39 Popular, Common, and Useful English Idioms for ESL and Daily Use

As we mentioned before in one of our other articles, English is a language that is rife with idioms all over and if you are unfamiliar with these weird, yet common expressions then you’ll find yourself extremely confused when conversing with native speakers.

Therefore, we’ve decided that we’ll curate a list of some of the most popular, common, and especially useful  English idioms out there and provide a thorough description for each. Please note, however, that this list is by no means exhaustive and there are many more that ESL learners may find themselves having to look up over time.

  1. That’s cool. This is probably one of the most common phrases that you’ll run into. When someone says ‘that’s cool’, they most likely aren’t talking about the temperature. What they really mean is ‘that’s okay’ or ‘that’s something that sparks my interest’.
  2. What’s up? This phrase is not a literal question of what’s above you. What it really means is ‘what’s going on?’
  3. At the drop of a hat. This means to do something immediately. It stems from the idea to begin a task or responsibility before a hat drops to the ground. Fairly intuitive.
  4. Back to the drawing board. This quote simply means to re-plan something that went unsuccessfully the first time.
  5. Ball is in your court. This quote means that the decision is ultimately up to the individual hearing the phrase.
  6. Barking up the wrong tree. This phrase means that you’re messing with the wrong person/situation.
  7. Beat around the bush. This quote/phrase means to avoid dealing with or addressing a particular issue by talking ‘around’ it.
  8. Add insult to injury. This phrase refers to the idea of emphasizing an unfortunate event that happened to someone directly to that person.
  9. Bit off more than you can chew. This phrase simply means that someone undertook more responsibility than what they were able to handle.
  10. Blessing in disguise. This phrase means that an event or circumstance that someone felt was a negative was truly a positive event for them.
  11. Last straw. This means that someone has ran out of patience.
  12. Hit the sack. This means to go to bed.
  13. Hit the nail on the head. A statement that someone made was completely accurate.
  14. In the heat of the moment. This refers to something that is happening in live time.
  15. Through the grapevine. This refers to hearing a rumor through the words of another individual.
  16. It takes two to tango. This refers to the idea that more than one party must be involved if there is a conflict or confrontation.
  17. Let sleeping dogs lie. This one isn’t as common as you might think it is, but it basically means to let an issue be.
  18. Keep something at bay. This means to stop a problem from escalating too much.
  19. Miss the boat. To completely miss the point or let something go over one’s head.
  20. On the ball. This means to be completely accurate to the situation.
  21. Piece of cake. If something is easy. Takes no effort.
  22. Sit on the fence. For you to be completely unsure about something without leaning toward either decision.
  23. The benefit of the doubt. This means to take someone at their word without any specific evidence for doing so.
  24. It’s not rocket science. This quote means that something isn’t as difficult as they may think.
  25. Miss the boat. To be too late for an opportunity or experience.
  26. Under the weather. This simply means to be sick.
  27. A penny for your thoughts. This means that somebody is saying something worth being contemplated.
  28. Birds of a feather. This means that people hang out together share similar characteristics.
  29. By the skin of one’s teeth. This means to barely make it by the teeth.
  30. Don’t quit your day job. This means that whatever you’re trying to do, you’re not being successful at it.
  31. It takes one to know one. If someone has given you a label it is only because they possess the label themselves.
  32. Live and learn. This means that you should go out and make a mistake.
  33. Once in a blue moon. Something that does not happen very often.
  34. Ignorance is bliss. Not having knowledge about something can sometimes allow one to have peace of mind.
  35. Rain on someone’s parade. To bring about negativity that will degrade someone’s quality of life or experiences.
  36. Kill two birds with one stone. Do one thing that accomplishes multiple objectives.
  37. Spill the beans. Give up the details about something.
  38. The whole nine yards. Doing everything to thorough completion.
  39. Throw caution to the wind. Take a great risk.

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