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30 Common English Idioms

TOEIC and TOEFL Takers; Get Your Feet Wet on These!

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Learning English isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (Learning English is difficult). First, grammar muddies the waters (makes things unclear), but idiomatic expressions only add fuel to the fire (make things worse).

If you’re taking the TOEFL or the TOEIC, read this list of common idiomatic expressions before you take the test. They may just help your English language acquisition soar (get much better).

Common English Idioms

  1. “24/7”: Twenty-four hours a day; seven days a week; all the time; constantly
    My little sister irritates me 24/7!
  2. “A short fuse”: A quick temper
    Jamie is known for his short fuse; just a few days ago he screamed at his coach for not letting him play.
  3. “A taste of your own medicine”: Bad treatment deservedly received for treating other people badly
    After constantly being prank-called, Julian decided to give Juan a taste of his own medicine and ordered twenty-seven pizzas to be delivered to Juan’s house.
  4. “Butterflies in my stomach”: To be nervous
    Liam had butterflies in his stomach before he went on stage to play the violin.
  5. “Cat got your tongue?”: Can’t you speak? (Usually said to embarrass the other person)
    I just saw you kissing my boyfriend. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?
  6. “Down for the count”: Tired; giving up; unable or unwilling to participate any longer.
    No, you can’t take my dog for a walk – she’s down for the count after chasing cats all day.
  7. “Draw the line”: To stop; to know the point where something goes from okay to not okay.
    Now I draw the line at speaking in front of 34,000 people.
  8. “Easier said than done”: Not as easy as it appears to be.
    You want me to come to work at 6:00 AM? Easier said than done!
  9. “Every cloud has a silver lining”: You can find good in every bad situation
    Even though you just got fired, remember that every cloud has a silver lining – at least you don’t have to work for that grouchy boss anymore!
  10. “Finding a needle in a haystack”: Virtually impossible to find
    Trying to get a new job these days is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
  11. “Fish out of water”: To be out of place
    Tom felt like a fish out of water at the Star Trek convention his new girlfriend begged him to attend.
  12. “Get something off your chest”: To talk about something that has been bothering you for a long time; to admit something you have done wrong
    I have to get this off my chest – I copied your answers from the test. Thanks for the “D” by the way.
  13. “Give it a whirl”: To try something
    I’ve never gone kite-boarding, but I’m prepared to give it a whirl!
  14. “In the fast lane”: A life filled with excitement
    When Curtis turned forty, he decided he needed to live life in the fast lane, so he quit his job as a dentist and decided to tour Europe by motorcycle.
  15. “In the nick of time”: Almost too late
    You came to pick me up in the nick of time – my teacher just saw me skipping class and was on his way to give me detention.
  16. “Let the cat out of the bag”: Tell a secret
    Brady’s surprise party is going to be great if you don’t let the cat out of the bag.
  17. “Lose your marbles”: To go crazy; insane
    Our professor has really lost his marbles; he assigned us seven essays this week!
  18. “Once in a blue moon”: Rarely
    In Florida, the temperature drops below freezing only once in a blue moon.
  19. “Plain as day”: Obvious; clear
    It’s plain as day that you’re in love with her, so just admit it.
  20. “Play second fiddle”: To be less important
    I hate playing second fiddle to my sister; she always does things better than I do!
  21. “Put your foot in your mouth”: Saying something you shouldn’t have
    Jessica really put her foot in her mouth when she asked about John’s job right after he lost it.
  22. “Sick and tired”: To be bothered or annoyed by
    She is sick and tired of her dog chewing up her shoes every day.
  23. “Sleep on it”: To think about something for a while before making a decision
    Don’t tell me whether you’ll move to Texas with me or not today. Sleep on it, and get back to me tomorrow.
  24. “Snug as a bug in a rug”: Warm and cozy; content
    That baby looks as snug as a bug in a rug cuddled up next to his mother.
  25. “Stick your nose into something”: To interfere
    Sharon always sticks her nose into everyone else’s business.
  26. “Straight from the horse’s mouth”: Directly from the person involved
    Listen to the news straight from the horse’s mouth; we’re all getting bonuses this week!
  27. “Take it easy”: Relax
    I know you’re not feeling well, so try to take it easy today.
  28. “Tip of the iceberg”: The small easily visible part of a larger problem
    The fact that Carrie is dating a member of the mafia is just the tip of the iceberg; she’s also smuggling contraband into the country.
  29. “To not see the wood for the trees”: To be so involved with the details that you don’t get the most important facts
    She always argues about the silliest things; it’s like she can’t see the wood for the trees.
  30. “Up a creek without a paddle”: In an unlucky/bad situation
    If you don’t have any money to pay for the repairs we just made to your car, I guess you’re up a creek without a paddle because you can’t have your car back.

These are just a few of the thousands of idioms in the English language. Get your feet wet (start) with these, and then move on to the idioms that will knock your socks off. (astound you).

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