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Essential English idioms to sound like a native!

I read somewhere that a former British Education Secretary once said rather humorously:  “Idioms are pivotal in learning a second language but they generally put foreigners in a pickle!” – I could not help but wonder if a non-native English person would understand or have visions of ‘cornichons’… This got me thinking.

Have you ever considered that what you learn from books and what you learn from the real world are two very different things? Imagine you are in an Irish pub in Dublin, you hear two men talking about “twisting Robert’s arm”… and saying Peter’s been “stabbed in the back”… don’t reach for your mobile phone to dial 999 … they’re not talking about a fight or incident resulting in a casualty or death in a dark alleyway behind the pub. They’re simply using English idioms! What exactly are they?

English idioms are a group of words with a meaning which isn’t necessarily obvious from looking at the individual words; they often rely on analogies and metaphors. So to understand English idioms never look at them or read them in a literal sense as the words won’t make sense together! Instead, try to learn them in context so you understand their meaning and use them correctly. You should learn English idioms because this will help you fit in in most conversations whether in a social or a business context!

Here are some common English idioms to get you on the right track!

1. (To) Ring a bell

in other words: to remind one of something

 “Do I know him, his name rings a bell.”

2. (To) Twist someone’s arm

in other words: to pressure or force someone to do something

“She immediately agreed to meet me, I didn’t have to twist her arm.”

3. (To) Stab someone in the back

in other words: to betray someone’s confidence or trust

“She stabbed me in the back, she left me for another man.”

4. (To) Beat about the bush

in other words: to avoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable

“Mark, just get to the point and stop beating about the bush.”

5. (To) Face the music

in other words: to experience negative repercussions for one’s actions or words

“Next time you come home late, I’ll tell your father and you will really face the music!”

6. (To be) On the ball

in other words: knowledgeable; competent; attentive.

“My boss is really smart; he is always on the ball!”

7. (To be) Under the weather

in other words: to feel unwell.

“Paul won’t be in the office today, he is feeling under the weather.”

8. (To) Cut to the chase

in other words: to get to the point.

“The manager didn’t waste any time and got straight to the point.”

9. (To) Cut corners

in other words: to do something poorly in order to save time or money.

“The decorator cut corners by using a single layer of paint in the bathroom.”

10. (To) Hit the books

in other words: to study

“You better hit the books if you want to pass your exam!”


I’m sure that you can see the fun in English idioms and that you’re considering placing a few of the above in your upcoming conversations!

You could say that English idioms are a “blessing in disguise”, which means a good thing that seemed bad at first!


Article written by Melanie – Educational Manager