Idioms are expressions that have a meaning that isn’t immediately obvious from the words themselves. Every language has them, and fluent speakers use them casually without even thinking about them. But for young students or those learning English as a second language, these phrases can be really confusing. Use “Idiom of the Day” lessons with your class to help them learn these expressions and get comfortable using them.

We’ve put together a list of some of the most common English idioms, complete with meanings and examples. Share these Idiom of the Day images with your students to deepen their understanding and use of American English idioms in no time flat!

Idiom Examples To Use in Idiom of the Day Lessons

1. A fish out of water

Idiom of the day: A fish out of water

Meaning: Someone in an uncomfortable position or situation

Example: It was Allison’s first day at her new school, and she felt like a fish out of water.

2. Add insult to injury

Add insult to injury--idioms of the day

Meaning: Do something to make a bad situation worse

Example: Learning she failed her science test on the same day her best friend moved away added insult to injury.

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3. All ears

All ears Meaning: Eager to listen to what someone has to say Example: The class was all ears when Ms. Ali mentioned a way to earn extra credit on the test.

Meaning: Eager to listen to what someone has to say

Example: The class was all ears when Ms. Ali mentioned a way to earn extra credit on the test.

4. Ants in your pants

Ants in your pants Meaning: Can’t sit still Example: “Stop wriggling while I’m braiding your hair!” Kehlani’s mom said. “You have ants in your pants this morning.”

Meaning: Can’t sit still

Example: “Stop wriggling while I’m braiding your hair!” Kehlani’s mom said. “You have ants in your pants this morning.”

5. Anything but

Idiom of the day: A fish out of water: Anything but

Meaning: Not at all

Example: When they heard about the pop quiz, the students were anything but excited.

6. Barking up the wrong tree

Barking up the wrong tree--idioms of the day

Meaning: To be looking for answers in the wrong place

Example: James thought Christopher was the one who broke the vase, but he was barking up the wrong tree.

7. Be a fly on the wall

Be a fly on the wall Meaning: To watch something happen without anyone knowing you’re there Example: Nico wished he could be a fly on the wall when his sister discovered the toad he’d left in her shoe!

Meaning: To watch something happen without anyone knowing you’re there

Example: Nico wished he could be a fly on the wall when his sister discovered the toad he’d left in her shoe!

8. Beat around the bush

Idiom of the day: Beat around the bush idioms examples

Meaning: To avoid saying what you mean, often because it would be difficult or uncomfortable

Example: Don’t beat around the bush. Just tell me why you can’t come to my birthday party on Friday.

9. Beef up

9. Beef up Meaning: To make something stronger Example: My teacher recommended I beef up my essay with stronger examples to support my main point.

Meaning: To make something stronger

Example: My teacher recommended I beef up my essay with stronger examples to support my main point.

10. Bigger fish to fry

Bigger fish to fry Meaning: More important things to do Example: Don’t waste my time with silly little things today. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Meaning: More important things to do

Example: Don’t waste my time with silly little things today. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

11. Bite the bullet

Bite the bullet idioms examples

Meaning: To do something that’s uncomfortable or not fun and get it over with

Example: After putting it off for several days, Alex decided to bite the bullet and start work on the history project.

12. Break a leg

Meaning: Good luck! Often used in the theater before a play or performance. Example: Is your piano recital tonight? Well, break a leg!

Meaning: Good luck! Often used in the theater before a play or performance.

Example: Is your piano recital tonight? Well, break a leg!

13. Break the ice

Idiom of the day: Break the ice

Meaning: To do or say something that will make people feel more comfortable

Example: OK, since none of us have met before, let’s introduce ourselves and break the ice by sharing our favorite ice cream flavor.

14. Call it a day

Call it a day

Meaning: To stop working on something and plan to pick it up again later

Example: After working for three hours on her science fair project, Sofia decided to call it a day.

15. Chip off the old block

Chip off the old block Meaning: A person who is similar to a parent in some way Example: Kayden loves to play chess as much as his dad does. He’s a real chip off the old block.

Meaning: A person who is similar to a parent in some way

Example: Kayden loves to play chess as much as his dad does. He’s a real chip off the old block.

16. Costs an arm and a leg

Idiom of the day: Costs an arm and a leg

Meaning: To describe something that is very expensive

Example: A new PlayStation costs an arm and a leg, so you’d better start saving now if you want to buy one.

17. Cut somebody some slack

Cut somebody some slack

Meaning: To ease up on someone, to allow them some leeway or another chance

Example: Even though Jake was late with his English essay, Ms. Davis decided to cut him some slack since she knew he’d had the stomach flu.

18. Cutting corners

Cutting corners

Meaning: To do something quickly and badly in order to save time or money

Example: Liza cut corners on her math homework so she could watch TV, and ended up getting most of the answers wrong.

19. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

Idiom of the day: Don't count your chickens before they hatch

Meaning: Don’t depend on something before it’s happened

Example: I know you’re sure you’re going to get the lead in the spring play, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

20. Drop the ball

Drop the ball Meaning: To make a mistake Example: Aisha said she’d make the poster for our project, but she forgot. She really dropped the ball on this one.

Meaning: To make a mistake

Example: Aisha said she’d make the poster for our project, but she forgot. She really dropped the ball on this one.

21. Every cloud has a silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining

Meaning: No matter how bad something seems, there’s usually a good side to it as well

Example: Jamal was disappointed that his soccer game was canceled, but it gave him time to go the movies with his friends, and his mom pointed out that every cloud has a silver lining.

22. Get out of hand

Idiom of the day: Get out of hand

Meaning: To become difficult to control

Example: Ms. Rodriguez told her students they could chat while they worked, as long as the noise level didn’t get out of hand.

23. Get something out of your system

Get something out of your system

Meaning: Do the thing you’ve been wanting to do so you can move on

Example: Mr. Patel knew his students were eager to try out the new playground equipment, so he told them to go ahead and get it out of their system before they started class.

24. Get your act together

Get your act together

Meaning: Behave properly, or organize your thoughts so you can do something successfully

Example: After the third time he was late to class, Connor’s teacher told him he needed to get his act together and start showing up on time.

25. Get your ducks in a row

Get your ducks in a row Meaning: To get things organized or make plans Example: I have so many things to get done today! I need to get my ducks in a row before I get started.

Meaning: To get things organized or make plans

Example: I have so many things to get done today! I need to get my ducks in a row before I get started.

26. Give someone the benefit of the doubt

Idiom of the day: Give someone the benefit of the doubt

Meaning: To trust what someone says, even if you’re not entirely sure what they’re saying is true

Example: Charlotte wasn’t sure Amelia was really late because she missed the bus, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

27. Give someone the cold shoulder

Give someone the cold shoulder

Meaning: To ignore someone, usually because you’re upset or angry with them

Example: Will and Jessica were mad at Emma, so they decided to give her the cold shoulder until she apologized.

28. Go back to the drawing board

Go back to the drawing board

Meaning: To start something over again with a completely new idea

Example: When her science experiment failed completely, Hailey knew it was time to go back to the drawing board.

29. Hang in there

Idiom of the day: Hang in there

Meaning: Don’t give up, keep on trying

Example: “I’m sorry you’re having a rough day,” Lucas told Olivia. “Hang in there. I’m sure things will be better tomorrow.”

30. Hit-or-miss

Hit-or-miss

Meaning: Something that might be good sometimes and bad other times

Example: Anna was a bit hit-or-miss when it came to remembering to take out the trash on Thursdays.

31. Hit the sack/hit the hay

Hit the sack idioms examples

Meaning: To go to bed

Example: “Nine o’clock!” said Mia’s dad. “It’s time to turn off the TV and hit the sack.”

32. Hold your horses

Hold your horses Meaning: Slow down, stop and think about what you’re doing Example: “Hold your horses!” their dad said. “You can’t go swimming until you put on sunscreen.”

Meaning: Slow down, stop and think about what you’re doing

Example: “Hold your horses!” their dad said. “You can’t go swimming until you put on sunscreen.”

33. It’s not rocket science

Idiom of the day: It's not rocket science idioms examples

Meaning: Used to describe something that isn’t complicated or difficult

Example: All you have to do is put the books back on the right shelf. It’s not rocket science!

34. It’s raining cats and dogs

It's raining cats and dogs

Meaning: To rain very hard

Example: I hope you brought your umbrella. It’s raining cats and dogs out there!

35. Let someone off the hook

Let someone off the hook

Meaning: To not hold someone responsible for something

Example: Logan was caught running in the hallway, but Ms. Walker let him off the hook because she knew he was late for the bus.

36. Miss the boat

Idiom of the day: Miss the boat

Meaning: To be too late for something that’s already started or is over

Example: Sarah wanted to join the lacrosse team, but she was too late to sign up and missed the boat.

37. On cloud nine

On cloud nine

Meaning: Extremely happy about something

Example: When Wyatt learned he’d gotten a perfect score on both his math and science tests, he was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

38. On the ball

On the ball

Meaning: To be quick and alert, dealing with things right away

Example: Alice got all her homework done and practiced her clarinet before dinner. She’s really on the ball today!

39. On thin ice

On thin ice

Meaning: In a risky situation or position

Example: When Mrs. Chen had to ask Ava and Noah to stop talking for the fourth time that day, she warned them both that they were on thin ice.

40. Play it by ear

Play it by ear Meaning: To figure things out as you go Example: We didn’t get a schedule in advance, so we’ll just have to play it by ear as the day goes along.

Meaning: To figure things out as you go

Example: We didn’t get a schedule in advance, so we’ll just have to play it by ear as the day goes along.

41. Pull someone’s leg

Pull someone's leg

Meaning: To tease someone or try to fool them

Example: No, the cafeteria isn’t really giving away free ice cream. I was just pulling your leg!

42. Pull yourself together

Pull yourself together

Meaning: To calm yourself down when you’re very upset

Example: I know you’re upset that your team lost the game, but you need to pull yourself together and go congratulate the winners.

43. Second wind

Second wind

Meaning: A fresh burst of energy

Example: Quinn thought she was too tired to go to the party after playing soccer all afternoon, but then she got a second wind.

44. Spill the beans

Spill the beans

Meaning: To give away a secret

Example: Isabella’s surprise party was ruined when Sarah spilled the beans a few days before.

45. Take a rain check

Take a rain check

Meaning: To postpone a plan until another time

Example: I’d love to play basketball after school, but I’ve got to go home to mow the lawn. Can I take a rain check?

46. The ball is in your court

Idiom of the day: The ball is in your court

Meaning: The decision or next step is up to you

Example: Nick’s mom told him he could either join the basketball team or sign up for karate class, so he had to choose one. “The ball is in your court,” she said.

47. The early bird gets the worm

The early bird gets the worm

Meaning: Those who arrive first have the best chance for success or receive the best things

Example: Grayson and Jayden showed up to find the best seats in the room already taken. “The early bird gets the worm!” said Maya with a grin.

48. The elephant in the room

Idiom of the day: The elephant in the room

Meaning: A large, obvious issue or problem that people are avoiding mentioning or dealing with

Example: After waiting for Joseph to explain his bright green hair all through dinner, his mom finally decided it was time to address the elephant in the room.

49. The icing on the cake

The icing on the cake

Meaning: Something that makes a good situation even better

Example: The band was excited to learn they’d earned a place in the regional competition. Finding out it would take place at Disney World was the icing on the cake.

50. The last straw

Idiom of the day: The last straw idioms examples

Meaning: The last in a series of events that causes someone to run out of patience

Example: “That’s the last straw!” said Elena after her little brother’s ball landed in her cereal bowl. “Go play outside!”

51. The whole nine yards

The whole nine yards

Meaning: Everything, all the way

Example: Grace and Nora went the whole nine yards to make sure Hannah’s birthday party was really special.

52. Through thick and thin

Idiom of the day: Through thick and thin

Meaning: When things are good and also when they’re bad

Example: Sophie and Chloe had been best friends since first grade, sticking together through thick and thin.

53. Time flies when you’re having fun

Time flies when you're having fun

Meaning: When you’re having a good time, you don’t notice how quickly the time is passing

Example: “Recess is over already?” said Ben. “I guess time flies when you’re having fun!”

54. To get bent out of shape

Idiom of the day: To get bent out of shape

Meaning: To get upset about something

Example: I didn’t mean to step on your foot—there’s no need to get bent out of shape about it.

55. To make a long story short

To make a long story short

Meaning: To give the basic facts about something instead of a long explanation

Example: To make a long story short, Liam tripped over his shoelace and that’s how he broke his wrist.

56. Under the weather

Idiom of the day: Under the weather idioms examples

Meaning: To be sick

Example: Miguel won’t be at the scout meeting today because he’s feeling a little under the weather.

57. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it

We'll cross that bridge when we come to it

Meaning: If that problem comes up, we’ll deal with it then, not right now

Example: We might have a snow day on Monday, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

58. Wrap your head around something

Idiom of the day: Wrap your head around something

Meaning: To understand something complicated or surprising

Example: It’s hard to wrap your head around just how big the universe is.

59. You can say that again

Meaning: I completely agree with what you just said Example: "This pizza is the best food I ever ate!" exclaimed Mateo. "You can say that again!" Dylan agreed.

Meaning: I completely agree with what you just said

Example: “This pizza is the best food I ever ate!” exclaimed Mateo. “You can say that again!” Dylan agreed.

60. Your guess is as good as mine

Idiom of the day: our guess is as good as mine

Meaning: When you have no idea what the answer is to a question or problem

Example: “Do you know how to solve number four in our math homework?” Maria asked. “Your guess is as good as mine,” David replied, shrugging his shoulders.

What other idioms do you teach in your Idiom of the Day lessons? Come share in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus if you like this Idiom of the Day article, check out 13 puns and jokes only a true grammar nerd will get.

Idioms are expressions that don't always make sense literally. Use these examples in Idiom of the Day lessons for students.