Still More Common English Idioms


This week we’re going to demystify another ten commonly-used English idioms. 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, contact the English Island in Atlanta. Our passionate, experienced ESL teachers can create a customized class that fits your busy schedule and individual needs.


At the drop of a hat: To do something instantly or without hesitation.

“Mira loves Doctor Who. She’ll discuss the show at the drop of a hat.”


The ball is in your court: The next action, decision, or step is up to you.

“Here’s the list of potential clients you requested. The ball’s in your court now.”


Barking up the wrong tree: To be pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action.

“Mark is barking up the wrong tree pursuing leads in that neighborhood. None of the homeowners are looking to sell.”


Between a rock and a hard place: Having to choose between two difficult or unpleasant alternatives.

“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Delaying the product launch will cost us thousands of dollars, but shipping it without fixing the bug could hurt the company’s reputation.”


Cross that bridge when you come to it: Deal with a problem when and if it becomes necessary to do so but not before.

“I haven’t decided whether to renew my lease at the end of the year. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”


Don’t quit your day job: A way of saying that someone is not skilled enough at something to do it professionally.

“Don’t quit your day job. Your standup routine is funny but probably not in the way you intended.”


Every cloud has a silver lining: Even when times seem bad, there is a positive way of looking at the situation.

“Every cloud has a silver lining. Getting laid off gave me the push I needed to finally pursue my dream job.”


Jump on the bandwagon: To join others in doing something that is fashionable, popular, or likely to be successful.

“June wants us to jump on the bandwagon and do the Mannequin Challenge.”


The last straw / the straw that broke the camel’s back: A final small additional burden that makes everything else a person has been dealing with unbearable.

“I’m not inviting Suzie to the Christmas potluck because I’m sick of her being rude to the other guests. The last straw was when she made fun of Heather’s costume at the Halloween party.”


Make a long story short: Get to the point quickly by leaving out details.

“Anyway, to make a long story short, we received a full refund for the defective