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 P.
Packed like sardines: If a place is extremely crowded, people are packed like sardines, or packed in like sardines.
Paddle your own canoe: (USA) If you paddle your own canoe, you do things for yourself without outside help.
Pain in the neck: If someone is very annoying and always disturbing you, they are a pain in the neck. Pain in the butt, or pain in the ass (USA), and Pain in the arse (UK) are less polite alternative forms.
Paint the town red: If you go out for a night out with lots of fun and drinking, you paint the town red.
Paint yourself into a corner: (USA) If someone paints themselves into a corner, they get themselves into a mess.
Painted Jezebel: A painted Jezebel is a scheming woman.
Pandora's box: If you open a Pandora's box, something you do causes all sorts of trouble that you hadn't anticipated.
Paper over the cracks: If you paper over the cracks, you try to make something look or work better but only deal with superficial issues, not the real underlying problems.
Paper tiger: A paper tiger is a person, country, institution, etc, that looks powerful, but is actually weak.
Par for the course: If something is par for the course, it is what you expected it would be. If it is above par, it is better, and if it is below par, it is worse.
Parrot fashion: If you learn something parrot fashion, you learn it word for word. A parrot is a bird from South America that can talk.
Part and parcel: If something is part and parcel of your job, say, it is an essential and unavoidable part that has to be accepted.
Pass muster: If something passes muster, it meets the required standard.
Pass the buck: If you pass the buck, you avoid taking responsibility by saying that someone else is responsible.
Pass the hat: If you pass the hat, you ask a people in a group to give money.
Pass the time of day: If you pass the time of day with somebody, you stop and say hello, enquire how they are and other such acts of social politeness.
Patience of Job: If something requires the patience of Job, it requires great patience.
Pay on the nail: If you pay on the nail, you pay promptly in cash.
Pay the piper: When you pay the piper, you have to accept the consequences of something that you have done wrong or badly.
Pay through the nose: If you pay through the nose for something, you pay a very high price for it.
Pay your dues: If you have paid your dues, you have had your own struggles and earned your place or position.
Pecking order: The pecking order is the order of importance or rank.
Peeping Tom: A peeping Tom is someone who tries to look through other people's windows without being seen in order to spy on people in their homes.
Pen is mightier than the sword: The idiom 'the pen is mightier than the sword' means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting.
Penny ante: (USA) something that is very unimportant is penny ante.
Penny pincher: A penny pincher is a mean person or who is very frugal.
Penny wise, pound foolish: Someone who is penny wise, pound foolish can be very careful or mean with small amounts of money, yet wasteful and extravagant with large sums.
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones: People should not criticize other people for faults that they have themselves.
Pep talk: When someone gives you a pep talk it is to build you up to help you accomplish something. In sports a coach might give a player a pep talk before the game to bolster his confidence. At work the boss might give you a pep talk to get you to do a better job.
Perfidious Albion: England is known to some as perfidious Albion, implying that it is not trustworthy in its dealings with foreigners.
Perish the thought: Perish the thought is an expression meaning that you really hope something will not happen.
Pet peeve: A pet peeve is something that irritates an individual greatly.
Photo finish: A photo finish is when two contestants (usually in a race) finish at almost exactly the same time, making it difficult to determine the winner. (The saying stems from the practice of taking a photograph when the winners cross the finish line to determine who was ahead at the time.)
Pick up the tab: A person who pays for everyone picks up the tab.
Pick-up game: (USA) A pick-up game is something unplanned where people respond to events as they happen.
Pie in the sky: If an idea or scheme is pie in the sky, it is utterly impractical.
Piece of cake: If something is a piece of cake, it is really easy.
Pieces of the same cake: Pieces of the same cake are things that have the same characteristics or qualities.
Pig in a poke: If someone buys a pig in a poke, they buy something without checking the condition it was in, usually finding out later that it was defective.
Pigs might fly: If you think something will never happen or succeed, you can say that 'pigs might fly' (or 'pigs can fly' and 'pigs will fly'- the idiom is used in many forms)
Pin money: (UK) If you work for pin money, you work not because you need to but because it gives you money for extra little luxuries and treats.
Pinch of salt: If what someone says should be taken with a pinch of salt, then they exaggerate and distort things, so what they say shouldn't be believed unquestioningly. (‘With a grain of salt' is an alternative.)
Pink pound: (UK) In the UK, the pink pound is an idiom for the economic power of gay people.
Pink slip: If someone receives a pink slip, they receive a letter telling them they have lost their job.
Pipe dream: A pipe dream is an unrealistic, impractical idea or scheme.
Piping hot: If food is piping hot, it is very hot indeed.
Place in the sun: If you have your place in the sun, you find wealth, happiness or whatever you are looking for in life.
Plain as a pikestaff: (UK) If something is as plain as a pikestaff, it is very clear.
Plain as the nose on your face: If something is as plain as the nose on your face, it is very clear and obvious.
Plain Jane: A plain Jane is a woman who isn't particularly attractive.
Plain sailing: If something is relatively easy and there are no problems doing it, it is plain sailing.
Plan B: Plan B is an alternate or fall-back position or method when the initial attempt or plan goes wrong.
Plastic smile: When someone is wearing a plastic smile, they are appearing to be happier with a situation or events than they actually are. This is actually a description of the forced smile you might see in many photographs.
Play fast and loose: If people play fast and loose, they behave in an irresponsible way and don't respect rules, etc.
Play for keeps: If you are playing for keeps, you take things very seriously and the outcome is very important to you; it is not a mere game.
Play for time: If you play for time, you delay something because you are not ready or need more time to thing about it. Eg. I knew I had to play for time until the police arrived.
Play hardball: If someone plays hardball, they are very aggressive in trying to achieve their aim.
Play havoc: Playing havoc with something is creating disorder and confusion; computer viruses can play havoc with your programs.
Play hooky: If people play hooky, they don't attend school when they should and don't have a valid reason for their absence.
Play into someone's hands: If you play into someone's hands, you do what they were expecting you to do and take advantage of this.
Play it by ear: If you play it by ear, you don't have a plan of action, but decide what to do as events take shape.
Play out of your skin: If someone plays out of their skin, they give an outstanding performance.
Play second fiddle: If you play second fiddle, you take a subordinate role behind someone more important.
Play the field: Someone who plays the field has sexual relationships with many people.
Play the fool: If someone plays the fool, they behave in a silly way to make people laugh. ('Act the fool' is and alternative form.)
Play with fire: If people take foolish risks, they are playing with fire.
Playing to the gallery: If someone plays to the gallery, they say or do things that will make them popular, but which are not the right things to do.
Pleased as punch: When someone is pleased as punch, they are very satisfied about something
Poacher turned gamekeeper: Someone who gets a legitimate job which is the opposite of their previous one. E.G a computer hacker who then helps to catch other hackers or an ex-bank robber who then advises banks on security
Poetry in motion: Something that is poetry in motion is beautiful to watch.
Pointy-heads: Pointy-heads are supposed intellectuals or experts, but who don't really know that much.
Poison pill: A poison pill is a strategy designed to prevent a company from being take over.
Polish the apples: (USA) someone who polishes the apples with someone tries to get into that person's favor.
Polishing peanuts: To work very hard at something for little or no return. In other words, wasting time on work which will not yield reasonable value
Pop the question: When someone pops the question, they ask someone to marry them.
Pop your clogs: When someone pops their clogs, they die.
Pork barrel: Pork barrel politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the common good.
Pot calling the kettle black: If someone hypocritically criticises a person for something that they themselves do, then it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Pot-luck: If you take pot-luck, you take whatever happens to be available at the time.
Pound of flesh: If someone wants their pound of flesh, the force someone to pay or give back something owed, even though they don't need it and it will cause the other person a lot of difficulty.
Pour oil on troubled waters: If someone pours oil on troubled waters, they try to calm things down.
Powder your nose: If somebody goes to powder your nose, it is a euphemism for going to the lavatory (toilet).
Powers that be: The powers that be are the people who are in charge of something.
Practise what you preach: If you practise what you preach, you do what you say other people should do.(In American English, the verb is 'practice')
Preaching to the choir: If someone preaches to the choir, they talking about a subject or issue with which their audience already agrees. ('Preaching to the converted' is an alternative form.)
Presence of mind: If someone behaves calmly and rationally in difficult circumstances, they show presence of mind.
Press the flesh: When people, especially politicians, press the flesh, they meet members of the public and shake their hands, usually when trying to get support.
Pressed for time: If you are pressed for time, you are in a hurry or working against a very tight schedule.
Prim and proper: Someone who is prim and proper always behaves in the correct way and never breaks the rules of etiquette.
Primrose path: The primrose path is an easy and pleasurable lifestyle, but one that ends in unpleasantness and problems.
Prince charming: A prince charming is the perfect man in a woman's life.
Problem is thirty: If a problem is 30, the problem is the person who sits 30 cm from the computer screen. It is used to describe people that lack technical knowledge and can be used when you insult someone who's having computer problems.
Proclaim it from the rooftops: If something is proclaimed from the rooftops, it is made as widely known and as public as possible.
Prodigal son: A prodigal son is a young man who wastes a lot on money on a lavish lifestyle. If the prodigal son returns, they return to a better way of living.
Proof of the pudding is in the eating: This means that something can only be judged when it is tested or by its results. (It is often shortened to 'Proof of the pudding'.)
Proud as a peacock: Someone who is as proud as a peacock is excessively proud.
Pull a rabbit out of your hat: If you pull a rabbit out of a hat, you do something that no one was expecting.
Pull in the reins: When you pull in the reins, you slow down or stop something that has been a bit out of control.
Pull no punches: If you pull no punches, you hold nothing back.
Pull out all the stops: If you pull out all the stops, you do everything you possibly can to achieve the result you want.
Pull out of the fire: (USA) If you pull something out of the fire, you save or rescue it.
Pull someone's leg: If you pull someone's leg, you tease them, but not maliciously.
Pull strings: If you pull strings, you use contacts you have got to help you get what you want.
Pull the fat from the fire: If you pull the fat from the fire, you help someone in a difficult situation.
Pull the other one, it's got brass bells on: This idiom is way of telling somebody that you don't believe them. The word 'brass' is optional.
Pull the trigger: The person who pulls the trigger is the one who does the action that closes or finishes something.
Pull the wool over someone's eyes: If you pull the wool over someone's eyes, you deceive or cheat them.
Pull up your socks: If you aren't satisfied with someone and want them to do better, you can tell them to pull up their socks.
Pull your chain: (USA) If someone pulls your chain, they take advantage of you in an unfair way or do something to annoy you.
Pull your finger out! : (UK) If someone tells you to do this, they want you to hurry up. ('Get your finger out' is also used.)
Pull your punches: If you pull your punches, you do not use all the power or authority at your disposal.
Pull your weight: If someone is not pulling their weight, they aren't making enough effort, especially in group work.
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps: If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you make the effort to improve things for yourself.
Punching bag: A punching bag (or punch bag) is a person who gets a lot of unfair criticism.
Pup's chance: A pup's chance is no chance.
Puppy love: Puppy love is love between two very young people.
Push comes to shove: If or when push comes to shove, the situation has become some bad that you are forced to do something: If push comes to shove, we'll just have to use our savings.
Push the envelope: This means to go to the limits, to do something to the maximum possible.
Pushing up the daisies: If someone is said to be pushing up the daisies, they are dead.
Put a bug in your ear: If you put a bug in someone's ear, you give him or her a reminder or suggestion relating to a future event.
Put a cork in it! : This is a way of telling someone to be quiet.
Put all your eggs in one basket: If you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk everything on a single opportunity which, like eggs breaking, could go wrong.
Put lipstick on a pig: If people put lipstick on a pig, they make superficial or cosmetic changes, hoping that it will make the product more attractive.
Put or get someone's back up: If you put or get someone's back up, you annoy them.
Put some dirt on it: This means that when you get hurt, you should rub it off or shake it off and you'll be ok.
Put some mustard on it! : (USA) I think it’s used to encourage someone to throw a ball like a baseball hard or fast.
Put somebody's nose out of joint: If you put someone's nose out of joint, you irritate them or make them angry with you.
Put someone on a pedestal: If you put someone on a pedestal, you admire them greatly, idolize them.
Put someone out to pasture: If someone is put out to pasture, they are forced to resign or give up some responsibilities.
Put the carriage before the horse: If you put the carriage before the horse, you try to do things in the wrong order.
Put the kybosh on: To put an end to something
Put the pedal to the metal: If you put the pedal to the metal, you go faster.
Put to the sword: If someone is put to the sword, he or she is killed or executed.
Put two and two together: If someone puts two and two together, they reach a correct conclusion from the evidence.
Put up or shut up: 'Put up or shut up' means you do something you are talking about or not to talk about it any more.
Put you in mind: If something suggests something to you, it puts you in mind of that thing.
Put you in the picture: If you put someone in the picture, you tell them the information they need to know about something.
Put your best foot forward: If you put your best foot forward, you try your best to do something.
Put your cards on the table: If you put your cards on the table, you make your thoughts or ideas perfectly clear.
Put your foot down: When someone puts their foot down, they make a firm stand and establish their authority on an issue.
Put your foot in it: If you put your foot in it, you do or say something embarrassing and tactless or get yourself into trouble.
Put your foot in your mouth: If you put your foot in your mouth, you say something stupid or embarrassing.
Put your hand on your heart: If you can out your hand on your heart, then you can say something knowing it to be true.
Put your heads together: If people put their head together, they exchange ideas about something.
Put your money where your mouth is: If someone puts their money where their mouth is, they back up their words with action.
Put your thumb on the scales: If you put your thumb on the scales, you try to influence the result of something in your favour.
Putting the cart before the horse: When you put the cart before the horse, you are doing something the wrong way round.
Pyrrhic victory: A Pyrrhic victory is one that causes the victor to suffer so much to achieve it that it isn't worth winning.
Idioms and Phrases Index
From Idioms and Phrases to HOME PAGE