Wednesday, October 15, 2008

English Idioms & Idiomatic Expressions

An idiom is a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words, which can make idioms hard for ESL students and learners to understand. Here's a dictionary of 3,457 English idiomatic expressions with definitions starting with the letter 'A'.

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171 Idioms Beginning With 'A'

A bit much
    If something is excessive or annoying, it is a bit much.

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link
    This means that processes, organisations, etc, are vulnerable because the weakest person or part can always damage or break them.

A day late and a dollar short
    (USA) If something is a day late and a dollar short, it is too little, too late.

A fool and his money are soon parted
    This idiom means that people who aren't careful with their money spend it quickly. 'A fool and his money are easily parted' is an alternative form of the idiom.

A fool at 40 is a fool forever
    If someone hasn't matured by the time they reach forty, they never will.

A hitch in your giddy-up
    If you have a hitch in your giddy-up, you're not feeling well. ('A hitch in your gittie-up' is also used.)

A lick and a promise
    If you give something a lick and a promise, you do it hurriedly, most often incompletely, intending to return to it later.

A little bird told me
    If someone doesn't want to say where they got some information from, they can say that a little bird told them.

A little learning is a dangerous thing
    A small amount of knowledge can cause people to think they are more expert than they really he said he'd done a course on home electrics, but when he tried to mend my table lamp, he fused all the lights! I think a little learning is a dangerous thing

A long row to hoe
    Something that is a long row to hoe is a difficult task that takes a long time.

A lost ball in the high weeds
    A lost ball in the high weeds is someone who does not know what they are doing, where they are or how to do something.

A month of Sundays
    A month of Sundays is a long period of time: I haven't seen her in a month of Sundays.

    If things are A OK, they are absolutely fine.

A penny for your thoughts
    This idiom is used as a way of asking someone what they are thinking about.

A penny saved is a penny earned
    This means that we shouldn't spend or waste money, but try to save it.

A picture is worth a thousand words
    A picture can often get a message across much better than the best verbal description.

A poor man's something
    Something or someone that can be compared to something or someone else, but is not as good is a poor man's version; a writer who uses lots of puns but isn't very funny would be a poor man's Oscar Wilde.

A pretty penny
    If something costs a pretty penny, it is very expensive.

A problem shared is a problem halved
    If you talk about your problems, it will make you feel better.

A rising tide lifts all boats
    This idiom, coined by John F Kennedy, describes the idea that when an economy is performing well, all people will benefit from it.

A rolling stone gathers no moss
    People say this to mean that that an ambitious person is more successful than a person not trying to achieve anything. Originally it meant the opposite and was critical of people trying to get ahead.

A slice off a cut loaf is never missed
    Used colloquially to describe having sexual intercourse with someone who is not a virgin, especially when they are in a relationship. The analogy refers to a loaf of bread; it is not readily apparent, once the end has been removed, exactly how many slices have been taken.('You never miss a slice from a cut loaf' is also used.) 

A steal
    If something is a steal, it costs much less than it is really worth.

A still tongue keeps a wise head
    Wise people don't talk much.

A watched pot never boils
    Some things work out in their own time, so being impatient and constantly checking will just make things seem longer.

    If something is A1, it is the very best or finest.

Abide by a decision
    If you abide by a decision, you accept it and comply with it, even though you might disagree with it.

Abject lesson
    (India) An abject lesson serves as a warning to others. (In some varieties of English 'object lesson' is used.)

About as useful as a chocolate teapot
    Someone or something that is of no practical use is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

About face
    If someone changes their mind completely, this is an about face. It can be used when companies, governments, etc, change their position on an issue.

Above board
    If things are done above board, they are carried out in a legal and proper manner.

Above par
    Better than average or normal

Absence makes the heart grow fonder
    This idiom means that when people are apart, their love grows stronger.

Accident waiting to happen
    If something is an accident waiting to happen, there's definitely going to be an accident or it's bound to go wrong. ('Disaster waiting to happen' is also used.)

Ace in the hole
    An ace in the hole is something other people are not aware of that can be used to your advantage when the time is right.

Ace up your sleeve
    If you have an ace up your sleeve, you have something that will give you an advantage that other people don't know about.

Achilles' heel
    A person's weak spot is their Achilles' heel.

Acid test
    An acid test is something that proves whether something is good, effective, etc, or not.

Across the board
    If something applies to everybody, it applies across the board.

Across the ditch
    (NZ) This idiom means on the other side of the Tasman Sea, used to refer to Australia or New Zealand depending on the speaker's location.

Across the pond
    (UK) This idiom means on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, used to refer to the US or the UK depending on the speaker's location.

Act of God
    An act of God is something like an earthquake or floods that human beings cannot prevent or control.

Act of war
    An act of war is a action that is either intended to start a war or that is interpreted as being sufficient cause for a war.

Actions speak louder than words
    This idiom means that what people actually do is more important than what they say- people can promise things but then fail to deliver.

Adam's apple
    The Adam's apple is a bulge in the throat, mostly seen in men.

Add fuel to the fire
    If people add fuel to the fire, they make a bad situation worse.

Add insult to injury
    When people add insult to injury, they make a bad situation even worse.

After your own heart
    A person after your own heart thinks the same way as you.

Against the clock
    If you do something against the clock, you are rushed and have very little time to do it.

Against the grain
    If doing something goes against the grain, you're unwilling to do it because it contradicts what you believe in, but you have no real choice.

Age before beauty
    When this idiom is used, it is a way of allowing an older person to do something first, though often in a slightly sarcastic way.

Agony aunt
    An agony aunt is a newspaper columnist who gives advice to people having problems, especially personal ones.

Ahead of the curve
    Similar to ahead of the pack, ahead of the curve literally refers to your position on the statistical bell curve, where the top of the curve represents the median, average result. By being ahead of the curve you represent the top percentile of results that either has the advanced skills or understanding that sets you apart.

Ahead of the pack
    If you are ahead of the pack, you have made more progress than your rivals.

Ahead of time
    If something happens ahead of time, it happens early or before the set time.

Air your dirty laundry in public
    If you air your dirty laundry in public, you reveal aspects of your private life that should really remain private, by telling a secret, arguing in public, etc.

Albatross around your neck
    An albatross around, or round, your neck is a problem resulting from something you did that stops you from being successful.

Alike as two peas
    If people or things are as alike as two peas, they are identical.

Alive and kicking
    If something is active and doing well, it is alive and kicking.  (It can be used for people too.)

All along
    If you have known or suspected something all along, then you have felt this from the beginning.

All and sundry
    This idiom is a way of emphasising 'all', like saying 'each and every one'.

All bark and no bite
    When someone talks tough but really isn't, they are all bark and no bite.

All bets are off
    (USA) If all bets are off, then agreements that have been made no longer apply.

All dressed up and nowhere to go
    You're prepared for something that isn't going to happen.

All ears
    If someone says they're all ears, they are very interested in hearing about something.

All eyes on me
    If all eyes are on someone, then everyone is paying attention to them.

All fingers and thumbs
    If you're all fingers and thumbs, you are too excited or clumsy to do something properly that requires manual dexterity. 'All thumbs' is an alternative form of the idiom.

All hat, no cattle
    (USA) When someone talks big, but cannot back it up, they are all hat, no cattle.('Big hat, no cattle' is also used.)

All heart
    Someone who is all heart is very kind and generous.

All hell broke loose
    When all hell breaks loose, there is chaos, confusion and trouble.

All in a day's work
    If something is all in a day's work, it is nothing special.

All in your head
    If something is all in your head, you have imagined it and it is not real.

All mod cons
    If something has all mod cons, it has all the best and most desirable features. It is an abbreviation of 'modern convenience' that was used in house adverts.

All mouth and trousers
    (UK) Someone who's all mouth and trousers talks or boasts a lot but doesn't deliver. 'All mouth and no trousers' is also used, though this is a corruption of the original.

All my eye and Peggy Martin
    (UK) An idiom that appears to have gone out of use but was prevalent in the English north Midlands of Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire from at least the turn of the 20th century until the early 1950s or so. The idiom's meaning is literally something said or written that is unbelievable, rumor, over embellished, the result of malicious village gossip etc.

All of the above
    This idiom can be used to mean everything that has been said or written, especially all the choices or possibilities.

All over bar the shouting
    When something is all over bar the shouting, the outcome is absolutely certain.('All over but the shouting' is also used.)

All over Hell's half acre
    (USA) If you have been all over Hell's half acre, you have been traveling and visiting many more places than originally intended, usually because you were unsuccessful in finding what you were looking for. It can also be used to mean everywhere.

All over the map
    (USA) If something like a discussion is all over the map, it doesn't stick to the main topic and goes off on tangents.

All over the place
    If something is completely disorganised or confused, it is all over the place.

All over the shop
    If something is completely disorganised or confused, it is all over the shop.

All over the show
    If something is all over the show, it's in a complete mess.An alternative to 'All over the shop'.

All roads lead to Rome
    This means that there can be many different ways of doing something.

All set
    If you're all set, you are ready for something.

All sixes
    If something is all sixes, it doesn't matter how it's done; it's the same as 'six of one and half a dozen of the other'.

All skin and bone
    If a person is very underweight, they are all skin and bone, or bones.

All square
    If something is all square, nobody has an advantage or is ahead of the others.

All talk and no trousers
    (UK) Someone who is all talk and no trousers, talks about doing big, important things, but doesn't take any action.
All that glitters is not gold
    This means that appearances can be deceptive and things that look or sound valuable can be worthless. ('All that glistens is not gold' is an alternative.)

All the rage
    If something's all the rage, it is very popular or fashionable at the moment.

All the tea in China
    If someone won't do something for all the tea in China, they won't do it no matter how much money they are offered.

All your eggs in one basket
    If you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk everything at once, instead of trying to spread the risk. (This is often used as a negative imperative- 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket'. 'Have your eggs in one basket' is also used.)

All's fair in love and war
    This idiom is used to say that where there is conflict, people can be expected to behave in a more vicious way.

All's well that ends well
    If the end result is good, then everything is good.

All-singing, all-dancing
    If something's all-singing, all-dancing, it is the latest version with the most up-to-date features.

Alter ego
    An alter ego is a very close and intimate friend. It is a Latin phrase that literally means 'other self'.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride
    If someone is always a bridesmaid, never a bride, they never manage to fulfill their ambition- they get close, but never manage the recognition, etc, they crave.

Ambulance chaser
    A lawyer who encourages people who have been in accidents or become ill to sue for compensation is an ambulance chaser.

    Some use 'Amen' or 'Amen to that' as a way of agreeing with something that has just been said.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away
    Eating healthy food keeps you healthy.

An old flame
    An old flame is a person that somebody has had an emotional, usually passionate, relationship with, who is still looked on fondly and with affection.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
    This expression means that is is better to try to avoid problems in the first place, rather than trying to fix them once they arise.

And all that jazz
    This idiom means that everything related or similar is included.

Angry as a bear
    If someone is as angry as a bear, they are very angry.('Angry as a bear with a sore foot' is also used.)

Angry as a bull
    If someone is as angry as a bull, they are very angry.

Answers on a postcard
    This idiom can be used to suggest that the answer to something is very obvious or that the person would really like to hear what people think.

Ants in your pants
    If someone has ants in their pants, they are agitated or excited about something and can't keep still.

Any port in a storm
    This means that in an emergency any solution will do, even one that would normally be unacceptable.

Any Tom, Dick or Harry
    If something could be done by any Tom, Dick or Harry, it could be done by absolutely anyone.

Apple of your eye
    Something or, more often, someone that is very special to you is the 'apple of your' eye.

Apple pie order
    Everything is in perfect order and tidy if it is in apple pie order.

Apples and oranges
    Tis used when people compare or describe two totally different things. ('Apples to oranges' is also used.)

Apples for apples
    An apples for apples comparison is a comparison between related or simialr things. ('Apples to apples' is also used.)

Apron strings
    A man who is tied to a woman's apron strings is excessively dependent on her, especially when it is his mother's apron strings.

Argue the toss
    (UK) If you argue the toss, you refuse to accept a decision and argue about it.

Arm and a leg
    If something costs an arm and a leg, it is very expensive.

Armchair critic
    An armchair critic is someone who offers advice but never shows that they could actually do any better.

Armed to the teeth
    If people are armed to the teeth, they have lots of weapons.

Around the clock
    If something is open around the clock, it is open 24 hours a day. For example, an airport is open around the clock.

Arrow in the quiver
    An arrow in the quiver is a strategy or option that could be used to achieve your objective.

As a rule
    If you do something as a rule, then you usually do it.

As cold as ice
    This idiom can be used to describe a person who does not show any emotion.

As cold as stone
    If something is as cold as stone, it is very cold. If a person is as cold as stone, they are unemotional.

As cool as a cucumber
    If someone is as cool as a cucumber, they don't get worried by anything.

As good as new
    If something has been used but is still in extremely good condition, it is as good as new.

As mad as a hatter
    This simile means that someone is crazy or behaves very strangely. In the past many people who made hats went insane because they had a lot of contact with mercury.

As mad as a wrongly shot hog
    (USA) If someone is as mad as a wrongly shot hog, they are very angry. (Same as, Angry as a bear or Angry as a bull).

As much use as a chocolate fire-guard
    A fire-guard is used in front of a fireplace for safety. A chocolate fire-guard is of no use. An alternative to 'As much use as a chocolate teapot'.

As much use as a chocolate teapot
    Something that is as much use as a chocolate teapot is not useful at all.

As much use as a handbrake on a canoe
    This idiom is used to describe someone or something as worthless or pointless.

As neat as a new pin
    This idiom means tidy and clean.

As one man
    If people do something as one man, then they do it at exactly the same time or in complete agreement.

As the actress said to the bishop
    (UK) This idiom is used to highlight a sexual reference, deliberate or accidental.

As the crow flies
    This idiom is used to describe the shortest possible distance between two places.

As you sow, so shall you reap
    This means that if you do bad things to people, bad things will happen to you, or good things if you do good things.

Asleep at the switch
    If someone is asleep at the switch, they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities very carefully. 'Asleep at the wheel' is an alternative.

Asleep at the wheel
    If someone is asleep at the wheel, they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities very carefully. 'Asleep at the switch' is an alternative.

At a drop of a dime
    (USA) If someone will do something at the drop of a dime, they will do it instantly, without hesitation.

At a loose end
    (UK) If you are at a loose end, you have spare time but don't know what to do with it.

At a loss
    If you are at a loss, you are unable to understand or comply.

At a snail's pace
    If something moves at a snail's pace, it moves very slowly.

At arm's length
    If something is at arm's length, it is a safe distance waway from you.

At cross purposes
    When people are at cross purposes, they misunderstand each other or have different or opposing objectives.

At daggers drawn
    If people are at daggers drawn, they are very angry and close to violence.

At death's door
    If someone looks as if they are at death's door, they look seriously unwell and might actually be dying.

At each other's throats
    If people are at each other's throats, they are fighting, arguing or competing ruthlessly.

At full tilt
    If something is at full tilt, it is going or happening as fast or as hard as possible.

At large
    If a criminal is at large, they have not been found or caught.

At loggerheads
    If people are at loggerheads, they are arguing and can't agree on anything.

At loose ends
    (USA) If you are at a loose end, you have spare time but don't know what to do with it.

At odds
    If you are at odds with someone, you cannot agree with them and argue.

At sea
    If things are at sea, or all at sea, they are disorganized and chaotic.

At the bottom of the totem pole
    (USA) If someone is at the bottom of the totem pole, they are unimportant. Opposite is at the top of the totem pole.

At the coalface
    If you work at the coalface, you deal with the real problems and issues, rather than sitting in a office discussing things in a detached way.

At the drop of a hat
    If you would do something at the drop of a hat, you'd do it immediately.

At the end of the day
    This is used to mean 'in conclusion' or 'when all is said and done'.

At the end of your rope
    (USA) If you are at the end of your rope, you are at the limit of your patience or endurance.

At the end of your tether
    (UK) If you are at the end of your tether, you are at the limit of your patience or endurance.

At the fore
    In a leading position

At the top of my lungs
    If you shout at the top of your lungs, you shout as loudly as you possibly can.

At the top of the list
    If something is at the top of the list, it is of highest priority, most important, most urgent, or the next in one's line of attention.

At the top of your lungs
    If you shout at the top of your lungs, you shout as loudly as you possibly can.

At the top of your voice
    If you talk, shout or sing at the top of your voice, you do it as loudly as you can.

At your wit's end
    If you're at your wit's end, you really don't know what you should do about something, no matter how hard you think about it.

At your wits' end
    If you are at your wits' end, you have no idea what to do next and are very frustrated.

Average Joe
    An average Joe is an ordinary person without anything exceptional about them.

Avowed intent
    If someone makes a solemn or serious promise publicly to attempt to reach a certain goal, this is their avowed intent.

Away with the fairies
    If someone is away with the fairies, they don't face reality and have unrealistic expectations of life.

Awe inspiring
    Something or someone that is awe inspiring amazes people in a slightly frightening but positive way.

    AWOL stands for "Absent Without Leave", or "Absent Without Official Leave". Orignially a military term, it is used when someone has gone missing without telling anyone or asking for permission.

Axe to grind
    If you have an axe to grind with someone or about something, you have a grievance, a resentment and you want to get revenge or sort it out. In American English, it is 'ax'.

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A lot to take in at once but an interesting read nonetheless.

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