English Idioms to Help You Speak Like a Native

4 minute read

English can be a tough language to learn, especially in the United States, where dialects and accents vary from region to region, or even from state to state. Learning English idioms can be a great way to improve your speaking skills as well as your ability to connect figurative expressions with their literal meanings. There are countless idioms in the English language, but here are a few to help you get started:

To twist someone's arm: To pressure someone into doing something they wouldn’t normally do. “You might have to twist his arm to get him to help us.”

To pull an all-nighter: To stay awake all night. “I had to pull an all-nighter so I would have enough time to study for all my exams.”

Rule of thumb: A practical principle that has been established over time through experiential knowledge. “Rule of thumb: Always look both ways before crossing the street.”

To get up on the wrong side of the bed: To be in an unhappy, grouchy state. “John doesn’t seem like his usual happy self. He must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

To pull someone's leg: To trick someone into believing or doing something. “Tom was just pulling your leg when he told you that he was Elvis Presley.”

To see through rose-colored glasses: To perceive that things are better than they actually are. “Sally never wants to acknowledge the truth because she see things through rose-colored glasses.”

To bite/hold your tongue: To avoid saying something. “I had to bite my tongue yesterday when I saw Beth in order to avoid letting the secret out about her surprise birthday party next week.”

Winging it: To improvise. “I completely forgot that I had a presentation today so I when I got up there, I just started winging it."

At your wit's end: To be upset or frustrated about something because you don’t know what to do. “I’m at my wit’s end. I’ve tried everything I possibly can to fix the computer but it still doesn’t work.”

Straight from the horse's mouth: To hear something from a primary source. “There’s a rumor that Susan’s party is cancelled but I’m not believing anything until I hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

Beat around the bush: To talk about something without directly mentioning the subject. “Josh spent at least 15 minutes beating around the bush before he finally told me that he wasn’t going to make it to the party tonight.”

Fish out of water: Someone who is uncomfortable in a situation or in an unfamiliar environment. “I went to the gym for the first time in a while yesterday. I felt like a fish out of water.”

To go with the flow: To have a relaxed, laid back attitude about something. “In life, it’s better to just sit back and go with the flow.”

To butter someone up: To excessively flatter someone in order to get what one wants. “If you want your boss to give you a day off, don’t try to butter him up. That never works in anyone’s favor.”

In a nutshell: To be concise and to the point. “The movie was written well, featured talented actors, and had amazing special effects. In a nutshell, we loved it.”

John Hancock: A signature; refers to John Hancock, the first member of the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. “Once you put your John Hancock on the dotted line, you’re free to go.”

To lay down the law: To establish a set of rules and regulations. “Growing up, my mother was an expert at laying down the law.”

Long shot: Refers to when there is very little chance at success. “John’s opponent has been training his whole life for this race. It’s a long shot.”

Not one’s cup of tea: Refers to when something is not to one’s liking. “I prefer being indoors over out in the wilderness. It’s just not my cup of tea.”

On the ball: To be alert and aware of one’s surroundings. “During our scavenger hunt, Susan was on the ball. She knew the answer to almost every riddle instantly.”

Hit the nail on the head/On the nose: To be exact. “John hit the nail on the head when he randomly guessed my birthday.”

To chicken out: To be too nervous or frightened to do something. “Right before my audition, I chickened out last minute and ended up going home.”

On the go: To be very busy and active. “Working two jobs and going to school has kept me very busy over the last few months. I’m constantly on the go.”

Take some time to memorize these idioms and use them in your daily conversations. Before you know it, you’ll be speaking like a native English speaker!

Hana Kamal By

Hana studied Politics and Romance Languages at NYU. She completed a semester in Madrid before joining the Career Training USA department as an intern in the summer of 2015.

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