15 Essential English Idioms for Sounding Like a Native

An idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. There are thousands of idioms, and they occur frequently in all languages. It is estimated that there are at least twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language.

Here’s a run down on some of the most common English Idioms used by native teenagers and young adults. It will help you understand your friends better in daily situations such as hanging out with your friends in a Bar.

15 Essential English Idioms for ESL Students

No.IdiomsMeaningExample
1Up in the air
“(to be) up in the air” is and English Idiom meaning that something has not been resolved, finished or answered yet. It usually refers to a plan or a decision that has not been decided or being uncertain.
“I think I can do it quickly, but the exact schedule is still up in the air.”
2Hit the booksThis idiom simply means to study, especially with particular intensity. It is used as a verb – hit the books.“They go to the beach when they should be hitting  the books and then they wonder why they get bad grades”
3Hit the sack(to) hit the sack” generally means to go to bed. You can also say “hit the hay” which has the same meaning.“…A soldier gets tired feet and is eager to hit the sack.”

“Time to hit the hay”

4Twist someone’s armThe idiom “twist someone’s arm” generally means to persuade someone to do something. If someone twisted your arm, it means that someone has done a great job of convincing you to do something you might not have wanted to do.“They had to twist his arm, but they got him to join the project”

“Uhm, you’ve twisted my arm. Ok John, I’ll go with you”

5Stab someone in the backThe saying “stab someone in the back” simply means to betray someone. It is used as a verb – stab someone in the back.“He was stabbed in the back by his friends.”
6Lose touchThe idiom “(to) lose touch” means to cease to be familiar with someone or something (e.g. some certain skills or talent). This also refers to the lost in the ability to communicate or have contact with others. To make it simple, if you lose your touch, you lose your ability or skills you once had when working with things/situations, or dealing/communicating with people.“Suddenly, friends found me again that I had lost touch with years ago”

“It looks like you’ve lost your touch with the girls in class”

7Sit tightThe saying “(to) sit tight” means to wait patiently or to remain quiet or relatively motionless. If somebody tells you to sit tight, they would like you to wait and take no action until they say otherwise.“I’ll be back in a few minutes, so sit tight while I go find her”
8Pitch inThe saying “pitch in” is an English idiom simply meaning to help out, to lend assistance; or to contribute. It is used as a verb – pitch in.“If we all pitch in, we can raise enough money for the renovation of the church”
9Pull someone’s legThe saying “pull someone’s leg” means to tease someone, to lead someone on or to goad someone into overreacting. The term usually implies teasing or goading by jokingly lying. A brief translation of this saying could be to “fool or trick someone”.“I hadn’t pulled Ms Jane’s leg for any of that stuff, she had just handed it to me on a platter, and that wasn’t my fault”
10Face the musicThe idiom “(to) face the music” means to accept or confront the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions. It is used as a verb – face the music.“He failed the exam as he was so lazy. So he’s going to have to face the music
11On the ballThe saying “(to be) on the ball” is typically used to reference someone that is alert, active, or attentive. A brief translation of this idiom would be “on top of things”.

If you say someone is “on the ball”, you mean that he or she understands the situation well.

“If I had been more on the ball I would have asked when he called me”
12Rule of thumbThe saying “rule of thumb” refers to a general guideline, rather than a strict rule. Thus “rule of thumb” is a common understanding which is based on experience or general knowledge.“The usual rule of thumb says that to calculate when an investment will double, divide 70 by the interest rate.”
13Ring a bellThis idiom is very simple. Particularly, the saying “ring a bell” means to seem at least vaguely familiar. It is used as a verb – ring a bell.“His face rings a bell. I wonder if I know him from somewhere.”
14Under the weatherThe saying “(to be) under the weather” is generally used to reference someone that is somewhat ill or gloomy. So “feeling a bit under the weather” simply means feeling slightly ill.“I’m sorry, I feel a bit under the weather, I think I cannot join the party tonight”
15Blow off steamThe idiom “blow off steam” simply means to rant (talk loudly and in a way that shows anger) or shout in order to relieve stress. It is used as a verb – blowoff steam.“Don’t take it personally when he shouts like that. He’s just blowing off steam

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