An idiom is a group of words, a saying, or a phrase with a symbolic rather than literal meaning that is accepted in common usage. It is a form of artistic expression characteristic of a movement, period, individual, medium, or instrument.

Its symbolic sense differs from the definition or literal meaning of the words that make it. Idioms convey a figurative meaning that is difficult to understand solely by interpreting the words literally. For instance, “beyond the pale” means something is “over the line” or improper. You can only know that by being able to infer the phrase’s meaning based on context or if someone explains it to you.

Many different idioms exist, and people use them commonly in all languages. Translating them into other languages can be challenging because some meanings may be lost. Still, equivalents that fill in the gaps between languages exist. The English language has an unlimited number of idiomatic expressions.

Idiomatic expressions are the building blocks of civilization and language. They make the language evolve. The great intensity of idioms makes a language dynamic and interesting. Phrases bring a remarkable illustration to daily speech and offer compelling insights into the use of languages, words, and the speaker’s thought process. There is a sense of fun and mystery about idioms.

So why are idiomatic expressions difficult?
They are difficult because their meanings are not always easy to understand. This is particularly the case for non-native speakers of the language in question, since their intentions are typically symbolic. Due to this characteristic, English learners find them strange and hard to understand.

Top 10 Common Idioms

This is a list of the top ten most common English phrases and idioms used globally. We have provided their meaning and examples for teachers and students. Students also explain the meaning of idiomatic expressions in competitive exams. The popularity of an idiom can vary from region to region. However, this list is generally popular worldwide.

a hot potato

Meaning: a controversial issue or situation that is awkward to deal with.

Example: Addressing the issue of bullying in our school has become a hot potato. Read more ➺

piece of cake

Meaning: something that is easy to do

Example: Learning English is a piece of cake as long as you do it with our website. Read more ➺

once in a blue moon

Meaning: very rarely

Example: I go to visit my grandfather only once in a blue moon; he lives in a remote farm house. Read more ➺

a bed of roses

Meaning: easy option

Example: Taking care of my younger sister is no bed of roses; she is very silly. Read more ➺

raining cats and dogs

Meaning: raining very heavily

Example: I wanted to go to play outside, but it was raining cats and dogs yesterday. Read more ➺

when pigs fly

Meaning: something that will never happen or is impossible.

Example: William will keep quiet only when pigs fly. Read more ➺

devil's advocate

Meaning: one who presents a counter argument

Example: Hey Jack! You're always playing devil's advocate! Give it a rest and mind your own business. Read more ➺

miss the boat

Meaning: miss the chance.

Example: Peter wanted to enter the drawing competition, but he was too late to enter, and he missed the boat. Read more ➺

apple of eye

Meaning: someone very precious or dear

Example: Every kid in the world is the apple of their parents' eye(s). Read more ➺

zip your lip

Meaning: to stop talking

Example: I don't want to hear another sound out of you. Now do as you're told and zip your lip. Read more ➺

Latest Idioms

go pear-shaped

Meaning: to go wrong or fail, especially suddenly and unexpectedly.

Example: The business plan looked promising, but it all went pear-shaped when the funding fell through. Read more ➺


Meaning: a smart, educated woman who focuses on her studies, which some men do not like.

Example: She was often called a bluestocking because of her love for reading and discussing philosophy. Read more ➺

waiting in the wings

Meaning: be ready to step into a job or position when you have the chance.

Example: The new CEO is waiting in the wings, ready to take over as soon as the current one retires. Read more ➺

boy toy

Meaning: a young man who is used primarily by an older and wealthier woman for pleasure or status.

Example: She was often seen with her new boy toy at lavish parties. Read more ➺

spin your wheels

Meaning: to put in effort without making progress, resulting in frustration.

Example: Without a clear plan, you'll just spin your wheels and waste valuable time. Read more ➺

digital detox

Meaning: a period when someone refrains from using electronic devices to reduce stress and focus on real-life interactions.

Example: Many people find a digital detox beneficial for reducing anxiety and improving sleep patterns. Read more ➺

Oscar the Grouch

Meaning: used as a cultural reference to describe someone who is habitually irritable or unreasonably negative.

Example: Don't be such an Oscar the Grouch; it's a beautiful day outside. Read more ➺

under someone’s nose

Meaning: boldly in front of somebody.

Example: They conducted their secret meetings right under your nose. Read more ➺


Meaning: to intimidate or bully someone with stern or overbearing looks or speech.

Example: The manager would often browbeat his employees into working overtime without extra pay. Read more ➺

bout to pull up

Meaning: about to arrive at a location or place soon.

Example: I'm bout to pull up to the party, see you in ten minutes. Read more ➺

View all idioms

View the complete list of all idioms we have on our website. Read more ➺