Idioms are phrases or sayings with meanings that are different than what is actually being said. In other words, they should not be taken literally. For example, if someone is “in the same boat” as someone else, it means they are in the same situation. They are not actually in a boat together. There are many different idioms that have developed in the English language, especially in North America, over time. Learn the idioms below to help you become fluent and talk English like an American!
This saying means you are making good progress or are doing a really good job.
“The boss decided to promote Juan because he had been on a roll (doing a good job) lately.”
Although this might sound delicious, it isn’t referring to an actual piece of cake. It means something that is very easy.
“The quiz was a piece of cake (very easy) so all of the students passed it with an A.”
This one is similar to the last idiom because it isn’t literally talking about pie. It also means when something is very easy.
“The project was as easy as pie (very easy) so they finished it quickly.”
It would be very scary and concerning if cats and dogs were really falling from the sky like rain. “Raining cats and dogs” means when it is raining really hard.
“It was raining cats and dogs (really hard) outside so the event had to be cancelled.
This saying means to begin something so you can start making progress or so you can finish something.
“Let’s get the ball rolling (start making progress) on the construction project, so they can return to their house.”
Here, an owner isn’t talking about their pet dogs being loud. “My dogs are barking” is another way of saying “My feet are hurting.”
“After walking around all day, my dogs are barking (my feet are hurting).”
“To hit the sack” is another way of saying to go to sleep. People usually say it when they are very tired.
“Today was a really long day, so I am going to hit the sack (go to sleep) now.”
Whoa, horse! No, this saying isn’t about real horses. It means to calm down or to be patient.
“The teacher told her students to ‘hold their horses’ (be patient) when they all started running after the lunch bell rang.”
This idiom means to not feel well. It could mean someone is sick or that they are upset about something.
“She went home early because she was feeling under the weather (sick) and had a very bad headache.”
“Cut to the chase” means to get to the point without wasting time.
“Feeling impatient and angry, he told them to cut to the chase (stop wasting time) and stop avoiding his questions.”
This does not refer to a literal fire. It is referring to a bad situation. “To add fuel to the fire” means to make something even worse than it already is.
“They are already very upset, so please don’t add fuel to the fire (make things worse) by telling them the bad news.”
If you “have a big mouth” you may not actually have a large mouth on your face. This American idiom refers to when someone like to talk or gossip.
“She has a big mouth (likes to gossip) and tells others my secrets, so I stopped telling her personal things. “
This saying means to relax and get rid of stress. Think of the “steam” as stress that his leaving the body.
“He had been stressed for weeks and decided to blow off some steam (relieve his stress) by getting a back massage.”
No actual highways are involved in this American saying. It means when someone wants something done in an exact way or there will be negative consequences.
“This is your last chance, or you may get fired. Even after all of this time, you still purposely do not finish your work. This time, it’s my way or the highway (or there will be negative consequences).”
“To hit the nail on the head” means to get something completely right or correct.
“You hit the nail on the head (got it right) when you got my favorite movie as a gift.”
Now that you know these idioms, you can talk English like an American! They are used in everyday conversation, so they will really help you speak fluently. If you want someone to practice saying these with, check out (or visit) Spoken English Practice where you can get a native spoken English partner.
Want to talk English like an American but not familiar with American slang? Read this post
Want to talk English like an American but not familiar with American pronunciation? Here is a great guide
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