Even More Common English Idioms

This week we’re going to demystify another ten commonly-used English idioms. You can find previously covered English idioms lessons by clicking on the following links:

An idiom is a phrase whose meaning is different from the dictionary definitions of the words that comprise it. Idioms pose a special challenge for non-native English speakers precisely because you can’t determine their figurative meanings from their literal meanings.

English has thousands of such idioms, so we’ll only be covering a small number here. If you need additional help with idioms or any other aspect of the English language, you can read our previous blog posts on English idioms or contact us. If you’re located in the Atlanta area, and you are interested in improving your English skills, then come see us! Our passionate, experienced ESL teachers can create a customized class that fits your busy schedule and individual needs.

Actions speak louder than words

What a person does is more important than what a person says.

“Actions speak louder than words. If Rachel wants everyone to take turns cleaning the break room, she should be the first to volunteer.”

Beat around the bush

To avoid directly addressing a topic.

“Let’s not beat around the bush. The client was unhappy with the lack of updates on the project.”

Hot potato

A controversial issue or situation which is awkward or difficult to talk about.

“Usually eager to talk about politics, Will dropped the issue like a hot potato when his dad entered the room.”

Miss the boat

To lose an opportunity or to otherwise miss out on something.

“We really missed the boat on that new technology. Our chief competitor developed a working prototype almost two years ago.”

On the ball

Alert, competent, or efficient.

“Julie is always on the ball. She anticipates problems and catches mistakes that others miss.”

Penny for your thoughts

A way of asking what is on someone’s mind.

“Penny for your thoughts? You’ve seemed distracted all day.”

Pull the wool over someone’s eyes

To deceive someone by telling untruths.

“Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes. I know you were out well past your curfew last night.”

Steal someone’s thunder

To win praise by preempting someone else’s attempt to impress.

“Robert’s attempt to steal Jane’s thunder during the meeting backfired when Robert’s supervisor rebuked him for speaking out of turn.”

Take with a grain of salt

Not take what someone says seriously; be skeptical of the truthfulness of a claim.

“You should take Casey’s recommendations for database software with a grain of salt. She has a vested interest in getting us to switch to the product her company owns.”

Wouldn’t be caught dead

Would never do something.

“I know the air conditioning is out on our floor, but I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing shorts and flip flops to work.”