English Idioms

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The English language has hundreds of different idioms that people regularly use when they are speaking. These can be rather confusing for a non-native speaker, who may try to literally translate the words and phrases that they hear. Whilst sometimes it is possible to work out the meaning of an idiom depending on the context, here are some examples of some common English idioms, along with what they mean:

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs

This is one of the most famous English idioms, and is often used as an example of how English people may often be seen to be talking in riddles, or, speaking absolute nonsense! Of course, there are no cats and dogs falling from the sky ... you are not going to be suddenly hit by an animal coming down from the heavens! Rather, this saying means that it is raining very heavily. There are absolutely no cats or dogs involved!

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

This saying means that to be lucky or effective, you must start the job early, as opposed to putting things off and procrastinating. To get ahead, you should plan. You stand a much better chance of being successful at something if you start it earlier rather than later. The bird who wakes up late may find no worms, and therefore will go hungry for the day!

A Piece of Cake

Don’t be confused between the question, “Would you like a piece of cake”, and the saying, “it’s a piece of cake”. Whilst the first example really does involve a desert or a sweet treat, the second one has an entirely different meaning. If somebody takes about something being a piece of cake, they actually mean that it was really easy

Jump the Gun

If you jump the gun it means that you start to do something before you are supposed to. You are prematurely, which is often not appropriate for that time. Think about the pistol sound that marks the start of a race – a runner who springs from the blocks before the gun is fired is jumping the gun. This is where the saying comes from, and it is now used to refer to a wide variety of different situations. It is often used as a warning to not be hasty, and somebody might say “don’t jump the gun”.

To Make a Killing

Don’t worry, there is no need for alarm – this saying does not mean that the person has literally sent another to their end. If somebody makes a killing, it means that they have made a lot of money. It is often used outside of the context of a regular expected wage and pay packet, but to some extra activity that has been particularly lucrative. Examples may include bonuses in the workplace, selling items at an auction or car boot sale, at a charity event, and similar. 

Get Something off One’s Chest

To get something off your chest means that you tell another person something that has been worrying or troubling you. It is often used to refer to some sort of confession.  

Sail (Too) Close to The Wind

This common saying has made its way into general use from nautical activities; when a person sails too close to the wind it can be very risky and dangerous. It is applied to everyday situations and events to talk about something that could be risky. It can also mean that a person does something that is only just within acceptable boundaries. 

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

What happens when you disturb a dog that is fast asleep? Particularly if you startle it and cause it to jump up in a panic? You may get bitten! This saying refers to any situation, and means that you should not disturb something that could potentially cause further problems. You should not temper or do anything to disturb the peace, but should just leave things well alone.

 

A Blessing in Disguise

This refers to something that may seem bad at first, but then the end result is actually positive. The positive ending is a complete surprise. It means that good can come from bad, and is often used as a way of encouraging somebody to look on the brighter side of things rather than dwelling on any negative aspects. 

Hit the Sack

This saying, along with hit the hay, means that a person is going to bed. They are tired and want to sleep. 

Listen out for all of the colourful idioms that are used in England and you are sure to enrich your vocabulary and have fun in the process!