Famous Idioms

Team English - Examples.com
Created by: Team English - Examples.com, Last Updated: June 6, 2024

Famous Idioms

Explore the fascinating world of famous idioms that have stood the test of time. With this comprehensive guide, we’ll unlock the hidden meanings behind each idiom, offering you a deep understanding that goes beyond mere surface value. Whether you’re a writer aiming to enrich your vocabulary or a reader seeking to understand the nuances, we’ve got you covered. Learn the origins, delve into examples, and get pro tips on how to write and use these iconic phrases effectively. Make your language more compelling and engaging today!

What is a Famous Idiom? – Definition

A famous idiom is a phrase or expression that has gained widespread recognition and usage in a particular language or culture. These idioms often carry meanings that aren’t directly related to the individual words in the phrase. They are commonly used in both spoken and written language, making them essential tools for effective communication.

What is an example of a Famous Idiom?

One of the most famous idioms is “break the ice.” This idiom means to initiate a conversation or activity to create a more relaxed and comfortable environment. It doesn’t literally mean to break a layer of ice; rather, it signifies the act of overcoming initial social awkwardness.

Example in a sentence: “When John walked into the meeting room, he told a joke to break the ice, making everyone feel more at ease.”

In this sentence, John used humor as a tool to “break the ice,” aiming to make the room more comfortable for conversation. This idiom is widely recognized and understood, making it a perfect example of a famous idiom.

100 Famous Idiom Examples, Meaning, Usage, Sentences

Famous Idioms
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Explore this comprehensive list of 100 famous idioms, complete with their meanings, usage tips, and example sentences. Idioms add color to language and are used to convey complex ideas in a simple, relatable manner. This guide is perfect for anyone looking to enrich their vocabulary and gain insights into the nuances of popular phrases.

Idiom Meaning Usage Sentence Example
Break the ice To initiate social interaction Introduction She broke the ice by asking about his hobbies.
Hit the sack Go to bed Rest It’s late, I’m going to hit the sack.
It’s raining cats and dogs It’s raining very heavily Weather Take an umbrella, it’s raining cats and dogs out there!
A piece of cake Easy Simplicity The exam was a piece of cake.
Kill two birds with one stone Accomplish two tasks with one action Efficiency By studying English, you kill two birds with one stone.
Burn the midnight oil Work late into the night Hard work She was burning the midnight oil to finish the project.
Once in a blue moon Very rarely Rarity I only go to the cinema once in a blue moon.
A penny for your thoughts Asking what someone is thinking Inquiry You seem distant, a penny for your thoughts?
The ball is in your court It’s your decision or responsibility Decision-making I’ve done all I can; now the ball is in your court.
Spill the beans Reveal a secret Disclosure She spilled the beans about their surprise party.
Go down like a lead balloon To be poorly received Reception His joke went down like a lead balloon.
Let sleeping dogs lie Don’t disturb a situation as it may result in trouble Caution I decided to let sleeping dogs lie and not bring up the past.
When pigs fly Something that will never happen Improbability He’ll tidy up his room when pigs fly.
Kick the bucket To die Mortality He kicked the bucket at the age of 90.
Bite the bullet Face a difficult situation bravely Courage It’s time to bite the bullet and quit smoking.
The early bird catches the worm Arriving early gives you an advantage Punctuality She always wakes up early because the early bird catches the worm.
Don’t cry over spilled milk No use regretting over a past mistake Regret It’s done; don’t cry over spilled milk.
Put all your eggs in one basket Relying solely on a single solution or plan Risk Diversify your investments and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Walk on eggshells To tread carefully Caution With her bad mood, you have to walk on eggshells.
Take with a grain of salt Don’t take something too seriously Skepticism Take his advice with a grain of salt.
Break a leg Good luck Well-wishing Break a leg on your performance tonight!
A dime a dozen Something common or easy to find Commonality Those types of mobile phones are a dime a dozen.
A picture is worth a thousand words Visuals can convey what may take lots of words Communication The photos of the event speak for themselves; a picture is worth a thousand words.
Actions speak louder than words What you do means more than what you say Integrity Don’t just say you care, show it; actions speak louder than words.
An arm and a leg Something very expensive Cost This car costs an arm and a leg.
Barking up the wrong tree To make a false assumption about something Misdirection You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think I was the one who did it.
Beat around the bush Avoiding the main topic Evasion Stop beating around the bush and get to the point.
Better late than never It’s better to arrive late than never arrive Punctuality He arrived two hours late to the party, but better late than never.
Cry over spilled milk Complain about something that can’t be fixed Regret There’s no use crying over spilled milk.
Cut to the chase Leave out unnecessary details Directness Cut to the chase and tell me what you want.
Fit as a fiddle In good health Health After working out regularly, he’s as fit as a fiddle.
Get out of hand To become difficult to control Control The party got out of hand and the police were called.
Give the cold shoulder Ignore someone Ignorance She gave him the cold shoulder all evening.
Go back to the drawing board Start over Redo Our plans failed, so it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Hang in there Keep persevering Persistence I know times are tough, but hang in there.
Hit the nail on the head Do or say something exactly right Accuracy You hit the nail on the head when you identified the issue.
In the heat of the moment Overwhelmed by what is happening Emotion In the heat of the moment, he said things he later regretted.
Jump on the bandwagon Join a popular activity or trend Trend They jumped on the bandwagon of the new fitness craze.
Keep something at bay Keep something away Avoidance The vaccine has kept illnesses at bay.
Let the cat out of the bag Accidentally reveal a secret Disclosure He let the cat out of the bag and told them about the wedding.
Miss the boat It’s too late Lateness He missed the boat when he forgot to apply for the job.
No pain, no gain You have to work for what you want Effort She works out every day—no pain, no gain.
On the ball Doing a good job Competence Keep up the good work; you’re really on the ball.
Pull someone’s leg To joke with someone Humor I was just pulling your leg; I didn’t mean it.
See eye to eye Agree Agreement They see eye to eye on most issues.
Sit tight Wait patiently Patience Sit tight; your order is coming soon.
Speak of the devil The person just mentioned appears Appearance Speak of the devil, here he comes now!
Take it with a grain of salt Be skeptical Skepticism Take her comments with a grain of salt; she exaggerates.
The best of both worlds All the advantages Benefit By working from home, she has the best of both worlds.
Throw in the towel Give up Surrender He’s decided to throw in the towel and quit his job.
Under the weather Feeling ill Illness I’m feeling under the weather today, so I’ll stay home.
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it Deal with a problem when it arises Procrastination We don’t know what they’ll say, so let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.
You can’t judge a book by its cover Don’t judge based on appearance Prejudice She may look unfriendly, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Add insult to injury To make a bad situation worse Aggravation Losing his job was bad enough, but the company added insult to injury by taking away his bonus.
A leopard can’t change its spots A person can’t change their nature Character He always cheats; a leopard can’t change its spots.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away Regular preventive care helps maintain good health Health She eats fruits and vegetables because an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
At the drop of a hat Without any hesitation Spontaneity She would help you at the drop of a hat.
Be all ears Listen carefully Attention I’m all ears, tell me what happened.
Bite off more than you can chew Take on more than you can handle Overcommitment He took on too many projects and bit off more than he could chew.
Cat got your tongue? Unable to speak Speechlessness You haven’t said anything. Cat got your tongue?
Chip on your shoulder Carrying a grudge Resentment He has a chip on his shoulder ever since the promotion was given to someone else.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket Diversify your resources Risk management Invest in multiple stocks; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Easier said than done More difficult than it appears Challenge Making a successful product is easier said than done.
Every cloud has a silver lining Positive aspect in a bad situation Optimism Losing that job led her to a better opportunity; every cloud has a silver lining.
Get a taste of your own medicine Receive the same treatment you’ve given others Retribution He got a taste of his own medicine when his pranks were turned against him.
Hit the books To study Study She needs to hit the books for her exams.
Ignorance is bliss Not knowing is better Ignorance She chose not to know the details; ignorance is bliss.
It’s not rocket science It’s not complicated Simplicity Just follow the instructions; it’s not rocket science.
Jump to conclusions Make a judgment without sufficient facts Assumption Don’t jump to conclusions without all the information.
Keep your eyes peeled Stay alert Vigilance Keep your eyes peeled for any signs of trouble.
Like comparing apples to oranges Comparing two things that can’t be compared Comparison Comparing their skills is like comparing apples to oranges.
Make a long story short Tell something briefly Brevity To make a long story short, we missed the flight.
Not playing with a full deck Lacking intelligence or common sense Stupidity He thinks the earth is flat; he’s not playing with a full deck.
Off the hook No longer have to do something Relief The meeting was canceled, so you’re off the hook.
Out of the frying pan into the fire From a bad situation to a worse one Deterioration After leaving his job, he found a worse one; out of the frying pan into the fire.
Play your cards right Make good decisions Strategy If you play your cards right, you might get promoted.
Read between the lines Understand the hidden meaning Interpretation The letter was polite, but reading between the lines, you could sense the frustration.
Steal someone’s thunder Take the attention away from someone else Attention-stealing She wore the same dress to the party and stole my thunder.
Take the bull by the horns Deal with a problem decisively Courage He decided to take the bull by the horns and resolve the issue himself.
Test the waters To cautiously try something new Experimentation Before launching the new product, they decided to test the waters with a soft launch.
Throw in the towel To give up Surrender After hours of trying to solve the problem, he finally threw in the towel.
Turn a blind eye To ignore something intentionally Negligence The teacher turned a blind eye to the minor misconduct in the classroom.
Up in arms Angry and protesting Anger The community was up in arms over the new development project.
Walk on eggshells To be extremely cautious Caution Ever since the argument, he’s been walking on eggshells around her.
You can’t judge a book by its cover Don’t judge something based solely on appearance Judgment She seemed shy, but you can’t judge a book by its cover; she turned out to be really outgoing.
Zero in on To focus closely Concentration She zeroed in on her main goal for the year and made a plan to achieve it.
A penny for your thoughts Asking someone what they are thinking about Inquiry You look lost in thought, a penny for your thoughts?
A picture is worth a thousand words An image can tell a story better than words Expression The photo of the smiling child spoke volumes; a picture is worth a thousand words.
Cut to the chase Get to the point Directness We’re short on time, so let’s cut to the chase. What’s your main concern?

Famous Idiom Examples in Literature

Literature often captures the essence of language by using idiomatic expressions. These idioms not only enrich the narrative but also make the characters more relatable. Below are 10 famous idioms often encountered in literature, each explained with its meaning, typical usage, and an example sentence.

Idiom Meaning Usage Sentence Example
A penny for your thoughts Asking what someone is thinking Inquiry In “Pride and Prejudice,” Elizabeth asks Darcy, “A penny for your thoughts?”
The world is your oyster You can achieve anything you want Encouragement This phrase is often attributed to Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
Brave new world A new and hopeful period in history Transformation Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” gives this idiom a darker twist.
Catch-22 A no-win situation Dilemma The term “Catch-22” comes from Joseph Heller’s novel of the same name.
Green-eyed monster Jealousy Emotion This idiom was popularized by Shakespeare in “Othello.”
Turn over a new leaf Make a fresh start Renewal In many novels, characters strive to turn over a new leaf.
Wear your heart on your sleeve Be open about your emotions Honesty Shakespeare’s “Othello” also gave us this idiom.
Bury the hatchet Make peace Reconciliation This idiom is commonly used in literature to signify the end of hostilities.
Cross the Rubicon Take a step that is irreversible Decision The phrase often appears in historical novels, signaling a point of no return.
Kill two birds with one stone Accomplish two tasks with a single action Efficiency The idiom is frequently used in adventure stories where the hero is resourceful.

Famous Idiom Examples in Poems

Poems are a rich source of idiomatic expressions, often adding layers of meaning and emotion to the lines. Here are 10 idioms that are frequently seen in poems, complete with their meaning, usage context, and example sentences.

Idiom Meaning Usage Sentence Example
The road less traveled An unconventional path or approach Uniqueness Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” popularized this idiom.
Break the chains Gain freedom or break from tradition Liberation This idiom often appears in poems about social justice or personal freedom.
Cast in stone Unchangeable or permanent Permanence Many poems use this idiom to discuss immutable truths or situations.
Close but no cigar Nearly succeeding but not quite Near miss This idiom often appears in poems dealing with failure or missed opportunities.
Dark horse An unknown or unexpected candidate Surprise Poems about underdogs or unexpected heroes may use this idiom.
Go down in flames Fail spectacularly Failure The idiom is used in poems that focus on dramatic failures or defeats.
In the blink of an eye Very quickly Speed This idiom is a favorite in poems that explore the concept of time.
Paint the town red Celebrate wildly Celebration Poems that speak of joyous occasions or victories may use this phrase.
Walk on eggshells Be overly careful Caution Poems that discuss tense or delicate situations often incorporate this idiom.
Water under the bridge Past events that are no longer important Forgiveness Poets use this to emphasize the importance of moving on or forgiving past grievances.

Most Common Idiom Examples

Idioms pepper our daily language, making it vibrant and relatable. Below are 10 of the most commonly used idioms, their meanings, usage scenarios, and example sentences to illuminate their everyday application.

Idiom Meaning Usage Sentence Example
An arm and a leg Very expensive Cost Buying a new car cost me an arm and a leg.
Beat around the bush Avoid speaking directly Evasion Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.
Every cloud has a silver lining Positive aspect in a bad situation Optimism Losing that job was tough, but every cloud has a silver lining; I found a better one.
Hit the sack Go to bed Rest I’m really tired; I think I’ll hit the sack.
It’s raining cats and dogs It’s raining heavily Weather Bring an umbrella; it’s raining cats and dogs out there.
Piece of cake Very easy Simplicity The test was a piece of cake.
See eye to eye Agree completely Agreement We finally see eye to eye on the business strategy.
Spill the beans Reveal a secret Disclosure He spilled the beans about their upcoming project.
Take it with a grain of salt Be skeptical Skepticism Take his advice with a grain of salt; he’s not an expert.
The ball’s in your court Your turn to take action Responsibility I’ve done my part; the ball’s in your court now.

How to Use Famous Idioms in Everyday Life?

Using idioms in your everyday communication can add color and depth to your language. Famous idioms, in particular, can resonate with many people, as they are often universally understood. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to incorporate these idioms into your daily life:

1. Understand the Context

Before using any idiom, it’s crucial to understand its meaning and the context in which it’s typically used. This ensures that you’re not just throwing phrases around but actually enriching your conversations.

2. Choose the Right Moment

Not all situations warrant the use of idioms. For instance, a business meeting might not be the best place to say “let’s bury the hatchet.” Reserve idioms for informal settings or instances where they can highlight a point effectively.

3. Make it Relevant

The idiom should align with the topic of discussion. Using an idiom like “break the ice” in a conversation about meeting new people is apt, but it would seem out of place in a discussion about finance.

4. Keep it Simple

Don’t overwhelm your audience by stuffing too many idioms into one conversation. A well-placed idiom can make an impact; too many can lead to confusion.

5. Test the Waters

Before using an idiom in a broader setting, try it out with friends or family to make sure you’re using it correctly.

6. Observe Others

Pay attention to how others use idioms in their speech. This not only helps you understand the idiom better but also gives you a sense of its effective application.

7. Consider Your Audience

Be aware of cultural differences. An idiom that’s well understood in one culture may not translate well in another.

Tips for Using Famous Idioms

Here are some handy tips to consider when incorporating famous idioms into your vocabulary:

1. Use Sparingly

Less is more. The impact of an idiom diminishes with overuse. Save them for moments when they can truly add value to your conversation.

2. Maintain Authenticity

Don’t force idioms into your speech. Use them only when they genuinely fit the situation and what you are trying to convey.

3. Pair with Clear Language

Balance idiomatic expressions with clear and straightforward language to ensure your overall message is understood.

4. Double-Check Meaning

Before using a new idiom, look it up to make sure you fully understand its meaning and connotations.

5. Be Mindful of Your Tone

Your tone should match the idiom you’re using. For example, if you’re using a lighthearted idiom, your tone should also be informal and relaxed.

6. Adapt to Your Context

Idioms can be adapted or modified to better fit the context of your conversation. For example, “the ball’s in your court” could be modified to “the ball’s in their court” to suit the topic at hand.

7. Avoid Mixing Idioms

Try not to mix idioms, as it can confuse your listener and dilute your message. Stick to one that accurately conveys your point.

By following these guidelines, you can enrich your conversations and make them more engaging. Just remember that idioms are tools for enhancing language; they’re most effective when used appropriately and sparingly.

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