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Common Idioms

Learning common idioms first is the best way to begin building up your knowledge of these types of words and expressions.

This page has been divided up into 5 tables of 10 words, so you have 50 of the most common phrases, and you can learn them as a set at a time.

Soon some exercises will be added so you can practice each set of words, so keep an eye on this page.

Make sure that you have checked that you know exactly what idioms are and when to use them before you start practicing them.

These common idioms are for speaking rather than writing. 

Common Idioms List

Set 1

Common Idioms


It cost me an arm and a leg to take my trip to Australia.

Very expensive

I was over the moon when he asked me to marry him.

Extremely pleased or happy

You are taking your IELTS test next week?? Aren’t you jumping the gun. You’ve only just started studying.

Doing or starting something too early

He comes round to see me once in a blue moon.

Happening very rarely

He’s got a chip on his shoulder.

Feeling inferior or having a grievance about something

I reckon getting a band 7 in IELTS will be a piece of cake! I’m very good at English.

Very easy

The money sent by comic relief to help poverty in Africa is just a drop in the ocean. They need far more than this.

A very small part of something much bigger

Getting a low score the first time I took IELTS was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to study extremely hard so I got a much better score the next time.

Something positive that isn’t recognized until later

We have to actually do something about global warming. Actions speak louder than words.

It’s better to actually do something rather than just talking about it

I bumped into Jenny in town the other day. It's a small world.

Meeting someone you would not have expected to

Idioms Practice - Test yourself on these first 10 common idioms

Set 2

Common Idioms


Oh well, I got 5.5 in IELTS again. Back to the drawing board!

When an attempt to do something fails and it's time to start all over again using different methods

I hate my job so much I can’t bare going to work, but if I quit I don’t think I can get another job. I’m really stuck / caught between a rock and a hard place.

Having two very bad choices.

(note: stuck/caught can be omitted)

I have to bite my tongue so I don’t say what I really think of him!

Wanting to say something but stopping yourself.

Come on, cut to the chase. We haven’t got all day!

Leave out all the unnecessary details and just get to the point

Are you putting all of your savings into that company? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Putting all of ones resources into one possibility

Try not to worry about it. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Believing that every bad situation has a positive side / eventually leads to something good

It was difficult when I moved to another country but I eventually found my feet.

To become comfortable in what you are doing

My parents are very fixed in their ways. They won’t start using the internet.

Not wanting to change from the normal ways of doing things

I think he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. He is in a terrible mood.

To refer to someone who is having a bad day

My mother will always go the extra mile to help people.

Doing much more than is required when doing something

Go to the Idiom practice exercise for these 10 words

Set 3

Common Idioms


I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s the reason he didn’t get the job.

Say exactly the right thing

Today’s going so badly. If it’s not one thing, it’s the other.

When everything seems to be going wrong

I just said it in the heat of the moment. I was angry. I know I shouldn’t have.

Saying or doing something suddenly without thinking about it

Keep an eye on him. I think he may cheat in the exam.

Watch someone or something carefully

Have you heard? John down the road has kicked the bucket.


I don’t want to argue with him again. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Avoid a conflict

I told him what gift you have bought him for his birthday. Sorry, I didn’t mean to let the cat out of the bag.

Tell someone something that you were not supposed to

Don’t tell her what you really think of her if she’s helping you with your English! Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Hurt or upset someone who is helping you

I’m not sure which party he is going to vote for. He’s sitting on the fence.

Not making a firm decision between different choices

Everything she does is very over the top. She can’t just have a few drinks – se has to get really drunk.


View these 10 idioms in use and practice them

Set 4

Common Idioms


Let’s keep studying for IELTS. Practice makes perfect.

Continuously doing something to improve

Don’t get upset about what he said. He’s just pulling your leg.

Joking around

Sorry but I think I’ll take a rain check on that.

To decline an offer that you will take up later

As a rule of thumb, I don’t study at weekends. I spend the time with my family.

Principal that is strictly adhered / kept to

I can smell a rat. He said he has a PhD but he can’t even remember which university he studied at.

To sense that something is not right

She’s the spitting image of her mother.

To look exactly like someone else

The ball's in your court now. What are you going to do?

Telling someone it's now their turn to make a decision

Unfortunately I think he’ll be studying for IELTS until the cows come home. His English is very poor.

For a very long time

It was all tongue-in-cheek. He didn’t really mean what he said.

Something said in humour rather than seriously

She’s feeling under the weather today so she won’t be going to work.


Go to idioms exercises for Set 4 words

Set 5

Common Idioms


We've had some big disagreements over the years, but it’s all water under the bridge now. We get on fine.

Things from the past that are not important anymore

You are what you eat so it’s better to have a healthy diet.

If you eat bad food, you’ll be unhealthy, if you eat good food, you’ll be healthy

You can’t judge a book by its cover. I need to get to know him before I decide what he is like.

The belief that outside appearances do not reveal what someone or something is really like

We're really working against the clock now. We must hurry.

Not having enough time to do something

Why are we bothering? We're flogging a dead horse. Our online business is making no money, so we should move on and do something else.

Attempting to continue with something that is finished / over

I bent over backwards to help him. I hope he appreciates it.

Doing all you can to help someone

So you have the IELTS test today?? Break a leg.

Good luck

Ok, I'm playing devil's advocate here, but if marijuana is legalized, isn't it more likely young people will smoke it?

To put forward a side in an argument that may not be your own in order to show the counter-argument / ensure all sides are discussed

Hold your horses! We haven't won anything yet.

Telling someone who is getting ahead of themselves to wait / be patient

She is driving me up the wall. She won't stop talking.

Annoying or irritating somebody

Go to idiom practice exercises for Set 5 words

Now that you know some common idioms you can start to practice with them. Some practice exercises for the words in the sets above will be added to the site soon.

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