Idioms and their meanings



A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z


abide by (something)

– to follow the rules of something

The cleaning staff must abide by the rules of the school.

able to breathe easily again

– to be able to relax and recover from a stressful time or event

My friend was able to breathe easily again when his company did not go bankrupt.

able to do (something) blindfolded

– to be able to do something easily and quickly

The car was easy to fix and we were able to do it blindfolded.

able to do (something) standing on one’s head

– to be able to do something easily and quickly

The boy is good at fixing his bicycle. He can do it standing on his head.

able to take a joke

– to be able to let others laugh and joke about you

Our boss is not able to take a joke. We must be careful what we say to him.

about time

– to be something that should have happened earlier

“It is about time that you returned that book to me.”

about to (do something)

– to be on the point of doing something

I was about to leave my house when the phone rang.

above all

– mainly, especially

I like adventure movies but above all I love horror movies.

above all else

– most importantly of all

Above all else, I plan to go to the Natural History Museum when I visit the city.

above and beyond

– to be more than is required

The work that the man did on our house was above and beyond what was required.

above reproach

– to be not deserving of blame or criticism

The actions of the police officer were above reproach.

above suspicion

– to be very honest so that nobody will suspect you of doing something wrong

The man’s actions are always above suspicion.


– to be forgetful

My grandfather is very absent-minded and he often forgets his keys.

accept an offer

– to agree to an offer or proposal

I accepted the offer to buy my car.

according to Hoyle

– doing something strictly by the rules, doing something the usual and correct way (Hoyle was a writer who was an expert on the rules of card games)

According to Hoyle, we should not use this room but probably nobody will complain if we do use it.

according to (someone or something)

– as said or told by someone, in agreement with something, in the order of something, in proportion to something

According to our teacher, there will be no class next week.
We did everything according to the terms of the agreement.

account for (something)

– to provide an answer/explanation for something

The bad weather accounts for the fact that only a few people came to the meeting.

acid test

– a test where the conclusions are beyond doubt

The problem was an acid test of our faith in the new manager.

acquire a taste for (something)

– to learn to like something

We acquired a taste for classical music during our trip to Europe.

across the board

– equally for everyone or everything

The taxes have increased across the board and everyone must pay more.

act as a guinea pig

– to allow some kind of test to be performed on someone

I was not happy to act as a guinea pig on the new training material.

act high and mighty

– to act proud and powerful

The woman always acts high and mighty and nobody likes her.

act one’s age

– to behave as a mature person, to behave equal to one’s age

My friend never acts her age in public.

act up

– to misbehave

The children began to act up during the field trip.

add fuel to the fire

– to make a problem worse, to make an angry person more angry

The company added fuel to the fire when they criticized the workers.

add insult to injury

– to make a person who already feels bad to feel worse, to make a bad situation worse

Our boss added insult to injury when she refused to let us use the Internet during lunch.

add up

– to total up to a certain amount

I will add up the money that I owe to my father and give it to him.

add up (to something)

– to mean something, to result in something

The things that my friend said about his boss do not add up to anything.

advise (someone) against (something)

– to suggest that something should not be done

I advised my friend not to swim in the river.

afraid of one’s own shadow

– to be easily frightened

The small dog is afraid of his own shadow.

after a fashion

– poorly, barely adequate

The cleaning staff cleaned the lunchroom after a fashion but not very well.

after all

– in spite of what was expected

I have decided not to take swimming lessons after all.
It did not rain today after all.

after all

– emphasizes something that should be considered

“You don’t need to phone him. After all, he never phones you.”

after all is said and done

– finally, when everything is settled

After all is said and done the mayor of our city is doing a very good job.

after hours

– after the regular closing or finishing time

Our library has a place to return books after hours.

after the fact

– after something has happened

The man said that he was sorry but it was after the fact. He had already caused many problems.

again and again

– repeatedly

I told my friend again and again not to phone late at night.

against one’s will

– to be without a person’s consent or agreement

The police took the man to jail against his will.

against the clock

– before a particular time

We worked against the clock to finish the project.

ahead of one’s time

– ideas or attitudes that are more advanced than those of other people

The ideas of the politician were ahead of his time.

ahead of schedule

– before the time on a schedule that has been decided

We finished our work ahead of schedule.

ahead of the game

– to have done more than necessary

We worked hard all week in order to be ahead of the game on Monday morning.

ahead of time

– earlier than arranged or planned

We started the meeting ahead of time so that we could go home early.

aim at (something)

– to plan or try to reach a target

We are aiming at a big increase in sales next year.

air one`s dirty laundry/linen in public

– to make public something embarrassing that should be a secret

The dinner party became uncomfortable when the host began to air his colleague’s dirty laundry in public.

air one’s grievances

– to complain (often publicly)

We aired our grievances during the monthly meeting.

air (something)

– to broadcast something on television or radio

They will air the game tomorrow.

air (something) out

– to freshen something by putting it in the open air

We put the blankets outside in order to air them out.

alive and kicking

– to be well and healthy

My aunt is ninety years old and she is very much alive and kicking.

alive and well

– to be well and healthy

The worker was alive and well after the accident.

all along

– all the time, throughout

I knew all along that my friend would not get the promotion.

all at once

– suddenly, without warning

All at once, the fire alarm rang and we had to leave the building.

all day long

– the whole day

The girl was happy to wait all day long for the mail to arrive.

all dressed up

– dressed in one’s best clothes

The girls were all dressed up for the evening.

all ears

– to be eager to listen to someone

“I`m all ears, please tell me about the party.”

all for (someone or something)

– to be very much in favor of someone or something

The woman is all for the manager and she never criticizes her.

all important

– most important, urgent or necessary

The meeting is all important and I plan to attend it.

all in

– to be tired, to be exhausted

I am all in and will go to bed early tonight.

all in a day’s work

– to be part of what is expected of you

It was all in a day’s work when the firefighters rescued the cat.

all in all

– in summary, after considering everything

We had a few problems but all in all the meeting was successful.

all in one piece

– safely, without damage

Our furniture arrived all in one piece after we moved.

all manner of (someone or something)

– all types of people or things

There were all manner of people at the party.

all night long

– throughout the whole night

We could hear the people next door talking all night long.

all of a sudden

– suddenly, without advance warning

All of a sudden, it became cloudy and began to rain.

all or nothing

– everything, one hundred percent of something

It is all or nothing. If I cannot fully participate in the meeting I will not attend.


– a very good and thorough effort

We are making an all-out-effort to finish our work.

all over but the shouting

– to be decided and finished

It was all over but the shouting for the football fans after their team lost the game.

all over the place

– everywhere

We traveled all over the place on our holiday.

all right

– okay, satisfactory

It should be all right for me to bring my friend to the party.

all set

– to be ready to begin, to be okay

We were all set so we began the meeting.

all sweetness and light

– to be very sweet, to be innocent and helpful

The girl is all sweetness and light after she does something bad.

all systems go

– everything is ready (often used when a rocket is launched)

It was all systems go and we began the installation of the new computer system.

all talk (and no action)

– to talk about doing something but never really doing it

Our boss is all talk and no action and nothing new is ever done in our department.

all the livelong day

– throughout the whole day

I know the words to the song, “I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day.”

all the rage

– to be in current fashion

The new sneakers were all the rage during the summer.

all the time

– always, continually, often

My sister asks for money all the time but I never give it to her.

all thumbs

– to have difficulty fixing things or working with one`s hands, to be clumsy

My friend is all thumbs when he fixes things around his house.

all to the good

– for the best, for one’s benefit

It was all to the good that my sister quit her job.

all told

– including everything or everyone, counting everything

All told, there were at least twelve candidates for the job.

allow for (someone or something)

– to plan to have enough of something, to plan on the possibility of something

We must allow for enough time to go to the stadium.

along with (someone or something)

– in addition to someone or something

I went to the concert along with my friend.

amount to (something)

– to total something, to result in something

The small amounts of time later amounted to much time.

amount to (something)

– to become successful

The boy will never amount to anything if he does not change his behavior.

amount to the same thing

– to be the same or have the same effect as something

Going by taxi or by bus amounts to the same thing. We will still be late for the concert.

and so on

– and other similar details, et cetera

I was hot and I was tired and I did not have any water and so on. It was terrible.

answer to (someone)

– to explain or justify one’s actions to someone

The manager had to answer to the company president about the financial problems.

any number of (someone or something)

– a large number of people or something

I have any number of reasons not to buy a new computer.

appear out of nowhere

– to appear suddenly, to appear without warning

The dog appeared out of nowhere during our walk on the beach.

apple of (someone`s) eye

– someone or something that is very precious or important to you

The man’s youngest daughter is the apple of his eye.

argue for the sake of arguing/argument

– to argue only to be different

My brother always argues for the sake of arguing.

arise from

– to originate from, to be caused by

Fires often arise from people not being careful.

arm and a leg

– a large amount of money

The man’s new car cost him an arm and a leg.

arm in arm

– to be joined together by the arms

The young girls walked to school arm in arm.

armed and dangerous

– to have a weapon that may be used (usually used for a criminal)

The criminal was armed and dangerous when the police arrested him.

armed to the teeth

– to be armed with many weapons

The police were armed to the teeth during the raid.

around the clock

– all day and all night

We worked around the clock to prepare the store to open.

arrange for (someone or something)

– to make practical plans for something to happen or someone to do something

We arranged for someone to come and fix our broken shower.

arrive on the scene

– to appear in a certain place

When the fire department arrived on the scene the fire was very large.

as a last resort

– if everything else fails

As a last resort we decided to borrow some money to buy the car.

as a matter of fact

– actually, in fact

“As a matter of fact, we have been to the art gallery many times.”

as a result of (something)

– because of something that has happened

As a result of a car accident my friend could not work for several months.

as a rule

– usually, as a habit

As a rule, I get up at 7:00 every morning.

as a whole

– taken or considered all together

As a whole our boss is very good although some people do not like him.

as clean as a hound’s tooth

– very clean

The classroom was as clean as a hound’s tooth when the students finished cleaning it.

as comfortable as an old shoe

– very comfortable, very familiar

I felt as comfortable as an old shoe when I entered my aunt’s house.

as common as an old shoe

– low class, badly mannered

The young woman is as common as an old shoe.

as crooked as a dog’s hind leg

– dishonest

The politician is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg and nobody trusts him.

as dull as dishwater

– very uninteresting

The speaker at the conference was as dull as dishwater.

as far as

– to the extent or degree of something

As far as I know the movie will start next week.

as far as possible

– as much as possible

We went as far as possible with the project before we had to stop.
We plan to drive as far as possible tomorrow.

as fit as a fiddle

– to be healthy and physically fit

My grandfather is ninety years old but he is as fit as a fiddle.

as for (someone or something)

– with regard to, concerning

“As for me, I think that I will go home now.”

as good as one’s word

– to be dependable if one promises something

My friend is as good as his word. You can always trust him.

as if

– in the same way that something would be, that

The drink tastes as if it were made with orange juice.
It seemed as if the whole town came to the concert.

as is

– in whatever condition something happens to be

We bought the old sofa as is. It was very cheap.

as long as

– provided that, on condition that

“As long as you promise to be very careful you can borrow my car.”

as luck would have it

– by chance

As luck would have it, I was able to borrow some clothes for the party.

as one

– as if a group were one person

The crowd stood up as one and began to cheer.

as pale as a ghost

– extremely pale

My grandfather was as pale as a ghost when he entered the hospital.

as pale as death

– extremely pale

The woman in the hospital waiting room was as pale as death.

as plain as the nose on one’s face

– obvious

It is as the plain as the nose on our face who broke the computer.

as sick as a dog

– very sick

My friend was as sick as a dog when he left the restaurant last night.

as soon as

– just after something, when

I phoned my friend as soon as I finished dinner.

as such

– the way something is

“As such, I will not be able to approve your application for a loan.”

as the crow flies

– by the most direct way, along a straight line between two places

As the crow flies, it is not very far between my house and my office.

as to

– with regard to, concerning, according to

We have some questions as to how the accident happened.
The players were put into groups as to their ability.

as tough as an old boot

– very tough, not easily moved by feelings such as pity

The old lady is as tough as an old boot and never shoes her feelings at all.

as usual

– most of the time, following the usual pattern

As usual, the girl forgot to bring her book to class.

as well

– in addition, also, too

I plan to take a computer course this summer as well.

as well as (someone or something)

– in addition to someone or something

“Please bring your swimming suit as well as your towel.”

as yet

– until now, up to the present

As yet, our secretary has not talked about her plans to leave the company.

ask for (something)

– to deserve something, to receive just punishment for something

The boy is asking for some kind of punishment for what he is doing.

ask for the moon

– to ask for too much

The woman is asking for the moon. She will never get what she wants.

ask for trouble

– to behave in a way that will likely cause trouble

The boy is asking for trouble if he misses another class.

ask (someone) out or ask out (someone)

– to ask a person for a date

My friend finally asked the woman at the bank out.

asleep at the switch

– to not be alert to an opportunity

I was asleep at the switch. I did not know about the job so I did not apply for it.

assault and battery

– a criminal charge where one violently attacks and beats someone

The man was arrested for assault and battery after the fight.

at a loss

– in a state of uncertainty or bewilderment

We were at a loss about what to do with the broken computer.

at a loss for words

– speechless, unable to speak

I was at a loss for words when I met my friend after many years.

at a standstill

– in a situation where no progress can be made, at an impasse

The traffic on the road was at a standstill because of the accident.

at a stretch

– continuously

My friend sometimes works for three weeks at a stretch.

at all costs

– regardless of the cost or difficulty, no matter what

The company wants to protect their product design at all costs.

at any rate

– anyway

“At any rate, I am not going to a movie tonight.”

at bay

– at a distance

We tried to keep the dog at bay when we entered the building.

at best

– under the most favorable circumstances

The doctors said that the man had ten months at best to live.

at cross-purposes

– to have opposite ways of doing something, to have opposing goals

The two men are at cross purposes. They cannot agree about anything.

at death’s door

– to be near death

The young woman was at death’s door after the accident.

at ease

– to be relaxed and comfortable

The players felt at ease after the coach talked to them.

at every turn

– everywhere that one looks

When we visited Rome, there was a group of tourists at every turn.

at face value

– the apparent value of something, the value that is printed on a stamp or a bond

At face value the old stamp was worth almost nothing.

at fault

– to be responsible for something, to be to blame for something

The truck driver was at fault for the terrible accident.

at first

– at the beginning

At first, I did not want to go to the movie but I later changed my mind.

at first blush

– when first seen, without careful study

At first blush the man seemed like a good worker but later he had many problems.

at hand

– within reach, nearby

I stopped working because I did not have any tools at hand.

at heart

– basically, fundamentally

The woman is a nice person at heart although many people dislike her.

at home

– in one`s house

I left my money at home so I had to borrow some.

at it again

– to be doing something again

The two boys were at it again. We could hear them fighting.

at large

– to be free, to not be captured

The criminal was at large for many months.

at last

– finally, after a long time

I waited all morning for my friend’s call until at last it came.

at least

– no less than

There were at least 60,000 people in the stadium.

at length

– in detail, finally

The speaker talked at length about the new product.

at loggerheads (with someone)

– to be having a quarrel or disagreement with someone, to oppose someone

We are at loggerheads with the company over their plans to build a new factory.

at loose ends

– restless and unsettled

My friend’s mother was at loose ends after her husband died.

at odds (with someone)

– in disagreement with someone

The man has been at odds with his boss over his new sales territory.

at once

– immediately

The police came at once after we called them.

at one sitting

– at one time

We finished the food at one sitting.

at peace

– peaceful, happy

The woman was relaxed and at peace after her friend’s funeral.

at random

– without sequence or order

The members of the team were chosen at random from among the regular players.

at risk

– in danger

The children were at risk of getting sick when the disease spread in the school.

at sea

– to be on the sea, to be away on a voyage on the ocean

My grandfather was at sea for several months when he was a young man.

at sea (about something)

– to be confused about something, to be lost

Most members of the class were at sea when the teacher tried to explain the difficult theory.

at sixes and sevens

– to be lost and bewildered

We were at sixes and sevens when the local grocery store closed.

at (someone`s) beck and call

– to be always ready to serve someone or do something for someone

The woman is always at her husband’s beck and call.

at (someone’s) earliest convenience

– when something is convenient for someone

I plan to speak to the bank manager at his earliest convenience.

at (someone’s) service

– ready to help someone in any way possible

A member of the hotel staff was at our service during our visit.

at stake

– to be able to be won or lost, to be at risk

Much money was at stake during the negotiations for the new stadium.

at the appointed hour

– at the time that has been decided

At the appointed hour, the team arrived at the stadium.

at the appointed time

– at the time that has been decided

We went to meet our lawyer at the appointed time.

at the bottom of the hour

– at the half hour – 10:30, 11:30 etc. (at the bottom of a clock)

The weather forecast is on the radio at the bottom of the hour.

at the bottom of the ladder

– at the lowest level of pay and status in a company or organization

I will start at the bottom of the ladder at my new job.

at the crack of dawn

– when the first light of the day appears, very early in the morning

We left for our holiday at the crack of dawn.

at the drop of a hat

– immediately and without any pressure

My friend will always help me at the drop of a hat.

at the eleventh hour

– at the last possible moment

The company and the union settled the strike at the eleventh hour.

at the end of one`s rope

– at the limit of one`s ability to cope or deal with something

I am at the end of my rope about what to do about my problems at work.

at the end of the day

– when everything else has been taken into consideration

At the end of the day, it was impossible to get the money to build the house.

at the expense of (someone or something)

– to be to the harm of (someone or something)

The man was very successful but it was at the expense of his family and health.

at the latest

– no later than

The tour will start at noon at the latest.

at the outset (of something)

– from the first or early stage of something

At the outset of the meeting there were problems between some members of the group.

at the outside

– as the highest estimate

We can feed one hundred people at the outside during the seminar.

at the present time

– now, at present

At the present time there are no extra helpers available.

at the top of one’s lungs

– with a very loud voice

I cried out for my friend at the top of my lungs.

at the top of the hour

– at the beginning of the hour – 12:00, 1:00 etc. (at the top of a clock)

The radio news always starts at the top of the hour.

at this juncture

– at the present time

At this juncture there is no point to have a meeting.

at this stage of the game

– currently, at the current point in some event

At this stage of the game we cannot change the plans for the class trip.

at times

– sometimes, occasionally

At times, our teacher is very nice but at other times she is not nice.

at will

– whenever one wants, freely

The little boy was able to do what he wanted at will.

attend to (someone or something)

– to take care or deal with someone or something

The doctor attended to the patient.

attract (someone’s) attention

– to cause someone to notice you

The strange behavior of the man attracted the policeman’s attention.

augur well for (someone or something)

– to predict good things for someone or something

The poor business conditions do not augur well for the workers.

avail oneself of (something)

– to use something that is available

We availed ourselves of the office space to prepare for the school festival.

avenue of escape

– the route along which someone or something escapes

There was no avenue of escape for the bank robbers.

average out at

– to calculate something as an average

The cost of our hotels averaged out at much more than we expected.

avoid (someone or something) like the plague

– to avoid someone or something totally

The girls avoided the new student like the plague.