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 T.

Tables are turned: When the tables are turned, the situation has changed giving the advantage to the party who had previously been at a disadvantage.

Tackle an issue: If you tackle an issue or problem, you resolve or deal with it.

Take a leaf out of someone's book: If you take a leaf out of someone's book, you copy something they do because it will help you.

Take a punch: If somebody takes a blow, something bad happens to them.

Take a rain check: If you take a rain check, you decline an offer now, suggesting you will accept it later. (Rain check is also used.)

Take a straw poll: If you take a straw poll, you sound a number of people out to see their opinions on an issue or topic.

Take by the scruff of the neck: If you take something by the scruff on the neck, you take complete control of it.

Take for a test drive: If you take something for a test driver, you try something to see if you like it.

Take for granted: If you take something for granted, you don't worry or think about it because you assume you will always have it. If you take someone for granted, you don't show your appreciation to them.

Take forty winks: If you take 40 winks, you have a short sleep.

Take it on the chin: If you take something on the chin, something bad happens to you and you take it directly without fuss.

Take no prisoners: If people take no prisoners, they do things in a very aggressive way, without considering any harm they might do to achieve their objectives.

Take someone down a peg: If someone is taken down a peg (or taken down a peg or two), they lose status in the eyes of others because of something they have done wrong or badly.

Take someone for a ride: If you are taken for a ride, you are deceived by someone.

Take someone to the woodshed: If someone is taken to the woodshed, they are punished for something they have done.

Take the biscuit: (UK) If something takes the biscuit, it is the absolute limit.

Take the bull by its horns: Taking a bull by its horns would be the most direct but also the most dangerous way to try to compete with such an animal. When we use the phrase in everyday talk, we mean that the person we are talking about tackles their problems directly and is not worried about any risks involved.

Take the chair: If you take the chair, your become the chairman or chairwoman of a committee, etc.

Take the fall: If you tall the fall, you accept the blame and possibly the punishment for another's wrongdoing, with the implication that the true culprit, for political or other reasons, cannot be exposed as guilty (accompanied by a public suspicion that a reward of some sort may follow).

Take the floor: Start talking or giving a speech to a group

Take the plunge: If you take the plunge, you decide to do something or commit yourself even though you know there is an element of risk involved.

Take the rough with the smooth: People say that you have to take the rough with the smooth, meaning that you have to be prepared to accept the disadvantages as well of the advantages of something.

Take to your heels: If you take to your heels, you run away.

Take up the torch: If you take up the torch, you take on a challenge or responsibility, usually when someone else retires, or leaves an organization, etc.

Take your breath away: If something takes your breath away, it astonishes or surprises you.

Take your eye off the ball: If someone takes their eye off the ball, they don't concentrate on something important that they should be looking at.

Take your hat off to somebody: If you take your hat off to someone, you acknowledge that they have done something exceptional or otherwise deserve your respect.

Taken as read: If something can be taken as read, it is so definite that it's not necessary to talk about it.

Tale of the tape: This idiom is used when comparing things, especially in sports; it comes from boxing where the fighters would be measured with a tape measure before a fight.

Talk a blue streak: (USA) If someone talks a blue streak, they speak quickly and at length. ('Talk up a blue streak' is also used.)

Talk a glass eye to sleep: Someone who could talk a glass eye to sleep is very boring and repetitive.

Talk is cheap: It's easy to talk about something but harder to actually do it.

Talk nineteen to the dozen: If someone talks very quickly, they talk nineteen to the dozen.

Talk of the town: When everybody is talking about particular people and events, they are he talk of the town.

Talk out of the back of your head: If someone is talking out of the back of their head, they are talking rubbish.

Talk out of your hat: If someone is talking out of their hat, they're talking utter rubbish, especially if compounded with total ignorance of the subject on which they are pontificating. ('Talk through your hat' is also used.)

Talk shop: If you talk shop, you talk about work matters, especially if you do this outside work.

Talk the hind legs off a donkey: A person who is excessively or extremely talkative can talk the hind legs off a donkey.

Talk turkey: When people talk turkey, they discuss something frankly.

Talking to a brick wall: If you talk to someone and they do not listen to you, it is like talking to a brick wall.

Tall drink of water: Someone who is very tall and slender is a tall drink of water. ('A tall glass of water' is also used.)

Tall order: Something that is likely to be hard to achieve or fulfill is a tall order.

Tall story: A tall story is one that is untrue and unbelievable.

Tally ho! : (UK) This is an exclamation used for encouragement before doing something difficult or dangerous.

Tar baby: A tar baby is a problem that gets worse when people try to sort it out.

Taste blood: If someone has tasted blood, they have achieved something and are encouraged to think that victory is within their grasp.

Taste of your own medicine: If you give someone a taste of their own medicine, you do something bad to someone that they have done to you to teach them a lesson.

Teach your grandmother to suck eggs: When people say 'don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs', they mean that people shouldn't try to teach someone who has experience or is an expert in that area.

Teacher's pet: The teacher's favorite pupil is the teacher's pet, especially if disliked by the other pupils.

Tear your hair out: If someone is tearing their hair out, they are extremely worried or agitated about something.

Tears before bedtime: (UK) This idiom is used when something seems certain to go wrong or cause trouble.

Teething problems: (UK) The problems that a project has when it is starting are the teething problems.

Tell them where the dog died: (USA) If you tell them where the dog died, you strongly and sharply correct someone.

Tempest in a teapot: If people exaggerate the seriousness of a situation or problem, they are making a tempest in a teapot.

Ten a penny: (UK) If something is ten a penny, it is very common. ("Two a penny" is also used.)

Test the waters: If you test the waters, or test the water, you experiment to see how successful or acceptable something is before implementing it.

That is the way the cookie crumbles: "That's the way the cookie crumbles" means that things don't always turn out the way we want.

That's all she wrote: (USA) This idiom is used to show that something has ended and there is nothing more to say about something.

The ball's in your court: If somebody says this to you, they mean that it's up to you to decide or take the next step.

The be all and end all: The phrase 'The be all and end all' means that a something is the final, or ultimate outcome or result of a situation or event.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall: This idiom means that the more powerful have more to lose, so when they suffer something bad, it is worse for them.

The common weal: If something is done for the common weal, it is done in the interests and for the benefit of the majority or the general public.

The grass is always greener: This idiom means that what other people have or do looks preferable to our life. The complete phrase is 'The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence'.

The line forms on the right: Something's meaning is becoming clear when the line forms on the right.

The more the merrier: The more the merrier means that the greater the quantity or the bigger the number of something, the happier the speaker will be.

The Mountie always gets his man: (Canada) The Mounties are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and they have a reputation for catching criminals they are after.

The penny dropped: When the penny drops, someone belatedly understands something that everyone else has long since understood.

The plot thickens: When the plot thickens, a situation become more complicated and difficult.

The rough and tumble: The rough and tumble refers to areas of life like business, sports, politics, etc, where competition is hard and people will take any advantage that they can.

The sands of time: The sands of time is an idiom meaning that time runs out either through something reaching an end or through a person's death. It comes from the sand used in hourglasses, an ancient way of measuring time.

The short straw: If you take the short straw, you lose a selection process, which means that you have to do something unpleasant.

The sun might rise in the west: When people say this, they mean that they don't expect something to happen.

The whole shooting match: Everything, the entire object, or all the related parts.

The world and his wife: If the world and his wife were somewhere, then huge numbers of people were present.

Their bark is worse than their bite: If someone's bark is worse than their bite, they get angry and shout and make threats, but don't actually do anything.

There are many ways to skin a cat: This is an expression meaning there are many different ways of doing the same thing.

There's never a road without a turning: No situation in life stays the same forever.

There's no such thing as a free lunch: This idiom means that you don't get things for free, so if something appears to be free, there's a catch and you'll have to pay in some way.

There's the rub: The meaning of this idiom is 'that's the problem'.

Thick and fast: If things are happening thick and fast, they are happening so fast they seemed to be joined together.

Thick as mince: (UK) If someone is as thick as mince, they are very stupid indeed.

Thick as thieves: If people are thick as thieves, they are very close friends who have no secrets from each other.

Thick-skinned: If a person is thick-skinned, they are not affected by criticism.

Thin as a rake: A rake is a garden tool with a long, thin, wooden handle, so someone very thin is thin as a rake.

Thin blue line: (UK) The thin blue line is a term for the police, suggesting that they stand between an ordered society and potential chaos. (Police uniforms are blue.)

Thin end of the wedge: The thin end of the wedge is something small and seemingly unimportant that will lead to something much bigger and more serious.

Thin line: If there's a thin line between things, it's hard to distinguish them- there's a thin line between love and hate.

Thin-skinned: If somebody is thin-skinned, they are very sensitive to any sort of criticism.

Think outside the box: If you think outside the box, you think in an imaginative and creative way.

Think the world of: To hold something or someone in very high esteem. To love or admire immensely.

Third degree: If someone is given the third degree, they are put under a great deal of pressure and intimidation to force them to tell the truth about something.

Third rail: The third rail of something is dangerous to alter or change. Originally, the third rail is the one carrying the electricity for a train.

Third time's the charm: This is used when the third time one tries something, one achieves a successful outcome.

Thorn in your side: A thorn in your side is someone or something that causes trouble or makes life difficult for you.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword: This means that violent people will be treated violently themselves.

Three sheets in the wind: (UK) Someone who is three sheets in the wind is very drunk. ('Three sheets to the wind' is also used. 'Seven sheets' is an alternative number used.)

Three sheets to the wind: If someone is three sheets to the wind, they are drunk.

Thrilled to bits: If you are thrilled to bits, you are extremely pleased or excited about something.

Through the ceiling: If prices go through the ceiling, they rise very quickly.

Through the floor: If prices go, or fall, through the floor, they fall very quickly.

Through thick and thin: If someone supports you through thick and thin, they support you during good times and bad.

Throw a curve: (USA) If you throw someone a curve, you surprise them with something they find difficult to deal with. ('Throw' a curveball' is also used.)

Throw a sickie: If you pretend to be ill to take a day off work or school, you throw a sickie.

Throw caution to the wind: When people throw caution to the wind, they take a great risk.

Throw down the gauntlet: Throw down the gauntlet is to issue a challenge to somebody.

Throw in the towel: If you throw in the towel, you admit that you are defeated or cannot do something.

Throw pearls to the pigs: Someone that throws pearls to pigs is giving someone else something they don't deserve or appreciate. ('Throw pearls before pigs' and 'Cast pearls before swine' are also used.)

Throw someone a line: If someone throws you a line, they give you help when you are in serious difficulties.

Throw someone in at the deep end: If you are thrown in at the deep end, you have to deal with serious issues the moment you start something like a job, instead of having time to acquire experience.

Throw someone to the wolves: If someone is thrown to the wolves, they are abandoned and have to face trouble without any support.

Throw someone under the bus: To throw someone under the bus is to get the person in trouble either by placing blame on that person or not standing up for him.

Throw the baby out with the bath water: If you get rid of useful things when discarding inessential things, you throw the baby out with the bath water.

Throw the book at someone: If you throw the book at someone, you punish them as severely as possible.

Throw your hat in the ring: If someone throws their hat in the ring, they announce that they want to take part in a competition or contest. 'Toss your hat in the ring' is an alternative.

Throw your toys out of the pram: To make an angry protest against a relatively minor problem, in the process embarrassing the protester. The analogy is with a baby who throws toys out of the pram in order to get their parent to pay attention to them. The implication in the idiom is that the protester is acting like a baby.

Throw your weight around: If someone throws their weight around, they use their authority or force of personality to get what they want in the face of opposition.

Thumb your nose at: If you thumb your nose at something, you reject it or scorn it.

Thumbs down & thumbs up: If something gets the thumbs up, it gets approval, while the thumbs down means disapproval.

Tickle your fancy: If something tickles your fancy, it appeals to you and you want to try it or have it.

Tickled pink: If you are very pleased about something, you are tickled pink.

Tidy desk, tidy mind: A cluttered or disorganized environment will affect your clarity of thought. Organized surroundings and affairs will allow for clearer thought organization.

Tie the knot: When people tie the knot, they get married.

Tied to your mother's apron strings: Describes a child (often a boy) who is so used to his mother's care that he (or she) cannot do anything on his (or her) own.

Tight rein: If things or people are kept on a tight rein, they are given very little freedom or controlled carefully.

Tight ship: If you run a tight ship, you control something strictly and don't allow people much freedom of action.

Tighten your belt: If you have to tighten your belt, you have to economize.

Till the cows come home: This idioms means 'for a very long time'. ('Until the cows come home' is also used.)

Till the pips squeak: If someone will do something till the pips squeak, they will do it to the limit, even though it will make other people suffer.

Till you're blue in the face: If you do something till you're blue in the face, you do it repeatedly without achieving the desired result until you're incredibly frustrated.

Tilt at windmills: A person who tilts at windmills tries to do things that will never work in practice.

Time and again: If something happens time and again, it happens repeatedly. ('Time and time again' is also used.)

Time and tide wait for no man: This is used as a way of suggestion that people should act without delay.

Time does sail: This idioms means that time passes by unnoticed.

Time flies: This idiom means that time moves quickly and often unnoticed.

Time is on my side: If time is on your side, you have the luxury of not having to worry about how long something will take.

Time of your life: If you're having the time of your life, you are enjoying yourself very much indeed.

Time-honoured practice: A time-honored practice is a traditional way of doing something that has become almost universally accepted as the most appropriate or suitable way.

Tip of the iceberg: The tip of the iceberg is the part of a problem that can be seen, with far more serious problems lying underneath.

Tipping point: Small changes may have little effect until they build up to critical mass, then the next small change may suddenly change everything. This is the tipping point.

Tired and emotional: (UK) This idiom is a euphemism used to mean 'drunk', especially when talking about politicians.

Tit for tat: If someone responds to an insult by being rude back, it's tit for tat- repaying something negative the same way.

To a fault: If something does something to a fault, they do it excessively. So someone who is generous to a fault is too generous.

To a man: If a group of people does, believes, thinks, etc, something to a man, then they all do it.

To a T: If something is done to a T, it is done perfectly.

To all intents and purposes: This means in all the most important ways.

To be dog cheap: If something's dog cheap, it is very cheap indeed.

To cut a long story short: This idiom is used as a way of shortening a story by getting to to the end or the point.

To err is human, to forgive divine: This idiom is used when someone has done something wrong, suggesting that they should be forgiven.

To have the courage of your convictions: If you have the courage of your convictions, you are brave enough to do what you feel is right, despite any pressure for you to do something different.

To little avail: If something is to little avail, it means that, despite great efforts, something ended in failure, but taking comfort from the knowledge that nothing else could have been done to avert or avoid the result.

To the end of time: To the end of time is an extravagant way of saying 'forever'.

Toe the line: If someone toes the line, they follow and respect the rules and regulations.

Tomorrow's another day: This means that things might turn out better or that there might be another opportunity in the future.

Tongue in cheek: If something is tongue in cheek, it isn't serious or meant to be taken seriously.

Too big for your boots: If someone is too big for their boots, they are conceited and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance.

Too big for your britches: If someone is too big for their britches, they are conceited and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance.

Too many chiefs and not enough Indians: When there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians, there are two many managers and not enough workers to work efficiently.

Too many cooks spoil the broth: This means that where there are too many people trying to do something, they make a mess of it.

Too many irons in the fire: This means juggling too many projects at once and something's bound to fail; when a smith had too many irons in his fire, he couldn't effectively keep track of all of them.

Toot you own horn: If someone toot their own horn, they like to boast about their achievements.

Top dog: The most important or influential person is the top dog.

Top notch: If something is top notch, it's excellent, of the highest quality or standard.

Touch and go: If something is touch and go, the result is uncertain and could be good or bad.

Touch base: If you touch base with someone, you contact them.

Touch wood: This idiom is used to wish for good luck. ('Knock on wood' is also used.)

Touch-and-go: If something is touch-and-go, it is very uncertain; if someone is ill and may well die, then it is touch-and-go.

Tough as old boots: Something or someone that is as tough as old boots is strong and resilient.

Tough cookie: A tough cookie is a person who will do everything necessary to achieve what they want.

Tough luck: Tough luck is bad luck.

Tough nut to crack: If something is a tough nut to crack, it is difficult to find the answer or solution. When used about a person, it means that it is difficult to get them to do or allow what you want. 'Hard nut to crack' is an alternative.

Tough row to hoe: (USA) A tough row to hoe is a situation that is difficult to handle. ('A hard row to hoe' is an alternative form.)

Trade barbs: If people trade barbs, they insult or attack each other.

Traffucked: If you are traffucked, you are stuck in heavy traffic and get where you need to be.

Train of thought: A train of thought is a sequence of thoughts, especially when you are talking to someone and you forget what you were going to say.

Tread the boards: When someone treads the boards, they perform on stage in a theatre.

Tread water: If someone is treading water, they are making no progress.

Tried and tested: If a method has been tried and tested, it is known to work or be effective because it has been successfully used long enough to be trusted.

True blue: A person who is true blue is loyal and dependable, someone who can be relied on in all circumstances.

True colors: If someone shows their true colors, they show themselves as they really are. ('True colors' is the American spelling.)

Trump card: A trump card is a resource or strategy that is held back for use at a crucial time when it will beat rivals or opponents.

Truth will out: Truth will out means that, given time, the facts of a case will emerge no matter how people might try to conceal them.

Tug at the heartstrings: f something tugs at the heartstrings, it makes you feel sad or sympathetic towards it.

Turf war: If people or organizations are fighting for control of something, it is a turf war.

Turn a blind eye: When people turn a blind eye, they deliberately ignore something, especially if people are doing something wrong.

Turn a deaf ear: If someone turns a deaf ear to you, they don't listen to you.

Turn a new leaf: If someone turns a new leaf, they change their behavior and stop doing wrong or bad things.

Turn the corner: To get over a bad run when a loss making venture ceases to make losses, it has "turned the corner".

Turn the crack: (Scot) If you turn the crack, you change the subject of a conversation.

Turn the other cheek: If you turn the other cheek, you are humble and do not retaliate or get outwardly angry when someone offends or hurts you, in fact, you give them the opportunity to re-offend instead and compound their unpleasantness.

Turn the tables: If circumstances change completely, giving an advantage to those who seemed to be losing, the tables are turned.

Turn up like a bad penny: If someone turns up like a bad penny, they go somewhere where they are not wanted.

Turn up one's toes to the daisies: If someone has turned up their toes to the daisies, it means that the person died.

Turn water into wine: If someone turns water into wine, they transform something bad into something excellent.

Turn your nose up: If someone turns their nose up at something, they reject it or look odwn on it because they don't think it is good enough for them.

Turn-up for the books: A turn-up for the books is an unexpected or surprising event.

Twenty-four seven: Twenty-four seven or 24/7 means all the time, coming from 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

Twist someone's arm: If you twist someone's arm, you put pressure on them to try to make them do what you want them to do.

Twisting in the wind: If you are twisting in the wind, you are without help or support - you are on your own.

Two cents: If you add or throw in your two cents, you give your opinion on an issue.

Two heads are better than one: When two people work together more things get accomplished.

Two left feet: A person with two left feet can't dance.

Two peas in a pod: If things or people are like two peas in a pod, they look very similar or are always together.

Two sides of the same coin: If two things are two sides of the same coin, there is much difference between them.

Two-edged sword: If someone uses an argument that could both help them and harm them, then they are using a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways.

Two-faced: Someone who is two-faced will say one thing to your face and another when you're not there.

Idioms and Phrases Index HOME PAGE