Idioms – Definition & List of 1100+ Examples

In the whimsical world of English idioms, you’ll find cats and dogs raining, needles in haystacks, and no stones left unturned. Sounds chaotic, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, our comprehensive list of idioms tames this chaos and unscrambles the fascinating world of these quirky phrases.

What Are Idioms?

Idioms Definition List of 1100 Examples

An idiom is a word or phrase whose meaning can’t be understood outside its cultural context. These expressions are usually figurative and would be nonsensical if read literally. For instance, break a leg isn’t a sadistic wish for someone to fracture a limb. It’s actually an idiom, meaning to wish someone good luck before a performance!

So, What’s an Idiomatic Expression?

An idiomatic expression is just another way of saying idiom. These expressions usually emerge from cultural or societal observations and experiences, embedding themselves into our everyday language over time.

The Most Common Idioms

There are countless idioms in the English language, but some have stood the test of time. Some popular idioms like the ball is in your court, kick the bucket or beat around the bush are popular phrases you might hear or use in daily conversation.

Four Types of Idioms

After taking a dip in the idiom waters, let’s dive a little deeper. Idioms come in so many shapes and sizes, but here are four common types:

  1. Pure Idioms: These bear no logical relation to their literal meanings. If you kick the bucket, you’re not giving a pail a good punt—you’re, well, expiring!1
  2. Binomial Idioms: These are idioms that have two key elements usually connected by a conjunction. An example would be odds and ends, which refers to miscellaneous items.
  3. Partial Idioms: With these idioms, only part of the expression is non-literal. Lend a hand doesn’t involve the actual lending of appendages; it’s just offering assistance.
  4. Prepositional Idioms: These use prepositions in unique ways. In the nick of time doesn’t refer to any specific nick but means just in time.

Idiom vs. Cliché: Let’s Compare

An idiom is a figurative expression, while a cliché is an overused phrase or idea. While all clichés might not be idioms, all idioms, when overused, can become clichés. So, if you’re avoiding it like the plague, you’re using a cliché, but it’s still very much in the realm of idioms!

Idiom vs. Proverb: What’s the Diff?

A proverb is meant to be a short, traditional saying that offers wisdom or advice, like two heads are better than one. But an idiom is a phrase with a non-literal meaning, like barking up the wrong tree. Not all idioms are proverbs, but some proverbs can be idioms.

Idiom vs. Euphemism: A Look at Differences

While a euphemism is a mild or indirect expression used to convey something unpleasant or embarrassing, an idiom is a figurative phrase.

Pass away is a euphemism for dying, but if you say someone has kicked the bucket, that’s an idiom for the same thing. Like proverbs and clichés, not all idioms are euphemisms, but some euphemisms can be idioms.

How to Use Idioms

Idioms Definition List of 1100 Examples 1

Most idioms can add a dash of color to everyday speech and writing. They can inject humor, emphasize a point, and make your language more relatable and engaging. So, let’s slip right in and explore some of these idiom examples, featuring an eclectic list of idioms that I’ll break down and demonstrate in use.

All bark and no bite: Someone who sounds threatening but is harmless.

Example in a Sentence: For all his loud complaints, my boss is all bark and no bite.

All sizzle and no steak: Something that fails to live up to its hype.

Example in a Sentence: The movie had a spectacular trailer but was all sizzle and no steak.

Backseat driver: A person who criticizes from the sidelines.

Example in a Sentence: My brother is such a backseat driver, always telling me how to do my job.

Beyond the pale: Behavior that is unacceptable or beyond the bounds of decency.

Example in a Sentence: I can handle criticism, but personal insults are beyond the pale.

Bring home the bacon: To earn a living, particularly for one’s family.

Example in a Sentence: Both parents work long hours to bring home the bacon.

Can’t hold a candle to: To not compare favorably to someone or something.

Example in a Sentence: This year’s model can’t hold a candle to the last one.

Cast the first stone: When you’re the first person to criticize or accuse someone.

Example in a Sentence: Before you cast the first stone, remember that nobody is perfect.

Deer in the headlights: To be paralyzed by fear, unable to act or think.

Example in a Sentence: When I asked him about the missing money, he was like a deer in the headlights.

Dollars to doughnuts: Used when you are completely sure about something.

Example in a Sentence: I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that it’s going to rain tomorrow.

Easier said than done: Something seems like a good idea but would be difficult to carry out.

Example in a Sentence: Getting into shape is easier said than done.

Fight fire with fire: Responding to aggression with aggression.

Example in a Sentence: They’re spreading rumors about us, but I refuse to fight fire with fire.

Get a word in edgewise: The difficulty of breaking into a conversation because it is too hectic.

Example in a Sentence: During the debate, it was hard to get a single word in edgewise.

Handle with kid gloves: To handle a situation, or a person, delicately and gently.

Example in a Sentence: She’s been through a lot recently, so handle her with kid gloves.

If the shoe fits: If something applies to you, then accept it.

Example in a Sentence: I wasn’t directly naming anyone, but if the shoe fits…

Jump the gun: To start something too early.

Example in a Sentence: The eager salesman jumped the gun and presented the product before understanding the customer’s needs.

Keep a stiff upper lip: To stay resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity.

Example in a Sentence: No matter how bad the situation gets, Brits are known to keep a stiff upper lip.

Land of milk and honey: It’s a place of abundance and prosperity.

Example in a Sentence: If you’re launching a tech start-up, Silicon Valley is the land of milk and honey.

Mad as a hatter: Completely crazy.

Example in a Sentence: After working on his thesis for 12 hours straight, he was as mad as a hatter.

Nosebleed section: The cheapest, highest seats in a theater or stadium.

Example in a Sentence: We couldn’t afford better seats, so we’re in the nosebleed section.

One-horse town: A small, insignificant town.

Example in a Sentence: After living in New York, everything else feels like a one-horse town.

Paint the town red: When you go out and have a lively, fun time.

Example in a Sentence: It’s my birthday weekend, and I plan to paint the town red.

Raining cats and dogs: Raining very heavily.

Example in a Sentence: I forgot my umbrella, and it’s raining cats and dogs outside.

Read between the lines: To infer something beyond what is explicitly stated.

Example in a Sentence: The email seemed polite, but reading between the lines, I sensed some hostility.

Salt of the earth: A very good, honest and hardworking person.

Example in a Sentence: Mr. Smith is the salt of the earth; he’s always willing to help those in need.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel: Using the last and often worst of the resources.

Example in a Sentence: By the end of the trip, we were scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to do.

Take no prisoners: To do something thoroughly and ruthlessly.

Example in a Sentence: In business, she’s known to take no prisoners.

The blind leading the blind: Inexperienced people trying to guide or lead others equally inexperienced.

Example in a Sentence: When it comes to cooking, we’re the blind leading the blind.

Under someone’s thumb: To be under someone’s control or influence.

Example in a Sentence: He’s got the entire council under his thumb.

Waiting in the wings: Ready to take action as soon as the opportunity arises.

Example in a Sentence: The understudy was waiting in the wings, ready to take over at a moment’s notice.

Wait for the other shoe to drop: Times when you’re waiting for the inevitable next step or the outcome of a situation.

Example in a Sentence: After the initial allegations, everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Check Out More Idioms!

Idioms are a super cool part of our language, offering a glimpse into cultures, history and human nature. They add richness and depth to our conversations and help us express complex thoughts and feelings in memorable and vivid ways.

Below is a list of all our posts on idioms.

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