American Idioms for ESL Students

Instructor: Vanessa Botts
Idioms are a part of basically every daily communication. In this lesson, we will discuss some common American idioms that will help you improve your understanding of the English language and build your conversational skills.

The Importance of Idioms

Do you go to the cinema? Do you watch TV shows? Most likely, your answer is a big 'yes!' In that case, then you may have noticed that movies and TV shows are full of idioms. In addition to movies and TV, you will hear a lot of idioms in everyday English conversation.

But, what exactly are idioms? Idioms are expressions whose meanings do not match the words. For example, when someone says, 'It's raining cats and dogs,' they do not mean that cats and dogs are literally falling from the sky; they mean to say it is raining a lot!

By learning idioms, you will be able to better communicate with native English speakers. You will also be able to better understand what you hear said in the movies and on TV. Plus, idioms can be a lot of fun!

Below are some common American Idioms to get you started. For each, you will see the idiom and its meaning followed by the idiom used in a sentence.

Everyday Idioms

  • Hit the nail on the head: This idiom has to do with doing or saying something that is exactly right.
    • You hit the nail on the head when you said it was going to rain today. It is pouring!
  • You can't judge a book by its cover: This idiom essentially means that you should not make a decision or judgement on something based on outward appearances.
    • The pizza looked awful, but I tried it, and it tasted great. It goes to show you can't judge a book by its cover!
  • Easy as pie: This is a very popular idiom that is used to describe a task or experience that is extremely easy.
    • I did great on the test. The questions were easy as pie.

School Idioms

  • Ace the test: This idioms means to get a very high score on a test.
    • I am happy that I aced my math test.
  • Cut class: The meaning of this idiom is to skip a school class or a day of school without an excuse.
    • The students who cut class yesterday got in trouble with the teacher and received a zero on their assignment.
  • Hit the books: This means to study hard.
    • I have a test tomorrow so I better hit the books tonight.

Idioms at Work

  • Get the boot: This means to be fired.
    • She got the boot because she missed too many days at work.
  • Show someone the ropes: To show someone how things are done.
    • I am going to show my new coworker the ropes so he can do his job properly.
  • Beat around the bush: This phrase means you are not saying exactly what you mean.
    • Don't beat around the bush. Please tell me exactly which restaurant you would like to go to!

Animal Idioms

  • As sick as a dog: This means to be very sick.
    • Last night I was as sick as a dog. I have never been so ill in my life.
  • When pigs fly: This phrase is a figure of speech used to describe an impossibility.
    • My parents said they would buy me a car when pigs fly. I guess I will have to keep walking to school!
  • Quiet as a mouse: As you might expect, this idiom means to be really quiet.
    • The student was quiet as a mouse in class because he wanted to hear everything the teacher was saying.

Relationship Idioms

  • Can't stand: This phrase denotes not liking (or even hating) something or someone.
    • I can't stand it when people arrive late to a party.
  • Blind date: This is a date where the two people have never met before.
    • I went on a blind date once, and I had a great time.
  • Break up with (someone): To break up means to end a relationship with someone.
    • My friends broke up after dating for two years.

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