Speaking, Vocabulary

English Idioms Every Student Should Know

I was walking along the beach this morning with Sue, looking out over the waves at the beautiful sunrise...

Avatar Written by Mitch Rankin · 3 min read >
English Idioms Every Student Should Know 1

I was walking along the beach this morning with Sue, looking out over the waves at the beautiful sunrise and watching the dogs chase crabs in the shore break as the incoming tide rushed up the beach.

We were having fun discussing idioms and trying to see how many we could remember that related to the sea and the beach.

Here is a dozen that you probably know, and if you don’t, are great to learn as idioms to help you sound more like a native English speaker or somebody who has a good grasp of conversational English.

When you are really happy and everything your life seems to be going really well you can use “life‘s a beach “. This has quite the opposite meaning of the more well-known idiom, “life is a bitch “which means your life not going well at all, and things are hard.

As we walked up towards the rocks just on the inside of the bay, the Seine netters had beached their boat on the shore and were gathering the nets, sifting through their catch and throwing all of the smaller fish back and putting the bigger ones into the baskets to take to the market.

An idiom I was reminded of as I watched some of the fish flopping around on the beach is “like a fish out of water“ which is used to describe a situation where you are not comfortable in the surroundings you find yourself in, or you feel awkward because you’re very different from the people around you. An example of this could be when you walk into a party and everyone around you is speaking English fluently, and you can only grasp certain bits of the conversation, you may feel like “a fish out of water“.

When you are chatting with friends describing the opportunities that will be available to you once you have mastered English, an idiom to use is  “the world is your Oyster “and the expression means that you can do anything you want in life in a given situation, that you have no limitations at all when you have achieved what you set out. An example of using this idiom is “once I have mastered English and I am able to speak like a native English speaker the world will be my oyster “.

Let’s say that you arrive in America as an immigrant that knows little or nothing of the country’s culture and you feel completely unsure. An idiom you can use in a situation like this are ”fresh off the boat”.

Let’s use it in a sentence…”John Van Tonder arrived in the United States last week, and he doesn’t even know where he’s going to stay. He is fresh off the boat”.

Let’s leave the sea and beach idioms for a while and think about six idioms with examples that you can use in everyday conversation to help you sound more like a native English speaker. I’ll give you the idiom as well an example of how you could use them in everyday conversation.

  • “A blessing in disguise”– this can be used as part of a sentence to describe something that is actually good but that may seem bad at first.  Example: John’s bus didn’t stop for chicken pies on the way to the game. At first, he was very disappointed, but later when the passengers on the bus that had stopped to buy the pies all got food poisoning, he saw this had been a blessing in disguise”
  • “Bite the bullet”– this can be used as part of the sentence to describe a situation where you need to get something over with because it is inevitable. Example: “You have to pass your English exam at the end of the year so you might as well bite the bullet and put the hours you need to study so you can do well”
  • “Break a leg”– this idiom can be used by itself and it basically means to wish somebody good luck. Example: You hear I’m going to write my exam tomorrow, and shout out to me “Break a leg!”
  • “Call it a day”– this is used as part of a sentence when you decide to stop doing something. Some synonyms would be to admit defeat, stop trying and to give up, to surrender or to admit that you’ve been beaten. Example: “Jill has been studying really hard for the English exam and has pushed an all-nighter two days in a row. She is really tired and has called it a day”.
  • “Give someone the benefit of the doubt” – this can be used in a situation where you decide to believe somebody, even though you are not sure that what the person is saying is true. Example: “She was late because her flight had been canceled, and we gave her the benefit of the doubt”.
  • “Get your act together” – this can be used by itself or in a sentence. Example: “You better get your act together. If you fail another test you will not be allowed to write the exam “

To really understand English as it is spoken in real life you have to be familiar with idioms. Thinking of these idioms made me laugh as I thought of their literal translation.

  • “As cool as a cucumber” – this means calm or very calmly, especially when you’re under pressure. Example: “He was stuck in the elevator for two hours, but walked into the room as cool as a cucumber, as if nothing has even happened.”
  • “Kick the bucket”– this is a euphemism and an informal saying or slang meaning “to die“. Example: “Jim finally kicked the bucket at 97 years old”.
  • “A piece of cake” –  used when something is very easy to do. Example: “I studied really hard for the English exam and it was a piece of cake “.
  • “Storm in a teacup” – you could use this when there is a lot of unnecessary anger and worry about something that’s not really that important. Example: “We had a huge argument in class today about who’s team is going to win the Eurocup but it was a storm in a teacup”.

Learning idioms makes English really fun and will certainly help you sound more confident and more like a native English speaker.

Written by Mitch Rankin
Mitch is Co-Founder and CEO at English Forward. He has close to 20+ years of experience in business, commerce and marketing. He is an experienced Director with a demonstrated history of working in the real estate industry. Mitch is an educator and philanthropist, an investor and partner in high profile property projects. Profile
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