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.

Here is the list of idioms beginning with

Nail in the coffin: A nail in someone or something's coffin is a problem or event that is a clear step towards an inevitable failure.

Nail-biter: If a game, election, contest, etc, is a nail-biter, it is exciting because the competitors are so close that it is impossible to predict the result.

Nature abhors a vacuum: This idiom is used to express the idea that empty or unfilled spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics.

Neck and neck: If two competitors or candidates, etc, are neck and neck, then they are very close and neither is clearly winning.

Neck of the woods: If someone talks about their neck of the woods, they mean the area where they live.

Need no introduction: Someone who is very famous and known to everyone needs no introduction.

Needle in a haystack: If trying to find something is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it means that it is very difficult, if not impossible to find among everything around it.

Neither fish nor fowl: Something or someone that is neither fish nor fowl doesn't really fit into any one group.

Neither here nor there: If something is neither here nor there, it is of very little importance.

Neither use nor ornament: Something that serves no purpose and is not aesthetically pleasing is neither use nor ornament.

Nerves of steel: If someone has nerves of steel, they don't get frightened when other people do.

Nest egg: If you have some money saved for the future, it is a nest egg.

Never a rose without the prick: This means that good things always have something bad as well; like the thorns on the stem of a rose.

Never darken my door again: This is a way of telling someone never to visit you again.

New blood: If something needs new blood, it has become stale and needs new ideas or people to invigorate it.

New brush sweeps clean: 'A new brush sweeps clean' means that someone with a new perspective can make great changes. However, the full version is 'a new brush sweeps clean, but an old brush knows the corners', which warns that experience is also a valuable thing. Sometimes 'broom' is used instead of 'brush'.

New kid on the block: A new kid on the block is a person who has recently joined a company, organization, team, etc, and does not know how things work yet.

New lease of life: If someone finds new enthusiasm and energy for something, they have a new lease of life.

New man: (UK) A New man is a man who believes in complete equality of the sexes and shares domestic work equally.

New sheriff in town: This is used when a new authority figure takes charge.

New York minute: (USA) If something happens in a New York minute, it happens very fast.

Newfangled: People who don't like new methods, technologies, etc, describe them as newfangled, which means new but not as good or nice as the old ones.

Nick of time: If you do something in the nick of time, you do it at the very last minute or second.

Nickel tour: (USA) If someone gives you a nickel tour, they show you around a place. ('Fifty-cent tour' is also used.)

Night owl: A night owl is someone who goes to bed very late.

Ninth circle of hell: In Dante's Inferno, the ninth circle of hell is the centre where the worst punishments are found, so it is used idiomatically for something that couldn't get worse.

Nip and tuck: A close contest where neither opponent seems to be gaining the advantage

Nip at the bit: If someone is nipping at the bit, they are anxious to get something done and don't want to wait.

Nip it in the bud: If you nip something in the bud, you deal with a problem when it is still small, before it can grow into something serious.

Nitty gritty: If people get down to the nitty gritty, they concentrate on the most important and serious issues.

No bed of roses: If something isn't a bed of roses, it is difficult.

No can do: No can do means that the speaker can't do whatever it is that has been asked of him or her.

No go: Something that will not work. 'A square peg in a round hole is a no go.'

No good deed goes unpunished: This means that life is unfair and people can do or try to do good things and still end up in a lot of trouble.

No great shakes: If someone is no great shakes at something, they are not very good at it.

No harm, no foul: There's no problem when no harm or damage is done, such as the time my sister-in-law stole the name we'd chosen for a boy and we both ended up having girls.

No holds barred: If there are no holds barred, there are no rules of conduct; you can do anything.

No ifs or buts: Ifs and Buts is a term used to describe the reasons people give for not wanting to do something. To show that you don't wish to accept any excuses, you can tell somebody that you wish to hear no ifs or buts Here IF & BUT have become nouns

No laughing matter: Something that is no laughing matter is very serious.

No love lost: If there is no love lost between two people they have a strong enmity towards or hate for the other and make no effort to conceal it.

No quarter: This means without mercy. We can say no quarter given or asked.

No question: This idiom means that something is certain or definite.

No questions asked: If something is to be done and no questions asked, then it doesn't matter what methods are used or what rules are broken to ensure that it gets done.

No skin off my nose: If something's no skin off your nose, it doesn't affect or bother you at all.

No smoke without fire: This idiom means that when people suspect something, there is normally a good reason for the suspicion, even if there is no concrete evidence. ('Where's there's smoke, there's fire' is also used.)

No spine: If someone has no spine, they lack courage or are cowardly.

No spring chicken: If someone is no spring chicken, they are not young.

No strings attached: If something has no strings attached, there are no obligations or requirements involved.

No time for: If you have no time for an activity, you have absolutely no desire to spend or waste any time doing it. You can have no time for people, too.

No time like the present: If people say that there's no time like the present, they believe that it is far better to do something now than to leave it for later, in which case it might never get done.

No time to lose: If there's no time to lose, then it's time to get started otherwise it won't be finished on time.

No use to man or beast: If something or someone is no use to man or beast, they it or they are utterly useless.

Nod's as good as a wink: (UK) 'A nod's as good as a wink' is a way of saying you have understood something that someone has said, even though it was not said directly. The full phrase (sometimes used in the UK ) is 'a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse'.

None so blind as those who will not see: This idiom is used when people refuse to accept facts presented to them. ('None so deaf as those who will not hear' is an alternative.)

None so blind as those who will not see: This idiom is used when people refuse to accept the truth.('None so blind as those who will not see' is also used if they refuse to listen to the truth.)

Nose in the air: If someone has their nose in the air, they behave in a way that is meant to show that they are superior to others.

Nosy parker: (UK) A nosy parker is someone who is excessively interested in other people's lives. ('Nosey parker' is an alternative spelling.)

Not a snowball's chance in hell: There is absolutely no possibility of something happening if there's not a snowball's chance in hell.

Not all there: If someone isn't all there, they are a little bit stupid or crazy.

Not bat an eye: If someone doesn't bat an eye, they do not react when other people normally would.

Not born yesterday: When someone says that they weren't born yesterday, they mean that they are not naive or easily fooled.

Not cricket: (UK) If something is not cricket, it is unfair.

Not enough room to swing a cat: If a room is very small, you can say that there isn't enough room to swing a cat in it.

Not give a monkey's: (UK) If you couldn't give a monkey's about something, you don't care at all about it.

Not have the heart: If you don't have the heart to do something, you don't have the strength or courage to do something. (Usually used in the negative)

Not have two pennies to rub together: If someone hasn't got two pennies to rub together, they are very poor indeed.

Not know beans about: (USA) If someone doesn't know beans about something, they know nothing about it.

Not know you are born: This indicates that the person described is unaware of his or her good fortune or is unaware of how difficult day to day life was before he/she was born. Typical usage: 'Kids today don't know they are born'.

Not much cop: Describing a film or something as not much cop is a way of saying that you didn't think much of it.

Not my cup of tea: If something is not your cup of tea, you don't like it very much.

Not on my watch: Someone distancing themselves from a situation could say that it is not on their watch.

Not our bag: If something is not your bag, it is not really suitable for your needs or you don't like it much.

Not the only pebble on the beach: If something is not the only pebble on the beach, there are other possibilities or alternatives.

Not to be sneezed at: If something is not to be sneezed at, it should be taken seriously.

Not wash: If a story or explanation will not wash, it is not credible.

Not worth a red cent: (USA) If something is not worth a red cent, it has no value.

Not worth a tinker's dam: This means that something is worthless and dates back to when someone would travel around the countryside repairing things such as a kitchen pot with a hole in it. He was called a 'tinker'. His dam was used to stop the flow of soldering material being used to close the hole. Of course his 'trade' is passé, thus his dam is worth nothing.

Notch on your belt: A success or achievement that might help you in the future is a notch on your belt.

Nothing to crow about: If something's nothing to crow about, it's not particularly good or special.

Nothing to write home about: Something that is not special or good is nothing to write home about.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained: You can't win if you don't join in the game; if you don't participate in something, you will not achieve anything.

Now and then: This idiom means occasionally.

Null and void: If something's null and void, it is invalid or is no longer applicable.

Number cruncher: A number cruncher is an accountant or someone who is very good at dealing with numbers and calculations.

Nuts and bolts: The nuts and bolts are the most essential components of something.

Nutty as a fruitcake: Someone who's nutty as a fruitcake is irrational or crazy. (This can be shortened to 'a fruitcake'.)

Idioms and Phrases Index

From Idioms and Phrases to HOME PAGE

privacy policy