Idioms and Phrases

These idioms are compiled from the Cambridge International Dictionary.The Cambridge International Dictionary explains over 7,000 idioms current in British, American and other English speaking countries, helping learners to understand them and use them with confidence. The Cambridge Dictionary, based on the 200 million words of English text in the Cambridge International Corpus, unlocks the meaning of more than 5,000 idiomatic phrases used in contemporary English. Full-sentence examples show how idioms are really used.

The Cambridge University Press is respected worldwide for its commitment to advancing knowledge, education, learning and research. It was founded on a Royal Charter granted to the University by Henry VIII in 1534 and has been operating continuously as a printer and publisher since the first Press book was printed in 1584.

  1. A
  2. A 1
  3. From A to B
  4. From A to Z
  5. Take someone aback
  6. As easy as ABC
  7. As simple as ABC
  8. Give someone the screaming abdabs
  9. Aid and abet
  10. Know what you are about
  11. Above yourself
  12. Not be above
  13. In Abraham’s bosom
  14. The acceptable face of
  15. An accident waiting to happen
  16. Accidents will happen
  17. A chapter of accidents
  18. Of your own accord
  19. Give a bad account of yourself
  20. Give a good account of yourself
  21. Settle accounts with someone
  22. Square accounts with someone
  23. There is no accounting for tastes
  24. An ace in the hole
  25. Have an ace up your sleeve
  26. Hold all the aces
  27. Play your ace
  28. Within an ace of
  29. An Achilles heel
  30. The acid test
  31. Come the acid
  32. Put the acid on someone
  33. Have a nodding acquaintance with someone
  34. Have a nodding acquaintance with something
  35. Scrape acquaintance with
  36. God’s acre
  37. Across the board
  38. Be across something
  39. Act your age
  40. Act the goat
  41. Act of God
  42. A class act
  43. Clean up your act
  44. Do a disappearing act
  45. Get your act together
  46. A hard act to follow
  47. A tough act to follow
  48. In on the act
  49. Read someone the riot act
  50. Read the riot act
  51. Action stations
  52. Man of action
  53. A piece of the action
  54. A slice of the action
  55. Where the action is
  56. Your actual
  57. Not know someone from Adam
  58. The old Adam
  59. Add fuel to the fire
  60. Add fuel to the flames
  61. Add insult to injury
  62. Deaf as an adder
  63. Deaf as a post
  64. An admirable Crichton
  65. Cast someone adrift
  66. Cut someone adrift
  67. Any advance on
  68. Play devils advocate
  69. Afraid of your own shadow
  70. For Africa
  71. Be after doing something
  72. Act your age
  73. The awkward age
  74. Come of age
  75. Feel your age
  76. A golden age
  77. Under age
  78. A hidden agenda
  79. Pile on the agony
  80. Prolong the agony
  81. Agree to differ
  82. A gentlemans agreement
  83. Ahead of the game
  84. Ahead of your time
  85. Ahead of its time
  86. Streets ahead
  87. Aid and abet
  88. In aid of
  89. What is all this in aid of
  90. Airs and graces
  91. Give yourself airs
  92. Hot air
  93. Up in the air
  94. On the air
  95. Off the air
  96. Take the air
  97. Walk on air
  98. Have people rolling in the aisles
  99. Drop your aitches
  100. An Aladdin’s cave
  101. An Aladdin’s lamp
  102. Alarms and excursions
  103. Set the world alight
  104. Set the world on fire
  105. Alive and kicking
  106. Alive and well
  107. All and sundry
  108. All comers
  109. All-in
  110. All my eye and Betty Martin
  111. My eye
  112. All of
  113. Be all one to
  114. All out
  115. All over the place
  116. All the rage
  117. All round
  118. All-singing
  119. All-dancing
  120. Be all that
  121. All systems go
  122. Be all things to all men
  123. Be all things to all people
  124. Not all there
  125. Be all go
  126. And all
  127. Be all up with
  128. It is all up with
  129. All of a sudden
  130. Of a sudden
  131. For all
  132. On all fours
  133. On all fours with
  134. Give the all-clear
  135. Get the all-clear
  136. A blind alley
  137. Up your alley
  138. Up your street
  139. Right up your alley
  140. Right up your street
  141. Pass in your ally
  142. Along About
  143. Alpha and omega
  144. Sacrifice someone on the altar of
  145. Sacrifice something on the altar of
  146. In the altogether
  147. As American as apple pie
  148. The American dream
  149. Run amok
  150. In the final analysis
  151. Ancient as the hills
  152. Old as the hills
  153. The ancient of Days
  154. The angel in the house
  155. On the side of the angels
  156. Angry young man
  157. The answers a lemon
  158. A dusty answer
  159. Up the ante
  160. Raise the ante
  161. Have ants in your pants
  162. Not be having any of it
  163. Anyones game
  164. Be anyones
  165. Anything goes
  166. Be poles apart
  167. Come apart at the seams
  168. Fall apart at the seams
  169. Go ape
  170. An apology for
  171. With apologies to
  172. Appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober
  173. Appeal to Caesar
  174. Keep up appearances
  175. To all appearances
  176. By all appearances
  177. Apple of discord
  178. The apple of your eye
  179. Apples and oranges
  180. A rotten apple
  181. A bad apple
  182. She’s apples
  183. Upset the apple cart
  184. As American as apple pie
  185. Apropos of nothing
  186. Seal of approval
  187. Stamp of approva
  188. A grey area
  189. Tied to someones apron strings
  190. A no-go area
  191. Argue the toss
  192. Out of the ark
  193. A call to arms
  194. Cost an arm and a leg
  195. Give an arm and a leg for
  196. Keep someone at arms length
  197. Keep something at arms length
  198. The long arm of coincidence
  199. The long arm of the law
  200. The strong arm of the law
  201. As long as your arm
  202. Put the arm on
  203. Up in arms about
  204. With open arms
  205. Would give your right arm for
  206. An armchair critic
  207. Armchair traveller
  208. Armchair politician
  209. Armed at all points
  210. Armed to the teeth
  211. Up to your armpits
  212. You and whose army
  213. Have been around
  214. An arrow in the quiver
  215. Arrow of time arrow
  216. Arrow of time times arrow
  217. A straight arrow
  218. Arse
  219. Go arse over tit
  220. Kiss my arse
  221. Kiss someone’s arse
  222. Kiss someone’s ass
  223. Lick someone’s arse
  224. Lick someone’s boots
  225. Not know your arse from your elbow
  226. A pain in the neck
  227. A pain in the ass
  228. A pain in the arse
  229. Art for art’s sake
  230. Be art and part of
  231. Have something down to a fine art
  232. Get something down to a fine
  233. State of the art
  234. An article of faith
  235. The finished article
  236. The genuine article
  237. As and when
  238. As if
  239. As it were
  240. in the ascendant
  241. dust and ashes
  242. rake over the ashes
  243. rake over old coals
  244. rise from the ashes
  245. turn to ashes in your mouth
  246. ask for the moon
  247. cry for the moon
  248. ask me another
  249. ask no odds
  250. a big ask
  251. do not ask me
  252. I ask you!
  253. be asking for it
  254. for the asking
  255. asleep at the wheel
  256. ass
  257. bust your ass
  258. chew someone’s ass
  259. drag ass
  260. cover your ass
  261. be asking for trouble
  262. haul ass
  263. get your ass in gear
  264. kick some ass
  265. kick someone’s ass
  266. kick some butt
  267. kiss ass
  268. Kiss someone’s ass
  269. Kiss someone’s arse
  270. no skin off your ass
  271. not give a rat’s ass
  272. a pain in the ass
  273. a piece of ass
  274. a piece of tail
  275. put someone’s ass in a sling
  276. bust someone’s ass
  277. whip someone’s ass
  278. at it
  279. at that
  280. where its at
  281. an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife
  282. dance attendance on
  283. for auld lang syne
  284. under the auspices of
  285. have something on good authority
  286. away with something
  287. get away with you
  288. far and away
  289. out and away
  290. the awkward age
  291. the awkward squad
  292. have an axe to grind
  293. the ayes have it

Here is the list of idioms beginning with A.

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

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 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 are. Eg. 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 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 OK: 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 a go-getter type person is more successful than a person not doing any thing.

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.

A1: 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 emphasizing '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 bark and no bite: Someone who talks a lot, but does nothing to back up their words-- like a dog that barks at strangers, but won't actually 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 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 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.

Amen: 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.

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

At arm's length: (India) If something is at arm's length, it is very close to you.

At arm's length: Keep somebody at arm's length means not allowing somebody to be become to friendly with you or close to 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 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: AWOL stands for "Absent without Leave", or "Absent without Official Leave". Originally 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, resentment and you want to get revenge or sort it out. In American English, it is 'ax'.

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