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50 Popular Idioms in English Language

Published on Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Idioms are phrases or combination of words which have a certain meaning as per common use. Idioms are muhavras, only in English!

Here are some popular ones for some light reading.

Adding insult to injury
Or, ‘jale pe namak’! Means to add to a person’s loss or misery.

Back to the drawing board
To start all over again when an initial plan fails.

Ball is in your court
Now it is up to you to decide what you want to do!

Barking up the wrong tree
Looking in the wrong place.

Best of both worlds
Having or wanting to take advantage of two different opportunities.

Bite off more than you can chew
Doing or undertaking to do more than one’s capacity.

Burn the midnight oil
To work/ study late in the night.

Caught between two stools
A situation where one finds needs to choose between two options and has difficulty in deciding.

Costs an arm and a leg
Extremely expensive. ‘The swiss watch would cost me an arm and leg!’

Cross that bridge when you come to it
To deal with a problem or situation when such a problem or situation actually arises.

Curiosity killed the cat
Sometimes, curiosity, that is the thirst to know what one shouldn’t know – can land you in trouble!

Cut corners
Anything not up to the mark in quality because cost saving was the main motive. ‘The dining table had one leg balanced on a piece of wood, because dad was cutting corners!’

Donkey’s years
Doing something for many years without any considerable progress.

Don't count your chickens before the eggs have hatched
Basically means not to be too optimistic! i.e., not to take decisions or make plans without a considerable certainty of the future.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket
Because if the basket falls then all the eggs will get destroyed! As in, don’t keep all your life’s plans or any other plans/ decisions geared to one thing – keep them varied – so lesser chance of total failure!

Drastic times call for drastic measures
Like when the Pandavas had had enough – they went to war! Thus, in extreme cases – one needs extreme measures to counter a situation.

Every cloud has a silver lining
It basically means – be optimistic in the pace of adversity – even though things are dark and gloomy now – the clouds will shift some day or another!

Feeling a bit under the weather
Means – feeling sick! Simple as that!

Give the benefit of the doubt
Is it correct to judge a person or a situation to be wrong where there is no absolute proof that they are wrong? NO! Hence, give them the benefit of doubt(you have a doubt whether they are wrong or right) and consider them to be right until proven wrong!

Hear it on the grapevine
As in receiving any information from the gossip circle! So, when you join any office don’t form your views on what you hear on the grapevine! Your boss might actually be a good person!

Hit the nail on the head
To be exactly – correct!

In the heat of the moment
You just end up doing without really thinking what you are doing or what the consequences might be. ‘I hit the accelerator instead of the brake in the heat of the moment; thank God I only hit the wall.’

It takes two to tango
Tango is a dance form, originating in South America – and it requires two people to do that particular dance. Also the phrase means – sometimes some deed (either good or bad) is done by not one but compulsorily two people. Like – ‘Off course Bill Clinton is and was enormously famous as a politician during his time – but it takes two to tango – his wife Hillary Clinton, who was also a respectable politician in her own rights, added her own persona to his public appearance.’

Keep something at bay
To keep something away – something unpleasant usually!

Kill two birds with one stone
To achieve two goals with a single attempt! Like, say, Abhinav Bindra getting an Olympic Gold and a World Record with a single try!

 Last straw
The very last problem which usually ends up making people lose their patience.

Let the cat out of the bag
To reveal any information which was asked or considered to be kept a secret.

Make a long story short
To bring out the main points leaving all the unimportant things out.

Method to madness
Although things may seem haphazard and cluttered and confused – but there is actually some method or structure to it. ‘My room may seem untidy and smell of stale pizzas, but there is method to my madness – I find it relaxing to my hyper active nerves!’
Miss the boat
To miss a chance.

Once in a blue moon
To occur very rarely. ‘Once in a blue moon I take my family out for dinner.’

One track mind
To think in only a particular way or manner.

Penny for your thoughts
‘Penny for your thoughts, tell me what you’re thinking.’ It literally means asking someone as to what they are thinking at the moment.

Picture paints a thousand words
A picture says more than words. So photographic evidence is more reliable than what you hear. Say, we believed Virat Kohli was dating Anushka Sharma when the photos arrived on E-papers!

Piece of cake
Or, Cake walk – means very easy. Who thought the IBPS PO exam was cake walk? Or, ‘I thing this article is going to be a piece of cake for me’!

Put wool over other people's eyes
To dupe or to cheat someone.

See eye to eye
To mutually agree on something.

 Sit on the fence
Again undecided and confused or wants to take time to decide.

Speak of the devil
Aha! ‘Shaitaan ka naam lo and shaitaan…haazir.

Spilling the beans
To let out a secret.
Steal someone's thunder
Never steal anyone’s thunder; i.e., never take credit of other’s work.

Take with a grain of salt
To take things not too seriously. C’mon lighten up!

Taste of your own medicine
To experience what you meet out to others. The teachers who give physical punishments to students must be given their own medicines.  

To hear something straight from the horse's mouth
To hear something from the real person – the person who’s actually spreading the word – so that you’ll be sure that it is true.

When pigs fly
A situation which is expected to never happen. ‘I’ll buy you a BMW when pigs fly!’

 Whole nine yards 
Like the saree – the whole thing – everything.
Everything. All of it.

Your guess is as good as mine
Always, never underestimate or overestimate yourself – even when you’re in doubt! Thus the person next you probably knows as much as you do! Hence, ‘I don’t know what is the real deal with the Vadra case, your guess is as good as mine.’

Download English Grammar Digest

Okay…that was a whole lot of idioms – I hope you had fun reading them!

Have a good day!
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Ramandeep Singh, your guide to banking and insurance exams. With 14 years of experience and 5000+ selections, Ramandeep understands the path to success, having transitioned himself from Dena Bank and SBI. He's passionate about helping you achieve your banking and insurance dreams.

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