top of page

10 Popular English Idioms That Native Speakers Love to Use

English is full of idiomatic expressions that can be difficult for English learners to understand. Here are 10 popular English idioms that native speakers use all the time.

To play it by ear = to be spontaneous in the moment (instead of planning it in advance)

This idiom is helpful for whenever you think it's better to wait and see what a situation is like before deciding what to do instead of planning what to do beforehand.

  • I don't have any plans for the weekend. I'll just play it by ear and see what my friends are doing.

  • We don’t know if we are going to stay at a hotel or in a hostel.  We’ll play it by ear when we get there and see what’s available.

  • We can have the wedding inside the banquet hall or outside in the garden, but it’s going to depend on the weather so we’ll have to play it by ear and decide on the day.

To lend a hand = to help someone do something

This idiom is helpful when you want to offer to do something to help another person

  • I heard that you’re moving to a new apartment.  I can lend a hand if you need it.

  • Thanks for lending a hand with my website. It looks better now because of your changes.

  • Can you please lend a hand with this bag?  It’s really heavy.


a woman helping a man cross the street

To be a blessing in disguise = something that was good in the end even though it originally seemed like it would be bad

This idiom is helpful to describe a situation that seemed bad at first but ended up as a good thing.

  • Originally I thought not getting into law school was bad for me, but then I started my own business instead and it has been very successful.  Now I see that not getting into law school was actually a blessing in disguise.

  • When I broke up with my ex-girlfriend, I was heartbroken, but then I met my current girlfriend who is perfect for me.  So, breaking up with my ex-girlfriend was actually a blessing in disguise.

To be on the fence = to be undecided about what to do

This idiom is helpful when you don't know which option you want to choose yet and you need to think about it some more.

  • I'm on the fence about my accommodations. I don't know whether to rent a hotel room or an Airbnb.

  • Do you think we should have our wedding outside or inside?  Outside is beautiful when the weather is nice, but it could rain.  I’m on the fence about it.

  • I can’t decide where to go for my next vacation.  I’m thinking about either Spain or Italy.  I’m on the fence because they’re both beautiful places.

To be on the same page = when two people have the same opinion or perspective on something.

This idiom is helpful when you want to express that two or more people agree and are aligned in their way of thinking about something.

  • With respect to putting the play into production, the writer of the play and the director of the play were clearly on the same page. That's why the play has been so successful.

  • My parents and I are on the same page about studying architecture in college because it's interesting to me and they're both architects.

  • My cat and my dog are not on the same page. My cat wants to be alone but my dog always wants to play with the cat.

To miss the boat = to miss a good opportunity

This idiom is helpful when there was a good opportunity for you in the past but you didn't take advantage of it.

  • I definitely missed the boat when I was thinking about buying Apple's stock in 2006. I would be rich now If I had bought it back then.

  • My friends all went to Las Vegas but I couldn’t go because of work.  They said it was the best trip of their lifetime.  I really missed the boat.

  • I didn’t go to the New Year’s celebration last week because it was too cold outside, so I just stayed home.  But everyone told me that the fireworks were amazing.  I guess I missed the boat on that.

To have second thoughts = to feel unsure now about something that you previously felt more confident about

This idiom is helpful when you originally felt sure about a decision that you have to make but now you are starting to feel hesitant about it (i.e. you've lost your confidence about it).

  • I quit my job and planned to move to Europe, but now I’m having second thoughts.  I don’t know if it’s the right decision for me.

  • I was originally happy to be engaged to my girlfriend, but marriage is such a big commitment and now I’m having second thoughts.

  • I wanted to go to university to study engineering, but one of my friends dropped out because he said it was too hard, so now it’s caused me to have second thoughts about it.

To bend over backwards = to make an extra effort so that something happens

This idiom is useful when you have to work very hard to achieve something or produce a result.

  • I always have to bend over backwards to support my brother so he can pay his bills.  I lend him money and I even send money to his bank to pay his credit card.

  • My wife and I had to bend over backwards to attend our friend's wedding because it was a long distance away but we had promised to attend it.

  • I don’t want to bend over backwards anymore to help my co-worker.  He makes a lot of mistakes, and even though it’s not my job, I have to always do his work for him.

To drop the ball = to make a mistake that is completely your fault

This idiom is helpful when you want to take responsibility for making a mistake, especially when it was an opportunity to do something important.

  • I had a chance to get a good job but I dropped the ball and showed up to the interview late.

  • I dropped the ball when my friend offered me an opportunity to start a business with him and I said "no". Now the business is worth over a million dollars.

  • I was talking to a beautiful woman at the bar but I dropped the ball and called her the wrong name.  After that, she wasn’t interested in me.

a baseball player dropping the ball

To be/feel on edge = to feel nervous about something in the future

This idiom is helpful when there is something uncertain happening in the future and it's causing you to feel anxious or nervous.

  • I’m really on edge these days because I’m waiting to hear the results of my university exams.

  • Everyone is on edge about the risk of another terrorist attack. It's been in the news a lot lately.

  • She’s feeling on edge about the upcoming vote.  If she loses the vote, it’ll be a huge disappointment for her.

Practice

Task 1: complete the idioms from this lesson with the missing word:

  1. To be on the _____.

  2. To drop the ______.

  3. To be on the same _____.

  4. To be a _____ in disguise.

  5. To feel on _____.

  6. To bend over _____.

  7. To have second _____.

  8. To miss the _____.

  9. To play it by _____.

  10. To lend a _____.

Task 2: use a phrase from above to replace the underlined phrases in the sentences below. The first one is done already:

  1. I am feeling hesitant about whether I should quit my job or not. (answer: I am having second thoughts about whether I should quit my job or not)

  2. I am feeling nervous about my surgery next week. I hope that everything goes well.

  3. I had a chance to see a total solar eclipse but I slept through the whole thing. I didn't take advantage of the opportunity.

  4. I'm undecided about moving to a bigger apartment because it will be more expensive too.

  5. My mom always makes an extra effort to help our family members even though it takes up all of her personal time.

  6. Instead of making plans tonight let's just go downtown and be spontaneous.

  7. I'm glad we got everything painted. Thanks for helping.

  8. My manager and I have the same opinion about how to do the project.

  9. Injuring my arm was a positive situation that originally seemed negative because I met my physiotherapist, who eventually became my wife!

  10. I made a mistake when I forgot to shut the door and our cat got outside. Thankfully we found her.

Answers

Task 1: complete the idioms from this lesson with the missing word:

  1. To be on the fence.

  2. To drop the ball.

  3. To be on the same page.

  4. To be a blessing in disguise.

  5. To feel on edge.

  6. To bend over backwards.

  7. To have second thoughts.

  8. To miss the boat.

  9. To play it by ear.

  10. To lend a hand.

Task 2: use a phrase from above to replace the underlined phrases in the sentences below. The first one is done already:

  1. I am having second thoughts about whether I should quit my job or not.

  2. I am feeling on edge about my surgery next week. I hope that everything goes well.

  3. I had a chance to see a total solar eclipse but I slept through the whole thing. I missed the boat.

  4. I'm on the fence about moving to a bigger apartment because it will be more expensive too.

  5. My mom always bends over backwards to help our family members even though it takes up all of her personal time.

  6. Instead of making plans tonight let's just go downtown and play it by ear.

  7. I'm glad we got everything painted. Thanks for lending a hand.

  8. My manager and I are on the same page about how to do the project.

  9. Injuring my arm was a blessing in disguise because I met my physiotherapist, who eventually became my wife!

  10. I dropped the ball when I forgot to shut the door and our cat got outside. Thankfully we found her.


Comentários


bottom of page