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.

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Here is the list of idioms beginning with

I hereby give notice of my intention: Hereby is used sometimes in formal, official declarations and statements to give greater force to the speaker' or the writer's affirmation. People will say it sometimes to emphasise their sincerity and correctness.

I may be daft, but I'm not stupid: I might do or say silly things occasionally, but in this instance I know what I am doing (Usually used when someone questions your application of common-sense).

I should cocoa: (UK) This idiom comes from 'I should think so', but is normally used sarcastically to mean the opposite.

I'll cross that road when I come to it: I'll think about something just when it happens, not in advance.

I'll eat my hat: You can say this when you are absolutely sure that you are right to let the other person know that there is no chance of your being wrong.

I've got a bone to pick with you: If somebody says this, they mean that they have some complaint to make against the person they are addressing.

I've got your number: You have made a mistake and I am going to call you on it. You are in trouble (a threat). I have a disagreement with you. I understand your true nature.

Icing on the cake: This expression is used to refer to something good that happens on top of an already good thing or situation.

Idle hands are the devil's handiwork: When someone is not busy, or being productive, trouble is bound to follow.

If at first you don't succeed try again: When you fail, try until you get it right!

If I had a nickel for every time: (USA) When someone uses this expression, they mean that the specific thing happens a lot. It is an abbreviation of the statement 'If I had a nickel for every time that happened, I would be rich'

If it isn't broke, don't fix it: Any attempt to improve on a system that already works is pointless and may even hurt it.

If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed: If something cannot or will not happen the easy way, then sometimes it must be done the hard way.

If the cap fits, wear it: This idiom means that if the description is correct, then it is describing the truth, often when someone is being criticised. ('If the shoe fits, wear it' is an alternative)

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride: This means that wishing for something or wanting it is not the same as getting or having it.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride: If we could have things the way we wanted them, then life would be much easier than it is.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen: Originally a Harry S. Truman quote, this means that if you can't take the pressure, then you should remove yourself from the situation.

If you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows: If you wish to be associated with a particular high risk and/or high profile situation and benefit from the rewards of that association, you have to accept the consequences if things go wrong - you cannot dissociate yourself.

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas: This means that if you become involved with bad company, there will be negative consequences.

If you will: 'If you will' is used as a way of making a concession in a sentence: He wasn't a very honest person, a liar if you will. Here, it is used a way of accepting that the reader or listener might think of the person as a liar, but without commit the writer or speaker to that position fully.

If you'll pardon my French: (UK) This idiom is used as a way of apologising for swearing.

Ill at ease: If someone is ill at ease, they are worried or uncomfortable.

Ill-gotten gains: Ill-gotten gains are profits or benefits that are made either illegally or unfairly.

In a cleft stick: If you are in a cleft stick, you are in a difficult situation, caught between choices.

In a fix: If you are in a fix, you are in trouble.

In a flash: If something happens in a flash, it happens very quickly indeed.

In a heartbeat: If something happens very quickly or immediately, it happens in a heartbeat.

In a jam: If you are in a jam, you are in some trouble. If you get out of a jam, you avoid trouble.

In a jiffy: If something happens in a jiffy, it happens very quickly.

In a nutshell: This idiom is used to introduce a concise summary.

In a pickle: If you are in a pickle, you are in some trouble or a mess.

In a pickle: If you are in a pickle you are in some trouble or a mess.

In a rut: In a settled or established pattern, habit or course of action, especially a boring one.

In a tick: (UK) If someone will do something in a tick, they'll do it very soon or very quickly.

In a tight spot: If you're in a tight spot, you're in a difficult situation.

In all honesty: If you say something in all honesty, you are telling the complete truth. It can be used as a way of introducing a negative opinion whilst trying to be polite; in all honesty, I have to say that I wasn't very impressed.

In an instant: If something happens in an instant, it happens very rapidly.

In another's shoes: It is difficult to know what another person's life is really like, so we don't know what it is like to be in someone's shoes.

In broad daylight: If a crime or problem happens in broad daylight, it happens during the day and should have been seen and stopped.

In cahoots: If people are in cahoots, they are conspiring together.

In cold blood: If something is done in cold blood, it is done ruthlessly, without any emotion.

In dire straits: If you're in dire straits, you're in serious trouble or difficulties.

In donkey's years: 'I haven't seen her in donkey's years.' - This means for a very long time.

In dribs and drabs: If people arrive in dribs and drabs, they come in small groups at irregular intervals, instead of all arriving at the same time.

In droves: When things happen in droves, a lot happen at the same time or very quickly.

In for a penny, in for a pound: If something is worth doing then it is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound, which means that when gambling or taking a chance, you might as well go the whole way and take all the risks, not just some.

In full swing: If things are in full swing, they have been going for a sufficient period of time to be going well and very actively.

In high gear: (USA) If something is in high gear, it is in a quick-paced mode. If someone is in high gear, they are feverishly on the fast track.

In high spirits: If someone is in high spirits, they are in a very good mood or feeling confident about something.

In hot water: If you are in hot water, you are in serious trouble.

In light of: 'In light of' is similar to 'due to'.

In like Flynn: Refers to Errol Flynn's popularity with women in the 40's. His ability to attract women was well known throughout the world. ('In like flint' is also used.)

In my bad books: If you are in someone's bad books, they are angry with you. Likewise, if you are in their good books, they are pleased with you.

In my book: This idiom means 'in my opinion'.

In my good books: If someone is in your good books, you are pleased with or think highly of them at the moment.

In one ear and out the other: If something goes in one ear and out the other, you forget it as soon as you've heard it because it was too complicated, boring etc.

In over your head: If someone is in over their head, they are out of the depth in something they are involved in, and may end up in a mess.

In perfect form: When something is as it ought to be. Or, when used cynically, it may refer to someone whose excesses are on display; a caricature.

In rude health: (UK) If someone's in rude health, they are very healthy and look it.

In so many words: This phrase may be used to mean 'approximately' or 'more or less'. I think it may have a sarcastic connotation in that the individual listening needed 'so many words' to get the point. It also may suggest the effort on the part of the speaker to explain an unpleasant truth or difficult concept.

In someone's pocket: If a person is in someone's pocket, they are dependent, especially financially, on them.

In spades: (UK) If you have something in spades, you have a lot of it.

In stitches: If someone is in stitches, they are laughing uncontrollably.

In tandem: If people do things in tandem, they do them at the same time.

In the bag: If something is in the bag, it is certain that you will get it or achieve it

In the ballpark: This means that something is close to the adequate or required value.

In the black: If your bank account is in credit, it is in the black.

In the cards: If something is in the cards, it is bound to occur, it is going to happen, or it is inevitable.

In the clear: If someone is in the clear, they are no longer suspected of or charged with wrongdoing.

In the clink: (UK) If someone is in the clink, they are in prison.

In the club: (UK) If a woman's in the club, she's pregnant. 'In the pudding club' is an alternative form.

In the dock: If someone is in the dock, they are on trial in court.

In the doghouse: If someone is in the doghouse, they are in disgrace and very unpopular at the moment.

In the driver's seat: If you are in the driver's seat, you are in charge of something or in control of a situation.

In the face of: If people act in the face of something, they do it despite it or when threatened by it.

In the family way: If a woman is in the family way, she is pregnant.

In the flesh: If you meet or see someone in the flesh you actually meet or see them, rather than seeing them on TV or in other media.

In the hot seat: If someone's in the hot seat, they are the target for a lot of unwelcome criticism and examination.

In the know: If you are in the know, you have access to all the information about something, which other people don't have.

In the long run: This means 'over a long period of time', 'in the end' or 'in the final result'.

In the loop: If you're in the loop, you are fully informed about what is happening in a certain area or activity.

In the making: When something is in the making, it means it is in the process of being made.

In the offing: If something is in the offing, it is very likely to happen soon.

In the pink: If you are in very good health, you are in the pink.

In the pipeline: If something's in the pipeline, it hasn't arrived yet but its arrival is expected.

In the red: If your bank account is overdrawn, it is in the red.

In the same boat: If people are in the same boat, they are in the same predicament or trouble.

In the short run: This refers to the immediate future.

In the soup: If you're in the soup, you're in trouble.

In the swim: If you are in the swim, you are up-to-date with and fully informed about something.

In the swing: If things are in the swing, they are progressing well.

In the tall cotton: A phrase that expresses good times or times of plenty and wealth as tall cotton means a good crop.

In the twinkling of an eye: If something happens in the twinkling of an eye, it happens very quickly.

In the zone: If you are in the zone, you are very focused on what you have to do.

In turn: This means one after the other. Example: She spoke to each of the guests in turn.

In two minds: If you are in two minds about something, you can't decide what to do.

In your blood: A trait or liking that is deeply ingrained in someone's personality and unlikely to change is in their blood. A similar idiom is 'in his DNA.'

In your element: If you are in your element, you feel happy and relaxed because you are doing something that you like doing and are good at. "You should have seen her when they asked her to sing; she was in her element."

In your face: If someone is in your face, they are direct and confrontational. (It is sometime written 'in yer face’ colloquially)

In your sights: If you have someone or something in your sights, they are your target to beat.

Indian file: If people walk in Indian file, they walk in a line one behind the other.

Indian giver: An Indian giver gives something then tries to take it back.

Indian summer: If there is a period of warmer weather in late autumn, it is an Indian summer.

Ins and outs: If you know the ins and outs of something, you know all the details.

Into each life some rain must fall: This means that bad or unfortunate things will happen to everyone at some time.

Into thin air: If something vanishes or disappears without trace, it vanishes into thin air; no-one knows where it has gone.

Iron fist: Someone who rules or controls something with an iron fist is in absolute control and tolerates no dissent. An iron fist in a velvet glove is used to describe someone who appears soft on the outside, but underneath is very hard. 'Mailed fist' is an alternative form.

Irons in the fire: A person who has a few irons in the fire has a number of things working to their advantage at the same time.

Is Saul also among the prophets? : It's a biblical idiom used when somebody known for something bad appears all of a sudden to be doing something very good.

It ain't over till the fat lady sings: This idiom means that until something has officially finished, the result is uncertain.

It cost an arm and a leg: If something costs an arm and a leg, it is very expensive indeed.

It cost the earth: If something costs the earth, it is very expensive indeed.

It never rains but it pours: 'It never rains but it pours' means that when things go wrong, they go very wrong.

It takes a village to raise a child: It takes many people to teach a child all that he or she should know.

It takes two to tango: This idiom is used to suggest that when things go wrong, both sides are involved and neither side is completely innocent.

It's an ill wind that blows no good: This is said when things have gone wrong; the idea being that when bad things happen, there can also be some positive results.

It's no use crying over spilt milk: This idiom means that getting upset after something has gone wrong is pointless; it can't be changed so it should be accepted.

It's not the size of the man in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the man: This idiom means that determination is often more important than size, strength, or ability. ('It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.' is also used.)

It's your funeral: The other person has made a decision that you think is bad. However, it is their choice; it is their funeral.

Itch to: If you are itching to do something, you are very eager to do it.

Itchy feet: One gets itchy feet when one has been in one place for a time and wants to travel.

Ivory tower: People who live in ivory towers are detached from the world around them.

Idioms and Phrases Index

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