20 Very Common and Useful Idioms in English

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” – a common English proverb from the 19th century.

In this post I am going to explain some idioms that I use regularly as I thought it would be super useful for you to learn them. 

Why is it important to learn idioms?

Because you sound like a native speaker. If you can use idioms correctly then your level in English immediately shoots up. 

How can you learn these idioms? 

My tip is for you to take the idiom and think of a personalised example, something that is true for you and then try to use it as often as possible.

The more you use it, the more it will stay in the brain!

Now for my top 20 idioms:

You can watch the first 10 from my Ask Us Anything live:

Ask Us Anything: My top 20 idioms Part 1
  1. A penny for your thoughts:  this is said when you want to know what someone is thinking because they have been quiet for a while. 

    “You’re very quiet, Bob – a penny for your thoughts?”

  2. To add insult to injury : this is used when someone has made a bad situation worse by doing something extra to upset you.

    He told her she was too old for him and then to add insult to injury he married someone 10 years older than her.

  3. To cost an arm and a leg: this means when something is very expensive.

    This computer cost me an arm and a leg!

  4. At the drop of a hat: we use this idiom when we do something immediately without stopping to think about it or have any hesitation.

     If someone offered me a free car, I’d take it at the drop of a hat. 

  5. To bark up the wrong tree: to be wrong about the reason for something.

    She thinks it’ll solve her problem but I think she’s barking up the wrong tree.

  6. To beat around the bush: to avoid talking about what’s important.

    “Stop beating around the bush and get to the point!”

  7. It’s the best thing since sliced bread: this means to be an excellent person or object.

    I remember when I got my first iPhone and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.

  8. To cross that bridge when you come to it: this expression means you will not worry about a problem in advance but deal with it if it happens.

    “Let’s not panic, we’ll wait and see what happens and if it doesn’t work, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

  9. You can’t judge a book by its cover: this is said to show you cannot know what someone or something is like just by looking at their appearance.

    At first I didn’t think much of the restaurant as it didn’t look great but the food was actually delicious! Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover

  10. To hit the nail on the head: this is used when you describe a 100% the solution to the problem or you completely agree with someone’s point of view.

    I think Kay hit the nail on the head by saying that back stabbing people are often acting out of jealousy.

  11. It takes two to tango: this means the situation or argument involves 2 people and they are both responsible for it.

    Divorce is never the fault of one person as it takes two to tango.

  12. To kill two birds with one stone: this idiom means to succeed in achieving two tasks in a single action.

    I killed two birds with one stone by picking up my package on the way to collecting my girls from school.

  13. To let the cat out of the bag: to tell a secret without intending to! 

    I was trying to keep the party for my husband a secret but his friend let the cat out of the bag and told him!

  14. To cut a long story short: this idiom is used when you explain something in as few words as possible, the main points without going into all the details.

    He dreamed of being a surgeon but to cut a long story short, he became a pharmacist instead.

  15. There is method to my madness: this is a great idiom for when you are doing something that looks bizarre and strange but in fact you have a very good reason to do what you are doing.

    I went into the kitchen one day and saw lots of petals made of icing on the kitchen table. My mother told me there was method to her madness as she was making lots of roses for a cake. 

  16. To miss the boat: we use this idiom when talking about missing an opportunity because we were too slow.

    There were cheap Eurostar tickets last week but I missed the boat and now there are only really expensive ones available for the summer.

  17. To give someone a  taste of their own medicine: to treat someone as badly as they have treated you.

    The bully in my daughter’s class finally got a taste of their own medicine by being pushed over in the playground by an older kid. 

  18. Wouldn’t be caught dead: we use this to say how much we dislike something.

    wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress like that – it is completely see through!

  19. Your guess is as good as mine: this idiom can be used when you do not know the answer to a question.

    “What’s he doing?”
    Your guess is as good as mine!

  20.  To give someone the benefit of the doubt: This is great idiom to express that you believe the good in someone rather than the bad.

     I didn’t know whether his story was true or not, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

If you want to check how the idioms above are pronounced be sure to watch my Ask Us Anything live on the second half of idioms:

Now it’s your turn to think of examples where you can use these idioms. Why not check them with your teacher in your next lesson. 

Intrepid English members can study English idioms in more detail with our extensive Essential English Idioms course in the Intrepid English Academy!

If you enjoyed these idioms you’ll also love our free eBook of Essential English Idioms! Learn twenty-five essential English idioms for all occasions and test your understanding with practice activities. Download your copy right here.


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