English idioms

10 Useful Idioms For English Language Students

Your understanding of English idioms is essential if you want to advance from an intermediate to an advanced level of the English language. Idioms are a group of words whose meaning cannot be determined from the individual words. Idioms are culturally specific and often have historical meaning, adding depth and character to dialogue. We’re going to share 10 English idioms with you today that are regularly used by native English speakers but misunderstood by non-native speakers.

Learning Tip:
Today, try to learn one or two of these. Do not attempt to memorize the entire list overnight. According to research, learning new words in little chunks is more effective than memorizing big lists.

Let’s get started:

The proof is in the pudding

An abbreviated form of the original idiom means that you have to test something / see it in action to know how it will work out or what it is truly like. E.g. “It seems like a good idea to make that modification to your car but the proof will be in the pudding”.

Spill the beans

Reveal information, usually secret information. E.g. “Spill the beans about the surprise party that you are planning for Jane”.

Gray area

A situation or problem that is not clearly defined, can involve a moral dilemma. E.g. “Students took advantage of the gray area in the rule”.

Dime a dozen

Meaning an item that lacks value because there is so much of it available. E.g. “Match sticks are a dime a dozen” or “don’t worry if you break that one, they are a dime a dozen”.

Go south

To escape (not literally going South) or to drop in value. E.g. “Jim went south when he knew the police were looking for him” or “house values have gone south”.

Pick up the tab

Pay the bill; sometimes with negative connotations. E.g. “I’ll pick up the tab for dinner” or “Jane’s mother had to pick up the tab when Jane crashed her car”.

Bring home the bacon

Money earned from employment. E.g. “John brings home the bacon while Joan cares for their children”.

Bummed out

To be disappointed about something. E.g. “Tim was really bummed out when Jill canceled their date” or “the little girl was really bummed out that there were no pink dresses left in the shop”.

Play it by the ear

Letting things happen naturally without a plan. E.g. “let’s play it by ear rather than making arrangements for Saturday” or “I don’t have plans for the weekend, I’m playing it by ear”.

Make ends meet

Earning just enough money to pay all your essential bills. E.g. “I can’t afford to go on holiday, I only make ends meet”.

The greatest way to learn and remember idioms is to apply them to real-life situations. Instead of memorizing thousands of idioms, learn one at a time and make sure you know how to utilize them in the right situation. Consider looking up the origins of the idioms you’re learning; not only will this be informative, but it will also help you remember them faster.

Best of luck!

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