hit the nail on the head

It denotes having a specific claim to be true.

As an illustration, Mike was spot-on when he identified who was to hit the nail on the head.

  • Nail in the coffin

It just serves as a sign of something's failure or end.

By telling the police everything, he effectively put a nail in the coffin of all of the man's elaborate schemes.

  • Pay through the nose.

When you spend too much on something, you use it.

For instance, he paid through the nose for his son's surgery.

  • Under someone’s nose

It is employed when a person ought to notice something but does not.

Example: All along, the answers to the assignment questions were under our nose.

  • Cast pearl before swine

Giving something to someone who doesn't recognize or value it is what it signifies.

As an illustration, refrain from lecturing them. It will undoubtedly be like cast pearls before swine.

  • Put the cat among the pigeons.

It refers to saying or doing something that might enrage a large number of people.

For instance, I prefer to put the cat among the pigeons rather than casting aspersions.

  • Put someone in his place.

Putting someone in their place entails demonstrating that they are not as valuable as they believe they are.

An illustration of this is the necessity to sometimes put people in their place.

  • point the finger at

It merely refers to assigning blame directly.

As an illustration, you should quit pointing the finger and start taking responsibility for your actions.

  • Pour out one’s heart.

When someone wishes to convey their inner ideas, they use them.

Example: When times are tough, one needs to put out their heart to those who are close to them.

  • Shallow your pride

When someone puts their self-respect at risk by employment or behavior, this phrase is used.

Example: A sales intern would be wise to swallow their pride.

  • When push comes to shove,

It refers to situations that are dreadful or desperate.

Example: I don't study much, but when push comes to shove, I can stay up late studying.

  • Raining cats and dogs.

It is a sign of a strong downpour.

Example: It rains cats and dogs the entire day.

  • Read between the lines.

It entails discerning someone's true motive even when it is not spoken.

Using the above example, it would appear that our vacation was between the lines.

  • Beat a retreat.

It implies fleeing a difficult circumstance.

Example: Since we were surrounded, our only choice was to brat a retreat.

  • Take someone for a ride.

It refers to misleading or merely deceiving others.

For instance, her new guy is basically taking her for a ride around.

  • Go through the roof.

It denotes a significant improvement in something.

For instance, the cost of gold is going through the roof.

  • On the ropes

On the rope refers to being very near to conceding defeat or loss.

Example: Our startup appears to be hanging on the ropes at this stage.

  • Rub salt into someone’s wounds

It entails escalating a dire circumstance.

Don't rub salt into his wounds, as an example. He has already experienced a lot.

  •  Give someone a run for their money.

It simply refers to engaging in competition on an equal footing.

Example: Our coach told the players, "Even though we are the underdogs here, let's give them a run for their money."

  • Shut one’s eyes to

It denotes a refusal to accept an issue's reality.

Ram, for instance, for a long time shut his eyes closed to the scam going on around him.

  • Allow the dust to settle.

It means allowing a situation to settle down after a period of enthusiasm.

Example: We've had our fill of celebration. Let's wait for the dust to settle now.

  • Take the word out of somebody’s mouth.

It refers to repeating another person's words or finishing their phrase.

Example: I took the word out of my father’s mouth before he could finish it.

  • Eat your words

It is to acknowledge that a previous claim you made about something was incorrect.

For instance, I believed he would fail the test. But after the results were announced, I had to eat my words.

  •  A shot in the dark

means making an arbitrary estimate.

As an illustration, I frequently made shots in the dark.

  • Call the shots

Those in positions of authority and influence can make decisions.

Example: His brother is the one who calls the shots around here.

  • Head and shoulders above

a person who excels much above the majority.

Example: When I was in school, I was head and shoulders above at sprinting well beyond my peers.

  • Put to bed

It entails putting a baby to sleep.

For instance, I'll be late. My daughter has to be put to bed.

  • Put something to sleep.

It entails administering medicine to a person or animal to assist them in passing away painlessly.

Example: The doctor put his dog, Rosie, put something to sleep after she had been in discomfort for a few days to assist her in passing away painlessly.

  • By the skin of your teeth

means finishing something by a tiny margin or just barely.

Example: I was the skin of my teeth for my project before it was finished.

  •  Have a thick skin

A person with thick skin is unaffected by what other people think.

Example: My mother believes I have thick skin.

  • Start with a clean slate.

It suggests starting anything over from scratch despite negative past experiences.

As an illustration, it is often best to start with a clean state when life becomes untidy.

  • No smoke without fire,

meaning there is some truth to every rumor and slander.

People claim that she is dating her employer, for instance. Well, without fire, there cannot be smoke.

  •  No strings attached,

meaning accomplishing something or offering a service without expecting anything in return.

As an illustration, many investing businesses provide rookie traders the freedom to trade without strings attached.

  • Throw a spanner in the work

It refers to preventing things from going smoothly or in the appropriate manner.

As an illustration, refrain from throwing a spanner in  my work at the last minute. The project can't be completely redone.

  • Wear two hats

It entails handling numerous tasks at once.

I'm generally lazy, but I can also wear two hats when necessary.

  • Throw one’s weight around

It entails flaunting one's might in public.

As an illustration, his weight is detrimental to the university.

  • Throw caution to the wind

It is used to characterize someone who behaves irrationally.

Example: His attempts to gain the girl's affection by throwing caution to the wind have not been successful.

  •  Spill the beans

means accidentally disclosing unwanted information.

Example: Despite our efforts to keep our trip a secret, someone spilled the beans.

  • Be in a tight spot

When someone is in a challenging circumstance, it is used to characterize the such condition.

Example: He is still in a tight spot despite paying off his debt.

  • Spread yourself thin

It entails participating in numerous activities without properly carrying out any of them.

As an illustration, focus your concentration on achieving just one goal instead of spreading yourself too thin.

  • Steal the show

Getting all the accolades and attention at an event is stealing the show.

Example: As usual, Anjali's dance stole the show.

  • Let off steam

It can be applied when someone releases pent-up resentment or rage.

Example: I advised him to let off steam before the meeting.

  • Blow someone’s cover

It can be used when someone discloses a secret or undesirable activity of another person.

Example: If he plays the dirty political game with me again, I'll also be sure I will blow his cover.

  • Leave no stone unturned.

It means to exert every effort or go above and beyond to realize a goal.

Example: He left no stone unturned to preserve the reputation of his business.

  • Set in stone

It signifies that what has been decided upon cannot be altered.

For instance, the appointment is not final. Therefore, I believe it is not set in stone.

  • Go on record

It simply means that the remark you will make will serve as the final, authoritative statement.

As an illustration, Ashok publicly went on record the murder he saw.

  • Milestones

It is employed to highlight pivotal moments in a person's professional life.

As an illustration, Michael's career milestone was landing a position at Google.

  • Move at a snail’s pace.

It simply refers to moving very slowly or as slowly as a snail.

For instance, I moved at a snail’s pace today as I made my way home from school.

  • Miss the boat

Missing the boat entails passing up a significant chance.

Example: If you don't take the initiative, you'll miss the boat.

  • Time is money

Thus, time is a valuable resource.

For instance, Jim should not waste his time. Remember that time is money.

  • Out of touch

denotes being out of touch for a while with something or someone.

For instance, I am out of touch to any of my relatives.

  •  Feel out

Feeling out refers to attempting to make sense of something.

As an illustration, I'm still getting a feel out for my college.

  • Flesh out

Giving a thorough explanation of something is referred to as fleshing it out.

As an illustration, my seniors asked me to flesh out the class schedule of events.

  • Go all out

Giving everything you have implies going all out.

Example: He goes all out his birthday in grand style every year.

  • At odds

Being at odds means that your terms are different. This expression is typically used to describe disputes; 

for example, They were once excellent friends, but the competition causes them to be at odds.

  • Go-getter

A go-getter is highly energized and driven to succeed.

Instead, for instance, he is a go-getter individual by nature.

  • Break a leg

It's a way of wishing someone luck.

Example: Arab's mother instructed him to break a leg just before the performance.

  • Golden opportunity

denotes a great opportunity to accomplish anything.

As an illustration, people should not squander a golden opportunity.

  • A busybody

constantly trying to learn about the private lives of others.

Example-“Oh! He is simply a busybody. He told me to disregard him.

  • Old as the hills

It refers to a person who has aged extensively.

Example: My grandfather still leads a very active life despite being as old as the hills.

  • Barrel of laughs

refers to a hilarious person.

Example: Your brother has a barrel of laughs.

  • Out of the blue,

In other words, haphazardly or unexpectedly.

Example: He appeared out of the blue.

  • With flying colors

refers to beginning or completing something successfully.

Example: He succeeded with flying colors despite the ups and downs.

  • As of right as rain

It conveys that someone in perfect health is right as rain.

For instance, I have little doubt that your father will shortly be right as rain.

  • Brain drain

many smart people from a company or a whole nation.

Example: India has recently experienced a significant brain drain due to American capitalism.

  • Green with envy.

It denotes intense jealousy of a particular object.

For example, Hari was green with envy after learning of my CAT results.

  •  a gray area

refers to a dark place.

Example: In this situation, he claims there is a grey area rather than an absolute right or wrong.

  •  White lie

denotes a small untruth told to avoid offending anyone.

Example: As human beings, we frequently tell our loved ones little white lies.

  • a clean bill of health

A medical professional certifies someone as healthy by making a statement to that effect.

Example: The doctor gave him the all-clear after his rehabilitation was finished.

  • Frog in one’s throat

This expression typically describes the sensation of having something trapped in one's throat.

Example: Every student appeared to have a frog in his throat whenever the teacher asked a question.

  • About time

It refers to the current moment.

Example: It's about time we purchase a home.

  • Fish memory

suggests a person is prone to forgetting things.

People often remark that I have a fish memory.

  • Dawn till dusk

It denotes from daylight until night.

Example: I'll wait for him from dawn till dusk.

  • A Party animal

refers to a person who enjoys going out to clubs and parties a lot.

Ram is a party animal, for instance.

  • Get a life

If someone is bored, tell them to "enjoy life to the fullest."

Ram, for instance, shouldn't loiter all day. Get a life.

  • Business as usual

It simply signifies that nothing has changed from how things usually go.

Example: I asked John, "What are you up to these days?" "Business as usual," he said.

  • Think outside of the box

It entails adopting an unconventional style of thinking.

Example: Rohit was the only male student in our class who used to think outside of the box.

  • Nitty Gritty

denotes the core component of a concept or experience.

Let's get nitty gritty if the side task is finished, for instance.

  • Biting more than one can chew

Taking on more labor or responsibility than one can manage on their own.

As an illustration, don't bite off more than you can chew to avoid a messy situation.

  • It’s a piece of cake.

It alludes to a really simple idea.

Example: He doesn't appear to think it will be a piece of cake for him to finish the report tonight.

  • Keep me in the loop.

It entails continuously keeping someone updated.

Example: The director requested that we keep him in the loop on the project's progress.

  • Make up one’s mind

It represents the scenario when you decide something for sure.

For instance, I have made my mind that I will pursue an MBA after I graduate.

  • Pie in the sky

Although it outlines an unattainable goal, it is enjoyable to imagine.

Example: I believe my desire to visit London will remain a pie in the sky.

  • You bet.

When you concur with someone, you use it.

Example: You can bet they'll try to influence you.

  • Getting goosebumps

It describes feeling incredibly ecstatic about something.

Example: Just watching the concert is giving me goosebumps.

  • Give it to me straight.

It refers to putting something extremely simply and directly.

Example: I told her straight about my resignation.

  • I’m hosed,

Which refers to being in an undesirable circumstance.

Example: I'm hosed if my dad finds out I missed school.

  • I can’t make head or tail of something.

If one or a circumstance is difficult for you to grasp or comprehend.

For instance, I'm still unable to make head or tail of anything he has said.

  • Keeping one’s word

entails keeping one's word.

As an illustration, Amir is excellent at keeping his word.

  • Losing your temper,

denotes getting enraged over something.

An illustration might be that losing your temper at work is not a smart idea.

  • Running around in circles

entails doing nothing but acting erratically.

For instance, stop running around in circles, folks! We must update our approach.

  • sell like hotcakes

It indicates that something is selling like hotcakes when it quickly runs out.

As an illustration, during the epidemic, hand sanitizer was in sell like hotcakes.

  • Drive a hard bargain

You utilize it when you make a lot of effort to close a lucrative contract.

As an illustration, salespeople who can drive a hard bargain for any goods are well-known.

  • Make no bones about something

It is used when you speak your mind and are clear about your objectives.

I had no bones about acquiring a new automobile at the end of the year, for instance.

  • Take away your breath.

It simply means that something is so amazing that it causes one to gasp for air.

Example: Her beauty took away my breath.

  • Close the door on someone

entails having no connections to anyone or anything.

Anil Babu, for instance, closed all doors on the investing firm after learning about the fraud.

  • Burn the midnight oil

for someone who stays up late working.

For instance, I had to burn the midnight oil studying for my final exam.

  • Be off the mark

Being off the mark simply means being wrong.

Example: He completely was off the mark with his reports.

  • Back the wrong horse.

It signifies putting one's support behind or advocating for something that ultimately fails.

A good example is to be careful not to back the wrong horses while investing in the stock market.

  • Eat like a bird,

one who consumes very little food.

Example: My sister eats food like a bird.

  • Kill two birds with one stone

When someone "kills two birds with one stone," they accomplish two goals in one go.

For instance, while I was in school, I would have breakfast and finish my homework at the same time, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

  • Shooting from the hip

means acting without taking into account the situation.

Amal, for instance, frequently shoots from the hip.

  • Egg on your face

is employed when a person appears foolish at work.

Example: After promising a hat trick but failing to score any goals, he was left with an egg on his face.

  • An arm and a leg

refer to something that is overpriced.

Example: He paid an arm and a leg for a stretching session at the neighborhood physiotherapy clinic.

  • Stabbing someone in the back

means violating a person's trust.

The worst thing a man can do, for instance, stabs a friend in the back.

  • Right off the beat.

Right off the beat denotes acting as soon as you can.

Example: My doctor immediately right offbeat me that I required medical care.

  • Like a fish out of water,

It denotes awkwardness.

Example: Aritra remained motionless despite having heard all the instructions. He appeared to be a fish out of water.

  • Stir up a hornet’s nest.

Making problems is like stirring up a hornet's nest.

Example: When his day did not go well, he would repeatedly stir up a hornet's nest.

  • Back against the wall

means being in a challenging situation with few options.

Everyone has experienced having their back against the wall at some point.

  • Head over heels

This expression is used when a person is deeply in love.

As an illustration, the moment I laid eyes on Sucheta, I fell head over heels for her.

  • Upset someone’s applecart

When you upend a well-laid-out strategy, you disturb someone's plans.

Example: The trip to Missouri is being someone’s applecart by midterm exams.

  • Up in Arms

To be incensed at something is to be up in arms.

Example: When the staff learned there would be no raise this year, they were up in arms with the management.

  • Blow your own trumpet

When you extol your own virtues, you brag about your accomplishments and abilities.

As an illustration, avoid blowing your own trumpet in front of your elders.

  • Separate the wheat from the chaffs

It entails differentiating helpful people from unskilled ones.

Example: It might be challenging to separate the wheat from the chaff in a competitive setting.

  • Changing tune

implies altering how you act around specific people.

Example: I was surprised by how quickly the witness changed his tune.

  • Bend over backward

depicts the desperate need to win someone over.

Example: After learning of my status as the I. A. S., he bends backward for me.

  • Against the clock,

It means working as quickly as possible to finish something before a deadline.

Example: To make the event successful, we worked against the clock.

  • Make one’s blood boil.

Making someone exceedingly angry is what it means.

Example:  avoid making his blood boil by remaining still.

  • Over my dead body,

This expression expresses your vehement opposition to a notion or course of action.

Example: If you want to marry her, you'll have to do it over my dead body.

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