Idiomatic expressions are expressions that mean something other than their literal explanation. They are common in English, but can be challenging for English language learners to understand. When writing, consider whether your audience will understand the idioms you are using, and, if necessary, reword your thoughts to be less idiomatic. The following are some common idioms in American English and their explanations:

  1. cost an arm and a leg = to cost a grant deal; very expensive
  2. crocodile tears = to cry make- believe tears; fake grief
  3. bark up the wrong tree = look for something in the wrong place
  4. break the ice = to dissolve reserve among people
  5. bring down the house = to applaud wildly
  6. bring home the bacon = to be the financial support of a family
  7. climb on the bandwagon = join a popular cause
  8. face the music = confront something difficult or unpleasant
  9. feeling under the weather = not feeling well; slightly ill
  10. fly off the handle = to suddenly loose self-control; sudden anger
  11. go off half-cocked = to speak or do something hastily/unprepared
  12. jump the gun = to start before something is ready; false start
  13. kick the bucket = to die
  14. know the ropes = to know all the details
  15. left holding the bag = to be blamed for something other were also involved in
  16. let the cat of the bag = to give away a secret, usually without meaning to
  17. once in a blue moon = extremely rare; almost never
  18. paint the town red = celebrate; go out on the town
  19. pulling one’s leg = to joke with someone
  20. put the cart before the horse = to get the order of things reversed
  21. rain cats and dogs = to rain hard, usually with thunder and lightening
  22. rake over the coals = to scold severely
  23. rub the wrong way = to annoy
  24. rule the roost = to be in charge
  25. sour grapes = the idea that when something desired is unattainable, we comfort ourselves that we wouldn’t have liked it anyway
  26. spill the beans = tell something prematurely
  27. split hairs = to argue over trivial differences
  28. stab in the back = to deliver a cowardly blow against a person’s character by one who was thought to be a friend
  29. stick one’s neck out = to risk being hurt, or to volunteer for something that might have a bad ending
  30. straight from the horse’s mouth = to hear something directly from the authority
  31. take the bull by the horn = to face an unpleasant, difficult , or dangerous situation with as much courage as possible
  32. the sky’s the limit = there is no limit
  33. upset the apple cart = to ruin one’s carefully laid plans
  34. wild goose chase = a vain and meaningless pursuit
  35. with a grain of salt = to be taken with skepticism or doubt